Talks to join dots

In the next three weeks, I’m going to these three talks at the RSA in London:

1. Creating Freedom — filmmaker Raoul Martinez will tackle “economics, philosophy, politics, criminology, psychology and environmentalism, and shows that the more we understand how the world shapes us, the more effectively we can shape our world.”

2. Together Is Better — “global bestselling author and leadership guru Simon Sinek offers inspiration and advice for finding purpose and fulfilment in life and work through our connection with others.”

3. The Power of Disorder to Transform our Lives — “renowned economist Tim Harford explains that embracing chaos and mess is the only way to be truly creative, innovative and resilient.”

So what?

Well, recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about connections and patterns that could help make sense from the overwhelm (of globalisation, of constant connection, of too much information), and more than that, might enable individuals and communities to become the best versions of themselves.

I think we’ve really only just scratched the surface on the potential of globalisation and connectedness — I think we’re at a place where we can choose to shape it for good, or less good. And so I’m seeing these three RSA talks through the lens of possibility, and dot-joining, and new ways of thinking and working. And the timing is beautiful — here’s a summary of my recent thinking that these talks seem to resonate with (I’ll be exploring these more in subsequent blogs):

1) International ‘development’

I co-lead an international community development organisation. In the development world, people like to shout about what works, and brush much of the rest under a carpet. Projects are created neat, linear, and of defined length. Everyone assumes the beneficiaries are very grateful. But beneficiaries don’t exist within a project, or on a blank canvas. Beneficiaries are whole human beings, who exist in a real, interconnected, messy world that has competing perspectives and demands. Alongside the challenges they face, they have ideas and solutions and wisdom that needs amplifying. So we should not talk of the donor/’saviour’ and the beneficiary. As the U2 lyric chimes: “there is no them, only us“. Whether or not a project goes well, we should all learn, adapt and develop — we should all be beneficiaries of shared questions, appropriate responses, and common humanity.

We need to move away from the idea that solutions flow from north (developed world) to south (less developed world). We in the north need the humility and the ability to adopt a learner perspective. If we could embrace rather than try to control the messiness and disorder, what fruitful collisions might we create space for? Tim Harford’s talk (see above) will touch on this. What innovations might come from entering into a dialogue to which we don’t know the conclusion?

Not being in control? Scary! — But I have learned that when individuals, communities and I see each other as whole, resourceful equals, and when we co-discover questions and solutions together — that’s when the best and most sustainable results come. Right now, I’m exploring this theme in more detail in an e-book I’m writing, and by developing the organisation I co-lead. I think there is a new way to ‘do’ international development.

2) Organisational development

We can shape our organisations by understanding what has been, responding to present reality, and sensing what is yet to come. A status quo persists when we cannot find the creativity, or the desire, to break free (or when it’s in someone’s interests to maintain it).

I keep returning to Richard Laloux’s book, Reinventing Organisations, in which the author profiles organisations that are transforming the status quo of what it means to lead and grow. From processes to employee engagement to leadership to innovation, Laloux argues that we need not just transformed individuals, but enlightened systems.

His book got me thinking about these systems and about how we can enable them. I’m exploring what it means to enable an ecosystem — a living and dynamic organisation or community, that positions, senses, responds, innovates, collaborates, solves and nurtures. Simon Sinek’s talk about connectivity will feed into this, as will learning from the pioneer of ecosystems, namely….

3) Nature and wilderness

I’m happy when I’m in the middle of wild space. Dartmoor; Zambian bush; Japanese mountains; Guatemalan jungle, North Devon ocean…. In each place, I feel peaceful and I learn. I’m encouraged to trust my intuition, whilst also being reminded that I’m part of a whole.

I’ve been co-creating ‘Coaching with Nature’ workshops recently, to enable individuals and organisations to tap into new perspectives as they go through growth, development and associated challenges. I’m curious as to how, by partnering with nature, we can discover new answers that may have otherwise remained elusive.

The natural world is complex, and yet it has found simple and beautiful solutions to its challenges. Evolution has recognised strengths and amplified them, and  it has — without its ego being bruised — modified or ditched the traits that no longer helpfully serve the whole.

I’m learning from living ecosystems that have creatively and delicately calibrated over thousands of years to nurture individuals as well as cultivate life-giving connectedness. What can this mean for modern-day organisations? More on this soon.

I love a good dose of cross-pollination thinking, and at the RSA talks I’ll be geekily scribbling notes and synthesising thoughts about these strands. More soon!