[How We Change] - Disrupting Scripts


First, two scholars.

One is Marshall Scott Poole - he is a Communication Theorist who came up with “Structural Adaptation Theory”. Basically, as a culture, in our constant search for predictability and stability, we produce a structure / social system to make life and surviving easier. The structure affects how we live and creates a new norm. The new norm then causes unpredictability and instability so we reproduce a new structure and system. This pattern continues indefinitely…it is how we get “culture” (and is why culture is always changing). 

What this theory proposes is that each structure we produce creates the rules we interact by. How we dress, how we communicate - it is why you eat three meals a day (or, at least, why that is the norm) or why you begin your conversations with, “Hello. How are you today.” But also that those structures will lead to adaptations of the structure which creates a new structure — like the handshake going from a way to show you weren’t carrying a weapon to a common & pleasant greeting.

The main point, however, is that the structures are not absolutes, even though they seem like it. The structures are simply constructed inventions we create to make navigating the world easier. 

Call it a script. 

Then there is Urie Brofenbrenner - a child psychiatrist who has a theory on human development called the Bio-Ecological Theory (also referred to as the Babushka theory - the dolls that stack inside each other). 

He claims that our environment (culture, structures, script) exists in layers.

  • You have your Micro-system - your day to day life and the interactions that are close to you. Family, friends, and how you view yourself.
  • Then the Meso-System - your relationships between two or more micro-systems. Your community, teams, work environment. The things you are a part of that are larger groups. 
  • Then there is the Exo-Systems - places and groups that you aren’t directly a part of or that you don’t directly interact with or affect, but that affect you. Government is a good example of this. 
  • Then, the last layer is the Macro-System - this is general culture. 

It is the Macro-System that is the most powerful because it creates the norms that dictate your life even though you didn’t necessarily come up with them. It is the water you swim in, though, like a fish, that you just assume is how it is. If you’ve ever heard someone talk about not telling the forest from the trees…this is what they are referring to. We are often are unaware of our macro-system even though we are subjected to it. 

It is the script we live by. 

And here is the thing…the script is easier.

Which is why if you try and disrupt the Script, you might cause some problems. 

how to disrupt a script

So, let’s say you want to change things. You’ve noticed some unhealth in the script and you imagine a new future. Here’s what’s going to happen:

First, you have to name the Scripts. 

Before you can change the script of your life, family, community, culture, world, etc, you have to realize there is a script. You have to see that there is a structural system in place and you have to realize how it got there and that it isn’t an absolute, but was invented (and probably invented for good reason). 

So you might see that it is normal to drive cars. Cars make life easier. Cars were invented to provide predictability and stability to culture. Or you might notice that race or gender inequality is a real thing. That, too, is a macro-system script that was developed over time as an attempt to provide structure to society and yet has led to unhealth that is referred to as racism and patriarchy. 

Which brings us to the second step:

Second, you have to imagine a new structure. 

Now, you have to have the humility that your structure may one day need changed and may only be one step in a different direction. But alas, go after it. 

Though here’s what this isn’t - imagining a new structure is not adapting the current one in a way that just continues it. The handshake did not disrupt the script, it just built on it. The current system that was invented is what Edward de Bono calls a “Self-Maximizing System”. It is like a river that entrenches itself over time. If you just add the next part of the river, you aren’t going to truly change anything. It is like digging the same hold deeper. 

For example, confronting racism by adding policies that create new forms of racism or stopping violent behavior by using violent behavior — it will continue the same river or hole.  

De Bono suggests digging a new hole - what he calls Lateral Thinking. It is getting out of the river and moving laterally instead of literally down the line.

So instead of changing the car, you create a new mode of transportation. Or, even further, we create another option that removes the need for transportation in the first place. This is the root of creativity and it creates an entirely new script. 

[For more details on this definition of creativity:  "What is Creativity? | A Definition"]

Essentially, true change won’t happen naturally. The natural progression will simply build on the previous culture or system as articulated in the "Structural Adaptation Theory". True change is actually a shift and shift only happens when you are intentional. People don’t drift towards revolution or transformation.

There is an idea from the car industry that, when it was new, it was a huge shift. People were getting good at creating better horses and buggies. The easy thing would be to put chrome wheels or a faster horse on the buggy and exclaim how cool and creative your idea is. It still exists within the scripts formed within the "Bio-Ecological Theory". 

But we don’t need a better horse and buggy. 

We need a car. 

So Henry Ford, when people were reacting against his automobile (which I’m not endorsing the automobile, it was just the next step in cultural transformation and…we may be due for the next shift here), said, “If I listened to my customers, I would have made a faster horse.”

what this means for you

If you want to change things, this is how it will happen: Disrupting the script of the current structure. Whether you are disrupting the script of a macro-system, an exo-system, a meso-system, or a micro-system, whatever change you are attempting to make has this unavoidable result.

But, you need to know, if you decide to do this, it will disrupt the script…and that will not be easy. 

Change is like moving a graveyard…you don’t get much help from the inside. 

It is why the artist and the revolutionary and the “weirdos” are always, at least at first, rejected.

Vincent Van Gogh’s artwork never sold while he was alive. 

Gandhi was assassinated.  

They don’t fit in the script, the script gets threatened, and the script fights back. Whether the biological resistance of your Triune Brain or the fear of loss or the difficulty of the process and its slowness - resistance is built in to the fabric of change.

Now, there is something to be said for working with your context and considering not just what you want, but what is good for the whole, but often what is good for the whole is a new direction that we wouldn’t choose on our own.

But if you do decide to do this, know that it will not be easy. 

So name the scripts. 
And then disrupt them

Because we don’t need a faster or better car. We don’t need a healthier racism or patriarchy. We don’t need the cooler or better version of what already is like chrome wheels on a horse and buggy. 

We don’t need to dig the same hole deeper. 

We need a whole new direction. 

And one day, it might become a norm that needs disrupted, but then you can just create the next shift. 

So what script can you begin to disrupt?

This is post #12 in the series "How We Change"

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