The Emerging Transformational Paradigm

By Jim Selman and Allan Henderson

Can any of us afford the arrogance of living as if there is nothing outside our systems of understanding and belief, the knowing of which could transform the quality of our lives and our world?

The Context

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has evolved. What was once a fringe issue (often merely a repackaged criticism of the private sector) or an image issue (housed, designed and funded in PR) is now both a mainstream and an authentic business concern. The concept is neither new nor controversial. Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, William McDonough and many, many more have been feeding the conversation for a number of years now. What is more recent is that most major Western corporations are now engaged with the issue of social responsibility and are expressing their serious intentions in concrete actions.

CSR is, in part, simply good business sense:

  • Sustainable business practices—a close-to-home form of social responsibility—are not only good for the environment, but are also recognized as being more efficient and more profitable and, thus, in keeping with the most traditional of business values.
  • The long-term viability of the enterprise is the raison d’etre for Corporate Social Responsibility. No matter what short-term gains might be available through other practices, going out of business in the longer term—through misuse or abuse of resources, personnel, community or marketplace—is not in the interests of the company or its stakeholders.

CSR can also be seen as the expression of a sincere desire by contemporary corporate leaders, wherever they fall on the organizational chart, to “do good while doing well”. However, this is easier said than done.

History is littered with examples of the horrible, unintended consequences of the best of intentions. Corporate Social Responsibility activities tend to be designed and conducted in reaction to specific problems, to be fragmented, content-focused and, for the most part, occur on a pilot project basis. Consequently, the efforts fail to go to scale and, ultimately, do not make a noticeable dent in addressing human suffering, environmental degradation, and the myriad other problems we face.

Complex issues deserve comprehensive, multi-faceted, multi-sectoral responses. We are not attempting to provide a panacea for these problems, nor even to deal with them in all dimensions with this paper. Instead, we seek to propose a transformational paradigm and a set of broad principles from which to create, design and execute Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives that work for the planet, for society, for the enterprise and for all the people involved and affected.

Our assignment was to articulate the underlying principles of the ‘transformational paradigm’ on which most of us as consultants and coaches are basing our work. This presentation is by two senior practitioners of the ontological coaching (or what has been  termed ‘transformational leadership’) approach. Both of us were involved from the beginning in working with Fernando Flores, Werner Erhard, Peter Senge and others in the formulation of the theories and methods behind most of what we’ve been doing for the past thirty years, including work done under the auspices of the United Nations directed at empowering various HIV prevention initiatives in Africa and other places in the developing world.

The Cartesian Paradigm

Paradigms are linguistic in nature and constitute our worldview, our interpretation of the world. The prevailing, globally dominant paradigm of the world today is the “Cartesian Paradigm” which has given us the field of management as we understand it, the field of psychology as generally understood, and the economic system of capitalism. The Cartesian Paradigm is based on the following premises and corollaries:

  • Reality is objective and factual—and historically deterministic.
  • The future exists and can be accurately predicted if we have good enough model(s).
  • Human Beings are objective observers, separate from the world.
  • The ‘mind’ is inside the head (brain is hardware, mind is software).
  • The job of the mind is to have the right understanding/model of a real world.
  • Action is applying concepts and models through controlling circumstances and people.
  • Everything knowable is either this OR that: distinction is a function of opposites.
  • Management is the art and science of predicting the future and controlling people.
  • Communication is about exchanging and understanding information.
  • The objective of most communication is to gain agreement.
  • Power is a function of knowledge, resources and authority.
  • All processes are material processes—movement of ‘things’ in time and space.
  • People are ‘things’/objects in an objective world.
  • Everything ‘real’ is either a cause or an effect.
  • Anything not a cause or an effect is not real—metaphysical.
  • Time is linear and physical: it is a finite commodity.
  • Language is descriptive of the real world or evocative of ‘real’ feelings and emotions.
  • There is no distinction between our ‘thinking’ and ‘being’.(I think, therefore I am!)
  • Human behavior (actions) are historically determined.
  • Commitment is a product of human ‘will’ and rationale.
  • Responsibility denotes past or future causality.
  • Psychology is the operating manual for how human beings ‘work’.
  • Anything that cannot be explained is explained anyway as a miracle, luck, or accident.
  • Reasonableness is a virtue.

The Emerging Paradigm

The following premises and claims constitute an emerging ontological paradigm that the authors suggest underlie the effectiveness of its practitioners to produce sustainable transformational change at both the individual and organizational levels. We claim these principles are universal and ‘true’ for all human beings, regardless of culture or level of technological or economic development.

  • ‘Reality’ is a social construction—constituted by individual and collective interpretation.
  • Individuals and organizations (communities, societies) are not separate. They are collective and distributive aspects of the same phenomena. We’re all interconnected.
  • Ego is to the individual as culture is to society—self-referential systems of interpretation that govern most automatic behavior.
  • Human beings create reality in everyday conversations by making and coordinating commitments, identities and actions.
  • Commitments are individual actions in language (speech actions).
  • Only individuals commit; however, fulfillment of a commitment involves others.
  • Mastery of one’s self, relationships, circumstances and time require ‘unlearning’ most of our conventional wisdom and generating new distinctions. For example:


  • Moods
  • Speaking/Listening
  • Being (not a thing)
  • Commitment
  • “Embodiment”
  • Trust
  • Respect
  • Love
  • Relationship
  • Coordination
  • Identity
  • Power
  • Acknowledgement
  • Empowerment
  • Being one’s word—taking a stand


  • Responsibility
  • Accountability
  • Accomplishment
  • Assessments/Assertions
  • Grounding Assessments
  • Ambition
  • Creativity
  • Competence
  • Coordination
  • Control
  • Organization
  • Community
  • Disclosive Space


  • Possibility
  • Vision
  • Future-Determined Present
  • Completion
  • Reinterpretation of the Past
  • Intentionality / Integrity


  • Possibilities are by definition ‘not real’, otherwise they would be examples.
  • Human beings are always blind to what they don’t know they don’t know: cognitive blindness is the source of the persistence of most intractable problems.
  • A context of control will always produce more of what we don’t want as a prerequisite for maintaining the idea of control as necessary to get results.
  • Transformation calls forth a relationship with the world in which we can authentically declare responsibility for all of it and generate possibilities where none exist.
  • Anything human beings are not responsible for, they are victims of.
  • Resolving paradox necessitates creating a new observer. The most pressing paradoxes today call for reconciling: a) the individual and community, b) short-term and long-term trade-offs, and c) conflict based on subjective and objective values.
  • Individual action and behavior are always a correlate of how ‘the world’ occurs for us, including how we observe the future.
  • Human beings are always ‘used’ by their paradigm: we do not have a choice.
  • When we surrender to (accept) the structure of interpretation ‘we are’, we have a choice about what will use us—we can ‘give’ ourselves to another interpretation.
  • The alternative to surrender is resistance—we always get more of what we resist.
  • Coaching and Leadership are synonymous as action and involve empowering others to accomplish independent, sustainable and unprecedented actions.
  • Sufficiency is a point of view.
  • Unreasonableness is a precondition for achieving breakthroughs.

© 2008 Jim Selman