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An Artful Inquiry into a Deeper Ecology of Business

April 25, 2016

Five o’clock in the morning and the sky’s already an awesome array of vibrant pinks, oranges and mellow yellows. Rainbow-tinted fluffy clouds gently clearing away to reveal what becomes a gloriously hot English summer’s day. Next to me as I sit amid mammoth trees in the beautiful grounds of Ashridge Business School is a young female deer, both of us entranced by each other’s glance.

By 8.30am a gaggle of eighteen intrepid and experienced participants settle in the comfortable surrounds of the lounge for light refreshments. A diverse cohort of corporate pioneers and cultural creatives are quick to form a tribe of kindred spirits, sharing and exploring with humility and courage on our mini-quest; blending heady business content and shared experiences with soulful, somatic exercises.

 ‘A workshop full of insight and wisdom delivered in such a concise and accessible way’ – participant feedback

What were the objectives and intended outcomes of this workshop? Our intention was to reach beyond the symptomatic surface into the deeper metamorphosis underway in our ways of operating and organising; to hold a space for an artful inquiry into ways of being and doing that aid the transformation of our organisations from firms of the past (top-down, hierarchic, command-and-control, siloed, KPI-obsessed, monolithic monocultures) to firms of the future (living, emergent, diverse, networked, anti-fragile, locally-attuned, soulful, purposeful organisations). For this the context and content of the workshop formed around playing with the tensions of inner-outer and being-doing set within the framing of our organisations becoming future-fit.

‘Fascinating subject with a good balance of theory and bodywork’ – participant feedback

The inner dimension explored our personal transformations, the challenges, experiences and practices of opening ourselves up to deeper ways of being and doing in the workplace. The outer dimension explored the relational challenges and tensions of transforming the cultural mind-set from firm-of-the-past logic (extractive linearity, short-termism, control-based ego-dominator approaches) to more self-organising, empowering, embodied, eco-systemic spiritually-aware partnership approaches required by firms of the future. It is here that we sense how future-fit organisations cannot just be materially and functionally inspired by Nature (enter: biomimetic design, cradle-to-cradle, closed-loop economics, industrial ecology, eco-systemic thinking, and so forth) but also need to be resonant with the metaphysical rhythms and wisdom Nature affords us (enter eco-psychology, somatic awareness, eco-systemic presencing, heart entrainment, phenomenology, shamanic business, conscious leadership and the re-cognition and re-membering of our soulful sense of place and purpose in a deeply sentient world). We also explored our natural ways of knowing in need of being nurtured as we learn to become Natural Leaders in these challenging and volatile climes.

front cover

This artful inquiry revealed the need for a shift not just in ways of relating and doing but also in our underlying mythological and philosophical worldview, a shift at deep and partly unconscious levels in how we ‘prehend’ (to use Alfred North Whitehead’s term), how we intuit and perceive ourselves, each other and the more-than-human world. Examples and insights were drawn from the books The Nature of Business (which explores firms of the future as businesses inspired by Nature) and The Illusion of Separation (which explores the philosophical and metaphysical implications of this metamorphosis as we step towards a deeper ecology of business) and Future Fit (a practical workbook that explores 21st Century business transformation towards resilient, flourishing future-fit business).

‘Such a powerful, lovely and deeply wise workshop’ – participant feedback

Clearly there is only so much one can explore in a 9am-3.30pm window while seeking to balance ways of being and doing, inner and outer exploration, participant sharing and networking with concepts, frameworks and tools. If we were to run something similar again we would do things differently, not least finish at 5.30pm or even invite people to join us the evening before. And we were blessed throughout the day with outstanding weather, beautiful surrounds and a wonderful cohort consciously willing to engage open heartedly in a smorgasbord of activities.

7s ways of doing business

What got this all started was a long and energising walk across Dartmoor in the spring haze and April showers with Chris Nichols of Ashridge, to whom I am indebted.  During my time at Ashridge I sensed a business school that really ‘gets it’ when it comes to understanding the importance of education rooted in artful inquiry, action research and holistic ways of knowing; exploring beyond the superficial regurgitation of yesterday’s logic. And since that summer’s day I have regularly recommended and referred to the good work of Ashridge, for instance in this recently published Opinion Paper on Redefining the Nature of Business in the Millennial Age.

It was a great honour to explore and share with consciously-aware participants and to work with the talented facilitators Debbie Warrener and Daniel Ludevig as well as case study presenter Chris Randall of Heart-in-Business, not to mention Chris Nichols and Vicki Brown of Ashridge whose support behind the scenes and on the day helped it all sing.

Giles Hutchins  is a recognised thought leader, speaker and adviser, applying twenty years of experience to his work at individual and organisational levels.  He is author of the books The Nature of Business , The Illusion of Separation and Future Fit.

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