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Diversity and Inclusion through the Lens of Living Systems

September 25, 2019

The systemic challenges we now all face call for systemic solutions.  All too often (and largely unwittingly) we apply the very same level of consciousness (a ‘mechanistic’ and ‘reductive’ mind-set) in attempting to solve problems that have been created by that very same mind-set.

 

Diversity and Inclusion with a Living-systems lens is a key part of the systemic solution, and it’s also a key part of the new mind-set that we now need to call upon during this time of breakdown/breakthrough.

 

Sometimes we may sense that our explorations into Diversity and Inclusion can get bogged down by yesterday’s mind-set.   Sometimes the very same blind-spots, corruptions, illusions, fears, control-issues, hierarchies, power-plays, blame-games and habitual ego-tendencies feed into onto our well-intended solutions.  In part, this is a natural stage in the evolution of any area of development that is moving out of a challenging historic tendency.

 

In our book Regenerative Leadership we (Laura Storm and Giles Hutchins) explore a new kind of leadership consciousness – a way of living and leading that creates life affirming futures by drawing on the Logic of Life.   We present a Regenerative Leadership DNA Model where learning from living systems is applied to our social systems at three levels: Living Systems Design; Living Systems Culture; Living Systems Being.

 

Living Systems Design: applying inspiration from nature’s patterns, principles and processes to transform how we design and build our physical world and the products and services we use.

 

Living Systems Design explores nature-inspired design methods such as biomimicry, circular economics, cradle to cradle, permaculture, and biophilic design. It explores how leaders, engineers, architects, designers, and innovators can draw upon the wisdom of nature while designing new products, services, processes, structures, and places.

 

Living Systems Culture: applying inspiration from nature’s wisdom to transform how we structure and lead our organizations.

 

Living Systems Culture explores living-systems-thinking applied to organizations and communities and incorporates pioneering schools of thought relevant to exploring the organization-as-living-system, such as: Systems Thinking, Holism, Complexity Theory, Complex Adaptive Systems Theory, Adult Developmental Psychology and Integral Psychology, Deliberately Developmental Organizations, Evolutionary/Teal Organizations, Theory U, Conscious Capitalism, Systemic Leadership and Conscious Leadership.

 

Living Systems Being: applying the wisdom of nature and embracing its way of being to transform our physiology, psychology, and wellbeing as leaders.

 

Living Systems Being explores our physiological, emotional and psychological nature and the qualities and practices we need as leaders to adapt, develop and flourish amid fast-paced business climes while tending towards harmony with nature within and around us. This draws on research from psychology, biophilia, neurology, quantum physics, ancient wisdom traditions, and other schools of thought.

 

As you can see from this image, Diversity and Inclusion is a key DNA strand within Living Systems Culture.  And the entire DNA is interwoven with two Dynamics – Life Dynamics and Leadership Dynamics:

 

The Life Dynamics of:

 

Divergence: life thrives through opening up and diversifying; creativity occurs at the edge of boundaries.
Convergence:
life maintains balance and order by having a sense of purpose, alignment, boundary and structure.           
Emergence:
life unfolds through the healthy tension between Divergence and Convergence; this tension impels life’s Emergence.

And the Leadership Dynamics of:

 

Self Awareness: leadership thrives through individuals’ gaining perspective on their thoughts, habits, behaviors and blind-spots; we are able to reach beyond self-imposed limitations and open up more readily to life through self-mastery.
Systemic Awareness: leadership thrives through an understanding of networks, flows and relationships within systems; we are able to sense how best to influence the organizational system toward life-affirming futures.
Regenerative Leadership Consciousness: leadership thrives through cultivating both Self Awareness and Systemic Awareness; we are able to serve life attuned to nature’s wisdom.

As the Greco-Roman philosopher Seneca once remarked:

 

“True wisdom consists in not departing from nature, but in molding our conduct according to her laws and model.” Seneca, philosopher

 

 

In looking at how we best cultivate cultures of Diversity and Inclusion within our complex human organizations, we can apply the logic of living-systems: the Life Dynamics of Divergence and Convergence. We stimulate divergence in our organizations by opening-up ourselves, our team dynamics and our stakeholder relations so we work across boundaries of difference. We can purposefully ensure a rich blend of diversity – in terms of ethnicity, upbringing, gender, age, general outlook and business perspectives – through our embracement of social technologies like swarms, stakeholder dialogue sessions, and future-search workshops. Through convergence, we create a sense of inclusivity and belonging. The core values and behaviors we cultivate in our culture provide the cultural soil that brings together the rich diverse perspectives and orientations celebrated through divergence.  It is this honoring of both the convergence through common values, and divergence through diverse perspectives that ensures the vibrancy of our organizational living-system.

 

The healthy tension of Divergence (opening up through diverse perspectives and backgrounds) with Convergence (bringing together through core values and a resonant sense of purpose) is what impels emergent life-affirming cultures.   It might be useful to think of the River of Life as having two banks – one side of the river tends towards Divergence, opening-up, creativity, diverse perspectives – which when over-done can bring chaos. The other side of the river tends towards Convergence, bringing-together, alignment, common values and purposeful intent – which when over-done can bring rigidity.  Between the aspects of Chaos and Order flows the emergent river of life. Ditto for our organisations.  Diversity and Inclusion can help this healthy tension of divergence (diversity) and convergence (inclusion), to spawn emergent aliveness in our living-organisations.

 

 

Another tension worth holding in our living-organisations is that of reductive attention (what the neuroscientist Iain McGilchrist refers to as a product of left-brain hemispheric attention) balanced with relational attention (right-brain hemispheric attention).   We need both, hence why we have two hemispheres in our brains. Yet, in today’s society and organisational/management logic we tend to become overly-inured in a reductive mechanistic attention (for McGilchrist this is an overly dominant left-brain hemispheric attention that crowds out and undermines the relational awareness of the right-brain hemisphere).

When we become too reductive, we see only the bites and bytes, the metrics, the detail, and overlook the deeper relational dynamics present within our social systems.  Likewise, if we have too much relational awareness, without a healthy dose of reductive awareness, then we might struggle to gain the focus and definition needed to make change happen.  It is a healthy dynamic of both focusing-in on the parts (reductive) and being aware of the inter-relations between the parts (relational) that is called upon to cultivate life-affirming culture.

Becoming conscious of the reductive-relational tendencies in our team dynamics, decision-making and organisational culture – as well as within our own selves as leaders and participants in the social system – is useful.

As Regenerative Leaders we learn to hold-space for a healthy tension of reductive-relational and a healthy tension of divergence-convergence to arise in ways we relate, make decisions, facilitate meetings, and explore strategies.

On 9th October, in an area of outstanding natural beauty of the ancient High Weald in West Sussex, Katherine Long and Giles Hutchins of The Future Fit Leadership Academy will explore how we can apply nature’s wisdom to Diversity and Inclusion so that we bring in a deeper level of consciousness (an ‘ecosystemic perspective’) to this important topic.  See more info here:  http://ffla.co/diversity-and-inclusiona-living-systems-approach/

 

For more info on the book Regenerative Leadership co-authored by Giles Hutchins and Laura Storm, visit www.regenerativeleadership.co

 

‘The clarity, inspiration, synergy and wisdom of this book is breath-taking… This is the must read book of 2019. I couldn’t put it down.’  – Dr Lynne Sedgmore CBE, former Chief Executive  of 157 Group, Centre for Excellence in Leadership

 

 

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