Updated: May 31, 2021
It’s a fascinating time to be involved in transforming organisational cultures. At present I am fortunate to be involved in some really interesting organisation transformations ranging from purpose-drive B-Corps to large financial service providers.
Every organisation is a unique conglomeration of individuals, team-power-plays, psychological agency, value propositions, strategies and tactics, wider ecosystem relations and market forces. No two organisations are ever the same, just as no two leaders are ever the same. That is what makes leadership and organisational development coaching so rich and fascinating. And yet, there are some underlying dynamics, some core truths that underpin the diversity of every organisation and team.
This article explores these underlying dynamics so that an essential simplicity amid the swirling organisational complexity of the day can be revealed. These powerful yet simple truths are what provide anchor, rope and compass through stormy seas as these.
First off, what do we mean by ‘regenerative’? It’s a word that has a buzz about it, perhaps even the epicentre of the new zeitgeist rising in our consciousness. And with any buzz, its portrayal can lose its essence.
To be Regenerative is simply to be Natural. To become more whole, less fragmented, more alive, less disconnected, more in-flow.
‘Those who flow as life flows know they need no other force.’ Lao Tzu
Being Regenerative is a journey. It’s a journey of attuning with Life. It’s a way of living, leading, designing and implementing products, processes, cultures and ecosystems that enhance Life.
All the time, through our quality of attention and intention, we can slip between being regenerative and degenerative. We can slip between flowing in harmony with life or falling out-of-kilter with the flow of things.
An important step on the Regenerative Journey, is to become more sensitised and aware of opening into the inherent grammar of Life. This is embodied and experiential more than it is rational and analytical.
Falling out of the flow of things is a natural part of our humanity as long as we catch our fall and learn to flow, by noticing and then realigning. This is the art of living wisely. Without this practice of noticing and learning to be in harmony with Life our evolution is undermined.
Opening into Life is a shift in consciousness. A simple shift in awareness; though not necessarily easy. Amid today’s busy hurry-up-get-on-with-it overly-rational-analytic business world the flow of things is easily obscured.
Lest we forget, it is an essential part of our human nature, to be Natural, to flow with Nature’s Rhythms. All ‘regenerative’ is about is opening up to more of our human potential while being in accord with Life.
Much of today’s managerial business logic is at odds with how life works, and so we face the difficult challenge of letting-go of thought forms, mental habits, emotional baggage, internal constrictions, and ingrained assumptions that get in the way of our own regenerative potential.
In the book Regenerative Leadership we unpack the Logic of Life for leadership and organisational development. By comprehending the Logic of Life we can learn to attune with the rhythms and dynamics of the Regenerative Journey. The 7 principles of the Logic of Life are:
Life Affirming – life creates the conditions conducive for life to flourish. We become life-affirming when we are being natural and authentic.
Ever-changing and Responsive – life learns, adapts and evolves through an ever-changing context. In other words, life is developmental and evolutionary, ditto for our cultures; constant learning and growing through being responsible and responsive.
Relational and Collaborative – life consists of systems inter-relating with other systems, nothing is completely isolated, everything is relating. Yes there is competition in life, yet collaboration is the over-riding evolutionary dynamic, and separateness is an illusion we create in our minds, it’s not how life really is. Learn to collaborate through cultivating cultures of trust and transparency not politics and power-plays.
Synergistic and Diverse – life thrives through diversity. Tensions of difference act as crucibles for novelty and creativity to emerge. Celebrate difference and hold-space for allowing creative conflict to be transmuted into generative emergence through dialogue and deep listening.
Cyclic and Seasonal-Rhythmical – life ebbs and flows through pulsations of in-breath, out-breath, day-night, waxing-waning, summer-winter, death-rebirth. Nature’s rhythms invite in reflection, rest and renewal as well as creativity and productivity. Cultivate rhythms of winter-summer being-doing amid daily/weekly/monthly business practices.
Flows of Energy-Matter – life is made up of flows of energy and matter. Ditto for our organisations, which are full of flows of psychological and relational energy. Let’s not get overly caught up in org charts and team definitions when what really makes us come alive is free-flowing energy. Notice flow, stuckness, energy-drains and catalysers. Practice organizational acupuncture.
Living Field or Source – life is permeated by immense potential energy that scientists now realise is a potent presence in everyday life. This field contains an informing consciousness. Through simple practices we aid our capacity to open to this wisdom.
Remember – Life is Regenerative. This is about realigning back into Life, and in the process we become more alive, and our organisations thrive. Transformation unfolds, it is not forced. By creating the conditions conducive for life our people and cultures flourish.
Life is mind-blowing. Our rational minds might like to define it into neat-and-tidy biologically-based facts and figures, but life defies much of what the mind’s logic can grasp. For instance, a small leaf quivering the the breeze high up in the tree, has more sophisticated innovation packed into it than nano-computing or Big Data. A humble blade of grass trampled underfoot is far more complex than anything we humans have ever designed, and to boot, it’s organic, non-toxic, totally regenerative – beneficial to life. Our complex innovations are all too often highly toxic and exploitative of the natural and social systems we inhabit. This is what happens when we forget the underlying Way of Nature – we fall out of harmony with Life. To fall back in line with Nature does not mean a back-to-nature regression or anti-technology movement, far from it, it is what will propel human-kind into the next Revolution of Innovation and Development, a Regenerative Revolution. Technology is a powerful tool that can help humanity evolve, as long as we remember and embody the wisdom of real life. Otherwise it can be a distraction, obscuring our evolution, perhaps unintentionally catalysing our extinction.
‘Look deep, deep, deep into Nature and you will understand everything better.’ Albert Einstein
All about us abounds immensity of complexity.
Yet amid this complexity is a beautiful simplicity. A hidden thread of wisdom is here right before us, if we so choose to see. This wisdom is what will fuel our [r]evolution and heal humanity.
This hidden thread of wisdom – Nature’s Wisdom – enables our human organisations, cultures, values, team dynamics and individual behaviours to become more whole, more real, more vital, more human, more natural.
This wisdom is simple yet profound. Let’s explore…
There are two currents in life, and the confluence of these two currents creates the Dance of Life. Nothing more, nothing less.
These two currents, can be called Yin and Ying.
Here is the ancient symbol that conveys Nature’s Wisdom, pure and simple:
Yang – Yin
Doing – Being
Movement – Stillness
Outer – Inner
Masculine – Feminine
Me – We
Reductive – Relational
Responsive – Receptive
Light – Dark
Summer – Winter
Action – Reflection
Hard – Soft
As I explored in a recent blog article about Alchemising Tensions:
Neither side of these tensions is more right or more preferable than the other, and each situation invites us to bring in more of one side than the other. It’s an alchemic dance, a communion of opposing tensions. The Dance of Life.
And yet there is another secret found all around and within us if we so choose to see. Nature’s Wisdom shows us the way the Yin-Yang dance unfolds. The Way of Nature.
From the proportions found in our feet, to the proportions found in trees; from the patterns found in flowers to the patterns found in estuaries and coastlines; from the spiralling of water in our kitchen sink to spiralling galaxies, there is a quintessential thread of timeless truth:
Yin informs Yang.
From the feminine spawns the masculine. From the inner comes the outer. The Being infuses the Doing. Stillness informs Movement. In order for the Dance to be in harmony with Nature we need be mindful of honouring the soft-power of Yin first-and-foremost. As the Yin informs the Yang.
‘To live in accord with Nature is to live virtuously.’ Seneca
If we wish to be regenerative in our own selves, in our teams and in our company culture, then we need to begin with this inherent Wisdom of Nature, otherwise what flows from us will be degenerative, and we shall then spend unnecessary time and energy mopping up our degenerative activities.
The time has come to target the source of our degenerative behaviour. To attend to our own attention.
Inner presence informs outer purpose.
Countless corporations currently spend vast sums on all-staff training and development programmes that attend to shaping outer activity while overlooking inner presence. Little wonder not much changes other that the outer wrapper.
Well-intended programmes honing value propositions, mission statements and cultural values that overlook the inner essence of the living organisation and its leadership consciousness are not going to catalyse the Regenerative Journey.
Many of these well-intentioned corporations have spent millions on purpose and culture programmes with little return-on-investment other than jargon that people soon forget. An SVP Head of Culture, of an award-winning market-leading corporation once said to me ‘Purpose is everywhere, we need a new word, as its lost its way.’ As if changing the word will make things better. It’s simply that we have been focusing on outer-purpose while overlooking inner-purpose. The Doing of ‘purpose’ has become bland because it’s no longer flows with Being. Like with so many things, we have objectified ‘purpose’ into a neat and tidy object that then lacks vitality and essence beyond some mission-statement North Star. There is so much more to purpose than a North Star when we embrace the essence of Life and emancipate Purpose to flow in accord with Nature’s Wisdom.
The ‘yin’ has been known as the ‘soft’ and the yang known as the ‘hard’. Today we still find many leaders trying to ignore the ‘soft stuff’ of essence, inner-purpose and presence, while busying themselves with the ‘hard stuff’. It’s this out-of-kilter overly yang Doing disconnected from Being that is the root cause of our downstream degenerative behaviours, decisions, designs and cultures.
What does this all mean in practice?
Let’s look at three dimensions of the organisation:
1. the individual leader;
2. the team and its intra and inter-operable dynamics;
3. the organisational culture and structure
Leadership – We have two tools to help us on the personal developmental journey:
Self-awareness is first-and-foremost about us getting to know ourselves, so that we can build our trust in life. As we become more conscious of our projections, insecurities and shadows, we enrich our engagement with life, and reach beyond yesterday’s bubble.
Thoughts, opinions, assumptions, and worries about what has been (the past) or what might be (the future) can stir up emotions inside us which trigger anxiety, stress, and distraction. Before we know it, this mental noise has created a version of life that is not reality – not what is happening right before us. If we were able to release ourselves from this mental chatter, we could experience life in a less distracted, more present, and more conscious way.
‘Above all, to thine own self be True’ William Shakespeare
There are some simple yet powerful tools we can practice to enliven our self-awareness. See the book Regenerative Leadership for more on these tools.
Systemic awareness is a natural capacity we all have as human beings. Systems nested within systems are the very stuff of life. Systemic awareness is our ability to sense into the network of systems within the living organization and throughout the wider stakeholder ecosystem, including our family and friends, local community, supply chain, customer network, and wider ecology of life.
“Learn how to see. Realize everything connects with everything else” Leonardo Da Vinci
It is through this deeply felt sense of life’s complex inter-relating system dynamics, that we attune ourselves with a new way of seeing the world. It helps us shift our perception from viewing the organization-as-machine to realizing the organization-as-living-system.
Systemic awareness goes hand-in-hand with enhanced self-awareness, coupled with what we call in the book – Activating our Super-Nature – where we allow an integration of different intelligences within us to open ourselves into a systemic way of attending, where we can more subtly sense life beyond separateness.
Regenerative Leadership Consciousness: The Alchemy of Self-and-Systemic Awareness
When we alchemize the dynamics of self and systemic awareness we step in to Regenerative Leadership Consciousness.
Regenerative Leadership Consciousness invites in the ‘yin’- calm inner grounded-ness and awareness of one’s own triggers, habits and shadows combined with an intuitive sense of the inter-relationality of living systems. This consciousness seeks authenticity, thinks systemically, designs for complexity, works with tensions, spawns life-affirming futures, and understands the Logic of Life.
When we allow the ‘yin’ beingness to infuse our doing, Life conspires to aid us, and we begin to notice synchronicities, coincidences, chance encounters and intuitive insights. This is Nature’s Wisdom flowing through us.
2. Team Dynamics
Inviting in the ‘yin’ and then the ‘yang’ into our team dynamics ensures we create the cultural ground for flow. Holding-space for each other, enabling trust to form so people feel they can bring more of themselves into the working environment. This allows the ‘yang’ creativity to flow more readily. Social technologies like Theory U, Feedback, Deep Listening, Art of Hosting, Systemic Coaching, non-violent communication methods, etc. all greatly help the ‘yin’ of team dynamics. Then we can start to embrace agile ways of working, workflow management, effective communication, daily stand-ups, check-ins, etc. so the Doing is infused with Being. In my previous book Future Fit there are a load of team practices and liberating structures to enable this yin-yang being-doing at the team level.
3. Organisational Culture
In Regenerative Leadership we spend a lot of time on Living Systems Culture – the way to enable the organisational culture to become regenerative, through applying the Regenerative Leadership DNA.
We also provide organisational tools, checklists and coaching questions to aid the Regenerative Journey, including a Regenerative Leadership DNA Assessment Wheel and Systems Mapping exercise. These tools activate dialogue across the organisation.
Through leadership coaching and living-systems interventions, one can help the organisation to start to see more of itself. This helps blind-spots, stuckness, acupuncture points and nodes to be acknowledged. People start to gain agency as an active participant in the system. Through their own presence and awareness they can start to contribute to regenerative ripples that enliven the system.
One technique I have used over the years to great effect through my organisational development work is the concept of Background; Middleground; Foreground. Much like a masterpiece painting or well composed orchestral music, there is the Background – the underlying essence, the underpinning vision and purpose that infuses the Middleground (lived cultural values) and Foreground (embodied behaviours, decision-making protocols, daily practices and rhythms).
Getting into the essence of things is a far deeper exercise that revisiting vision statements or rewording mission definitions. It is a case of tapping into the essence of the living organisation, and is often best done through deep-dive leadership immersions. When these immersions are conducted round the fire in nature we get to the essence of things. Far from the madding crowd and distanced from the distracting mobile device.
(The ancient woodlands of Springwood are only 45mins from London and 15mins from international flights and main rail hubs, yet provide secluded spaciousness for tapping into Nature’s Wisdom)
As we access stillness we tap into the ‘yin’ that informs the ‘yang’. To attend to outer statements, value propositions, values, behaviours and metrics without first sensing into the Background essence is, alas, applying the very same level of consciousness that created our problems in the first place: Doing without a depth of Being.
The time has come to evolve our human awareness, and evolve our human cultures so they become regenerative.
There is an inherent Logic of Life that we can learn to listen to. It is this intelligence and wisdom we now need to help our organisations thrive in the volatile times ahead. Paste on agile ways of working to a disconnected culture and time and money will be wasted. We need culture + structure aligned, and we need the ‘yin’ to infuse the ‘yang’, then we can start to attune to Nature’s Rhythms and find the flow of the living organisation while people become more human, more alive, more whole, more in harmony with Life.
‘The greatest breakthroughs of the 21st century won’t occur because of technology, they will occur because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.’ John Naisbett
When Being infuses our Doing, we have Awakened Doing. Out actions align with inner-purpose. Purpose then, is not espoused or forced, but lived from the inside-out, it comes alive through us, and we become regenerative.
Our outer actions become a conduit for a different quality of consciousness than that which created today’s manifold problems. This is the beginning of a new dawn, a new stage in our human evolution. It begins when our outer actions align with the Logic of Life, whereupon we open up to the magnificence of existence.
The adult developmental psychologist Clare Graves, through his painstaking research, saw this latent potential in human consciousness being born in our social systems today, and his prescient work is coming true through the exponential interest in organisational applications such as Teal-Evolutionary, Theory U, sociocracy, agile and regenerative leadership.
This is our destiny, and its beckoning call is becoming clearer and more noticeable by the day, as old ways breakdown to reveal an inherent grammar innate within Life.
Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word ’struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. –Hopi Elders’ Prophecy
Giles Hutchins is a pioneering practitioner and senior adviser at the fore-front of the [r]evolution in organizational and leadership consciousness and developmental approaches that enhance personal, organizational and systemic agility and vitality. He is author and co-author of several leadership and organizational development papers, and the books The Nature of Business (2012), The Illusion of Separation (2014), Future Fit (2016) and Regenerative Leadership (2019). Chair of The Future Fit Leadership Academy and Founder of Leadership Immersions, co-founder of Biomimicry for Creative Innovation and Regenerators, he runs a 60 acre leadership centre at Springwood Farm, an area of outstanding natural beauty near London, UK. Previously held corporate roles – Head of Practice for KPMG, and Global Head of Sustainability for Atos (150,000 employees, over 40 countries). He provides coaching at individual and organisational levels for those seeking to transform their personal and/or work lives. He is also a keynote speaker on the future of business.