Last week I wrote about the interdependent relationship between culture and change to illustrate how our organizations should be viewed as systems, not machines. In a system, change works when a critical mass of people in a system can transcend the mindset of the current operating system. I believe the main takeaway with this concept is that the consciousness of people in the organization matters in any kind of change work. 

Traditionally we have created change in nice, bounded chunks. Our focus is typically on getting from point A to point B. The leaders have a vision for the change and know the need to accomplish it. The consciousness of the people actually implementing the change isn’t important, just their willingness to carry out the action steps to accomplish the change initiative.

What nature can teach us about raising our consciousness

Nature is always focused on the ongoing evolution of the whole system. It creates conditions conducive to evolution through information and feedback. For example, DNA is a knowledge/information-based genetic code. When nature evolved from single-cell reproduction to multi-cell reproduction, it created an explosion of possibilities that didn’t exist before. Suddenly, the mix of DNA in multi-cell reproduction evolved the diversity of life. This is an example of how nature uses knowledge and information to shift the evolution of a system.

Nature also uses feedback to help species shape their adaption to their environment and to reinforce evolution or curb excess that inhibits the evolution of the whole system. Information, knowledge, and feedback working together build instinct in nature and consciousness in people. 

If we see consciousness as a measure of our mindfulness and awareness of deep background assumptions, then creating conditions for increased consciousness in an organization or system becomes essential to any change effort. Traditionally we have had a blind spot about the role of mindsets in organizational change. In my experience, we can’t create sustainable change without focusing on mindsets to create a shift in consciousness and prevailing beliefs.

Three strategies that help organizations evolve and create conditions for a change in mindsets

Here are three strategies I have used to increase consciousness and shift the current mindsets of an organization and its culture.

  1. How can I design interactions that will spread the knowledge embedded in parts of the organization and spread it throughout the organization? Usually, we focus on who is going to get the change done. When we understand that the mindset must shift to support the change initiative, the question turns into “what interactions will help create the change we want to see?” By designing our change work to include people and groups that aren’t from just one area or position in the organization, we create spaces where knowledge and thinking can be spread and grown in an organization. These kinds of interactions act like multi-cell reproduction in nature – it spreads information and explodes our understanding.
  2. What information is missing or needs to be introduced into the system for it to evolve? Assessing the mindset and knowledge in the organization in its current form helps us see what information is shaping how people think. As a consultant, I always ask myself, what information needs to be added to the system for it to evolve?
  3. How can we create rich and diverse feedback to help the organization evolve and become more adaptive to the environment it is working within? Our external environment is always evolving, but sometimes organizations don’t have good feedback loops to receive signals that tell us to change. Creating ways to increase our attention to scanning the environment for feedback is one way to start accelerating change.

Information changes mindsets and therefore changes thinking

Our habits need to be sequenced and allowed to percolate in people’s thinking before we see shifts in consciousness. It is important to remember that this strategy is ongoing in our change work. We seed information and plant knowledge so that people can absorb and integrate it into their minds. That is how we increase the consciousness of the system we are working in.