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Leading Across The Threshold

September 15, 2017

Increasingly, today’s world requires our businesses to become ever more emergent, innovative and adaptive. In turn, our leadership becomes more about empowering, empathising and encouraging interconnections, synergies, openness, innovation, sense of purpose and an active network of feedback and learning.

This shift in leadership comes with a shift in our worldview: the way we perceive our sense of place and purpose in this world individually as a leader and organisationally as a living system immersed within the living systems of society and wider ecology of life.  It is no mean feat to embrace such a shift in the midst of turbulent and challenging times, while seeking to keep the wheels on the road.

The good news is that this shift is nothing more, nor nothing less, than learning to open up to our deeper humanity while opening up to how life really is, beyond the constraints, constrictions, habituations and acculturations we have picked up along the way.  The challenge for us in becoming ‘future-fit leaders’ is in embracing this shift within ourselves, while courageously nurturing space for the shift to occur within our teams and stakeholder communities.

We all know business-as-usual leadership and organisational development is inadequate for dealing with the challenges of the day.

“We have a crisis of leadership, in every institution. Not just in government….and for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. What we don’t have [are] people who can formulate a new direction….. a new way of doing things …. and  a new way of looking at things.”  William Deresiewicz, Solitude and Leadership, Yale University

Take these well-versed statistics for instance:

  • Only 13% of employees are actively engaged in their work (and twice that number would actively sabotage their organization)
  • Mental illness amongst the workforce is rising exponentially with a cost of £26bn in the UK alone
  • Only 15% of leaders exhibit a consistent capacity to innovate and successfully transform their businesses
  • 72% of leaders know their organisations are overly reliant on fading revenues yet feel unable to do much about it
  • Cognitive overload and dissonance is now widespread and blends with increasing anxiety, stress and fatigue at all levels of management
  • To boot, we are using 150% of our planets carrying capacity to sustain this dysfunctional modus operandi

 (For more on these stats on leadership, see the report by Elaine Patterson and Giles Hutchins.)

In a recent leadership study I contributed to with Prof. Peter Hawkins of Henley Business School, a major disruptor of this current modus operandi is the pace and nature of change now upon us. Several leaders interviewed in this global study distinguished between different paradigms of change:

  1. “Change as an event” – an acquisition, a restructuring, a strategic or cultural change programme.
  2. “Change as a Constant” – If change is a constant outside, it needs to be a constant inside the organisation. Leaders need to constantly renew/re-enliven themselves and their organisations.
  3. “Change is accelerating” – Change is not only a constant, it is getting faster and faster, and becoming more inter-relational and multidimensional.

One CEO interviewed provided an impactful metaphor:  flying a plane, while rebuilding it mid-air, engaging all the passengers on-board, as well as the ground crew and air-traffic control. A number of participants also pointed to the real challenge lying not in any specific challenge, but in the way these myriad challenges systemically impact on each other.

“Leadership will increasingly become the skill of enabling a collaborative co-creative process amongst peers.”  Mark Drewell, Senior Partner Foresight group.

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Awakening the new paradigm with our awareness

August 22, 2017

The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity’ – Albert Einstein, genius

‘Positing consciousness as the ground of being calls forth a paradigm shift from a materialist science to a science based on the primacy of consciousness…Such a science leads to a true reconciliation with spiritual traditions, because it does not ask spirituality to be based on science but asks science to be based on the notion of eternal spirit.’ – Amit Goswami, nuclear physicist

‘The electromagnetic quantum vacuum is a form of light. It is an underlying sea of energy, that permeates every tiny volume of space, from the emptiest intergalactic void to the depths of the Earth, the Sun, and our own bodies. Our world of matter is like the visible foam atop a very deep ocean of light.’ – Bernard Haisch, astro-physicist

Everything is connected, a meaningful unity of diversity.

Once we begin to realise that everything is connected and everything is infused with the same spirit of aliveness, then we begin to realise that our inner worlds and outer worlds are inter-related, and how we relate with the world affects others and in-turn affects us.

What we do to the world we do to ourselves.

The pollution we create out there relates to the pollution we create in our inner worlds.

We begin to see the signs of sickness both within and all around us and recognise the importance of shifting from separateness to connectedness.

This is a simple step, a mere shift in our awareness, within the moment. Yet it has profound consequences for ourselves, our systems and our civilization.   Without this step we are but lost in our own devastating delusion.

It is through stillness, through presence, through love, through opening up to this reality of real life unencumbered by our fears, dis-eases and ego-urges that we emancipate ourselves and our world from the prison of our own minds.

We are all in this together.  The great awakening.

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Holding Space for Deeper Emergence:  The nutritious soil which feeds Future Fit Business

August 15, 2017


A couple of days ago Andy Raingold – co-founder of Change in Nature – and myself co-facilitated a two-day Nature Immersion for a diverse cohort of leaders to explore and embody future-fit leading, shifting consciousness from separateness to connectedness, and opening up to the Mind of Nature, held within a beautiful and secluded valley in the heart of the Cotswolds.

Amazingly, the wet and windy weather of August here in the UK paused to provide us with a window of sun shine and warmth for the entire two days, so the participants could embrace a 12 hour overnight solo in the woods while seeing the stars pierce the beech leaf canopy, with the moon light and early morning rays flooding the woodland, and so we could have meals, conversations and experiential exercises in the warmth of the summer sun.   What gratitude Andy and I have for Nature providing the ideal conditions for this gentle yet provocative Immersion.

A number of things were seeded and explored over the two days such as: the attunement of inner-outer, sense of purpose, interconnectedness, panarchy and the dynamics of transformation, the soul-dance of co-creativity and emergence, and how our ‘being-and-knowing’ informs and enriches our ‘doing’.

One theme that emerged early on and then deepened throughout the two-day immersion was that of music, and how we are all co-creative musicians participating in this inter-relational Dance of Life.  We may learn to tune-in to this deeper music within and all around us, if we so choose to hear/see/sense deeply enough.

‘Hear and your soul shall sing.’  The Book of Isaiah

The space between the notes is what gives the music its rhythm and depth.

Likewise, creating and holding space is vital for today’s leadership and organisational development.  All-too-often holding space is overlooked in today’s busyness. Stillness and space are seen as either a luxury or something to be filled-in as we get swept along with our hurry-up-and-get-on-with-it culture.  This encourages the superficial and undermines the deep.

This trilemma of social, economic and environmental crises now upon us demands the deep. The challenges our leaders face in transforming their organisations while keeping the wheels on the road amid unceasing change demands the deep.

Our leadership ability to adequately hold space is what allows for creative tensions to be worked through, to be fully sung if you like, rather than force-fitted into hurried solutions while frustration remains.  It is space that allows for the depth within ourselves to be more readily seen from the surface.

When we reduce down our spaces, we commodify the music, we de-soul our work and cut ourselves off from the very well-spring we so urgently need to be tapping into amid these tumultuous times.

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Future Fit Leading:  Manifesting A Revolution In Consciousness

August 8, 2017

Often people ask me to explain ‘Future Fit Leadership’ to them.  So here goes, a short article about just that.

First, I would like to share some of the context to future-fit leadership.

There is a revolution underway, a revolution with profound consequences for ourselves, our organisations and our wider social systems.

This revolution is not about digitisation, globalisation, disruptive innovation or any of the other macro-trends futurists tend to point to.


In fact, this revolution isn’t out there at all.  It’s in here; in our own hearts-and-minds, and it’s ripping up the rule book about how we view life and our sense of place and purpose within it.

And you and I are right in the thick of it, in the midst of this metamorphosis.

I would like to share with you how this revolution in consciousness is manifesting in business, perhaps one of the most if not THE most powerful human force on the planet at the moment.

The way we viewed our organisations in the 20th century was as a ‘machine’, a machine that sweats its assets (including ‘human resources’) and the wider supply chain in order to provide maximised short-term returns. Society and the environment are externalities separate from the core business to be managed at best through nice-to-have yet superficial branding personas or other non-core activities.

This mechanistic logic – which is rooted in separateness, control, hyper-competition and domination – has some useful contributions to make to our learning and evolution as human-beings . But it’s had its day as a dominant socio-economic logic. This machine-logic is cracking, giving-way under the systemic challenges, volatility and inter-connected wicked problems our organisations and social systems now face.

This perception of the organisation-as-machine is giving way to the realisation of the organisation-as-living system, a living system which is intimately inter-related with the living systems of society and our more-than-human world.

‘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 old way of seeing the world is giving way to a new consciousness that recognises the timeless wisdom of Nature, if we so choose to see: life is intimately interconnected, nothing is separate, everything inter-relates with everything else.

‘Learn how to see and realise everything connects with everything else.’  Leonardo Da Vinci, genius

And the good news is, we can take learning from the living systems all about and within us as we learn to see with deeper fuller eyes.

We can apply living systems logic to leadership and organisational development in order to enable our organisations to become future-fit.

Living systems show us that we need to balance the dynamics of ‘convergence’ and ‘divergence’ to allow for healthy ‘emergence’. This emergence allows the organisation to adapt, learn and thrive amid unceasing transformation.

In business, this ‘divergence’ comes from distributed decision making, empowering teams to make change happen at the local level without having to rely on hierarchies of bureaucracy and control.

This ‘divergence’ also means we celebrate diversity, not just in terms of age, creed, culture and gender as important as that is, but also in terms of perceptual horizon, bringing different views from different silos within the business and from different stakeholder groups across the business ecosystem through generative dialogue.   This ‘divergence’ allows boundaries of separation to permeate and a richer more resilient decision-making process to unfold.

Yet, this divergence needs to be balanced with ‘convergence’ otherwise the organisation can become too chaotic.  We need to balance the order-and-the-chaos, Dee Hock (founder of VISA) refers to this as ‘chaordic’ where we find the right blend of divergence and convergence in order to ensure heightened emergence.

Traditional, ‘convergence’ has come through power-based hierarchies of control and domination.  This logic has a history, born out of a militarised mind exacerbated by the rise of patriarchy, the separation of wild-nature and ‘civilised’ urbanisation, and an ego-explosion that desires control over nature and over each other.  I explore this in detail in The Illusion of Separation, suffice to say that this kind of convergence through power-based hierarchies of control actually undermines the vibrancy and resilience of the living systems we are trying to engender.

Hence, we need to replace this convergence with a different kind; a kind that actually helps deepen our humanity rather than undermine it: hence the rise of ‘purposeful business’.

Read more…

Discussing The Earth Charter, Regeneration and ‘Meaningful Disturbances’ with Fritjof Capra

August 4, 2017

This is a guest blog by Simon Robinson, editor of Transition Consciousness and Founder of Holonomic Education.

A couple of weeks ago I hosted a webinar with Fritjof Capra in which we discussed a number of themes related to The Systems View of Life. Fritjof Capra is one of the world’s leading thinkers in systems theory and the author of many influential books, such as The Tao of Physics; The Web of Life: A New Synthesis of Mind and Matter; The Turning Point: Science, Society and the Rising Culture; The Hidden Connections: A Science for Sustainable Living; and Learning from Leonardo: Decoding the Notebooks of a Genius.

I also invited Daniel Wahl who is the author of the book Designing Regenerative Cultures. It was a fascinating hour of conversation, with many people joining us live. However, if you missed the live broadcast, you can now watch again via these videos below:

Part One: The Earth Charter

I started the webinar by taking the opportunity to discuss the Earth Charter Initiative with Fritjof, who is one of the Earth Charter Council’s leading members. The Earth Charter was first considered in 1987 when The World Commission on Environment and Development (known as “the Brundtland Commission”) launched their report titled Our Common Future, with a call for a “new charter” to set “new norms” to guide the transition to sustainable development.

The Earth Charter is an ethical framework for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society in the 21st century. It seeks to inspire in all people a new sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility for the wellbeing of the whole human family, the greater community of life and future generations.

Part Two: Regeneration

It is interesting that many commentators are now discussing the way in which the word ‘sustainability’ is losing its meaning, and therefore usefulness. A word now being used in its place is “regeneration”. One example is Herbert Girardet’s article from the Guardian: Sustainability is unhelpful: we need to think about regeneration.

In this section I asked Fritjof if he could you talk a little about the need to shift from life-destroying to life-enhancing ways of doing business? And as one of the world’s most highly-respected ecological activists, is it indeed the case that we need to find new ways of framing the sustainability discussion? I also asked Daniel about his work over many years implementing regenerative projects, and he discussed the Regenerative Development to Reverse Climate Change initiative of the Commonwealth Secretariat in depth.



Part Three: Meaningful Disturbances

Many people nowadays are interested in how they can help change the collective consciousness of people inside businesses in order to evolve more life-enhancing ways of business. On Capra Course, Fritjof’s on-line course the module Life and Leadership in Organisations always generates many discussions, particularly the part where Fritjof discusses his concept of meaningful disturbances.

In our new book Customer Experiences with Soul: A New Era in Design we discuss Fritjof ‘s characterisation of living systems and the notion of both ‘meaningful disturbances’ and ‘networks of communication’. In our business consultancy work we find business leaders really respond to it when implementing programmes of profound organisational change. So in Part Three I took the opportunity to ask Fritjof to talk more about this term, asking where the inspiration come from and what are the implications for business leaders.



We closed our discussion talking about Capra Course. In the last few years many businesses have recognised a need to introduce systems thinking across their organisations, and Capra Course is an ideal way to scale up the understanding of systems thinking.

As well as offering twelve lectures which are introduced across a twelve-week period, what makes the learning experience so rich is the way in which participants are able to interact and converse with Fritjof on a daily basis. To offer one example, in a recent interview with Fritjof for Sustainable Brands, I asked him about the conversations he had had on Capra Course regarding the Earth Charter:

I love these discussions in my online course. I find them more substantial than classroom discussions, because the participants and I have much more time to prepare our comments, questions and answers. In our discussion of the Earth Charter, several participants expressed their admiration for the writing process of the Charter, in which many voices from around the world were heard over an extended period of time. “It seems to me,” wrote one of the participants, “that many authors and contributors of the Earth Charter experienced a great depth of listening with a whole lot of love and patience to the many voices they heard and they captured those voices to produce a holistic document.”

We also discussed the merits and problems of written documents in general, from Paolo Freire’s notion that literacy enables people to imagine the world differently, to the problem that such documents — the Earth Charter, the Declaration of Independence or the recent Paris Climate Agreement — represent the level of consciousness of the authors at a particular time and fixes the agreed-upon values in time and space.

In another lecture, I had discussed the nature of power, distinguishing between power as domination of others and power as empowerment of others. So, in our conversations I applied this important distinction to a “systems view of documents.” I argued that, whereas legal texts, contracts and media generally serve to dominate others, the purpose of joint manifestos and declarations, often composed through elaborate collaborative processes involving many individuals and communities, is to empower others.

These are just some examples of the extensive conversations we had on the Earth Charter.

It was wonderful to be able to converse with Fritjof and Daniel on such interesting topics, and I hope you have a chance to listen to our conversation. And if you yourself would like the opportunity to learn from Fritjof, registration is now open for the Fall 2017 edition of Capra Course. To find out more, please visit


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Co-Creating An Organisational Shift In Consciousness, By Giles Hutchins

July 31, 2017


It is now patently clear to many leaders and change agents in business that for our organisations to thrive in these times of fast-paced volatility, they need to shift their organisational consciousness.

This shift is from mechanistic separateness to living connectedness.

It’s a shift away from the logic of separation, control, domination, dog-eat-dog hyper-competition, power-based hierarchies, bureaucracy and win-lose relational dynamics where the organisation is perceived as a machine with assets to be sweated, and where ‘human resources’ are to be managed for maximum short-term output.

And it’s a shift towards the embodied awareness of interconnectedness, with personal and collective responsibility and empowerment, coupled with self-organising emergent team dynamics, heterarchy and synarchy systems, with synergistic relational dynamics of openness, authenticity and empathy. The organisation is viewed as a living system continuously inter-relating with the wider world.  Employees are perceived as purposeful meaning-seeking contributors ignited and aligned by the purpose of the organisation as a force for good in the world.

This is not some far-off utopian dream to be dispensed with when the going gets tough.  It’s the reality that each of us need to call forth now, in terms of how we show up, listen, share and engage in our organisations; we manifest our future through today’s actions and interactions.

This is the reality of the future of business spawning before our very eyes. By example, the B-Corp movement with now over 2,000 organisations around the world signing up to voluntarily change their legal constitution away from being beholden to short-term returns for shareholders to creating value for all stakeholders including society and the environment. Hand-in-hand with other for-purpose business movements such as Teal and Conscious Capitalism, this is testament to the emergence of business-as-a-force-for-good at the leading edge of a revolution in consciousness from separateness to connectedness, with profound consequences for ourselves, our organisational systems and our civilisation.

In order to shift this consciousness in our own organisations, there are a multitude of things we can do differently. Fortunately, there also some simple – yet profound – liberating structures we can embrace with ease amid the day-to-day thick of it, without the need for business case sign-off or complex solution implementation.

We can each take these simple steps as leaders and change agents today.  All we need is a bit of courage to challenge the status quo.  For more on some of these liberating structures and new ways of being-and-doing in business, see Future-Fit.

Here is one powerful yet simple technique we can bring into our decision-making dynamics and day-to-day meeting conventions, with a bit of courage and some light-touch facilitation:  Way of Council.

Way of Council is an ancient indigenous practice of sitting in a circle and speaking and listening from the heart.  There are some simple ground rules, to remind us to be present, to be in our hearts, to not judge what is said, and to empathically open to self/other/field, to really listen attentively and deeply, and to share authentically. This sharing activates the wisdom of the heart, a wisdom that is all-too-often skipped over in the busyness of our business, and yet without it authentic business is yet another ‘thing’ out there to be grasped at, rather than a ‘way of being’ to be embodied within each conversation, each inter-relation.

In applying Way of Council to business, we provide a space for exploration, open-hearted sharing and collaborative inquiry into the practicalities, challenges and opportunities related to the strategy and operations of the business. We can also use this dialogic practice in tandem with other exploratory activities such as future scenario planning and future search workshops to help us envision and embody our future today.

The learning style/atmosphere of the sharing circle draws on a blend of action research, appreciative inquiry, dialogue and non-violent communication methods.

In short:

Action research – every interaction, emotional response and relational tension is an opportunity for deeper learning through self-reflection, feedback and an intention to move beyond blame, projection, judgement, fear, scarcity, into a mind-set of openness, emergence, acceptance, compassion, self-inquiry and learning;

Appreciative inquiry – the intention here is to encourage the positives and go with where the energy is flowing, rather than focusing on the negatives or the blockages;

Dialogue and non-violent communication – ensuring we are listening and speaking with an open heart and open mind, empathising with others perspectives even if it feels challenging, being aware of how we are reacting (fear/defensive/offensive) versus responding (sensing/exploring/empathising).  And its OK to be defensive/reactive, as long as we recognise it within ourselves and seek to learn and move beyond – it’s the self-awareness and intention to learn that enhances our ability to metamorphose.

What this simple Way of Council practice does is allow us to form a relational field within the circle. From this circle we seed a relational field within the wider organisation.

By holding a safe and sacred space where we can explore the day-to-day challenges while being present and focused on heart-based awareness, we help shift the relational dynamic between us and also within the wider organisational field: we seed a shift in the consciousness of the organisation’s culture.

In complexity theory this is referred to as setting up a new attractor-field. By embodying heart-awareness in an appreciative and constructive way, we help call forth the future potential of the organisation in manifesting a step change in its cultural consciousness.

This is difficult to describe in words, and yet pioneering scientific studies in social fields, quantum physics, living systems and complexity theory are beginning to prove what the ancients long understood – that we can better manifest the future we desire by spawning social fields here-and-now through the quality of our intention and attention.   Our being in-forms our doing.

This sharing circle helps the organisation better adapt to the future (to become more ‘future-fit’) as the relational dynamics and heart-felt sharing uncovers insights that can be implemented more successfully due to a deeper buy-in and understanding of the problems and solutions. Also, the participatory social field created through the circle enhances the social intelligence of the group and with it the ability to sense synchronicities, sense into blockages and their root causes, remediate out-of-kilter areas and bring forward a more intuitive, empowering, forward-thinking, adaptive and responsive culture where we each take personal responsibility for how we are engaging through our relational dynamics.  This leads to a more efficient and effective way of operating and organising, and allows the living system to thrive even amid increasing volatility and uncertainty.

‘Unlike the egoic operating system, the heart does not perceive through differentiation. It doesn’t divide the field into inside and outside, subject and object. Rather, it perceives by means of harmony…When heart-awareness becomes fully formed within a person, he or she will be operating out of nondual consciousness…where they will discover the resources they need to live in fearlessness, coherence, and compassion – or in other words, as true human beings.’ Cynthia Bourgeault, contemplative and priest.

Creating a synergistic social field opens us up to a more curious attentiveness, a less judgemental and more empathising, mutually enhancing relational dynamic. We shift from reactivity, separateness and complicated linearity to responsiveness, connectedness and complex synchronicity.

‘Leadership is about creating, day by day, a domain in which we and those around us continually deepen our understanding of reality and are able to participate in shaping the future. The capacity to discover and participate in our unfolding future has more to do with our being – our total orientation of character and consciousness – than with what we do.’ Joseph Jaworski, leadership specialist

Interestingly, pioneering sociological studies are indicating that as a threshold is crossed within the consciousness of the organisational living system, a shift occurs in the culture which enables the organisation to more easily move away from the traditional yet out-dated ways of management through dis-empowering control-based hierarchies and hyper-competitiveness, into a more alive, purposeful and altogether more-human approach to operating and organising.  This organisational threshold can often be crossed with as little as 10% of the people in the organisation deeply resonating with the organisational sense of purpose while embodying mutually enhancing relational dynamics.

What is within us is within everything. Once we understand this truth, we step outside of the parameters of our individual self and come to realise the power that is within us. This shift in awareness is a very simple step that has profound consequences. Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, mystic

Synchronicity – leadership specialist Joseph Jaworski refers to synchronicity as a powerful inner path of leadership. It is the experience of the generative order of life operating through us. This sense of ‘flow’ and knowingness comes when we allow our natural ways of knowing – intuitive, rational, emotional, somatic – to cohere within us while opening up to our emerging future, by ‘letting go’ of our mental judgements, and opening up to what is in the moment. This synchronicity or ‘emergent flow’ can be felt within social groups and team dynamics when the right soulful space is created for people to feel safe enough to open up to more of their ‘true nature’. This synchronicity is also heightened when our personal purpose finds resonance with the organisational purpose. A powerful field of shared intentionality along with our heightened quality of attention allows synchronicity to flow. It is here that we may begin to sense what the ancient wisdom traditions seek to convey – that all of life is innately interconnected and we participate in this living field of emergence through the quality of our intention and attention.

Living Systems Being – ‘Systems Thinking’ is being increasingly recognised as important for our leaders today. Systems Thinking is about learning to see the interconnections in our business and social environments, and apply this holistic interconnected perspective while making decisions. What is emerging at the vanguard of future business is ‘living systems being’ which takes systems thinking one step further, by recognising that all our relations, team dynamics and organisations are living systems intimately immersed (both locally and non-locally) within the living systems of society and our more-than-human world. And that through the quality of our ‘being-in-the-world’ we can better sense into the ‘inter-being’ of these living systems and allow the emerging future to flow in ways that tend towards harmony with life.

Way of Council as a meeting convention can help us embody our own quality of presence while discussing work challenges with colleagues, activating our ability to really listen to the other beyond judgement, to be more vulnerable, open and authentic while at work.  From this heart-sharing we seed new levels of being-and-knowing within ourselves and within the social field of the circle, which can then seed new levels of consciousness within our organisational field.  Hence, the circle can act as a super-conductor that enhances the coherence of those within the circle and also those beyond the circle in the wider inter-relational field of the organisation. It’s a simple yet powerful practice that helps enable our organisations to become future-fit.

‘The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st century will not occur because of technology, but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.’ John Naisbitt, futurist

Author Giles Hutchins blogs at and chairs The Future Fit Leadership Academy

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Meditations on Attuning with the Rhythms of Life: Panarchy, Poiesis and Presence

July 27, 2017


‘The purpose of life is to live in agreement with Nature.’  Zeno, Greek philosopher, c500BC

‘He who is harmony with Nature hits the mark without effort and apprehends the truth without thinking.’ Confucius, Chinese sage, c500BC

Open yourself to the Tao, then trust your natural responses; and everything will fall into place.’ Lao Tzu, Chinese sage, c500BC

‘There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres.’ Pythagoras, Greek philosopher, c500BC

Scientific research into the dynamics of living systems has identified four distinct phases of development:

growth (G)

conservation (C or K)

collapse or release (R or Omega)

reorganization (O or Alpha)

In their pioneering work with the Resilience Alliance and in their book Panarchy, Lance H. Gunderson and C.S. Holling explore how these phases interact in living systems, including human organizations and communities. These phases form a continual looping round through a figure-of-eight cycle known as the ‘adaptive cycle’. This oscillating creativity, conservation, breakdown and breakthrough occurs naturally in all living systems, including our organizations, through interacting cycles nested at different levels (space and time scales: localized or more regional, short-term or more long-term).

The first and second phases of growth (G) and conservation (C) – referred to as the ‘front loop’ – represent growth through an incremental process of increasing efficiency, learning and innovation resulting in incremental changes towards a state of conservation. The third and fourth phases of collapse (R) and reorganization (O) – referred to as the ‘back loop’ – represent a disruption of this conservation stage as breakdown (Omega or death) in existing structures. In the midst of this breakdown, radically new ways of operating begin to emerge and breakthrough (Alpha or birth). This is the way of life: birth, growth, conservation and death leading to new birth, or spring shoots leading to summer growth then autumn harvests giving way to winter decay providing fertile soil for new shoots to take root once again; each season has its place in this cycle of life.

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