Future-fit business: A Metamorphosis in our Midst

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Flourishing future-fit business requires us to go beyond the surface and symptomatic into transforming mind-sets at deep and partly unconscious levels, writes Giles Hutchins.

Since the industrial revolution, we have achieved great feats of economic, social and technological advancement for which we can be proud. The structures and strictures of old have served us well in many material ways. But times they are a changin’. We now face increasing volatility: enter the world of commodity spikes, resource scarcity, environmental destruction, social inequality, economic turbulence, population and migrant pressure, changing demographics, the internet of things, climate change, and more.

Conferences, think-tanks, research papers, workshops, forums and expert roundtables across the globe are exploring the implications these challenges have on how we operate and organise. Yet, in our well-intended desire to find solutions, we all-too-often find ourselves caught up in the very mind-set that contributed to problems in the first place. We address our sea of challenges at face-value and in largely siloed and reductive ways, skimming over the deeper inter-relational corruptions these problems are symptomatic of.

Whether it’s the shift to more purposeful business, evolutionary/teal organisations, leading in the Millennial Age, CSR, or wellbeing-at-work, what lies beneath these initiatives is a deeper underlying metamorphosis of epic proportions.  The more conscious we are of the tectonic shifts these surface waves are symptomatic of, the more successful we will be in redesigning for resilience.

Let’s take a step back and pause for a moment amid our hectic schedules, breathe deep and really tune-in to how these seemingly different topics are all part of something epic emerging within each of us, our teams and organisations. Let’s briefly explore just two of these ‘symptoms’- Sustainability/CSR and Mindfulness/Wellbeing-at-work:

Sustainability/CSR: on the surface, this is about being more efficient, effective, responsible and future-fit in a volatile world of finite resources precariously pressed up against natural limits.  Yet as we seriously get to grips with this, we begin to reveal a deep-seated need to shift from ‘extractive’ linearity to ‘regenerative’ ways of creating and delivering value. This shift prompts us to ask the question: Are we simply in the business of creating value for our selves at the expense of others and future generations or can we move beyond merely reducing the negative impact of our activities towards contributing positively to the wider fabric of life? We begin to challenge status-quo assumptions and realise that we can (and must) do things differently. Our prevalent approaches to generating value are – in the main – haunted by an extractive, reductive logic typified by trade-offs, separation and exploitation. If we are honest with ourselves, much of today’s business mind-set is rooted in an out-dated worldview which we have to snap out of. With this, begins a deeper philosophical (yet no less practical) inquiry into our sense of place and purpose within this world.

‘Too many people think in terms of trade-off, that if you do something which is good for you it must be bad for someone else. That’s not right; it comes from an old way of thinking about how the world works… We have to snap out of that old thinking and move to a new model.’ – Paul Polman, CEO Unilever

Mindfulness/Wellbeing-at-work: on the surface, this is about stress reduction and morale boosting; it’s about ensuring the workforce is healthier mentally and emotionally, and so more creative, resourceful and resilient. Yet as we seriously engage in these wellbeing practices, we come face-to-face with our own masks, acculturations and narrowed-down perceptions of ‘self’ as separate from and in competition with the world around us. And with proper dedicated practice, we can start to transcend these masks, enriching our ‘ego-awareness’ with a deeper inter-relational consciousness that beckons us to ask the question:  What is my sense of place, purpose and participation within this inter-related world?  With this comes a conscious shift away from an essentially Social Darwinist dog-eat-dog, dominate or be dominated, individualistic worldview towards wider vistas of how life really is beyond the narrowing confines of our overly dominant ego-awareness. We begin to develop a sense of our soul-calling, prompting a quest, a voyage of self-discovery in becoming more fully human, and in the process, more in harmony with life.

‘Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood. As we do so, we will not only find joy – we will also find our path of authentic service in the world’ – Parker J Palmer, leadership specialist

These are just two examples of symptoms that find their roots in a deeper shift underway in our mythos and logos, transforming the cultural narratives that inform our ways of operating and organising: a shift from a meta-story of separation to one of inter-being (a recognition that all of life is inter-related, and that we are conscious co-creators within this unfolding evolution).  This is what great minds throughout the ages, the world’s wisdom traditions, and pioneering scientific discoveries all point to: life is inter-relational, and our harmonious relationship with life stems from participation and communion. There is immense diversity yet this diversity is immersed within a communion of unity.  The more we understand what Gregory Bateson called the ‘Mind of Nature’, the more we realise our birth-rite as humble servants rather than hubristic plunderers.

As the great poet William Wordsworth eloquently put it, ‘In nature everything is distinct yet nothing defined in absolute singleness.’  In other words, we each have uniqueness yet our sense of self arises out of our everyday interconnected participation within our human and more-than-human world.  Gone with the winds of change is our individualistic ego-quest for domination and control, as we learn to open up to who we truly are, by opening up to how life really is.

All the great problems of today find their root in our inability to reconcile our sense of self within the Mind of Nature; we create systemic problems due to our ego-squint’s desire for separation, control, domination and predictability rather than a deeper and more authentic undertaking of realising our creative potential in service of life.

Let’s start to listen to what is emerging within us, within our teams and stakeholder groups. Let’s start to reveal our authentic ourselves by removing our masks and embracing our vulnerability with courage, while engendering trust in our teams. Let’s start to challenge the control and predict mentality of so much of our meeting and decision-making conventions that stifle our creative potential. Let’s start to liberate our humanity by sharing and communing more deeply.

‘Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.’ Bob Marley, musician

There are a multitude of simple yet courageous undertakings each of us can take to help nurture meaningful conversations that go beyond the superficial by beckoning more of our soulful selves into our work environments. For instance, how about starting each and every meeting with a minute’s silence, to help us centre ourselves and tune-in to more of our natural ways of knowing (intuitive, somatic, emotional and rational) allowing for more than a glimpse of what lies beyond the busyness of our masturbating monkey-minds. How about checking in with our teams at the end of the day to share in a heartfelt way, where we practice meditation-in-motion by listening and speaking from the heart.  How about having a quick round-robin at the beginning of each day for people to share what they feel grateful for at the present time, perhaps sharing who we might like to thank for helping us out in a small yet loving ways, and so celebrating the good qualities of ourselves and our community.  How about creating a two-hour space in our schedules every Friday morning for our team to sit together in a circle, having the permission to explore and envision new ways of operating. How about creating space for a half day workshop every four weeks with other stakeholders – such as pressure groups, think tanks, customers, suppliers, investors – giving permission for us all to explore together and share perspectives of how to do things better. How about creating a ‘children’s fire’ in our boardroom, so that all key strategic and operational decisions include the potential impact they have on the next generation, our children.

These small steps are the front-line of co-creating the future of business. No budget or business case required, only courage to break rank from the soul-sapping status quo.

We are living through a supreme moment in our human history. It is what the ancient Greeks referred to as Kairos, an indeterminable period of time during which old assumptions fall away and a deeper, more authentic worldview forms. A step change in our human evolution is upon. Each of us has the humbling responsibility to seize the moment and make a stand for Life, in-so-doing becoming who we were born to be, and in the process enabling our organisations to become more resilient, purposeful, vibrant future-fit enterprises.

About Giles Hutchins

Giles Hutchins  is a thought leader, speaker and adviser on the future of business.  Recently, Global Sustainability Director for Atos, and previously a management consultant with KPMG, he has helped transform a wide range of organisations (corporate, third sector, public sector and start-up) and is author of the books The Nature of Business and The Illusion of Separation.  His latest book is Future Fit, watch a short 3 minute video about it here.

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Giles Hutchins is a thought leader, speaker and adviser on the future of business. Recently, Global Sustainability Director for Atos, and previously a management consultant with KPMG, he has helped transform a wide range of organisations (corporate, third sector, public sector and start-up) and is author of the books The Nature of Business and The Illusion of Separation.