I’ve been spending some time recently, ruminating on control. This is a subject I’ve been engaged with since 1995, when I developed my Control, Power, and Strategy workshop. Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve our problems at the same level of consciousness that created them." And there is no area where that is more true than control.
Control is a relic of past times. Of a time when fear reigned and the only antidote appeared to be control. We, as a species, felt at the mercy of the weather, of animals and even other people, so taking control seemed like the most natural thing to do. Ah, but what, exactly, did we control? Certainly not the weather and only occasionally were we able to control animals or other people, yet the myth of control persists. In fact we have spent the past many hundreds of years working diligently to control nature and other people. We have failed miserably at both.
Control as Power Over
We have succeeded at changing some of our experience with nature by damming rivers, cultivating crops, and building better houses, but the myth of control has really been about protection, we really haven’t changed Mother Nature. Have we had a better experience in controlling other people? We have learned how to make people obedient, at least for a time, through fear. The ‘might makes right’ approach has been applied to everyone from our children to people of other races and other lands. We have threatened, beaten, and incarcerated millions of people and achieved some temporary respite from their threatening behavior, but it just doesn’t seem to last. It appears we’ve protected ourselves, but not really made any real changes in people’s beliefs, desires, or even long-term behavior.
From a systems thinking point of view, control is always imposed from outside the system. It is done to – someone or some thing. That is why it is never permanent or ultimately very satisfactory. It offers temporary relief and protection from uncomfortable situations, but the consequences can be unpredictable (climate change), even horrific (political uprisings), and unwanted (death of salmon because of warm water or blocked spawning grounds or ruptured personal relationships).
We are not skilled in making the changes we seek. Our need for comfort has resulted in our habitual stepping out of the system to act on it, which makes immediate relief possible, but often adversely impacts long-term success. Control often looks like punishment, instead of a request for consideration or help.
Control, Values and Culture
It is interesting to look at how control manifests in the three value systems: protection, effectiveness and sustainability. In the Protective Value Set™, the point of view is one of ‘us versus them’ so control is exercised on ‘us’ (loyalty, obedience, vengeance) so we can depend upon each other as we try and protect ourselves from ‘them.’ In the Effective Value Set™ control is exerted toward clear communication (not using force, contracts, honesty) so that the responsibility for success is shared. In the Sustainable Values Set® control is focused on relationship (right relationship, all actions create the conditions that support life, keeping the integrity of the whole). The locus of control shifts from me to us to we. With each iteration we become more integral to the system and more aware of our impact upon it.
The same progression holds true when you look at corporate culture. The Three cultures: Command and Control, Collaborative, and Co-Creative shift in a similar way from ‘me’ (my way), to ‘us’, but the Co-Creative culture can get high-jacked back into ‘me’ if there is not a shared purpose that underscores the ‘we’. The three Value Sets support the various cultures, but the Sustainable Values Set® offers the vision that ensure the Co-Creative culture moves into ’we’. This is one of the strategic strengths of becoming a zero waste and rigorous company. The need for every to participate is also why the need to control processes shifts from controlling people to people engaging in self-discipline.
Control and Discipline
Discipline is how conscious parts of the system maintain control from within the system. Discipline is expressed in each of the three cultures and value systems a bit differently: in the Protective Value Set™ and the Command and Control culture people discipline themselves because of their commitment and loyalty to the leader; in the Effective Value Set™ and the Collaborative culture it is the desire to maintain productive relationships that provides the desire for self-discipline; where in the Co-Creative culture and the Sustainable Value Set® it is the commitment to something greater that makes self-discipline seem worthwhile.
The need for protection is inherently separated from the system, but the desire to co-create is inherently an inside the system position. Changing the system to meet our individual needs is inherently temporary, time consuming and expensive. Co-creating using the dynamics inherent in the system, is more likely permanent, becomes part of our lifestyle or time is not an issue, and is even more economical in the long-run, yet it appears slower to start and feels like a distraction from the immediate release sought from the presenting irritation. Like any journey we have to learn to raise our sights from the excitement of the journey to a focus on long-term success if we want to avoid the unintended consequences inherent in a short-term point of view.
When we control ourselves – our own emotions, thoughts and actions, instead of trying to control the ‘other’ the whole world changes from one of danger to one of interest, from one of protection to one of learning and from a place where we are victims to a place where we are co-creators of the future. Which place would you prefer to live in?
Kathryn Alexander, MA: futurist, speaker, author coach, her systems thinking approach to values and ethics enables deep change by impactful leaders.