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Time to Reinvent our Humanity, and Learn to Turn Tensions into Crucibles for Evolution

November 25, 2020

It is indeed a fascinating and also challenging time to be alive. 

 As COVID-shocks erode edifices of normality, underlying systemic fragility becomes easier to see.  It’s not just COVID, or the American Presidential election, mushrooming global debt, imploding commercial property values, monstrous market volatility, rising mental illness, soaring suicide rates, or the immediacy of the climate emergency.  It’s all of these combined, and so much more.

Such levels of stress in all systems create a pivotal moment where we either adapt and evolve out of this breakdown, or hold-on to the crumbling status quo, facing into the inevitable car-crash.

It’s a supreme moment in our human history!

Break-down naturally invokes fear, and an ever tightening-grip of holding-on to the safety of the status quo. Saving the status quo is too late – even if we’d wish to. Afterall, evolution is all about evolving through such transformative periods of break-down with break-through.

Are we up for evolution?

Scientists have long realised that evolution experiences fits and starts – relatively long periods of steady-state incremental change, and then significant shifts of breakdown leading to breakthrough- its known as ‘punctuated evolution’, and it’s how life on Earth adapts and evolves. 

Breakthrough involves a shift from status quo thinking – a reaching beyond our current bubble into a deeper and wider worldview, whereupon we evolve as humans. This breakthrough moment can be a time of immense innovation, not just at the product/service or business model level, or structural ways of working, but in terms of our worldview, of how we perceive ourselves, and our sense of place and purpose in the world.

All change please!

It’s what this supreme moment asks – demands – of us.  Can we rise to the challenge of the day?

Profound shifts are affecting the way we work, how and why we do things and the purpose and meaning we bring to our organisations and social systems.  What’s shifting goes way deeper than digitisation, agility and product innovation.  As the futurist John Naisbett notes,

‘The greatest breakthroughs of the 21st Century, won’t occur because of technology. They’ll occur because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.’

Whether it’s the swift shift to digital ways of working, the rising demand for authentic leadership, the increasing interest in agile purposeful organisational cultures, or the need for people to gain coherence and focus amid distraction, the blurring of home/work-life, or rising stress-levels – the desire for a root-and-branch transformation of how and why we do things is afoot.

The danger of being distracted by the noise of break-down is the inability to hear the songs-lines of breakthrough beckoning us beyond system-collapses into new ways of thinking, and new ways of perceiving – new ways of being human.

Necessity is the Mother of all inventions! 

It’s time to reinvent our humanity.

We are being prodded, cajoled, woken-up from our status quo slumber, so that we can awaken a deeper perception beyond our current bubble.

We are in need of reinventing not just our products, organisations, political institutions, economics, urban-planning, education and health systems – but all of it and more. This tumultuous time invites us to reinvent our purpose, to re-find, renew and reconnect with what it truly means to be human.

What an epic time to be a leader?!  So much of what we thought we knew is open for question.

Let’s not rush, or be hurried into panic, projection, blame, or fear-based thinking, as such hurried fearfulness merely entraps us in status-quo thinking.  To think outside the box, and beyond the bubble, we need to relax, let-go, open-up and become more present, more coherent, more connected.  Hence why the leadership immersion work I do here at Springwood, where we immerse leaders into a deeper sense of presence, with digital distractions and every-day noise left behind for a few hours, has such a catalytic effect on shifting leadership consciousness amid these transformational times.    (For more on such Immersions, see here)

The answers lie before our very noses if we so choose to see – the Logic of Life is here to help us shift into a new way of working, leading and operating.  Laura Storm and I explore this is in the book Regenerative Leadership, packed full of business examples, tools and techniques to help us become more life-affirming in business and beyond.   It really is the only viable way for us to evolve and breakthrough as leaders, while helping our organizations thrive and our people come alive amid increasing volatility.

Let’s invite a pause into our lives, a stepping back, so that we can gain perspective of what is unfolding, ahead of 2021 – which will be a pivotal year of breakdown-breakthrough.

In this supreme moment, we might wish to ensure we are not all-too-frantically shuffling deck-chairs on the Titanic with the music of yesterday still reverberating in our ears, deafening our capacity to hear the future beckoning us forth.  For the future has already been shown to us, if we so choose to see with fresh eyes. It’s the Logic of Life, nothing more, nothing less. It’s all around us, and its deep within us. It’s in our hearts and minds, if only we’d dare to listen with clear ears, and see with fresh eyes.

The reality is, the human psyche is involved in a world of tensions. Our developmental learning happens in this world of tensions.   We might wish to seek ego-control of these tensions, by collapsing the tensions into right/wrong, black/white surety and certainty, yet this breeds one-sidedness through projection and polarisation. It creates separation and exclusion, the very logic which created our problems in the first place. 

If we seek to up-stretch beyond breakdown into breakthrough, then this struggle for evolution starts right here, right now, in our own hearts and minds, by seeking learning within the tensions not collapsing the tensions into surety yet one-sided imbalance and dis-harmony.

Holding the tension open allows evolution to unfold, for something new to emerge out of the tension.  This is the essence of the Logic of Life.

Collapsing the tension before it’s fully-pregnant, creates prematurity, half-cut learnings, and an undermining of life’s learning potential. The risk here is, we get stuck in breakdown, unable to reach beyond the tensions of the day, caught up in status quo thinking, not quite crossing the threshold, no quite entering the new dawn of deeper realisation.

Alchemising Tensions

Tensions of difference are an inherent part of this duality-of-experience we live within, here are some of these tensions we experience day in, day out:

Yang – Yin

Outer – Inner

Masculine – Feminine

Me – We

Reductive – Relational

Doing – Being

Responsive – Receptive

Light – Dark

Summer – Winter

Action – Reflection

Neither side of these tensions is more right or more preferable than the other, and each situation invites us to bring in more of one side than the other.  We can become conscious of the tensions and therefore notice when we may wish to bring in a bit more of the other side of the tension to ensure harmony, rather than one-sidedness. It’s an alchemic dance, a communion of opposing tensions. The dance of Life – where the space between the notes informs the music just as much as the notes themselves do. 

By example:  it’s become fashionable in some circles to talk about a shift from Me to We – and yet this need not be a swing from one-sidedness (‘me’ – individuality accentuating into individualism) to one-sideness (‘we’ – collectivity accentuating into collectivism).

We perhaps all in our hearts know (when we deeply ponder on things) that we need a mix of both the social/collective ability to live together in harmony, and the personal and entrepreneurial freedom of expression for our unique individuality to thrive.  It’s the diversity-and-inclusion, the diversity-and-unity, not one at the expense of the other.   

When we become too entrenched in one side being right and the other side being wrong, we undermine the richness that the tension affords us.   What lies before us now is so much more than old polarities like capitalism v socialism. For sure we can learn from our socio-economic experiments with capitalism and socialism, this can inform what lies beyond the tension.

A ‘middle way’ can emerge, where a healthy dose of individuality and collectivity work in tandem, in harmony.  Inevitably, it means a pendulum swinging or spiralling flowing from a bit more ‘we’ focus at times, and then a bit more ‘me’ focus other times – this is the nature of life.    No stasis, only the movement of non-equilibrium while questing for harmony.

As the founder of VISA, Dee Hock, notes:

‘When we behave as though the linear, mechanistic, separatist, cause-and-effect perspective is the only way to understand, we mentally disconnect from the beautiful, magnificent flow of life and retreat into ever smaller compartments of specialized denial.  We no longer affirm the mystery of endless connectivity and wholeness – awareness that we, the quark and the universe, are both one and many, both infinite and finite, both particulate and whole.  We begin to shrivel our life into the whining, puerile, pitiful little concepts of ‘me’ and ‘mine’, ‘get’ and ‘keep’, ‘win’ and ‘lose’. Life is emptied of content. Self-interest and greed become worthy of emulation. Winning is all that matters. Wealth, fame, and power become deities to worship. It is a desperately sick society that does so; a society that turns its back on life and moves toward destruction and death. It is just such a society we are creating.

It is an equally sick society that denies separability, individuality, and difference. Such a society loses the creative force of conflict, the formative tension of opposing forces, the vitality of change, the creativity of difference, and the beauty of distinction. It sinks into uniformity, conformity, and indifference. It would be a great mistake to sink into such a grey miasma in an effort to correct present ills.’ – Dee Hock, Founder and former CEO of VISA

Life affords us rich tensions.  And the breakdown we are living through allows tensions to surface more readily, and in-so-doing we can rise to the challenge, and allow these tensions to reveal deeper wisdom that impels our evolution. Breakdown stimulates breakthrough.

The reality of today’s situation is – we have a major shift in worldview happening.  An old worldview dying and a new one being born.

The old worldview finds its roots in the scientific-worldview of Newtonian cause-and-effect, reductionism and linearity. This influenced the organisational-worldview of Taylorist organisation-as-machine and the socio-economics of Freidman’s short-term profit maximisation for some at the expense of the many.  It fuelled the pitiful trade-off mentality of ‘win’ and ‘lose’, ‘me’ versus ‘you’. When he was CEO of Unilever, this is what Paul Polman noted about such a mentality:

‘Too many people think in terms of trade-offs, that if you do something which is good for you, then it must be bad for someone else. That’s not right and it comes from old thinking about the way the world works and what business is for: Milton Friedman’s optimisation of short-term profits. We have to snap out of that old thinking and move to a new model.’  – Paul Polman

The much admired award-winning former Chairman and CEO of Interface, Ray Anderson said, ‘We have been, and still are, in the grips of a flawed view of reality – a flawed paradigm, a flawed world view – and it pervades our culture putting us on biological collision course with collapse.’

The old worldview is a collective myth – a dream or vision that is no longer relevant. While great strides in material betterment have been achieved through the mechanistic separatist worldview, we now realise it has come at great expense – pollution and stress of our inner and outer worlds.  The dream becomes a nightmare, as the unconscious psyche cajoles us into a new dream.

This new dream is within us, its birthing through us. It’s a new way of living on this planet that aids evolution of life on Earth.

As the great mythologist Joseph Campbell knew:

‘One thing that comes out of myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come.  At the darkest moment comes the light.’

The darkest moment is upon us, and it invites us to hear the real message of transformation. The new myth, the new vision, that forms the basis for the new worldview breaking through, is the vision of allowing the individuality of each person’s own maturation to inform and contribute to the collective capacity of our human society to work in harmony with Nature.

 ‘The only myth that is going to be worth thinking about in the immediate future is one that is talking about the planet, not the city, not the people, but the planet, and everybody on it. And what it will have to deal with will be exactly what all myths have to deal with – the maturation of the individual, from dependency through adulthood, through maturity, and then to the exit; and then how to relate to this society and how to relate this society to the world of nature and the cosmos.’ – Joseph Campbell

As former CEO, Dee Hock knew – it is a desperately sick society that turns its back on life. And today’s society is that sick society, as it’s turned its back on nature, no longer able to sense into the Logic of Life.  Yet this sick society is breaking down and the new is breaking through.  Let’s be careful, to ensure the new society emerging does not lose the vibrancy of opposing forces, the creativity of difference, and the beauty of distinction.

The trials of life are what bring new possibilities. The field of what it means to be human is deepening, if we have the courage to hold the tensions rather than collapse them.

What helps us hold the tensions and see beyond them?

We have two tools to help us as we journey:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Systemic-awareness

Self-awareness is first-and-foremost about us getting to know ourselves, so that we can build our trust in life. As we become more conscious of our projections, insecurities and shadows, we enrich our engagement with life, and reach beyond yesterday’s bubble.

Thoughts, opinions, assumptions, and worries about what has been (the past) or what might be (the future) can stir up emotions inside us which trigger anxiety, stress, and distraction. Before we know it, this mental noise has created a version of life that is not reality – not what is happening right before us. If we were able to release ourselves from this mental chatter, we could experience life in a less distracted, more present, and more conscious way.

‘Above all, to thine own self be True’ – William Shakespeare

When we draw our awareness out of the reactive ego-mind and gain perspective on its ramblings, habits, annoyances and projections we become able to assess situations more calmly and wisely.  We sense tensions for what they are, learning platforms. Life becomes less about oppositional conflict and more about integration and reconciliation.

‘Authentic selfhood of the human being is neither created nor does it evolve in some Darwinian or quasi-Darwinian fashion, but it is alchemically integrated from the opposites of light and dark, good and evil, masculine and feminine, conscious and unconscious. It is not by simple extension or a lineal path of growth, but by the oppositional conflict and eventual reconciliation of the oppositions that the fullness of being is restored within the individual soul…the growth of the soul has as its goal a state of integrated wholeness rather than a condition of moral perfection.’ Stephan Hoeller

The more we become aware of our mind-chatter, and the more we notice tensions within and all around us as crucibles for learning, the more we allow space for our true nature and inner vitality. We are then able to reach beyond separateness and sense interconnectedness. We can start to tune in to the Living Systems Field – what quantum scientists call the ‘quantum field’ which is all around and within us, all the time.

Just as the dawn breaks right after the darkest hour, so too does the dawn of our psychological inner-awakening occur after the darkness of tension reveals the light of illumination.

Hold the tension to allow illumination.

‘One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.’ – Carl Jung

As we learn to cultivate our self-awareness, our dominant mode of perception shifts from a largely left-brain hemispheric rational-analytic ego-awareness – that senses only separateness and linearity – into a more balanced left-right hemispheric rational-intuitive ego-soul awareness – that senses inter-relationality and systemic complexity. We become more authentic, more in touch with our inner nature, more in touch with the complexity of living systems all about us, and can sense our participation within life. This helps us attuned to Life.    It’s our birthright as human beings. It’s our natural capacity to sense harmony with life, as long as we help ourselves reach beyond the bubble of our outdated worldview.

As the author of Holism and Evolution, Jan Christiaan Smuts, insightfully notes in his ground-breaking and profoundly influential work, “the apparently individualist Mind is in reality deeply and vitally influenced by the universal Mind.” And as another influential explorer Gregory Bateson knew, it is through attuning our mind with the Mind of Nature (aka, the Logic of Life) that we learn to live in harmony with Life.  Bateson posits that the most important task today is to learn to think in this way of nature, to learn to be attuned with nature’s wisdom. Hence, the power of leadership immersions in nature, as they allow this inner coherence of ego-soul awareness.

‘True wisdom consists in not departing from nature, but in molding our conduct in accordance with Her laws and model.’ – Seneca

Alongside self-awareness, is systemic awareness, our 2nd tool to help us navigate breakdown into breakthrough.

Systemic awareness is a natural capacity we all have as human beings. Systems nested within systems are the very stuff of life. Systemic awareness is our ability to sense into the networks of systems within the living organization and throughout the wider stakeholder ecosystem, including our family and friends, local community and wider ecology of life. 

“Learn how to see. Realize everything connects with everything else” Leonardo Da Vinci

It is through this deeply felt sense of life’s complex inter-relating system dynamics, that we attune ourselves with a new way of seeing the world.  It helps us shift our perception from viewing the organization-as-machine to realizing the organization-as-living-system. 

In Complexity Theory, there is the notion of strange attractors. A system can reach a threshold, a limit to its capacity, after which it bursts and transforms into its next-stage of evolution. The field shifts, and the system starts to behave in a different way, influencing different parameters across the organization.  When it comes to human behavior, this calls for a need to unlearn what we had been learning about the organization’s behaviors and observe its new behaviors as the organizational field shifts.   

Systemic awareness goes hand-in-hand with enhanced self-awareness, coupled with what we call in the book Regenerative Leadership  Activating our Super-Nature, where we allow an integration of different intelligences within us to open ourselves into a systemic way of attending, where we can more subtly sense life beyond separateness.

Regenerative Leadership Consciousness: The Alchemy of Self-and-Systemic Awareness

When we alchemize the dynamics of self and systemic awareness we step in to Regenerative Leadership Consciousness.

Regenerative Leadership Consciousness invites in a calm inner grounded-ness and awareness of one’s own triggers, habits and shadows combined with an intuitive sense of the inter-relationality of living systems. This consciousness seeks authenticity, thinks systemically, designs for complexity, works with tensions, spawns life-affirming futures, and understands the Logic of Life.

The alchemy of self and systemic awareness creates the Regenerative Leadership abilities to:

  • tame and train the ego;
  • gain perspective on shadow-aspects, triggers and habitual behaviors;
  • sense our inner knowing;
  • embrace life as a learning journey;
  • deal gracefully with adversity; 
  • seek wisdom beyond rationality – embracing the intuitive, complex, ambiguous, non-linear nature of reality;
  • become comfortable with the uncomfortable;
  • not simply ask a question and seek a solution but live a question and sense the synchronicities that respond to this lived question;
  • strive for wholeness by cultivating the masculine and feminine aspects within us;
  • deepen our relationship with life/nature, tap into the Living Systems Field, and apply living-systems insights.     

(Source: Regenerative Leadership, Hutchins & Storm)

Education-based methods today are largely orientated and shaped by the old worldview of separation, control and materialism. Today, what is urgently needed, are education-based methods that inspire rather than suppress our attunement of self-awareness and systemic-awareness, and that enrich our self-other-Nature integration. It’s why I focus much of my work on leadership immersions in nature (see Leadership Immersions).

The Latin root for the word ‘education’ is educere meaning to ‘bring out’ or ‘lead forth’. The pioneering British economist E.F. Schumacher recognised that humankind’s greatest resource is education and the West’s state of crisis may in part have to do with its wrong approach to education. For Schumacher, it is the wisdom that education produces which is paramount; a wisdom which allows each of us to be true to our authentic nature while enhancing the quality of our interrelations, or as Schumacher put it, becoming truly in touch with our centres, where our daily conduct shows a sureness which stems from this inner clarity.

To summarise:

We are currently facing a whole array of wicked systemic challenges, ranging from climate emergency to mass biodiversity loss, from COVID to widespread mental illness, mushrooming sovereign and personal debt mountains to economic models that debase and corrupt the social and ecological fabric we all depend on. The current system is at breaking point; continuing down the status-quo road brings the inevitable car-crash. We won’t navigate our way out of this status-quo road without changing the logic and worldview by which we operate. Today’s dominant leadership logic and rationalistic-reductive worldview is rooted in a mechanistic mind-set that spawns from a worldview of separation, domination and hyper-competition.

We need to call upon a different logic – a different quality of consciousness – than that which created our current problems in the first place.  We need to look beyond status-quo thinking and invite in something deeper, something all-together more human and more natural.   Today, there are signs of such an awakening; cracks of light emerging that reveal a new way of attending to life beyond separateness and mechanistic-thinking.  The Logic of Life – the way nature has been working for billions of years – enables us to reach beyond mechanistic thinking. This living systems logic draws from a worldview of relationality – aka ‘inter-being’ – recognising that we are all participating as inter-relational living beings within the interconnected super-organism of Gaia, our home – nothing is entirely divorced from anything else. From quantum entanglement to ecosystem relationality, everything participates.

We are but weaves within this interwoven tapestry of life, and by becoming conscious of the depth and breadth of this tapestry, we learn to live in right-relation with life and its inevitable tensions. This brings us vibrancy, vitality, growth and meaning in our lives – sources of real and lasting happiness. The worldview of participation, and its Logic of Life, can be applied to how we lead and operate in business and beyond.   It’s what we call the Regenerative Leadership DNA Model in our book.

“The world is changing fast and organizations are not keeping up with the pace of transformation.  This book – Regenerative Leadership – invites leaders to catalyze the necessary regeneration to not just catch up, but to lead the world into the 21st century.”  – The former Executive of the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres

Regenerative Leadership is a quality of leading and living that draws upon the Logic of Life, and enables our organisations to come alive and our people to thrive amid these times of increasing volatility and turbulence.

The alchemy of self-awareness and systemic-awareness enables us to cross the threshold in leadership consciousness from mechanistic to living-systems and shift our worldview from one of separateness to one of interconnectedness.  

When we are tapping into Regenerative Leadership Consciousness we allow tensions to reveal deeper insights. The dualities of life – like yin/yang, masculine/feminine, me/we – do not get polarised into dualisms, instead they are alchemised to allow the creative unfolding of life’s potential. The crucibles of tensions reveal insight and illumination.  It’s time to reach beyond the tensions of left versus right in politics or individual versus collective in society or competition versus collaboration in business.  It’s time to open up to the insights that the dualities of life afford us, as we expand our human-awareness, and become more human, more alive, more consciousness. This is what our future beckons forth in us, if we so dare to cross the threshold into a new story and a new logic.

‘In times of turmoil, the danger lies not in the turmoil itself but in facing it with yesterday’s logic.’ – Peter Drucker

Feel free to join the Leadership Immersions LinkedIn group if you have not already: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/13767578/

and the new business paradigm Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/businessinspiredbynature/

Giles Hutchins is a pioneering practitioner, coach, keynote speaker 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). Chair of The Future Fit Leadership Academy and Founder of Leadership Immersions, he runs a 60 acre leadership centre at Springwood Farm, an area of outstanding natural beauty near London, UK where he holds-space for clients to create life-affirming futures for themselves and their organisations.

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