Being stuck


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Creative Commons CC0


Important Reminder: Gravesian vMEMEs represent clusters of values [forms of thinking] animated and operating within people, not types of people. Life Conditions [LCs] are seamlessly linked to vMEMEs.


Existence is such that change is a constant, and yet most individuals/organizations would prefer to avoid it if possible. In his book, Leading Change, John P. Kotter writes:

By far the biggest mistake people make when trying to change organizations is to plunge ahead without establishing a high enough sense of urgency in fellow managers and employees. 

Failure to coalesce a strong sense of urgency is a recipe for a stalled change initiative and and a great deal of frustration. However, we seem to be in a time when sufficient urgency is having difficulty translating into many entrenched situations. This past week the House of Commons of the United Kingdom rejected (by historic proportions, 432 to 202) a plan to pragmatically accomplish the Brexit initiative to leave the European Union. Great Britain voted for Brexit by a slim margin (52% to 48%) almost two years ago. Hard to imagine greater urgency as the separation is scheduled by statute for March 29, and yet to date the majority of Parliament is against any plan for a strategic separation whatsoever. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May rightly observed that the vote indicates what the legislature does not want, but it says nothing about what is wanted.

Phases of change

Two weeks ago (here) we introduced the five stages/phases of any change process: ALPHA Fit; BETA Condition; GAMMA Trap; DELTA Surge; and New ALPHA. Let’s look a bit more closely at what Beck and Cowan have to say regarding the BETA, and GAMMA phases. 


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Healthy adaptation

Phase 2: The BETA Condition

I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in. ~ Kenny Rogers

You know that feeling you get when your GPS is not working and the last couple turns you’ve made are leading to some sketchy looking road? It’s a bit intuitive, there may be some indications, but nothing terribly definitive at first. You know, that liminal space when we begin to strongly suspect that the road we’re traveling is no longer working to get us to our destination? That’s the dissonance of a BETA Condition. If we don’t make adjustment [revision option], and we insist on driving all the way to where the bridge is out, well, then we’re in a GAMMA Trap [GT].  We’ll come back to the GT in a moment.


BETA Condition

BETA is the sense that our old solutions are not up to meeting our new challenges. Still, the discomfort of the devil we know [BETA] usually seems less daunting than risking the devil we don’t knowe.g., making the change to a yet unknown New ALPHA. Doubling-down on confidence in the old ALPHA translates into superficial makeovers and trying to tweak the same old routineswe work harder and try to make our execution better.

Slipping on into GAMMA can happen subtly without much notice through, what initially might seem an innocent enough course, e.g., avoidance“Be nice.” “Don’t discuss politics or religion, it is impolite.” “Just be nice.” Brené Brown writes in her new book, Dare to Lead,

People are opting out of vital conversations about diversity and inclusivity because they fear looking wrong, saying something wrong, or being wrong. Choosing our own account over hard conversation is the epitome of privilege, and it corrodes trust and moves us away from meaningful and lasting change.

Issues like racism, national boundaries, and LGBTQ+ rights  may produce a BETA dissonance in many of us and yet privilege often defeats change by diverting us into a GAMMA of avoidance, as Brown describes above. Those in power are rarely under the heel of these justice issues and so the privilege of that freedom translates into a total lack of urgency for them. Avoidance is much preferable to engaging in what is much needed: meaningful, but difficult discussion. Pick any addictionas they can all represent a form of avoidanceand see it as merely one of the many convenient GAMMA Traps available in society today.



Phase 3: The GAMMA Trap

The deep difficulty with ‘being stuck’ in a GAMMA Trap [GT] is that the system’s leading vMEME is often the “BARRIER” preventing transformation to a New APLHA. In other words, growth to a new vMEME [deep change] is often required to right a system bringing it into a more harmonious fit with its present LCs. Failure to receive/achieve the necessary growth can lead to a critical mass in organizational decline and this can sometimes mean a rapid unraveling. 


Beck and Cowan on ‘being stuck’ in GAMMA:

The emotions of frustration and confusion at BETA give way to deep anger and hostility in GAMMA. Even the past does not fit anymore. Imagine the feelings of being locked in the trunk of an automobile, unable to get free. No one can hear your desperate pleas for help. No more breathing space. Can you sense the panic and fear? You are living on an emotional roller coaster. There are frantic attempts to break out, to find a single moment of peace in a chaotic and tumbling world. The patience in BETA to ‘wait and see’ or ‘hope things will work out OK’ is supplanted by impatient demands for action, and action now. There is nothing left to lose.

Once systems move into the GAMMA phase, without realizing it they have turned away from the old ALPHA ways for good. There is no turning back to how it used to be, yet there is no place to go. Such is the GAMMA Trap. One can detect it in individuals who are down-Spiraling, anxiously searching for the trail to Nirvana. Organizations and entire societies can, likewise, find themselves in a free fall, not knowing whether they will survive beyond tomorrow or not. At every turn they feel blocked. The BETA options no longer exist. The trunk has been slammed shut.


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The GAMMA Trap can often be totally disheartening because it faces barriers and obstacles that are powerful and seemingly ubiquitous. This phase of change does not call forth the best expressions of human behavior from those who are caught within a personal, or organizational GT.

When BEIGE confronts the barriers, it will curl up in a fetal position and die. San Bushmen who are imprisoned by the police are often dead in the morning.

When PURPLE confronts the barriers, it will descend into a fearful, superstitious existence, totally surrounding the self with altars, rituals, and omens. The shaman and chieftain are empowered against the gods.

When RED confronts the barriers, it will go (a) ‘damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead’ or (b) fight tooth and nail and take no prisoners. Get down and dirty.

When BLUE confronts the barriers, it will sink into a righteous crusade, sponsor inquisitions and witch hunts, and demonize the enemy while deifying the true patriots.

When ORANGE confronts the barriers, it will engage in sleazy and shady deals, blackmail and bribery, and other under-the-table tactics. Whatever it takes to win.

When GREEN confronts the barriers, it will descend into a rigid, holier-than-thou, politically correct stance, arrogantly questioning everybody else’s motives.

[Spiral Dynamics, pages 90-91]


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If the situation is sufficiently frustrated by impossible obstacles in conjunction with relentless pressure and demands for adaptation from changing contexts, then a very painful regression is likelycreating, at best, difficult circumstances. “The GAMMA Trap spawns psychopathic rather than neurotic behaviors, ranging from forms of self-destructiveness (wild-and-crazy acting out and even suicide) to morbid anti-social acts (crime, vicious personal attacks, homicide, and terrorism.) Riots break out, post offices are shot up, and airplanes are bombed from within GAMMA Trap.” [SD pg. 91]

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Note: I know it’s ambitious trying to introduce a big picture idea in a blog format, so I’m using a serial approach. Introductory post (here). First in series (here).


SD Worldview Color Key



5 thoughts on “Being stuck

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