Since the military acronym VUCA was first coined in the 1980’s, leaders and organisations have been recognising and developing a growing appreciation of the unpredictability and complexity of highly interconnected problems as the ‘new normal’. While this is creating a growing appreciation of the nature of ‘wicked’ problems, and contexts of change that are volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, our observation is that the levels of thinking and behaviours required to address them has remained fairly unchanged. The dominant narratives shaping change management, human resources, business transformation, leadership development, process improvement, cultural change, and organisational design and development are still largely rooted in a 18th/19th/20th century mechanistic logic. This logic is no longer suitable for dealing with the turbulent and complex challenges 21st century leaders and organisations now face.
6 Key Drivers Required to Shift in Leadership and Organisations
- The increasing rate of change
- The digital revolution
- The hollowing out of organisations and the growing complexity of stakeholders
- Climate change
- The need to learn and adapt faster
There is emerging evidence that a new logic is already beginning to emerge from a range of thought leaders. In 2018, McKinsey launched a report called The 5 Trademarks of Agile Organisations, which stressed the importance of moving away from the mindset of ‘organisations as machines’ and towards organisations as living systems. Since then, Frederick Laloux identified specific examples of next-stage living organisations as operating to the principles of self-organisation, authenticity, and actively engaged in living out evolutionary purpose. MIT professor Otto Scharmer’s systemic change framework Theory U emphasises a shift from ego-driven change to ecosystem sensing into emergent possibilities of the living field.
The recent work of Giles Hutchins and Laura Storm applies living-systems logic to leadership and organisational development. These are just some way-markers on the unfolding journey from machine-mentality towards living-systems approaches. The future of work begins with a change in mindset, enlivening the organisation as a complex adaptive and emergent system in an ongoing relationship with its environment. The living organisation is not only agile enough to cope with the systemic challenges but is life-affirming in its culture and purpose.
The Shift from ‘Mechanistic’ to ‘Living Systems’
LINEAR & PREDICTABLE
EXCLUSIVE & EXTRACTIVE
LIVING SYSTEMS LOGIC
CIRCULAR, INTERDEPENDENT & EMERGENT
INCLUSIVE & REGENERATIVE
DEVELOPMENTAL & SELF-ORGANISING
Organisation have always been ‘living’ rather than ‘machine-like’ in the sense that they have always been made up of unpredictable, interdependent, emergent human relationships. The organisation has always been a complex, dynamic and evolutionary ‘living’ system, in this regard. By shifting our leadership consciousness, we are merely starting to sense into the organisation as it really is.
The Trinity of HD Leaders
1. Personal Mastery – The global shift from reductive to systemic ways of operating involves a shift in our consciousness, a shift in our ‘being’. The very practice of being-in-nature, for instance, is scientifically proven to help us become more systemic, empathic, integrated, and balanced. We teach various practices to more deeply attune with life, heal childhood trauma, build self-worth, communicate and connect with others. Basically, how to be the best human you can be.
2. Conscious Leadership – We educate leaders to shift in organisational cultures from organisation-as–a-machine to organisation-as-a-living-system. This is the space of complex adaptive systems applied to organisational development, adult developmental psychology, systemic leadership, and systemic/ecosystemic coaching, self-managing team dynamics, purpose-driven business, adult-adult coaching culture, shifting power dynamics, and more.
3. Systems Transformation – Specifically organisations. When sensing how living systems work, we find certain life dynamics, patterns, and principles. We can apply these principles and patterns to how we design our products, teams, services, processes, places, and economic models. This is the exciting, and revolutionary, space of biomimicry, industrial ecology, circular economics, regenerative design, cradle-to-cradle, biophilic design, bio-innovation, regenerative economics, and more.
Organisations and leadership designed to facilitate regenerative, conscious, life-affirming cultures geared for the current and future challenges of our times. Cultures inspired by nature’s regenerative, vibrant, self-organising, resilient models. Organisations that thrive are organisations of the future.