In Resonance with the Living Earth - A World Goodwill Seminar

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I was invited by the Lucis Trust to present on my experience of leading systems change, my understanding of inner change and my love of the living earth for their annual World Goodwill Seminar that was held at the Amba Hotel in London and broadcasted live online.

It was a great pleasure to make connections between The Lucis Trust and the Psychosynthesis Trust - two organisations that have a special source connection with Alice Bailey and Roberto Assagioli having been good friends and Work colleagues.

Here is a link the video footage of the day as well as my presentation below.



It was the summer of 1978 – over 40 years ago.  

 My little 6 year old body lay face down on the wooden dock peering between the gaps in the boards into the clear water below.  As I visually entered the under water world,  I spotted  a round smiling sunfish hiding behind the long stalks of seaweed whose ribbon- like stems were swaying with the current.   A small freshwater crab darted off to the right.   And a school of minnows passed by to the left – there were dozens of them, or maybe even hundreds - they moved together like they were one big fish body.  

I would lay there on that dock for hours just imagining myself as a little underwater creature playing with my underwater friends.

This is how I spent much of my childhood – in a very fortunate and privileged situation growing up in New England in the US – being immersed in nature and in frequent deep relational contact with the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms.   

This shaped who I am today – someone who is very tuned into the intelligence of nature and someone who sees the world as a living system – a wide web of interconnected relationships through which existence expresses its whole self.  

 Fast-forward 40 years to my life now – here talking with you.

What I’d like to do in my time with you today is to share my experience of using the qualities of nature’s intelligence to organize for change – and to explore the question:

“How can groups – informed by natures’ intelligence – help us be more effective in our service of goodwill?”

I would love for you to go away from today with some thoughts for what you can practically in your role as a group member – whether that be in your organization, community or family - so that you can be an even more effective in your service of Goodwill. 

 I will be drawing on my experience of working in and leading groups such as:

·      The Finance Innovation Lab - A social change organization I initiated whilst working at WWF the conservation Charity.  The Lab is bringing all kinds of people together to create a new financial and money system that serves people and planet.

·      In my role as Executive Director of The Psychosynthesis Trust – an educational charity that helps people to ‘know and transform’ themselves through a transpersonal psychological framework and philosophy.   The Trust, seeded by Roberto Assagioli, has esoteric roots as Roberto and Alice Bailey were good friends and worked together as World Servers.   

So WHAT is a group and WHY are groups so important for the context of our time?

What is a group?

Well, think of examples from Animal Kingdom – that might be herds, flocks, swarms, gaggles, forests – or the Human Kingdom – tribes, communities– even the human body is a group – made up of 50 Trillion cells working together.

So for me - a group is a collection individuals working together in relationship towards a common intention – and in this case of Goodwill – serving a purpose beyond themselves for the benefit of the whole.

Why are groups important now?

We are in an in age of rapid breakdown of our human and ecological systems.  As we know from the adaptive cycle of nature – breakdown, death and destruction are natural – think of a forest fire, a volcano, a flood.     After rapid destruction in nature what you normally see is a rapid flourishing of the new.  New species come about that were never able to establish themselves in the old ecosystem.  

What I think is SO exciting in this age of breakdown is that we have an amazing chance to sow new seeds:  new ideas, new stories and new solutions for a different energy frequency for humanity.

However we need make sure that these seeds are incubated in conditions that allow them to become strong, coherent, resilient and well resourced.   Groups are INCUBATORS which will give us a chance to ensure the new seeds of consciousness survive AND thrive.   This won’t happen if we continue to work as individuals or even loose networks of people.

 Over the past few years I have been tuning into the work of Alice Bailey.   And one thing that really stands out for me is her continued reference to the importance of groups in bringing about a more enlightened consciousness.

She says “How can groups form an entity for a focal point for the transmission of spiritual force to a needy and waiting world?  How can we move from a place of personality reactions to a place of group realization?”

Assagioli said “A group is not just a place or a gathering of people, it is also an evolving field of consciousness that gives birth to new ideas and ways of being’.

There are 4 main roles I see in groups in expanding consciousness:  

Their role in:

·      Providing greater collective intelligence:  the challenges we face are complex which means we need to look at the challenges through as many different vantage points as possible.  In groups we can see more of the whole, more of the truth – including seeing the root causes and possible solutions.

·      Offering more resilience:  – working on the edge of change and being in service is not easy as we are going against the grain of cultural and social norms.  We are often seen as outliers.  So we need groups of like-minded and hearted people to help support us emotionally so we can sustain the work and ourselves over time. 

·      Giving access to shared resources:  the challenges we face need infrastructure for sustained effort and holding – and thus human and financial resources.   Groups are important as they are a great way to pool tangible and intangible resources.

·      Having stronger voice: As an individual I might get ignored if I am talking about things the mainstream has not yet seen or understood.   However if a group of us pull together a common narrative for change – it is harder to ignore this just as a ‘ marginalized voice on the edge.’   A group has a greater chance of changing embedded stories in the landscape of our culture.     

However humans are not very good working in groups or between groups – so we need to learn and develop this skill.

Our cultural stories and habits and capitalistic system and incentives celebrate and reward individualistic behavior – so you could say that working in a group is rather counter-cultural and going against the grain of the current paradigm.

 So although working in a group is very challenging - I believe that this is ONE OF THE most important leadership skills we need to learn and teach now.    

Learning from Nature’s intelligence

 So how can we adopt qualities of nature’s intelligence, which have served it very well for millions of years, and apply them in how we work in and organize our groups of humans? 

What do I mean by quality? 

There are many qualities of nature to learn from: creativity, self-organisation, adaptation etc.  However I am going to focus on just 3 today. 

They are:

·      Purpose

·      Diversity

·      Energetic fields


Going back to the Lake in New Hampshire – the lake had its own purpose – to be an ecosystem which provided life for all that is in it.   And all of the creatures and plant forms had their own inherent purposes to.    The crab to be a crab.  The fish to be a fish.  And the seaweed to be the seaweed.   

 In nature, purpose is very clear and this allows pure life energy to flow through them into manifested form.

Why is purpose important in groups:

In a human group or organisational context – having a clear purpose is important as it acts as the North Star around which people can self-organise for their fullest expression.    You think about all of the great social movements in history –the most successful ones had a clear purpose that mobilized people over a long period time.

In an organisational context, what I have found in leading the Psychosynthesis Trust, is that investing time into clarifying our purpose has been so valuable – our emerging purpose is “To help people to know, master and transform themselves”.

 Our organisational purpose- or our ‘why we exist’ - helps people to have sense of serving something beyond themselves, it cultivates a desire to collaborate and gives people a sense of autonomy so that they can make better decisions at their local level.  Overall as an organization we are becoming more efficient, effective and creative  - with more flow and ease.

Our purpose has been developed through our worldview of seeing our organization as a ‘living organism’ having an unfolding life purpose of its own.

 Through many dialogue interviews and workshops with our staff and community- we have tuned into the original founding purpose which Assagioli helped to seed over 50 years ago – and then we are blending this with what we now see as our emerging purpose that is relevant for today’s context.  

We are asking ourselves questions like:

·      What are the needs of the world?

·      What are our talents and skills?

·      What do we have energy for?

What this means as an individual in a group

And what I believe is important for group coherence and flow – is for me as an individual to do the work to understand my deepest purpose relates to the group and its purpose.   And in turn to understand how the group purpose can contribute to the unfolding of my own purpose  - they are interrelated.

I have been doing a lot of work tuning into my own souls purpose.   I am constantly inquiring into ‘What is my deepest and purest essence?  How does my essence want to express itself?’    

It is something along the lines of “Building the Infrastructure for Interconnectivity to Reveal Itself”. 

I love asking big questions and weaving webs of people and potential together.  So my role in groups is often the pioneer, the framesetter, the resourcer.

Questions for you:

·      So what is your group’s purpose and how can you enable better alignment around that?

·      What is your emerging souls purpose? What are you doing to actively cultivate and reveal its clarity?

·      How does your purpose show up in groups – what is your role in the group you are in?   What unique contribution are you making?



Nature example:

Going back to the Lake in NH - I remember one year the town overstocked the Lake with Bass fish to attract more fisherman and tourism to the Lake.   The overstocking of the Bass fish led to a dominant species taking over the Lake. Soon after that the Lake became quite dead. When I laid on the dock after this there is very little movement, very little life.

That’s what it like now in our society - for example systems being controlled by the dominant species of the big banks or energy providers or high street retailers.   

Why is diversity important in a group?

 What do I mean by diversity – whilst I think diversity in terms of gender, race and age is important – I think we are at risk of getting to caught up in appearances of diversity – rather than qualities of diversity.

 Diversity that I am really interested in is different perspectives of thought, emotions, wisdom and energy being able to be expressed in their multiplicity whilst maintaining unity of some sense of a whole.

Its not just from a moral imperative of inclusivity and fairness that I think its important.  But it is also important reasons for our survival and ability to meet some of the greatest challenges.


In the Lake context - it was an ecosystem that was able to sustain itself for a really long-time as there was no one species that dominated – the diversity allowed for adaptation and balance.

I think this will be very important for us to work in groups as climate breakdown really starts to hit – Diverse groups of people coming together to share different skills, capacities and resources helps us to adapt and absorb shocks to the system.

Better Strategies and Solutions:

When I was leading the Finance Innovation Lab, our meetings would include activists, bankers, academics, policy makers and psychologists – together were we able to see many more aspects of the complexity of the problem of the financial system. 

We brought entreprenuers and activists together with policy makers to work out a policy that would make it easier for smaller banks to enter the market.  The policies, when worked on from diverse perspectives were more relevant.

We also brought policy makers and activists together with entreprenuers to develop new business models for finance – new banks, new currencies , new savings products.     The diverse perspectives were able to develop – as the complexity scientists say -  ‘fitness of the new niches’ so that they had a greater chance of survival.

So seeing more of the truth, having more creativity, developing better strategies – and coming up with better solutions – allowed us to be more effective in our change efforts.

And I don’t know about you, but when I am in a group that has diversity- I feel a greater sense of aliveness – more of the richness of life is being able to be expressed through the whole.   

What this means for the individual?

New skills needed

Convening and sustaining diverse groups is not easy and it requires all of us in service of good will to build new skills – this is what we teach in psychosynthesis

I have had to learn to:

·      Holding paradox – in a group there many truths we need to build skills of holding this multiplicity whilst holding unity

·      Embracing conflict as a generative force – finding ways for the group to work though this together and to appreciate difference.

·      Understanding the diverse parts of ourselves– the many sub-personalities that make up my whole – how can I synthesize different aspects of myself – such as my mystic and pragmatist  - so that I have greater coherence in my relationship with myself and others.

So a question for you?

·      How diverse are the groups that you are part of – how could you play a role in inviting in more diversity?

·      So how are you developing your skills to synthesize diversity in groups and in yourself?

Energetic Fields

I loved watching schools of fish at the Lake, flocks of Canadian geese, ant colonies at work.  These fields moved together as one body.   There was an intelligence whole that was greater than the individual parts.

When I was working with The Finance Lab I would find ways to work with scientists to help inform our work.   One person I involved Rupert Sheldrake as I was interested in the role of morphic fields in social change.     I had asked him – What is a morphic field?  He said it is a ‘region of influence’.  ‘A field is shaped by what has gone on before, it has strong habits it has a sense of an illusive wholeness.”

Why are morphic fields important in groups?

Paying attention to the field of the group helps you to tune into the invisible habits and patterns.  It helps you to see what is really wanting to be expressed and manifested – it’s a form of deeper intelligence that is much greater than our limited rational mind and ego structure.   

At the Trust we have been tuning into the organization as a morphic field.    One way we have been doing this is by using systemic constellations.  Systemic constellations is a tool that is helps us to tune into the mysteries, the habits, the forms, the relational dynamics and the goals of the organization.

We have used systemic constellations to better understand who in the history of the Trust has been excluded, what roles are not in the right relational place in the organization, or what truths have been denied or suppressed?

Seeing our organization as a morphic field and using tools that help us to tune into the invisible energies has brought about more consciousness, coherence and flow.   And it has also fun to observe the synchronicities that reveal themselves the more we do our work in this way.  

What this means to the individual?

As an individual, I feel like I am beginning to perceive the world in brand new ways.

Working in an energetic field has also revolutionized how I relate to others –including learning to relate through the sensations and intuition that I am picking up in the field through my body.

What skills can you develop?

·      How can you develop your use of tools to engage in energetic fields - like tools of systemic constellations, transpersonal psychology, learning to facilitate group relational dynamics?

·      How can you develop the different ways you relate to others - including your embodied felt sense between you and another or in a group?


Bringing Spirituality into Politics - Vaclav Havel

Book Review  Vaclav Havel – Summer Meditations

Although I am dumbfounded by the state of politics in the world, I am also excited that this could be the creative destruction we need to give birth to a new way of organizing society.  One that is based on intrinsic values that support human flourishing and embrace complex systems.  

Some of this was expressed recently by Barack Obama in his eulogy at John McCain’s funeral.  Obama spoke of a need for politicians that served a higher purpose beyond one’s self, politicians who were aware of their ego and power and politicians who worked for universal principles that supported all people being equal – sharing our common humanity.

With my more recent interest in what is really shifting politically – it was no surprise that Vaclav Havel’s Summer Meditations jumped off my shelf for me to read.  I feel like I drew a lot from this book – such as learning about his perspectives on leadership and his vision for a new political system.  Thank you Vaclav Havel for the contributions you have made in your life!  You have inspired me as a politician, a philosopher and deeply self aware human being.   Respect. 

So the book was filled with all sorts of great quotes – in the summary below I have shared the ones that really resonated.  There were several themes that really stood out for me.  It feels that these are important reminders for us today as we bring in new political systems.  

  • The importance of one’s own inner leadership and awareness

  • The importance of cultivating and amplifying the intrinsic values that need to we awakened – such as good will

  • The importance of bringing about critical thinking, self reflection and cultivation of ideas – and calling out stuck ideologies that prevent one from exploring multiple truths and perspectives

  • The importance of bringing the whole human at the centre of designing our political systems – this includes spirituality

  • The importance of the interplay between politics, the psyche and society. They are all interconnected and thus politics shape our consciousness and we shape the consciousness of politics.


Some perspectives and quotes  from Vaclav Havel that give us some inspiration for politics.

Building Self-awareness:

“As in everything else I must start with myself. That is in all circumstances try to be decent, just, tolerant and understanding”.

“But I have one advantage, among many bad qualities, there is one that happens to be missing – a longing for love of power.   I see only one way forward to live in truth”.

“Good politics is about having a certain instinct for the time, the atmosphere of the time, the mood of the people, the nature of their worries, their frame of mind.   A good politician has the ability to talk to others, insight, the capacity to grasp quickly human character and the ability to make contact.”


Cultivating good will:

“I feel that the dormant good will in people needs to be stirred. People need to hear that it makes sense to behave decently or to help others, to place common interests above their own to respect the elementary rules of human co-existence.     Good will longs to be recognized and cultivated. For it to develop and have an impact it must hear that the world does not ridicule it.”


Growing ideas – not ideologies:

“Systems are there to serve people. Not the other way around. This is what ideologies forget”.

“Our policies must never be based on ideology – they must grow out of ideas above all out of the idea of human rights as understood by modern humanity.”

“We are on the threshold of an open society an era in which ideologies are replaced by ideas”.


Bringing human spirit into politics:

“I am convinced that we will never build a democratic state on rule of law if we do not at the same time build a state that is humane, moral intellectual and spiritual and cultural.  The best laws and best conceived mechanisms will not themselves guarantee legality or freedom or human rights if they are not underpinned by certain human values”.

“The meaning of the state which is and must remain truly human – means it must be intellectual, spiritual and moral”.

“What is needed is lively and responsible consideration of every political step every decision constant stress on moral deliberation and moral judgment, continued self examination and self analysis and endless rethinking of our priorities.  It is not something we can declare or introduce.  It is a way of going about things.  And it demands the courage to breathe moral and spiritual motivation into everything to seek the human dimension in all things.  Science, technology, expertise and so- called professionalism is not enough. Something more is necessary.  For sake of simplicity, it might be called spirit.  Or feeling or consciousness’.

“All my observations and all of my experience have, with remarkable consistency convinced me that if today’s planetary civilization has any hope of survival that hope lies chiefly in what we understand as the human spirit”.


Supporting self realization and evolution of human consciousness:  

“I once called this coming to our senses [new politics] as an existential revolution. I meant the kind of general mobilization of human consciousness of the human mind and human spirit, human responsibility and human reason”.

“The state if not something that is unconnected to society, hovering outside or above it.  The state is a product of society, an expression of it, an image of it.   It is a structure that society creates for itself as an instrument of its own self-realization. If we wish to create a good and human society capable of making a contribution to humanity coming to its senses we must create a good human state”.

“The concept of HOME is a basic existential experience.  It is a collection of  concentric circles with one’s ‘I’ at the centre.    This could be a place, one’s education, one’s gender.   Every circle every aspect of the human home has to be given its due. It makes no sense to deny or forcibly exclude one stratum for another.   They are part of our natural world and a properly organized society has to respect them all and give them all a chance to play their roles.  This is the only way that room can be made for people to realise themselves as human being to exercise their identities.” 

“Human rights are universal and indivisible. Human freedom is also indivisible: if it is denied to anyone in the world it is therefore denied indirectly to all people.  This is only possible when one understands in a philosophical sense that one is ‘responsible for the whole world.’  This sense of responsibility grows out of the experience of certain moral imperatives that compel one to transcend the horizon of one’s own personal interest and to be prepared to defend the common good, and even suffer for it”.

“If everyone doesn’t take an interest in politics, it will become the domain of those who are least suited to it”.

“The culture of healing may be a less visible aspect of life, yet it is perhaps the most important indicator of the humanity of any society”. 

Reality is Not What it Seems

Donald Hoffman is a quantitative psychologist and studies consciousness, visual perception and evolutionary psychology using mathematical models and psychophysical experiments.   I was fascinated by a recent interview by Rob Reid on After On.

This interview has changed the way I see reality!   You can listen to the interview here.

Although I don’t fully understand everything Don was conveying some of the key principles that I did grasp seem very important for how I perceive reality and how we as humans relate to the world.

One of Don’s main propositions is that things that seem intuitively right are not always the truth.  Take the presumption that the earth is flat.  Or that the sun and planets revolved around the earth.  This all seemed true for so long however greater understanding revealed that this intuitive truth was incorrect.

He goes on to explain that truths are often hidden by our daily ‘interfaces’.

For example, as I type this short reflection, I am looking at the garbage can icon on my desktop.   As Don explains this icon is merely an interface which has a much greater complex reality behind it.  It allows me to control reality just enough without getting overloaded with the truth of the massive complexity behind managing my files.

One of his major suggestions is that space and time are merely interfaces that allow us to interact with reality as we perceive it.    And that actually space and time is a human construct and there is so much more behind this reality than meets the eye.  3d objects area also data constructs and are ‘icons’ of reality.     For ages humanity has been interfacing through icons such as space and time, money or ideologies.   However humanity has developed a massive blind spot in that it takes many of these icons ‘literally’ rather than taking them ‘seriously’ as data sources to guide us. 

Different species have different types of interfaces that allow them to perceive reality in different ways to humans.  For example, fish can tune into the electric field, some birds and bees can perceive the polarization of sunlight.   Evolution as Don explains is a ‘battle of interfaces’.

What has been most important in evolution is how well a species can engage with its interfaces or in other words ‘the fitness’ of that species within the niche and context that it exists.   So what really matters he says  is ‘fitness before truth’.    Don conveys that a ‘Truth perceiving creature would never exist because it would never survive’.  'The more fitness payoffs you get the greater evolutionary advantage you have'.

So if space and time are not objective reality – what is?  Don’s believes that consciousness is the source of objective reality.  We are all conscious agents having an experience, deciding what to experience and passing on our experiences to influence others.   We are finite single agents that are connected up to an infinite social network of conscious agents.

We, as a collection of conscious agents, can combine to create a ‘society of minds’.  Organisations for example, are a collection of conscious agents, which then creates a higher conscious agent.  So what are the ways that the lower finite agents of individuals can tune into and see the higher collective agents of organisations?

In learning about new principles of fitness before truth, user interfaces and conscious agents has opened my mind to a more expansive reality of existence.

Don’s work has provoked some questions in me:

·      As someone who relates to seeking the truth am I putting myself at risk of extinction?    Or is seeking the truth of existence becoming a new fitness criteria?   What if perceived fitness criteria (obtaining money, things, status) are killing the planet – are they then not actually fitness criteria?  Can we as humanity create new fitness criteria fast enough before we extinguish ourselves as a species?  So maybe truth is more important than fitness?

·      What I felt was missing in Don’s talk was any suggestion that there is a higher order conscious that we are all part of.  His suggestion feels human mind centric and mechanistic in that ‘all finite conscious agents stack up to infinite conscious agents which one could perceive as God or spirit.   What if it was the inverse  - spirit or an intelligent consciousness beyond mind expressing itself through life, including humans?

·      What does this mean for organisations and what are the processes and tools we can use to connect conscious agents see the patterns that bring about a ‘society of minds’?  What does this mean for strategy development, e.g. ‘organisation as a living organism with its own purpose’.


What leadership is needed now?

In my experience of learning about change and leadership – one of the things that really stands out is the importance of CONTEXT.   Context is what helps to orientate, to inform and to act with intelligence.

Complex Systems

What is the context of now?     We exist as part of a complex living system.   All of our human sub-systems within the wider complex system of life are made up of a web of diverse relationships.   These relationships interact and learn, create, adapt and evolve.   They are dynamic which means we can never fully predict what will come about or emerge.  Their interacting parts make up patterns that then shape and create the whole.


Strategies To Navigate Complex Systems

If we better understand complex systems, we can create more relevant strategies to help us navigate our constantly evolving world.

This includes strategies that:

·      Cultivate diverse perspectives

·      Create a shared purpose

·      Develop communities of practice & learning that work together over time

·      Spur innovation and experimentation

·      Support and resource energetic niches who do things differently

·      Find ‘acupuncture points’ in the system for collective action

·      Amplify the new through connecting and inspiring narratives 


Leadership that Embraces Complex Systems

The leadership that is needed to embrace complex systems is multi-faceted. It is about different ways of thinking, perceiving, feeling, being, relating and doing.  This includes:

·      Seeing the whole and its interconnected parts – and locating one’s own relationship to that whole

·      Having a higher purpose that is beyond the small self

·      Orientating oneself in a long term time horizon

·      Suspending judgment and being open to diverse perspectives

·      Able to hold polarities in oneself, others and society – including ecological crisis and the seeds of hope

·      Thinking critically about assumptions that need to be tested or problems that need to be analyzed

·      Feeling, imagining and expressing a vision that inspires others

·      Creating space that enables others to open up to their greatest potential

·      Willing to try things out and to experiment through action

·      Being open to continuously learn and evolve

·      Sensing the energy in the field and tuning into openings of potential 

My talk on Systems Change at European Parliament - Giving Nature Rights


I recently gave a talk at the European Parliament at the Nature's Rights Conference.    The event was hosted by 4 forward looking MEPS and was attended by over 100 people.  The idea is to establish a Citizen's Initiative across Europe with the intention of bringing legal rights to Nature.   I am thrilled to be part of this very important work.  For more information and to sign up to Nature's Rights please go to


It was a grey rainy day in the City of London.    I was working for WWF at the time and I was there with our CEO, Robert.   We just left a meeting whereby, after 4 years of negotiations, one of our corporate partners, a large global bank, decided not to adopt the Project Finance Lending policies that we were suggesting.   We walked away from that meeting in silence.

It was the same week that WWF’s The Living Planet Report came out showing that we have lost over 50% of the world’s populations of species- just in my lifetime.

A tear came to my eye.  A sense of resolve engulfed me.  And a question arose “What would a financial system look like that served people and planet?”

I was moved to help WWF think differently about change.

And this was the start of The Finance Innovation Lab.

The Finance Lab, now an independent organization, exists to enable a fair, democratic and responsible financial system.  In its 8 years of existence it has convened a community of 1000s of people who have worked together to successfully:

·      Amplify a new vision for the future of finance, 

·      Grow of dozens of new business models such as renewable energy funds and peer 2 peer banks

·      Shift policy and regulation – such as the Peer 2 Peer Lending regulation that now is enabling a more diverse system.

What I’d like to share with you today are three approaches that I feel are essential in enabling change at scale.  And will be important for us to consider as we create a Citizens Initiative for Natures Rights.

Firstly, it is important to understand complex systems

To be effective in our change efforts we need to work within the context of reality.  And the context of our reality is that we are part of a complex living system.  

And I believe, the more we can see our social, economic, and political systems as complex systems the more effective our change strategies will be.

What does it mean to understand complex systems? 

Two important examples for me include:  

·      Seeing the whole and its parts: The forest has its own unique properties as a whole system such as its micro climate and its intrinsic beauty.   And it is made of many interacting parts – trees, soil and animals.  How do we see the whole AND the interrelationship of its parts?

·      Embracing emergence and unpredictability.   A small intervention such as a match that lights a forest fire can burn down the whole forest in hours.   So, what are the small interventions we can make that have a big impact?

With The Finance Lab we looks at the whole, studies the interrelationships and senses into where best to intervene.   The Lab works with what Donnella Meadows calls ‘the highest order leverage points ’: 

·      shifting mindsets and values that underpin the system,

·      changing the purpose of the system itself and

·      updating the rules and regulations that shape the system.

Embracing a complex systems lense allows us leaders of change to be much more strategic in our efforts and I feel allow us to have a greater impact.

A second approach that I feel will be important in us enabling systems change for Natures Rights in developing DEEP CONNECTION

Another principle of a complex system, as in nature, is that everything is based on relationships.  No one thing lives in isolation - it lives in relationship to another.

This means that our work as leaders of change is relational.  For example, if we think about the great social movements in the world - their real power came from the strength of the relationships .

SO what does it mean to work at a level of relationships?    For me it means that we need to learn to:

Connect deeply with ourselves:

In my role as a leader of change I am constantly checking into:  What is my purpose and what is my own relationship to nature and the wider system that I am part of?

Build deep connections between people:

To enable meaningful change we need enduring relationships.  And we can do this by helping people to find a common purpose. This will act as a North Star that inspires and gives direction over time.

I have also found that deep bonds are built between people when we work at a level of emotions - as 97% of how we make decisions is based on emotional needs than rational ones.  

One of the most moving moments for me in The Finance Lab was when one of our participants, a corporate lawyer, stood up at one of our conferences and spoke from his heart about his relationship to his son and future generations.   This led other people to be more open and soon they were wanting to find ways to work together.

And the third thing we need to consider on HOW we will enable Natures Rights is COLLABORATION

The complexity of our challenges is so great that we need to find new ways to work together.  This is not easy as humans are not used to collaborating in our  culture that is dominated by values of individualism, competition and short-term thinking. 

There are great benefits that come with collaboration such as:

·      Collective intelligence – having diverse perspectives helps you to see the bigger picture and to move into more effective action.

·      Shared resources – pooling financial, logistical and human resources makes the community much more powerful 

·      Co- creation- working together you are able to come up with new ideas, experiment with others and learn what really works

The Finance Lab brings people together who normally wouldn’t meet such as policy makers, entrepreneurs and social activists.  And it is this collaboration that has led to changing rules and regulation in the finance system.

I’d like to leave with 3 questions to consider for: ‘HOW we can enable systems change for Nature’s Rights’

·      What are the strategic leverage points that will have the greatest impact?

·      How can we relate to ourselves, to each other and to nature in new ways that fosters deep and meaningful connection?

·      How can we put processes in place that enable us to work together and collaborate over time?

In summary, through seeing the world through a complex systems lense, through fostering deep connections and enabling collaboration I believe that we will soon bring Natures Rights to life. 

“How can emerging science help to inform and improve our strategies and leadership for change?”

It was a year or so after the financial crisis of 2008 and I was reading an FT article by Lord May and Andy Haldane titled ‘The Birds and The Bees and the Big Banks’.    Although I have always been curious about nature and science this was the first time I considered seeing strategy and leadership through the lense of science.  

This article came to me at a time when I was leading The Finance Innovation Lab – a social innovation organization that enables systems change in finance.  I was hungry for new ideas and insights on how to build more effective strategies that could accelerate transformational change.      This, coupled with my belief that the more aligned we can be to the fundamental principles of existence the more harmony there will be in the world, led me on a path of inquiry –  “How can emerging science help to inform and improve our strategies and leadership for change?”

 Since 2008, I have been learning more about the new ‘emerging science’ of quantum physics, neuroscience, biology, kinesiology and cosmology and how it is showing us that we live in a fundamentally interconnected world- one that is based on relationships, creativity and potentiality.

I believe that the root of our social, political and environmental crisis stems from an outdated reductionist worldview – that we are all individual atoms bobbing around in isolation and separateness.   Scientific thinking and developments of the past have played a significant role in shaping this worldview.    So, what if, we choose to embrace what the new emerging science is showing us – would this help to enable a leap to a new worldview of interconnectivity?   I believe so!

Embracing new emerging science has radically shifted how I see the world.   Working with these concepts, I have developed better strategies and have deepened my leadership in ways that I had never imagined possible.

Through complexity scientists and biologists such as Orit Gal, Jean Boulton and Rupert Sheldrake, I have learnt about natural complex systems of oceans, bees and rainforests. This has helped me to see the world through the view of relationships, emergence and wholeness.   In my strategies for change, I look for patterns and new niches of development. In my leadership, I have learned to understand and pay attention to relational dynamics. I cultivate fields of morphic resonance.

Through people who study kinesiology such as Lynn McTaggart and Dr Masaru Emoto, I have learnt to sense energy and direct energy flow.  My practices include setting intention, designing divergent and convergent processes into meetings and cultivating people with higher resonating energy frequencies.  I look to find energetic ‘acupuncture points’ that can release energy for change.

Through quantum scientists and philosophers such as Jazz Rasool, Jeremy O’Brien and Amit Goswami,  I have learnt that truth is subjective based on the viewer and what is being viewed is ‘a moment frozen in time’.   I have designed impact and evaluation strategies to cultivate the collection of multiple truths and have learned to hold impact measurement lightly given its subjectivity.  I place an importance on understanding and questioning context.

Through neuroscientists such as Joe Dispenza I have learnt more about how the brain works and how we can require our brains to change not just our behavior but also our own biology!  In my strategies, I design processes that invite in different senses, emotions and practice – all of which work with the neuroplasticity of our brains.  I understand more about the power the limbic brain and how as a leader getting to ‘why’ is so critical in influencing change.

I am grateful to all of these scientists, philosophers and practitioners who have helped me to see the world in a brand new light.   I am a better leader because of the time that they have contributed in helping me to apply new science thinking to my improved strategies for change.  

However, looking back on it - I wish there was a way I could have fast tracked my learning – how could I have gleaned these rich insights in 1 year – rather than 8 years?

I wish there was a central resource hub I could go for articles, books, case studies, videos and events about emerging science.

I wish I had regular access to some of these thinkers to be stimulated by ideas and their thinking.  

I wish I could help them in return by providing a practice ground to test and apply their thinking in new ways and to give them visibility in their work.

I wish I had an learning space where, with peers, we could help each other think through strategies and application of new emerging science thinking.

So it is my intention to see how I can help other leaders of change, people like me who are wanting to make a quantum leap in their leadership and strategies.  People who want to enable even greater harmony in the world for people and planet.  

It is with this intention that in 2017 I will start to convene conversations, community and co-inquiry around “How can emerging science help to inform and improve our strategies and leadership for change?”

 If these reflections resonate – please do get in touch - I’d love to hear from you!

The Power of Paradigms

A Review of Thomas Kuhn’s ‘Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ and Implications for Change Practitioners

Brexit. Donald Trump. Syria.   There appear to be unprecedented meltdowns everywhere…

A clash of mindsets, a clash of values, a clash structures?    It seems that we are living in a real time massive historical paradigm shift.

This year’s events have made me even more curious about paradigms.   Although I study and talk about change all the time, I had actually never read Thomas Kuhn’s seminal work – The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  So it was about time I did!

Kuhn is an understated legend.   Part scientist, part historian, part evolutionary.  I’d recommend his work to anyone who is interested in change – the theory and the practice.  

Here I have shared a summary of some of the key themes that resonated with me.  And some emerging questions that I think are critical for us as enablers of change.


Paradigm of Progress

Firstly, what is a paradigm?    To put it simply, it is a belief system that guides the way that people do things, or more formally establishes a set of practices – from thought patterns to action.    As Kuhn states, ‘A paradigm defines what progress should be made’.

A dominant paradigm, or business as usual, holds its power because it is good at ‘solving problems’ of that current historical context in time.  It is held in place by a strong network of commitments – conceptual, theoretical, instrumental, methodological and cultural.

Kuhn was very interested in exploring shifts between paradigms – from what is deemed as the current paradigm or ‘normal science’ to shifts to a new paradigm – ‘a revolution’.  Importantly, shifts to a new paradigm are ‘instigated by a desire of progress away from less adequate conceptions of and interactions with the world’. 

This makes me wonderhow can we have a clearer understanding of the ‘qualities and nature’ of our emerging problems?   How can we better clarify what we mean by progress – so that we can design processes and practices - and welcome mindsets and values- that are more relevant and effective in the new context?


Status Quo – Steady or Not?

Consensus holds a paradigm in place. Current paradigms aren’t really about proactively seeking novelty per se more about but at clearing up the status quo. The status quo tends to discover what it expects to discoverHowever, discovery as Kuhn was keen to convey, was not made by a set of accumulated facts that progressed on a linear upward trajectory over time.   However discovery and making real leaps come about through fits and starts, moving backwards, forward and sideways – often simulatanously.  Mishaps.  Failures. Breakdowns. Frustrations.

So, if we are seeking to accelerate paradigm shifts in order to continually progress within more rapidly changing contexts - can we encourage stronger cultures of critical thinking, diverse perspectives and radical experimentation?  How can we, in our own lived experience, embrace the messiness of progress and drop the fallacy of a linear progressive trajectory?


Deviant Discrepancies

As progress is developed within a current paradigm it starts to reveal

anomalies, facts that are difficult to explain within the context of the existing paradigm. Kuhn points our ‘while usually these anomalies are resolved, in some cases they may accumulate to the point where normal science becomes difficult and where weaknesses in the old paradigm are revealed.”    

 How can we create conditions where spotting anomalies- or as Kuhn also puts it ‘those violating discrepancies’ – is welcomed?   And how can we fast track connection of anomalies so they have more power as a patterned collective than they would as random individuals?  How can we more vocally call out the weaknesses of the old paradigm?


Anomaly Cultivators

Who are the anomaly spotters and cultivators?  New discoveries and theories are usually spotted by people who are able to see the world differently- compared to others ‘in their profession’.  Outliers. Loners.   Kuhn highlights that they are people who are unafraid to focus on the ‘crisis provoking problems’ and “possess an exceptional ability to recognize a theory's potential”.  And he suggests they are often ‘newcomers’ to the crisis-ridden field of practice. And thus, they are less deeply committed than their contemporaries to the worldview and rules that had determined that old paradigm. They are often younger too.    


How can we cultivate more cross-fertilization across practices in order to introduce ‘new thinkers’ to existing fields?   How can we encourage and appreciate different worldviews to our own – and let go of judgment?


Chaos and Crisis

As the accumulation of discrepancies between the paradigm and the reality of nature increases – this normally leads to a crisis point. At this point, the discipline of that paradigm enters a period of crisis characterized by Kuhn, "a proliferation of compelling articulations, the willingness to try anything, the expression of explicit discontent, the recourse to philosophy and to debate over fundamentals".     Kuhn talks about how “How arrogant and vicious science becomes when confronted by a new paradigm’.    The old paradigm will hold onto a bad paradigm no matter what until a new one emerges.   


How can we as agents of change be resilient whilst living within the old paradigm that is fighting violently to survive?  How can we be both fierce and compassionate when engaging individuals of a dying paradigm?


Blinded by Language and Mindsets

The advocates of mutually exclusive paradigms are in a difficult position: "Though each may hope to convert the other to his way of seeing science and its problems, neither may hope to prove his case. The competition between paradigms is not the sort of battle that can be resolved by proofs." Scientists subscribing to different paradigms end up talking past one another.  It is as if they are talking different languages. And as Kuhn implied, beware – because even if we are speaking the same apparent language – our understood meaning could be completely different.  Like the word ‘mass’ – same word but two completely different meanings depending on if you were Aristotle or Einstein.

Kuhn makes the point that no matter how much evidence that one puts forth ‘for’ or ‘against’ the new or old paradigm – the mindset of that paradigm will screen for information that it wants to see. What a person sees depends both upon what they look at and also upon what their previous visual-conceptual experience has taught them to see.  Paradigms will filter evidence to sustain themselves.  Think about climate science evidence. The dominant paradigm just can’t see it.

Do we need to test our assumptions about approaches to change that are overly reliant on ‘building evidence?’   How do we pay attention to language – understanding that a common language still doesn’t imply common understanding?  How can we better understand what it means ‘to change mindsets’ – how do minds actually change?  What can we learn from neuroscience in this regard?


Better = Better

And what makes paradigm shifts particularly sticky is the fact that you can’t measure one as being better than another.  Any sort of measurement is derived from the paradigm from which it originates – so there is no way to be fully objective.  This idea he argued was one of  ‘incommensurability’ that is to say, there exists no objective way of assessing their relative merits. There's no way, for example, that one could make a checklist comparing the merits of Newtonian mechanics (which applies to snooker balls and planets but not to anything that goes on inside the atom) and quantum mechanics (which deals with what happens at the sub-atomic level).   Kuhn also points out that in the emergence of a new paradigm –things are more abstract and qualitative.  There is no way to measure the new paradigm, as it does not exist yet.   Thus new paradigms are hard to articulate.   

How can we go easy on new paradigms (and people leading them) and make sure we spend enough time in discovery, inquiry and sense making mode before we insist in measuring the new – which is often an insistence of the old paradigm?  How can we test our assumptions that the current standard and tools of measuring things are not reinforcing the old paradigm or the acceleration of the new?  Ahem, social impact measurement!


Power of Subjectivity

Truth is relative to the context of paradigm.  There is only a perspective of truth and there is no ‘one’ version of truth as our Western conditioning wants us to believe.  If there is no rational way to compare, contrast and justify truths and paradigms – then the importance of subjectivity comes into play.   This suggests that when we are engaging in paradigm shifts, intuition, trust and persuasion are more powerful factors than evidence and rational argument.   Drawing on psychology, Kuhn talks about how shifts in mindset are similar to that of Gestalt switches – which are often sudden, unpredictable and personal.


How can we pay more attention to the relational reality of change and get better at the way we relate to ourselves, each other and the planet?  What do we need to do to help build stronger appreciation, connections and psychological understanding in order to guide people in change?   How can we get better at developing inspiring visions and stories for new paradigms of progress?


Making the Switch

The decision to reject one paradigm is always simultaneously the decision to accept another.  This happens when scientists start to see ‘synthesized anomalies’ and they begin to loose faith in old solutions and consider and convert to new alternatives. 

As Kuhn describes, ‘in the end, the crisis is resolved by a revolutionary change in world-view in which the now-deficient paradigm is replaced by a newer one.   Probably the single most persuasive claim advanced by the proponents of a new paradigm is that it can solve the problems that led the old one into a crisis.   When it can legitimately be made, this claim is often what helps to facilitate the shift to a new paradigm. 

How can we as agents of change shine a spotlight on the new alternatives – and demonstrate how they can solve new contextual problems more effectively than those solutions of the past?  Who can play a role to help to synthesis anomalies? How do these synthesizers build legitimacy?


Recalibration of What Came Before

A shift to a new paradigm is not just an extension of old theories but rather a shift to a completely new worldview.   It changes the way terminology is defined, how the people in that field view their subject, what questions are regarded as valid and what rules are used to determine the truth of a particular theory.    In order for a new paradigm to settle into the new norm, it is essential that old theories be recalibrated to make sense in the context of the ‘new norm’.   As Kuhn says that this recalibration is an ‘intrinsically revolutionary process that is seldom completely by a single person and never overnight”. 

What parts of dying systems need to be recalibrated as part of the acceleration to new paradigms?  How can we honor old paradigms as having once served a very important purpose – and make sure that their stories are woven into overarching narrative of humanity’s evolution?  How can we acknowledge that many people who are involved in shifting paradigms – and it is not down to single people or organizations?


Evolutionary Tension

Once a new paradigm comes into play, it settles into creating new norms, standards, laws and processes.   This ‘norming’ is very important in the grand scheme of things.  As Kuhn points out, “to fulfill its potential, a scientific community needs to contain both individuals who are bold and individuals who are conservative”.   Conservativeness – steadiness that is needed in order to go deep into understanding current realm of reality.  Openness – inquiry that is needed in order to make new discoveries that will be relevant for emerging futures.   

As change agents how can we accept ‘open and closed mindsets’ as part of the necessary evolutionary tension?   How can we dance between these two qualities- structure and emergence- in ourselves and in our strategies for change?




10 Ways to Host Better Conversations for Collective Action

Changing the Nature of our Conversations

I am sitting here at The Blooming Hotel in the Netherlands having just hosted a three-day strategic workshop for HIVOS’s Green and Inclusive Energy team.    The new global programme, funded by the Dutch Ministry, is supporting national, regional and international advocacy and communications efforts to help make the shift to a more inclusive, renewable and locally driven energy paradigm.

It was a successful few days of supporting the team to see the bigger picture, to align around their approaches for change and to connect deeply as individuals.

It is clear that changing the energy paradigm is complex – meaning that there are many actors, interacting at multiple levels and in ways that are unpredictable and often surprising.    

With this complexity, it is essential that we, especially those of us in civil society, build our capacity to host new types conversations, using new processes of facilitation, that lead to better collective action.     Powerpoint, expert presentations and case study evaluations are no longer enough.

We need new modes of facilitation that:

·      Include a wide range of voices, especially from those that are not usually heard

·      Cultivate more insightful ways of knowing –beyond the rational mind

·      Mobilize people through a sense of ownership and co-creation

·      Synthesize collective intelligence to inform the best action.

In my 12 years in leading change processes, I have been practicing how to host participatory conversations and build collective intelligence.  Here are a few things I’d like to share with you so you too can host new and better conversations – that all help accelerate a transition a blooming future – for people and planet!


10 Ways to Host Better Conversations for Collective Action

1.    Co- Design with Core Team

When you start co-designing the meeting, workshop, conference with teams take an attitude of co-designing with them.   They are closest to the needs of the group and have the biggest role and responsibility to play in the outcomes of the meeting.   As a facilitator – you are there to serve the team – so the meeting or workshop is about them and their leadership – it is not about you.

2.    Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

Start with the end in mind.  What is the purpose of your meeting?   What are your objectives?  What outputs do you want to create?  What do you want people to think, feel and do? Understand where people have come from, where they are at and where they want to go.   What are the relational dynamics - like power? Start with a draft flow on a template that should include elements such as:  the purpose of the meeting, the objectives, the outputs, the running order and steps of each session and their hosts and the relevant logistics required.  Expect (depending on scope of event) to do between 3-5 iterations of the agenda.   Establish a ‘hosting team’.  Create a mini project plan.  Establish roles for each team member – including project manager, facilitator(s),  space-keeper and logistics person.   Schedule regular planning sessions with the hosting team and do a final run through before the event itself.   

3.    Choosing the Right Space

There is much research these days that shows how our physical space and infrastructure affects the mindset, mood and behaviours of people.  So when choosing your venue, make sure it aligns to the energy tone and feel of the meeting.   Most meetings involving change practitioners include an element of helping people to think big, openly and differently and at the same time helping people to feel safe, connected and relaxed.   Spaces that work the best are not usually office environments.  They have good light, are spacious, have outdoor space, access to good food, lots of wall space, and break out space including places to relax.   Is there a theme to your meeting that informs where you hold the meeting?   The Blooming Hotel is an example of an ideal place for a workshop or conference.

4.    Setting the Context, Intention, Principles

When you kickoff the meeting, make sure you set more than enough time aside to ensure that everyone understands the context of the meeting and the meeting’s intention.  It is helpful to have an agenda on a flipchart or drawn on flipcharts on a wall so that people can feel orientated throughout the day (s).    Set principles of ‘relating’ for the group for how they want to ‘be’ with each other.   Ask the group what will make this the most successful meeting – crowdsource these ideas and cluster them into themes that you can also refer back to these during the meeting.

5.    Divergence and Convergence

Design the meeting or workshop in a way that starts very broad – exploring questions of ‘why’.  Then design the flow to work through other questions such as ‘how’ and ‘what’.  The nature of ‘why’ questions – the deep rooted meaning of things – is likely to be broad and have differing perspectives. Thus is often the stage in the meeting where there is tension, ambiguity and misunderstandings.  It is important to prepare for this and understand how you will intend to remain centered and help people through this ‘messy’ stage.  As people make sense, clarity will arise and convergence will begin.  At this stage it is important that key actions and commitments are voiced, owned and documented. The key to successful collective action is to surface, explore and appreciate all perspectives and align around common themes of purpose and action.

6.    Sensing the Energy

One of the most important things we can do in our every day conversation and in our meetings is to ‘sense the energy’ of people.   Energy is what makes the world go around.   Often there is greater meaning behind words and actions that is expressed through the energy we radiate.  We all experience this through the invisible ‘sense or feeling’ we get from someone.   To identify deeper meaning, to find ways to navigate it and to carefully (re)direct it is one of the most important (and hardest!) skills to develop as a facilitator.   When is the energy low? Stuck?  Generative?   For larger workshops, it is often helpful to have two facilitators for this reason so that they can better sense and guide the energy of the group.  And it is important to regularly check in with the group – “Where is our energy at now?’

7.    Connecting to Personal Purpose

When working with complex systems – which are often messy and take a long time to solve- it is essential to success for people to see and explore their own personal purpose as it relates to the purpose of the ‘work’.    It is wise to have a separate session on this – often encouraging people to have reflection time on their own such as taking a walk outside in nature. Connecting to one’s personal purpose is a motivator, a guide and the ‘North Star’ that will help people to want to expand into their fullest potential.  And to endure when things get tough.

8.    Adapting as you Go

A complex system (and working within one) requires you to continuously act, reflect and adapt.  We can’t fully control outcomes – as much as we’d think we’d like to!  Evolving your work is key.   So in meetings it is also important to adapt the agenda as you go.   Checking in with the hosting team and with the group at regular intervals helps you to decide what you need to do next.   Make sure that you have a formal ‘check-ins’ and ‘check outs’ each day.

9.    Engaging the Whole Person

For too long we have assumed that the only intelligence comes from rational thought.   This is ironic as psychology research shows us that about 90% of our decisions are based on emotions.  Indigenous wisdom bases its intelligence on intuition.  New science shows us that the ‘heart’ and the ‘gut’ are more advanced sensing organs than our brains.   All of these things show us that we have an opportunity to tap into a broader spectrum of knowing and intelligence.   And, we know too well, that our complex and stuck challenges require ALL the intelligence we can generate.  During meetings there are many ‘process technologies’ you can use:  World Café, Open Space, active listening, working in pairs, storytelling, bricolage, journaling, drawing, learning journeys, story-lining or performance arts – to name a few.   The Art of Hosting offers great training in these practices and I’d highly recommend taking these training courses.

10. Connecting to Nature

Seeing the bigger picture is an essential part of enabling change at scale.   For this, spending time in nature during the meetings or workshops is very powerful.  In nature, people can see more clearly, connect to what really matters and feel energized in being connected to a wider whole.   Often, for those of us working to address social and environmental challenges, spending time in nature often reminds us of ‘why we do what we do’ – and this can bring new energy to ourselves, our teams and to our work.

Changing the quality of our conversations is essential if we are going to accelerate scaled change in the world.  However it will not be easy. We need to learn how to collaborate.   We have to work against the grain of our very individualistic culture.    But-  I believe - with clear intention, practice and support of others – better conversations are possible.  

I am grateful to all of the leaders for change who have shared their own practice and mastery with me – so I hope these tips help you in your own work.   Here’s to a blooming future! 

10 Insights: ‘ Collaborative Partnerships: How We Relate For Change’.

As Charles Darwin once said, “It is the long history of humankind that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed."

Given the complexity of today’s challenges, we need to collaborate much more effectively.  


Collaboration brings new relationships, resources and insights and learning. It cultivates potential for growth and creating the ‘new’.   And collaboration, driven by intrinsic values, ultimately accelerates greater positive impact for people and planet.

However, we are not so good at collaborating.   Our current culture of ‘separateness’ and competition has trained us to work well as individuals.   

So, we need to practice the art of collaboration.  

And to do this means that we need to redefine how we ‘partner’ for collaboration.  How do we relate to each other?  What are our roles?  How do we navigate power dynamics and the messiness of complexity?  How do we relate to others?  How do we make decisions?   How do we evolve and learn together?  

These are some of the questions that I’ve worked with in my 20 years of developing partnerships for change.   And through my practice, I’ve gleaned some 10 key insights for ‘ Collaborative Partnerships: How We Relate For Change’. 

It’s a great idea to work through these questions together, try stuff out in action to test and grow alignment, write it down in a partnership framework and then put processes in place to constantly evolve your partnerships.

1.    Purpose

Purpose is the Northstar from which all decisions are made.  And to be aligned on purpose is paramount.   What is the collective purpose that you are serving?  What is the collective purpose that will keep you motivated over time – especially when things get tough, messy and ambiguous?

2.    Values

Values are the DNA that makes up what we find meaningful.  They shape our thoughts and behaviours.  Greater alignment around values opens doors for better collective action.   What are the partners’ core values that will hold them together, in resonating relationship, over time?

3.    Approach to Change

Our understanding, assumptions, openness and approaches for change vary.   If they vary too much there will be a constant tension which muddies the water when it comes to developing strategy and delivering implementation.   Do you have strong common beliefs around change? 

4.    Strategy

A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve long-term positive impact. It is important that partners have a common understanding and agreement on strategic plans and processes.  And ideally have co-shaped it together through understanding ‘the needs in the world’ and ‘what you offer’.  What is your collective strategy and do people feel a sense of co-ownership?

5.    Roles and Responsibility

Collaboration requires the bringing together of a multitude of skills, experiences and talents to meet your aims.   Clarity of roles is essential and enables better delivery, decision-making and dynamism.   What roles do you need for your collaborative work, whether it be strategy, delivery or operations, and who is taking responsibility in each role?   Does each person have full autonomy and support to fulfill their role?

6.    Value Exchange

Practicing collaboration means to practice a new form of value exchange.   It means to move from a transactional reality to one that places a greater emphasis on relationships. What is the value that you are bringing to the collaboration?  What is the value that the collaboration brings to you?    What is the value you are co-creating together?  How are you going to share that value?

7.    Resources and Assets

Pooling, leveraging and creating collective resources is a great advantage of collaborative partnerships.  However with resources come challenges of ownership, power and control.  This is often is what drives relationships into breakdown.   What are your individual and collective resources – such as financial, human, brand, thought leadership?  How are you sharing them?  Where are there likely to be power dynamics around resources and how can you address these in advance for the collective good?

8.    Risk

Collaboration for change at scale means that you are embracing complexity. This means that you are working in unknown territory and you will not be able to predict or control the future.   As much as you’d like to think you can!  So there is a chance you may ‘lose’ what is known to you.   If and when this happens, what might you do about it?  Who is accountable for holding different elements of risk and the risk for the core of the project - is this balanced or imbalanced? 

9.    Attribution

Collaboration is about working together to serve something larger than yourself.  This means you need to let go of expectations of ‘self identity’ and start building more emphasis on ‘collective identity’.  However given that collaboration is about working at the ‘human level’ everyone needs to be recognized for their unique contributions.  What is your process for building the collective identity?  And what is your process for recognizing the individual (person or organization)?

10. Learning and Evolving

One of my greatest learnings in change is that you need to put learning at the centre of everything.  Learning helps you to reflect, make sense, adapt and take better action.   Learning together builds collective intelligence and that leads to better strategies for change – and thus greater impact.   How do you communicate and learn with each other?   What are the regular processes you need to put into place to deepen and accelerate your learning so you can improve your collaborative efforts?

Thinking Systemically - Environmental Funders Network


I was recently asked to write a blog for the Environmental Funders Network (EFN) 

Pioneering funders play such an important role in tackling root issues - we need funders now, more than ever, to take a systemic approach to there funding.  Here's why.......

Thinking Systemically

By Jen Morgan, 3rd December 2015

“The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.” Gregory Bateson

So what is the difference between how nature works and how people think?

As empowered change agents, how can we help to align human systems so that they are in harmony with our natural systems?

This is something that I have been exploring for the last 12 years working at the nexus of sustainability and finance as a change practitioner with WWF-UK and The Finance Innovation Lab.

How Nature Works – A Complex System

Nature is a complex system. Orit Gal of Regents University’s Complexity Studio explains that the characteristics of a complex system, such as in a rainforest or a pond, include:

• Many simple actors whose interconnected relationships make the whole
• A collection of local actions – there is no ‘one actor’ in control
• Many interactions between actors – some interactions have surprising effects
• Actors learn and evolve over time and this leads to changing dynamics and patterns

However, through our prevalent thinking, we have designed our human systems with underlying principles of ‘self’ as independent, hierarchal control, predictable cause and effect and siloed expertise. Our predominant thinking has solidified through the influence of religious, scientific and industrial eras. As a result, we have become disconnected from ourselves, from each other and from the universal operating principles of nature that enable the conditions for life to thrive.

The most important thing we need to do now is to help humanity to change the way it thinks. We are not facing an ecological crisis – rather we are facing a crisis of epistemology. And this is the root cause of all our ecological challenges. This requires us to work at a level of worldviews, purpose, values, behaviours and relationships. Making shifts from ‘I’ to ‘WE’, from ‘individualism to interconnectivity’, from ‘fear to love’, from ‘scarcity to abundance’.
Thinking Systemically

Donella Meadows, a pioneering American environmental scientist, teacher, and writer, co-authored ‘The Limits to Growth‘, a seminal piece of work that began a debate about the limits of the Earth’s capacity to support human economic expansion. As a system thinker, she has also helped people to understand systems and how to intervene in systems for meaningful change.

The essence of her thinking is summarised in ‘Leverage Points, Places to Intervene in a System’. In this article, she talks about different leverage points with varying levels of influence. In descending order of effectiveness, she suggests change efforts should focus on shifting:

1. The Worldviews and Values Underpinning the System
2. The Purpose of the System
3. Who Shapes the Rules of the Game
4. The Rules of the Game
5. Information Flows
6. Positive and Negative Feedback Loops e.g. incentives
7. Physical Material Flows

She highlights that the top three most long-term, impactful places to intervene are through addressing the system’s worldviews and values, the system’s purpose and the system’s power dynamics.

But where do we actually focus our change efforts? Most of the of environmental change efforts of UK philanthropists and their grantees have historically addressed the lower order leverage points for change – such as increasing transparency, internalising externalities, and reducing environmental footprints. These are important. We need it all.

However, our efforts for change are seriously not stacking up to the scale of change that is required. We need to think much more critically and progressively about our strategies for change. And this means placing a much greater emphasis on the higher order leverage points that Donella presents.

Acting Systemically

So how can we stimulate change at the root level of systems?

Over the past decade, I have learnt that meaningful long-term change needs convening infrastructure, collaborative communities and personal leadership.

Convening Infrastructure:
Social change takes time. To help to create the enabling conditions for change over time, convening infrastructure is essential to host and grow communities and programmes of work. There is an increased awareness amongst US philanthropists that ‘backbone’ organisations are important convening infrastructure for ‘collective impact’. Backbone organisations clarify context, set intention, build strategy, cultivate resources, and create processes and partnerships that catalyse change at scale. Backbone organisations need the help of philanthropists now more than ever.

Collaborative Communities:
Aligned communities are exponentially more powerful. As we have seen from history, social change is accelerated when groups of people are galvanised by common purpose and find ways to act and move together. To enable an environmental movement in the UK, we need to convene and cultivate a community of change makers, who have a joint understanding of the root issues, are motivated by an inspiring vision, have shared theories and approaches to change, are aligned through a common purpose and have joined up strategies that allow the community to come together to experiment, practice, learn, adapt and leverage their work, relationships and resources.

Personal Leadership:
We are a fractal of the system. As we have learned from complexity science, we are all part of an interconnected system and our local actions influence the whole. So every action we take matters. And our actions will be even more influential if they are all in tune with our personal purpose (and this includes organisational purpose). What is our purpose? What are our values? What are our behaviours? Where are there gaps between our purpose and behaviours? How do we address this dissonance?

What philanthropists can do?

Philanthropists have a very important leadership role to play in pioneering the progressive change that is needed for people and planet. And the timing couldn’t be better. However, we need to take a step back, reflect critically on our efforts, and build better strategies and collaborative cultures.

Here are few thoughts that I believe will make significant shifts for our work.

1. Develop your capacity to understand ‘systems’ and ‘systems change’– take courses, learn from other practitioners, spend time in nature.

2. Invest more in convening infrastructure for change and backbone organisations and support people and projects that are working to address root-level systems change – shifting worldviews, purpose and power.

3. Recognise that meaningful change takes time and that tackling root causes may not produce direct and tangible environmental impact for some time – but when it does it will be significant and lasting.

4. Convene and cultivate collaborative communities for shared strategies, learning and leveraged impact. Do this with within and across the ecosystems of philanthropy and NGO/environmental organisations – and over a longer period of time.

5. Align your purpose and practice with everything you do – this includes things such as aligning programme and grant activity with endowment and reserve strategies.

Jen Morgan enables pioneering leaders and organisations to design and develop systems change strategies – so that human systems can align with the planet’s natural systems. As an intrapreneur within WWF-UK, she co-founded The Finance Innovation Lab – a newly independent systems change organization enabling a fair, democratic and responsible finance system. In addition to supporting systems entrepreneurs, she is an external advisor for the RSA’s Economy, Enterprise and Manufacturing programme and a Fellow at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School Centre for Social Innovation.