Monday, March 15, 2010

Homeostasis finds a way

One phenomena of the power of homeostasis is that whenever a leader attempts to bring about change he or she will most certainly encounter sabotage. While we can find some comfort in the notion that reactivity is unimaginative, and therefore predictable, sabotage has a thousand faces. The fun thing about sabotage (if one can be non‐reactive about it), is that while we can expect it, we will always be surprised at the forms it takes.

Most of us will be surprised at the form the resistance takes.The preacher was annoyed because an elderly man kept falling asleep during his sermon every Sunday morning. So one day he said to the man’s grandson, “If you can keep your grandfather awake I’ll pay you a quarter every week.”

The ruse worked for two weeks. The old man was alert and listened to the sermon. But on the third Sunday the preacher found that the old man had fallen asleep again. After the service the preacher sent for the boy.

“I’m disappointed. Didn’t I promise you a quarter a week to keep your grandfather awake?” asked the preacher.

“Yes,” replied the grandson, “but Grandpa gives me a dollar a week not to disturb him.”

Homeostasis resists change in equilibrium. Every move toward change seems to be met with a countermove in the form of resistance,sabotage, entrenchment, confrontation, opposition, passive aggressive strategies, or sheer stubbornness. Experienced leaders never underestimate the power of homeostasis to reestablish systemic equilibrium.

The curious thing is that there appears to be no "logic" to the desire for maintaining equilibrium. Even if the change is acknowledged to be of potential benefit to the system, and to individuals in the system, change will still be resisted. The mystery here seems to be that "getting better" does not trump maintaining equilibrium.

Some systems are more resilent than others, and therefore, more open to change for the better (developmental or evolutionary). For those that are most resistant to change What seems to be required for change is reaching a tipping point where maintaining homeostasis becomes untenable. For example:

  • Reaching a point when it becomes clear that it's a matter of "Change or die." (But some organizations die before they arrive at the point where that insight is accepted).
  • A change agent with enough clout to push pass the impasse
  • A shift in the system in the percentage in numbers and/or influence in the ratio between those open to change and those resistant to change
  • A shift in a re-commitment to corporate values so as to bring about embracing vision, progress, relevance, and growth 
  • Sufficient pressure from outside forces or agencies to force change by overwhelming the resistance.

Adapted from Perspectives on Congregational Leadership, by Israel Galindo

1 comment:

  1. This is quite accurate and pertinent to my work with business professionals who declare their desire for change and growth, but who have competing goals, thus the opposite of homeostasis...they maintain their balance of imbalance. The busy professional who complains of not having enough time, can't and won't find the time to invest in change that will give them time...the business owner who complains of not having enough money, can't and won't find the money to invest in change that will give him a great return on his investment...

    What I can't remember is what the opposite of homeostasis is...will you tell me?