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Regenerative business – how we inter-relate as living organisations

January 3, 2018

As we face increasing systemic challenges, fast-shifting consumer patterns, complex global-and-local supply chains, and inter-connected wicked problems, we find the 20th century ‘organisation-as-machine’ is giving way to the 21st century ‘organisation-as-living-system’.  With it comes a profound shift in how we lead, relate, partner-up and perform.

There is much we can learn from the living systems of nature and its 3.8billon yrs of R&D. One over-arching principle is that of divergence, convergence and emergence.

Divergence is a diversification, a celebration of diversity and difference. In practice this means opening up artificial boundaries between departments within the organisation and opening up stakeholder relations beyond the organisation.  We allow these diverse relations to become more generative, more alive.

We need to balance this divergence with convergence, otherwise things can get too open, chaotic and lack integrity. Convergence is a bringing together, a unifying of diverse aspects through a common resonance or purpose. Traditionally, convergence has come through power-based hierarchies of control, which attempt to normalise and control discrete relations through top-down bureaucracy.  This is part of the old mechanistic mind-set we need to move beyond, as this stifles agility and responsiveness in times of fast-moving change.  Instead, this convergence can come through a clear sense of purpose and shared strategic intent, aligning different relationships while allowing the freedom and empowerment for these relations to adapt to local market conditions.

Out of this tension of divergence and convergence arises the third, emergence.  Emergence is the flow of life, its everywhere, an unfolding evolutionary imperative that every living system and ecosystem needs to thrive.

The more effective the living system becomes at sensing into the deep sources of emergence within its ecosystem of relations, the healthier it becomes.  This is a critical success factor for future-fit business, and it calls for future-fit leaders to cultivate a culture that encourages this divergent-convergent empowerment while letting-go of control-based bureaucracy.

So often, we find ourselves bumping up against all sorts of cumbersome, bureaucratic and out-dated modus operandi.  This stifles the organisation’s potential for greatness. We are our own worst enemy, confining our organisations instead of freeing them up to adapt and thrive.

The old machine mind-set views stakeholder relations as point-to-point chains of exchange: either a win-lose relation where we use cost as the key driver to maximise profits at the expense of the other; or a win-win where each party benefits through a mutually beneficial relation of exchange.  We manage these point-to-point relations through centralised functions with quantised metrics, formal tender procedures, overarching bureaucratic mechanisms, and pre-defined account management functions. That’s just the way we do things around here. This logic undermines what could be possible, and it’s certainly not the logic of life.  Yes we need structure and formality, and yet we first-and-foremost need humanity, aliveness, shared purpose and relationality.

The aliveness and responsiveness of our organisation is intimately entwined with the aliveness and responsiveness of our stakeholder relations. The more alive, personable and synergistic we allow our relations to be, the more we will deepen our organisation’s emergence.

Generative stakeholder relations treat each relation as an inquiry, an exploration, an authentic undertaking, where we seek win-win-win outcomes that benefit not just each other but the wider ecosystem of relations we are operating in, including society and the environment.

Cultivating these generative stakeholder relations becomes less about formal tenders and more about creating the right conditions conducive for generative discussions.

We hold generative discussions with each stakeholder, to openly explore the synergistic value of the relation and the shared concerns, insights and opportunities that an emergent future may bring us.

Then, we bring a variety of different stakeholders together, through group generative dialogue discussions in settings conducive for authentic informal explorations – for instance a two-day away workshop including some time to walk together in nature, so our work masks can drop away to reveal our deeper humanity.

Diverse stakeholders from different yet interconnected parts of our ecosystem come together and openly share. It may be uncomfortable, perhaps even clumsy, for some people to start with. Messy is fine, its real, and it gets us to interesting places.  We begin to see the interconnections in the eco-system, we sense the synergies and opportunities, and we see the bigger picture, identifying ways to co-innovate a brighter future.

Some may sense they are competitors with others, or partners and suppliers, or have never come across each other before.  We create space for these diverse stakeholders to share openly about how things are now, the problems and opportunities, and how we can best adapt for our emerging future together.  All sorts of wonderful insights come into view when we bring diverse groups together. The trick here is holding-the-space in a generative, respectful and deep way.

We are allowing an aliveness to unfold in our ecosystem of relations. We are welcoming humanity back into our relations. This aliveness spawns win-win-wins beyond business-as-usual, it creates co-creativity and co-innovation, it creates connectedness. This yields resilience for one and all.

Beyond the separateness of discrete stakeholder contracts, we sense into the emergence of a living system of interconnected relations. Today’s world requires our organisations to become ever more emergent, purposeful and organic. In turn, our stakeholder relations become portals for these vital synergies to thrive through a generative field of feedback, learning and sharing. We help spark the change we wish to see in the world, and have fun in the process.

Thought leader, adviser and speaker Giles Hutchins is author of The Nature of Business, and Future Fit, he is also Chairman of The Future Fit Leadership Academy and blogs at

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For my latest TEDx talk on this shift in consciousness now required in business and beyond see:

[R]evolution: Separateness to Connectedness – activating the new paradigm

December 6, 2017

In this short article, and supporting 17min TEDx talk at Wycliffe College, we are going to immerse ourselves in a revolution:  A revolution with profound consequences for ourselves our systems and our civilisation.

This revolution isn’t about digitisation, globalisation, disruptive innovation or the other macros-trends futurists often point to.


In fact it’s not out there at all.

It’s in here, in our hearts-and-minds , a revolution in consciousness that is ripping up the rule book about how we view life and our sense of place and purpose within it.

I have been in business for more than twenty years now, and yet it has been many more years of my life that I have deeply felt that what lies at the root of our plethora of challenges and crises – from mental health through to rampant consumerism, from climate change through to the widespread degradation of life on Earth – is dis-connection; dis-connected from ourselves, from each other, and from the world around us.

‘There is a tendency in our age to rush to change the manifest effects of wrong actions without seriously considering the root causes.’ – Joseph Milne

This dis-connection pervades our outer world through our dominant socio-economic narrative, and the way we behave in business today. It pervades our inner world through the quality of our attention and the perceptual filters we habituate and acculturate.

This is what this 17min TEDx talk addresses.

Einstein’s over-used and now heavily-hackneyed insight, we cannot change our problems with the same level of consciousness that created them is bang on the money, a perfect insight for the manifold problems we face and our way beyond them.  Yet, we so often find ourselves doing exactly this, applying the very same thinking that created our problems in the first place to our well-intended solutions. We simply don’t have time for this anymore. This is humanities hour of reckoning. It’s time to get radical and deal with the root cause, this pathological dis-connection.

The TEDx talk explains how we are now manifesting new ways of operating in business and beyond that work with connectedness rather than separateness.  The potential is huge, and the time in now.

As the well-respected business futurist John Naisbett notes,

‘The greatest breakthroughs of the 21st century will occur not because of technology, they will occur because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.’ – John Naisbett, futurist

Now I love that, to be involved in this expanding concept of what it means to be human, to helps us live up to our name as Homo Sapiens, wise beings, in a deeply wise, interconnected and sentient world.

What is stopping us? What is holding us back?

As the great Sufi mystic Rumi notes,

‘Why do you stay in prison, when the door is wide open?’ – Rumi, mystic

This is perhaps our greatest challenge, to notice our own constricted lenses of perception and to learn to cleanse them: to reach beyond our small selves into something much deeper, much wiser.  To embrace each day as a learning vehicle to become more conscious, more connected, more coherent. As John Macey, CEO of Whole Foods puts it,

‘Perhaps the greatest change that we humans are experiencing is our rising consciousness. To be conscious means to be fully awake and mindful, to see reality more clearly’  John Mackey, CEO Whole Foods

To see reality more clearly and to create the conditions for others in our organisations to see reality more clearly- this is the defining factor for future-fit leaders.

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To watch the TEDx see:

Flowing with Purpose:  What is Purpose and how does it relate to Conscious Leadership?

November 16, 2017

Earlier this year I was invited to speak at Impact International’s flagship event LearnFest – where leading companies, heads of HR and OD, and practitioners in the field coalesce to learn about what is going on at the juicy edges of organisational development amid a festival environment in the Lake District.  It was a world-class event, run brilliantly by Impact International, and a huge success for those who attended.

After my talk I gave a workshop to a group of about 40 people, who wanted to dive deeper into ‘the organisation as a living system’.  One of the things we explored was the role of purpose in helping our organisations become more emergent, vibrant and resilient.  It was an absolute honour to have one of the world’s leading specialists on purpose at the workshop Richard J Leider, best-selling author of Repacking Your Bags and The Power of Purpose,  and the founder of Inventure – The Purpose Company.  Richard and I became engrossed in conversation afterwards, and I got to share insights with his lovely wife too.

In this article, I share some of the insights that come from Richard’s 30 years’ of exploring purpose, and blend it with some of my own findings along with findings from the extensive research by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his team on flow as the optimal human experience.

From interviewing and working with numerous leaders over his 30 years, Richard identified three themes when people look back over their lives:

  • Step back, pause, reflect – people regret not spending more time reflecting, pausing to sense into the over-arching storylines, the inflection points, and moments of transition. We all-too-often become too busy, too caught up in the relentless pressure of life that we do not adequately gain perspective on what is really going on. There’s an old saying, ‘we can’t read the label while sitting in the jar.’


  • Take more risks – people regret not taking more risks, being more courageous in exploring what makes their heart sing and then changing their lives to actually do what makes their heart sing, rather than merely dreaming about it. This is also about being courageous enough to find a good work/life balance, to sense deeper into our ‘calling’ and start making changes in our outer life in ways that enlivens and engages this inner calling.


  • Deepening our sense of purpose – Richard notes that if there was a pill we could take that makes us live happier, longer and more meaningfully with no negative side-effects, we would take it. Well that pill is purpose.  By spending time to check-in with ourselves, sense our purpose, and bring this into our lives, we improve our wellbeing, authenticity and success.


So what actually is purpose?  The word ‘purpose’ is everywhere these days, but what does it really mean when it comes to living more purposeful lives?

Read more…

The Nature of Leadership:   Equipping future-fit leaders through being in Nature

November 8, 2017

In this ‘Agile Age’ the nature of leadership is fast transforming.  Fortunately, there is a powerful learning environment available to us – Nature.   Nature is emergent, adaptive, resilient, co-creative, receptive and responsive, the very qualities we need as future-fit leaders.

Not only can we learn from Nature, we now know that being-in-Nature helps us to become more agile, emergent and co-creative.

This short article explains why Nature is an ideal learning environment for future-fit leadership.

There are three levels by which Nature helps future-fit leaders learn:

  • Science now shows us that simply being-in-Nature improves our wellbeing, creativity, empathy, agility, self-awareness and natural ways of being-and-knowing (intuitive, rational, emotional, somatic intelligences). After being in Nature for at least 30mins, are hormones change, our senses liven, brain synapse connections enhance, left and right brain hemispheres inter-relate more readily, and we are able to draw upon more of our natural embodied wisdom. Being-in-Nature is not just good for us, it is congenial to exploring our sense of purpose, sensing into personal and organisational challenges, opening up to fresh insights, better empathising with different viewpoints, while gaining perspective on our stuck patterns and biases.


  • There is a zeitgeist shift in the air, a revolutionary shift in worldview, affecting how we perceive life and our sense of place and purpose within it. This challenges us at deep and partly unconscious levels, calling in to question how we create and deliver value in business and beyond.  This transforms how we view life, from separateness (in business this manifests as viewing the organisation as a machine, with compartmentalised problems, and piece-meal reductive solutions) to connectedness (realising the organisation is a living system, that our challenges are systemic in nature and that our living organisation is intimately entwined with stakeholder relations at local and global levels, economic, social and environmental). With this shift comes a realisation that our solutions need to be created with a different level of consciousness from that which created the problems in the first place. Being-in-Nature helps us with this shift. In Nature, we can sense more readily into the agile, responsive and emergent leadership we now need for this ‘new norm’.  We can take inspiration from living systems in terms of the patterns, processes, relationships and the eco-systemic nature of life.  Biomimicry for creative innovation, redesigning for resilience, the purposeful living organisation, agile emergent leadership – these approaches are sourced from a living-systems mind-set. In Nature, we can sense into the divergence-convergence-emergence dynamics that underpin this living-systems logic.  This helps us sense into the ‘new norm’ of the organisation-as-living-system. It also encourages a shift in our consciousness from the reductive analytic problem-space into the curious, exploratory emergent-space whereupon we sense into our emerging future with fresh eyes.


  • To operate in today’s fast-moving ever-changing business environment, we need to call upon all of our natural ways of being-and-knowing. We need ‘full spectrum’ consciousness if we are to move beyond surviving into thriving amid these challenging times of breakdown and breakthrough.  Those leaders who are better able to sense-and-respond effectively will not only do better in navigating these volatile unchartered waters, but will also create the conditions for their teams, organisations and wider eco-system of stakeholders to perform more effectively.  Whether it be deep dialogue round an open fire, reflective solo time in the woods, embodiment practices in the open air, or applying living-systems insights from nature into business, time in nature offers something special as part of a leadership learning journey.  It helps cultivate and deepen our ways of being-and-knowing, so that we can call upon our intuitive, rational, emotional and embodied intelligences more effectively. This helps shift the collective intelligence of the group. Regardless of the group mix, I have witnessed throughout all the future-fit nature immersions I have hosted that leaders gain a visceral felt-sense of this shift in personal and collective consciousness, so that they can call upon this embodied shift in being-and-knowing more readily amid the stresses and strains of the everyday workplace.

I often check-in with participants after they have experienced a future-fit nature immersion, to see how they are getting on and whether they are embodying shifts in their being-and-knowing – by example, here is feedback I received yesterday from a busy senior programme manager:

‘thank you for following up on our wonderful session earlier this year.  I have to say I feel I have been performing at another level since then’

And feedback from a CEO who attended a workshop a few weeks back:

‘what a fantastic group you brought together, and what a deep space for heart-felt sharing you held for us. One of the things I am still reverberating with is a deep connection – both self-awareness and system-awareness …thank you so very much.’

And feedback from a Partner of a global consultancy:

‘Please receive fully my heartfelt gratitude for this wonderful retreat. It is exactly what I needed at this time – to feed my mind, heal my heart and soothe my soul…the way you held the process and the group was awesome.’

Future-fit leadership is about dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty, with curiosity and spontaneity. It is a shift in our attentiveness from reactivity to responsiveness; a shift in consciousness from separateness to connectedness.  It is about surfing the edge of the wave of knowing and unknowing, of surrendering and flowing. Then, as future-fit leaders, we can more deeply listen-in to ourselves and our system, while creating spaces for our teams, organisations and eco-systems of stakeholders to become more vibrant, more alive, more resilient, and more life-affirming.

Giles Hutchins a coach, adviser, and Chair of the Future Fit leadership Academy, see here for more on these future-fit nature immersions, and a short three minute video on the book Future Fit

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Reawakening the Sacred in Everyday Living

November 2, 2017

The seismic challenges facing us throughout society and the environment are now patently clear to those with ears to hear and eyes to see.

There is global and local momentum building behind a range of social and environmental issues, from climate change to local food banks, from ocean plastics to food recycling.  This is good work.  Yet, what is often overlooked is that these plethora of challenges are symptoms of a deeper malaise, a malaise which is actually before our very noses, within in each breath we take.

To deal with symptoms without adequately addressing root causes is very much part of today’s flawed logic.  We know we cannot solve today’s challenges with the same consciousness that created them.  And yet to actually shift our consciousness requires a radical undertaking.   This radical undertaking is not easy, and one we may wish to turn away from, and yet it is a simple one.  It is nothing more, nor nothing less than us becoming more attentive, more aware of how we are being.

While this deepening – or raising – of our consciousness may be uncomfortable and unnerving, as it brings light to our habituations, constrictions and masks we hide behind. It is also a liberating and rejuvenating undertaking.  We may begin to allow our ordinary everyday activities to become doorways into a sense of the innate sacredness of life, and its enchanting wisdom.

For many years now I have followed the profound work of the Sufi teacher, mystic and writer Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee.  In his latest book, co-written with Hilary Hart, they put forward 10 simple practices that help us bring in a deeper way of attending into our everyday, so that we can reawaken the sacred, and deal with the root cause at the heart of our multiple crises.

Read more…

Deepening Our Leading by Being-in-Nature: Accessing the Mind of Nature

October 12, 2017

It is now becoming more apparent to many at the leading-edges of leadership and organisational development that there is much we can learn from nature for future-fit business.

We now know that simply being in the great out-doors improves our ability to learn, be more creative, open up to different perspectives, be more empathic, listen deeper, share better, and be more insightful.  Scientific research shows that being in nature improves us physiologically as well as psychologically in myriad ways, some of which we are only just starting to understand. Here are some of these findings:

  • Being in nature reduces pulse rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels (Chiba University)


  • Being in nature and disconnected from multi-media increases creativity by 50% (Atchley et al, 2012)


  • Being in nature leads to improved cognitive functioning and mental well-being (Kaplan, 1993, 2001)


  • Spending time in nature boosts the immune system and increases resistance to cancer cells (Qing Li, 2009)


  • Walking in nature improves memory by up to 20% (Berman, et al, 2008)


  • Connection with nature has a significant positive effect on autonomy, personal growth, and sense of purpose (Nisbet, Zelenski, Murphy, 2011)


  • Affiliation with nature gives a greater sense of meaningful existence which in turn boosts well-being (Howell, Passmore, Buro, 2012)


This is all good stuff.

And yet there is something else, something deeper; something more phenomenological and – dare I say it – psycho-spiritual to this ‘being-in-nature’.  And to describe this, I am now going to use Nature with a capital ‘N’ and also use the term ‘Mind-of-Nature’.  Here, Nature is not just ‘out there’, its within and all around us, the implicate and explicate realms of life, the Mind permeating all matter, the Tao and its ever-flowing élan vital or life-force that enables us to become more human in this more-than-human world of ours. It is this deeper Nature that we must learn to cultivate within ourselves and through our relations to be more conscious, more agile and more harmonious as future-fit leaders in these times of increasing volatility and uncertainty.

Let me explain.

There is more to life than what we generally perceive of with our daily conscious awareness. Psychologists might call this daily awareness ‘ego-consciousness’ or the rational mind.  I would like to draw on the profoundly influential and insightful work of the 19th century American philosopher, William James, who lived from 1842 to 1910 and whose work has influenced many great minds after him such as Bergson, Husserl, Wittgenstein, Putnam, Whitehead and Bertrand Russell.

James explored how everyday experience has a depth to it, an interiority that goes beyond what the ego-consciousness or rational mind can easily grasp at and yet is influenced by.

James noted, ‘Reality, life, experience, concreteness, immediacy, use what word you will, exceeds our logic, overflows and surrounds it.’  For James our mind-world relation is a stream of consciousness. He famously said:

‘Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.’

As we allow our ego-consciousness to permeate more readily, we allow more of these deeper realms of consciousness to pervade our awareness.  This is where Nature comes in.

Read more…

Regenerative Logic – cultivating the business of the future

October 4, 2017

This is a review of the book Future Fit by David Lorimer, editor of the Science and Medical Network (SMN).


Giles Hutchins

Self-published, 2016, 308 pp., £17.99, p/b – ISBN 978-1-530-153435

I met Giles at a conference of the Laszlo Institute in Italy in July, and realised that I had reviewed his earlier book The Illusion of Separation a couple of years ago for SMN. This followed on from his 2012 book The Nature of Business, and here he brings these two concerns together in a highly practical manner, providing a brilliant handbook for personal and organisational transformation. Giles has synthesised and organised a great deal of essential thinking, some which he summarises in excellent charts and diagrams so that the reader can gain a clear understanding of the transition from old linear ways of thinking to new systems-based ones. In the course of the book, it becomes very clear that 21st-century companies can no longer afford to use 20th-century logic. Theoretical understanding is no longer enough – it needs to be embodied, which is why Giles’s practical exercises, tips, reflective questions and case examples are so useful. In addition, he provides a bullet point executive summary at the beginning of each chapter.

Current turbulence and uncertainty means that a transformation of mind-set is required both personally and organisationally. The danger is represented by what he calls a complexity gap in our leaders’ ability to deal with our volatile times. He comments that ‘too many of today’s organisations find themselves caught up in a top-down, hierarchical, KPI-obsessed, siloed, control-based, defensive and reactive firefighting mind-set.’ Nor do we flourish as human beings in such an environment, which surely puts a damper on creativity and keeps under pressure to focus on the immediate task at hand. His new logic is both regenerative and resilient, aligned to service and a sense of real value and deeper purpose. This leads on to his characterisation of the firm of the future, with a particularly helpful chart and diagram on pp. 34-35. A regenerative firm will also be resilient, optimising, adaptive, systems based, values led and life supporting. Each of these characteristics is explained in greater detail, a particular strength of Giles’s book and which he applies in a number of chapters.


He sees the overall process in terms of personal and organisational gnosis or inner knowing – this is not a word that one expects to find in a business book, but it is clear that the inner state of leaders is critical to the way they function. Crucially, leaders need to schedule reflective time into their week if they are going to be able to stand back and regenerate themselves. Too frequently, this is exactly what goes by the board, so things continue on as before. Giles gives exercises for the feelings, breath and body and suggests some significant qualities that we can embody in challenging work environments: gratitude, surrender, trust, courage, humility and reverence.


Organisational gnosis affects both processes within the firm and its outside relationships. Here again, some of the key attributes and qualities might seem surprising: stillness, self-organisation, small steps, social, synchronicity and soulful, but Giles shows these can be implemented in a practical way using processes such as council, deep listening, open space, appreciative inquiry and circles of trust. At the end of this chapter, he uses the seven levels model of Richard Barrett by mapping seven stages of organisational development towards becoming a firm of the future. This means knowing what organisational actions and needs are at each level, with corresponding developmental tasks. Needless to say, very few companies will be operating consistently at the seventh level, but the firm of the future will be advancing in the direction of collaboration and service.


Leadership, as already mentioned, is essential to making this transition of logic, and Giles highlights five important areas for leaders to focus on as well as five qualities of conscious leadership. Such leaders are good listeners, coaches, facilitators and catalysts, operating as convenors and hosts within their organisations and using constructive criticism as a spur to further transformation. The book ends with a reflection on alchemy, showing how the qualities of Yin and Yang need to be finely balanced and embodied in wise action. There is then a series of health check questions for a future-fit organisation as well as details of a corresponding benchmark. Personally and professionally, we are all involved in a transformative process, and this refreshingly straightforward and clearly written book provides an invaluable route map based on the latest thinking in science, psychology, spirituality and business studies.

‘Many books call for new ways of thinking for modern leaders but until Future Fit none have provided such wise, well researched and practical approaches to guide leaders facing deeply complex challenges. In this compelling workbook Giles Hutchins is at the forefront of synthesizing new logics for business with the natural rhythms of life and the human mind that will revolutionize business. Future Fit is a must-read for every leader who wants to continue being successful or to move beyond what currently feels like impossible challenges. As an experienced Chief Executive I cannot recommend this powerful work highly enough.’ Dr Lynne Sedgmore CBE, Former Chief Executive of 157 Group, Centre for Excellence in Leadership UK, and ranked one of the UK’s most influential people in Debretts 2015 List.

‘Future Fit is a masterpiece of synthesis weaving together the emergent strands of wisdom from others with the author’s own extraordinary insights. This is a must-read for any business seeking answers to a deep inner sense that something different is needed for them and their organization to stay relevant in the 21st century.’  Mark Drewell, Senior Partner, The ForeSight Group, co-founder and former CEO of the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative

‘Future Fit is prescient and practical. It describes the future as it can and should be, by drawing on a breadth of knowledge rarely seen in business books. It also makes big, abstract ideas more concrete, by offering examples and advice. This book will help managers navigate a complex world for a more sustainable world. Giles Hutchins is one of the most broad-reaching, forward thinking writers in business.’ Tima Bansal, Canada Research Chair in Business Sustainability, Ivey Business School

‘We see an emerging trend of moving from a mechanistic view of business to an organic, living organization framework, and Future Fit goes right to the heart of it. Packed full with practical insights to help activate and catalyze this transformation, this is a brilliant book that will help you wrap your head around the shifting paradigm at the vanguard of future business. Read it!’ Norman Wolfe, CEO of Quantum Leaders and author of The Living Organization

to see more on Future Fit, you can visit the book’s website  here

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