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Journeying into Ourselves – the Power of Nature Immersions, by Christine Nicholson

December 1, 2022

Often people ask me about what I do and the way I do it; perhaps hoping I can send them a one-pager fact-sheet that succinctly summaries with the comfort of bullet-points.  In reality, what I do is difficult to boil-down into bullets, and so it’s a real gift to have one of my clients, award-winning business mentor Christine Nicholson, share in her own words her first-hand experience of journeying with me, Giles Hutchins, amid the ancient forest of Springwood Farm.

When babies are first born it is recognised that to really thrive they are placed on the skin of their mothers as soon as possible.  The feeling of their breathing and direct contact with the skin has some quality that really makes a difference.  As adults we can easily get disconnected from this connection with a life force that’s outside ourselves that is found in nature.  The pressures of life crowd out the nurturing influence of the natural world.  If you are living in a city it’s even harder.  When was the last time you were in silence?  Or without people?  Or any stimulus at all?

I have no idea how I found Giles and his nature immersion experience.  I just know when I needed it most, the opportunity presented itself.  I was feeling disconnected, lacking confidence and wondering what ‘purpose’ was.  Surrounded by business owners who spoke about finding purpose being the big thing for them, I was struggling to find that kind of connection.  In fact I think I was at the lowest ebb of energy I have ever been at.  I wondered what the point of life was, not just the point of my business or any other aspect of life.  It would be easy to say I was in a pit of self-pity but that was not the case.  I knew there was a way of living that I was not experiencing but I didn’t know how to get there.  It was like being outside of a great house party and not being able to find the door to get in.

For 2 years I had been in a business that was not serving my needs but I felt stuck and didn’t want to walk away without having a clear idea of what I was going to do next.  I was clearly miserable.  My confidence was diminishing every day.  I was lost.  My first session with Giles was a literal breath of fresh air.  The forest was like having a 3rd person in the session.  In one afternoon I felt like a reviving breath was forced into my lungs.  It was the first lifting of a burden I hadn’t been conscious of carrying.  

One afternoon didn’t “fix” everything but it did help me realise that something needed to change and it wasn’t waving a magic wand that would solve the problem.  It was the first step on the journey.  And it started with looking inside myself, becoming aware that it is my life and I can choose.  The first walk in the forest made me ready for my “solo” – an overnight experience in Giles’s forest.

When I explained to friends about the solo, they all thought I was mad.  “Aren’t you scared?” Asked one.  On the surface of it I was going into a forest with a tent and nothing else and I am sure that a few people’s first thought was of all the horror films they’ve seen!  The reality was quite different.  Once you have pitched your tent and got ready for the evening ahead, your brain is looking for things to do.  With no phone, books or other stimulus it takes about an hour for the busyness of the brain to slow down.  Then the magic happens as you start to ‘feel’ the forest as a living entity.  It is peaceful yet constantly moving – the wind in the trees, the wildlife moving in the vicinity (but never really close, other forest occupants tend to leave you alone), the settling of the dew – it’s the equivalent of your own home in the still of the night.  

“What do you do?” is a common question.  Being alone with your thoughts can be a challenge for many people.  Myself included.  Though I live alone and am used to solitude, I realised I have filled my time with work and other busyness.  I never let my brain settle, I rarely have a moment of stillness.  The answer to the question is you start to notice things in the natural setting that you would not have seen before.  Hear the birds sing and notice when they stop because they are sleeping.  Hear and feel the wind in the trees and the stillness when it stops or pauses.  See the wildlife wander through the flora, stopping when they become aware of you and moving on when they feel safe.  I imagined I could hear mushrooms growing in the forest floor – though I know logically that my hearing is really not that sharp.  And, of course, you sleep.  On my first solo I slept in several short bursts, only waking when I moved in my sleeping bag and my body being aware that I wasn’t in my normal bed.  In subsequent solos I had long, deeper periods of sleep, making sure I had the right kit as well as embracing the feeling of safety in the experience.

The sense of isolation left me almost immediately as I started to lean into feeling connected to nature and myself.  My clarity of thinking came into sharp focus and I allowed myself to really examine why I had felt disconnected.  Guided by Giles’s gentle questioning and the meditation we did together before leaving me on my own, I made some changes to the way I viewed the world, asked questions of myself and challenged the assumptions I had lived my life by for the previous decades.  Change started here.  Shedding some of the unnecessary burdens I carried was the first step.  The work continues and is easier as time goes on.

One thing I have learned is that life is lived in seasons, not just in the calendar year but throughout the years of living.  Nothing blooms all year round and there are periods of growth, decay and hibernation – out of which a new Spring comes.  Looking back I was always looking for the Spring and Summer without recognising I needed the reset of Autumn and Winter.  My drive for constant achievement was exhausting and I didn’t know how to slow down, pause and restart.  My nature immersion experiences, in all the seasons, have allowed me to slow down to enable me to be ready for the next phase of growth.  

It’s been 18 months – 3 solos, 6 half day sessions – my life and thinking has changed enormously.  I’m enjoying life, have better relationships and more balance between my personal and business life.  When I started this journey with Giles my way of thinking was “It’s not that I want to die, I’m just not sure I can be bothered with living”, which reading this back sounds so sad and desperate.  Yet I felt more apathy than anguish.  Now I have a gently joyful view of life I have never felt before.  I have a better understanding of myself and greater awareness of how I connect and communicate with others.  I feel at peace with myself and that is driving a more energetic approach to living.  My business has doubled in size without feeling like I am on a hamster wheel.  And I am getting out in nature on a daily basis and really seeing, hearing and feeling more of the natural world even when I am in the city.

 Article by, Christine Nicholson

For more on Giles Hutchins’s nature immersions see here.

Giles Hutchins’ latest book Leading by Nature can be found here

The time has come for Leading by Nature

November 20, 2022

The new-norm in business demands a new-norm in leadership: a leadership consciousness that cultivates organizational cultures able to adapt and evolve during unceasing transformation in ways that create flourishing for all. 

This involves a massive call to a life-centric OD and the capacity to model Leading By Nature where we embody, in our being, what OD has historically referred to as ‘the self as instrument of change.’

Giles Hutchins’ latest book Leading by Nature is packed full of powerful practices, tools and case studies to help leaders become future-fit regenerative leaders.  See here some recent reviews of the book:

Book Review by Jean-Claude Pierre, former CEO of chemicals company Scott Bader

What a timely and crucial book Leading by Nature is! The last two years have probably been one of the greatest catalysts to let us realize that the current way of affairs is doom to fail in so many respects. Most leaders and companies have started to initiate major shifts to adapt and thrive. But is it always done with the appropriate level of consciousness to really ensure the future fitness of their organizations?

In this very rich book, Giles Hutchins explore with research-based concepts, practical tools and real-life implementations, what it takes to become “natural sensors” of our surroundings, and for those at the helm of organizations, or having this desire, to help them become “Chief Ecosystem Officers”.

As Giles highlights, this transformative journey of becoming a regenerative leader, more able to apprehend constructively dissonances and tensions as crucibles for learning, able to define when and how to best listen or act while being in line with one’s deeper nature is not easy. Many of us sense this need in today’s world but lack the how to. And hence the importance of this book.

This book is the first one I’ve come across to-date that has so many practical and proven methods to help leaders operate more authentically, and as Giles says: “it is worth it”, not only for individuals to help them unfold their true nature and be more purposeful, but also for organization to better perform now and in the future. As Giles mentions, “Global research shows that the shareholder returns of living-organizations consistently outperform their mechanistic counterparts, especially through volatile times”.

And as volatile times are the new norm for many years to come, better be well equipped. This book is thoroughly recommended.

Book review by Fellow of Cambridge University’s Sustainable Leadership Program and Global Sustainability Director of A T Kearney, Oliver Dudok van Heel:

I’ve had the pleasure of reading Giles Hutchins latest book, Leading by Nature.

Expectations were high given Giles’ excellent earlier work, and it did not disappoint.

Giles’ unique contribution to the sustainability agenda is his ability to bring together a range of disciplines and apply them to transforming organisations towards a more sustainable journey. Quantum science is woven together with spiral dynamics, organisational behaviour and human psychology to define a compelling change paradigm.

This is not accidental and Giles’ ability to understand systems and what is required to shift them is compelling. Emotional, somatic, rational and intuitive approaches to understanding the world are woven together, reminiscent of Ken Wilbur’s AQAL philosophy.

All is grounded on a great clarity of thought around what is needed for genuine change, at the level of organisations and the systems these organisations operate in.

And while Leading by Nature is about organisational change, it is really targeted at those individuals who have the passion to make this change happen: Leaders, whether by title, or because of a sense of personal responsibility compels them to become changemakers.

It is a book that can take each of us on a personal journey of transformation to equip us to become part of the external transformation.

Book review by Founding Partner of Gameshift and former Director at Ashridge Hult International Business School, Dr Chris Nichols:

We’ve probably all noticed what Giles calls the “rising zeitgeist around regeneration”. Regenerative leadership, and regenerative organisations, are a movement whose time seems to have arrived. I personally couldn’t be more delighted. This is a shift the world needs, and Giles has written a valuable, authoritative book to guide people on that shift. Giles has done a brilliant job, and I recommend the book very highly to everyone in my network.

It’s easy to be cynical about books that look like they might be riding the wave of a fad – and this one could be taken that way – except I know for a fact it isn’t. I’ve known Giles for a long time, since his Big 4 consulting days, and since he quit to work on his first book many years back.  I remember long walks on Dartmoor with Giles talking over deep ecology, organisational theory and the juicy edges of new thinking. This was at a time when taking this work into the mainstream of organisational life felt far off indeed. I know that Giles is not riding a fad. Giles has done the work and carries this insight in his bones. When you approach this book, you can approach it with the confidence of knowing that this author has really walked this path, and has walked it with others in your shoes. It’s the real deal.

Giles describes this regenerative approach as “completely natural and radically different”. Yes, it is. And it’s an idea whose time has come. This book is well worth your time.

Book review by regenerative practitioner and author Sarah Spencer:

I’ve just finished reading Leading by Nature by Giles Hutchins, and here’s a review for anyone thinking of investing in this excellent book.

To be future-fit, every organisation will need to embrace the way of thinking and acting outlined in this book. Leading by Nature is comprehensive in its approach, with theory, stages of the regenerative journey, and references to specific tools that Giles recommends when working with leaders and teams. It’s a must-have manual for any leader seeking the next phase on their journey of self and organisational development.

The book demonstrates how a regenerative, nature-inspired transition will require both the inner and outer natures of leaders and their teams to be addressed. Leadership consciousness must shift from achiever to regenerative. Case studies share where leaders are breaking new ground, transforming their organisations for people, planet and purpose will give confidence to any leader considering embarking on this journey.

Giles does not shy away from the enormity of the task, that there will be no shortcuts in this transition, and that leaders must step into the discomfort that embracing complexity brings, becoming facilitators and enablers of teams who may or may not want more autonomy, and creating the conditions conducive to new and exciting evolutions, be that in products, services or ways of working.

Nature shows us that tensions must occur (and even be encouraged) to ensure emergence, adaptability and evolution. For the leader that may seem difficult to manage, but Giles shares insights and tools for allowing that to happen.

Bringing us back to nature, he states “The other side of all this complexity is that beautiful simplicity. Let’s work the way life works!”. Indeed we must trust that this process works because it has served us for 3.8billion years of life so far.

Accepting a worldview shift from machine to living-systems will be difficult, but the rewards are huge. Just one springs to mind – the shift from parent-child relationship of ‘boss/employee’ to parent-parent relationship in the living-systems organisation. Just imagine the transformation if every employee were empowered as part of a decentralised and autonomous, multi-disciplinary team. Imagine the potential that would be unleashed.

Unlike some authors in the regenerative sphere, Giles keeps the references to living systems alive in every stage of the book, allowing reader to see their importance and relevance. It is this constant reference to living systems that will ensure that an organisation succeeds on their journey even when times are difficult.

I highly recommend this to anyone – leader or team-member who sees that the current business systems aren’t working, either for people or for the other living beings we share our planet with, and wants to know what they can do about it.

Book review by regenerative leadership coach Katherine Long:

Reviewing Giles Hutchins latest book reminds me of the time we first met, now nearly a decade ago at an event he was running at Ashridge Hult International Business School on the ‘Deep Ecology of Business’ that coincided with a conference that I was attending. I booked myself to stay an extra day – what was not to love about that session title!!

Since then, we’ve stayed in touch and it’s been a real joy to have this friendship and occasionally co-facilitate nature immersions together for leaders and practitioners, and I celebrate the increasing global reach and impact that Giles is having – bringing regenerative practice and living systems thinking to a world that so desperately needs it.

His latest book ‘Leading by Nature’ introduces a new audience to leadership development theory in ways which are practical and relatable whilst inviting the reader into a much more intimate relationship to self, work, and regenerative possibility.

Some great case studies and tools illustrate how achievable the regenerative pathway can be over time and with vision and commitment, and it’s been a huge privilege to be involved in collaborating with Giles in one of them, Vivobarefoot where I’ve been helping develop a circle of internal Livebarefoot coaches (big shout out to them and all the great work they are doing to help embed regenerative principles in everyday conversations, and to Damian Peat for his holding and nurturing of this expanding group!).

I hope Leading by Nature gets into the hands of many business leaders – especially those who are wondering if there could be a different, more humane and life-affirming way – there certainly is.

“True to form, this latest book of Giles’ is an ambitious, encyclopaedic synthesis of many sources of wisdom, all grounded in Giles’ own experience coaching and consulting with executives. Yet just as characteristic, it is a beautifully accessible book, easy to read and hard to put down. It is my fervent hope that many will read it, take its message to heart, and put its guidance into action.”– Michelle Holliday, Principal Consultant of Cambium Consulting & author of The Age of Thriveability

“Giles has given us yet another timely gift – a detailed and superbly practical guide to the leadership consciousness and practices we so badly need in business, government, education and society at large today. It’s rare to find a ‘teacher of teachers’ that explains and illustrates all aspects of the journey with the clarity and down-to-earth accessibility of this book!” – Dimitar Vlahov, Advisory Board Member of Sustainable Brands & Integrate

You can purchase the book either direct from the publishers Wordzworth or from Amazon and other channel

You can also listen to the podcast series where Giles Hutchins interviews CEOs of pioneering organizations pushing the envelope toward life-affirming regenerative business, here at Leading by Nature.

 “Leading by Nature is a powerful book for people who are serious about regenerative change” – Pamela Mang, co-founder of Regenesis Institute & co-author of Regenerative Development and Design

“Giles’s new book Leading by Nature is bang on the money, a really important book.” – Sir Tim Smit, KBE, Founder of The Eden Project

Author of four previous books, Giles Hutchins, draws upon over 25 years experience in leadership and organizational development, and over a decade executive leadership coaching and regenerative leadership practice to apply a living-systems approach to next-stage future-fit business.  His latest book Leading by Nature is a must-read for leaders interested in leading thriving organizations amid the increasingly volatile times ahead.

For regenerative leadership, organizational development or practitioner coaching with Giles, visit his website here — see some recent client reviews here.

Leading by Nature book, podcast and free-to-download tools can be found here.

A short video about Giles’s regenerative leadership immersions:

Dealing with our disconnection

October 26, 2022

The real problem underlying the myriad challenges we face today, is the problem of disconnection, and returning to a deeper sense of connectedness. Connection across self-other-world: connecting into our deeper truer-nature, connecting more authentically with each other, and connecting to life itself in all its fullness.  This article shares some insights around this challenge of disconnection and re-connection.


At the age of 50 I realise that well over half my life has been spent working in business. For the most part as Head of Business Transformation for KPMG, then as Global Head of Sustainability for the multinational IT services provider, Atos, with over 100,000 employees internationally. In both roles I found myself helping all manner of organizations through various transformations, from chemical companies to charities, from manufacturing plants to medical bio-techs, all facing similar challenges of dealing with change upon change. Since leaving corporate life over a decade ago, I’ve engaged with hundreds of leaders and organizations as a coach and sounding-board to help them through myriad shifts towards becoming regenerative. (see here these recent podcast series with some of these clients).

It has been for many more decades of my life that I have felt, deeply in my heart, that underpinning our plethora of problems – whether it be rising mental illness through to rampant consumerism, or rising climate change through to the widespread destruction of life on Earth – there is a root source; a root problem that spawns the downstream effects of consumerism, individualism, rationalism, capitalism, anthropocentrism, and the like.  It is a disease of the psyche – one might say a crisis of spirit. It is due to a profound mental dislocation of self-identity from nature. With the risk of trying to define something fluid, complex and inter-relational, which is itself part of the problem, it is commonly described as fragmentation or disconnection: disconnection within ourselves (our deeper sense of selfhood), disconnection from each other (the relational nature of our communality), and disconnection from Nature, Life and Universe.

This disconnection manifests in our inner and outer worlds in varying ways. In our outer world it manifests in the stories we tell ourselves about how we think the world works and our sense of place and purpose within it.  Our mythologies, cosmologies and worldviews influence our socio-economic narrative, which in turn influences the way we behave in business, politics and beyond.  Enter dog-eat-dog red-in-tooth-and-claw hyper-competitive capitalism, where we exploit others through business transactions for short-term gain, leaving the world polluted and poorer. 

‘Greed, envy, sloth, pride and gluttony: these are not vices anymore. No, these are marketing tools. Lust is our way of life. Envy is just a nudge towards another sale. Even in our relationships we consume each other, each of us looking for what we can get out of the other. Our appetites are often satisfied at the expense of those around us. In a dog-eat-dog world we lose part of our humanity.’ – Jon Foreman

In our inner world, this disconnection manifests in how we attend to each evolving moment in our midst, and the perceptual filters and constrictions we habituate and acculturate. These habituations and acculturations are influenced by, and also influence, the outer narrative or worldview we tell ourselves about how the world works. As the philosopher Richard Tarnas eloquently notes:

‘Our world view is not simply the way we look at the world. It reaches inward to constitute our innermost being, and outward to constitute the world. It mirrors but also reinforces and even forges the structures, armorings, and possibilities of our interior life. It deeply configures our psychic and somatic experience, the patterns of our sensing, knowing, and interacting with the world. No less potently, our world view – our beliefs and theories, our maps, our metaphors, our myths, our interpretive assumptions – constellates our outer reality, shaping and working the world’s malleable potentials in a thousand ways of subtly reciprocal interaction. World views create worlds.’  

It seems that we are individually and collectively participating in an inner-outer worldview which – according to the scientific evidence now available to us – is rapidly undermining our own well-being and the very fabric of life on Earth. Something is deeply flawed.  This disconnection is wreaking havoc.

The time to address this flawed way of attending and flawed worldview appears to be upon us. We are living through an epochal moment in our human history, what former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moo refers to as Great Transition where, he says, ‘the decisions we make will have a deeper and more lasting impact than perhaps any other set of decisions in recent decades’. This is a time of simultaneous breakdown/breakthrough, a supreme moment within which we must act consciously and coherently to avoid catastrophe.

The contemporary philosopher Joseph Milne notes that, ‘there is a tendency in our age to rush to change the manifest effects of wrong actions without seriously considering the root causes.’ This tendency is built-in to the dis-connected mind-set which creates the problems in the first place. We filter our perception of life through a polarizing reductive filter that separates ‘things’ into siloes, objects and others. We then seek fixes to the problems created by this logic, by applying the same mechanistic perspective that created the problems in the first place. And so we fail to reach beyond the symptoms, often unwittingly exacerbating the very situation we are trying to solve.

Einstein’s overly-used and heavily-hackneyed insight – we cannot change our problems with the same level of consciousness that created them in the first place – is a perfect insight for the manifold problems we face and our way beyond them.  Yet, so often we find ourselves doing just this, and we simply don’t have time for this anymore. It’s time to get radical and deal with the root cause, our now pathological disconnectedness.

In this TEDx talk I gave a few years back I explore the vital Revolution in Consciousness from disconnection into reconnection:

And this is where leadership comes in.

Leadership is essentially about creating the conditions conducive for ourselves and others to continually deepen our understanding of how the world works, in so doing deepening our sense of place and purpose within the world, and understanding how best to create and deliver value while shaping a viable future.  This imperative to call forth a viable future for all of humanity and the wider fabric of life on Earth is, I believe, an inherent quality of Homo sapiens (wise beings).  While we may unwittingly do a great job of distracting ourselves from real wisdom, there is something within our kernel of selfhood that impels us to deepen into this wisdom as we explore life-affirming futures.

It reminds me of George Bernard Shaw’s insight,

‘We are made wise not by the recollections of our past but by the responsibility of our future.’ 

Here’s a short talk I gave about our way through this illusion of separation, and how we attune with Wisdom innate within Life:


It’s increasingly apparent that the critical problems facing our planet and society can’t be resolved with the same fragmented and disconnected thinking that created the problems in the first place. The source of our current social, economic and environmental ills springs from the inherent flaws in how we see and construct the world.

These challenging times are demanding that we evolve our worldview into one that is more in-tune with life on Earth, one that is more wise, more connected, more real. Life on Earth is actually showing us how to evolve if we so choose to see. Hence my latest book Leading by Nature which goes right to the heart of this worldview shift to inspire practices, tools and techniques that help our leaders and organizations contribute to life-affirming futures.

We are living through a once-in-a-civilization moment marked by great upheaval, where the breakdown of global systems has become impossible to ignore, and signs of breakthrough are starting to emerge. How we place each step of change informs this metamorphic moment, either aiding our evolution or sowing our own demise.

How we attend to the world shapes our world and in turn shapes us. The time has come to wake up to who we truly are, while tuning-in to how life really is.

Regenerative Leadership Coach and Adviser Giles Hutchins’s latest book and podcast series Leading by Nature, along with tools and techniques, can be found here:

Feel free to join the LinkedIn Leadership Immersions group here

The insights time in nature bring: Moving beyond the busy mind, by Yonnatan Ghemit 

October 7, 2022

A few months back Yonnatan came to the secluded ancient woodlands of Springwood Farm near London for an overnight solo in the woods, with Giles Hutchins as space-holder and coach. Upon arrival Giles and Yonnatan spent a couple of hours together in preparation, and then again in the morning after the solo as debrief. Inbetween, Yonnatan was on his own in his solo-spot deep in the woods for about 16 hours. Here Yonnatan shares what this experience revealed to him.

My overnight solo at Springwood Farm back in late spring was truly special – something I am still reflecting on and being fuelled by today, many months later. In sum, I realised I have a lot of thoughts filling my head! Some are useful, some are just plain old useless and getting in the way of life. 

What do I mean by that?

I could not shut these thoughts off!! My overnight stay, with dusk til dawn spent alone in the woods, left me realising how important cultivating a still mind is. With no technology, book or person around, it became painfully self-evident that all I do is endlessly think.  In my couple of hours with Giles Hutchins after the solo, he likened this incessant thinking to a kind of neurosis – a mental dis-ease – we all suffer from in varying degrees. This I found both worrying and enlightening. 

My addiction to YouTube and other social media, thinking about what people think of me in and out of work, worries about whether I’m good enough, etc. compound this mental health challenge.

During my solo, hours went by and I would be randomly reaching for a phone that wasn’t there or thinking about what time it was (I had handed over all my electronic devices to Giles upon arrival). I needed a distraction from my own mind. I felt crazy at times because of the relentlessness of my mind-chatter. As the dusk turned to night-time, being aware of my own deeper-nature was something I realized I was always too busy to notice. Now I had the space and tools Giles had given me to attend to my own self with patience and courage. 

A camp fire, specific trees to meditate next to, mindfulness techniques and a cabin to sleep in: These four simple pillars of my solo helped bring me along the journey, which felt almost psychedelic to be honest. By dawn I felt an inner stillness like I hadn’t felt in years. Needless to say, the morning had me a bit emotional, but the good kind! The debrief with some fresh fruit and a warm cuppa brought closure to feelings I had struggled with for years. This inspired me to push forward with my own research in to my psyche and consciousness.

Giles and I walk back from my solo-spot through the ancient woodlands of Springwood, and I palpably noticed with each step how different I felt to when I arrived the day before. Simply amazing! 

Kind regards,

Yonnatan Ghemit 

For more Giles Hutchins’ latest book and podcast series Leading by Nature, see here and for a short video about immersions at Springwood Farm, here is a short video

You can join the LinkedIn Leadership Immersions Group here:

A book review of Leading by Nature, by David Lorimer

October 5, 2022

This book review first appeared in The Journey of The Scientific & Medical Network, and was written by the Director of the Scientific & Medical Network, David Lorimer.

‘The is a brilliant, timely and paradigm-shifting book — required reading for all business leaders!’

Leading by Nature – Wordzworth 2022, 227 pp., £23.99, p/b – ISBN 978-1-78324-242-9

Following up on his & Laura’s 2019 book on regenerative leadership, Leading by Nature is Giles’s most accessible and highly acclaimed book, which is not only required reading for business leaders, but also for those who would like to understand in more detail the transition from the old industrial age of top-down organisation-as-machine metaphor to the new organisation-as living-systems metaphor based on systemic quantum complexity.

The three parts of Leading by Nature address opening into the shift of world view, embodying the shift, and manifesting the shift. Both the crisis of meaning and the environmental crisis demand this shift, which also entails developing our inner nature and an outlook of relational interconnectedness corresponding to a partnership rather than a dominator culture. Only in this way can organisations achieve future-fitness. Correspondingly, leadership consciousness needs to shift from achiever to regenerative, which Giles explains in terms of seven developmental stages, each of which has corresponding drivers, strengths, limitations, and attitudes to feedback.

Embodying the shift begins with a journey inward of knowing the self and using the three lenses of the voice in the head (developing a notice-allowing process), deeper nature and the field. Giles gives a number of bodymind coherence practices and ways of opening into deeper nature including what he calls ‘panarchy’ in terms of understanding the rhythms of transformation, letting go and acknowledging insecurities – potentially uncomfortable processes for executives, but essential if one is to change one’s embedded behavioural patterns and gain control over one’s energy and reactions. He explains how to live the virtues of regenerative leadership: balance, patience, courage and purposefulness.  

The third part discusses the principles of transition with a very interesting case study of the Vivobarefoot regenerative leadership journey by its chief executive, which makes fascinating reading and which represented a transformation of corporate culture supported by various new employee allowances for personal and professional development as well as regenerative breaks. The last two chapters introduce the systemic innovation playbook and argue why the time has come for a transformation of business culture.

Leading by Nature is a brilliant, timely and paradigm-shifting work. 

– David Lorimer, Director of The Scientific & Medical Network, and Editor of Paradigm Explorer

For more on leading by Nature, the book, tools, practices and the podcast series visit

You can join the LinkedIn group Leadership Immersions here

Here is a short video about Leading by Nature

and here is a short video about Leadership Immersions with Giles Hutchins:

A Regenerative Economy starts with a Mindset Shift – but what does that involve?

September 30, 2022

A few weeks back I was interviewed by Wolfgang Kerler for the BMW Foundation and RESPOND-Accelerator programme that is equipping entrepreneurs and leaders with the right skills to lead into regenerative futures. The interview was originally posted here a couple of weeks ago, and I thought I’d repost the full version of it here so the readers of this blog get visibility of it, as I feel its very relevant for the discussion many leaders are having today about what next, where to point, and how to transform.

The operating system of our economy is broken. While the ‘take-make-waste’ model has generated growth and prosperity, it’s also causing multiple crises. We need a systemic redesign, from value creation and business models to innovative technologies, regulations, and social outcomes. How can we strive for a Regenerative Economy? By implementing regenerative leadership, a concept linked to responsible leadership, says executive coach and author Giles Hutchins.

Question: We’re facing wars, a pandemic, inequality, a loss of biodiversity, and the climate crisis. Yet, amid all these challenges, you see the opportunity for a paradigm shift towards regenerative leadership. Why should leaders in business, politics, or civil society make this fundamental change now?

Giles Hutchins: This big breakdown is cajoling us to evolve. Either we adapt or die. That sounds ruthless, but that’s essentially what’s unfolding – a pivotal moment for us to evolve our ways of living and leading. Leaders have no real option other than to change their way of thinking, as current problems can’t be solved from the same level of consciousness that created them. Many probably know this phrase from Einstein.

The good news is, this can be a deeply rejuvenating and liberating phase-change to move through. It doesn’t have to be some burden to add to everything else, it can instead be the very thing that helps lessen the burden, by opening up to more of how life really is.

How would you describe our current economic systems, its leadership principles, and the problems it’s causing?

Hutchins: The 500 year-old paradigm that came to shape our worldview with the Age of Reason, the Scientific Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution is essentially a mechanistic worldview. I call it Mechanistic Materialism. It created Scientific Management Theory, Taylorism, Fordism, and Milton Friedman’s work that dominate how we approach business management today. And there’s nothing wrong with a mechanistic awareness that breaks things and processes down into parts to understand what each part does and how to optimize it. This is a very useful tool and brought advancements in medicine, transportation, supply chain, and digitization, so let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

However, as a dominant paradigm it has a tendency to crowd out other ways of knowing and create systemic challenges like we are facing today. The mindset becomes one of outward achieving divorced from inner-connection based on an ideology of dog-eat-dog competition, control, exploitation, and reductive linear thinking. We even end up seeing an organization, a collection of people, as some form of machine to be sweated for short-term maximization. But that’s not how life is, there’s much more to reality!

Like what?

Hutchins: By shifting our awareness beyond Mechanistic Materialism, we’ll see that life is complex and emergent in nature. It’s about the relationships and interdependencies between all things. I call this worldview which understands an organization as a living system participating within an ever-changing, inter-relational systemic context Quantum Complexity.

The marriage of Quantum Physics and Complexity Science gives us entirely new insights into how complex systems (like our organizations) work. Simply put, no individual leader, team, or organization exists separate from each other and from the world. Everything is connected to everything else, and decisions have an impact on everything. It’s complex, but that’s how life works. And there are patterns and principles of life that we can learn to work with.

This brings us to the principle of regeneration which, according to your work, is a fundamental part of nature and life. What’s the case for regeneration?

Hutchins: Regeneration is about working with the evolutionary potential of life. By shifting out of the mechanistic way of considering evolution as individualistic hyper-competition into understanding evolution as a participatory and relational endeavor, we’ll start seeing ourselves as participating within the world. Our actions, our interactions, and our relationships have consequences.

We also learn from nature that life is ever-changing and thrives through tension. On the one hand, this can feel threatening or fearful – ‘oh my god, I need to manage and control all this change’ –, but on the other hand, it’s liberating, as life is beyond control. We don’t need to hold on to everything. In fact, we need to start flowing more with life and understanding its cycles and rhythms. Just as the season goes through a wintering phase that brings a renewal – a regeneration – we need to go through a process of death and rebirth in order to renew and create.

You argue that the way towards a regenerative economy is through regenerative leadership and Leading by Nature based on the worldview of Quantum Complexity. By that, you probably mean more than going into the woods every now and then to copy a few ideas from nature …

Hutchins: It’s absolutely useful to go out into nature and copy patterns, principles, and processes and apply them to us, our organizations, and our economy. Designing our products in circular, biophilic and biomimetic ways, we need all of this. But the idea of regeneration doesn’t stop there!

Leading by Nature and regenerative leadership are about working with life, and cultivating your inner and outer nature – your mindset and psychology, and your relationship with others – to become more of who you truly are. This involves a journey of attuning to life, which also involves tapping in to different ways of knowing that we naturally have as human beings. Not just the rational analytic knowing, that’s important, that’s a useful tool, but also intuitive, emotional, and somatic (body) knowing.

Through this process, the self-as-separation-from-and-in-competition-with opens into the self-as-participating-within life. The achiever becomes the regenerator.

But how does this personal transformation to regenerative leadership help us in terms of businesses and organizations?

Hutchins: Regenerative leaders transform the inner and outer nature of their organizations. The inner nature is the culture, decision-making protocols, values and behaviors. The outer nature is the value propositions and stakeholder relationships.

Often the shift starts with outer nature, so we’ll start here, too. Instead of exploiting nature for resources and also exploiting suppliers to produce stuff and then we package it up and flog it in a transactional linear way, organizations will first start measuring, monitoring, controlling, and reducing their negative impacts along their value chain. Then, they’ll start to transform their value-creation proposition from linear transactions into circular service provision and community participation. This enriches the future-fitness of the organization and enriches the life-affirming capacity of the value propositions as they start to contribute to the life-affirming futures we all wish for.

What do you mean by that?

Let’s take a fridge, for instance. Rather than just selling a fridge without caring about its sustainability, a company now provides a rental service for cooling your food – which means that it makes and owns the fridge, and therefore cares about its durability and recyclability. The fridge, which is enabled with a platform into the internet-of-things (IoT), has a monitor reminding you that you’re running low on carrot juice, connecting you with local farm shops and letting you know what other people who are also buying carrot juice are interested in.  Then, the organization looks at ways to enrich local communities and the health and wellbeing of its customers and wider stakeholder ecosystem. It recognizes how everything connects with everything else – and a negative impact over there can’t just be traded-off with a positive impact over here (net-positive) but that each and every interaction can seek to benefit the fabric of the economy, society and environment.

A regenerative business is no longer just manufacturing and shipping fridges in a linear transactional way, it’s involved in community participation, and societal transformation toward regenerative futures. This also involves suppliers and their local communities, investors, and customers in helping everyone become more conscious of how we engage with life.

The inner nature (culture) then interrelates with that. Regenerative leaders will create a life-affirming culture that enables people to bring more of themselves to work, which unlocks their creativity right into the heart of everyday decision-making. It’s a shift from parent-child hierarchy and bureaucracy to adult-adult self-management, self-responsibility, and spaces to truly listen to and respect each other. Through this culture, people will leave work and go back to their personal lives more enriched, because they’re inspired, interested, and challenged, instead of going home exploited, drained and suppressed.

Some leaders might think that all of this sounds good and important, but their companies need to make money.

Hutchins: While profit is not the main driver for becoming a regenerative leader or transforming an organization, there’s evidence that regenerative living-organizations are more future-fit, more able to adapt and evolve in these times of change. There’s a whole bunch of companies like AXA Climate, Patagonia, Halogen, Triodos Bank and Vivobarefoot that are journeying towards regenerative, serving local and global communities, while also increasing profits, attracting and retaining high-quality talent, and improving agility and creativity.

There are all sorts of organizations – of all sectors and sizes – actively embracing the journey towards regenerative leadership, because this journey welcomes everyone and any organization. What’s important is the willingness to shift the mindset.

Let’s look at the big picture: What would a regenerative economy look like?

Hutchins: Right now, Mechanistic Materialism creates monocultures, which is kind of funny, as the underlying neo-liberal theory is all about ‘free markets’. However, in reality, there’s a tendency toward control and domination, which stymies creativity, entrepreneurialism, diversity and freedom.

The regenerative economy is challenging these monopolies and oligopolies. It’s participatory, responsive, decentralized, and diverse. Without giving up on globalization, it’s rejuvenating the local connectivity that we’ve seen breaking down over the last decades. It’s encouraging local entrepreneurialism that’s seeing a revival thanks to advancements in modern technologies like, obviously, the internet, but also 3D printing and mobile technologies. It’s allowing all kinds of people the freedom to come up with their ideas without being caught up in bureaucracy and control.

Could you explain how all of this is going to help our burning planet?

Hutchins: Jan Christiaan Smuts, who originally coined the word Holism, was very keen to say: You can’t have holistic awareness until you understand that the individual mind is attuned to and immersed within the universal mind. Our planet has immense intelligence in it. To most people inured in Mechanistic Materialism that’s anathema. How could the planet be intelligent, it’s inert – says the Mechanistic mind – something to be plundered and exploited for profiteering.  Yet the mind of Quantum Complexity understands. It understands what Smuts noted, and also what Einstein noted – without a shift in consciousness toward a mind that understands the sentience and interconnectedness of all life, we are but lost in our current malaise.

When you start recognizing everything has this sentience, everything is alive, which of course we’ve known for the vast portion of our human history, but the modern mind has forgotten due to Mechanistic Materialism, then you’ll naturally start caring and start feeling more attuned to all life on Earth, as well as the life-giving potential of our organizations. People then pause for a moment when throwing stuff out the window, and companies question themselves when pumping sewage into the ocean – not to avoid penalties, or reduce negative impact, but because they know it’s wrong.  The French writer Antoine de Saint Exupery once said, if you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the immensity of the sea.  Leading by Nature inspires the leader right in the heart of everyday business to reengage with the immensity of real life, and in-so-doing helping the organization adapt rather than die-out in these transformative times.

What do you say to critics who think it’s naïve to bet on the personal transformation of leaders to save the planet?

Hutchins: What’s naïve is to think that anything could happen without involving psychology! Let’s be assured that psychology is being used heavily in the Mechanistic paradigm right now – whether it’s advertising, whether it’s propaganda, whether it’s culture change or business management. The most important systemic shifts are mindset shifts – it’s that simple – therefore we must attend to shifting our mindset if we wish for lasting systemic change. If not now then when?

Finally, let’s clarify some terminology: How does your concept of regenerative leadership fit with the idea of responsible leadership that the BMW Foundation represents?

Hutchins: There’s absolutely no reason why responsible leadership shouldn’t include regenerative leadership, as long as it includes the mindset shift. In my leadership work, I come across all kinds of different phrases and concepts: transformative leadership, systemic leadership, responsible leadership, conscious leadership, future-fit leadership. If it involves and understands the importance of this mindset shift into Quantum Complexity, it’s good!

Giles Hutchins latest book and podcast series Leading by Nature can be found here

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Designing Regenerative Neighbourhoods

September 26, 2022

I was recently asked to give a talk on the importance of bringing a regenerative mindset into neighbourhood design for an international architecture and design conference. Here I share the essence of my talk:

What is ‘regenerative’

‘Regenerative’ is essential about working the way life works; attuning with nature.

As social scientist Gregory Bateson observed, ‘The source of all our problems today stems from the gap between the way people think and how nature works.’

Regenerative Architecture seeks to close that gap by shifting from a mechanistic reductive mindset toward a regenerative mindset.

Why is a regenerative mindset important for neighbourhood development?

Humanity is facing its largest macro-change programme ever: halving emissions by 2030, reversing nature loss, improving prosperity while reducing inequality, tackling a deepening mental health and wellbeing crisis, all while system-shocks and widespread volatility increase.  No organisation or neighbourhood is sparred.

As the management guru Peter Drucker elucidated, ‘In times of turmoil, the danger lies not in the turmoil itself but in facing it with yesterday’s logic.

The challenge we face today, in our neighbourhoods and our organisations, is not the volatility itself but the need to shift our way of thinking from a mechanistic narrowed-down reductive perspective that breaks things down into parts, atomizes, compartmentalizes and polarizes, toward a regenerative mindset that celebrates the rich diversity of relationships interweaving across myriad nested systems within our neighbourhoods.

Can you give an example of the systems we find in our neighbourhoods?

Let’s start with three main groupings: Technical, Social, Ecological

Technical – These are the economic systems involved with manufacturing and delivering goods and services, and the associated trading and information flows involved.

Social – These are the rich non-linear human relationships pervading our living and working lives – throughout the meeting areas, offices, cafes, park areas, pathways, market places, galleries, museums and such like.

Ecological – These are the more-than-human patterns of relationships – throughout the watersheds, atmospheric cycles, migratory patterns of animals, keystone species, soil cycles, and such like.

All these systems interrelate in myriad interconnected ways with complex patterns of feedback and emergence. We can learn to listen-to and sense-in to these rhythms and patterns, as well as comprehend the feedback loops and flows.

How do we address these systemic challenges in our neighbourhoods?

We need to bring ourselves INTO the system – to ‘immerse’ ourselves within the system, rather than feeling separate from it.

This is the fundamental difference between systems-thinking – mapping the system ‘out there’ – and systemic-awareness – immersing in and attuning with the co-participatory nature of the system.

With systemic-awareness we get under the skin of the system, so as to gain a full-bodied experience of how the system behaves and responds to change.

A powerful tool I use for cultivating systemic-awareness is ‘Systemic Enablers’ (which I write extensively about in my latest book Leading by Nat  We identify diverse actors from across the system – for instance, council workers, market stall holders, community leaders, etc. while also giving voice to the more-than-human relationships throughout the system.  Through regular Circles of Dialogue, these Systemic Enablers intentionally listen-in to the system, sharing diverse perspectives of how the system emerges through times of change.

Then, with this diverse group of Systemic Enablers, we can ‘dare to dream’ – to explore the art of the possible in terms of what regenerative futures might look and feel like. Through forecasting tools and then backcasting, we can start to work with the emerging future in the present.

How can the architect balance the future plan with the present in a regenerative way?

It’s important to engage diverse actors in a participatory way while exploring the future, as this gains buy-in and also emancipates the system from status quo constraints and lethargy.  It’s also important to build empathy and respect between the three horizon perspectives (Horizon 1 = business as usual, Horizon 2 = innovations breaking out of the status quo, Horizon 3 = desired regenerative futures for the neighbourhood).

However, it’s also important to not super-impose desired futures ‘on to’ the system.

This is where ‘Demonstrators’ come in.  Architects can design test-and-learn prototypes, with the Demonstrators acting like live-labs, where the Systemic Enablers can sense how the system responds to the prototypes. Are there any unintended consequences, or feedback loops that we need to be aware of before scaling the design? These can be explored in the Circles of Dialogue while listening-in to the system.

Notice the habitual tendency to step-outside the system and then assert something into the system from outside – the shift to a regenerative mindset involves a respectful and patient listening-in to and working with the system. It asks for a sense-respond dynamic rather than a control-manage dynamic (see Leading by Nature for an explanation of what this means in practice).

Any final words of advice to the architects in the room?

This is humanity’s hour of reckoning. We can either adapt and evolve our thinking to become more in-tune with the way our neighbourhoods really work, or we can hold-back and stick to the old mechanistic mindset that created our problems in the first place. The time has come for architects and designers to consciously work with the grain of nature rather than against it.

Here is a youtube video clip covering off this talk:

Giles Hutchins is an author, speaker, business transformation leader and CEO coach. He has written 5 books on regenerative leadership and how organisations can learn from nature to become more resilient and future-fit. He is a senior advisor for a number of leading organisations and business schools on the future of business, and has worked in organisational change for over 25 years. His international practice is anchored at Springwood, 60 acres of ancient woodland in Sussex, UK.

You can find his latest book Leading by Nature and podcast series here:

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Here is a short 1min video about Leading by Nature with Giles Hutchins

A book review of River Journey, by Bevis Watts

September 25, 2022

As the sunrise softens into Autumn, I have treated myself to spending the last couple of Sunday mornings nestling into the hearth of one of my favourite Scots Pines with a cuppa while attentively turning the pages of River Journey by Bevis Watts, CEO of Triodos Bank UK and former CEO of Avon Wildlife Trust.

What a treat of a tale!

River Journey – Searching for Wild Beavers and Finding Freedom – Tangent Books

This book contains much more than the author’s intimate and hard-won search and discovery of wild beaver through brook, stream and river whatever the weather.  It’s an adventure of the soul; a humble yet heroic struggle with the challenges of the day; a reclamation of so much that’s been discarded in our rush towards superficial highs.

This quality publication is brimming with love of life.

Pages interweave the author’s challenges through COVID and BREXIT while leading a growing ethical bank, with a passion for nature. Bevis’s own rewilding – recovering aspects of himself in danger of becoming extinct amid the busyness of business.  The pages also share much about the front-line challenges of habitat conservation in this day and age. For instance Bevis notes,

‘We can advocate bee-friendly gardening (which I do) and tree-planting, but until we really call out and address systemic issues such as the tax loopholes in land and woodland ownership and give more significant resources to Natural England, a regulator neutered by years of David Cameron’s ‘greenest government ever’ austerity cuts, we are pushing water uphill. The ‘con’ in conservation, it can be argued, is that for all our efforts and many species and landscape recovery successes, we are currently simply slowing the decline of nature rather than conserving it.

I am an optimist, and I do believe we are seeing a generational shift in values, with young people today far more cognisant of the natural environment and of how their own individual actions relate to it. But the need for education and engagement is still huge.

Among the many human challenges thrown at me as a CEO of a Wildlife Trust were the following: a horse-rider repeatedly cutting locks on gates and threatening colleagues while professing his right to ride in a woodland SSSI (site of special scientific interest), despite their being no bridleway; having to evict travellers from a newly acquired site, which incurred more than £10,000 in costs for the eviction and damages; the mundane issues of fires and bird hides being vandalised or used for antisocial behaviour; and dog-walkers letting their animals roam freely on land that is home to deer, hares, badgers, foxes, weasels and more.  Restricting the freedom of dogs may be an affront to many owners, and indeed the odd dog wouldn’t be an issue, but everyone thinks their dog is just the odd dog, and dozens of free-running dogs daily have a huge impact on wildlife sites. Oh, and did I mention fly-tipping?

The mind boggles at what issues a beaver-introduction programme might encounter, as beavers are often misunderstood, and unless some controls are in place, the potential for conflict with humans is significant. But if there were beavers with a real chance of establishing themselves on this stretch of the Bristol Avon, then I wanted to do everything I could do help them do so and to spread beyond.’

As well as the trials of life, the pages contain beauty and humour. I found myself laughing out loud at times. The author immerses himself to become one with nature with patience and reverence. In fact, one might suggest that it’s this very reverence that allows Bevis to tune-in so intimately with nature. He notes,

‘The water was like glass, and each paddle stroke broke it crisply. I could see my breath as I exhaled and there was a mist gathered on parts of the river. It was so eerily silent and still that I felt I was trespassing in another world.’

This book invites us to take notice of nature in our neighbourhood, and to question how we tread through life.

‘So much wildlife survives despite our neglect and carelessness. Just imagine what could thrive if we just gave it a little more space and opportunity.’

As Bevis knows,

‘It always comes down to education and awareness. If people really knew what they were jeopardising, I am sure they would respect these places more.’

Through his patient camera-work he observes,

‘The beaver’s role in habitat creation and its reputation as a keystone species in nature’s restoration was evident beyond anything I would ever have imagined when setting out the camera traps within the beaver’s aquatic world.’

This book does many things to my soul, not least reminding me to simply be still in nature, to sense and see what’s really here on our watch.  The heroic-humility of this book and of its author palpably stirs me amid this rising age of regeneration, reconciliation and {r}evolution. To work with the grain of nature, rather than against it, is the key to our unwritten future. To really sense the weave and weft of nature requires the patient passion that Bevis radiates. There’s no doubt that the world of banking, the world of business in general, indeed society at large, needs leaders like Bevis, ones who dare to walk the inner and outer pathways while vulnerably and authentically challenging the status quo.

Through the pages one can feel the author’s frustration with the current system.

‘Too many politicians, leaders in the health sector and civil service, fail to act on what they know to be true, living in fear of following common sense without watertight evidence. It is easier to maintain a paradigm we know isn’t right than take responsibility for change that we inherently know is right.’

Maintaining the old rather than birthing the new is killing us, and much of life on Earth.  Rather than evolution we face extinction due to our inability to shift the dominant paradigm inured in the illusion that we are separate from and in competition with nature.

River Journey offers more than hope. It’s an invitation to journey home. A journey that invites us to reconnect with the rapture of the wild in order to be reborn in harmony with life.

I share Bevis’s long term interest in systemic change and also his belief that we are at the start of a great awakening. In my own work of helping shift leadership consciousness beyond the dominant paradigm, I sense a renaissance bubbling up into brook, stream and river journey ahead, flowing towards a deeper attunement with the Wisdom of Life. And this book plays its part in this renaissance, as does its author.

River Journey is a beautiful book written by a beautiful soul – thank you Bevis for birthing this gift into the world!

River Journey – Searching for Wild Beavers and Finding Freedom – Tangent Books

You can purchase the book directly from the publisher here:

All author proceeds go to the Avon Wildlife Trust and the Beaver Trust.

This book review was written by regenerative leadership adviser & author Giles Hutchins

Vivobarefoot’s Regenerative Business Journey 

September 21, 2022

The award-winning B-Corp Vivobarefoot is on a mission to reconnect people with nature and natural health through regenerative footwear and experiences.

Like many organisations, Vivo developed under a hierarchical system with siloed departments. It was selling barefoot footwear to bring people closer to nature, and business wasn’t bad. But something felt unnatural to Co-Founders Galahad and Asher Clark.

“Are we just growing yet another business, delivering more stuff through more stress, in an over-polluted world?” they found themselves asking. “Or can we be part of the regenerative revolution and become a real force for good in the world?”

In summer 2020, the Vivo leaders found Regenerative Leadership, a book co-authored by Giles Hutchins and Laura Storm. This led to Galahad and Vivo’s leadership team having a session in the woods of Springwood Farm with Giles on the Autumn Equinox of 2020. This first session made quite the impression, and marked the start of Vivo’s Livebarefoot Journey. 

Over the subsequent two years, this journey has involved a shift from hierarchy to flatter networked circles, and from a footwear company to a holistic natural-health brand with circular value chains, rewilding experiences and regenerative products, communities and business practices. 

This evolution has meant transforming Vivo’s inner nature (its culture, values and behaviours) and outer nature (its value propositions and stakeholder relationships). It’s been challenging and empowering, and remains unfinished business. It’s also become an excellent case study for other organisations exploring regenerative business. 

This article is a summary of a detailed case study chapter from Giles’ latest book, Leading by Nature. It captures Vivo’s journey through the words of Galahad Clark (CEO), Ashley Pollock (Head of ‘Livebarefoot’ – People & Culture) and Giles Hutchins (world leading regenerative leadership coach).

The Outer Journey, by Galahad Clark

In summer 2020, during a Vivo leadership retreat on a remote beach in Devon, twelve of us set ourselves the challenge of moving Vivo from sustainability to regeneration: from making stuff, however sustainable, to actively reconnecting with and replenishing the natural world.

A transformative journey of learning and unlearning was underway, and the first thing to change was our ‘what’. Vivo would still be creating regenerative footwear, but also regenerative experiences. We were turning from a footwear company into a holistic natural-health brand. Along with committing to a company-wide transformative and regenerative journey with Giles, we pledged to publish a meaningful annual report, Unfinished Business, to more transparently track our progress.  

Since that initial retreat in Devon we’ve developed and launched value propositions that transform our impact as a business, helping people reconnect with nature and their natural health.

Through ReVivo, our re-commerce platform, we now repair, refurbish and resell old Vivos, keeping them on feet and out of landfill for longer. In doing so we’re helping to pioneer a circular footwear industry. VivoBiome is an innovative scan-to-print approach to mass producing bespoke footwear through local hubs. A better model for feet, the world, and nature. And VivoHealth is a holistic education platform for natural health and regenerative practice. Through courses, coaches and community networks for natural movement, it helps customers undertake their own natural-health journey while applying regenerative leadership principles to ways of living.

These changes represent Vivo’s evolution into ‘Vivo 3.0’, with a focus not just on regenerative products, but regenerative business and regenerative communities. We’re pursuing this through three strands of work:

  1. Healthy Digital – a better customer journey through our natural-health ecosystem.
  2. Circular Value Chains – genuinely regenerative supply chains that design out waste and toxicity, keep materials in use and replenish natural systems.
  3. Rewilding Communities – funding regenerative community projects and creating our own spiritual woodland home for the Vivo community to gather and walk together towards a regenerative future.

As Ashley explains below, these ideas have been enabled by a simultaneous inner-culture transformation that is swapping top-down “planting” for individual agency and the potential to cross-pollinate new ideas. ReVivo, VivoBiome and VivoHealth all originated through what we call ‘Project Circles’ with self-managing, agile ways of working.

The Inner Journey, by Ashley Pollock

A couple of years back, Vivobarefoot had lots of yang (a hyper-masculine, cut-and-thrust focus on outer-doing) and too little yin (valuing inner-being, listening to ourselves and others, becoming more aware of Vivo as a living system).

To restore balance, we’ve been writing our own rulebook to move from a hierarchical, control-manage system towards a more horizontal, adult-to-adult, sense-respond approach.

To foster these changes, Giles has helped us restructure from a traditional hierarchy into a network of cross-functional Circles forming around specific business needs. Some hierarchy remains, but we’re consciously shifting power from parent-child to adult-adult. 

  1. A Home Circle is a person’s permanent home, aligned with their horizontal function or vertical category (similar to a traditional ‘department’). An Evolution Lead supports people’s development within each Home Circle.
  1. Project Circles form around cross-functional projects. They include a Project Lead (more facilitator than manager), a small and accountable Active Project Team and a wider Advisory Network.
  1. In Yin Circles people gather to sense the health of Vivobarefoot’s ecosystem, reflect and practice peer-to-peer coaching.

This networked structure gives people more agency to make decisions. And it invites them to bring more of themselves to work, helping us embrace honesty and diversity of thought. 

Within the Circle system, we also encourage everybody to develop ‘self-circle-system awareness’. In other words, awareness of Self (how one personally shows up), Circle (how the team self-manage and work towards a mission) and System (the flow, evolution and impact of the wider Vivo ecosystem).

The Proprioceptors at Springwood Farm

We now have a team of Systemic Enablers we call ‘Proprioceptors’, who work as ‘live sensors’ across the Vivo-system, gathering feedback from across the organisation and sensing where there is ‘stuckness’, brilliant flow, healthy tension or over-stress. We encourage in-person feedback Circles where people gather in the woods around the fire (without digital devices!) at Springwood Farm to dialogue, listen, share problems, give and receive constructive feedback and reflect on self-circle-system commitments. And we’ve opened up company-wide communication through weekly stand ups, for relaying news and asking questions; a virtual daily Fire Pit, for simply gathering and chatting; and transparent notes from leadership meetings.

These ingredients all form part of our culture’s essence (we call it ‘living barefoot’). Living barefoot is our Vivo way of rejecting the cushioned life – living courageously, showing up true to our values and in line with our mission; shifting our individual and organisational relationship with power and control (from power & control to sense, respond & flow).

To understand how our evolution has been affecting people at Vivo, we’re collaborating with the Happiness Index: a feedback platform, rooted in neuroscience, for measuring employee engagement and identifying happiness drivers. It helps us understand where things could be better.

We’ve created an ever-growing ‘Barefoot Code’ on Trello, our living version of an employee handbook full of info on working at Vivo and Living Barefoot. Similarly, we use a great tool called Maptio to map how all our Circles and people interrelate. Actually seeing our new structure is a game-changer.

Every joiner also now has a Buddy from a different Home Circle to help them settle. And a new Evolution Council has reviewed outdated job titles like ‘Manager’ and created a more transparent Evolution Process that also empowers everyone take ownership of and explore their own individual Evolution Plans.

Last but not least, we’ve enhanced our regenerative benefits package. With £1,000 allowances for professional development and personal hobbies to 30 holiday days (we believe time is more precious than money), 12 pairs of free Vivos a year, discounts on natural-health experiences and regular in-person celebrations, we’ve made it much easier to live regeneratively beyond work.

Giles Hutchins & Ashley Pollock at Springwood

The Vivobarefoot Essence, by Giles Hutchins

While it feels like much has changed over the last two years, we know Vivo is only at the beginning of its regenerative journey, scratching the surface of what’s possible. Many challenges and learnings lie ahead. But the initial indicators are good. 

Although the Vivo culture still contains some control-manage dynamics (sometimes people revert to old habits, and sometimes control tendencies are necessary), people are better at identifying parent-child micro-management and busy-stress cycles and instead defaulting to adult-adult, authentic, sense-respond decisions and communication. From January 2020 to January 2022, Vivo’s Happiness Index score for loyalty and satisfaction rose from -25 to +26, and overall employee happiness increased 36%, from 5.9 to 8.0. And Vivo’s culture also feels more resilient, engaged, entrepreneurial and better able to respond to challenges and realise Vivo’s mission. In a word, more ‘barefoot’. 

Ultimately, Vivo has broken beyond the status quo amid a challenging and volatile business climate. Resisting a strong temptation to play it safe, the company is a beacon of light inspiring others to transform. It’s telling that leaders of organisations across Vivo’s ecosystem who have witnessed their transformation first hand often enquire about embarking on something similar for themselves.

For more on the Vivobarefoot journey towards becoming a regenerative business, see the book Leading by Nature. If you are interested in exploring where your own organisation is on this journey, you can find a Regenerative Organisation Reflective Tool and other useful tools, all free to download, here.

Head of Livebarefoot at Vivobarefoot Ashley Pollock and regenerative leadership coach Giles Hutchins co-authored this summary, which is extracted from Giles’s latest book, Leading by Nature – the Process of Becoming a Regenerative Leader.

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The Necessary Evolution from Machine to Living-systems L&OD

September 2, 2022

The L&OD living-systems paradigm is a worldview shift that moves us onward from yesterday’s machine paradigm. A “worldview shift” may sound daunting, especially when many of us experience enough stress, busyness, and volatility in the workplace today. The good news is this worldview shift is a genuine return. It is a revitalization of something innate, a reconnection with the true nature within us and the rhythms and ways of nature all around us. Woven into our human physiology and psychology is the natural capacity to embrace a living-systems worldview. Letting go of old, illusory ways while welcoming in our deeper nature—what could be more invigorating?

When, as leaders, we are able to let go of the outdated mechanistic tendencies and expand our restricted view of the organization, we open ourselves and our teams up to how life inherently operates—in harmony. We learn how to work with natural rhythms and methods that encourage the vitality and adaptability of the organization. We learn to lead by nature.

Regenerative Leadership, Hutchins & Storm

Machine Worldview                         Living-Systems Worldview

Dominator culture                  >                    Partnership culture

Parent-child                >                   Adult-adult

Control-manage                 >                    Sense-respond

Disempowering               >                    Empowering

Unnatural                 >                    Natural

Life-denying                     >                   Life-affirming

Let’s take ourselves out of the busy work environment for a moment and reflect on our everyday life. We successfully go about our daily chores, errands, and affairs without the need for top-down, command-control managers telling us what to do. Whether it’s picking the kids up from school, washing up after Sunday lunch, going to the theatre, catching a train, or organizing a birthday party, we seldom hand over our self-authoring power to managers. We might seek advice from partners and friends or ask experts about certain projects, but when someone starts to tell us what to do in a dictatorial way, our defenses go up, we get wary, and we switch off.

Because being “managed” feels like a form of oppression that undermines our own sovereignty, and so we retract. As we retract, the relationship between ourselves and the other person is subtly inhibited; it no longer flows as naturally, and creative potential is lost. Sure, there will certainly be times when it is wise to exercise authority or assertiveness of one’s view. Leading by Nature is not a namby-pamby way of relating to others in the organization. No, not at all. Leading by Nature is about noticing when we are standing strong in our authentic true nature as opposed to instances when we are either forcing another person or being forced by another whose trying to dominate us. To use psychology lingo, it’s the difference between an adult-adult dynamic and a parent-child dynamic.

A recent global Gallup poll shows that 85% of workers are disengaged, which illustrates the extent to which our mechanistic mindset is crippling organizational effectiveness. It’s a mindset that creates human suffering, psychological distress, and unhealthy interpersonal relations right at the heart of our enterprises, the very place where creativity, passion, purposefulness, and adaptive learning ought to be unlocking our brilliance. Hence, the number one most important thing our leaders need to address is the ability to transcend the old, life-denying organization-as-machine mindset and expand into a leadership consciousness that frees our self-and-system awareness so that we can better sense and respond to the systemic dynamics at play across the organization-as-living-system.

This evolutionary shift in L&OD is a learning-in-action process. First and foremost, it’s an internal shift, an embodied process—rather than a linear tick-box exercise—where one must become self-aware of old habits while patiently practicing new ones. Secondly, it requires enriching the cultural soil of the organization so that each person can draw nourishment from everyday interactions as they learn and adapt. 

Leading by Nature, by Giles Hutchins

The good news is that we need look no further than within and all around us to find inspiration for this L&OD shift from a machine into a living-systems worldview. 

When we observe a forest or woodland, reductive machine logic sees trees struggling against each other in a competitive battle for survival of the fittest. However, when we sharpen our lens of perception—using a living-systems lens—we start to see the immense, inter-relational venture at play. Different species of trees share nutrients with each other through the soil, and tree roots form intimate relationships with mycelia, bacteria, and microbes. The forest floor is teaming with networks that benefit the vibrancy, resilience, and evolutionary dynamics of the whole ecosystem. In only a handful of healthy soil there’s more living beings working together than there are human beings on the entire planet.

What Charles Darwin originally meant by the phrase “survival of the fittest” was not “dominate or become dominated,” but rather each species adapts to an ever-changing context by “fitting-in” to its niche. It’s not the strongest species that survive nor the most intelligent but the ones most able to adapt to change. This adaptive edge is what our organizations need to foster by welcoming in the living-systems worldview into our L&OD.

Future-Fit Organizations as Living-Systems

There is so much to learn from our trees and soil, let alone nature’s fuller ensemble. In nature’s collectives—ant colonies, beehives, flocks of birds, and shoals of fish—we find the pervasive behavior of sensing-responding. A scientific descriptor for this sensing-responding behavior is stigmergy, where collectives create adaptability, coherence, and resilience without the need for planning, control, direct communication, or top-down dictate. But it’s not just swarms or shoals that display this sensing-responding behavior, it’s a core life behavior that we can observe anywhere, from the forest floors to deep-sea vents, from mountain ranges to prairies. Everywhere there’s life we find sensing-responding behavior.

Adult developmental psychology studies indicate that leaders able to sense and work with the emergent and evolutionary dynamics of life are better equipped to lead 21st century future-fit organizations. (Laloux, 2014) Take developmental psychologist Clare Graves who painstakingly researched levels of consciousness across thousands of adults. What he called Tier 2 consciousness (the next stage of consciousness he witnessed emerging in adults across business and society) is hallmarked by the capacity to sense the systemic inter-relational nature of emergent systems in both natural and human systems. “Know how nature functions and you know how to behave [in Tier 2],” said Graves. (Beck, 2018)

This gives way to the rising trend to learn from nature. Yet, even when seeking to learn from nature, we all too often get caught up in yesterday’s logic, which, as we know, seeks to compartmentalize, categorize, and rationalize. We bring the same old mechanistic lens to our biological explorations that desensitized us to nature’s relationality. While a reductive scientific understanding of nature along with a systematic set of nature’s principles is indeed useful (and certainly something we can draw-upon to inform the new L&OD logic), the challenge and the opportunity lie in shifting our consciousness into a more holistic attentiveness to the nature of life all around and within us. This endeavor is as fresh as it is ancient.

Chinese sages perceived the manifest phenomena of nature as conveying deep insights about how change unfolds in life. It is not the outer forms, functions, and designs of nature but the inner underlying rhythms of transformation which precede the outer natural forms that provide insightful wisdom. My nature-inspired coaching work draws upon the numerous wisdom traditions that understand the importance of the underlying wisdom innate in life—Ayurveda, Buddhism, Shintoism, Daoism, Confucianism and Sufism from the East, Alchemy and Hermeticism from the West, and Tantric and Shamanic traditions found the world-over.  This underlying wisdom of life is what I refer to as Nature’s Wisdom.

Leadership Immersions

Nature’s Wisdom

The ability for our sophisticated, digitized, yet stressed-out organizations to attune with Nature’s Wisdom is the next frontier. It means aligning with life itself, nothing more nothing less. All of life—including human society, the organization, and the leader—is immersed in an ever-changing rhythmic and relational dance. When off kilter with the rhythms of this dance, chaos and fragility ensue; when in-tune, all parts find flow and the capacity to flourish. It’s the same for life within the organization as it is for life beyond the organization. Those organizations and leaders who learn to attune with the rhythms and ways of nature are the ones most able to adapt to change. 

Through many collaborative initiatives and my own practitioner-based fieldwork, I have spent more than a decade exploring nature’s principles as applied to organizational development. What I now offer here goes deeper than such principles. It’s a universal substratum underpinning how nature and human nature operates. It’s Nature’s Wisdom. We can live in accord with this wisdom through certain practices of learning how to sense and work with life’s subtle ways. It’s a learning journey that involves becoming more intimate with our own true nature (self-awareness) and with the relational behaviors and characteristics of the living-organization (systemic-awareness).

Let’s take a look at three aspects of Nature’s Wisdom:

  • Life is ever-changing: Change is happening everywhere all the time. In everything there is both stillness and movement. Movement is pervaded by stillness. Stillness gives rise to movement. The evolution of life spawns from this movement arising from stillness. This dance of life follows the pulsating rhythm of arising and expressing and doing (yang) and falling away and reflecting and being (yin).
  • Life is full of tensions: Tension creates the crucible for creativity. There is tension between the yang and yin, which is what impels nature’s creative advance. Sometimes there is a little more yang, sometimes more yin. This yin-yang tension creates opportunities for synergy and “dinergy.” Synergy is where two or more inputs come together and form something new through their tension of complimentary difference. Dinergy is where seemingly opposing perspectives, such as a clash of views, may feel uncomfortable yet if worked through something new can emerge beyond the initial perspectives. Learning to be comfortable with the uncomfortableness these tensions give rise to is an important leadership skill to acquire.
  • Life is relational and interconnected: Infusing all life is a universal field of consciousness that informs and interconnects everything. Scientists call it the Quantum Vacuum or Field. Each manifest aspect of nature, along with ourselves and our organizational systems, is distinct in its own right—holding its own boundaries, essence, and purposefulness—yet all are immersed in this Field.  Nothing is separate; everything inter-relates in varying degrees. The leadership team is nested within the organizational system, which is nested within its wider stakeholder ecosystem, which is nested within societal and ecological systems. All living systems, including human ones, thrive through reciprocity and give rise to systemic dynamics—pulsations, ripples, repercussions, flows, and potentialities.

While we might be able to intellectually comprehend these aspects, Nature’s Wisdom is revealed only through embodied experience. Future-fit leaders can cultivate this embodied capacity by embarking upon a transformational journey. I have spent over a decade honing a coaching-based practice that guides senior leaders, leadership teams, OD and change catalysts, and organizational cultures through advanced developmental learning journeys.  These journeys—whether taken in-person or virtually—are immersive in that they invite leaders to learn-through-practice by going inward into themselves and also into the inner hidden dynamics of the organizational system and wider stakeholder ecosystem in which they operate. These journeys are the lived experience of Leading by Nature.

“Those who flow as life flows know they need no other force.” – Lao Tzu

For more on what comprises a Living-systems approach to L&OD, see my latest book Leading by Nature – The Process of Becoming A Regenerative Leader

Leading by Nature Book

Giles Hutchins is author of five books on regenerative leadership and learning from living-systems applied to business. He runs leadership immersions amid ancient woodlands close to London, and also engages in on-line coaching for leaders and practitioners across the globe. His podcast series Leading by Nature can be found here

Feel free to join the Leadership Immersions LinkedIn group here if have not already.