Systems Change

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.


Royal Society of Arts Journal - Article

I was recently invited to write an article for Royal Society of Arts Journal - Green Economy - September 2015 edition. 

This was a great opportunity to share my learnings of leading the Finance Innovation Lab and showing how we have used complexity science in designing and implementing our strategy for change.  


This article was originally written for and published in The Royal Society of Arts (RSA) Journal – September 2015.

 The Finance System – It’s Complex

By Jen Morgan and Chris Hewitt of The Finance Innovation Lab

Cast your mind back to 2008. We sat at the table, poured our morning coffee and read the headlines: “Banks hit by $5.9bn fine for foreign exchange rigging.” A few weeks before it had been “Deutsche Bank fined £1.7bn for LIBOR failings and misleading the regulator”. And before that, “HSBC bosses very ashamed and humbled as bank faces criminal probe threat over its tax dodging”. We may have been shocked but we had grown to expect such news. We were surprised, yet unsurprised, as to how quickly this news came and went. By lunchtime, the headlines were usually off the front page of websites and caused little in the way of political comment. In fact, in spite of the huge impact of the 2008 financial crisis, we seem to have accepted this dysfunctional financial system as a force of nature, rather than a market shaped by human values and intention.

Finance is a complex system. One of the reasons that it has not been dramatically reformed since the crash is that its very complexity has made it hard to sustain public discourse. Citizens, politicians, journalists, civil society and most people who work in the financial services sector –

apart from the few who have exploited it – are intimidated by this complexity. As a result, we feel ill equipped to advance the sort of systemic solutions that are required. But in order to create an economy that will enable us all to flourish, it is essential that we understand the truth: that we are all part of a complex interconnected financial system. Embracing this fact can empower us to take new and diverse approaches to change that will lead towards a financial system that is democratic, responsible and fair.

To do this, we need an appetite to deal with the root causes of this serious dysfunction. That requires new, long-term and systemic approaches to change; fresh approaches that The Finance Innovation Lab and a growing number of organisations are pioneering. Established in 2008, we empower positive disruptors who are enabling a democratic, responsible and fair financial system.   We work at multiple levels to connect people who seek to change the financial system, as innovators and entrepreneurs, civil society advocates, or ‘intrapreneurs’ within their own organisations. Our approach draws heavily on systems thinking, complexity science, values-based leadership and action learning.

Understanding Complexity

It is understandable that our society, our government and UK plc have failed to transform the financial system. For the most part, we are trying to fix a problem with mind-sets and strategies that aren’t fit for the job. We have commonly seen the finance system through a mechanistic lens of solid hierarchical structures, with efficient intermediaries that maximise financial returns. And similar to a mechanic, we think we can ‘fix’ the machine with the existing tools in our toolbox. Common tools proposed include ‘getting the regulation right’ or ‘encouraging challenger banks and letting competition and the market do the rest’. But time and time again, we find ourselves trying to deal with the never-ending breakdowns and broken parts.

Many of us are now starting to wake up to the reality that we are working with a complex and dynamic system rather than a machine, and that responses need to be designed accordingly. Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England has been a pioneer in helping to reframe how we see finance. In a recent speech at the Lorentz Conference on Social Economic Complexity, he explained:  “Modern economic and financial systems are perhaps better characterised as a complex, adaptive ‘system of systems’. Global economic and financial systems comprise a nested set of sub-systems, each one themselves a complex web. Understanding these complex sub-systems, and their interaction, is crucial for effective systemic risk monitoring and management”.

So what exactly is a complex system? Complex systems, such as social and natural systems, all have their own unique intention and purpose. They are dynamic and formed by relationships. They are emergent and unpredictable. They are non-linear and the whole often behaves very differently to the sum of the parts. They have many feedback loops and information flows around the system. They are adaptive, constantly learning and evolving.

Purpose, Values, Power

How can we best catalyse change in complex systems like the UK financial system? In her seminal thinkpiece 12 Leverage Points to Intervene in a System, Donella Meadows, systems thinker, futurist and author of Limits to Growth, maps 12 leverage points of how to catalyse change in complex systems. The most influential leverage points include: tackling root issues such as purpose and values, shifting power dynamics; and changing the structure of the system such as the rules and standards; and opening the feedback loops of information.

How does looking at finance through the lens of complex systems shed new light on the challenges we face? Firstly, the predominant purpose of the finance system has become self-serving rather than serving ‘the whole’ (that’s us and our environment). There has been little meaningful conversation about the purpose of the financial system, either in its current form or its aspirations. It presents itself as a sector that is maximising profits for the UK economy. But others might feel it should primarily serve the needs of the rest of the economy and society. Before we start redesigning the system we need to ask this question about purpose.

Secondly, our current financial system is underpinned by values and cultures that are extrinsically motived such as competition, hedonism and conservation. Research from the Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC) shows that extrinsically motivated values are less open to change and reinforce individualism. the ‘self’. Yet as our economies and societies become more interconnected, we need our institutions to display values that are intrinsically motivated such as kindness, creativity and responsibility. So a pertinent question becomes: How do we cultivate a system that promotes intrinsically motivated values?

Thirdly, the system is controlled by a powerful minority who hold the vested interest and is not accessible to those who have an interest in creating a more human-centred financial system. The UK finance sector is the biggest UK lobbyist in the EU. This is a powerful force that is holding the existing system in place. It is preventing more radical and deep rooted change to emerge. We need a new enabling power that serves society and the environment.

Envisioning a Human-Focused Finance System

In 2008, the anger of society at the consequences and causes of the financial crash was given a powerful voice by the Occupy Movement. This discontent resonated across whole swathes of UK public sentiment. But what was missing was any kind of strategic and systemic approach on creating the long-term enabling conditions for change. With no real strategy in place, any kind of public dialogue over the future of the finance system was quickly swamped by the complexity which served to keep the vast majority of fearful policymakers, public and media disconnected from the system, and thus unable to be open to see how change could happen.

Since then, however, there has been a surge of enthusiasm from outside the traditional finance sector, partly spurred by new technology, which has sought to deliver some financial services in a way which is more connected to people. Peer-to-peer lending, crowdfunding and values-based banks have flourished where the high-street banks have continued to stagnate. New products, such as climate bonds, have been developed to stimulate long-term investment in socially and environmentally useful projects, such as sustainable energy infrastructure.

At the same time, civil society groups, such as The Finance Innovation Lab, ShareAction, New Economics Foundation (nef) and Positive Money have been quietly co-creating a vision of a finance system that is democratic, responsible and fair. This vision has four  Leverage points for change.

 First, a banking system that has a diversity of business models, offering more genuine and fair competition for savings, business loans, mortgages, payments and support in financial management. The globally focused, shareholder-owned high street banks have failed to deliver this. We need more mutuals, credit unions, innovations in payments, locally focused banks, peer-to-peer lending and other creative ways of providing these services.

Second, an investment and capital market that is shaped by the long-term interests of savers, from whom most of the capital originates, in the form of pension funds, insurance or other savings. Our policy framework must reward long termism, transparency and valuation of social and environmental risks. It should, correspondingly, penalise excessive speculation, extraction of rent through hidden fees and a discounting of long-term risks like climate change.

Third, a system of monetary policy intervention, which takes fully into account the social, environmental and economic consequences of those decisions. This would require that we move away from seeing monetary policy as a technocratic activity free from ‘interference’ from politicians, towards one where there is real public and democratic debate and oversight into the use of such tools.

And lastly, active encouragement for innovation and creativity in financial services that increase accessibility and transparency, provide benefit to the whole of the economy and are socially useful. This will require regulation to be more flexible, with fewer barriers to entry, but also placing the responsibility on the innovators to prove their worth to the rest of us.

This transformed finance system should have an explicit purpose to serve society, the environment and the wider economy. This will require leadership from government and, within finance institutions themselves, a rediscovery of the ‘service’ in financial services. We must not continue to see the sector as an ‘industry’ whose profits are a key driver if the UK economy. Research from the Bank of International Settlements, the global ‘Bank’ of Central Banks, shows that if a financial sector becomes too big as a proportion of a national economy, it starts to damage the rest.

The values of its participants will need to reflect that new purpose, both as an explicit intention and in response to market and policy pressures. Competition will increase from innovators who are not afraid to use greater transparency as a means to attract market share and reduce costs to consumers, rather than as something to withhold in order to protect profits and create barriers to entry. Those who cling to the latter will look increasingly outdated and irrelevant.

A more diverse ecosystem of market players will also help to dilute the power of vested interests to shape policy in their favour. One of the roles that The Finance Innovation Lab has played is to bring innovators together with policymakers, in order to build trusting relationships and host in depth conversations about creating a more diverse market. As part of our strategy, in 2012, we held a summit with peer-to-peer lenders, the Treasury, European Commission representatives and others to focus on why and how the new sector should be regulated. We have also held workshops with senior staff at the FCA and Bank of England focusing on the needs of new business models and removing barriers to entry. All of this, combined with the work of many others, has resulted in new regulation for crowdfunding and other models of financial disintermediation, building the market for democratic finance.

Accelerating change
Changing complex systems is a long-term game and we need to build our change strategies to reflect this context. The Finance Innovation Lab has established the infrastructure for systems change that will enable collective impact at multiple levels in the financial system. This infrastructure allows for the ongoing experimentation and practical application of new approaches, builds capacities and cultures of creativity, learning and evolving, and cultivates strong communities of influence.

What we have learned in the Lab is that there is no ‘one’ solution and that change takes time. This is especially true when working with deep-rooted issues of purpose, values and power. Multiple approaches of change across the finance system are needed, including amplifying a narrative for finance, evolving approaches of current mainstream practices, advocating for structural reform and cultivating the niches of positive disruptors[A1] .  Positive disruptors who are all actively working towards ‘repurposing finance’.


Ultimately, we are all part of the financial system. There is no system ‘out there’, separate from us. How we choose to relate to money and our finances will directly influence how effectively we can scale change beyond ourselves. Will we choose for finance to be an enabler of a human-purposed economy, or will we choose for finance to remain the dominant force in a self-serving economy? Seven years after the start of the crisis, with banking scandals still hitting the headlines, there is no better time to make your choice.



Why the financial system needs an innovation lab?

Here is a recently blog that I wrote for Nesta .....


It was 15 July 2008 – there was tension in the air, as a conversation started in the Royal Festival Hall, London, UK, between four likeminded people: “The challenges we face today are so complex – there has just got to be another way that tackles the roots of these problems.”

The Living Planet Report had just been published – the trend of 30% extinction of all species on planet earth continued. Little did we know that two months later the Lehman Brothers crisis would help to spark the global financial crisis.  

It was then that four of us, who worked for WWF-UK and ICAEW, embarked on setting up The Finance Innovation Lab, which is now on its way to becoming an independent organisation in order to scale its work. Work that aims to empower positive disruptors in the financial system, connect people who are changing the system, develop them as leaders and help them scale their work.

We set up The Finance Innovation Lab for five very important reasons, which are still hugely relevant to the financial system today, and which guide our work:

1. Dealing with the complexity requires a systems approach to change

For too long, the financial system and its actors have been working as isolated components in a big machine. However, the financial system is an interconnected human system that is formed by dynamics, patterns and relationships. Only when we see the system as whole, and all of its complexity, can we then focus on high potential ‘acupuncture’ points that will accelerate change. In The Finance Innovation Lab we have paid attention to leverage points such as P2P Banking and cultivating new business models in finance.

2. Shifting purpose, values and culture takes time  

Not many people would disagree that the current financial system is self-serving, rather than serving the common good. It has been shaped by values such as competition, individualism and hedonism. For the system to serve the whole, we need to strengthen cultures that are underpinned by values of democracy, responsibility and fairness. Inspiring new values and cultures does not happen overnight. It will take decades. We have built a sustainable infrastructure for the Lab in order to cultivate and accelerate change in values and culture. A key part of our sustainable infrastructure is building deep long-term, collaborative partnerships with people and organisations. This is embedded in our culture and comes through in the way that we work. Over the last six years, in co-operation with many of these partners including business coaches, Shirlaws, Tim Jackson of the University of Surrey, Nesta and the New Economy Organisers Network (NEON), we have successfully run a number of incubators such as UnLtd Futures and Campaign Lab — which is now in its third year.

3. Demonstrating ‘the new’ needs safe space for experimentation

New business models in finance and their entrepreneurs have many forces against them when they start up – they often lack resources, leadership skills, community support or the influence to shape the wider market conditions. Innovation labs are needed in order to create safe spaces to try things out, to grow and to build the fitness needed to survive in a system that does not currently support ‘the new’. Check out The Finance Foundry, an incubator for new alternative business models in finance. It will be launched in the summer of 2015.

4. Changing power dynamics requires collaborative communities

The UK finance sector is the biggest UK lobbyist in the EU. This is a powerful force that is holding the existing system in place. It is preventing more radical and deep rooted change to emerge. We need a new enabling power that serves society and environment. And this takes the convening, alignment, strategy and the infrastructure of an innovation lab in order to build trusting and collaborative communities who are able to enable a new form of democratic power. To this end, The Lab is convener of the Transforming Finance Network, a network of civil society organisations dedicated to changing the financial system. In January a coalition of civil society groups, led by The Lab, set out five fundamental recommendations for transforming finance.

5. Inspiring new narratives through collective intelligence and insight

There’s lots of noise in attempts to change the financial system – but no vision of the future. Common narratives are much more powerful than hundreds of competing voices and are more likely to inspire and influence a new landscape. An innovation lab helps to cultivate collective insights and intelligence through action learning processes. Through our incubator programme, Campaign Lab, we work with social, environmental and economic justice campaigners to help them understand the systemic political and economic root causes that they need to tackle so that they can create meaningful change. Taking the narrative of change to the door of policy makers is a core element of The Lab’s work. A recent submission, to the Competition and Markets Authority in conjunction 20 civil society and alternative finance organisations called on the government to pay particular attention to fostering greater diversity of business models within the financial system.   

These five objectives underpin all our work to create a financial system that is democratic, responsible and fair. This is a critical time when more radical and disruptive social change is urgently needed and consequently investment in ‘systems change infrastructure’ is essential. The recent funding award to The Finance Innovation Lab, from Friends Provident Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) of a combined total of over £250,000 was given specifically for the purpose of establishing systems change infrastructure.  

The funding will provide the financial flexibility that The Lab needs as it transitions to independence, to invest in the core costs needed to support our work in building collaboration in civil society, to grow communities, capacity and solutions for transformational change. For people and for planet.

To find out more about the Finance Innovation Lab see: This blog is part of our March edition of Lab Notes - a monthly digest for public sector innovators.

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Photo Credit: tolkien1914 via Compfight cc

Attracting Investment - What Works!

There is so much to think about when ‘attracting’ investors to your work.  

It’s a bit like dating:  you need to show you’re the different dimensions of who you are.   First impressions do matter.   And you are aiming to discover if there is alignment – in intention, values and resonance. And often, you might only have a small window of time to see if there is connection.  

This is something that’s been on our minds at The Finance Innovation Lab @thefinancelab as we prepare to take our work to scale.  

Here’s what we have learned along the way in attracting abundance to our work.  We hope these insights help you in your work too! 

1.       Start with a story

Find a way to draw your audience – swiftly and deeply.    Stories connect.  Stories inspire.   What is a short story that paints a picture of what you do?  The more personal the story, the better.   How can you weave in the story of ‘self’ – why did you start your business?   What is your higher purpose?

2.       Narrate the Need

What is the big need in the world that you are meeting?   What is the background to this need?   How will what you are doing help to make the world a better place?   How will this help to change lives?   What are the top three areas of impact that you want to have?   What is your theory of change?

3.       Magnify your Market

Who will benefit from your work?   Why do they need your service?   Can you describe them and who they are?    What is your relationship to them? What value do you bring them?

4.       Present your Product

What is your product?    How does it work?  Can you demonstrate how it works through pictures or a customer journey?  What is the visual representation of your product?

5.       Exemplify Experience

Give examples of your track record.  What pilot tests have you done to test the market and its needs?   What have you learned from this?   What successes and impact have you had so far?   How are you measuring value? Give testimonials from people on how it’s changed their lives.

6.       Underline Uniqueness

What makes you so unique?   How are you different from other players in your marketplace?  What are your strengths and assets?  What special recognition have you achieved?  How are you creating large scale change?

7.       Demonstrate Demand

Show that there is a market demand.   Who is demanding your services? Where is there opportunity for growth?

8.       Top Team

Who is in the team?  What are their talents and skills and experience?  What are your values and culture? How are they recognised in the world?   Who are they backed by?   How do they complement each other? Demonstrate that you have a tried and tested strategy. 

9.       Powerful Partnerships

Who is involved already?  What commitments have they made?   What is there reach and credibility?    How do you work with them?  What is important to them?

10.   Showing Scale    

Be clear on why you want to grow?   What is your strategic focus?   What assets are you leveraging?  How is your model replicable and transferable?  How do you want to grow? Be honest about risks and challenges.

11.   Focused Financials

What resources do you need to grow over the next 3 years?   Who has invested in you already?  What investment has been secured? What is your business model?   What is the specific and clear ask to investors?  

12.   Recapping the Return

Why should people get involved?  What are they ‘buying’? How will their contribution make a difference?  Paint a picture one year from now.  Invite people into your dream.

13.   Basic Behaviour

There are many intangible and emotional things going when one person is attracted to another.  Investors invest in people.   So don’t forget when you are engaging with investors in person:  smile and have fun, show respect for yourself through how you dress, ensure a high quality presentation, including graphics, know your stuff,  convey the love of what you do and have belief in yourself and your work.

Rupert Sheldrake - Revealing the Nature of What Is

Pioneering Deeper Truths

What is so attractive about pioneers?    Perhaps it is because they are seeking deeper truths of what is possible, what is real, and what is true.  And what it means to be human.  For me, Rupert Sheldrake is a real pioneer.

For most of his 70 years, he has been seeking the truth of science.  He has challenged Dogmas. Ideologies. Norms.  Habits.  Assumptions.   He has been rejected by his peers as a result and is often seen as a ‘heretic’ by the what has become the ‘institution’ of science.  To me he is a bit of brave hero that we should all pay attention to – especially those of us who are thinking about the power of aligning human cultures and behaviours to the natural rythyms of the universe, the planet and its life forms.

Here are five things that struck me about Sheldrake’s Pioneering Work:

1) Everything has a purpose, intention and consciousness  - Appreciate it!

Everything, even the Universe, the Solar System, the Earth, electrons, has its own purpose, intention and consciousness – otherwise they would not be what they are.  So, in this context how does the Earth’s conciousness shape our consciousness?  How do we shape it?    What if we saw organisations, projects such as the Finance Innovation Lab – as bodies of intention and consciousness?   If this were the case, I think that we’d pay much more attention to the true inheritent nature of things and what it is naturally intended to be.  We would judge less.  We would have less expectation of others.  We would appreciate more.  We would be more intentional.  Maybe we’d be more curious about our inter-relationships, our interdependencies and our place in the world.  And thus, most importantly, perhaps we’d respect and love each other a bit more.  We would live our full potential.

2) Life is full of attraction and repulsion – get over it!

Electrons do it.  Planets do it. Humans do it.   The fundamentals of life are based on attraction and repulsion.   So with this truth, how can we learn to appreciate the things in ourselves that both are attractive and repulsive.   How about also those things we see in other people? Other cultures?  Other religions?    If this were the norm, I have a sense that we would not be so hung up on ‘what we lack’, ‘what we need’ and given our need to consume natural resources to deal with our repulsiveness –  I believe we would ultimately consume less material goods.

3) There are other forms of energy – tap into it!

The Chinese know this in Ch'i. The Indians know this in Dharma.  Scientists know this in the Dark Energy that exists in the Universe. Given the scale of our ecological and societal challenges, I wonder what potential would be unlocked if we were tapped into other forms of energy?  Is operating from the limitations generated by our rational mind enough?  Don’t think so.  Linking multiple energy sources to the power of intention and aligning to purpose fundamentals, I believe we would achieve, what Thomas Berry calls The Great Transition.   Harnessing the full human potential is essential, and we should explore the full potential of tapping into various energy sources, beyond our rational and physical bodies. 

4) The Laws of Nature are Not Fixed- flow with it!

Nature is always changing and nothing is ever fixed.  Sure there are continued habits of solar systems, ecosystems, species, and humans which continue over time, giving the delusion of set ‘Laws’.  However these, as Sheldrake points out, are merely repetition of habits.   So how can we tap into these habits and when these habits are counter life thriving- how can we interrupt them and redirect them in a way that supports life.  And how about human laws?  Well of course, they are not fixed and are constantly changing too with the shifts of culture and habits.   I wonder how, when it comes to laws that are no longer serving us - such as fiduciary duty-  (which says its prudent to maximise financial returns even if this means maxing out our ecological capital upon which all life depends) we can interrupt and redirect these unhelpful habits?  And even wider what are the general habits of the financial system that are deeply rooted which need attention?

5) Possibility is Impossible to Measure – so don’t smother it!

One of Sheldrake’s biggest challenges to Science is the need to constantly provide evidence to what is ‘real’.  However for me, this is a great tension, especially if we are seeking to ‘create the new’, imagining future scenarios, exploring assumptions, staying open to what spontaneously pops up- all of what is needed to support transformational change and great breakthroughs.    I don’t think Americas would have been discovered if Amerigio Vespucci was asked to evidence the fact that the America’s existed before he left.  So if possibilities and potentials are not observable yet, how can we hold space open for inquiry, curiosity, and not knowing?  How can we protect possibilities from the ‘lock down of knowing’ so that something becomes real?   How can we appreciate the things that we can’t measure like personal chemistry, soul, and spirit?  For me, it is the possibilities that give us the most hope in moving beyond our engrained (and often destructive) personal and cultural habits, behaviours and norms.

So thank you to Rupert for being the pioneer that you are – and for helping me see some deeper potential of the fundamentals of existence.  Those of which will support me as a change agent to help align humanity to the natural pulses and flows of life.

Quantum Science and Leadership


The Starlight of Intention

When you look up in the sky and see the light of a star, there is a good chance that it has died out long ago and what you are really seeing the remnants of its existence.

What if our thoughts and intentions were like that too?  And that our thoughts left light trails which influenced everything in their path?  If this was so, then perhaps people would feel more empowered, engaged  and responsible in life because what they said and did had a VERY significant impact on the world around them.

Well, recent quantum physics is showing us just this – that the ripple effects of our thought and intention are much more powerful than we think.

Lynne McTaggart’s book, The Intention Experiment, ( has really made me think about this subject and how I can build this into my own life as well as my work within the Finance Innovation Lab – an experiment in its own right seeking to enable a finance system which sustains people and planet.

Relationships & Interconnection – the fundamentals of life.

For the last several hundred years and in our own lifetime of grade school science classes, we have been taught that everything exists independently of everything else and that matter ‘is as it is’ – not volatile and fixed with its own set boundaries – unless there is a force or a collision which makes things do something else.  Freezing, melting, dying, vaporising, burning, breaking. We humans behave in the same way- going about our business as busy molecules – waking, working, sleeping, eating- trodding on believing that life and all of its activity carries on despite what we do and think.

However, quantum physics is teaching us that the tiniest foundations of life are not fixed or staid but rather a gigantic moving web of interrelationship and in constant intercommunication.  Unlike billiard balls bouncing around hitting each other the tiniest of tiny molecules act rather like waves of light influencing each other in their path.

 So how do we, as leaders and citizens, really prepare ourselves to engage in the world which is all about relationship and interconnection?  What type of skills do we need to build for collaboration, trust, communication and understanding?  How can we provide spaces and opportunities for people to develop these types of leadership skills?

Multiple Truths- accepting everything as a relevant truth.

What I find most fascinating about quantum physics is that things are moving so fast and are so interrelated the only real truth is what is perceived by the observer at that very nano-second of observation.   This means that nothing really exists as a thing independently of our perception of it.  This is mind blowing as it suggests that really there is no one truth given that the observer will always look at different things, at different times, from a different perspective.

So how can we all loosen up a bit and not be so stuck on our own truths?  Because really – it’s all perceived anyways!   How can we hold it all a bit more lightly and learn to appreciate and be curious about other people’s truths.  How do we hold spaces for multiple truths to be heard, appreciated and put together as a melange of multiple solutions for change?

Everything is open for influence- so let’s get to it!

More widely,  what quantum physics show us is that nothing is fixed and that everything is open to influence.   Molecules exist in a state of pure potential until we the observer put it into actuality.  Quantum physics also shows us that our consciousness can also directly affect matter rather than mind being separate to matter and locked in the brain.  In our act as participator and ‘setter of reality’ in the quantum world, we are also an influencer as well. We are influencing every moment of life no matter what we do. This has great implications as it suggests that we have a choice on what, who and how to influence and for what purpose.

  If we are more influential than we thought, does that bear a certain responsibility upon us to be intentional for the benefit of life on earth and the greater good of human evolution?   How can we cultivate the intrinsic values of community, benevolence and love in order to drive our positively intentional evolution?

 Go where the energy is- here, there and everywhere.

Humans are natural receivers of energy – for example, if you stick your finger in the TV antennae socket, you will act as the TV antennae and pick up waves and improve the TV’s reception.  Simple movement of our hand creates an electrical charge and most importantly,  it creates a relationship. The composition of water’s molecular structure is even shown to be changed by a healer’s energy. Every movement we make influences the people and life around us.

Experiments also show that the electrostatic energy of someone standing still is 10-15 mill volts, the electrostatic energy of someone meditating is 3 volts and experienced healers in practice emit 190 volts. Interestingly, most of the pulses of energy were coming from healers abdomen and energy remains even after the healing is given.  The most influential and most efficient flow of energy is light as they are the most organised forms of energy in nature.

One of the strangest things about quantum physics is the feature of called ‘non-locality’ or ‘quantum entanglement’- once sub-atomic particles are in contact they remain in contact despite external factors coming into play which might separate them.  Invisible connection occurs between molecules at a quantum level that even heat or a push cannot influence.

So human beings are both receivers and transmitters of quantum signals.  Directed intention sends both electric and magnetic signals.  Our intentions operate as highly coherent frequencies changing the very molecular makeup and bonding of nature. Like any form of coherence in the subatomic world, one well directed thought might be like a laser light illuminating without every loosing its power.

 How can we become more aware of our energy transmission?  If energy transmission (and the intention behind it) can positively influence- how can we develop skills and opportunities for people to improve their cultivation techniques?  How can we open our eyes to the realisation that our energy connects to others even when they are at a distance?   Might this suggest that scaling out change initiatives and ‘working at a distance’ is easier than we think it is?  How can social media accentuate our invisible ‘distant energetic’ connections?

 Positive thinking –  lighting up life.

 Korotov’s conducted an experiment with plants, hooking them up to a lie detector and projecting positive and negative thoughts to them, the plant would react accordingly – either perk up or wilt.   He stumbled across evidence that all living things engage in a constant two way flow of information with their environment enabling them to register the most nuanced of human thought. When you set an intention, every single major physiological system in your body is mirrored in the body of the receiver.  Intention is the perfect manifestation of love.  Two bodies become one.  And every last thought appears to augment of diminish something else’s light.

 How can we more fully light someone up through our positive and compassionate intentions?  What is the cumulative effect of secret negative intentions, wishes, powe- play upon each other (and the natural world) and how does this really manifest itself?  Would the world be a better place if we could all improved our positive thinking and started from a place of possibility and appreciation?

Entrainment and Resonance – we’re more powerful together.

“Entrainment” is a term in physics which means that two oscillating systems fall into synchronicity.   Such as two swinging pendulums falling into motion as one.   Tiny exchanges of energy that are caused by non-synchronicity causes one to slow and one to speed up until they are both in phase.  It is also related to “Resonance”, the ability of a system to absorb more energy than normal at a particular frequency.  Every vibrating thing has its own frequency where it finds vibrating the easiest.  When it listens or receives vibrations from somewhere else it tunes everything else out and tunes into its own resonant frequencies.   The seas, the planets, mothers and babies all work to the rhythms of resonance.

What is fascinating about quantum physics is that when things are entrained and march to the same cadence, together they send out a stronger signal than they do individually.  You can feel this when you listen to an orchestra vs. a single violinist.

 So what if we all tuned into each other more and really worked from a place of resonance and entrainment.  How can adapt to become more synchronized to people we may be out of synch with or with whom we have different world views?  How can we find and connect with more people with whom we share a great resonance?    How can we create spaces and places for us to work together inpowerful resonance so we can create greater impact together than what could do alone?

Heart and intuition - as the greatest intelligence.

 Experiments by McCraty show that participants who are hooked up to equipment and are expected to be shown emotionally charged photos react to the photos before they are actually shown them.  And in these experiments it is proven that the heart reacts even before the brain does.  These types of experiments show that the body has certain perceptual apparatus that enables it to continuously scan and intuit the future, and that the heart may hold the largest antennae. McCraty’s experiment showed that the heart is the largest brain in the body and influence aspects of higher thought in the brain.

 How can we build our intuitive skills and rely more on the intelligence of the ‘heart’ more to guide higher thought and decision-making?   How do we help people get out of their head and give them the chance to practice being more in the heart?

 Principles for intention

McTaggart shows that many varying experiments conducted with cancer patients, Buddhist monks, athletes reveal that there are certain principles which enable intention to be conveyed and received.  These include four key things:

  • Motivation (a sense of urgency)
  • Attention (via meditation for example creates more coherent brain waves)
  • Compassion (dissolve boundaries between self and sender, letting go of ego)
  • Belief (confidence in sending info across a distance)

 So this makes me think – in developing new business strategies, new change processes, new personal development goals – what if we use these four ingredients and principles as a guide for realising our intentions?  Would we be more successful in calling in the universe to help us with our aims?

Are you a good intentionalist?

 Experiments also show that ‘thin boundary people’ are better transmitters of intention.  These are often people who are open, unguarded and undefended.  People who are also sensitive, vulnerable, creative and get quickly involved in relationships are also ideal people to transmit intentions. These people do not repress uncomfortable thoughts nor do they separate thought and feeling.  These people are often found in the creative or arts sectors of society.

Most healers, or powerful intentionalists, are good at what they do because they are not just compassionate but they also get themselves out of the way – and they surrender to a healing force. They frame their intention as a request- “please may this person be healed” – and then allowed the greater force in.  None of the successful healers believed that they hold the power themselves.  When healers are healthy their light signals are stronger.  The most effective healer may be the ones that have been healed themselves.

 So how do we cultivate these types of skills in ourselves and in others?  How can we learn more from the creative sectors in order to open ourselves up to be better intentionalists?   How do we get ourselves (and our EGOs) out of the way and let the wider order of things step in to do the rest?   How do we ensure we cultivate our healthiness and happiness so we can be better healers for the planet and its people?


Places and timing for best intention

Intention has a wider relationship to the cycles of sun, stars, and circadian rythmns. Every living thing is synchronized not internal rhythms but rather by patterns of the planets, sun and circadian events.   For example, solar cycles which happen about eleven years and are equivalent to 40 billion atomic bombs,  rip apart magnetic fields of the earth.   When this happens it is shown that solar geomagnetic patterns effect the heart and heart attack patterns rise and fall. It is also shown that mental issues and conflict also rise during these solar events.

It has also been shown that there is higher residual energy registered at places like Queens Chamber at The Great Pyramid or Wounded Knee in Wyoming.  In places like this there is a lingering vortex of coherent energy from all people who prayed and died there.   This suggests the lingering effect of intention when waves of an ambient field become more ordered an intention may ripple through it like one targeted bullet.

 So when we aspire to set intentions or if we are hosting important large gatherings it feels important to pay attention to timings of the wider universal cycles as well as to pay attention to the place in which these gatherings are called.   What if change agents continually met at certain place?  Would this increase the intentionality success? 

Visualising and Feeling our Future

 Intention techniques are very successfully used in sports or artistic performances.   It has been proven that simply thinking about something produces the same mental  instructions and doing the action itself.  Even thinking about building muscles builds the muscle capacity to 33% of what it would do if you actually physically worked that muscle on a regular basis! (I am thinking about doing sit ups now).   Mental rehearsal lays down the neural tracks just as physical rehearsal does.  It is shown that it is even more impactful when it includes all five senses and when one visualises the moment of achievement.

 So what if we were to start visualising a better world in which humans lived in harmony with each other and all other forms of life?  How can we ‘sense into this’ and create spaces in which lots of people can imagine, see, touch, believe, feel the positively intentional future that we all aspire to?

So now what do I intend?

 All of our major human achievements have been derived from asking an outrageous question.  What if stones fall from the sky?  What if there is no end of the earth to sail off of?  What if giant metal objects could overcome gravity?  What if time was not absolute but depends on where you are?  What if our thoughts really could affect the things around us?

I really loved Lynne’s book as it reminded me of the power of our intentions given our interconnected world, that we have a responsibility to all life on earth to convey and cultivate positive intentions, that we can build our own skill in being more masterful in intention – including using our heart and intuition, we can be  more intentional if we work together with others with whom we resonate and that through visualisation and feeling into the future we can literally pave the way for our success.

Her book, which tells the story of the fundamentals of life through quantum physics, was more evidence for me in my role as an intentional evolutionary in that I have the ability, responsibility and potential to help align life to the foundational truths of life on earth and in the universe---relationship, interconnection and co-creation.

Top Picks for Wisdom on Systems Change

I've been actively getting out there in sharing my knowledge and experience in incubating and accelerating systems change.

And in doing so, I've been asked a few times recently to share my top picks of those folks who hold great wisdom on the subject.

I've put this list together from a little help from my systems change buddies,  like the mega Andres Roberts.

Although the nature of systems change covers a super broad range of topics from science to spirituality, here are the faves.


Top Picks for Wisdom on Systems Change

Theory U, Leading from the Future as it Emerges – Otto Scharmer

Leverage Points, Places to Intervene in the System – Donella Meadows

The Web of Life, Fritjof Capra

The Fifth Discipline, The Art and Practice of a Learning Organisation, Peter Senge

Systems Thinkers- Magnus Ramage, Karen Shipp

Source, Joseph Jaworski

The Ecology of Mind, Gregory Bateson

Animate Earth, Stephan Harding

Margaret Wheatley, Berkana Institute

Joanna Macy, The Great Turning

11. The World We Have, Thich Nhat Hanh

12. IDEO, Designing Systems at Scale

13. NESTA Systems Innovation, A Discussion Paper

Learning From Student Movement in South Africa

Capetown, South Africa
March 9th 2015

With the work of The Finance Lab, I’ve been in South Africa for the past 6 days, with 8 fantastic people, exploring how to best set up a social innovation programme around the future of finance. The timing feels right for something like this. As we are looking forward with clarity to what is possible, it feels important to look back and understand what came before. South Africa, through apartheid, has experienced some rich wisdom around the principles of social change – how can we learn from this and fold it into our own strategies going forward?

So whilst in South Africa, I set out to learn more and picked up a book The New Radicals – A Generational Memoir of the 1970’s by Glenn Moss. It was a recount of the university students' and black trade unions' opposition to apartheid and how a generation of activists helped to transform society. It shares insights on strategy, leadership and tactics. It was fascinating on many fronts – politically, ideologically and organisationally.

The story shared in this book has helped me to see that there are some common emerging principles with how one successfully catalyses deep social change at scale. I have captured points and principles from the book as they jumped out at me and have noted them below. These principles have given me new insights and questions to ponder for my own work.

Challenging the fundamental underpinnings of a system and understanding complexity
• Want deep change? Change the game – not just the rules.
• Understand ideologies of systems.
• Understand the interconnections of the system – it is messy!

‘The challenge to liberal orthodoxy went beyond the questioning of multi-racism as an immutable principle. Liberal ideology embraced free enterprise, unfettered market forces and economic growth and asserted that these features of capitalism would inevitably erode apartheid and racially based inequality. Armed with the conceptual framework of Marxism, the new left questioned this, identifying the broadly functional relationship between existing capitalism and the apartheid state, especially in respect of labour recruitment, control and allocation’. (37)

‘The unfettering of free market capitalist relations might involve superficial changes to the policy and administration of apartheid but would not challenge the core elements of that system. This included migrant labour, low wages, a rural urban divide based on maintenance of a reserve army of labour at lowest possible cost and the use of rural subsistence production to maintain artificially low wages’. (38)

‘This involved more than the rejection of the political system of apartheid. The inherent radicalism of this approach lead to a critique of an economic system based on labour repression, low wages and extreme exploitation as well as the ideological and cultural forms that expressed and reinforced political and economic power’.

‘Many past National Union of South African Students (Nusas) campaigns had serious flaws. While protest action had ‘shown up evils’ it had failed ‘to make explicit the system underlying those evils’. (96)

The importance of utopian and visionary thinking
• Believe it and conceive it.
• Be specific about the vision.
• Lead with positive alternatives, not just a critique of the old.

Rick Turner, who taught political philosophy at the University of Natal from the 1970s said, ‘The first step to changing reality is to conceive how it could be different.’ (101)

‘Rick guided a generation of student activists to become critical and strategic thinkers, helping them to understand that there were systems of participatory democracy which provided real alternatives to formal and representative democracy. Turner emphasised the centrality of utopian thinking, by means of which the ability to imagine a world based on different social relations became a precondition for transformative politics. He insisted that individuals could make ethical choices, even in authoritarian environments. This inspired a generation to seek new identities, values and ways of acting, based on the rejection of both apartheid and capitalistic socio-economic relations’. (35)

‘Politically, Nusas leaders had realised that strategies of opposition had to be based on more than a broad rejection of apartheid. They nature of society being fought for influenced the type of activities students should initiate, and this posed questions about long and short term goals and the relationship between political means and ends. It was not just about what was undertaken that was important. The way in which the activity was undertaken could not be separated from the longer term goals and campaign or project.’ (92)

‘At the same time, Charles argued that students needed to start defining the sort of society they were fighting for, moving away from vague consensus formulations such as ‘equal, democratic and just’. Asking whether socialism or capitalism best captured long term goals of radicals, Charles called for a more specific conception of the type of society we want’. With a definite goal we can assess the relevance of our activity and critically examine its direction.’ (104)

‘In addition to short term campaign demands would need to be blended with a longer term vision including the ideas of the sort of society being fought for rather than just what was being opposed. Student campaigns usually involved a ‘short period of concentrated activity’. The impact of this would be enhanced if it was preceded by a far longer build-up in which the ground work for the campaign was laid, information disseminated and the context created in which campaign messages and impact could be more readily absorbed.’ (94)

Clarity on Context and Framing
• What is the desired higher context of change?
• Framing is critical for the outcomes desired.
• How many of our change effort framing e.g. Social Responsible Investment might be reinforcing existing paradigms?

‘Liberals failed to distinguish between multi-racialism and non-racialism. Multi-racialism, involved a non-negotiable principle about what constituted desirable forms of organisation and racial representation, and identified challenges to racial segregation as the bedrock of opposition politics. Non-racialism challenged the primacy of race as the basis of identity, economic interests and social explanation. It opened the door to other ways of analysing society which used the prisms of class, gender, structural inequality, access to resources and economic location to understand the fault lines in South Africa. A non-racial interpretation generated strategies to challenge relations in all those areas, rather than just in the domains of racial inequality and prejudice. Non racialism also had a view of the future which race would cease to be a central element in self-definition and identity. Multi-racism, on the other hand, aimed for a society where people from different racially defined groups would relate on a more equal basis’. (37)

Part of the Black Consciousness challenge to liberalism was founded on a long term vision of non-racialism and the rejection for multi-racism and racial categorisation. “We see a completely non-racial society” wrote Steven Biko. We don’t believe in …. guarantees for minority rights, because that …. implies the recognition of portions of the community on a race basis.” (37)

Building a Good Strategy Is Essential for Success
• The importance of critical thinking and robust analysis of challenge.
• Definitely learn from others’ strategies but have the clarity to build your own based on your needs.
• The importance of an action learning approach.

‘Opening address by Neville Curtis, the President of Nusas 1969 which was based on Amilcar Cabral’s dictum “We are confronted and unprepared”. Our morale is low our image is bad and or impact and effectiveness is limited. To change this we must reach agreement on basic goals, values and priorities…. We must work and plan effectively. But in doing so we must deal with more than just Nusas. We must deal with things political, and things philosophical. We must test, evaluate, criticise, formulate, accept and reject. This was the only process through which students could establish conditions to realise their full potential and provide a vehicle through which they can assert their responsibility to society’. (14)

‘A more radical politics on the university campus continued to develop within this contested environment. Youthful activists began to find their own paths and strategies independently of what had gone before and their rejection of multi-racial as a principle and liberalise as a goal initially left them politically adrift in unchartered waters.’ (33)

‘This had both its dangers and advantages. On the one hand, there was little guidance from a credible older political generation thus limiting the younger generational capacity to build on any collective institutional knowledge passed down through the prism of experience. The successes and failures of earlier political strategies and programmes, the decision to launch various forms of armed and violent struggles and their consequences, disputes between Africanists and non-racialists, nationalists and communists -none of this history was available to the new generation of 1970s political activists’. (33)

‘On the other hand, the absences of established political leadership opened up the space for the development of new and uniquely ‘internal’ initiatives and approaches larger independent of the organisations that had dominated politics of the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s.’ (33)

‘Emerging radicals in Nusas and at University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in particular were developing a notion of ‘praxis’ loosely based on Lukaes’s use of the term. This involved a dynamic or interactive (dialectical, in the language of the day) process of combining analysis, strategy and action, with each element continually influencing and structuring the others’. (47)

‘Power in South Africa was based on a minority rule and protection of the interests of a small, racially exclusive elite. Campaigning on a moral basis for change in these circumstances was bound to fail’. (93)

‘The search for appropriate political strategies and actions took place through interaction with other histories and traditions including black Consciousness liberalism, nationalism, socialism and communism. However the outcome was a development of our own strategies and initiatives’. (255)

Building Leadership Capacity
• Helping people understand context and system dynamics.
• Practice is essential for leadership to evolve.
• Provocations and support from elders are important.

‘Nusas paid particular attention to leadership training and political education within its own constituency. The bi annual seminars and the annual national conference were important vehicles for these ongoing initiatives. In the early 1970s they often included contributions from political and intellectual activists such as Rick Turner, Keith Gottschalk, Mewa Ramgobin and David Hemson who joined student leaders in presenting position papers on the wide range of issues facing a student movement fundamentally opposed to the society in which had formed it.’ (95)

‘Campaigns provided an important instrument for developing leadership and organisational capacity, educating and politicising students as well as a broader public, and revealing some of the realities underpinning a brutal and repressive society’. (96)

‘Movements flourish most when they are controlled by those who participate in them rather than those who impart ideas to them. But this is not to say that ideas and those to communicate to them are irrelevant. They often have important impact, creating possibilities whist foreclosing others’. (264)

Shine a light on what’s not working
• Show the contradictions.
• Show the nodes of power.
• Show where one is located in the system.

‘We need to turn our critical gaze onto white society and show clearly how its social institutions maintain and perpetuate inequality’. (99)

‘The sooner students realise that in South Africa they are neither operating within a democracy nor a legal system based on justice, the sooner we will be able to change that system’. (134)

‘However we would focus on the wages and working and living conditions of the mines and specifically target Anglo American because of the substantial gap between its quasi-liberal anti-apartheid appearance and the harsh reality of the compounds, migrant labour, poverty level wages and the absence of trade union rights’. (85)

‘The 1973 conflict at the Western Deep Levels mine embodied one of those moments which, in Dan O’Meara’s words ‘crystallise the contradictions and conflicts of an entire stage of development and the reactions to it point the way to the future development of a particular social formation’. (87)

‘A successful Nusas campaign had to be based on subject matter that was relevant to the political climate. It needed to provoke what the seminar termed ‘functional conflict’, which might help to change the attitudes, allegiances, generate critical thought and weaken the ideological ties holding groups and individuals to established positions.’ (94).

Who helps to influence change?
• People who have a stake in the future of the system e.g. students and youth.
• Tempered radicals from within the system.
• Beware of well intending institutions who blindly reinforce the status quo through their hierarchical cultures and structures e.g. Universities, big NGOS.

‘Ian Thompson, the philosophy lecturer who had joined the march, still had his note from his lecture on Socrates delivered earlier that day.’(27)

‘David Thebehali was representative of a relatively credible group of individuals who had chosen to work within the systems structures, using them as a platform to attack aspects of apartheid.’ (54)

‘Surely the very institutions of student government were part of the problem and inhibited the ‘changes in individual consciousness that the then influential Charles Reich believed would result in a revolution. Student government was intrinsically authoritarian, hierarchical and part ‘of the system’ or so it seemed’. (76)

‘Despite a rhetorical commitment to academic freedom and critical inquiry the content of the courses taught did little to challenge society based on racism, oppression and inequality. Universities prepared students to take their places as members of an elite which perpetuated a deeply unequal status quo and unquestioningly accepted its position in this hierarchy. Initiatives to counter this with only a few notable exceptions developed outside the academic education offered through university courses’. (95)

Making new meaning and finding higher level identities
• What are the higher level identities we need to define as humans? e.g. beyond gender, race, ideology and class
• Finding paths for new identities- especially for those who are from controlling power e.g. young philanthropists.
• How do we not to be co-opted into reinforcing the same ideology?

‘Was race the only, or even the most important, identity? Where did other important social identities, such as class, gender and ethnicity fit into the spectrum and how did progressive radicals link their strategies and activities to the interests associated with those identities? What about intellectuals as a social group? How did they link the resources they could mobilise to different interests in society?’ (99)

‘….they warned that essential institutions of colonialism might be ‘retained in the post-colonial era by a corrupt black bourgeoisie’. There is a danger that the stress on blackness obscures and mystifies the problem. Putting it crudely you have not understood the problem until you recognise the fact that exploitation can just as well have a black face as a white face’. (100)

‘Liberalism as a long term goal and as a basis for strategic action presented the danger of modernising the structures of inequality and oppression seeking to eliminate ‘only the harshest edges of oppression and exploitation’ while preserving the ‘hard core of inequality’. (103)

‘Radical humanism involved efforts to craft a new identity and new ways of being based on a rejection of existing political, economic and social practices. These initiatives were sometimes linked to radical and liberation theology as well as the idea of ‘white consciousness’ which was presented as on response to the challenges posed by Black Consciousness’. (46)

‘If apartheid and capitalism fed off and strengthened each other, this implied that structural change would need to tackle not only society’s racial hierarchy but its social and economic pecking order. This was attractive to racial white students whose interest in moving beyond liberalism was fueled by the rise of the Black Consciousness movement led by Steve Biko. Which challenged them to see the collective action of the black minority, not the polite entreaties of the white liberals as the only viable threat to apartheid…? And so it helped to provide a context in which white radicals could make sense of their belief that the suburban homes in which they were raised were as much as part of the problem as the Afrikaner nationalism which was blamed for it’. (38)

‘The Black Consciousness movement does not accept uncritically white culture as a model to aspire to, argued Eddie. This was a view shared by white student radicals who were on their own journey of rejecting the values of the society which had spawned them. Radicals were working to distance themselves not only from the political structures of apartheid and institutional racism but also from the economic, social and cultural and normative institutions and structures of South African’s ruling class’. (98)

‘This was not to be an exercise in moralism, involving a ‘confession’ on a road to ‘redemption’. The difficulty here lies in developing a balanced response to the ‘discoveries’ as it is all too easy to develop exaggerated feelings of collective guilt’. (99)

Keywords for Systems Changers


Raymond Williams verbalised in his book ‘Key Words, A Vocabulary of Culture and Society’, “Certain words change the meaning in fundamental ways in time of basic social and institutional change”.  Enquiring into words, language and meaning, Rachel Sinha of ICAEW, Marc Ventresca of Oxford University and Ella Saltmarshe, Vivana and Cassie Robinson brought together 20 ‘systems entreprenuers’ to build community and a new lexicon of ‘keywords’ that might help to accelerate change – for people and planet.
I was excited to join– not only for deepening my connections with other systems changers but also to make sense of this emerging practice.

Here is a link to the Synthesis Report  and some insights that I gleened from the 2 days.

Understanding context is essential to the meaning of the words
Words have more depth of meaning when the context is clear. Without context there is more room for confusion and diffusion. For example, the word ‘innovation’ is everywhere this year. It is being used by the IT specialist, the insurance sales person, the furniture manufacturer and the activist. Although the common theme is ‘creating something new’ the spectrum of change varies based on context. The context of innovation of systems is about changing deep rooted values and mind-sets of society. It is so much more than just innovating a new gadget or new functionality of a financial services product. As systems changers, how can we continue to illuminate the highest context of ‘why’ we are changing systems?

Substance behind the words is powerful as the words themselves
Words are the manifestation of the consciousness that is being expressed. And if shifting systems is about shifting the underpinning values from ‘I’ to ‘WE’ - the consciousness behind the words seems important in making new meaning. Substance influences form. So, ‘how’ you say something seems just as important as ‘what’ you say. As systems changers, how can we be aware and self-reflective of the ‘intention’ behind our words?

Using words that cause discomfort
Death, destruction and decay. These are words that our culture has trained us to avoid. However they are part of the natural process of how systems change - without death you cannot have the birth of new life. As systems changers how can we embrace words that are uncomfortable however reveal the true meaning of things.

There is meaning between the words and beyond words
As Charles de Bussey, the famous composer said ‘The music is the silence that happens between the notes’. If the words are the notes – what happens in between is very important too. The silences. The pauses. The speeding up. Sometimes what is NOT said is almost more important than what IS said. And as systems change is about making quantum leaps in our development- personally, organisationally and societally – this means that in breaking new grounds in new meaning and in using different ways of knowing we often have no reference point. So as systems changers, how can we sit with the discomfort of pioneering new meaning whilst living with the uncertainty of not having words to express ourselves?

The process of meaning making is essential for building a powerful lexicon
One of the most challenging things of the 2 day workshop was recognising that we all see the world in a different way. We all came up with 100s of words and we each had a different perspective on what we meant. This caused tension until we spent more time going deeper into understanding each others view points and telling stories of meaning in order to arrive at a common ground. So as systems changers, how can we continuously remind ourselves that we all see the system through different localities and our perspectives are always changing along with the ever changing system?

Developing my own practice with words, lexicon and language
I was left with some key questions that I will continue to experiment with in my practice. They are:
• In being intentional with this work and wanting to manifest the new – I believe that there is little room to be ‘conditional’ about things. So I am going to experiment with leaving out all those ‘coulds, shoulds, mights and woulds’ and see what happens.

• I’ll experiment with using words that really give me energy – like ‘illuminate, radial, love, resonance, relationship’. It seems that there is something important as a systems change leader – the more you work with what gives you energy and lights you up – the more positively attractive you (and your change efforts) will be.

• I want to start using more verbs. There is something in there for me about ‘action’, ‘becoming’ and ‘manifesting’ in our work. Nouns are static and imply a boundary between observer and observed. Systems change is about our evolution and interconnectedness = verbing!

• I will test, use and share the ‘key words’ and the lexicon co-created by our group (soon to be published) in my work and reflect on what impact it has on people around me.

One final word - My favourite word

During the workshop we were asked to think of one word that had the most important meaning for us as a systems changer – and my word is Relationship.

Relationship as ‘universal design’
The universe and the natural world are fully interconnected and are based on relationships. We cannot and do not exist in isolation. My thoughts and decisions right now impact the world around me. Because of this I want to take responsibility for my actions. My thriving depends on all other beings thriving. What excites me is that our human designed systems are moving from a transactional reality to a relational reality. We becoming more aligned to the natural design of the Universe – and this will ultimately bring us into balance and harmony.

Relationship as meaning
I have the most meaning in my life through my relationships. Material well-being can make us happy to only a certain extent. What really makes us happy is a feeling of belonging, love, appreciation and reciprocity. This can only happen through relationship.

Relationship as potential
When I am in relationship with others I can be more. Relationships challenge me, support me and help me to reflect. Being in relationship I can evolve and become a better person and a fuller expression of myself. In relationship I have access to more potential – opportunities, resources and knowledge. This brings abundance to my life and allows me to grow, flourish and fulfil my purpose. The more we all fulfill our potential as individuals and humanity the greater change we have of enabling great shifts in human systems – so that they enable people and planet to thrive.

Leading Through Love

The New Logic of Love

January 2012

Fact. We need to create a new logic for the systems that support humanity.   Our current logic frame is rooted in 100’s of years of believing that we are separate from nature, separate from each other and even separate to our true selves.    Our old worldview is becoming obsolete very, very fast.  It no longer serves our happiness or future prosperity.

Intelligence of the Heart

If our old logic, and how we formulate our logic, is broken how do we create this new logic, the new story for what it means to be human?    Well, our rational brains are limited and constrained by 100s of years of embedded social structures and mindsets.   Despair, suffering and fear has been built into our worldview.  One could even say that we now living in a Dark Age and are still living in the shadows and repercussions of the two world wars of the 20th Century. We now need to turn to the intelligence of the heart.

The head no longer has the capacity to engage with the complexity, the depth and the interrelatedness of the solutions that are needed in the shift to a worldview that supports life.  It is the heart that is likely to be the greatest expansive medium for change.  Love is limitless, love is empowering, love is possibility.  And it is through engaging the heart (and of course not forgetting the head) that we will create this new logic.  However the question then becomes, “how do we create this new logic whilst the systems, such as the money system, upon which we depend are the last to adapt?”

 Old and New Worldview – An Integrated Approach to Systems Change

I do believe that Thomas Kuhn has a point when he reflects on the great paradigm shifts of science and says, change happens when “you keep pointing a the anomalies and failures in the old paradigm as you keep speaking louder and with assurance from the new one”.  However, if we believe that all of life is interconnected, as modern quantum physics would suggest, then we should not isolate the old systems at the expense of the new systems.  We can’t idolize the ‘new’ whilst demonizing the ‘old’ as this in itself is a manifestation of ‘separateness’.  Instead, we must call on ourselves to find ways to realise the old system is a breakdown of order, which in itself is a type of ‘suffering’.  So, in comes Love.   In comes compassion.  In comes a realisation of interconnectedness and relationship.

Evidencing a New Logic

So with Love at our core, we must find ways to reveal a new logic and a new story for humanity.  And this includes providing spaces for the knitting together of people, practices and ideas for transformational change to take place.  From here, in order to connect the old and the new worldviews, it will be essential to ‘evidence’ this new logic and to also ‘demonstrate rationally’ that it is possible. In my own world, there are things I think are impossible.  It is not until other people show me it its reasonable that I shift my behaviour. With this, inserting people with the new paradigm in places of visibility and power is important.

Telling the Audacious Story

In calling in the ‘new’, we need to be able to tell this new story so that people, who are ready to be awakened and to take action, have a story to fall into.  This includes working with active change agents and with the vast middle group of people who are open-minded.   And it is the power of story that allows the possibility of the impossible.   We need to look for openings of possibility, rather than dwell on the fear of the unknown.   And what is possible depends wholly on the audacity of our goals and vision.  As we have seen from history, people such as Martin Luther King, whose birthday we celebrate this month, are people who are holders of ‘story’.

But…. Even our Visions are Limiting

However, even as we set visions, these are limiting to our fullest potential.  Our visions are based on what has happened in the past and present and what we think is possible.   Just as the cave man would not have been able to talk about his vision of a fridge freezer, our current visions still limit our fullest potential.  To go beyond our limits, we must be ready to sense into higher potential of what wider universal vision is ready to be born.

What role can I/We play?

So I see incredible opportunity for myself, others and initiatives such as the Finance Innovation Lab to lead the way in creating the new story.   I believe that we can up our game in doing so – here are a few ideas posed in the form of inquiry:

  • How can we magnify the breakdown of the old system?
  • What is our audacious vision and story of the new system?
  • How can we put a spot light on the shining new examples and case studies of people and organisations that are showing the way of the new story that other people can fall into?
  • How can we provide spaces of Love for people to be supported and be able to express their deepest values, concerns, fears and pain derived from the old system?
  • Who are the active change agents and the active middle ground people who are ready – how do we identify them?
  • Who are the people with the new paradigm story?  Where are the places of power and influence we can place them to tell this new story?
  • How can we best evidence that a ‘new way’ is possible?
  • How do we sense into the wider universal vision of what is ready to emerge?
  • How can I as a leader play a role in stitching together people, ideas and initiatives?
  • What can I do to open spaces for others to realise their gifts?
  • How can I hone my skills as a storyteller and what new story am I daring to tell and live?