Transition Model

Stephen Covey with his “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” [S.R. Covey 1992] contributed significantly to the theory and practice of personal development of people by describing how their habits evolve to greater level of effectiveness, given sufficient “internal drive” (reading the book and doing something about ones own personal development), or possibly some coaching. He defines habits as “… the intersection of knowledge, skill and desire” with knowledge as the “theoretical paradigm, the what to do and why.” “Skill is the how to do. And desire is the motivation, the want to do.” [S.R. Covey 1992, pp46-47] Habits become habits only if all three components are present. Covey describes seven habits, which once acquired, lead to greater personal effectiveness. He then ordered these habits in the way one builds on others. This way Covey defines three development stages an individual passes through as more and more of the seven habits are acquired. Note that whilst Covey views this mainly from the point of the individual, there is, of course, an impact of the development of new habits on the social environment in which the individual is embedded. But back to Covey’s model:

Transition Stages

Transition Stages

development starts at stage “A” (see figure labeled ‘Transition Stages’), the dependent stage. Dependent people focus their effort on the circle of concern. They focus on the problems and circumstances in their environment over which they do not have control. “The negative energy generated by that focus, combined with neglecting areas they can do something about, causes their circle of influence to shrink” [S.R. Covey 1992], their circle of influence being what they can, or could, do something about. Independent people focus their effort on the circle of influence (see Circle B in ‘Transition Stages’), they concentrate on those areas which they can do something about. You change from dependent to independent by acquiring new habits — essentially and new paradigm of thinking and behaving, a change from reactive to proactive. Its is easy to see who runs the world. But the model is not at an end. Trust, empathy, and transcendence are the drivers that make individuals enter relationships which may even take symbiotic forms. This final stage of development is called interdependent (see Circle C in ‘Transition Stages’). The transition to the third stage requires the insight that multiple dependence and independence relationships with others are necessary to achieve a common purpose. The discovery of mirror-neurons uncovered one facet through which nature reminds us of our connectedness.

Covey’s transition model can equally well be used to describe the change of the predominant behavioral paradigms of the society of the time. If we start with the status of society before the 1st Renaissance, then that was clearly the dependent stage. It was a society with a “God-given” hierarchy of authority, which effectively has the lower echelons of society dependent on the higher ones, spiritually, physically and economically. In addition the control over — or even the insight into — the forces of nature was slight. This reinforced the spiritual dependency. Circle A in ‘Transition Stages’ describes the situation that the majority of people are dependent on the rule of someone (or a class) that is in control. We call these situations control scenarios, or sometimes external control scenarios. Different variants of these scenarios exist today. When applied to organizations the often multiply nested control structures create companies we call Newtonian. The 1st Renaissance created the modern concept of the individual — the human with influence on, if not even control of, the individuals own destiny. The humanism ideals arising from the 1st Renaissance did not apply to all of society, but it changed the shape of society and empowered larger segments of the population than ever before.

Clearly not everyone shared in the  benefits of a humanistic vision. New, and some of the old, elite groups of independent people increased their own level of influence and thus shaped the circles of concern for many dependent people. Over time there have been many predictions of society “getting stuck” in such external control scenarios, notably “Brave New World” and “1984”. Covey’s model has a third stage, though. And we believe this applies to the transformation of society, too. The driver and enabler for this transition is again technology, technology based on scientific concepts that eliminated the boundary between observed object and observer and introduced “entanglement” and “synchronicity“.

The final stage of societal development — interdependence (see Circle C in ‘Transition Stages’) — has not not yet been reached, but we can see glimpses of it. It allows communities to form as purposeful organizations [R.L. Ackoff and F.E. Emery 1972], which can be seen as group evolution to a higher level of competence.

In ‘The Descent of Man,’ Charles Darwin [C. Darwin 1874] wrote a great deal about the evolution of morality – where did it come from, why do we have it. Darwin noted that many of our virtues are of very little use to ourselves, but they’re of great use to our groups. He wrote about the scenario in which two tribes of early humans would have come in contact and competition. He said, “If the one tribe included a great number of courageous, sympathetic and faithful members who are always ready to aid and defend each other, this tribe would succeed better and conquer the other.” He went on to say that “Selfish and contentious people will not cohere, and without coherence nothing can be effected.” Whilst the central control scenarios are understood much better — based on past and current experience — they are not a desirable role model for the future of society. Experience with the interdependence stage exist paricularly in open source software communities, but also in many other open communities in other disciplines. In spite of its significant achievements [E. Ostrom 1990, C. Hess and E. Ostrom 2011, A. Kahane 2004, A. Merkel 2012] this model is still seen as “exotic.”

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One Response to Transition Model

  1. chrishammel says:

    The transition model is an interesting view about human behavior and social system. Finally it can be traced back to the values which drive our motivation, behavior and actions. I would like to raise this question here: from which system or entity do we and can we derive these set of values? Above is mentioned humanism as a (possible) source. But also this is a system created by humans, so how can we be sure that this is the right system and if different groups of people or nations do not agree on this model or even demand another system as the source of values which would bring us to the highest stage of evolution. Finally the question is, if it is a value or ruleset defined by humans or values given from the outside. Today in the Western world we have a constitution and legal practice which finally goes back to Christian values based on the ten biblical commandments.

    Any thoughts on this?

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