There is an old Chinese saying,
‘May you live in interesting times’
When someone said that to you, it was viewed as both a blessing and a curse.
A blessing, because interesting times meant change, volatility and uncertainty which invoke adaptation, transformation and a reaching beyond the existing status quo into new found heights.
A curse, because change and uncertainty disrupts the status quo, upsets ego-comforts, and challenges norms and routines.
Facing into the decade of 2020-2030, humanity finds itself amid interesting times of breakdown/breakthrough.
Back in 2010, as we entered the 2010-2020 decade I wrote articles and spoke at conferences about the decade ahead becoming one of volatility and uncertainty – a time when the old logic, the old way of doing things, would start to be seen by the mainstream as no longer adequate to deal with the challenges of the day.
As we leave the 2010-2020 decade behind us, our hindsight may see that it was the beginning of the VUCA Age – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times of disruptive innovations and wicked systemic challenges becoming the ‘new norm’.
During the decade just passed, leadership research has shown a widening ‘complexity gap’. The old mechanistic logic we used to lead and operate by is no longer fit-for-purpose. Our status quo leadership consciousness is left wanting, unable to deal with the systemic challenges organisations now face.
Whether it be the intent of business shifting from the unflinching focus on shareholder value to a wider perspective of stakeholder value, or corporate responsibility shifting from a narrow focus on risk, control and compliance to wider systemic value. The widespread take-up of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, integrated reporting initiatives such as Future-Fit Business Benchmark, and the shift towards the Circular Economy exemplify a sea-change in business. Come 2020, and we find positive signs that business can become a force for good in the world. The rapid rise of B-Corps, for instance, with over 3,000 organisations across 150 sectors in its ranks, and rising by the day. I predict 2020-2030 will see significantly more of these systemic adaptations, as business evolves to a new-norm. It’s the Law of Nature – adapt or die.
This is just the beginning; there is much work to be done for leadership and operational practices to be truly future-fit. The challenges as we enter 2020 are seismically bigger than when we entered 2010. Yet, there is increasing acceptance amongst leaders of a ‘new norm’ demanding a new way of leading and operating. My contributions to Professor Peter Hawkins’ ground-breaking research at Henley Business School on Tomorrow’s Leaders Today’s Leadership Development helped flesh out the need for this next-stage leadership development.
What enables organisations to thrive in the transformative times ahead is their ability to cultivate life-affirming regenerative leadership across all levels of the organisation.
It’s this that transforms our organisations from 19th & 20th century bureaucratic, soul-sapping, toxic, monolithic machines into 21st century agile future-fit organisations. This calls upon a step-change in leadership consciousness.
Adult developmental psychologists and leadership development specialists have spent decades researching different levels of leadership consciousness. For instance, a robust and detailed study of adult developmental research from Clare Graves has been further enhanced by practitioners like Don Beck, Christopher Cooke, Frederic Laloux and Ken Wilber.
In the book Regenerative Leadership, which has been referred to as an evolutionary blueprint for next-stage leadership, Hutchins & Storm explore this next-stage leadership consciousness now unfolding. It correlates to the Orange, Green and Yellow/Teal levels of Clare Graves research. Hutchins & Storm draw on contemporary leadership and organisational development approaches such as Teal/Evolutionary (Laloux’s work on Reinventing Organisations) and Theory U (Otto Scharmer’s work at the Presencing Institute and MIT) as well as living systems theory, Complexity Theory, and latest research on developmental organisations.
This image below shows the step-change. It’s a model taken from the book Regenerative Leadership where Hutchins & Storm articulate the shift from 19th/20th century organisation-as-machine into 21st century organisation-as-living-system:
This is a momentous step-change in how we lead and operate. The 2020-2030 Decade of Transformation will witness life-affirming business practices becoming mainstream. This is the leading-edge of organisational innovation beyond techno-led digital strategy, AI and robotics.
Here are some key words for future-fit leaders to contemplate as we enter 2020: Purpose, Diversity, Emergence, Regenerative, Synchronicity… let’s briefly unpack each of these key words:
Purpose: The word ‘purpose’ is bandied about a lot in business circles these days. Suffice to say, Purpose is much more than the crafting of a catch-all mission statement. It’s about cultivating a ‘living purpose’ – a lived intent that pervades the organisational culture, where a threshold of people in the organisation deeply resonate with this purpose, and live it in the day-to-day. The living purpose is not just espoused but embodied through the behaviours and cultural glue that binds the organisation. It provides the coherence and inclusivity that counterbalance the living-organisation’s thirst for agility and diversity.
Diversity: Life itself banks on diversity. And human evolutionary conditions in the 21st Century demand we embrace diversity. The ability to tolerate and thrive amid a wide variety of conditions, perspectives and contexts is critical to becoming future-fit. Such diversity of experience, perspectives and outlooks builds resilience and increases the capacity to cope with stress – individually and organisationally. Co-authors John Rety and Richard Manning of Go Wild call this ability to embrace diversity ‘re-wilding’ ourselves, breaking free from the restrictions and regimentations of modern life that estrange us from who we truly are. We literally unlock the power of life-affirming evolutionary forces within us when we learn to embrace diversity.
Rather than the monocultural, corporate mentality we see practiced in many areas of society, we need to think outside the box and invite in unconventional mindsets, work across departments, and bring in different perspectives. As explored in the book Regenerative Leadership, Hutchins & Storm show that the best ideas are not born in silos or by avoiding feedback and input from a broad spectre of stakeholders; the best ideas are created by going beyond borders and getting curious about other approaches, cultures and procedures. 21st century Regenerative Leadership welcomes diversity in terms of age, creed, culture, gender and differing perspectives across the working environment. Leaders can stimulate diversity by working across boundaries both within the organisation (holding space for people from different silos across the business to share perspectives) and beyond the organisation (holding space for external stakeholder groups to share perspectives).
This diversity thrives amid a coherent sense of purpose and a rich developmental culture. The diversity sparks creative tensions, vibrancy and new thinking (divergence), while the coherence of the living-purpose provides the alignment and sense of direction (convergence). Out of this alchemy of divergence and convergence comes emergence. Emergence is the dynamic through which the living organisation adapts and evolves.
Emergence: All living-systems including the living-organisation exhibit the property of emergence. A key for leaders navigating the transformative times ahead will be their ability to sense into the emergent patterns unfolding within the living-organisation they are working in. Next-stage leadership development needs to enhance our capacity to sense and stimulate emergent patterns within the social systems we lead. The first step is for leaders to let-go of perceiving the organisation-as-a-machine that can be control through push-pull levers, and out-dated management tools. Instead, start to perceive the organisation as a complex adaptive system made up of non-linear emergent human relations. These emergent human relations can be nurtured so the organisation becomes more responsive and future-fit.
Christopher Alexander’s work on pattern language, Warren Weaver’s research on organizational complexity, Ralph Stacey’s research on organisations as complex responsive processes of human relating, Steve Johnson’s work on emergence, Jane Jacobs’s work on energy-flow networks enriched by Sally Goerner, Dan Fiscus and Brian Faith’s research on Energy Network Science, etc., contribute to a rich body of research exploring emergence within organisations and other social systems. In Regenerative Leadership, Hutchins & Storm draw upon these sources and others while exploring emergence for next-stage Regenerative Leaders.
As philosopher Alfred North Whitehead noted, emergence is nature’s creative advance. It is the way of nature – the way life adapts and unfolds to the ever-changing terrain. Understanding the emergent patterns within the relational dynamics we lead will be a critical success factor for the Decade of Transformation ahead.
Regenerative: The word ‘regenerative’ means creating the conditions conducive for life to continuously renew itself; to flourish amid ever-changing life-conditions. This primary principle underpins life-affirming leadership and organisational development. Organisations that thrive in the volatile times ahead will be ones that learn to become regenerative, to serve life rather than plunder and pollute life. See here the DNA model of Regenerative Leadership which is unpacked in Hutchins & Storm’s book of the same title:
This Regenerative Leadership DNA model embraces both the inner and outer technologies, tools, and consciousness that are required for the new regenerative business paradigm to unfold. It’s a unifying framework that integrates vast bodies of research, different domains, and specialist methodologies.
‘Giles Hutchins and Laura Storm bring their vast experience and deep wisdom to create an evolutionary blueprint for a sustainable future for business, people and the planet’
Richard Barrett, President of the Barrett Academy for the Advancement of Human Values
Regenerative leadership is about creating life-affirming cultures where people learn through developmental and respectful cultures, and where value-propositions and products create real value that enhance society, our wider humanity and the fabric of life on Earth upon which we all depend. This is not some utopian dream, it’s quietly going mainstream, and the business examples packed into the 350 pages of Regenerative Leadership evidence this. Business can – and must – become a force for good in the world. There is no other viable option for 21st century leadership.
This book invites leaders to lead the world into the 21st century
Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary UNFCCC 2010-2016
That leaves us with the final word to contemplate as we begin this Decade of Transformation:
Synchronicity: The ground-breaking psychologist Carl Jung explored synchronicities as ‘meaningful coincidences’ – seemingly unrelated events have a meaningful relation that defies our orthodox understanding of space-time. Quantum discoveries help give scientific explanation to such synchronistic moments that we have often felt occur in our lives yet struggle to explain through rational logic. The more we sense into how life works, the more science shows us a sea of interconnections that pervade all living systems – whether in our organisations, communities or everyday life.
In terms of leadership consciousness, recall the image earlier in this article with the levels of Orange, Green and Teal. At the Orange level of leadership consciousness we perceive the organisation-as-machine and we view life through a mechanistic lens. At the Green level, our lens of perception has widened to include wider society and a systemic perspective of stakeholder interactions. At the Teal level, we embrace a living-systems perspective where we intuit the innate interconnectedness of how life really works. We learn to sense not only the emergent patterns of organisational behaviour but also sense the synchronicities that abound amid everyday interactions. We cultivate a leadership consciousness that can see past the surface noise and sense the underlying wisdom pervading every person, interaction and learning experience life affords us. This ability to see beyond the surface and sense the synchronistic interconnected nature of life provides a foundation for peace, empathy and gratitude. This wisdom underpins our leadership capacity amid the hectic busyness of the transformational times ahead.
This book is full of wisdom and determination! It will inspire leaders to succeed in the 21st Century.
Tim Flannery, scientist
Welcome to the future manifesting today. As leaders in organisations, institutions, teams and communities the world-over, we have a duty to step into a way of leading that is life-affirming and regenerative. Why wish for anything less!
As the well-respected business futurist John Naisbett predicts:
‘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.’
What an exciting yet challenging time to be alive, when the old rule-book is being ripped up before our eyes, leaving a wide-open horizon for our leadership consciousness to expand into.
Living in interesting times may be seen as a blessing or a curse. It’s up to each of us whether we wish to transform ourselves and our systems amid this time of challenge, or get sucked under by the fearful ripe-tides of change.
Giles Hutchins is a pioneering practitioner, business futurist 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 in an area of outstanding natural beauty near London, UK
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