Business has a major impact on all spheres of life. Business behaviour is deeply impacted by the prevailing business paradigm, which is still being reinforced today by old, outdated management education. We do not need to be bound by habits and mentalities that are no longer fit for purpose. A more balanced and interconnected understanding of business aids positive adaptation in an increasingly volatile business environment.
With a toxic cocktail of rising stress and burnout, market volatility, disruptive innovations, and spiralling bureaucracy proclaiming the interests of ‘collective health’ for the price of individual human rights, you can be forgiven for thinking you have woken up in a madhouse. As the world slowly remembers it has survived hundreds of pandemics over thousands of years, and never once adopted a permanent state of tyranny, a new normal of business requires a shift in our way of thinking. Recent advances have created tectonic shifts challenging what we do and the way we do it, calling into question our sense of purpose, and demanding wholly new ways of operating. Organisations able to thrive amid today’s complexity will be tomorrow’s success stories. Those who hold on to yesterday’s mindset will be old news.
Through most of the 20th century, success was defined by the most efficient, scalable machine of production or service provision. Today’s environment is more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous – the VUCA age. Success is determined by an organisation’s ability to become innovative, agile, purposeful and engaged. Businesses stuck in 20th century logic will not be able to cope nor survive – let alone thrive – amid 21st century conditions. These increasingly complex and volatile times demand organisational development and leadership development that enables future fitness, agility, and resilience. A new mind-set beyond the ‘organisation-as-machine’ mentality. The ‘organisation-as-living-system’ is the new mentality and metaphor required for organisations that are fit for the volatile future of work.
“He who rejects change is the architect of decay.”
— Harold Wilson
Bank failures, health insurance rate hikes, and the current pharmaceutical mafia attempted coup of nation states, are recent examples of the vulnerability of big, fast-changing systems and the ways in which large organisations can careen out of control. No matter how disparate the causes of failure, there is always a common thread: somewhere, somehow, leadership has let its attention slip. As executives and politicians struggle with regulation and reform, now is an opportune time to reflect on the leading ideas that have shaped what we know about the management of social systems, particularly corporations, and how to stabilise and improve them.
It is now patently that, for our organisations to thrive in these times of fast-paced volatility, we need to shift our organisational consciousness. This shift is from mechanistic separateness to living connectedness. It’s a shift away from separation, control, domination, dog-eat-dog hyper-competition, power-based hierarchies, bureaucracy, and win-lose relational dynamics. The organisation is no longer perceived as a machine with assets to be sweated, where ‘human resources’ are to be managed for maximum short-term output. The new paradigm requires a shift towards interconnectedness, with personal and collective responsibility, honesty and empowerment. Self-organising emergent teams with synergistic relational dynamics of openness, authenticity, and empathy are the only way out of the mess in which we find ourselves.
“Crisis is what suppressed pain looks like; it always comes to the surface. It shakes you into reflection and healing.”
In times of crisis, the world needs leadership that actually works with the currents of life, rather than swimming against the tide, stressing humanity and our social and ecological systems further. Humanity is crying out for a way of leading that enables us to create a future that we all want, a future that values life and enhances society rather than undermines it. The recognition that an organisation is a complex, adaptive, living system supporting a living community is the underlying theme of conscious leaders today. Nevertheless, the machine continues to be the dominant metaphor for business leaders, many of whom seek to solve their problems by “pulling levers” or “pushing buttons”: making large-scale changes without a clear feeling for how those changes will affect the collective action of the organisation.
The speed and complexity of the global business environment calls for a new appreciation of a systems-focused view of the world, one that recognises the interrelationships of people, processes, decisions, and designs organisational actions accordingly. 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 and we must demand this of our leaders.
“You are the fairy tale told by your ancestors.”
How Our Ancestors Did It.
In order to shift this paradigm in your own organisation, there are a multitude of things you can do differently. Most importantly, there some simple – yet profound – structures you can embrace with ease amid the day-to-day barrage of urgent and important – without the need for business case sign-off or complex solution implementation. As leaders and change agents today, all we need is the courage to challenge the status quo. Here is one powerful technique we can bring into our decision-making dynamics and day-to-day meeting conventions called the 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 come from our heart space, to not judge what is said, and to open up 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 business. Here’s the thing: without heart, authentic business is just another ‘thing’ out there to be grasped at, rather than a ‘way of being’ to be embodied within each connection, each conversation, and each interaction.
“What happens when people open their hearts? They get better.”
Way of Council – 3 Circle of Trust Practices
In applying Way of Council to business, we must provide a space for exploration, open-hearted sharing and collaborative inquiry into the practicalities, challenges and opportunities related to strategy and operations. 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 the future of work today. The learning atmosphere of a sharing circle draws on a blend of action research, appreciative inquiry, dialogue and non-violent communication methods.
1. 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, and scarcity. In this way we open up into a mindset of curiousness, emergence, acceptance, compassion, self-inquiry and learning.
2. Appreciative Inquiry
Appreciative Inquiry is an approach to organisational change which focuses on strengths rather than on weaknesses. 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.
3. Non-Violent Communication
NVC is a skillset that you train and improve over time. With practice we can ensure we are listening and speaking with an open heart and open mind, empathising with others perspectives even when it feels challenging, being aware of how we are reacting (fear/defensive/offensive) versus responding (sensing/exploring/empathising). And making it OK to be defensive/reactive, as long as we recognise the trigger within ourselves and seek to learn and move beyond it. It is the self-awareness and intention to learn that enhances our ability to transform.
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 to shift the relational dynamic between us and also within the wider organisational field. Essentially, we seed a shift in the consciousness of the organisation’s culture. In complexity theory this is called ‘setting up a new attractor-field’. By embodying heart-awareness in an appreciative and constructive way, we call forth the future potential of the organisation in manifesting a step change in its cultural consciousness.
“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
Wisdom of the Elders
Pioneering scientific studies in 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 informs our doing.
The sharing circle helps an organisation better adapt to the future 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.
“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
Pioneering sociological studies are indicating that as a threshold is crossed within the consciousness of an organisational living system, a shift occurs in the culture that enables the organisation to more easily move away from the traditional – yet out-dated – ways of management through disempowering control-based hierarchies and hyper-competitiveness, into a more alive, purposeful and altogether more human-centric 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 an organisational sense of purpose while embodying mutually enhancing relational dynamics.
Joseph Jaworski refers to synchronicity as the 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. In this way, we ‘let go’ of our mental judgements and open 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 the heightened quality of our 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.
Systems Thinking is about learning to see the interconnections in our business and social environments, and applying 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 relationships, team dynamics and organisations are living systems, intimately immersed (both locally and non-locally) within the living systems of society and our human world. Through the quality of our ‘being-in-the-world’ we can better sense into the ‘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.
“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
Crisis of Value
If you’re like most people on the planet, you probably deserve much more than you’re allowing yourself. It’s not your fault that the valve controlling the flow is cranked a little too tightly. If you’re like most people, you have been working pretty hard to turn the flow on. Sometimes the hidden aspects of why we’re experiencing “stuckness” are very hard to find. To unlock yourself and deepen your connection with the flow that will actually support, nourish and get you on track to fulfilling your purpose, you don’t actually have to know what’s holding you back. The minute you are conceived, you begin to be conditioned and programmed.
You are programmed by:
- The experiences of your ancestors
- Your parent’s beliefs, behaviours, actions and energies.
- Your family’s intergenerational energy patterns.
- Your own lived experiences
- Your DNA for your ‘life story’.
Right now, we are collectively facing a crisis in the archetype of “value”. Value has, for the past couple of hundred years, been measured with numbers. This is a result of the Scientific Revolution and the Age of Materialism. This isn’t the fault of science. It’s actually a result of the evolution of consciousness. The Scientific Revolution was a result of consciousness seeking to redefine the era of superstition and the rulership of religious doctrine. At the onset of this revolution in thinking, we were seeking new ways to explain how the material world worked.
This led to the birth of capitalism, the industrial era and our ability to gain sovereignty over our lives. We structured our collective lives around “formulas” which, in turn created “systems”, such as the healthcare “system”, the education “system”, the governmental “system”. It’s that our current systems are bad; it’s just that they are in need of a massive overhaul. Systems use numbers as metrics. We are all very conditioned to measure our value with numbers. Our perceived value becomes a reflection of the numbers we’ve earned:
- The numbers in your bank account
- The numbers of years of education you have
- The numbers that tell you what size your pants are – or your bra size
- The numbers that measure the price of your car, your house, or your holiday etc.
We’ve been set up to measure our value in a way that no longer fits the current status of the evolution of consciousness on the planet. We are learning to value the preciousness of our lives, the unique, vital, and irreplaceable role that each and every one of us plays in the story of humanity and the contribution we make over the corse of our lives.
The metric of an evolving world is well-being.
- How much well-being are you experiencing?
- How much well-being for the world are you creating?
To learn how to live with this new metric, you have to de-program your self-worth and anything that is keeping you from seeing your true value.
“We are still living in a wonderful new world where man thinks himself astonishingly new and “modern.” This is unmistakable proof of the youthfulness of human consciousness, which has not yet grown aware of its historical antecedents.”
4 Ways of Knowing
We may like to think that the blame lies with powerful elite forces at play in the world and their ever-increasing totalitarian tiptoe. Let’s be completely honest with ourselves – they might have most of the money, but we are the 99%. We are the ones who create the resistance. We are the consumers, employees, employers, leaders, and change agents of the day. We make our own choices – consciously or not – and all choices have consequences. How we choose to show up, how we attend to each evolving moment, how we fill our moments with distractions or revelations, how we get caught up in habituations and ego-accentuations, and how we choose to spend our energy. Our ability to practice coherence and connection, to allow in this shift in consciousness amid the daily cacophony and insanity, is the front-line of the metamorphosis – The Great Awakening. The godfather of psycho-analytics, Carl Jung, identified four basic functions which he described as our preferred ways of dealing with the world, inner as well as outer. These are the ways we are comfortable with and good at processing information. The four natural ways of knowing are: the intuitive, the rational, the emotional, and the somatic.
FIRE – The Intuitive Way
The intuitive way of knowing has often been related to the element fire, and also to SQ (Spiritual Quotient) or quantum intelligence. Insight and intuition informs us and we bring this insight into our daily awareness, influencing our decisions. Opening up to this intuitive intelligence requires us to reach beyond the five senses – to quiet and still ourselves – so we can better cultivate this receptive discernment.
WATER – The Emotional Way
The emotional way of knowing has often been related to the element water, and also to EQ (Emotional Quotient). The feelings within us, ebbing and flowing, inform and enrich our daily awareness and influence our decisions. Opening up to this emotional intelligence requires we not simply react to feelings, but sense-inward, allowing our feelings to have space, so we can consciously respond to the energy-in-motion (emotion). It is a subtle yet important shift from reactivity to responsiveness, from blind emotional outbursts to informed emotional intelligence.
- In 1995, Daniel Goleman’s work on Emotional Intelligence highlighted the importance of emotions and emotional intelligence (EQ) for leadership development and organisational learning. Goleman found that how we cultivate awareness of our own and other’s feelings, as well as how we consciously respond to these feelings in appropriate ways, is a direct measure of our leadership potential. Studies show that EQ out-performs IQ as a predictor of job success and performance capability.
- Then in 1997, the neuroscientist Candace Pert’s ground-breaking work on Molecules of Emotion provided more insight into the integration of body-mind sensations, feelings and thoughts, in what Pert referred to as the ‘psychosomatic network’ – an integrated system of psyche and soma. The psyche comprises the nonmaterial aspects such as mind, emotion and soul, and the soma comprises the material aspects such as the cells, organs and tissues.
EARTH – The Somatic Way
Our somatic and sensorial way of knowing has often been related to the element earth, and also to PQ (Physical Quotient). This is the sensations we have in our body, for instance, gut pangs, or lump in the throat, hairs on the back of the neck, or chest vibrations. Our body is full of psychosomatic sensations that inform our psyche. As we allow ourselves to quieten and sense into the somatic intelligence within us, we enrich our conscious awareness and invite in more intelligence into our daily awareness, so as to be better at sensing and responding to changes within and all around us.
AIR – The Thinking Way
The thinking way is rational analytic intelligence – which has been related to the element air, and also to IQ (Intelligent Quotient). This tends to be the dominant intelligence we call upon in today’s busyness. Our head-logic, the analytic mechanisations it creates, is what dominates today’s meetings, conversations and decisions. However, it is but one intelligence within our human repertoire, yet when it dominates too much, it can suppress our other ways of knowing.
“When emotions are expressed, all systems are united and made whole. When emotions are repressed, denied, not allowed to be whatever they may be, our network pathways get blocked, stopping the flow of the vital feel-good, unifying chemicals that run both our biology and our behaviour.”
Pure Element 5
When we allow these 4 ways of knowing – intuitive (fire), rational (air), emotional (water), somatic (earth) – to cohere within us, we make space for these 4 elements of nature to integrate in their rightful way within is. As we integrate these 4 elements of nature, we open ourselves us to the 5th element (of which Pure Element 5 is named) the Akasha, or what the brilliant scientist David Bohm referred to as the ‘ground of all being’ – a generative field that permeates space, it is within and all around us all the time, if we so choose to tap into it. We tap into the generative field of life – what the ancient Chinese called the Way of Nature – and we participate in life-affirming regenerative ways of being-and-doing. This is our super-nature, it is well within our natural capacity, and all it requires is for us to integrate our natural human repertoire within us.
This is the important basis for awakening our humanity, and for dealing with the root cause of our plethora of crises (whether it be covid or climate change through to rampant social inequality – and what lies at root is a flawed way of attending to life, which can only be rectified at source – within ourselves, by awakening our true nature). While this shift into our true nature is in some regards quite simple – it requires no credit card, no PhD or complex scientific undertaking – it is not necessarily easy in today’s world of disease and distraction. To make this shift, we need to summon the courage to cross a threshold and let-go of old ways of attending and open-up, connect to source and integrate these five elements.
“The secrets of alchemy exist to transform mortals from a state of suffering and ignorance to a state of enlightenment and bliss.”
Our body is an alchemic vessel where we can integrate these 4 elements of nature within us and tap into the 5th element, the Akasha, the ground-of-all-being – the source field that is always available to us. And when we tap into this field, we open up to the magnificence of life and reorientate our sense of place and purpose in the world. The more we do this, the easier it is to connect into this ground-of-being, and we shift our relationality with reality. We awaken to our true power and we begin to co-create magnificence with life. We become who we truly are as human beings. We step into our Evolutionary Purpose.
Creating the safe space where people feel able to be vulnerable in the workplace – to be more of who they really are, rather than projecting masks and conditioned bias behaviours – is central to cultivating a more human world. It is enabled by leaders being courageous enough to be vulnerable themselves.
As the writer Paul Levy notes, ‘The word ‘vulnerable’ is related to the Latin word vulnus, which means ‘wound’; it is only through our being vulnerable, which can be a wounding experience, that we become able to heal…When we get in touch with the deepest, most true part of ourselves, it is the part of us that is most unique and personal, while at the same time, there is a universal aspect, in that it is the same Self that is incarnating through everyone. To experience this paradox consciously is itself the expansion of consciousness which initiates a transformation in ourselves, and by extension, the world around us. This is to paradoxically step into being a genuinely autonomous, independent being, while at the same time realising our interconnectedness and interdependence with other autonomous, independent beings. It is this ‘shared felt sense’ that deeply connects us with each other, cultivates compassion, helps us see through the illusion of the separate self.’
This vulnerable unfolding to life through our innate receptivity is not just a ‘nice-to-have’, it is essential for our future-fitness, it’s essential for the evolutionary potential of our organisations, and rather more importantly, it’s essential for the evolutionary potential of life on Earth. This is the essence of what is now required within ourselves, within our relationships, within our organisational cultures and leadership development approaches.
“Air is the element most needed by fire. This is why you need open spaces, the wind, and to fly. Because you have fire in you. This is why you look into the sky, why you make wishes, why you tread lightly. You, too, are the air, because inside you there is fire. Why do you think we breathe? Because we are kindling our fires.”