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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

You can join the Leadership Immersions LinkedIn group here: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/13767578/

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 Nathttps://gileshutchins.com/leadingbynature/ure).  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: https://gileshutchins.com/leadingbynature/

join the LinkedIn group if you have not already:

https://www.linkedin.com/groups/13767578/

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:

https://www.tangentbooks.co.uk/shop/river-journey

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.

Feel free to join Leadership Immersions Group on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/13767578/

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.

Crossing the Threshold with Nature-based Coaching and Leadership Immersions, by Giles Hutchins

August 15, 2022

Times they are a’changin. Even the nature of change itself seems to be changing – ceaseless churning change of the catalytic variety concocts this pregnant moment of seismic breakdown and breakthrough.  I foresee the next couple of years as simultaneously challenging, transformative and full of potential.

Those of us engaged with transformational leadership work will know that periods of dysfunction and crisis often precede a step-change in evolutionary advancement. Therefore, these are fertile times for an evolutionary shift in leadership consciousness. Let this epochal hour of breakdown-breakthrough not go to waste, but rather spawn a necessary [r]evolution in consciousness. The future of life on Earth depends on it. The future-fitness of our organisations depends on it. So too does the mental health and wellbeing of our colleagues, friends and families. 

The shift from mechanistic to regenerative, by Hutchins & Storm

This article seeks to explain: firstly, why a ‘threshold-crossing’ is an essential part of the evolutionary advancement for leaders; secondly, what the nature of this ‘threshold crossing’ is; and thirdly, how coaching-based immersions in nature provide a powerful way of holding-space for this threshold crossing.

  1. Crossing the Threshold: To die before you die

The phrase ‘to cross the threshold’ means to undergo a metamorphic process of ‘dying and being reborn’- to endure a shift in ‘inner’ self-orientation and ‘outer’ worldview. It’s a deep psychological renewal that transforms how we relate to our inner-selves and our outer-world, enabling us to become more in harmony with inner and outer nature. The ancient Greeks used the term ‘metanoia’ to describe such a shift, ‘meta’ like in metamorphosis is to ‘shape-shift’  or  ‘move beyond’ and ‘noia’ relates to ‘true understanding’: to transform the understanding of our sense of self and how we relate with the world.  

Over many year of coaching senior leaders, experience has shown me that for a leader – or for that matter any adult – to undergo a step-change in psychological evolution, one needs to hold-space for both the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ dimensions of this threshold-crossing: the worldview shift and the inner access to one’s deeper truer nature. All advanced adult developmental models, ancient wisdom traditions, and depth psychology approaches such as Carl Jung’s Individuation Journey and Parker J Palmer’s Journey Towards Wholeness, speak to this inner reorientation to ‘Know Thy Self’. And systemic change specialists, such as Donella Meadows and Peter Senge, know that shifting the worldview of the outer system is a primary leverage point for systemic transformation.

  • Shifting from What to What?

In my latest book Leading by Nature I explore the worldview shift unfolding during this time of breakdown-breakthrough, and how it applies to leadership and organisational development. I explore the dominant yet dying Age of Separation and an emerging Age of Regeneration – where humanity remembers its deep connection with self-other-world.  You may have started to sense the word ‘regenerative’ entering the emerging zeitgeist. It’s a word that can be applied to all aspects of life, from regenerative agriculture through to regenerative leadership consciousness, and involves an opening up to life’s evolutionary dynamics of relationality, receptivity, responsiveness, rhythm and renewal.

Regenerative Leadership Consciousness, as defined in Leading by Nature, correlates with developmental psychologist Clare Graves’ work on Tier 2 Consciousness (i.e. Teal/Turquoise in Spiral Dynamics) where an embodied cognition of living-systems is activated in our psyche. It also relates to what organisation specialist Frederic Laloux and integral theorist Ken Wilber refer to as Teal-Evolutionary. It is an ecosystemic awareness that draws upon the Logic of Life, an embodied living-systems way of leading and living that seeks harmony with the way life works.   This is not new, it’s timeless. For instance, over 2,500 years ago Lao Tzu noted, ‘Those who flow as life flows know they need no other force’ and Confucius noted, ‘Those in harmony with nature hit the mark without effort and apprehend the truth without thinking.’ Yet this is also cutting-edge contemporary thinking confirmed by scientific findings that show how being in nature, and opening up to Nature’s Wisdom, helps us become more compassionate, creative and connected. The explosion of interest in everything from forest bathing to wild swimming speaks to this rising interest in reconnecting to the rapture of real life.

Today our dominant leadership awareness is largely mechanistic and reductive, tuning-out the rhythmic and relational dynamics of how life works.  The result being: linear chains of production that create ‘outer’ toxicity and silo’ed hierarchies of management that create ‘inner’ toxicity.  The vast majority of people today work in organisational cultures that sap people’s creativity, purposefulness, ingenuity, resilience and empathy. Whilst many organisations pride themselves on being efficient and effective the cold reality is that many of our human interactions, decision-making protocols and meeting conventions are woefully inefficient and ineffective. The root problem here is mechanistic leadership logic. Change the underlying consciousness, and the logic shifts. Shift the logic and the culture can transform in inner and outer ways.

Shifting from Achiever to Regenerative Leadership Consciousness

To shift from a worldview of separateness and its mechanistic logic into a worldview of interconnectedness and its Logic of Life, requires a threshold crossing. This allows leaders to sense the organisation as a complex adaptive emergent system rather than seeing it as a top-down hierarchic machine. Our understanding of change, systemic interventions and transformation deepens in recognition of how life works. It also helps us perceive the ecosystemic nature of our own presence as a leader, and the presence of the organisation immersed in a sea of stakeholder relations including the wider social and ecological systems which are all interdependent and interwoven in measurable and immeasurable ways. The other side of all this complexity is a beautiful simplicity, found by crossing the threshold.

In terms of the ‘inner’ dimension, regeneration is a return to our true nature through a journey towards wholeness. This journey is as fresh as it is ancient, and it opens us up to living with more presence and purposefulness; exactly what these times invite of us.  Through my coaching working in nature, I blend the shamanic and spiritual with the scientific and sensorial so all of our natural intelligences (rational, emotional, intuitive, and somatic) are enlivened. Then we unlock human potential, touch our true nature, and connect more deeply with the world around us. As Ghandi noted, ‘as one changes their own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards them.’

  • Why Nature Immersions?

There is now a wealth of scientific evidence showing how being in nature significantly improves our empathy, our ability to reason, to deal with change, cope with stress and listen more effectively to others. These are all basic qualities for 21st century leadership. Yet there is much that science is still only scratching the surface of when it comes to the transformative effects of being in nature.

Leading by Nature with Giles Hutchins

I have taken hundreds of leaders through nature immersions. Immersions can range from half a day in the woods through to multi-day sessions that include overnight solos or even structured vision quests (you can find out more about the practicalities and science of these leadership immersions here). 

Many of the senior executives I coach can have strong aversions to anything that might seem hippy-dippy or woo-woo at first glance.  Some fear it might involve tree-hugging or Kum Ba Yah moments.  Hence, I have learnt to interweave time in nature with science-based insights about how nature works so the intuitive, emotional, somatic and rational aspects of our knowing are engaged adequately, usually starting with the rational as that is the most dominant in many leaders today. For instance, I might explore the interconnected systemic nature of life through microscopes whilst out in the woods, and by describing how trees communicate through the soil and the air, or how bacteria display highly sophisticated communication and adaptation methods. Or I might draw upon how organisational cultures can learn from nature’s 3.8bn years’ worth of tried and tested R&D by explaining about biomimicry, bio-design thinking, chaordic cultures and regenerative leadership. Or I unpack how ecosystems work by visually explain the shift from mechanistic thinking to ecosystemic awareness in a way that satisfies the rational intellect while providing an embodied experience that the coachee can fondly recall many moons after. 

Within an hour any hesitation or resistance a client might have to an immersion in nature usually evaporates to reveal receptivity for inner and outer developmental work.  Then, around the camp-fire a deep dialogic space for generative listening is held, as ego-masks and psychological armour melt for true nature to be touched. The client does not easily forget these moments of deep presence and purposefulness, and can call upon them when back in the busy work environment. Thus, both horizontal and vertical development takes place in these immersions, as clients gain a wider capacity for everyday resilience (horizontal) and an invitation into up-stretching their inner and outer orientation (vertical).

What happens in just a handful of hours in nature is – in my experience – of an order of magnitude deeper than a coaching session held either in a comfortable armchair or over zoom.  And socially distancing in fresh forest-bathing air proven to strengthen the immune system is a COVID-mitigated way to do deep work. Now more than ever people crave time in nature, time that is held in a way that gives them permission to be vulnerable, open-up and let-go of masks, while sensing into blind spots, projections and developmental learnings.

‘Leading by Nature is an essential timely and paradigm-shifting book for 21st Century future-fit business.’

Tomas Bjorkman, Founder of Ekskaret Foundation

Leading by Nature Book

Giles Hutchins runs nature-based leadership immersions, facilitates deep-space for coaches and their clients, and provides regenerative leadership training for coaches and advisers both virtually across the globe and in-person amid 60 acres of ancient woodland in an area of outstanding natural beauty with easy connections to London and airports, visit Giles Hutchins. He is also Chair of The Future Fit Leadership Academy. His latest book is Leading by Nature, other books are Regenerative Leadership, Future Fit, The Illusion of Separation and The Nature of Business.

You can find Giles’ latest book Leading by Nature and also the podcast series here

And feel free to join the Leadersip Immersions LinkedIn page here https://www.linkedin.com/groups/13767578/

Living Barefoot – Building a self-managing community at Vivobarefoot (an award-winning B-Corp)

August 1, 2022

Here at Vivobarefoot we’re evolving into a new way of working. We call it living barefoot.

Living barefoot means more horizontal working, self-management, a focus on listening, inner feelings, openness and embracing tensions. And letting go of hierarchy, parent-child relationships, hyper-masculine stress and competition. As a result, we’ve swapped a vertical hierarchy of rigid teams for a more fluid network of autonomous ‘Circles’ formed around specific business needs.

  • Home Circles are where people reside for day-to-day ‘business’ and are looked after in terms of training, development and career progression.
  • Project Circles form around cross-functional projects, with a Project Lead (more facilitator than manager) and a small, accountable Active Project Team.
  • Yin Circles are where people gather to sense the overall health of the Vivobarefoot ecosystem, and create space for reflection and peer-to-peer coaching.

This approach relies on what we call ‘self-circle-system’ awareness: exploring and communicating how we show up individually, and actively using and respecting these insights in how we self-manage to live Vivobarefoot’s values. We’re swapping ‘control-manage’ for a ‘sense-respond’ ethos prioritising openness, autonomy and authenticity.

We could yabber about this for hours, but two ingredients have proven especially transformative and challenging: creating the space for teams to self-manage, and learning to communicate openly and authentically to allow self-management to thrive.

This post captures a few of our learnings. Helpful reflection for us, and hopefully useful insight and inspiration for others looking to journey towards becoming a more regenerative culture. For a more comprehensive case study of Vivobarefoot’s journey towards becoming a regenerative business, see Giles Hutchins’ latest book Leading by Nature, which includes a whole chapter dedicated to Vivobarefoot’s business and cultural transformation.

The Power of Autonomy and Honesty

Colleagues of all stripes have found increased autonomy, and the open communication underpinning it, to be really powerful.

More open, adult feedback has been incredibly insightful. For example, one Circle Lead learned that “killing people with kindness” had, in fact, been counterproductive. Most of their team were actually “very grateful for [more open] feedback and have flourished as a result. And then you realise that actually, who were you protecting? Were you protecting them from the difficult feedback, or were you protecting yourself from the difficult conversation?”

Horizontal autonomy also reduces the bureaucratic burden on Circle Leads to make decisions and constantly monitor work (micro manage). For instance, one Lead realised that by taking on extra work to ‘protect’ their team, they had not only been neglecting their personal needs, but also making their team feel guilty and unsure how best to help.

For people used to being ‘managed’, stepping into newfound freedom and trust to take the initiative and make decisions doesn’t necessarily come easy. But when it arrives, it transforms. We’ve heard many stories of people learning loads, growing in confidence and bringing more of themselves to work. Many have even reflected on how the shift from parent-child to adult-adult ways of relating at work is helping them show up more authentically and courageously in their personal lives, too.

Everybody, and Every Circle, is Different

Teething problems and uneven progress are inevitable, of course. Hierarchical management is ingrained into us from early on in life, so reframing it takes work.

The most consistent challenge has been creating appropriate space for people to take responsibility and make decisions in effective ways. Not hand-holding, but also not forgetting to inspire, coach and mentor. And unfortunately there isn’t a ‘how to’ guide for this stuff. At Vivo, we have found creating a ‘coaching culture’ to be helpful – here people listen and explore together by learning to subtly reframe conversations with a more appreciative, constructive and reflective approach. But ultimately everybody is different, so it’s more art than science.

Some of us at Vivobarefoot have sought more reassurance about making decisions and sometimes failing, whereas others have been ducks to water. Generally, we’ve found that pre-existing knowledge and experience helps people adapt more quickly, and have seen many ‘non-managers’ thrive with newfound autonomy.

While exciting for extroverts comfortable speaking up and taking the lead, we’ve also seen that living barefoot can be daunting for introverts, and/or those who do awesome work but are less comfortable leading without hierarchy. Making sure we properly capture and value different ways of contributing is an ongoing challenge.

Likewise, some Circles self-manage more effectively than others. In-person face time, timely feedback and space for reflection all contribute. So does exposure to our Evolution workshops, where we gather around the campfire in the ancient woodlands of Springwood Farm to dive deep into challenges around ways of working and transmuting tensions into learnings. Defined project leadership and responsibility for each member also adds clarity and accountability. And while Covid has made meeting face-to-face challenging, it has accelerated our ability to work independently.

Coaching conversations can help respond to these individual challenges. We have also found that a buddy network, through which people from all areas of Vivobarefoot support each other more freely, offers people more personal support.

Circles of sharing at Springwood Farm

Going Beyond the Circle

Living barefoot can be trickier between Circles than within Circles. Uncomfortable conversations are harder with people you don’t know as well or see as often, so reverting to hierarchy becomes more tempting. And because Circles develop at different speeds, expectations can differ across Circle boundaries – a problem we’re trying to address with more cross-functional networks.

There is a similar challenge at the ‘top’ of Vivobarefoot (hierarchical language is hard to eradicate). While Circle Leads (directors) have been really pleased to see senior colleagues relinquishing control, in practice it’s difficult to totally eradicate ‘control-manage’ tendencies, especially when the business experiences shocks like supply-chain ruptures due to conflict, Covid or climate challenges. As one colleague put it, people who “see themselves as bosses” have to work extra hard to “see themselves as servants.”

The reality is, we are likely to experience more and more business volatility on the road ahead, so the sooner we work on transforming ‘control-manage’ tendencies into ‘sense-respond’ across the entire business, the more agile and less bureaucratic we become. And another step towards regenerative business.

Reimagining Leadership

Experiencing these changes and challenges has redefined how we see leadership. Far from requiring less leadership, we now see that living barefoot means more of it, just in different forms.

Although we still have Circle Leads (directors), we’re seeing less ‘leading from the front’ and more leading ‘shoulder to shoulder’ at all levels. As we become better at communicating openly, holding space, embracing discomfort and empowering each other to be autonomous, we’re blossoming into an ecosystem of leaders. It’s been awesome to see. And we are not kidding ourselves, we are still at the early stages of this journey, and we know we have so much more to learn.

Our evolution into living barefoot is still young; many challenges and learnings lie ahead. But our culture is already more entrepreneurial, resilient and engaged. In a word, more ‘barefoot’.

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 article.

You can join the LinkedIn Group Leadership Immersions here

https://www.linkedin.com/groups/13767578/

And find out more about Vivobarefoot’s journey here

https://www.vivobarefoot.com/uk/about-us-vivo

Transformational Times call for Transformative Leaders & Regenerative Business

June 27, 2022

The time has come!

We are in the midst of a civilization-wide transformation of the scale never seen before: halving carbon emissions by 2030, reversing natural habitat loss, overhauling social inequality, tackling the mental health and wellbeing pandemic, embracing the digital revolution, and dealing with rising volatility and turbulence across all aspects of society and working-life.  No organization is spared.

Now more than ever, organizations need to adapt to disruptive innovations and new ways of working while co-creating life-affirming futures for all. Today’s new-norm of unceasing transformation demands a new-norm in leadership and organizational development. Leading by Nature goes right to the heart of this agile living-systems approach, informed by the regenerative systems in the natural world to inspire practices, tools and techniques that will help us lead organizations capable of transforming and thriving in a fast-emerging future. 

True to form, this latest book of Giles’ is an ambitious, encyclopedic 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

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 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

gileshutchins.com/leadingbynature

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

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.

Author of four previous books, Giles Hutchins, draws upon over 25 years experience in leadership and organizational development, and over 10 years of executive leadership coaching and regenerative leadership practice to apply an approach to next-stage future-fit business.  This is a must-read for leaders interested in leading thriving organizations amid the increasingly volatile times ahead.

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 is bang on the money, a really important book.” – Sir Tim Smit, KBE, Founder of The Eden Project

Giles Hutchins is fast becoming one of the world’s most influential and authentic guides to regenerative leadership.” – Chris Laszlo, author of Quantum Leadership: New Consciousness in Business

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The Co-creation of a Reflection Tool for Regenerative Business: Where are you on your regenerative journey, towards truly thriving as an organisation?

June 17, 2022

Clearly there is a hell of a lot going on for organisations of any shape and size.  Not just volatility across markets, but also immense change within the workplace – hybrid ways of working, the desire for more meaning and purpose through work, the quest for agility, entrepreneurialism and self-management and distributed decision-making.

It’s to this transformative business landscape that The Future Fit Leadership Academy’s founder, Giles Hutchins, and specialist employment law firm Ramsay Paterson’s co-founder, Stephanie Paterson, come together to co-create a practical Reflection Tool aimed at helping leaders engage in reflection, dialogue and exploration for enabling thriving future-fit organizational cultures. The tool is provided as a thought provoker by offering a set of reflective questions that invite contemplation and discussion about where your organisation is on its regenerative journey towards a more agile, developmental and adult-adult culture.

The story of this co-creation between Giles and Stephanie started a few years ago now, when our paths first crossed back in 2016, shortly after Giles published his third book Future Fit, whereupon he was invited to give a keynote about his work on future-fit organizational development at a CIPD conference for about two hundred HR professionals.  Stephanie was collaborating with a client to host a workshop on ‘Doing thing differently – can we find another way?’. 

We both fondly recall meeting up for coffee in a café in Clifton, Bristol, where we passionately exchanged ideas about the future of business, purposeful and conscious workplaces, developmental cultures and self-managing systems.  Back then, there was a real buzz around the ‘new world of work’, what self-management meant for people, teams and organizations, and how digital/hybrid ways of working were challenging the norm.

We shared a flurry of emails after our café meeting, while our respective businesses grew.   Then Giles re-located from the south-west to Sussex and set up his international leadership centre at Springwood Farm, to be closer to London and international clients (direct links to Gatwick & Heathrow airport and Kings Cross International station). And COVID hit.

Springwood Farm

Then a mutual client re-ignited our conversations, and we picked-up our thread earlier this year, and started to spark ideas again, while Giles was finishing off his latest (now fifth) book Leading by Nature. We explored updating the Future-Fit health-check that was in his earlier book Future Fit with a refreshed and reflective style as we felt clients so often need something that helps them pause, reflect and question how their organisations are doing, particularly amid these frantic times. This Reflective Tool we have co-created helps leaders ask the vital question ‘Where are you on your regenerative journey, towards truly thriving as an organisation?’

We envisage this tool being used most usefully in bite-sized chunks, focusing on each section at a time, to enable meaningful and intentional reflection.  As a starting point, the tool might be used by the CEO or the Director of HR/People, for individual reflection.  We then intend these initial reflections to be further explored through dialogue within one or more small groups, perhaps across the business to get a broader perspective. This in turn will help focus the business on the areas which require attention to ensure vibrancy and future-fitness is embedded into the organization during these ever-changing climes.

The questions provided in the sections below offer a framework for reflection – what we call a ‘Reflection Practice’ that can act as a catalyst for:

1) intentional self-reflection,

2) dialogue with others,

3) planning organisational change. 

You might wish to think of this Reflection Practice as a three-step flow: 1st take some time out to pause and reflect on these questions, seeing what comes up for you, 2nd share the Reflection Practice with others and dialogue together, and see what themes emerge, 3rd start to hone-in on areas for potential change that can help your organisation adapt and evolve toward a more regenerative and developmental culture

Section 1 – Organisational Purpose:  Often we come to think of profit as a prime-mover, but it’s not. The purpose of the business is its ‘reason for being’. Think of profit as the air we breathe – we need it to exist, yet breathing is not our reason for being. Likewise for the organisation, it has a purpose beyond hitting the numbers, a reason for being that galvanises and coheres the organisation amid volatile fast-moving climates.

Section 2 – Values & Culture: If the purpose is your organisation’s ‘why’, think of its culture & values as the ‘way’ – the way people behave while delivering the purpose. Values and culture guide the organisation and its people as they go about their business day to day. 

Section 3 – Decision Making: The day-to-day decision-making processes and protocols greatly influence both the tactical and strategic vitality of the organisation.

Section 4 – Collaboration & Innovation: In this fast-paced ever-changing business environment the ability to innovate and collaborate across teams and also between organisations greatly influences the future-fitness of the organisation.

Section 5 – Interpersonal Relationships & Tension Transformation:  The organisation is made up of complex processes of human relating. The capacity to work with tensions and transform mis-understandings or differences into creative potential, helps the organisation continuously learn, adapt and evolve.

Section 6 – Working Environments: Over the last couple of years, hybrid working and the capacity to embrace different working requirements has created a new world of work.

Section 7 – Leadership Mindset: The way we show up as leaders has a great effect on those around us and the overall vitality of the living organisation. Ways of leading that are incongruent with the organisation’s values and ethos can undermine trust and disempower people, greatly affecting organisational future-fitness.

You can download the Reflection Tool here for free – we hope you enjoy using it – and you can find a host of other useful tools and practices related to Giles Hutchins latest book Leading by Nature – The Process of Becoming A Regenerative Leader here: https://gileshutchins.com/content/

Giles Hutchins is a pioneering practitioner, author, speaker and senior adviser at the fore-front of the [r]evolution in organisational and leadership consciousness drawing on regeneration principles.

Stephanie Paterson is an experienced employment lawyer, who takes a human focussed and more holistic approach to employment law advice, working with organisations in a purpose and values driven context.

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Leading by Nature – The Process of Becoming a Regenerative Leader

May 24, 2022

 Leading by Nature – A radical new handbook for regenerative leadership from business transformation strategist, author, speaker and leadership advisor, Giles Hutchins

“A truly exceptional and timely book that redefines the locus of power in relationship to leadership; leadership that seeks harmony and alignment with nature. Giles reminds us to bring awareness/presence to everything that unfolds. This book is the teacher we all need.” Sue Cheshire, Founder and former CEO of The Global Leaders Academy

Climate change, Covid and conflict have resulted in an increasingly dispersed multi-generational workforce that is crying out for meaning and belonging. The unrelenting pace of these leadership challenges is demanding an evolution in organizational thinking in response.

Leading by Nature

Giles Hutchins latest book Leading by Nature goes right to the heart of this approach, informed by the regenerative systems in the natural world to inspire practices, tools and techniques that will help us lead organizations capable of transforming and thriving in a fast-emerging future.

 “Leading by Nature is THE handbook for regenerative leadership. A must-read for every business leader who genuinely cares about the future of humanity.”   Jayn Sterland, CEO of Weleda UK

Rampant inequality, structural racism, the climate emergency, the COVID crisis, and conflicts such as Ukraine, all share an underlying root which, when dealt with, can improve the health of our organisations, society and wider fabric of life on Earth.  This underlying common root – the Mother of all our problems – is human consciousness.

The former Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, was spot on when he said in his address to US Congress that, ‘Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better, and the catastrophe towards which this world is headed, whether it be ecological, social or a general breakdown of civilization, will be unavoidable.’

 In the same vein, systems scientist Donella Meadows researched system interventions, and observed that the highest leverage point at which to intervene in a system is the mind-set/consciousness/worldview out of which the system arises.

And yet how much of our activities on ESG, circular economics, social inequality, sustainable business, wellbeing at work, and such like actually enable a shift in consciousness?

Unless we address today’s dominant yet out-dated worldview and the leadership logic that flows from it, then all our best endeavours for new ways of working and more sustainable, ethical and inclusive business models will be short-lived.

Leading by Nature gets to the heart of the shift in leadership that is now required to create a sustainable future for humanity.”  – Richard Barrett, Director of the Barrett Academy for the Advancement of Human Values.

Leading by Nature is a fundamental departure from the traditional mechanistic management theory that much of today’s mainstream leadership and organizational development (L&OD) is rooted in. Instead this living-systems approach takes its insight from the way life works, and perceives our organisations as living-systems full of complex processes of human relating. By unlocking self-and-system consciousness within us as leaders, we can better sense and respond to dynamics at play across the organization-as-living-system, enabling future-fitness amid these volatile and metamorphic times.

 

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

“I love this book and it is one to go back to time and again to full appreciate its inherent wisdom, directing us into Leading By Nature not as a destination but as a path well-travelled.  Drawing its insights from many fields, including Appreciative Inquiry, Adult Development, Systemic and cutting-edge Organizational thinking, Jung and his collective unconscious along with Eastern philosophies – it challenges us to move from a constraining, mechanistic approach.  How exciting and thank goodness!”  – Eve Turner, Chair, APECS, co-founder Climate Coaching Alliance, author Ecological and Climate-Conscious Coaching – A Companion Guide to Evolving Coaching Practice.

“Leading by Nature is a powerful book for people who are serious about regenerative change, people who recognize that outer transformations grow from inner transformations, and understand that adopting techniques without understanding their scientific and philosophical foundations is a trap. Giles lays out a pathway that both guides and educates in what Ursula Le Guinn called the critical work of relearning our being in the world.” – Pamela Mang, co-founder of Regenesis Institute & co-author of Regenerative Development and Design

The time has come to get radical and deal with the root problem, the very way in which we engage with reality.

Author of four previous books, Giles Hutchins, draws upon over 25 years experience in leadership and organizational development, and over 10 years of executive leadership coaching and regenerative leadership practice to apply an approach to next-stage future-fit business.  This is a must-read for leaders interested in leading thriving organizations amid the increasingly volatile times ahead.

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

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.

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 Farm amid ancient woodland in Sussex, UK. His latest book is Leading by Nature.

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