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A Supreme Moment in Our Humanity – Now is the Time!

November 26, 2019

We are in the midst of a metamorphosis, profound shifts are affecting the way we work, how and why we do things, and the purpose and meaning we bring to our organisations, social systems and wider civilisation.

It’s what the ancient Greeks referred to as Kairos: a supreme moment in our human history, which if not adequately acted upon by us, may pass us by.

So how do we – the leaders and change agents in our organisations and social systems – adequately act upon this metamorphic moment in our midst?

It’s this question that’s fueled my inquiry into business transformation and leadership development over the last 25 years; formerly as Head of Practice with KPMG helping all sorts of organisations around the globe through various transformations, then as Global Head of Sustainability Solutions for the multinational technology provider Atos Origin, and more recently as executive coach and senior adviser to leaders and organisations, and in my co-creation with the sustainability specialist from Denmark, Laura Storm, in our co-creating the 350 page book on Regenerative Leadership.

Now, if I was to get right to the heart of what Regenerative Leadership is about and try to summarize these 350 pages into this blog article, I would start with the words of the well-respected business futurist John Naisbett, who said:

‘The greatest breakthroughs of the 21st Century will not occur because of technology, they will occur because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.’ – John Naisbett, futurist

I love that. To be involved in this expanding concept of what it means to be human; to help us Homo sapiens – wise beings – in a deeply wise, sentient and interconnected world: It’s this that is at the heart of Regenerative Leadership – a way of leading that doesn’t just help our organisations become more profitable, more vibrant and agile in these times of fast-moving change and increasing volatility. A way of leading that cultivates the conditions for developmental cultures; culture that enables us to become more of who we truly are in the workplace; cultures that we would be proud of our children working in when they come of age; cultures that create strategies and solutions, products and propositions that enhance the very fabric of society and the more-than-human world upon which we all depend.  Why would we wish for anything less?  It’s what I refer to as life-affirming business.

Is this some kind of fanciful utopian dream, heavy on rhetoric but light on substance?  Well actually no, it’s quietly going mainstream and has been for some years now. The myriad business examples packed into the book Regenerative Leadership are testament to this, and the research of myself and Laura Storm draws from many pioneers before us exploring this necessary revolution in leadership consciousness. For instance, Peter Senge’s work on systems thinking in business, Otto Scharmer’s work at MIT on Presencing and Theory U, Frederic Laloux’s work on Teal-Evolutionary business, are just some examples of well-received research and practical approaches helping this metamorphosis.

Let’s take Peter Senge. The Harvard Business Review refers to him as one of the most seminal business thinkers of the last 75 years. Myself and Laura Storm had the pleasure of spending time with him in upstate New York last summer, sitting round the camp fire. He says that the Number 1 most important thing facing our leaders, managers and change agents today is a fundamental shift in logic, a shift in way of thinking, from an essential mechanistic control-based narrowing-down reductive tendency that so much of our managerial logic is inured in today, to a recognition that our organisations are living-systems. And these organisational living systems are intimately interrelated with the living-systems of society which are intimately interrelated with the living-systems of our more-than-human-world.

This is a profound shift. A shift I refer to as a shift from a Firm of the Past, to a Firm of the Future.

Top-down, hierarchic, command-and-controlled, KPI-obsessed organisations transforming to firms of the future which are living, emergent, distributed with decentralised teams of people locally-attuning to their ever-changing environment without having to rely on hierarchies of bureaucracy and control.

It’s what the business philosopher Nassim Talib refers to as Anti-Fragile, and what the complexity theorist Ralph Stacey refers to as complex adaptive systems.

Complex Adaptive Systems Theory is a branch of non-linear dynamics that comes out of Complexity Theory, it’s a scientific study of the logic of life. And when we apply this Logic of Life to our organisations, we start to see that our organisations are not predictable machines, they are actually made up of messy, unpredictable, bottom-up, emergent human relationships: The chat next to the coffee machine, down the corridor, in the corporate boardroom, the meeting conventions and decision-making protocols, the informal power-plays, informal leader networks, etc. all contribute to either enlivening or stifling the organisation’s future-fitness.

The more we – as leaders and change agents in our organisations – can become conscious of these living-system dynamics in our organisations, the more we can enliven them. Hence, this shift in leadership consciousness is at the heart of Regenerative Leadership.

So what are we shifting from-to?

It’s a shift from  Yesterday’s Logic, a mechanistic logic that finds its roots way back in human history, born out of a militarised mind, rising patriarchy, an ego-explosion, etc. which I write about elsewhere (see The Illusion of Separation).  This mechanistic way of attending really came to the fore with the Age of Reason, Scientific Revolution and Industrial Revolution it spawned, whereupon it became dominant in our Western worldview.

This mechanistic way of attending is a narrowing-down reductive tendency that focuses in on the bits and bytes. It is an important part of our human repertoire, and this ability to drill-down is a powerful tool we most certainly need. It has brought great advancements in modern medicine, technology and transportation that we all enjoy today. There is nothing wrong with it per se. The problem comes when this way of attending starts to dominant, crowding out our other natural ways of knowing, then it creates imbalances in us and in our collective worldview.  Let’s briefly look at a couple of these imbalances:

To draw on the insightful research of the neuroscientist Iain McGilchrist, we can see an imbalance in how the left and right brain hemispheres inter-relate. The left-brain hemisphere enables us to focus on the parts, to drill-down on the detail, and isolate things abstracted from their lived-in fluid and relational context. This is a powerful tool, and yet can start to dominate the right brain hemisphere’s natural capacity to sense the inter-relational nature of reality ad wider systemic context. We get more and more caught up in the bits and bytes and de-emphasise the contextual relations. Hence, we need to re-align or re-balance this.

Another imbalance that needs addressing is the advancement of ‘masculine’ or ‘yang’ qualities of attention prioritised over ‘feminine’ or ‘yin qualities. (NB – to be clear here, we are not referring to gender qualities, rather these are ways of attending that each person has regardless of gender).  Masculine qualities of focusing-in, driving forward, responding, asserting, doing, competing and such like are prioritised by social systems and organisational cultures than the feminine qualities of listening, reflecting, empathising, being, collaborating and such like.  While both qualities make up healthy human growth, we have tended towards the prioritisation of one over the other, this needs re-aligning.

Another imbalance is that of a prioritisation of the ‘outer’ over the ‘inner’. One of the hallmarks of the Scientific Revolution and the materialism that has followed is the outer objectification of reality, where we emphasis the forms, materials, what-gets-measured-gets-done tangibility of reality while impoverishing the inner, the intangible, the psychological and metaphysical dimension of life. Again, this needs re-aligning as we move into a more regenerative and life-affirming way of leading and operating.

There is also another major imbalance – humanity’s sense of separation with and domination of nature. We shall touch on this shortly, as this also needs re-aligning.

So what are we shifting into?

We are shifting into the Logic of Life, where a re-alignment within our leadership consciousness happens at 3 levels.

The first level is at the cognitive head-level, re-aligning our left and right brain hemispheres. It relates to what leadership specialist Otto Scharmer refers to as Open Mind. We allow our capacity to focus-in on the parts to align with our capacity to comprehend the inter-related context of life.  We allow the left and right brain hemispheres to work together like two hands on the piano each doing different things yet making music together in a coherent fashion. This is the land of Systems Thinking, where we draw upon systems-tools to help us understand both the parts and the inter-relations of the systems we are attending to.

A practical example here is the work of systems designers, for instance my collaboration with a leading design agency Halogen that applies the systems-tool of Giga-Mapping, where the technical, material, social and ecological parts and inter-relations between the parts of the system are mapped out.  This helps us understand the feedback loops and systemic effects of systems change, and is a very important part of implementing circular economics approaches across an ecosystem of stakeholders.  Such systems-tools are becoming more widely used in organisations these days thanks to the work of pioneers like Peter Senge who have been championing systems-thinking in business for many years now.

Then there is the second level, which is a move beyond systems-thinking into systemic-awareness. This is no longer a head-based re-cognition of systems-behaviours, a mapping of the system on paper but also an embodied shift in our ways of knowing. It relates to what Otto Scharmer calls Open Heart, where we re-align the inner-outer and masculine-feminine dynamics that came out of kilter through yesterday’s mechanistic logic.  We sense in to the living system dynamics at play within the organisation and throughout the ecosystem of stakeholders.  This calls upon an embodied tuning-in and sensing-and-responding to living-system dynamics.  Tools such as Systemic Constellations, Social Presencing Theatre, Art of Hosting, Deep Listening and Systemic Coaching come in handy here.

A practical example of embedding this systemic-awareness into the organisational leadership, is the systemic coaching and intervention work did with a fast-moving consumer good company going through significant change. We identified leaders with innate systemic capacities across the business and throughout the organisational hierarchy, provided some systemic training, and then held-space for deep dialogic sharing to uncover the systemic dynamics, nodes, stuckness and flows unfolding in the organisational living-system during a time of transition for the company. The insights gleaned from this systemic work would not have been uncovered through traditional methods, and future-fitness was embedded into the system at myriad levels.

Then there is the third level of the shift. This is from systems-thinking and systemic-awareness into ecosystemic-awareness.  This is where we re-align the human-nature relation, and with it unlock transformational regenerative energy for redesigning life-affirming futures.  Yesterday’s logic is rooted in separateness, which projects a Neo-Darwinistic perspective on to life, and warp Darwin’s original observations through a mechanistic lens.  This perspective views life as separate species struggling for survival in a dog-eat-dog world, and the whole process of evolution seen as nothing but selfish ascendancy. It’s a deeply divisive logic and woefully inadequate and yet it still underpins much of our ideology in business, politics and beyond. Science shows us that life is actually very far from this simplistic portrayal.  In opening ourselves up to nature and reigniting our sense of place and purpose in this interconnected world, we allow a re-aligned of this human-nature separation.  This shift in awareness is an existential shift, and related to what Otto Scharmer calls Open Will, where our small ego-will opens up and permeates with the deeper interconnectedness of reality. This relates to shift identified through detailed research undertaken by several adult developmental psychologists. For instance, Clare Graves work shows a shift from what he calls Tier 1 adult consciousness (rooted in separateness and individual development) into Tier 2 consciousness (rooted in interconnectedness and service for all life).

One of the most powerful tools I have found through my own research in this ecosystemic space is to take leaders into nature on leadership immersions where we embrace living-systems thinking and being away from the office, round the camp fire while taking direct experience from how life embraces complexity, agility and emergence.  It is why I recently purchased 60 acres of ancient woodland in close proximity to London and international airports, so leaders from around the globe can gain access to all three levels of re-alignment so essential for the shift in to Regenerative Leadership Consciousness.

‘Look deep, deep, deep into nature and you will understand everything better.’ – Albert Einstein, genius

As the genius says here, when we look deep, deep, deep into nature, at these three levels of head, heard and will,  we see with new eyes. We bring a fundamentally different quality of consciousness to our solutions than which created our problems in the first place.  It’s this shift in leadership consciousness that this metamorphic moment we are living in fundamentally needs.

‘The greatest voyage of our lifetimes is not in the seeking of new landscapes but in the seeing with new eyes.’ – Marcel Proust, philosopher.

The time has come for the leadership capacities we have within ourselves to step-up to the systemic challenges our social systems and organisations now face.

The times we are living and operating in are simultaneously deeply troubling yet deeply rewarding for those who are courageous enough to let-go of the status quo logic so ingrained in how and why we do things, and open-up to the Logic of Life, in-so-doing step-in to what it really means to be human.

 

Giles Hutchins is a pioneering practitioner and senior adviser at the fore-front of the [r]evolution in organizational and leadership consciousness and developmental approaches that enhance personal, organizational and systemic agility and vitality. He is author and co-author of several leadership and organizational development papers, and the books The Nature of Business (2012), The Illusion of Separation (2014), Future Fit (2016) and Regenerative Leadership (2019).

For more on Giles’ latest book co-authored with Laura Storm see Regenerative Leadership

You can also connect with Giles on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/giles-hutchins-015a7b/

And join the Facebook Community on next-stage leadership and organisational development:

https://www.facebook.com/businessinspiredbynature/

 

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