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Right-relation for Regenerative Leadership

May 11, 2018


I am fortunate to have a couple of live inquiries unfolding, during these early summer days, with some world-leading specialists on leadership and organisational development.

What I share here is – I sense – core to each of these different inquires, and core to the big-picture shift happening in leadership and organisational development, in order for business to keep abreast of what the world now needs.

In essence, the ‘way’ in which we engage with our own selves, with each other and with the wider systems we interweave with, is the heart of it all.  One might say, ‘right-relation’ with self-other-system is the soil, the ground, from which future-fit 21st century Regenerative Business will flourish.

In unpacking what I mean here by ‘right relation’ and the day-to-day practicalities of it for today’s organisational culture, I would like to draw up the profound work of Peter Senge, Joseph Jawarski, Otto Scharmer and others at the Presencing Institute.

A core theme running through the Presencing Institutes’ work is the importance of being aware of – and then cultivating – differing degrees of being-and-knowing.  This is made explicit in Scharmer’s Theory U leadership approach.

The way in which we ‘be’ and ‘know’ influences how we relate with deeper aspects of ourselves, with others, and the world around us.  Through our being-and-knowing, we either engage ‘regeneratively’ or ‘degeneratively’.

By ‘regenerative’ I mean a way of relating with self, others and wider systems that enhances life. A way of relating that creates conditions for a richer evolutionary unfolding of life.

By ‘degenerative’ I mean a way of relating with self, others and wider systems that undermines the potential of what could spawn, unfold and flourish.  The evolutionary dynamic of life is undermined, as is our innate creativity and empathy of self, others and system.

While we like black-and-white clarity, in reality it is not that cut and dry. There are different levels of ‘regenerativity’ in terms of how we show-up through our being-and-knowing.

We may sense and respond to life’s ever-changing terrain in different ways. Our attentiveness to our inner-self and our outer-world is ever-changing in its quality and nature.

Scharmer speaks of 4 different fields of attentiveness.  I quote from his Theory U where he explains these 4 field structures of attention:

‘Just as a musical tune can be performed in different keys, a social tune – that is, an individual or collective social act – can come into being through any of four different field structures of attention. Learning to recognize these various keys is like catching social reality creation in flight – just by noticing their differences, we can begin to alter the structure and direction of these sparks of social reality creation as they manifest in the here and now.’   (p337, Theory U, 2016)

This is in-flight leadership development par excellence.  It is what is often overlooked in mainstream business school leadership development programmes, and yet is very much part of our natural human capacity, to self-notice, to pick-up on somatic sensations that indicate subtle shifts in our attentiveness as we slip between these different fields of attentiveness, and as a result, transform our being-and-knowing.

This is simple, yet sophisticated. It’s real yet appears abstract. It’s fresh and 21st century, essential for today’s future-fitness, and yet draws from ancient wisdom.

Scharmer refers to these 4 fields of attention as Field 1: Bubble; Field 2: Adaptive; Field 3: Reflective; Field 4: Generative.

Let’s explore each of these fields in terms of how we attend to life.

Field 1 – Bubble: we experience our everyday environment with pre-conditioned frames, concepts, filters, unconscious biases.  We have a bubble of perception that we see through; it filters our everyday experiences. Little, if anything, gets in to our bubble from the outside without first being warped by pre-conditioned frames. We are ‘down-loading’, listening in a way that only confirms what we already think we know, or expect to hear, or what our pre-conceived judgements perceive. We react to life situations in prescribed ways, with habitual responses and routine patterns of control.  We struggle to see beyond the bubble because the bubble’s membrane is quite impermeable. Our sense of self is ‘self as separate from and in competition with’ other and world. It is a state of mild anxiety, defensiveness, hurry-up-and-get-on-with-it, self-judgement, reactivity, and narrow-minded judgement.

This ego-bubble surrounds and protects us from the slings-and-arrows of the world. Yet it also stunts our development, growth and integration towards wholeness.  We close ourselves off from who we truly are, and from how reality really is. Our response patterns are triggered by past programming and judgemental filters.

In this heightened ego-state we seldom relate to self-other-system in an authentic, vulnerable, revealing or developmental way.

Alas, so much of today’s business culture and behavioural norms are caught up in the bubble of Field 1 attention.  This is the artificial reality pervading much of today’s corporate culture. It undermines and stifles the greatness of who we are and what our organisations can achieve. It stimulates degenerative behaviour, undermining self, others and the wider systems the organisation operates in.

Tagging on marketing-orientated sustainability initiatives to this kind of mentality does not really change the nature of the leadership or the organisation.

Field 2 – Adaptive:  This is an evolutionary step-change in our attention from Field 1. Our thinking, relating, conversing, organising and co-ordinating is transformed.

In the Adaptive Field we pick up new stuff that is happening outside our bubble, and adapt our bubble to it. We become less reactive and more adaptive.  We are listening-in to our local and global environment, and we are listening-in to other’s points of view with an open mind rather than a close judgemental mind.

We are open to diverse views and sometimes get into debates, especially when different views clash with our own.  This can then lead us to adapting our views and our bubble, or polarising others views as wrong.

The boundary of inner-outer and self-other is more permeable compared to Field 1. Our bubble around us is more open to letting in the new.  We have more of an open mind than Field 1.

This is an opening-up to how living-systems create and recreate themselves through the process of autopoeisis, sensing-and-responding to the environment through continual adaptation and enhancement. It moves us out of purely mechanistic thinking into adaptive thinking.

And yet, at this Field 2 level, little attention is paid to the multi-dimensional inter-dependent nature of different nested systems continuously inter-relating.  We are still in the bubble. Our point of reference is the ego-bubble.  We are still self-separate-from others and world. We still objectify interactions around us, rationalising them into either right or wrong, either upgrading our bubble or rejecting the other. We are adaptive, and yet not systemic, in sensing-and-responding.

Many effective leaders today have done well over the years by mastering Field 2 attention, and yet they are now struggling with the level of complexity, systemic challenges and volatility that abounds.

Field 3 – Reflective:  From Field 2 to 3 a fundamental shift takes place, a shift in worldview no less, a shift in how we see ourselves in the world, amid the ever-changing nested systems are lives are woven within.

This ‘Reflective’ attention gives us the ability to see ourselves in the system, to gain self-reflexivity, to open up our receptivity and inner-sense with an open heart.

This requires a level of vulnerability, empathy and self-awareness.

The membrane of our bubble further permeates, opening up our inner-outer dynamic as we relate with others with a more empathic and systemic perspective.  We listen more deeply to others, not just to the words but to the whole of what is said and not said.  We become more attentive to the space between ourselves and others, to our somatic sensations, and to the body-language and energy of others. We can sense the energy of the social systems we are participating in.

We become more conscious of what we say, how we say it, and the way to converse and share. We embrace tensions that arise in a less reactive and polarising way, and in a more spacious and responsive way.  This enables us to sense into the deeper insights these tensions can reveal.

This is where circles of sharing, Non-Violent Communication methods, Appreciative Inquiry, Deep Listening, the Art of Hosting, Dialogue, Way of Council, swarm collaborative approaches, and multi-stakeholder dialogue approaches are applied with great success.  All these approaches help enliven our ways of relating with self, with others, with the wider systems we operate in.

Our perception of the system deepens.  And with this deepening, we become more aware of the systemic dynamics at play within the organisation-as-living-system.  We shift our relational dynamic from ‘push-pull’ into sensing the emergent dynamics, while holding space for what wants to emerge, surfing waves, noticing acupressure nodes and flows, system stuckness, the unfolding death-rebirth cycles of emergence throughout the organisation and wider eco-system.

As Scharmer puts it, ‘a shift from seeing the system from my point of view to seeing the system through the eyes of other stakeholders…will help the system to begin to see itself.’

The way we see the challenges and tensions, the way we listen to and empathise with what is unfolding, influences our responsiveness.  This attentiveness informs the strategies we design and then enact.

Self-other-system boundaries become more permeable, and the inner-outer dynamic more fluid. We become less transactional and individualistic, and more empathic, emergent, vulnerable and authentic.

Field 4 – Generative: Here we shift again into a deeper relational dimension – another step change, and yet a natural build upon Field 3.

In Field 2 we bring an opening of our mind, in Field 3 an opening of our heart, in Field 4 we bring an opening of our will. We begin to open up to the emerging future within the system, which requires a surrendering or ‘letting-go’ of our personal will so as to be in service of what wants to emerge within the system.  We ‘let go’ to ‘let come’.

From an ego-stage development or depth psychology perspective, it is an opening-up beyond the ego-self into accessing the directive of the Higher Self or soul.

source, Theory U, Scharmer

Put another way, our ego-consciousness, sub-consciousness and super-consciousness are in-flow, and this integrated attentiveness is in-flow with the system within and all around us.   We are permeating more readily with life.

Here, the sensation of inner-outer no longer has relevance, we are in-and-of the system; open to the universal will of life.

We subtly sense the emergent dynamics of the system we are flowing in.

Our personal sense of purpose does not drop away, far from it. It transmutes into a deeper sense of higher purpose, where our personal will aligns with the Way of Nature, the Tao, the Akasha, the Source – call it what you will, it’s all the same thing;  it pervades our entire reality and is here to help us if we so choose to tune-in to it.

It is here, in this generative space of connectedness with systems flowing within and around us that we integrate the entire human repertoire of being-and-knowing at our disposal. It is here that we experience being in-flow, we notice subtly-lit synchronistic pathways in our midst, we have intuitive insights, and we open up to life with open mind, open heart, open will.

At this level of attentiveness, Regenerative Business is the only business worth pursuing. We are in service of the organisation-as-a-living-system calling forth life-affirming futures.

This is a worldview shift, a shift in the essence of business, and a shift in how we attend to ourselves, each other, the world around us.

It is a shift from a mechanistic managerial mind-set that sees siloed linearity, cause-and-effect carrot-and-stick, quantised metric-orientated control of a machine-organisation, to a regenerative mindset that sees unfolding emergent developmental tensions, blockages and flows amid nested eco-systems of life.


From the Field 1 Bubble of individualistic reactive ego, to the Field 2 Adaptive cause-and-effect, to the Field 3 Reflective empathic sensing-and-responding, to the Field 4 Generative and synchronistic inter-being.  We move from mechanistic into living-systems thinking into living-systems being – whereupon we embody a journey towards wholeness, towards regenerative behaviour for ourselves, for others, for our wider systems.

This is well within our innate human potential.  Why would we wish to aim for anything less?

We can all recall moments when we have felt in-flow, open to the oneness of life, unfolding with grace and ease.   While this may only stay with us for fleeting moments, the more we enliven Field 3 and 4 attentiveness in our everyday, the more our daily consciousness can sense when we are in the bubble and when we are not.

In reality, these 4 fields of attention are with us all the time, we are breathing in-and-out with them, sometimes coming from Field 1 for a brief moment, then in Field 2, slipping into Field 3 for a moment or two, and touching into Field 4.  This can all happen sub-second, while listening to someone, while sitting in a meeting, while writing an email.

The first step, is to gain this self-awareness, this felt-sense of when we are slipping from one field to the next. As we learn to sense these subtle somatic sensations – gut feelings, clarity in our ears, heart-sense, whatever the embodied feeling – we are learning to become masterful at noticing how we are attending to each evolving moment.  Then, we can bring in practices into our everyday life to help us enliven Field 3 and 4 attention.  We start to cultivate the conditions in ourselves, and through our relations with others, to allow life to flow through us.  We create the conditions for regenerative life-affirming systems to thrive.

source Theory U, Presencing Institute

As Jawarski, Scharmer, Senge and other leadership specialists have pointed out, this is the essence of leadership, nothing more nothing less: the ability to be aware of our own field of attention and consciously shift the field from which we operate.

‘Leadership is about continuously creating the domain for those around us to continually deepen our understanding of reality, so we can participate in shaping our future.’ – Joseph Jaworski

Jaworski draws on the cognitive scientist Francisco Varela when noting that ‘the basic point is this: cognition is not a representation of the world ‘out there’ but rather a ‘bringing forth of the world through the process of living itself.’

As Regenerative Leaders, we are bringing forth the world through us, through our right-relation with self-other-system. Our attentiveness is what enables this bringing forth. The way we attend influences our regenerative capacity.

The old saying ‘it’s not what you do but the way that you do it’ is spot-on.

Much of today’s hurry-up-and-get-on-with-it vibe, with lengthening to-do lists, rising stress in the workplace, relentless busyness and endless targets, unwittingly encourages Field 1 and 2 attention. The stress heightens bubble-mentality, so that Field 2 regularly collapse into a dominant Field 1. Open mind, open heart, open will slip out of reach. We hunker-down and get on with it.  But get on with what exactly?  What is the purpose and point of all this rushing about?  Is it to enhance life or not?  Might the rushing about be part of the problem rather than part of the solution?

Before we know it, we lose our innate human potential for greatness, for creativity, empathy, out-of-the-box thinking and collaboration.

Rather than embracing rising complexity with open mind, open heart, open will, we find ourselves applying the very same level of consciousness to tomorrow’s solutions that created our problems in the first place.

And so the inquiry question becomes: How do we stimulate the leadership and organisational development conditions conducive for Field 3 & 4 in our organisations while keeping the wheels on the road, and dealing with daily pressures?

This is the inquiry question that lies behind why I wrote the book Future Fit, which includes an array of useful tools, techniques and tips that help leaders create the conditions in their organisations for future-fit Regenerative Business to thrive.

To summarise:

Regenerative Business is about co-creating the conditions within our organisations for life to flourish: the human and more-than-human.

This means the way the organisation interacts with its wider system ought to contribute to the health and vitality of these wider systemic constellations.

The aim is for the organisational culture to nurture and nourish the people it engages with. In turn, this stimulates these people to enrich their wider systemic constellations of family, friends, associates, neighbours, stakeholders, partners, society, and the environment.  Through regenerative cultures we create the conditions conducive for life to flourish.  Work is no longer soul-sapping, it becomes soul-enriching, and thrives all the better for it.

Regenerative Business does this while focusing on its own purpose and niche as a living-system.

The ‘organisation-as-living-system’ has its own essence which emanates through the inner-outer relational field within the organisation’s membrane and beyond into its ecosystem of stakeholder relations.  This ecosystem is constantly changing all the time and is interwoven with myriad other economic, social and ecological systems.  The cultural field of the organisation exhibits nested levels of Field 1-4 attentiveness at any one time. The more Field 3&4 emanates in our relations, the more regenerative the organisation becomes.

Suddenly, this living-systems perspective has made the organisation seem far more complex.

And most certainly, our organisations are complex, adaptive and emergent systems. They are not simply machines with neat-and-tidy inputs-and-outputs to be measured-monitored-controlled-optimised through Field 1 & 2 awareness.

There is nothing wrong with applying a machine-mentality to organisations for specific engineering challenges, or even for project managing operational aspects of the business, and yet if we wish to cultivate vibrant regenerative organisations, we need to go beyond neat-and-tidy machine-think and bubble-mentality.

The organisation-as-living-system is so complex that our left-brain hemisphere’s desire to get a grip on it can end in frustration, even with advancements in Complexity Theory, Systems Thinking, Holistic Science and Adult Development Theory.  Thank goodness we have our right brain hemisphere, and also our heart, gut, intelligent somatic bodymind network, intuition, systemic perception and collaborative intelligence, all at our disposal to engage in this living-systems approach.

This is where we call upon our wider human repertoire of being-and-knowing.  We need this more integrated perspective not just to comprehend the organisation as it really is (an inter-relating living system rather than a machine) but also for us to then ‘live’ it, to consciously embody and discern when we are moving between different frames of perspective that open us up to this deeper relational way of attending to self-others-system.

To discern what frame of attentiveness we are drawing upon in-the-thick-of-it, during corridor chats, in the corporate boardroom, in the coffee break or weekly catch-up call, this is the nub of making future-fit Regenerative Leadership a reality.

It is through moments of right-relation that we create the conditions conducive for life to flourish. It is in the authentic, courageous and vulnerable conversations that we spark and spawn regenerative culture.

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, insights and case studies, suitable for anyone from entrepreneur to seasoned business executive.



‘The world we live in has become more complex, uncertain, and rapidly changing.  This is the backdrop the business world must operate in and the old machine paradigm is no longer suited for this world.  We see an emerging trend of moving from a mechanistic view of business to an organic, living organization framework, and Future Fit goes right to the heart of it.  Packed full with practical insights to help activate and catalyze this transformation, this is a brilliant book that will help you wrap your head around the shifting paradigm at the vanguard of future business. Read it!’ Norman Wolfe, CEO of Quantum Leaders and author of The Living Organization

‘Future Fit is prescient and practical. It describes the future as it can and should be, by drawing on a breadth of knowledge rarely seen in business books. It also makes big, abstract ideas more concrete, by offering examples and advice. This book will help managers navigate a complex world for a more sustainable world. Giles Hutchins is one of the most broad-reaching, forward thinking writers in business.’ Tima Bansal, Canada Research Chair in Business Sustainability, Ivey Business School

‘One of the most urgent challenges for individuals, organizations and the whole human family, is to transform human consciousness so it is fit for the world of the 21st century.  Giles Hutchins has written eloquently in all his books about ways of bringing together individual and organizational transformation. In this his latest book, Giles has provided us with a treasure-trove of approaches, methods, models and living examples of ways of creating the regenerative organization of the future, drawn from leading writers, practitioners and pioneer companies from all parts of the globe.’ Peter Hawkins, Professor of Leadership, Henley Business School and author of Leadership Team Coaching and many other books

‘Time to move! Giles’s book offers a unique combination of several research findings and their concrete application in today’s business world. He clearly articulates that the on-going paradigm shift is irreversible because our deepest human nature has been largely ignored by the prevailing economic model.’ Jean-Claude Pierre, CEO, Scott Bader


Giles Hutchins is a thought leader, speaker and adviser on the future of business.  Recently, Global Sustainability Director for Atos, and previously a management consultant with KPMG, he has helped transform a wide range of organisations (corporate, third sector, public sector and start-up) and is author of the books Future Fit, The Illusion of Separation, and The Nature of Business, has contributed to various leadership approaches and research studies, is co-founder of  and Chair of The Future Fit Leadership Academy

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