Inspired by Ronald Heifetz, we at CTL often distinguish between technical problems and adaptive challenges. Technical problems refer to the challenges that we know how to handle through making accurate predictions, applying already known resources to straightforward solutions to solve them. In other words, when encountering technical problems we can rely on our existing ways of thinking. On the other end of the spectrum, adaptive challenges require us to adapt the way we think about problems in order to solve them. In a way, these challenges require a reorganization of our current ways of thinking. As most of us live and work in complex environments, the idea of encountering adaptive challenges should be familiar to everyone. What we all find hard is overcoming the adaptive challenges confronting us.
In the book Immunity to Change by Dr. Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey (both researchers at Harvard University), the argument is that the best way for finding solutions to adaptive challenges is letting these problems solve us. When encountering technical problems, we utilize current knowledge to find solutions. When encountering adaptive challenges, these situations forces us to develop ourselves. By working with adaptive challenges, this requires acknowledging that our habitual patterns of making meaning of the external world are insufficient given the situation at hand. Simply trying harder to solve problems with merely will power and existing resources are, in these situations, not enough. What they argue, is that this immune system of ours shows itself when the results of our actions do not correspond with the intentions behind our actions.
This immune system is said to consist of three interconnected elements. It is an entanglement between a (1) self-protective system, (2) feeling system, and (3) meaning making system. Bob Anderson’s notion of reactive leadership serves as an example showing a self-protective system. This is a framework integrated in The Leadership Circle – the 360 degree leadership evaluation CTL uses. As for our feeling system (2), we would like to acknowledge the work of Daniel Goleman and David DeSteno. What we can see is that our emotions and emotional bonds with our environment plays the larger part in how individuals behave and choose to act. When talking about our meaning making system (3), we mean the implicit frame of reference from which each of us interpret the world that we see. Through several decades of research, Dr. Robert Kegan has developed his own framework for showing how psychological development tends to follow a clear and consistent trajectory, identifying how perspectives adults operate from move from something we are subject to, towards being objects we can reflect on, and choose among.
The immunity to change framework (ITC) aims to unpack our embedded immune system. As a starting point, it aims to develop a deep awareness of the assumptions and values that drive behaviors. As the founding principle, it aims to bring forth a simple but effective series of steps for investigating the habitual ways of operating we are subject to. As we move throughout life we are constantly automating and operationalizing behavior in order to become better and more effective, capable of turning our attention elsewhere. When the external conditions change, this will sometimes require a change in how we attend to the specifics in the situation – things that once were useful and beneficial in the past, are not forever useful and beneficial.
From a pragmatic point of view, we advocate for ITC serving as a great example of how to solve ourselves, by growing the mindsets needed in order to succeed in today’s complex environment. It sees the individual or group as agile systems, required to adapt and respond to the surroundings. As a way of navigating such systems in the modern world, ITC provides a series of steps for overcoming the barriers preventing long lasting change to happen.