Globalization, disruptive technologies, pressure on finite resources, increasing social disparity, and demand for business transparency: Enter the age of uncertainty, ushering in new ways of operating and organizing and heralding the distributed, networked, anti-fragile, flourishing firms of the future.
These transformative times are reshaping the workplace in profound ways, demanding the crossing of thresholds at myriad levels – personal, team, organizational, community, cultural. As the organization specialist Peter Drucker insightfully said, ‘In times of turmoil, the danger lies not in the turmoil but in facing it with yesterday’s logic’.
Leadership is central to this reshaping of our organizations. It is leadership that enables us to traverse our own thresholds while helping others traverse theirs. The origin of the word ‘leadership’ is the old European word leith which means ‘to go forth and cross the threshold’, ‘to let go of old ways and embrace the new’. In other words, leadership is about shaping our future while letting go of yesterday’s logic.
The logic of yesterday haunts many of today’s organizations. Its hallmark is a control-and-predict hurry-up-and-get-on-with-it short-termism. It’s a mechanistic reductive logic infecting how we perceive our world and our sense of self within it. Inured by this logic, we see ourselves as separate “I’s”, self-absorbed units struggling for survival in a dog-eat-dog world.
This logic projects a worldview now ingrained in our educational systems, managerial mind-sets and methods of leading, so much so that many of us believe it to be ‘just the way life is’. Why question this logic when, after all, it’s the ‘logic of life’? Or is it?
This logic is, at best, jaundice; de-emphasizing some of life’s richest qualities (collaboration, networking, reciprocity, empathy, community) while over-emphasizing others (competition, control, domination, selfishness, egotism). It has a carcinogenic effect, setting ourselves apart from each other and corrupting our relations. Its pervasive effect on our management, leadership and organizational mind-set undermines our organizations’ potential for creating meaningful, wholesome, life-enhancing enterprises. Instead, we get caught up in a frenzied busyness that burns our future for today’s party. All-too-engrossed, we skip past warning signs and treat symptoms with the same mind-set that created them, skimming over the underlying causes. Our social fabric starts to unravel, the cultural soil of our communities is leached, our political minds become parasitic, and our civilizations crumble.
So what to do?
There is good news. A groundswell of findings is revealing a richer understanding of life. The varied disciples of facilitation ecology, transpersonal psychology, quantum physics, neuroscience, anthropology, organizational development and leadership, to name a few, are all exploring a deeper, truer ‘logic of life’.
And just how does this truer logic of life influence the organizational management and leadership of our 21st century companies? How does it help our workplaces become future-fit ?
I use the terminology of ‘firms of the past’ (ones inured in the mechanistic logic of yesterday) and ‘firms of the future’ (organizations beginning to embrace this richer ‘logic of life’) to illustrate and illuminate a profound shift in our ways of operating and organizing that is now upon us.
Firms of the past are top-down hierarchic, command-and-controlled, siloed, KPI-obsessed organizations. No doubt we have all experienced this kind of organization. Yet, it stifles our personal and organizational creativity, adaptiveness, resilience and well-being. In short, it undermines our ability to effectively operate within a business context that is only set to become more volatile, uncertain and challenging.
On the other hand, firms of the future are living, emergent, distributed and decentralized with locally-attuned teams of people empowered to deal with unceasing transformation without having to rely on hierarchies of bureaucracy and control. These organizations embrace a living-systems logic enabling them to be inherently flexible, adaptable and resilience, seeking out opportunity for value-creation within the ‘new norm’ context of unceasing transformation.
A fundamental aspect of our embracement of this ‘new logic’ is our ‘letting go’ of yesterday’s logic. And this letting-go ought not to be understated. It is easier said than done to surrender acculturated patterns of thinking, perceiving, experiencing and relating, especially amid the heat-of-the-moment.
First and foremost, we need to cultivate the self-awareness amid our everyday busyness to catch ourselves reacting with ‘old ways’ and then the courage to pause, open-up to, and embrace a deeper truer logic of life.
This is our opening up to a more integrated, authentic and natural awareness of how life is, unencumbered by the constrictions of yesterday’s logic. It is an opening up to more of our natural humanity, and it comes with a deepening perspective of how life really is. This is supported by increasing scientific acceptance of a deeper more inter-relational ‘logic of life’ informing our ways of leading, managing and organizing.
We begin to not just intellectually accept, but emotionally, somatically and intuitively know that life is inter-relational and participatory: physically, energetically, and psychically. And with this deeply felt understanding of the interconnectedness of life, we realize that what we do to one aspect of life whether inside ourselves, or through our relations with others and the wider world, causes ripples through the whole inter-relational matrix of life. This helps us develop what has been referred to as ‘collective intelligence’ and also ‘collaborative intelligence’ where we sense the participatory nature of our ever-changing context. With this comes a humbling responsibility, as we realize our actions can have far-reaching consequences.
At an organizational level, this manifests as the recognition that each organization is inter-dependent with a myriad of inter-related stakeholders including our wider economic, social and environmental ecology. Undermining or alienating one group of stakeholders or aspect of our ecosystem (and eco-range) in order to maximize short-term returns for ourselves or our shareholders may provide superficial quick-wins but it inevitably pollutes our inter-relationality and undermines our regenerative potential (personally and organizationally).
Gone with the winds of change is the artificial certainty and mechanistic linearity of command-and-control bureaucracies, revealing a fresher, more natural, purposeful, altogether more human dynamic. The Age of Industrialization and Mechanism has given way to the Age of Networks and Relationships, and with that the organizational metaphor of the machine has given way to the metaphor of the living system.
As Natural Leaders, we are midwifing the birthing of our authentic selves while simultaneously midwifing the birthing of a timeless logic that harmonizes our enterprises with the wisdom of Life.
In my latest book, Future Fit I explore – indeed activate – the qualities required for future-fit business. Future Fit is a workbook full with practical tips and case studies, suitable for anyone who is involved in for-purpose enterprise, whether an entrepreneur or seasoned business executive.
‘Essential and timely’ Dr. Scilla Elworthy, Author and Founder of the Oxford Research Group
‘A must-read’ Bob Willard, Author and Speaker, Sustainability Advantage
‘Brilliant’ Richard Barrett, Chairman and Founder of The Barrett Values Centre
‘A masterpiece’ Mark Drewell, Founder of The Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative
Giles Hutchins blogs at www.thenatureofbusiness.org