“The times, they are a-changin'”, with those words Bob Dylan was trying to express the fluidity of transformation, the transit from one way of being in the world into another. Since he first sung those words in 1963, millions of artists have echoed him in the form of covers and mixed versions. The great Nina Simone, Simon & Garfunkel, The Beach Boys and even Billy Joel made versions of this song. This widespread adoption of the song is akin to what happens with transformation: when it resonates deeply, it is embraced wholeheartedly.
Transformation is a way of being, creating and doing as professionals, as communities and/or as organizations in order to truly bring the challenges the world faces into our daily work. As we transform, we declare our intention and thus radically enhance the relevance and impact of our outcomes.
As human beings of this planet, we always want more. But this time around, we want a different kind of ‘more’. We are seeking a more meaningful relationship with the world. We are coming to see that for the whole to be more than the sum of its parts, we need to focus on the interrelational above the transactional.
Because of its fluid nature it is hard to define transformations. This is why we’ve created a list of principles, that guide transformational efforts rather than try to define it and encapsulate it or narrow it down. With time, these principles will continue to morph and evolve themselves. Yet they offer a guidance in the creation of meaningful transformation that is often valuable as we sense our way through the complexity and chaos of everyday.
Principle 1: Strategy is either transformational, or it’s not strategy.
In the existing context every strategy, in order to be relevant, has to be transformational.
We do have a choice, and the way we exercise that choice impacts our world and shapes the consequences that we all must live with. It is critical that we build a sense of agency into the way we shape and implement our strategies, because through them we co-design our future.
Principle 2: Give more than we take.
Transformation is about making conscious choices based on hope, imagination and the revolutionary intention of giving the world more than we take from it.
Thus we must be deliberate in our choices, incorporating the long view as well as the full view. That is, making sure we factor in the impact on the mid- and long-term as well as being inclusive of the different stakeholders.
Principle 3: Create meaningful, purposeful value.
Transformation involves delivering meaningful value that responds to the profound needs of people, society and the planet.
True purpose is our common purpose, quite simply because the value we create is ultimately shared value. When it comes down to it, as we have seen through the covid-19 pandemic, we don’t need much. Value doesn’t necessarily come from things. What we truly crave for is meaning, purpose, belonging. This reframes value, beyond a simplistic monetary value, into a more authentic form of value, which is driven by purpose and by meaning.
Principle 4: Co-operate by respecting reciprocity and mutuality.
Transformation requires building a renewed relationship with the world based on the shared interest of mutual benefit. Co-operation, as the word suggests, is about operating jointly. Understanding that we are all in this together and that anyone’s actions will affect others.
It is an invitation to be kind and to see all relationships as mutually beneficial.
Principle 5: Transformational leadership is inspirational leadership.
Our main role is to co(i)nspire to make the transformation irresistible. There is no need for imposing our views on others, as that cannot create the energy that is needed for true transformation.
Transformational leaders listen. They are mindful, resilient and adaptive as much as they are connected, versatile and human. The main driver is inspiration, which is the real force that creates movements.
Principle 6: Find new metaphors.
The trodden path has not led us anywhere new. If we continue to do what we’ve always done, we will continue to get what we always got. The time to rebuild the narrative is now.
Here is where the transformational power of imagination comes in. We must change the rhetoric and the vocabulary, we must re-invent our rallying calls to bring the future we imagine into life. The power of story is infinitely compelling, so let’s use it wisely.
Principle 7: Transformation is cyclical and regenerative.
As we move away from reductionist, fragmented views of the world, we must engage with regenerative cycles. If we start with ourselves, we inevitably engage with the system. If we start with the system, we invariably impact our selves. Self and system are interlinked in a continuous loop.
In other words “when we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change“. From our individual perspective, we must engage in systems design with a critically constructive approach. From a systems perspective, we must design for meaningful outcomes. And when we integrate both, we will effectively be designing in a purpose-driven way. . Through whole-system thinking we create resilient and equitable systems that integrate the needs of individuals and society with the cyclical and regenerative integrity we see in Nature.
Principle 8: The transformation economy values positive change.
The Transformation Economy is a phase of economic development in which the greatest asset of organizations lies in their capacity to generate positive change in people, society and the natural environment.
This change of paradigm is built on the principle that people prefer to consume products and services that significantly respect and fulfil their lives and of those around them. So let’s design exactly for that!
Principle 9: Slow down and before you speed up.
The need for transformation is urgent, the signs of that are unmistakeable in our world. However the rogue idea of ‘move fast and break things’ is as outdated as the idea of individualism or saving ourselves above all and everyone else.
Reflection before action is critical for transformation that is profound, resilient and durable. Transformation is a concerted effort, and once it becomes irresistible… it speeds up through the energy that is set in motion, becoming an organic, evolving and unfolding force.
Principle 10: To transform is to become.
The work is never done. We are always, continuously, in a process of becoming. Transformation is a verb.
Like in sports, it is crucial to stay engaged, keep your eyes on the ball, have an optimistic yet critical point of view and connect continuously with others. The adventure of becoming is wonderful. Even more so, when we engage in it together.
The times they are a-changin' - Bob Dylan
Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin'
And you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
The battle outside ragin'
Will soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls…