By Giles Hutchins
In times of turmoil, the danger lies not in the turmoil but in facing it with yesterday’s logic:
At once it is an immensely exciting, liberating, testing and unpredictable time to be involved in the future of business.
The ancient Greeks called such a time Kairos -- a supreme moment of indeterminable time which, if not adequately engaged and acted upon, may pass us by.
This crucial time bears witness to a profound window opening between two world-views, that of the out-dated yet still prevalent logic of yesterday (with its hallmark models, mindsets and metrics) and the dawn of our emerging future whereupon the perceptions and practices of yesterday melt amid the heat of the moment, alchemically reconfiguring new pathways, perspectives, principles and behaviors.
As Bob Dylan would say, "Times they are a changing!"
Over half the world’s population is now younger than 30 years old. Two generations have now grown up with the Internet. It doesn’t take a degree in anthropology to notice that the world is very different today than it was 30 years ago.
Whether it’s the shift to more purposeful business, dealing with climate change, embracing the digitized millennial generation, CSR, wellbeing-at-work, diversity in the workplace, the future world-of-working, employee empowerment, stakeholder engagement, etc., what underpins and interweaves all of these initiatives is a deeper underlying metamorphosis of epic proportions. Caught up as we are in our stressful schedules, we struggle to see the forest from the trees, perceiving these initiatives as disparate topics vying for our attention. Yet, the more conscious we are of the tectonic shifts these surface waves are symptomatic of, the more able we are to help our organizations become future-fit.
What we consider normal business practice is often pathological. We struggle to see beyond this pathology, caught up in our own illusory hall of mirrors creating what Albert Einstein called an optical delusion of consciousness.
We are engaged in a kind of deluding neurosis with devastating implications for human society and the wider fabric of life on Earth. And, our ingrained approaches to education, economics and organizational management are, in the main, infected by this neurosis, exacerbating the acculturation of our insanity.
Time is not on our side. If we wish to ensure anything resembling a successful outcome for our organizations, wider socio-economic systems and general civilization, we need to get radical and deal with root causes while also attending to downstream effects.
Such a shift challenges us at deep and partly unconscious levels. It challenges powerful and complex influences within our own psyche and cultural consciousness. It challenges the status quo structures of governance, engrained patterns of power relations, and dominant ways of leading, managing and operating within our organizations. It challenges the very way in which we relate as human beings in our more-than-human world.
Sounds daunting -- yet there is good news: this fundamental and profound metamorphosis is nothing more, nor nothing less, than an opening up to who we naturally are.
And with this emancipating shift in logic, we can experience what it really means to be fully human in our firms of the future.
‘Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.’ Bob Marley
Imagine a business that creates the conditions conducive for life. Imagine emancipating ourselves from our mental slavery: Let’s let-go of yesterday’s mentality and emancipate our minds for a moment ...
Imagine an organization that enhances the humanity of all its stakeholders and enriches the wider fabric of life in which it operates. In other words, imagine a business that creates real value, true value, not some narrowed-down definition of value that only benefits some while exploiting the many … a business that’s core purpose is to create real value, to serve life, to leave the garden richer than we found it … Imagine …
There is more good news …
The logic of yesterday is actually getting in the way of our organizations thriving or even surviving in these increasingly volatile times. So even if we are slow in ‘getting it’ in terms of the shift in mind-set now required, we find ourselves being forced in to ‘getting it’ as our monolithic machine-mentality cracks under the strain of unceasing transformation. Only the organizations able to adapt to this unceasing transformation will survive and thrive in the years ahead.
Put simply: Business-as-usual is no longer an option.
Well, to be sure, it is not a one-size-fits-all cookbook solution. It will be myriad styles for myriad ever-changing landscapes. Yet, we can shed light on a profound shift that is occurring, a shift from ‘organization as machine’ to ‘organization as living system.'
The most important factor facing our leaders, managers and change agents today (according to business guru Peter Senge) is this shift in logic from machine to living-systems. In reality, this means creating the conditions for our teams to be more empowered to adapt at a local level, to deal with unceasing transformation where they are at, without having to rely on hierarchies of bureaucracy and control. It is about us embracing liberating structures and approaches that transcend the dysfunction of much of today’s decision-making and stifling culture.
These liberating approaches unlock our creative potential and empower us to become more purposeful and more conscious of the value and impact we are making. What helps bind these distributed, networked, self-organizing, locally-attuning teams is a deeper sense of purpose that resonates with us at a soul level because we are clear on our role in creating real value for our selves, each other and our more-than-human world.
This is a vitally important point that is often overlooked at our peril. Without a deep soul-sense of why we are here and the value we are contributing to the wider fabric of life, an emergent living organization will lack the cohesiveness to operate effectively, and will soon seek reliance on the old ego-crutches of control-based management. And that is not to say we will not need some of today’s control-based methods tomorrow. This is not about throwing-the-baby-out-with-the-bath-water it’s about opening ourselves up to more of our humanity, by balancing our left and right brain hemispheres, by bringing our head and heart into alignment, and by attuning our ego-attention with our soul-wisdom.
We still need to get the job done, manage the to-do lists, project manage and engineer solutions, deliver on time and to budget, yet we also need to bring in more freedom to be creative, to explore, to adapt on the fly, to have the difficult conversations with an air of authenticity, to listen deeply to what our collective intelligence is saying, and to sense the synchronicities of emerging pathways amid complexity.
This is what I explore in "Future Fit" as an attunement of ‘ways of doing’ with ‘ways of being.'
The ‘ways of doing’ for our firms of the future are based on living systems logic: resilience, adaptiveness, systems-based, life-supporting.
The ‘ways of being’ that underpin and infuse those ways of doing are: sensing, self-organizing, small steps, social, soulful, synchronicity. Essentially, it is through our receptivity, our responsiveness and our reciprocity that we allow our organizations to become future-fit. It is the simple liberating techniques of how we listen, relate, engage and make decisions on a daily basis that enhances rather than hinders our becoming human in a firm of the future.
For instance, a supermarket in London ensures that every couple of months members of staff spend half a day sitting in a circle to embrace the ancient practice of Way of Council: a simple practice of speaking and listening from the heart. This has profound implications for everyone involved and ensures the challenges and solutions worked through are bought-in to by different parties.
Another simple practice that requires no budget is what a multimedia company in North America now does: a minute’s silence at the beginning of every meeting. Imagine that at the beginning of every meeting in your organization? It has profound benefit for the people, the team dynamics and the overall quality of attention and intention within the organization’s culture, helping each of us be more in service of the meeting, which is in service of the organization, which is in service of Life – rather than being embroiled in ego-battles and office politics.
And there is a legal federation in Canada that has embraced a simple, time-honored practice, called ‘the children’s fire’ an ancient indigenous practice of considering the impact each and every key decision has on the livelihoods of the next generation, the children. Imagine the effect that simple change would have on the discussions in the board-rooms and corridors of power in organizations the world over. It begs the question - what kind of organization is it that doesn’t value the livelihood of our own children?
Graphics courtesy of Giles Hutchins
‘Many books call for new ways of thinking for modern leaders but until Future Fit none have provided such wise, well researched and practical approaches to guide leaders facing deeply complex challenges. In this compelling workbook Giles Hutchins is at the forefront of synthesizing new logics for business with the natural rhythms of life and the human mind that will revolutionize business. Future Fit is a must-read for every leader who wants to continue being successful or to move beyond what currently feels like impossible challenges. As an experienced Chief Executive I cannot recommend this powerful work highly enough.’ Dr Lynne Sedgmore CBE, Former Chief Executive of 157 Group, Centre for Excellence in Leadership UK, and ranked one of the UK’s most influential people in Debretts 2015 List.