So What is Wrong with “Transformation”?

Something is “wrong” when it isn’t accurate or reflective of “reality” (for practical purposes, reflective of how life works). 1+1=3 is wrong.

In much the same way, the reputation of “transformation”, “personal transformation”, “organizational transformation” is also wrong.  In part, the inaccuracy is that it is held in the wrong grammar — it isn’t a thing, a permanent state, an end state, or even necessarily a stable state. And in part, the inaccuracy about “transformation” comes from a hoped for permanent resolution. Ultimately, held in these ways, “transformation” becomes its own mode of being stuck — with a better story, a better “self-identity”, and a better gloss on the situation.

What the term “transformation” hides is its worst enemy. It hides that a “transformation of the kind of self a human being is” is called for many times in life. It hides that no one of them is a permanently fitting answer to life and living. Also hidden is that a “transformation” in the kind of self one considers oneself to be calls for an appropriate investment in ongoing development to mine the territory made available by the “transformation” and to move from unaware, to aware to competent to masterful of its powers. The conversation regarding “transformation” also hides that it has its limits, and that at some point it will call for its own transcendence –– another transformation — that resolves the crystallized limitations of the last one.

I find that it works best to flip the categories and to consider a “transformation” as an occasionally appropriate element inside an ongoing and consistent discipline of “development.” Development is always called for. There is a next level of adaptation and freedom with life that is always available. Occasionally, the next level of adaptation and freedom and power with life also calls for a new constellation of one’s self. You can call this “transformation” required, or you can call it a “transition point” in life.

Either way, it will be followed by the discipline of development to mine the territory opened. Also either way, over time, another transition point, another transformation, will be called for to bring one’s age and stage, one’s life project, a company’s culture, timely accomplishments that fit an altered culture or historical time, to a new and more fitting connection with others and life.

I have seen people reach for a next transformation, a next boot in the seat of the pants, when what was really missing was making good on the available powers of the last one. Without developing the powers appropriate to each transformation, there is lacking a solid base on which to build the next one. Instead of a solid pyramid built on reliable development throughout a life time, one gets a tall and thin pole of transformations that are brittle by nature and lack a wide degree of freedom.

Bet on ongoing development with integrity and you get transformations built on a solid base. Bet on transformation as the answer, and in all likelihood, large areas of needed development will be missing.

I say transformation is a subset of development. One in which the very “self” is altered. This happens in every well met transition in life.

About Ken Anbender

Kenneth Anbender Ph.D. has spent the last 50 years working with more than a hundred thousand people directly on the principles and methods that support the fulfillment of a human life -- in community and at work. He has developed a body of work that is licensable called The Contegrity Approach.
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6 Responses to So What is Wrong with “Transformation”?

  1. Shokai says:

    Ken, thanks for this new view on the word “transformation.” I like it. And at this point in the world of business and government today I would wish some of them would try them both or at least one of them! It seems they are stuck in the 1950’s only with the use of computers. I keep hoping and working for the best and that we are willing and able to develop and transform into a world of peace, love, and compassion with equality for all in the workplace and everywhere.
    Thanks for the work you are doing to make this a little more possible each day.
    Shokai (Kathy Bishop)

  2. Ken Anbender says:

    Shokai, thanks for your comments.
    Interestingly, the view of what it is likely to take to “develop” people, communities, and cultures, and countries to be based in peace, love and compassion is rather daunting and likely ought to be thought of in centuries, with significant work to be done to resolve individualism, racism, xenophobia, notions of scarcity, etc.
    That same view as a “transformation” often hides the basic work necessary to support it’s occurrence. Transforming the world to be peaceful will not likely be one single large insight or alteration of being. Thanks for the direction of your intention, and thanks too for your patience to “make it a little more possible each day.”

    • Thanks for the response to my comments. I send regards from my teacher Mitch Doshin Cantor he has such wonderful things to say about you and your long time friendship. I look forward to receiving your blog posts and learning from you as well. I am happy that Mitch connected us. In gassho, Shokai

  3. Perry says:

    Ken – very helpful to view transformation in a broader context – not an end, but a transition point in a larger arc of development. It takes the pressure off: no more false need to get the transformation “right” and “forever”. On the other hand, if mining the powers of the next transformation is dependent on “making good on the available powers of the last one” – how do you know when you’re building on a solid base – what markers or signals do you rely on to give you that green light, i.e., when you “know” your approach is sound?

    • Ken Anbender says:

      Perry, well said and good question. If we recall that our so-called transformation is connected to our lives and where our lives meet others and Life itself, then life signals when we have made the most of the last transformation. We have power in areas where we hadn’t and are reliable in areas where we were not before. The point at which it is time for the next “transformation” is when the powers of the last do not meet well the challenges of the next stage of our lives. The situation will crystallize an issue that the old modes of operating do not resolve. At that point, another sense of self, and another access to sources of power is called for. The time for mining the old is over and the time for generating a new space of opportunity for freedom, power, and fit is present. So, in short, life will let you know when it is time to move on when the old ways aren’t as fulfilling nor as powerful. It takes but to listen.

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