The Open Learning Community's journey since our inception in 2012 has been introspective; it’s been about spiritual and psychological person growth.

It feels to me as if the world and SA are on the cusp of major change and that a whole new way of being in the world is being birthed. Such times have been called THE EDGE OF EMERGENCE requiring a readiness to respond to the new as it arises which, in turn, assumes resilience on the part of leaders and co-creators.


It thus feels right that we shift our focus to become more out-trospective and play our part in these changing times. The question that arise is: Can we help to facilitate change. 

Can we contribute to positive community development and nation building? 


Exercise: I know that many of you like the idea of adventure and of being HELPERS, but let’s consider some other words. Please try on for size: HERO… HEROINE… INFLUENCER… LEADER… CHANGE AGENT… WOUNDED HEALER… Which title suits you best?


Irrespective of the role you choose, it is best not to just PLUNGE in but rather to go PREPARED knowing that not only do we have the potential to affect others, but that we will also be affected by the process of the journey. This programme is about deepening our knowledge and understanding of change and transformation.



Before proceeding I would like to pay tribute to the authors of the book, Change: Principles of Problem formation and Problem Resolution, copyright 1974. While they do not address transformation, I have not yet found a book that explains change and its pitfalls, more succinctly than theirs. This book has profoundly informed my work over the past 30 years. The authors are:

  • Paul Watzlawick, an Austrian psychologist who studied in Venice and settled in California.
  • John Weakland started out as a chemical engineer, then became a psychotherapist.
  • Richard Fisch – MD and Psychiatrist, influenced by Sullivan, contributes to family therapy.

All three were associated with the Mental Research Institute, Palo Alto, California.

Together they explored the field of mathematical logic as set out by Alfred Whitehead and Bertrand Russell in Principia Mathematica, three volumes published between 1910-13, Cambridge, UK.



An all-important UNIVERSAL LAW must be kept in mind when working with change i.e. Change and Stability always occur simultaneously. You cannot have the one without the other. This paradox (i.e. simultaneous existence of apparent opposites) must be kept in mind at all times otherwise even positive change initiatives will be resisted and the change descends into chaos.


A useful image to bear in mind is the thigh rope walker – excessive movement and the tight rope walker falls; no movement (attempting to stand dead still on the line) and the walker falls.

This co-existence of change and stability/persistence applies to the physical, mental and spiritual realms.



The first two types of change result in major shifts in a person’s levels of consciousness:

  • Transformation – the spiritual dimension of change; happens by Divine grace and is hard to undo; it can be temporarily be forgotten or ignored but your inner being knows. Transformation is the highest form of Second Order Change but since it is not man-made we deal with it separately.
  • Second order change – relies on the creativity and ingenuity of the human mind. It often results in big breakthroughs and innovation i.e. quantum leaps in development. Generally used to address stuckness, intransience, and so called ‘wicked problems’.
  • First order change – Also known as continuous improvement. Very common; happens incrementally. Often linked to the normal process of maturation and is then described as being organic in nature. When faced with a problem this is our first port of call. It helps to maintain the status quo. Sometimes it can make the problem even worse.

First and second order change are products of the human mind.



Personal transformation can’t be ordered, prescribed, engineered or organized.

It is a soul contract; a pact between soul and Source / God.

We may be linked to a specific event and perceived to happen spontaneously, but such transformation is a long time coming in one’s heart. In fact, we all yearn for it.


“As far as inner transformation is concerned, there is nothing you can do about it. You cannot transform yourself, and you certainly cannot transform your partner or anybody else. All you can do is create a space for transformation to happen, for grace and love to enter.”  Eckhart Tolle


All truly spiritual experiences are transformational. We cannot ‘yoke’ (meaning of the word ‘yoga’) with the Divine and not be changed.

Exercise:  Can you name Biblical characters who experience transformation? Just about all of them

Name your favourite transformation story, myth, movie and legend?

What symbols or images represent transformation? Butterfly, Phoenix, Lotus, Halo.

Give other words for transformation.    Born again.

Name rites and rituals that encourage transformation. Mass. Ramadan. Passover. Baptism, Traditional Rites of Passage. Retreats.


Personal transformation is hard to measure but it is very observable to others as your energy field has changed; your whole non-verbal is different.

READ: The Illusion by Richard Bach

While we may long for transformation few people set out to engage it. We are creatures of habit who enjoy our comfort zones. It finds us. We sign up for the journey at a soul level – we feel led, guided, called.

In the hero’s journey the main character (you) goes into the forest, up the mountain or down into the underworld. Why? There is a quest for wholeness, for healing and greater understanding… to set aside the shackles of a mundane existence and find our true purpose.


Transformative experiences are deeply PERSONAL and they are PRESCIOUS.

No one can comment or judge another’s journey. Some transformative journeys are very joyful and others are very painful. ALL transformation is deeply EMOTIONAL.

It is often the subject of PRAYER.


Time / duration: can happen in a flash, a day or take years

Often the transformative experience is just the first step in a long and explorative journey but because the experience is so profound, you persevere. Think of Paul of Tarus. His experience on the road to Damascus was dramatic but that was only the beginning. His many letters tell of his trials and tribulations thereafter. However, such was the transformation he experienced, that his commitment to the teachings of Jesus never wavered.



In nature

  • Caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly
  • Frog to egg to tadpole to frog
  • The state of water can change – liquid, solid, gas
  • The seasons


In society – it is possible for groups of people, a society, even an entire nation to be transformed. Here are a few examples:

  • Church groups go on camps and retreats to assist one another in transformative experiences.
  • Singapore, now known for its cleanliness and law abiding citizens, was nicknamed Sin-a-galore in the early 1900’s because of its corruption and decadence.
  • Many Arab countries are currently in the throes of major upheaval with transformation happening to varying degrees at individual and national levels.
  • South Africa - One could say that everyone involved in the Codesa negotiations in the early 90’s experienced some level of transformation. The TRC also played a major role with transformation. There are many more very encouraging examples from this period.


The current racial tensions, sparked by individual comments, make us aware of a residual intransigence present in the SA population, the extent of which is not clear. Irrespective of numbers, it does not bode well for the country. I think it would be safe to assume that we ALL still have work to do in this regard. It is obvious that while some citizens truly embody rainbow nation identity, many have not. Lip service and political correct behaviour to the idea does not constitute true transformation.   


‘…work to do!’ What about the earlier statement that transformation happens by Divine grace rather than human endeavours? Let’s look again at the Tolle quote: ‘All you can do is create a space for transformation to happen, for grace and love to enter’. We need to create this space also at a community and society levels. There are a number of processes that can be used e.g. Open Space technologies and, my favourite, Theory U. This amounts to social engineering and organizational redesign. These first and second order forms of change (see below) are products of the human mind and as such can create opportunities for transformation, but they cannot guarantee true transformation will take place e.g. initiatives by various SA sporting authorities.


At the heart of all transformation are forgiveness and a letting go of the past.

It must be emphasized that transformation is a matter of the heart and not the mind.





Einstein warns that we cannot solve problems by using the same level of thinking that created those problems. He also said that only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible.

This form of problem solving is known as second order thinking or, more commonly, thinking out of the box. It requires a shift in the level of problem solving by changing the description of the problem and the nature of the interventions. The resulting shift produces a ‘quantum leap’, permanently changing the field for all involved.


Spontaneous Ingenuity 

READ the following extracts from Watzlawick et al:

            Mark Twain - Tom Saywer send to whitewash 30 yards of board fence.

            Flemish women and the invading Spanish army

            Ending the Hochosterwitz castle siege in 1334

            A young French lieutenant obeys orders during the French revolution but with a difference


These stories all tell of tense and difficult situations for which there seem to be no obvious solutions. Yet, spur of the moment second order inspiration saves the day in each story.

In these situations change seems to be most successful when fuelled by great inspiration (in spirit) and positive intention. The stakes are high, the will to succeed is great and for the greater good. The plan by which the problem is solved initially makes no logical sense. It is, however, presented with great confidence and conviction (often disguising great inner trembling!)

It involves creative thinking.  


Strategic Planning

Premeditated second order change amounts to strategy, a term much used by the military and big business. It also constitutes the nature of politics. Strategy is all about gaining one-upmanship over another. It is about out-thinking and outwitting another so as to gain a strategic advantage.


Strategists think of life as a game of chess; a game you ultimately want to win.

You want to manipulate information, resources, know-how, territory – whatever – to your advantage. We all do it, consciously or unconsciously and it stems from childhood: believing that parental love is finite, we competed with our siblings for it.


Strategic interventions always carry a certain amount of risk as outcomes cannot be guaranteed.

A wrong move may boomerang and can be very costly (think of big mergers that do not work or even just the dynamics of a family business. Consider all that is at stake when it comes to international politics especially when oil and nuclear arms play a role).


It is very important to clearly know your own intentions before embarking on strategic journeys. Be clear about your own values. Be mindful of ethics and try to think win-win instead of win-lose.

When you work with positive intention, you generate a field that can become an attractor for the overall well-being of all. When you sense that the intentions of the other parties involved are not good, be mindful and stay focussed on your own intentions. Do not to get swayed by their field of malevolence. Remember that they too are generating a field. Work with Light.  




First order change is generally about correcting a deviance so as to return to the status quo.

From factories to families, companies to communities we all have an expectation of the way things should be because that is what we know works and we have built our lives around the expectation of things working in that particular way. First order changes may improve the functioning of something but it does not radically change the nature or purpose of that something.


In factories, for example, quality inspectors ensure the consistent adherence to set standards; they problem solve by eliminating anything that may interfere with the replication of the norm.

In a family, a member may go to great lengths, even display so-called disruptive behaviour, to ensure the stability of the family structure e.g. for a member not to leave home.


Some first order change interventions are very productive and useful ensuring the longevity of institutions. Commonly referred to as continuous improvement, such interventions make logic sense, can be very progressive and, when problems arise, should always be attempted first. 


There are times, however, when first order solutions can be hugely counter-productive. They slow down progress and hamper innovation.