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Welcome to the Paradigm Shift of the Century

April 12, 2017

The way we relate with ourselves, each other and the world around us is metamorphosing in front of our very eyes.

‘A paradigm can be thought of as a constellation of concepts, values, perceptions and practices shared by a community, which forms a particular vision of reality’ – Fritjof Capra

Human science disciplines over the past four decades have been preoccupied with the way these concepts, values and practices shape how we see ourselves in the world and the stories we tell ourselves. If these stories are taken for granted and never questioned then they tend to be reproduced over and over again. The social and scientific revolutions in modern, early modern and even ancient ages have left their legacies with the modern mind and ultimately the ‘stories’ it unwittingly defaults to.

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For example the early modern period, in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, saw major revelations in scientific discovery and philosophy from Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Descartes, and Darwin, which greatly influenced the modern western view of the human in the wider cosmos and universe. Man powerfully became an external actor disconnected from the very fabric of the natural systems to which he had previously been a part. Interestingly these events were both profoundly liberating for human societies, but also enormously disenchanting. Other major transformations in rapid industrialisation and urbanisation continued to reinforce a sense of separation between society and nature, human and non-human worlds, lived-in lands and pristine Edens. It is arguably this sense of separation that has enabled society to capitalise on the fruits of science, industry and global economics. Conversely it is also what underwrites the parallel dysfunction and destruction of our social and ecological systems.

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The ecological, social and economic crisis now upon us is as much a crisis of spirit as it is a crisis of resources. Indeed part of the crisis of spirit is because modern society and industry tends to perceive the Earth as a set of resources, and values it as such. What scope is there therefore for this paradigm to change in order to perceive the Earth as an animate, living system in which humans play a constructive, not destructive, part?

Indeed we may see how the politics of human-nature relations relates to the politics of human knowledge systems. Increasingly we are questioning what an overly mechanistic and reductive logic obscures from view and how it conditions our knowledge. Other knowledges of Nature exist outside of a modern western philosophy, for example ones related to holistic science and practices by traditional cultures.

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Advances in science have allowed humans to manipulate, manage, interpret, document and indeed now literally create life with technology (with developments in synthetic biology). Science in its mechanistic form has revealed an ecological crisis, but the question of whether it is wholly equipped to reverse this crisis is doubtful. The solutions are social, cultural and economic, not just technical. This perspective doesn’t propose to undo science, yet asks that it is reflective of its own limits. It is equally crucial to pose challenges such as ‘how far’, ‘how fast’; ‘which way’, ‘who says’ and ‘why’; not a question of balancing a ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ position.

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The same reflexivity is just as important in business.  Since what is required is a radically new way of doing business – one that honours and values intrinsically (rather than financially) the global nexus of social and ecological systems – we could also argue that this is only one (yet important) factor within a much wider transition in collective consciousness.

In 2010 The Royal Society of Arts, a British Enlightenment institution founded in 1754 coined their new strap line, a 21st Century Enlightenment. Matthew Taylor, the RSA Director proposes that the core ideals, values and norms that the initial Enlightenment enabled may no longer be adequate or ‘fit for purpose’ for the contemporary challenges society faces. In order to live differently, he argues, we must think differently, and this relates to the way that we see ourselves in the world. Change may not be so much an act of will, but a consequence of a subtler shift in fundamental scientific, cultural, philosophical, and even spiritual factors. The push and pull forces for such a shift are as likely to be a series of positive and negative cyclic feedbacks across the social, technological, scientific and political fields, in much the same way as they have been in historical transitions.

If these inclinations do point towards something meaningfully transformative in respect to the nature of reality, ways of being and collective thinking then the question is how do we begin to interpret, explore and promote radical thinking in the fields in which we work, be they business, education, environmental governance or social policy? Cultural communicators in diverse fields and institutions seem to point in the direction of radical transformation in some shape or form.

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There are many profound questions facing us. This blog and the articles offered here touch on some of the root causes – specifically the relationship between human-nature and nature in a business context – yet does not try and answer them; more it explores the challenges business is now faced with, the limitations of our prevailing business paradigm and approaches to help individuals and organisations positively adapt in the face of these challenging times.

(This article is based on a section co-written with Louise Carver)

Giles Hutchins latest book is the much acclaimed Future Fit

The world of business is changing and fast. Complex, inter-related challenges now face all our enterprises. Future Fit is a response to this: a workbook full with practical tips and case studies, suitable for anyone who is involved in for-purpose enterprise, whether an entrepreneur or seasoned business executive.

 

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

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

‘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

‘Brilliant’ Norman Wolfe, CEO Quantum Leaders

‘A masterpeice’ Mark Drewell, CEO Globally Responsible Leadership

 

For a 3min video on Future Fit see here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzAtglvBNmM

 

 

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

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