By Nick Jankel

Professional Global Keynote Speaker, Transformation & Innovation Catalyst, Leadership Theorist & Practitioner, 6 x Dyslexic Author, 3 x TV Coach, Co-Creator of Bio-Transformation®

Being able to break through our protective patterns at every scale (from self to system) to then build more effective, adaptive, and fitting patterns is the key to transformation. Therefore, the more we can spot, understand, hack, shift, break through, and remake patterns, the more agile, adaptable, and transformational we will be. At the core of BTT there is a framework for identifying and discerning an individual or organization pattern so that we can then transform it. At every moment, we can discern and distinguish 4 elements within every pattern. Every element is operating at the same time, although one may appear to dominate in any given moment.

Once identified and understood, we can then explore different interventions that attempt deliberately to shift a specific element within ourselves, our teams, and the organizations, and systems we want to change. Without this deep human insight, most transformation interventions will, and do, fail. The framework is not ‘true’ per se, as where we draw the line among the four elements is a little arbitrary: research has shown that our bodily sensations shape our emotions; and thoughts can change our emotions and sensations.

Sign up to our regular newsletter

Insightful articles, practical wisdom, and nourishing content on how to transform yourself, your organizations, and our world.

But by artificially pulling them apart to analyze and understand them, we have a better chance at transforming them. We use a part of the bodymind to signify each element, which aids with remembering them and communicating them: hands, head, heart, and hara (a term borrowed from Zen Buddhism and martial arts denoting the physical and energetic guts, stomach, and abdomen area). At the individual, personal level, each protective pattern is made up of the four elements:

Hands: Our behaviors, actions, and habits

Head: Our beliefs, assumptions, stories, and mental maps

Heart: Our feelings and emotions

Hara: Our felt sense and somatic sensations within interoceptive awareness

At the organizational and systemic level, each pattern is made up

Hands: Organizational/systemic behaviors, processes, and structures

Head: Organizational/systemic beliefs, narratives, maps, and models

Heart: Organizational/systemic cultures and values

Hara: The momentary felt sense, ‘mood’, or ‘music’ of the organization/system

It is a mistake to think of these as separate elements. They are, of course, fully enmeshed, blended together, and interconnected in the wetware of our biologies. What we are doing is gaining transformational potential by artificially distinguishing these four elements so we can become aware of, track, and alter our physiologies and psychologies within; and become aware of, track, and alter different parts of the enormously complex web of parts that make up any organization or system.

To lead transformation, we must be able to become aware of, and so consciously change, each of the four elements of every pattern in ourselves; help others in our teams to shift their patterning; and design interventions for an entire enterprise or system that consciously seeks to alter all four in effective ways, at the level of: processes and structures, shared narratives and mental models, culture and values, and the intangible ‘mood’ of the system.

Sign up to our regular newsletter

Insightful articles, practical wisdom, and nourishing content on how to transform yourself, your organizations, and our world.

Biology has shown us that our most established protective patterns as individual leaders are anchored in place by powerful emotions, unprocessed ‘somatic markers’, and traumatic memories (research has shown that painful and intense memories are stored much nearer the fear-centers of the amygdala than ‘normal’ biographical and procedural memories). The same is true of organizations. As the saying goes, culture (shared values, feelings, and ways of being) eats strategy for breakfast.

You can invent the smartphone like Nokia did, or the digital camera like Kodak did, and not have the culture needed to transform the assumptions and behaviors that underpin outdated business models. Therefore attempting to transform individuals and systems with what, for linearity-loving C&P Mode, seem to be efficient and easy-to-measure behavioral hand changes — like new regulations and procedures, agile processes, rewards and incentives, or ‘nudges’ — tend to fail long-term if we don’t also shift the emotional and traumatized heart, and edit the head memories, beliefs, and ‘projections’ (the way we view the world through distorted lenses) that anchor defensive and controlling behaviors in place.

In organizations and systems, byzantine procedures, policies that assume staff are avaricious or dumb, and over-complicated processes for sign off in the organization’s hands all block transformation. Suspicion of new ideas, arrogance about being a market leader, commitment to a business model that is failing, assumptions that the enterprise is in the same business it was in a century ago, a belief that marketing alone can solve declining sales in the organization’s head all block transformation.

A perfection culture, cynicism about ‘academic’ learning, mocking people for making mistakes, or a rejection of transformational leadership in favor of heroic leadership and the cult of the individual in the organization’s heart all block transformation. A non-conscious sense of being alienated, dehumanized, in danger, suppressed, or suffocated by an organization’s hara all block transformation.

C&P Mode, of course, likes to focus on coarse behavioral interventions — like high-profile carrots and palpable sticks — rather than the messy, unpredictable, hard to see, and decidedly challenging work of transforming narratives, cultural feelings, and opaque moods. Yet the royal road to leading and lasting transformation is always to prioritize the ‘lower’ levels of hara and heart. We need to shift these before people can even engage with, recognize, and embrace breakthrough strategies and ideas in their head and transformational processes and products in their hands.

As my colleagues at McKinsey state: “employees are what they think, feel, and believe in. As managers attempt to drive performance by changing the way employees behave, they all too often neglect the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that, in turn, drive behavior.” Even beneath our feelings are the felt senses in our hara. Because nobody has told us about these, many leaders start off totally ignorant of the sensations in their body. As we switch on our somatic awareness, we become more conscious as leaders and we become aware of, and able to change, our felt sensations.

Without a shift in the hara and heart elements, our colleagues and customers will usually resist positive, lasting change no matter how beneficial it might be. As you have seen, people do not act as disembodied, rational brains wandering around doing the math on the positives and negatives of change. Humans do not think in logical costs/benefit analyses. They might do such a sum but most of the choice has already been made within their heart and hara.

People engage with things viscerally, in the felt sense and the hot and cold of their guts. Their sensational and emotional relationship to change determines, to a large degree, whether they embrace transformation or not. This does not mean that updating and upgrading head (beliefs/stories) and hands (behaviors/habits) is not crucial. It totally is. It just means that we cannot even start to rewire beliefs and behaviors until we have dealt with emotional and cultural blockers first. Once feeling states in our sensory and emotional layers of heart and hara are transformed, then we can set about editing stories and updating assumptions (such as the potential of smartphones or digital imaging) in head; and breaking and making habits of hands.

In other words, in order to change habits and addictions that disable us, we have to change the stories, beliefs, and self-talk that disempowers us in our mind. When we change our stories, we change ourselves, and the world around us. But if we have negative stories about ourselves or dangerous assumptions about the future of our industry, often they don’t respond to purely cognitive story editing. When our stories are being held in place by powerful emotions and memories, we find it very hard to change them by positive thinking or rational rewriting alone. Strong emotions will keep our negative stories and our destructive self-talk in place until we transform the emotions that lock them in.

In an influential book by John Paul Kotter, Emeritus Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School, and consultant Dan Cohen, called The Heart of Change, the authors state: “the core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people, and behavior change happens in highly successful situations mostly by speaking to people’s feelings.” Safe, positive, purposeful, exciting feelings dissolve the assumptions and habits that block change; and so allow leaders to transform individual selves in teams and customer segments; and thus complex human systems.



Learn the fundamentals of leading successful, lasting, and necessary change—in our times of intense disruption, uncertainty, complexity, and turbulence.