My Black Swan Award winning talk (Symposium A’dam Nov. 11th – 12th 2014): The Fourth Paradigm in the Work Field


Those of who have read my LinkedIn profile know that I’m slip sliding into my fourth life. That’s in fact the explanation of the first word in the title of my presentation.

Those of you who detest the P word, may I kindly ask you to replace that word instantly in your brains by a word that you do like: Frame of Reference, Point of View, Worldview, Mindset,… – as my third father Charlie Palmgren does – be my guest. By the way, my understanding of the P concept comes from the late Stephen Covey and I use the graphic representation of it presented by Joel Arthur Barker in his book ‘Paradigms’.

During the next minutes I will be pleading for a, in my humble opinion, very needed shift in thinking and acting in the work field, and thus not only in the realm of Safety.

One disclaimer though, I do not – and I repeat – I do not own the truth. I will be simply authentic interacting with all of you, from my Consciousness, my Mindset, my Frame of Reference, … my Paradigm if you will.

As I’ve said to picture a paradigm, I use the presentation of Joel Barker, which is the left side of a Bell Curve and, to me, during a paradigm shift the good elements of the existing way of living are kept. Therefore the shift is in my view, more a sudden evolution than a drastic revolution.

The paradigm shifts I’ve lived through are the following:

In my early years as a production manager in a French chemical plant I lived in the Technical mindset. Practically all our solutions for workplace and safety problems were technical. The concepts of this mindset were still rooted in the thinking of Frederick Taylor, William Heinrich and the like.

Due to a severe accident during the startup of a sulfuric acid plant in Visag, India, I got an epiphany and Safety became one of my values. Soon after that I was studying Safety at the University of Leuven and in 1980 I became Engineer in the Safety Techniques. As you can hear, the title is still grounded in the technical Frame of Reference.

It was the late Frank E. Bird Jr who introduced me in the eighties to, what he called, the new horizon in Safety: the organizational mindset. In fact, Frank changed the focus regarding the first domino of Heinrich’s model from Personal Features, like upbringing and education, to the Organizational Safety Program, its activities, criteria and their application.

In the late eighties I became consultant and used Frank’s ISRS audit system extensionally and very soon it became clear to me that, by combining the technical and the organizational endeavors alone, we never would reach the level of safety we wanted and needed. At that moment I met my third father Charlie Palmgren. The answer to this problem, the Human paradigm, given for instance by Dupont and BST, was in my eyes not always very Human. Although I preached a more human form of BBS, in this third and still prevailing way of organizing the workplace, the reality is that the emphasis is still strongly on ‘control’, and more precisely ‘control from the outside-in’. And most of the time top-down control, and even in the rare horizontal cases, it is still ‘from the outside-in’.

The last decade I’ve seen numerous signs that this way of living in the workplace does not bring us nearer to our goal, on the contrary.

For instance, in the field of Safety, workers and employees do not believe top management any more. The use by this Top management of illogical slogans and unrealistic programs have as result that the people in the organization merely make, in an artificial way, the moves of the change. They are far from being transformed!

Mantras as ‘Safety first’, ‘zero accidents’ and ‘zero preventable accidents’ have created a massive ‘black hole’ between the leaders and the followers, with a strong BOHICA (Bent Over Here It Comes Again) mentality as a result. Employees listen to those mantras and at the same time see with their Eagle eyes the reality, have corresponding gut feelings and… do not believe in Management any more.  Oh yeah, they still dance the necessary dances when the auditor comes along, and sure, they have learned to behave like chickens while still thinking and acting ‘outside of the company’ as the Eagles they really are.

Another sign that the way we are doing business is worn out, is the fact that we did not put into place a real answer to Demings’ command number eight: ‘Drive Out Fear’. Despite of books like “Driving Fear out of the Workplace’ by Kathleen Ryan and Daniel Oestreich, people are mostly still driven by fear.

And this will happen if we stay in this Mindset!

So what is my Dream which I call the Fourth Paradigm in the workplace?

My dream is that, in this new way of living in the workplace we finally drive out fear by replacing ‘outside-in control’ by ‘inside-out control’. Replacing ‘top-down’ control by a ‘top-down/bottom-up and all directions control from the inside-out’, which is a ‘both/and & different from’ approach. And this through honest, asked for and appreciatively understood feedback.

My dream is that we don’t realize plans any more through a mechanical use of Demings’ ‘Plan-Do-Check-Adjust’, but by continuously adapting those plans to an ever changing dynamic reality. This is, as my fourth father Paul de Sauvigny de Blot thought me, the essence of Business Spirituality. Business being the doing and Spirituality the being itself. Those two have to be constantly in interaction, and this interaction is the key to the new horizon. I call this interaction between doing and being, Creative Interchange.

The good news is that this process, through which we will create our bright new future in the workplace, including in Safety, the process by which we will transform our culture, is known to all of us. I’ll tell you more, we all were born with the Creative Interchange Process. It is this process that transforms our mind since it cannot transform itself.  It is through that process we are able to transform ourselves from chicken to eagles, so to speak.

You want an evidence based proof? Look carefully and awarenessfully at a young child. If you’re young, your own child; if you’re old, your grandchild and you’ll see tremendous evidence of that living process. Indeed the Creative Interchange Process is still fully alive in young children.

Do you know how creative kids of five are? They have measured the ability of young children to solve problems in a pleasant way, without any help of procedures, guidelines or systems and they’ve found that youngsters are extremely creative – 98 on a scale of hundred – until the age of five.

Do you know what happens with that creativity over time? Well, … when a kid is eight years old, his score has dropped to a mere 36%. Since that kid has been sent to school in the years between those two scores, people, like Sir Ken Robinson, blame education and the school system for that dramatic drop in creativity. I believe those facts are correlated and that there is no causation.

In my humble opinion the underlying reason for this decline of the creativity in young kids is their discovery and living of the Vicious Circle during that time frame. Without going into detail be aware that the Vicious Circle process is the opposite process who brakes, so to speak, the healthy work of the Creative Interchange Process. Both processes the positive Creative Interchange and the negative Vicious Circle are always more or less at work in a healthy person.

Those two processes are alive in this and will be in the future paradigm. So what is than the difference of the two eras. In the actual era the Vicious Circle draws too much energy from the Creative Interchange Process. In the future era, the opposite will take place.

What practically will change in the new paradigm?

Let’s start with change itself. Change projects will become transformation projects. Actually most change projects want to change what is and are constantly at war with the facts, while forcing people constantly into new models the ‘outside-in’ way. Transformation on the other hand is bringing out what is inside, thus the ‘inside-out’ way.

During transformation you have to see the reality in a different way. The sequence of transformation is ‘See-Feel-Do’. Let me explain this concept using my own Crucial Dialogue Model, based on Creative Interchange.

As long as people don’t first see it and really feel it, no inside transformation is possible. At best, people will perhaps display another behavior, they’ll change their behavior temporarily and nothing will really be transformed, the mindset will not be altered.

If you really want transformation who is enduring, it has to come from the inside-out. This can only been done by living the Creative Interchange Process. This is the meta transformation process of life, which was for the first time described that way by dr. Henry Nelson Wieman, an American Religious Philosopher. Pay attention, Wieman did not invent the process, he just discovered it and gave it the name I use: Creative Interchange.

Creative interchange consist of four characteristics:

  1. Authentic Interaction,
  2. Appreciative Understanding
  3. Creative Integrating
  4. Continual Transforming

The first two characteristics provide the SEEing:

Authentic Interacting, which means sharing with integrity your best and encouraging others to share their best;

Appreciative Understanding, which is listening with humility to understand and appreciate the best other know and value.

Through living these characteristics we FEEL and, if it is a real problem, we want to DO something about it, therefore:

Creative Integrating, which is building positives and whishes into “both/and & different from” creative outcomes; and finally

Continual Transforming, which is acting on our best, thus on the decisions we’ve been taken, and remaining open to learning what is better.

The conditions, needed for this process to be fluent, have been mostly discovered by my third Father dr. Charles Leroy Palmgren. Charlie Palmgren, whom I sometimes nickname ‘the best kept secret of the USA”.

For instance, the basic conditions for the first characteristic “Authentic Interacting’ are TRUST and being able to show VULNERABILITY without FEAR, so that people can be OPEN knowing that they won’t be caught because of that!

Charlie has not only identified the basic conditions, even more important, he has distilled some tools that can be used to enhance the probability that the conditions will be fostered, so that the process can finally do its work. In this he follows the quote of Buckminster Fuller;

“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.”

And indeed there is a creative interaction between the tools and the conditions. For instance if I proof to have listened carefully to what the other person said, by using ‘confirmed paraphrasing’ – one of the tools – Trust and Openness, basic conditions of the first characteristic, will enhance! By the way, Trust and Openness are also the basic conditions of the first phase of my Crucial Dialogue Model, which is built upon and is a daily application of that wonderful process.

One of the major problems of the actual reality is that people in organizations don’t really trust their management any more. They have so long lived in a world of mistrust, that it takes a mindset transformation before people really open themselves.

In my experience, when I start in an organization unlocking the Creative Interchange Process, people are staring at me and I see them thinking “there we go again, a new consultant, and he’s coming with a new hype, so it is Creative Interchange this time, well… wait and you’ll see, we’ve seen so many passing by”. You know the ‘been there, done that, got the T-shirt’ mentality. And how do I react? I Appreciative understand and voice their thinking (which is paraphrasing) and they confirm and when they see and feel that I’m really listening to them, the crucial dialogue based on Creative Interchange can start. It’s true, we have to invest a lot in dialogue, over and over again. And during those dialogues I ask them about their reality and about their dreams. And I use a single important question: “What does frustrate you in your work and your work environment?”

As you know there is a lot of energy bottled up in frustration. And this energy is released when people are able to talk freely about their frustrations. And be aware, with this frustration comes the anger. For me this is a sign we’re on the right track. I then am sure that they are locked in, what I call, the Vicious Circle. That’s a reality at the ‘awareness’ level. So what we first have to do is to slow down the pace of the spinning of this circle, which will ultimately set free the positive creative interchange process. The anger is not bad at all, it is the sign that the passion is coming back.

I agree, it is a difficult phase in the transformation process when the energy is first released as anger and blame. Of course I don’t take that personally and, most of all, Management should not do this either, because otherwise they will be pushed back into their Vicious Circle, into allergy.

So management has to accept fully the perception of their people, if not I can’t help them. Which has been, to be honest, too much the case in my career. You know, Transformation management is Perception management. People are not mad at management, per sé, they are mad at the behavior of management.  If the leaders want to transform the perception of their followers, they will have to change their behavior in order to become a role model of the new way of doing things around here. They will have to transform themselves.

Deep transformation starts at the top, not with the whole organization! In the actual paradigm the change plan is first sold to management and then, immediately, rolled out in the Organization.

Deep transformation is accepting the need for personal transformation, starting with top management. They have to live the transformation process, thus the Creative Interchange Process by themselves – at least six months – before starting to roll it out in the Organization. And the rolling out should be a cascading down the Hierarchy!

Remember, followers do have Eagle eyes and SEE the difference between what Leaders say they will do and what they actually do, have accordingly FEELings and will take ACTION on those.

So what is needed, is that, before rolling out the transformation process, the members of the Management Team live the process themselves and do ask for and do give one another honest feedback about how they are living it. “Are we really doing ourselves what we will ask from our people in the near future?” is the crucial question.

So my dream is that in the new paradigm Fear will be ultimately driven out by the leaders who live the transformation process themselves from the inside out. And do this, long time before they will ask their people to do the same. In that new era, the Creative Interchange Process will finally be the Leader!

And in this new paradigm the formulae will be (CI)² meaning ‘Continuous Improvement through Creative Interchange’!

Why am I at my age still pleading for and even helping organizations in living this massive mindset transformation? Why am I writing about this process in my books, in columns and blogs? And why do I enter into dialogues, for instance on the LinkedIn forum that organizes this event? Dialogues that often turn into debates and discussions. And why do I confront the reality that distinguished members of this community clearly don’t want to understand me and ridicule me as being a BELIEVER and not being enough ‘evidence based’. Why do they not understand that, if you are a pioneer in a new paradigm, you don’t have evidence by definition?

Well my answer to the basic question “Why do you do all this, Johan?” is three fold. Please meet my grandchildren Eloïse, Edward and Elvire!

And let me end with my final questions to you:

  • If you don’t want to join me in the quest to this discover this new land, as Proust once said, “Discovering new land is seeing with new eyes”? – WHAT will you do?
  • When you decide not to do it now, because you do not have the time or the time is not right – WHEN will you do it? and
  • When you decide you won’t do it at all – WHO will do it in your place?