Excerpt from Indirect Work — Carol Sanford’s Latest Book
Once upon a time, I used to take client groups I was working with to visit projects that I had helped establish. I wanted to inspire them and give them a sense of what was possible. Then one day I realized that what I was doing was having the exact opposite of its intended effect. When I walked onto these sites, I could see all kinds of things that were invisible to my tour participants. I could see people thinking creatively on their feet, open to new insights and information unfolding in present time. I could see processes and product offerings that were systemic enough in their implications to transform industries. I could see managers and workers interacting nonhierarchically toward shared purposes. All of this was visible to me because of the new mind I was using to interpret the phenomena in front of me, but it was always mostly invisible to the people on my tours, who were working from their old minds, chained in Socrates’ cave. What they saw simply served to reinforce what they already “knew” to be true.
I believe that this self-reinforcing pattern of thought is the crucial issue of our moment. Most of us agree that things need to change, that neither society nor our planet can maintain their integrity if we continue on our current path. But confusion arises when we try to figure out what change actually means and how to make it happen.
Many people believe that change means reshaping our practices, improving what we do and how we do it. I call this working directly, as if we were all billiard balls on a vast table. If we exert the right force in the right direction, we can knock everyone into the ideal positions to function harmoniously and sustainably. This forms the basis for the majority of theories of change operating in the world today.
For me, these approaches to change are all working from an old mind. We’ve modified what we do, but we haven’t addressed who we are. It’s no accident that nearly every philosophical and spiritual wisdom tradition teaches that profound and enduring change can only come from transforming who we are and how we experience and understand the world. This is indirect work, an instrument with the potential to change the world when it is understood within a framework for a coherent theory of change.