Tag Archives: creative change

The Quadratics of Transformation

This is a blog about creative change. My posts on the whole have been exploring creative change along several distinct trajectories – personality and life experience, spirituality and religion, individual and community. Working the angles on transformational change has gradually clarified what I now take as the essential dynamics of what’s involved in the transformation of anything whatsoever. I’m going to call it the “quadratics of transformation.”

Behind its more technical mathematical definition from intermediate algebra, “quadratic” derives from quadratus, the Latin word for square. In the ancient world, the geometric form of a perfect square represented stability, symmetry, and wholeness. The four elements of earth, air, fire and water, for instance, were taken as the deep structure of reality itself. As I use the term here, quadratic transformation refers to the fourfold dynamic that plays out in transformational change – the way a given identity resists or undergoes alteration in form as it evolves over time.

QuadrixWe might take anything as our example, but let’s put a human being at the center of the Quadratic as our particular identity for consideration. As we follow the vertical axis upwards, we engage the context in which that person exists. Also called its environment or setting, we will use the more interesting term SYSTEM as a reminder that this person participates in a larger context of forces and conditions. From the perspective of our identity-in-focus (a person), the system is external – outside, around, enveloping and inclusive of identity itself.

If we start again with personal identity, we can take the vertical axis downwards, which moves us deeper into or within the person. Here we find internal forces and conditions such as the individual’s self awareness, his or her self-image, and a very interesting configuration of intelligence, talent, orientation and neurotic styles. When it comes to personal transformation, the tangles, fixations, and hooks in this internal configuration of the self represent a covert factor in the dynamic of change. Going “down” into the self pushes us deeper into its GROUND.

As we shift attention to the horizontal axis, we move to the left (in the Quadratic) where we are confronted with the power of HABIT. This refers to the routines and patterns that persist through time, somewhere along the sliding continuum into unconscious, reflexive, automatic and compulsive activity. By definition habit is conservative, keeping routines (including assumptions, preferences, and behavioral responses) that have been “working” to some extent. This so-called success of a routine might actually interfere with the individual’s personal achievement or pursuit of happiness, but still be conserved for its value in coping with stress.

Opposite to habit in the Quadratic of Transformation is the force of PURPOSE, which is progressive in the sense that it looks to what’s next or farther in the future and moves the person in that direction. In contrast to a rock, which is just about all habit, a human person has more potential to change (to grow and advance) – that is to say, the person has more purpose than the rock. Purpose here does not refer to a metaphysical plan or “mission from above,” but to the intention of identity, how creatively it leans into its options and stretches toward fulfillment. In human beings, purpose takes shape in strategies, goals, and the choices guided by intended outcomes.

So transformational change is the interplay of these four factors: a surrounding context (system), factors internal to the “self” (ground), the conservation of routines (habit), and an intention for the future (purpose). Eliminate just one of these quadratic factors and transformation will not happen. A weak or “shaky” internal ground makes identity unstable. An inadequate system (poor or missing resources) will put it at risk. Habit that has fallen out of date or is stuck in a blind repetition compulsion stifles creative freedom. And the lack of intention or directed purpose effectively forecloses on the future. Instead of transforming, identity will collapse on itself, become exhausted or obsolete, get stuck in its own ruts, or miss opportunities for progress.


Relevance to Parenting and Education

In the field of education the Quadratics of Transformation can be immensely helpful in optimizing learning and supporting student success. Instead of simply pushing information at students, educators might become more deeply involved in the process of activating intelligence, promoting aptitude (rather than merely assessing it), and working with the unique quadratics of individual students.

In order to succeed in life and reach some degree of self-actualization, a human person needs a strong internal ground of faith, self-confidence, openness to experience, and encouraging self-talk (e.g., “I can do this!”). Such internal strength serves as the basis for resilience, adaptation, and the ability to exploit failure for the wisdom it can teach. Too many people struggle with a paralyzing sense of self-deficiency and unworthiness. Creative educators work early on to help establish in their students (and parents in their children) a provident foundation of self-efficacy.

In recent years, especially with the discoveries of neuroscience into how the brain develops, the value of “enriched environments” of learning has gained acceptance. Beyond just surrounding the student with an interesting variety of instructional media, student development is greatly enhanced as the individual becomes increasingly aware of his or her place in a larger system of resources and co-factors of learning. As a participant in a broader and richer context of knowledge, agencies, tools and services, the student can appreciate the excitement of learning as a cooperative achievement.

If they are reached soon enough, children can be taught the fundamental skills of effective learning and academic achievement. This goes beyond memorizing the alphabet and math tables, into techniques of setting up the problem, forecasting outcomes, identifying the steps, and constructing a strategy. These skills are gradually established as habits of effective learning and problem-solving through consistent practice. Routines become habitual and require less and less attentional effort as they are performed with consistency. Creative parents and educators understand the prime importance of helping youngsters practice and conserve the proven habits of success.

It’s difficult to reach a goal if one hasn’t been clarified and anchored in the future. When individuals are very young they need to borrow the prefrontal cortex of their adult advisors (parents, teachers, coaches), which is the region of the brain most involved in discriminating options, predicting possible outcomes, taking the long view, and making calculated decisions. Evolution has generated a very interesting situation for humans, where children need to rely on adult skills and abilities far into their development (late into the second decade of life).

If educators are fixated on instruction and assessment – unconcerned with education proper (educare refers to leading the student out into a broader or better understanding) – teaching will not awaken in students the aspiration toward higher ideals or the strategic intelligence for realizing them. Parents too, of course, can get overburdened and distracted by the stress of their responsibilities, interfering with their ability to model or encourage their children to look ahead and live with purpose.

If parents and educators can take a more holistic approach to bringing up our children, we can work together to support their development into internally grounded, intelligently connected, fully skilled and innovative leaders in life. The Quadratics of Transformation is a methodological tool that can help us better help our children.

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Posted by on April 29, 2014 in The Creative Life


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John Daniels photoWelcome to my thoughtstream on the topic of creative change. I appreciate your visit and hope you’ll stay a while.

Tracts of Revolution explores the dynamics of human creativity as it swirls in our cells, pulses through our bodies, connects us to each other, and constructs the magnificent panoply of world cultures. You will find two distinct currents to this thoughtstream that may interest you.

“Conversations” are blog posts reflecting on the creative works of authors and artists of our present day and recent past. These creators communicated their visions of reality and the human future through words and other art-forms, partly to share them with the rest of us, but also because they finally couldn’t resist the force that seized and inspired them. I name that force “the creative spirit,” and am convinced that it inhabits all of us – while only a relatively few of us are courageous (or foolhardy) enough to “go with the flow.”

I have a lot to say about spirituality and religion, but this shouldn’t lead to the conclusion that I consider the creative spirit especially religious or “spiritual” in a more narrowly religious sense. The authors I bring into conversation are both religious and nonreligious, believers and atheists, metaphysically-minded psychonauts and down-to-earth humanists. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter what ideological camp you inhabit, what country you call home, what language you speak, which way you’re oriented, or whether you are charming or abrasive. You and I are creators, and it’s time we take responsibility for this incredible power with which the universe has endowed our species.

For a more practical and therapeutic approach to creativity, check out my blog Braintracts. Over the past 30 years I have developed a life-change program that helps individuals take creative control of their lives and step more intentionally into the worlds they really want to inhabit. This approach is brain-based and solution-focused, pulling from the current research of neuroscience and the best practices in human empowerment (counseling and coaching).

The Medieval art/science of metallurgy investigated the molecular secrets of changing natural ores into metals and other alloys. The process was mysterious and the research traditions of those early scientists often took on the shroud of an almost gnostic mysticism. Mentallurgy is my attempt to remove the shroud of secrecy from the question of how the power of attention is transformed into the attitudes, beliefs, moods and drives behind human behavior. If you don’t particularly like the world you presently inhabit, then create a different one! Mentallurgy can show you how. Click over to


Posted by on February 24, 2013 in Timely and Random


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Exploring Faith

Creative change necessarily includes a phase of disorientation, when the certainties of a worm’s world are strangely no longer relevant and the new horizons of the butterfly’s world are still unclear. On the near side of this threshold of transformation committees of worms meet in earnest to decide how the old verities can be preserved – or recovered, to the degree they’ve already been lost. We have to keep our feet on the ground and hang on to the reality we know. We need to get back to the way we were before the confusion set in. This agony will pass, but we must remain faithful!

Closer to the threshold, perhaps, are some others – still worms, however – who feel things melting away and look longingly to what the future might hold. By virtue of the perspective offered from a higher perch in the branches, they can see farther out than their fellow worms down below. In the coming era we will be completely liberated from this pathetic existence, they whisper. Life transcendent and trouble-free awaits us; we must remain faithful!

What does it mean to “remain faithful”? In the context of my parable it simply refers to a determination to hold fast, whether in a conservative stance to a previous and more familiar mode of life, or in a liberal stance to an unprecedented and more advanced mode of life. Yet both parties are fundamentally the same, in that they are reacting as worms to the contractions of change. Whether the signals of creative change are interpreted as the loss of something we thought we could depend on or as the suggestion of something that will finally set us free, our primary point of reference is outside and apart from this present reality.

To help me explore creative change as it relates to the meaning of faith (and being faith-full), I am inviting three authors to the conversation: Friedrich Schleiermacher (On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, 1799), Soren Kierkegaard (Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, 1846), and Paul Tillich (Dynamics of Faith, 1957). Each one of these individuals lived in a time of cultural sea-change, when it seemed as if the wheels were coming off the train of tradition and the world was falling off-center.

Schleiermacher was rooted in the Reformed tradition of Protestant Christianity, which placed high value on scripture (the inspired written word), Logos (The Word made flesh in Jesus), theology (words about God), and logical reason as our primary way of understanding the spiritual mystery. Caught up in the same wave of philosophical revolution as Immanuel Kant, Schleiermacher shifted his focus of study from the object under investigation (as in classical philosophy) to the individual’s experience of the object – which came to be known as phenomenology. This shift would radically redefine faith; many would argue that it brought us back to its original meaning.

Kierkegaard found his voice against the philosophy of Georg W.F. Hegel, whose rational system resolved reality itself down to an absolute mind (God) conceiving the physical universe, and then coming to self-awareness through the speculations and reflections of the human intellect. The action in Hegel’s system was very transcendent and universal, giving little account to the historically grounded and particular individual. Just like Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard sought to grasp the nature of experience and to affirm the experiencing subject, whom he felt had all been written off in Hegel’s system.

Tillich was educated and ordained an army chaplain in the German Lutheran tradition and served during the First World War. The pressures of Hitler’s regime eventually motivated him to come to the United States, with the help of his friend and theological admirer Reinhold Niebuhr. Both World Wars had delivered a deep wound to the secular optimism of nineteenth-century Western culture. The creative powers and divine potential of the human being were severely challenged by equally destructive powers and an apparent proclivity for the demonic, as evidenced in the violence and brutality of Auschwitz. While mainline Christianity was increasingly emphasizing human depravity and the radical transcendence of God, Tillich took up the challenge of understanding faith as a dynamic force for world change.

In the interest of transparency, I must admit that these thinkers struck a chord in me a long time ago. Tillich, especially, would become my nighttime library adviser during seminary, as I was taught the principles of Reformed Theology in the classroom during the day. So many words – so much meaning – can interfere with the experience of mystery. Despite his voluminous output, I detected in Tillich a mystic’s sensibility, a willingness – even a driving imperative – to drop out of the gears of discursive thinking every so often in order to sink into the ineffable experience of God.

As in my previous conversation with Nietzsche, Watts and Heschel, my intention is to move through the above-mentioned writings chapter by chapter. When something grabs me as especially relevant to the question of faith, I will offer some reflection on the author’s point of view and its consequences for our ongoing dialogue. Where possible, I also want to stage a conversation between and among the author’s themselves, to explore how their distinctive approaches and perspectives might cross-pollinate to suggest our next bend in the road.

I hope you’ll join me and read along!


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