In his book, Spontaneous Evolution: Our Positive Future (And A Way To Get Here From There), Bruce Lipton highlights a four-phase process for transforming situations and conditions that’s worth considering.
The stages: (1) inform, (2) conform, (3) un-form, or deform, and (4) reform.
Telling the truth is the first step toward responsibility.” —Leonard Laskow
The first phase in change is information. We can’t make sound decisions without facts or information that organizes the facts in a way we can understand and use them.
This stage is also where transformations can most easily stall: people in power tend not to be open to facts or information that call their position into question, and they also tend not to willingly receive facts or information from people they’ve marginalized and discounted.
Ultimately, however, sustainable transformation doesn’t happen on any other ground than the truth.
Handcrafts are great for teaching that we can’t shape what we won’t touch. Conforming to a situation, at least to a degree, gives us a measure of leverage to influence it.
My post on consistency acknowledges that the status quo relies on our compliance and participation. The way things are depends on us, and so do any relationships and contexts we transform: we can’t change something, abandon it, and expect it to remain the same.
So we stay in conscious relationship with our families, churches, communities, and nations, because it’s through contact that we can change each other. This is the principle Octavia Butler built into The Parable of the Sower: “All that you touch / you change / All that you change / changes you.”
Lipton’s book calls this stage “unforming,” perhaps to escape the negative associations of “deformity.”
But dissolution is part of change. And if the status quo is unsustainable, we have to de-form at least part of it to create something new.
A lot of people find this part of change frightening, and so resist it. I’ve resisted deformation in my own life too. I resisted until I realized that the outcomes I wanted lay on the other side of this stage, and the only way to get from here to there was through.
Deforming involves releasing attachment to expectations and to what’s been. It involves dismantling old forms, loosening long-running patterns, and allowing experimentation with new structures, new configurations.
Breaking apart the fixed and making room for play: that’s deformation.
This is the stage I most easily associate with “change.” At this fourth stage, we re-structure the pieces that we previously validated with fact, accepted through relationship, and broke apart and experimented with. As such, the fourth stage builds on the preceding three.
Reformation provides a new order. It’s not a chaotic stage. It’s constructive; it builds on what’s past in a different way. A reformer isn’t always one who merely tweaks the system: the Protestant Reformers each offered quite substantial challenges to the logic of the Church. What makes this stage isn’t the degree or pace of change, but the revision, the rebuilding, the reshaping to more closely match a vision or a goal.
The only mainstream application of this change process that I could find today was in the context of Greece’s bailouts and concerns about its national education system. This commentary includes a slightly different third and fourth stage than the structure Lipton presents:
Botis, J., Chatzigeorgiou, A., Chatzilymperis, G., Kalafatakis, K., Katsouni, E., Mylonas, N., & Zarros, A. (2013). Inform, conform, reform and do not deform: A four axons’ framework for the Hellenic academic institutions facing the Greek crisis challenge. Journal of Natural Science, Biology, and Medicine, 4(1), 268–269. [http://doi.org/10.4103/0976-9668.107325]
If you do read Lipton further, keep in mind this web review of his combination of science, mythology, and ideology. It’s written by a Cornell scientist and is a good reminder to read all sources with care.