The New Geography of Change


We keep using old maps. No wonder we feel lost.

Think of time in the way Aristotle described a story- Beginning Middle End. He said that was what made a story seem whole- it is what we term the axis of coherence. It is our first basic map. Simple isn’t it, but watch how we can use it.


Any human experience is bound by time- and our human brains translate experience into memory through the telling of stories. “Once upon a time” is how we attempt to navigate time as it moves. As recent brain studies have shown, eg Daniel Kahneman,  “Thinking Fast and Slow” we don’t remember duration, we remember peaks and troughs and endings. He calls it the Peak-End rule.

Last week I attended an angry meeting. I don’t remember that 3 hour meeting with a three hour memory, I remember incidents from the beginning, middle and ending, the highs and lows of emotion, the places where there was drama, breakthroughs and break downs and how I felt at the end, how I made sense of it and what I resolved to do because of it.

As I walk back through that time, I notice that meaning changed, that what I felt at the beginning had changed by the time we got to the middle and was transformed again at the ending, and it means even more now because I acted on that meaning. I will tell you the meeting was X as if it meant one thing, but the experience of it was many things and it had phases that punctuated time. Meaning moved.  It always does. So I want to track it through mapping. 

When I map the way meaning moves, I notice with Aristotle that-

The Beginning is the time to create, be open to any and every possibility- it has that feel and field of energy. “What can we become?” You usually only get one beginning. But no bridges are burned, no options closed. The way ahead is open. 

The Middle  gets complicated and so, it is always a good  time to correct, to look back and to look forward, to make a change, to make a decision about what to take forward and what to discard. It has that kind of recognizable feel and field of energy. This is the only place where you have time to change what could change the end, and it is also the place where we are most likely to get lost.  A great book I get people to read dealing with being Lost in The Middle is The One Thingby Gary Keller- His question “What is the ONE thing I need to do now/ and give up doing now,here in the Middle that will make passage to the end easier or even open up a different possibility altogether?” Just ONE thing!

The Ending is the time to complete, to see the whole as a whole- that is the identifiable  feel and field of energy on offer and only on offer here. Sometimes we try to have multiple endings, but that is usually a stuck or incomplete middle- you only get one ending. The circle is closed.

This leads us to postulate that “Energy is a condition of position” -that who we are is largely a function of where we are. That knowing where we are in a story counts far more than knowing what story we are in. If we misread our position, we end up losing the chance to harness the energy on offer, or live up to the opportunities of our time. 

Some examples- Too many marriages fail because couples mistake a different position in the same story as being a different story. But what marriage means moves, especially after the fourth kid, and the empty nest.

Too many organizations pull out of change strategy in the middle because they mistake the murkiness of the Middle as an ending, a failure to complete and they rush back to a new beginning, so that organizations are nothing but the history of false starts and lost middles. They didn’t map their position, and use the energy on offer.

Another case in point was the Obama’s two terms.  Half way through, people were already writing him off, sensing the energy of the middle of his term felt like the ending, but no, this iwas the middle, the place where one has to correct and reconnect to purpose, to reset. Obama saying he will govern with or without Congress is typical of a Middle. You cut your losses before you move on. But Obama never successfully  reconnected to his beginning, the reason he ran? Presidents have to if they want to land an Ending that feels complete rather than an Ending of lost opportunities.

Its a simple map but we use it all the time  in intuitive ways to read the energy of a story- a program, an organization, a career, a project, a conference, a relationship, etc and map where we are and where we are going.

I am working with an Americorps team over a 12 month period to help them translate their experiences into stories, and their stories into memories of significance. The way we do that is to meet three times over a year, first to declare a Beginning and dream, next to meet half way to declare a Middle and review and reset, and finally, to meet to declare an ending and complete and celebrate and harvest the time. Our purpose is to design experiences to be memorable, and since we know that memory is a storyteller, we make it easier by designing the experiences through the map or template of BME- the axis of coherence. If we adjudge the outcome that matters to be a story told and retold, then we design the input in the shape of a story. 

If anyone is interested in learning more or a free consult to get you started, let me know. My email is If anyone finds this useful in their work, just tell me and you can use it with CNS permission. Here is the BME with the Three C’s.

B ( Creative)________M (Corrective)_________E ( Complete)

If one were to ask how can you apply this map, my answer is to share my own experience of designing summer programs for young leaders from Northern Ireland or South Africa or Israel Palestine. The 8 weeks is shaped on a BME axis- so that some events only happen in week 1-2 to inject dream and possibility, some review and retreat events in the Middle for correction and reset, and the final rituals and celebrations and trip to NYC at the end to foster that high note of completion.

If this is the way the brain translates experience into memory, we design for memory. What we call DEM, designing experiences to be Memorable. 

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