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The Organisation is a Purposeful Living System

September 23, 2016

We are in the midst of a metamorphic period of change unlike anything the world has seen since the Late Middle Ages. With “meta” (meaning “form”) and “morph” (meaning “change”), the word suggests the transformative change in form of human institutions now emerging as we awaken to the realities of climate change and the destruction of ecosystems we have long relied upon for our survival. As the organisation specialist Peter Drucker insightfully said, ‘In times of turmoil, the danger lies not in the turmoil but in facing it with yesterday’s logic’.

Easter-Island-1

Nowhere is this metamorphic change more evident than in the way business organisations are being managed and led. The ideal of ‘organisation-as-machine’, which was dominant throughout the 20th century, is now giving way to an ideal of ‘organisation-as-living-system.’

Increasingly, as our organisational context requires us to become ever more emergent, innovative and adaptive, so leadership must become more about empowering, empathising, encouraging interconnections, innovation, learning, local attunement, reciprocating partnerships and an active network of feedback. As such, the aim of leaders becomes more focused on nurturing conditions where the organisational living system can unlock its creative potential, learn and flourish in a purposeful and coherent way, so that it can create and deliver value while being mindful of the wellbeing of all the people it serves and the wider fabric of life it relates with. This is not some utopian dream, it’s happening now as you read this article.

Natural leadership

Enter a myriad of organisations thriving amid uncertainty by applying living-systems logic:  the healthcare provider Buurtzorg, the bank Triodos, the employment agency Vaga, the hi-tech manufacturer W.L Gore & Associates, the global network of social-enterprise community centres Impact Hub, the multimedia provider Sounds True, the Brazilian manufacturer Semco, to name a few.

To aid this transformation, here are five important areas for leaders and change agents to focus on in these transformational times:

  • Communication: to commune with others, really listen and deeply share with our peers and stakeholders within and beyond the organisation by creating space for soulful sharing and collaborative networks that do more than just brainstorm by having the remit to prototype the future.
  • Innovation: within the organisation ‘accelerator skunkworks’, ‘incubators’ or ‘innovation hubs’ operate like cocoons in stealth mode (Google X, for instance) where bright out-of-the-box innovators across the organisation can engage in entrepreneurial explorations, with the support of the organisation to invest in these prototypes, testing them out before the activities are either spun off or integrated into the main business.
  • Diversity in the boardroom: yes we need more diversity and inclusiveness in terms of age, sex and race, yet also in our ways of thinking, by bringing in non-conformists that provoke and cajole with different perspectives and insights. This can be achieved through inviting a wider range of Non-executive Directors, diverse stakeholder representatives, a greater variety of external advisers, and utilizing innovative forward-thinking consultants and coaches beyond the traditional mainstream consultancies.
  • Sense of purpose: as leaders we need to cultivate our inner-compass, develop our own coherence within ourselves, taking time and energy to embark on a process of ‘knowing thy self’ so as to understand our deeper sense of purpose beyond our ego-personas and acculturated masks. When we align our outer actions with our inner sense of purpose we allow a deeper creative impulse and authenticity to flow through our work. Ditto for our teams and stakeholders. And when our organisational sense of purpose resonates with our personal purpose, truly extraordinary things spark – we develop what living-systems scientists refer to as ‘super-coherence’, enabling us to thrive amid volatility.
  • Time and space: taking personal responsibility for our work schedules and recognising that the continual busyness and stress actually undermines our ability to think out-of-the-box and sense our inner compass. Each of us can be more effective at managing our diaries, creating blocks in our schedule for ‘systemic thinking’ where we can reflect, pause and learn to tune-in to our more intuitive awareness and authentic, soulful selves.

front cover

Gone with the winds of change is the artificial certainty and mechanistic linearity of command-and-control cultures and ‘human resource’ management, revealing a fresher, purposeful, altogether more human approach to our ways of working.

Speaker, author, adviser Giles Hutchins’ latest book is Future Fit:

‘Essential and timely’ Dr. Scilla Elworthy, Author and Founder of the Oxford Research Group

‘A must-read’ Bob Willard, Author and Speaker, Sustainability Advantage

‘Brilliant’ Richard Barrett, Chairman and Founder of The Barrett Values Centre

‘A masterpiece’ Mark Drewell, Founder of The Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative

To explore ‘the new paradigm’ further, join the Face Book community here

The Essential Foundation for Teal and Future-Fit Leadership

September 16, 2016

It is now clear to many leaders, managers and change agents that we need a new way of operating.

Yet, so often we seek solutions ‘out there’, a new way that has been invented elsewhere, packed-up, tried-and-tested and ready for us to buy off-the-shelf so we can solve our problems: a silver-bullet, a cook-book approach that, with enough budget, senior management buy-in and will-power, we can implement – job done, tick, move-on, next!

There is something within our psyche that definitely prefers the safe, tried-and-tested, well-documented, easy-to-follow, clearly illuminated straight road ahead. But life is not like that. And things are only set to get more volatile, more uncertain and more ambiguous for a great variety of reasons

There is increasing evidence that today’s managerial mind-set and organisational development approaches are not just inadequate for dealing with the challenges that lie ahead of us, they are actually undermining our creative potential and adaptability right where we most need it.

So what to do!

In my recent conversations with a CEO exploring just this, she succinctly said, ‘its time to start looking in’.  Yes, we need to look out, but first we need to look deep within, and then take that in-spiration into our looking out, so that we see, relate and attend to what is required in our organisations with a new way of perceiving, of thinking, of attending. From this insight and self-awareness comes the foresight and systemic thinking we now need to deal with the challenges upon us.

Gosh – I hear a voice inside shriek ‘ In the thick of all this unceasing transformation, we don’t have time for the luxury of navel gazing!’

If we are honest with ourselves, we may begin to realise that the major problems we face within our ways of operating and organising result from our ‘doing’ having become de-coupled from our ‘being’.  Let’s just pause on that for a moment.

ways of knowing

How often in our daily activities do we do things in a harried and hurried way due to our need to ‘get the job done’ while undermining the quality of our ‘beingness’ in the process, in turn undermining the quality of interactions we have with others, eroding our innate sociality and empathetic connection with our environment. We professionalise our masks and personas as we learn to be masterful at persuasion and manipulation, yet in-so-doing we distance ourselves from our authentic nature, desensitising ourselves and our empathic inter-relationality in the process. Enter the mechanistic bureaucratic soul-sapping corporate culture we so desire to break free from.

As the now trendy insight from Einstein so aptly highlights, we can’t change our problems with the same logic that created them.  And yet we so often do exactly this. Whether it be, for instance, force-fitting a cook-book approach to holacratic self-organisation into our governance or sending our top 1% of talent on largely academic leadership courses to efficiently download topflight leadership.

Most middle managers and senior executives think that in order to succeed, we need to climb the ladder, take on more responsibility, lead a bigger project, and accumulate more academic accreditations.  We look outside ourselves in terms of what we can accumulate. This has its place and needs to be commended, but only if our doing is aligned with our being, otherwise we are doing stuff for some external ‘tick-box’ exercise while de-coupling ourselves from our being. We take on more external commitments, giving ourselves less time to reflect on how we are being – and so we get more stressed, seeking fleeting respite through holidays or external stimulations, which often involves yet more busyness. Enter the contagion of consumerism in our midst.

truth 1

How often do we give ourselves a chance to question why on Earth are we are doing what we are doing? What actually is the deeper purpose of the organisation I work for and how does it resonate with my deeper purpose? How is my life actually enriching me and future generations?

The more we externalise and objectify the more we distract ourselves from sensing into how we are truly feeling. We don’t give ourselves the space-time to tune-in to who we truly are and how we are truly feeling, because we are for-ever grasping at things ‘out there’.  We relentlessly get busier and busier in an increasingly complex fast-moving digitised world that demands more and more of us. Becoming more profitable, more sustainable, more creative, more resilient, more responsible, more purposeful, more conscious – all noble undertakings that are at risk of becoming ‘things’ for us to get our head round, climb over and achieve efficiently with the masks and personas of yesterday’s mindset. We fail to actually question or address the underlying mindset, and so unwittingly prevent ourselves from opening up to the deeper wisdom we now need to move beyond ‘the box’ we have got ourselves caught up in.

It’s time to step back from this myopia, and pause for a moment so that we can allow ourselves to see with fresh eyes, while bringing in deeper insights beyond ‘the box’.

‘The one who looks inside awakens’ – Carl Jung

The good news is, these very times of volatility and upheaval are providing the ideal alchemic conditions for our old ways to be seen for what they are – holding us back from who we truly are, and undermining our organisations’ and social systems’ ability to thrive.

Many are now increasingly realising that our organisations are actually living systems rather than mechanistic machines. This is one of the greatest challenges, perhaps THE challenge our leaders and managers face today: embracing a shift in our way of perceiving from an outdated mechanistic and control-based managerial mind-set to a recognition that our organisations are living systems immersed within the living systems of society and our more-than-human world. This comes with a worldview shift from a dog-eat-dog world steeped in self-agency, individualism and competition to a deeper recognition that our world is steeped in inter-connected reciprocating relationships.

7s shift

For ourselves, our teams, our organisations and stakeholder ecosystems to become vibrant, adaptive, thriving, purposeful living systems amid these times of unceasing transformation, we first need to embrace the aliveness within us, and the connection and coherence that enables this aliveness to flourish through our relationships. In other words, our ‘being’ needs to underpin and infuse our ‘doing’. This is not some wishy-washy soft-and-fluffy new-age vibe, it is simply the only way to take ourselves outside-the-box and transform our thinking beyond that which created the problems in the first place.

Old Logic                                             New Logic

Mechanistic                                               Living

Separateness                                         Inter-connectedness

Competitive self-agency                   Collaborative inter-relationality

Hierarchic management                   Locally-attuned emergence

Individualism                                     Individuality within community

Homogenisation                               Diversity within unity

Profit first                                            Profit follows purpose

Exploitative                                        Regenerative

There is now clear scientific evidence showing that complex living systems – our social and organisational systems, as well as our own selves – greatly improve their ability to thrive amid volatility by enhancing their connection and coherence at personal, team and systemic levels.

The well-respected scientist Ervin Laszlo speaks of the importance of super-coherence within living systems. All living systems need to be both intrinsically and extrinsically coherent in order to thrive. By coherence we mean the ability for all the aspects within us and within our organisations to be aligned and in-tune. Yet, today, much of our managerial approaches, decision-making protocols, day-to-day meeting conventions and approaches to work actually stifle our coherence both within ourselves at personal levels (creating anxiety, fear, control issues and frustration while undermining our creative potential and sapping our motivation) and extrinsically beyond ourselves in terms of how we relate with others across our organisational boundaries (creating silo-mentality, competitive them-versus-us thinking, risk-adverse herd mentality, and institutionalised status-quo rigidity). This undermines our personal and organisational coherence, in turn, undermining the resilience and well-being of ourselves and organisations.

front cover

So how do we develop this ‘super-coherence’ within ourselves and our organisations amid these times of increasingly uncertainty and challenge?  This, I argue, is THE inquiry for any leader interested in creating vibrant flourishing enterprises that do not just survive the years ahead but actually thrive. In other words, this is THE inquiry for every leader awakening to this ‘new norm’, and we can go further by saying this is also THE inquiry for every human seeking a future that is life-affirming, a future for ourselves and our children that enhances life rather than degrades it, that leaves the garden richer than we found it rather than recklessly burning our future for today. As Ervin Laszlo notes,

‘In the last few hundred years, and especially in the last decades, human societies have become progressively incoherent both with respect to each other and with their environment. They have become internally divisive and ecologically disruptive… Species are dying out, diversity in the planet’s ecosystem is diminishing, the climate is changing, and the conditions for healthy living are reduced. This crucial epoch is to regain our internal and external coherence: our supercoherence. This is not a utopian aspiration, but it calls for major changes in our thinking and behaving. Striving effectively to regain supercoherence requires more that finding technological solutions to patch up the problems created by our incoherence. It requires reconnecting with a mindset…a mindset based on a sense of oneness with each other and with nature…rediscovering the power of love [as] a profound sense of belonging to each other and to the cosmos. This rediscovery is timely, and it is not mere fantasy: it has roots in our holographically whole, non-locally interconnected universe.’

Shifting this mindset within ourselves and our organisations is no mean feat, but it does come with the benefit of not just helping ourselves and our organisations adapt and thrive in these challenging times, but also allowing ourselves to become more of who we were truly born to be.  In my latest book Future Fit, I provide a number of easy-to-apply tools and techniques, as well as supporting business examples to show how we can create the conditions conductive for our organisations to become living, vibrant, super-coherent systems.

Here is a three minute video about it  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzAtglvBNmM

‘Inspiring, uplifting, superb’ Euan Smith, former COO, Sky Deutschland

‘Unique and insightful’ Oliver Greenfield, Convenor, Green Economy Coalition

‘A treasure-trove’ Professor Peter Hawkins, Henley Business School

‘I cannot recommend this powerful work highly enough’ Dr Lynne Sedgmore CBE, CEO of Centre for Excellence in Leadership

Meditations on respectful relationships

August 26, 2016

 ‘Continuing to do what we are currently doing but doing it harder or smarter is not likely to produce very different outcomes. Real change starts with recognising that we are part of the systems we seek to change. The fear and distrust we seek to remedy also exists within us – as do the anger, sorrow, doubt and frustration. Our actions will not become more effective until we shift the nature of the awareness and thinking behind the actions…Our willingness and openness to sense our own biases and shortcomings sets a tone for the whole organisation.’ Peter Senge et al, organisation specialist

‘When we are within the presence of living Silence, which is being created every moment by the way we speak with someone, we feel an extraordinary fullness that makes it possible to be within the soul of another without harming the other person with our needs, desires, wants, and fantasies. It is a key to a holy relationship…we experience a presence, a flow of subtle currents between our self and the other person…we begin to anticipate Silence as the most important aspect of our conversation with others.’ Robert Sardello, spiritual psychologist

Amid these fast-moving times, the quality of our communications and inter-relations is often undermined due to our busyness and stress.

Recently, there have been a number of leadership studies pointing to fragmented relations and lack of quality communication between stakeholders as a root cause of the siloed mentality, lack of personal responsibility and blame culture that undermines the resilience and vitality of many of our organisations today.

Nurturing the conditions for authentic and synergistic relations to form through open, expansive and heartfelt communications is not a ‘nice-to-have’, it is core to what enables our organisations to thrive in these fast-moving climes.

future

Leadership specialist Otto Scharmer speaks of a need to shift the social field from ‘absencing’ to ‘presencing’. Absencing is where our social field is largely disconnected and desensitised at personal and organisational levels, due to fragmentation, confusion, anxiety and blame within stressful working environments. Presencing is where we transform the social field and our sense of self within the field away from a heightened ‘ego-self’ of reactivity, judgement and defensiveness towards a more engaged, open, connected receptivity and responsiveness to what is emerging in our midst.

Deep listening and generative dialogue are two simple yet powerful tools that aid this shift from ‘absencing’ to ‘presencing’, and go hand in hand with personal practices that cultivate self-awareness, receptivity, connection and coherence.

These times of local and global breakdown and breakthrough can quite naturally invoke stress, unease, blame, disconnection, desensitisation and the urge to defend, dominate or control. Yet these alchemic times demand that as leaders and change agents we activate a more productive social field through the quality of our communications and inter-relations so that our teams and organisations can let go of old habituated ways while opening up to the fast emergent future.

Hands Holding a Seedling and Soil

This is the humbling importance of leadership in these transformative times – helping metamorph the social field of our organisations so that the deeper nature of our humanity and the deeper wisdom of life can flow more readily through our relationships, meetings and decisions.

The ability to deeply listen and speak from the heart while creating a space for generative courageous conversations is, therefore, a primary aspect of the leadership we need in these times.

At its heart, generative dialogue is nothing more nor nothing less than speaking and listening with our whole-selves while being receptive and responsive to our social field. This is what allows ourselves and others to open up more soulfully for an altogether more human sharing.

‘Dialogue is a conversation…taking the energy of our differences and channelling it towards something that has never been created before [an emerging co-creation] thereby a means for accessing the intelligence and correlated power of groups of people…You relax your grip on certainty and listen to the possibilities that result from simply being in a relationship with others.’  Bill Isaacs, dialogue specialist

Dialogue is like a dance, where the emergent space between the people and between the words shared is all important. The flow of the dance and the depth of openness between the dancing partners is what allows the dance to come alive and for deeper co-creativity to emerge.

Reacting > Co-creating

Our authentic voice is combined with our deep listening to create an expansive emotional (and quantum) space where truth can be co-created.

Difficulties, tensions and disagreements are held in a generative non-judgemental way that provides a deepening of sharing rather than a rupturing of relationships.

As we deepen the receptivity and responsiveness of ourselves, the generative field widens; energy and creative potential is unlocked and the life force of our people and the collective organisation as a living-system flows.

‘In dialogue, everybody wins.’ David Bohm, quantum physicist

It is up to each of us as leaders to seed a culture of dialogue through the quality of conversational inter-relating performed by us in the day-to-day thick-of-it-all.

The more we practice (often stumbling and failing, but learning as we go) the more we become more aware of how we are influencing the generative field of our conversations and also the wider generative field of our stakeholder ecosystem beyond our organisation. In-so-doing, we consciously cultivate the conditions conducive for life to flourish.

In this way, our work-life can be perceived as a powerful learning playground for ourselves to deepen our humanity, dynamic truth and living-purpose while helping others open up and deepen theirs.

To explore ‘the new paradigm’ further, join the Face Book community here

(I would like to acknowledge the work of The Whole Partnership, in particular the e-book Leading Systemic Dialogue by Sarah Rozenthuler and Edward L. Rowland of The Whole Partnership, which contributed significantly to this article.)

Meditations on Truth

August 15, 2016

‘Be a lamp to yourself. Be your own confidence. Hold on to the truth within yourself’- Buddha

‘The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.’ – Jim Morrison, singer

Truth is a difficult thing to convey through words alone. As Ralph Waldo Emerson explains ‘words cannot cover the dimensions of what is truth. They break, chop, and impoverish it.’

Definable static truth can be satisfactorily grasped through our left-brained analytical thinking as neat ‘facts’: either the ‘thing’ is true or false. Yet, if we over-exert our analytical perception of truth without adequately enriching it with a more experiential, intuited, relational and embodied perception of reality, we run the risk of abstracting truth from its lived-in environment, in-so-doing we filter out the subjective relationality of reality, and life becomes drained of its meaning, vitality, flow and purpose: enter the contagion of consumerism in our midst.

beauty

The ancient Greeks (as with all the ancient wisdom traditions the world over) perceived Truth as a transcendent yet immanent quality. An archetypal presence that is eternal yet manifests within our ephemeral experiences of life.

Plato understood that the great step we take towards wisdom is nothing more nor nothing less than a subtle shift in our attention; a shift away from being caught up in the superficiality of our ego whims and reactions – that so often obscure the Truth – towards a deeper knowing: a Gnosis, an embodied intuited kinaesthetic relational and rational experience that is felt as a deep knowing within the core of our being.

The more we allow ourselves to open up to our full selves, beyond our ego-masquerades, the more we allow ourselves to sense what is true for us and what isn’t.

moon-phases-01-131008

It is through the quality of our attention that we allow for Truth to shine through us – we participate in the transcendence of Truth, aiding its manifestation within this world through our presence, our relationality, our listening, our thinking, our emotions, our conversations and undertakings.

The psychologist and philosopher, William James asserts that we and reality jointly ‘make’ truth – it is a co-creative act, we participate it the unfolding nature of Truth through the quality/authenticity of our intention and attention.

As the process theologian, Catherine Keller asks: ‘What if truth itself is a way not an endpoint? What if the way and its truth deliver no totalizing absolute – nor deliver us to the indifferent dissolute? What if we have here to find a third way?’

The ‘third way’ Keller points to is of truth as an ungraspable co-creative relational unfolding process, a progressive living journey rather than a static thing.

The campaigner and writer Satish Kumar observes, ‘Truth is not a ‘correct’ belief system. It is not a point of arrival: it is a continuous process, a continuous search and a continuous way of being.’

Truth: not a noun nor a verb but a participle; a dynamic, ever-unfolding way of being, a lived ‘becoming’. Truth, in its splendid feral dynamism, is beyond the controlling, artificiality of our rationalistic left-brained desire to grasp, categorise, box-up and abstract. Truth is, to use Keller’s words, an unfolding of ‘open-ended interactivity’; it ‘isn’t a neon revelation but a revealing illumination’.

Our Truth is personal to us. It is a lived exploration of our revealing illumination as we learn to become ever more authentic, ever more attentive to our Soul’s whispering, ever more attuned to our real Purpose in service of what Life continuously calls us to be/do/become.

nature spiders web

We are living our life so as to reveal our Truth by becoming ever more transparent with the transcendence and ever more intimate with the immanence of this sacred and deeply wise world.

‘Truth is rarely writ in ink; it lives in Nature.’ – Martin H. Fischer

Truth illuminates our path as we learn to live more wisely, more in harmony with Life.

To explore ‘the new paradigm’ further, join the Face Book community here

Phoenix Rising…the time has come

August 11, 2016

Out of the current volatility and uncertainty emerges a new way of doing business

Today we find ourselves called to operate amid increasing complexity, volatility and system stresses. What lies ahead for our leaders, managers and entrepreneurs is an increasing proliferation of ‘non-normative’ ruptures across our interwoven socio-economic, corporate and political operating system: burgeoning debt crises, fragile world economies, volatile stock markets, vulnerable global supply chains, increasing stakeholder tensions, widening socio-economic disparity, climate change, refugee crises, disruptive technologies, increasing ecological challenges, are just some of the inter-related issues heralding a new way of doing business.

7s shift

As Director of the Institute of Statecraft, Chris Donnelly notes the rate of change we are now going through is comparable to what happens in war time; Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, echoes this by noting that we live in a time of great promise and peril, a time of simultaneous breakdown and breakthrough.

Put simply, business-as-usual is no longer an option.  And yet so many of our leaders and managers find themselves entangled in a business logic that keeps us inured in our business-as-usual mind-set, holding us back from placing the new steps of change so vitally needed for our organisations to become future-fit.

A recent report for 21st Century Statesmanship Global Leaders shows ‘executive myopia’ is endemic at senior management across business, government and the third sector: short-termism, reactive aversion and systemic fear, internalised focus on cost-cutting rather than out-of-the-box thinking, cognitive overload and dissonance, top-level reluctance blended with anxiety, frailties and fatigue. This report is by no means the exception, with its findings complimenting a range of research from across the globe, all contributing to a rich-picture of a widening and deepening ‘complexity gap’ as leaders hold on to an outdated logic while seas change.  At a time when we need to courageously transform our ways of operating and organising, we find ourselves entrapped by the very logic that created our problems in the first place.

This is not to undermine a number of positive developments taking place on complex global leadership issues such as the UN Global Goals campaign and the COP21 agreements in Paris a couple of months ago, where a variety of non-political stakeholders helped secure a constructive outcome. Yet, the cold reality is the majority of our leaders – across government, corporate and non-profit institutions – are struggling to cope with current conditions.  And things are only set to get yet more complex, uncertain and challenging.  As the management guru Peter Drucker once famously noted, ‘In times of turmoil, the danger lies not in the turmoil itself but in facing it with yesterday’s logic.’

Yesterday’s Logic                                                             Future-Fit Logic

Extractive                                                                            Regenerative

Mechanistic                                                                        Living systems

Shareholder focus                                                          Multi-stakeholder

Maximise financial returns                                       Maximise  mission

Follow the money                                                           Guided by soul

For-profit                                                                            For-purpose

Top-down control                                                            Emergent

Hierarchy & linearity                                              Panarchy &  networks

Exploitative relations                                                      Reciprocity

Contributes to systemic fragility                        Encourages resilience

Undermines the future for today                        Enhances wellbeing

Egoic operating system                                                 Soul-infused

Fear-based leading                                            Courage-based leading

This age of uncertainty demands new ways of operating and organizing: distributed, networked, anti-fragile, flourishing firms of the future.  This ‘new norm’ reaches well beyond orthodox organisational logic by seeding wholly new ways of doing and being. It is a liberating transformation which happens at all levels of our culture: from the everyday meeting protocols designed for control transforming into more collaborative methods such as hackathons, swarms and open space technology; to top-down control-based bureaucracy transforming into locally-attuned teams of people empowered to adapt to ever-changing conditions within their sphere of operation.

7s ways of doing business

Enter a myriad of organisations thriving amid uncertainty by applying living-systems logic:  the on-line retailer Zappos, the healthcare provider Buurtzorg, the bank Triodos, the employment agency Vaga, the chemicals manufacturer Scott Bader, the global network of social-enterprise community centres Impact Hub, the multimedia provider Sounds True, to name a few.

Running our organisations in more natural, more alive, more creative ways is not some futurist utopian vision, it’s happening now as you read this article. It’s gone mainstream, and we all ought begin to embrace it or we shall soon be yesterday’s news.

Gone with the winds of change is the artificial certainty and mechanistic linearity of command-and-control cultures and ‘human resource’ management, revealing a fresher, purposeful, altogether more human approach to our ways of working.

To aid this transformation, here are five important areas for leaders to focus on in these transformational times:

  • Communication: to commune with others, really listen and share with our peers and stakeholders within and beyond the organisation by creating collaborative networks that do more than just brainstorm by having the remit to prototype the future.
  • Innovation: within the organisation ‘accelerator skunkworks’, ‘incubators’ or ‘innovation hubs’ operate like cocoons in stealth mode (Google X, for instance) where bright out-of-the-box innovators across the organisation can engage in entrepreneurial explorations, with the support of the organisation to invest in these prototypes, testing them out before the activities are either spun off or integrated into the main business.
  • Diversity in the boardroom: yes we need more diversity and inclusiveness in terms of age, sex and race, yet also in our ways of thinking, by bringing in non-conformists that provoke and cajole with different perspectives and insights. This can be achieved through inviting a wider range of Non-executive Directors, having a greater variety of external advisers, and utilising innovative forward-thinking consultants and coaches beyond the traditional mainstream consultancies.
  • Sense of purpose: As Paul Polman notes, we need to cultivate our inner-compass, develop our own coherence within ourselves, taking time and energy to embark on a process of ‘knowing thy self’ so as to understand our deeper sense of purpose beyond our ego-personas and acculturated masks. When we align our outer actions with our inner sense of purpose we allow a deeper creative impulse and authenticity to flow through our work. Ditto for our teams and stakeholders.
  • Time and space: taking personal responsibility for our work schedules and recognising that the continual busyness and stress actually undermines our ability to think out-of-the-box and sense our inner compass. Each of us can be more effective at managing our diaries, creating blocks in our schedule for ‘systemic thinking’ where we can reflect, pause and learn to tune-in to our more intuitive awareness and authentic, soulful selves.

There is no sustainable transformation without leadership. It is leadership that enables us to traverse our own thresholds while helping others traverse theirs. The root of the word leadership is leith which means ‘to go forth and cross the threshold’, to let go of old ways while allowing new ways to take root.

After all, we humans are innately creative, passionate, convivial, collaborative, social, loving creatures. It’s about time we started to live up to our name of Homo Sapiens (wise beings) by metamorphosing our organisational logic towards the wisdom of Life.

Speaker, author, adviser Giles Hutchins’ latest book Future-Fit is now out on Amazon.

‘Essential and timely’ Dr. Scilla Elworthy, Author and Founder of the Oxford Research Group

‘A must-read’ Bob Willard, Author and Speaker, Sustainability Advantage

‘Brilliant’ Richard Barrett, Chairman and Founder of The Barrett Values Centre

‘A masterpiece’ Mark Drewell, Founder of The Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative

To explore ‘the new paradigm’ further, join the Face Book community here

Deep Listening – listening with our whole-selves while connecting to Source:

August 4, 2016

The ability to listen is an essential human quality; it catalyses our ability to be wise, is foundational to the quality of our relationships, and is core to how we manifest our Purpose in the world.

And yet listening is often overlooked in our rush to achieve more purposeful lives or more purposeful organisations.

indras5

Let’s explore four levels of listening (encompassing aspects of Scharmer’s Theory U,  Deep Listening, Way of Council speaking and listening from the heart, non-violent communication, Bohm’s Dialogue, transformative listening, active & empathic listening, systemic and dialectic listening):

  • Downloading (we are listening to information largely to confirm what we already know and in a factual way that is largely devoid of contextual relations e.g. train announcement, or someone speaking to us about day-to-day humdrum while we are half doing something else)
  • Factual Listening (we are listening more attentively as there is specific information we sense as relevant to us e.g. train announcement specifically relating to a change to our schedule – our ears prick up and we listen more attentively, or a colleague is speaking to us about day-to-day stuff yet with new insights or updates that catch our attention.)
  • Empathic listening (we are sensing into what is being communicated, the person is not speaking ‘to’ us, but ‘with’, as we are sensing how it feels for them as they ‘share’. We shift our perspective – if only momentarily – beyond our own judgements, habituations and framing because of our sensing into how the other person feels. We have opened ourselves up to listening beyond our ‘small self’ and started to relationally connect beyond ourselves. The other person senses this either consciously or unconsciously and the quality of communication is enriched as a result. It may still be about the day-to-day stuff, but we have intentionally chosen to enhance the quality of our listening through the depth of attention we are offering the ‘other’.)
  • Generative Listening (we are conscious of our small ‘self’ judgements, personalities, habitual perspectives, emotional baggage, etc. and we allow ourselves to deepen our awareness, our presence, beyond this small ‘self’ as we open up to our deeper Self and the larger relational context or field we are in, by connecting with our hearts, guts, soma and intuition while opening up to the field/source/nature that our self-and-other relationship is immersed in. We sense the wider social, ecological and quantum field between us and beyond us. We give space and time for that which we sense is emerging within the generative field we are co-participating in. As we converse in this way, we open up more deeply to the wider relational context within and all around us – we presence life in an active and alive yet relaxed and patient way.)

‘When you operate from Listening 1 (downloading), the conversation reconfirms what you already knew. You reconfirm your habits of thought: “There he goes again!” When you operate from Listening 2 (factual listening), you disconfirm what you already know and notice what is new out there: “Boy, this looks so different today!” When you operate from Listening 3 (empathic listening), your perspective is redirected to seeing the situation through the eyes of another: “Boy, yes, now I really understand how you feel about it. I can sense it now too.” And finally, when you operate from Listening 4 (generative listening), you have gone through a subtle but profound change that has connected you to a deeper source of knowing, including the knowledge of your best future possibility and self.’  Otto Scharmer, leadership specialist

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In learning to become more authentic, purposeful and soulful leaders, we become more self-aware of the different levels of listening we are applying throughout our daily discourse.  It feels subtly different when we are engaged in generative listening; a ‘flow’ can be sensed in us and in the other people we relate with. We allow subtle synchronicities to come into our perceptual horizon, making wiser decisions as a result.

‘Attention is a moral act: it creates, brings aspects of things into being, in doing so makes others recede. What a thing is depends on who is attending to it and in what way.’ Iain McGilchrist, neuroscientist

Fundamentally it all boils down to our intention and the quality of our attention we are able to sustain during what can be stressful, fast-moving and distracting day-to-day environments.

Deep listening is a simple yet profound practice that helps us become more self-aware of the quality of our listening and speaking.

‘So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it.’ Jiddu Krishnamurti, mystic

Deep Listening happens when we give our full attention to the moment, listening to what is being spoken without thinking what we are going to say in reply, giving our full attention uncluttered by judgement or opinions or distractions – presencing through listening – an attentive state of being that is open, alert, calm, and receptive.

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We catch ourselves when we sense we are starting to get caught up in thoughts of past or future, or judgements about what the person is saying, or how it makes me feels. We move beyond empathic listening in that regard, as we go deeper than empathising with what the other is saying, into a deeper awareness of allowing ourselves to be clear, un-entangled by any feelings or thoughts that may spawn within us because of what is being said or the way it is being said, we notice how we feel and what is spawned in us, but then we bring ourselves back to the present moment, back to listening with our full attentiveness – undistracted and resonant within our hearts.

A simple practice of deep listening can be undertaken when one person speaks for 4 minutes and the other person listens generatively/deeply/fully, with no interruptions or verbal or bodily cues from the listener. The listener remains still yet attentive, maintaining warm gentle eye contact throughout. Then after four minutes, we swap and the other person speaks while the first person listens attentively.

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Some general guidelines for undertaking this exercise of speaking and listening from the heart:

  • Try not to come too much from the head or over-analysing what you are saying, just speak openly and naturally. Let go of rehearsing what you will say. Trust that would arises from within us is what is meant to be said.
  • Speak in the first person – only ‘I’ – ‘my’ own experience, what ‘I’ and feeling. Avoid using ‘you’ or ‘they’ or projecting opinions/judgements on others.
  • Be self-aware, notice if you are rambling, and notice how coherent you are feeling while speaking and listening – be aware of the sense in your heart and gut.
  • Listen without judgement and opinions – be self-aware of when judging or forming opinions and learn to let go, so you can be fully present. If your attention wonders, gently bring it back to focusing on the person you are listening to, while maintaining warm eye contact, without any verbal or non-verbal cues or body gestures. Remain still, relaxed, present and fully attentive. Enjoy.

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What is life?? Let’s take a closer look shall we…

August 3, 2016

Once upon a time, not too long ago, I had the great pleasure of spending time with Dr Alan Rayner, a first rate scientist and former President of the British Mycological Society.  Alan kindly contributed many insights to my book The Illusion of Separation, about how nature really works once we see beyond our acculturation.

This blog post is a guest post jointly written by Alan Rayner (author of NaturesScope) and Doug Marman (author of Lenses of Perception)

 

In March 2016, a group of biologists led by Craig Venter announced the creation of ‘independently’ living cells with the smallest genome. Their announcement was hailed as a milestone. The big lesson learned by the biologists is that no one can explain why almost one-third of the genes are needed for survival. However, hidden in the subtext of this study, we believe, is an even more important lesson: The most essential ingredient of life may not actually be genes or a substance of any kind, but rather a relationship.

 

In the experiment, the biologists started with bacteria that had the smallest genomes they could find. They then began deactivating genes one at a time, to see which ones were needed for survival. If the bacteria lived and kept reproducing, those genes weren’t necessary and were removed. After years of work, the genome was reduced to half its original size. Every remaining gene has been tested. None can be eliminated. Their goal is now to identify the role of the mystery genes. They hope this will give them a blueprint of what is needed for living cells to survive as independent entities.

 

But there’s more to the story. It turns out that many of the “unnecessary” genes could only be deleted after supplying the petri dish with key nutrients and eliminating potential dangers. As a result, the new cells can no longer survive in the wild because they’ve lost the ability to hunt for food and avoid threats.

 

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Image by: Tom Deerinck and Mark Ellisman of the National Center for Imaging and Microscopy Research at the University of California at San Diego.

 

 

Is it fair to say that these are independently living cells? Don’t they need the biologists to feed them and remove their wastes? This is where the story gets interesting.

 

You see, the genomes of these cells may be tiny compared to other single-celled organisms, but they are still 200 times larger than the genomes of simple viruses. So they aren’t even close to the littlest genomes.

 

Viruses, however, are not considered independent life forms because they can’t survive outside a host cell. They need a host in which to live, and they need the genome of the host to reproduce. That’s why the biologists wanted to study organisms that live on their own. But do they? Is true independent living even possible?

 

All organisms depend on their environment for energy, carbon, and mineral nutrients to grow and reproduce. No plant, animal, or microbe can survive without this supply. Cutting them off leaves them as inactive as a car without fuel. All biologists know this. But if we consider the implications of this deeply, it frames the question of life in a new way and it opens the door to a new explanation for how biological life may have emerged.

 

For example, it shows that treating organisms as if they are self-contained entities, isolated from their neighborhood, is a profound mistake because life doesn’t belong to individuals alone. Life is a relationship between creatures and their environment.

 

If this is right, then finding which genes are necessary for survival will not in itself explain how life works, because genes aren’t the cause.

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Trees create habitats that team with life.  Painting by Alan Rayner, from Mycological Research, 102, 1441-1449.

 

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