Business in the Twenty-Twenties: raise your Ecosight.
Enough with strategy, conquer and self-interest. Time to truly learn from life.
Not only we’ve found powerful answers to why should businesses embrace thinking and acting ecoistically in order to thrive in the upcoming decade, we’ve also begun to actualize these answers, helping build the bridges. Please, have a seat and read on.
January 1st, 2012. I put my bet on the new decade, writing this:
My open bet here is that the world has now come to a truly evolutionary phase. En evolution of our collective consciousness, not of economy or technology. An unprecedented step forward of the whole of Mankind. A step towards putting an end to our acting like a virus that exploits and devours the reality to which it belongs.
The chaos we are part of is pulsating, ordered, alive and enlightened. Of this Universe, we are meant to be a harmonious and intelligent expression.
Today, things move “a bit” faster than in the Middle Ages, thus I hazard foreseeing a much denser evolution than back then. I bet on 2020.
We live in a time that allows conversing and working together at the speed of light, holding hugs that embrace the whole world. Today, we can be aware of what happens in the thoughts and in the streets of the world, and take part in it simultaneously and anywhere.
I am here for this.
As it is always the case when we don’t have a clear view, there’s noise and it is also cold, we have to choose what we want to believe, what we are able to believe. And then start moving.
This is emotion, courage, and it is risk, fear.
Things as ancient as Mankind. Beautiful.
Fast forward to Jan 2019. We are so close to 2020. I’m in my kitchen in a silent, sunny day. A streak of light enters through the window. I can see the dust floating through it in the air. And in this blissful setting, I’m eating a mango. As I taste this sweet and juicy fruit that I love, I roam with it into the tropical forests where its water comes from. Fallen as tropical rain, up through the roots of the trees, into the fruits and in my mouth now, becoming part of me. I recall that it is 3 billion years old water entering my body, which itself is made of 10 billion years old matter. I recall that this very matter I am made of has traveled a hundred thousands light years since it was born, going through an unthinkable amount of transformations.
My mango-trip has just begun, hitting me hard.
Guy Marchie meets Nora Bateson in my thoughts as I realize that, while I take into my body 10 sextillion atoms of air at every breath, absorbing molecules “exhaled by every person who ever lived”, I am myself a population of 100 trillion microorganisms that make up my microbiome, a body of 10.000 different species whose 99% unique genes are bacterial. And this “internal aquarium of trillions of creatures, my language, my culture, my love, my ideas, my family, my nation, and my breakfast-ARE. And we ARE not separable from the particular version of a person that is me.”
How cool is that? How strikingly real is it?
We are, indeed a very small and transient part of the Universe, and yet, at the same time, we are the whole. We share the depth of the whole. This interwoven dance of identity between my individual point of view and the simultaneous reality of being a cosmos myself, interdependent with each and any other horizon I can think of, in space and in time, is crucial. It is literally vital.
It is, in fact, the very evolution of consciousness I was talking about in 2012. The one I’m actually hoping for. And, furthermore, the one I’m working for.
We are in the middle of the passage from adolescence to maturity for our race, embracing the responsibility of shaping our own identity. The intimate relationship between our tools and ourselves, so well-studied by Marshall McLuhan, is coming to a sublimation point at which we extend ourselves directly, allowing some of our tools to become ourselves.
There are many key questions about the future. In the words of Charles Handy: “Might it be wiser to aim to grow better without growing bigger? Is money in the new digital world a true reflection of value? Is selfishness necessary for economic growth? What will hold a society together?” Plus, considering the steep acceleration of our dependence on technology, or rather of our integration with technology all the way up to biomechatronics and artificial general intelligence, the additional question is: what will it mean to be human in a few decades from now?
Make no mistake, these are the times we are living through. No kidding, no sci-fi, no tree-hugging, just simple, nuanced, complex and deep reality. These are our times.
And yet, at least 9 organizations out of 10 I have been working with in the last 20 years, think in terms of “strategy”, “conquer”, “recruiting”, “externalities”. So, just considering my direct experience, that’s tens of organizations of any type and size that, at the end of the day and “cosmetics” aside, have a sharp and exclusive focus on their own individual perspective. And then there’s the number of books, articles, conversations I’ve been through in two decades of work, that sadly confirm it all. Even what they call “Ecosystem Strategy” is being everywhere framed in terms of “competing”, “shaping” and “winning”. Our intellectual lenses still largely work according to the mechanistic and reductionist thinking coming straight from the Scientific Revolution. We perceive the world in separation, and we try to make sense of it through rational thinking alone. No surprise then, that fear and anxiety permeate the lives of the whole Western Civilization.
Ancient wisdom is now being broadly rediscovered, free from this delirium of the intellectual ego that we are still suffering for since a couple of centuries ago. Science itself has moved on, to the point that reading either the writing of David Bohm or that of Thich Nhat Hanh resonates of the same lively truth. Cybernetics and Systems Thinking, after a few decades tangled in mechanistic perspectives themselves, have begun to move on towards an ecological understanding of reality. The work of a few sensitive thinkers from the past century has seeded what is now flourishing. And I believe there is hope.
The way forward is right here, in the evolution of the relationship between the sensemaking of me and of we, an evolution of identity that embraces ambiguity, liminality, and symmathesy.
Verbal expressions like aloha, ubuntu, mitákuye oyás’iŋ, kokoro are being rediscovered and explored in their ecology of meaning. And this is so important now. Language affects the direction of our attention, putting us in relationships with entire ways of being in the world, surfacing and propagating patterns of relationship that generate new reality. It is a powerful door to new horizons, and it is also a wall against which the opportunity of a new sense-making can crash. It doesn’t necessarily take a manager knowing that the term “strategy” originally means “the office of the commander of an army” to have her anyway absorb an egotistic posture of “win and conquer” through its use, through the use of its disciplines and tools, nurturing an ego-centered epistemology. And ultimately, generating a reality of more separation and fear.
This is what we have done for too long. This is what we are still doing too much.
A QUESTION OF LIFE.
Why should the world of business embrace a different perspective on life, I keep asking myself? Why should entrepreneurs and all decision makers change the guiding principles of their sight and decisions, taking in account the good of the broader work ecosystem, letting go of the egotistic perspectives driven and perpetuated by the ideas of competition, strategy, conquer and dominance? And I have also been asking this question around for quite a while.
There’s a double-bind right here, that is becoming increasingly evident. It is that of having to survive in the status-quo and, at the same time, of knowing that by doing so we are sacrificing a better world and possibly putting our own survival as a species at risk. Thinking in terms of bottom-line and shareholders’ interest, and not having to deal with what is released into the rest of the system as “externalities” is convenient in the short-term. And, simultaneously, it is deadly in the long term.
I have learned, though, that any double-bind also bears a double-opportunity for being overcome. The key to that is making it both-and, instead of either-or: we have to nurture both sides of this twofold opportunity as one. More specifically to this issue, the key is meeting both self-interest and care for the broader ecosystem. Making them thrive together, so much that they are recognized as one and the same interest. Giving organizations tools and sight to thrive on the exponential dynamics that the ecosystem can provide them when resonating, and at the same time making them perceive and nurture the multiple interdependencies they have with the ecosystem itself. It is indeed very hard for us humans to nurture what we can’t perceive.
But I’ve just said there are ways for thriving on exponential dynamics provided by the ecosystem. And, yes, that includes flows of economic resources, aka money. This is quite practical and interesting to grab even within the current worldview, isn’t it? So, we just need the people in today’s business to know about this: all those managers, entrepreneurs, and even academics that are still trapped in the double-bind of the industrial age dynamics. For them to even have the time to look into what we are talking about, there is the legitimate and strong need to have a short-term return, or possibly more than one. So here they go, the exponential benefits that having a broader and deeper sight of their own ecosystemic evolution can bring to them.
First of all, what do we mean by “exponential”? Without entering in too much of a dissertation on non-linear systems dynamics, I think it hereby suffices to frame it as having results that are more than linearly proportional to the increase of effort and/or resources profused. In other words, if using x resources you are currently having y results, by leveraging the ecosystemic exponential dynamics you can, for example, use 2x resources and have 10y results. And I’m not just speaking of quantitative metrics, I actually mean qualitative ones first and foremost. I think the best way to look at this is in terms of impact. Whatever value your organization exists to generate, that value can be broadly multiplied by ecosystemic resonance dynamics. And that happens in an interwoven fabric of ways that feed back on each other, like for example:
- receiving more relevant and timely information from the ecosystem,
- being part of stronger and faster learning streams,
- attracting more and more relevant talent,
- unleashing the emergent participation of people in your organizational purpose,
- being part of knowledge flows that generate unprecedented ideas and initiatives for improvement and innovation.
And much more, with other much deeper exponential effects not just related to the growth of your value proposition, but also to your ecosystemic contribution and to how it evolves your relationships, reputation, and competences, in turn evolving your own organizational identity. It is the unparalleled journey of actualizing your best self while, at the same time, producing the deepest value for the interwoven ecosystems you are part of.
In the last couple of decades in the organizational world, we’ve lived an evolution from a quasi-linear system of mass dominance to an understanding of interconnectedness. It is already well digested that today’s markets are networks, with all the effects of having embraced this ontology, including the changes in tools, practices, and approaches that it has brought. In this decade, another evolution has gone mainstream, though. One that is taking us from a worldview of interconnectedness to one of interdependence. In fact, markets are much more than networks, they are ecosystems. This is another major shift and, again, a whole set of systemic tools and approaches are already helping this epistemology to bear its fruits, also in business. In the meanwhile, another wave of evolution in our collective consciousness is rising towards mainstream attention, which will include the organizational world. It is that of interbeing.
Not just we are interconnected and interdependent, we are in fact part of each other in an ecology of matter, life dynamics, kokoro, that vibrates among simultaneous states of individual existence and real, de facto, universal unity. What was just philosophy or even tree-hugging in the past century is now slowly becoming understood as a fundamental truth, studied by science, brought into our daily lives in this era of Transition as we feel deep inside the mourning for what we used to think we are, for the civilization that is collapsing because it was built from its roots on deadly assumptions. Our relationship with technology, with ourselves and with life itself is being deeply shaken. This is the world your organization is a living part of, this is our moment in history. And each of us has the choice to help this happen, and surf the strong waves that are coming, going with this flow and taking advantage of the exponential opportunities it bears, or to resist it and — honestly — be swept away.
WE’VE BEEN RAISING OUR SIGHT: EVOLUTION AT WORK.
In my company, with love and humility and together with many others, we have been moving to lend our hands in this Transition. Our work of the last 10 years has put us in the position to foresee this phase. We’ve been working in the evolution of organizations as deep as we could for long, with a strongly transcontextual approach. We have seen the simple and powerful truth that lies in the Socio-Technical Systems theory at work and we’ve seen how deep the relationship between our identity as humans and the tools we devise goes. As Marshall McLuhan’s work put it, we shape our extensions in the world, our tools, branching out who we are into them, and then this actualization in turn feeds back on ourselves evolving our very identity. Therefore, we have been looking for good tools to help this shift, to help bring in plain sight the fact that organizations are their ecosystems, way beyond what meets the eye today. But we could not find them.
In fact, among those tools that were not reductionist themselves by treating ecosystems just as networks of separate and concrete entities, almost everything we have found was either lacking the human and social side of identity and consciousness co-evolution or they were theoretical and abstract to a point that makes them very hard if not impossible to be received, digested and applied in the organizational world. Such a tool, in fact, in order to be generative as a seed of new organizational reality, not only needs to be understandable but also actually applicable in real-world organizational contexts. It has to bring an aesthetic that can resonate with the existing organizational architectures, it needs to be perceivable as much more useful than “expensive”. This is crucial in order to build trust: leading to actual evolutionary steps in the daily work of today’s organizations is crucial to start building trust.
This is how we’ve started the development of a new framework two years ago. A tool that could seed a new understanding of the world of work while also bringing short and medium-term benefits. A tool to help overcome this double-bind, that is starting to get more and more evident. Something that puts the ecosystemic nature of work in plain sight for everybody to see and to work with.
Each phenomenon in nature rightly observed wakens in us a new organ of inner understanding.
As one learns to see more clearly he or she also learns to see more deeply.
One becomes more at home with the phenomenon understanding it with greater empathy, concern and respect
As we decided to begin this quest for an ecosystemic framework, we already had more than a few things to start with. On one hand, the business modeling and strategy making work we had carried out with tens of organizations of different sizes and in different contexts, learning a lot about what is useful about it and its tools and what are the limits it puts. On the other hand, the personal development action research we had already carried out for a couple of years, with the CORE ² tool we have designed. And in the meanwhile, in parallel, the whole approach and methodology we are developing in the emerging field of Adaptive Organization Design bridging decades of Organization Design and Organizational Development practices.
This existing work and the learning that it had brought, immediately pointed us in the direction of a few key and interwoven concepts: identity, resonance, narratives. Moreover, we knew that the last thing to do today is to lead organizations into seeing their ecosystems as composed of “parts” or “entities” to map out. Instead, we wanted to take people into a liminal space of a deeper order, exploring relationships of relationships. And we wanted them to be engaged in the exploration by aesthetic questions, and to understand how value flows in that space from this new perspective, what are the relevant dynamics and the leverages there. Moreover, we wanted this to be practical and to lead to action in an ongoing iterative cycle of evolution. In short, we wanted to devise a simple and effective door to a new space of perception.
This is how, after these two years of a quest, the Ecosight framework was born.
The Ecosight framework is indeed a new branch within an existing huge tree of work that has been growing up for decades all around the world. We wouldn’t have been able to even start this endeavor without giant shoulders to step on. In fact, it has deep roots in the studies and practices of complex adaptive systems, ecology, warm data, socio-technical systems, organizational identity, individuation, positive psychology, lean management, adaptive organization design, and more.
This is not the place to explain how Ecosight works. This is already a quite long post I’m writing. But let me just lay out a couple of key points about its use.
The Ecosight framework has already proven effective in shifting perception and drive action accordingly. In other words, you’ll want to use it for Sensemaking and for Actualization. It is an upgrade to how your organization thinks, an evolution of your brain due to a radical evolution of your eyes, if you will. In fact, it simultaneously informs and is informed by, at least:
- Organizational Design
- Organizational Development
- Product/Service Design
- Research & Development
- Platform Design
- Experience Design
- Brand Development
- Partnerships Development
- Public Relations
- Customer Relations
- Investor Relations
It flows through a 4 phases wheel reframing the Deming Cycle to this epistemological sight, the LIFE cycle: Listen, Interact, Form, Evolve. These four focuses tie its usage to action, bridging the new sense-making to the actualization of the emerging potential, for the organization and for the ecosystem simultaneously. Each of the 4 focuses, or phases, is a door in itself to key aspects of the reality of interbeing, and participates in the iterative evolution of the organization towards the exponential dynamics it can activate. Here, listening means considering what the system is showing in terms of patterns, dynamics, leverages. By interacting with them you actualize your current sensemaking generating new reality through the interplay with the system. This reality gives you new learning, new forms to your thinking and structure, in-forming you. And the evolution of your own identity through a changed sense-making closes the circle asking and allowing for a new level of listening. All in all, the LIFE cycle brings in the lively carrier rhythm that is needed for coevolution to happen.
Last but not least, the Ecosight Framework pivots on a single canvas on which different types of work can and should be carried out: the Ecothinking Canvas. The reason for having one single canvas is to leave as much as possible of the decisions on how to work to the human system using it, with its traits, preferences, biases, background. Thus, just one canvas to open the space for sight, set the stage, provide the seeds. And then a playbook with examples, possibilities, suggestions to play with this soil, dancing with your unique combination of identity, context and trajectory.
We are now in the process of writing this playbook, while ourselves using the framework, learning from it and about it, and exchanging with tens of interested people and organizations in different countries. This thing does not belong to us. Saying that it is released in Creative Commons doesn’t even start to tell about the spirit that is making us work on it. So, if you are interested, please get in touch.
I am thrilled, energized and, to be honest, a bit worried about the work that lies ahead. There is hope, yes. There is also a lot of fear to deal with. Personally, this piece of work is likely the most important contribution I have been able to make so far to the rethinking of our world according to a deep understanding and implementation of interbeing. I hope it will be useful to help us co-evolve. I know that it could and, as I’ve already written elsewhere, I know that the important part of this is just the “co”.
In this new beginning, a unique moment of blissful possibility, I feel the need to take a breath before jumping back into the ocean to surf these waves. And, as I look at who I am today, at my personal and professional trajectory, I also feel the need to thank those who have fed energy, vision, discipline, curiosity and love into my work. The likes of Charles Handy, Peter Drucker, Eric Trist, Paul Tolchinsky, Dawna Jones, Gregory Bateson, Nora Bateson, Donella Meadows, Meg Whitley, John Hagel, Lucio Margulis, “Walking Eagle” Wambli Moni, Fu Zhongwen, Li Rong Mei, Alan Watts, Kurt Lewin, Harrison Owen, David Bohm, J. W. von Goethe, Morihei Ueshiba, Thich Nhat Hanh, Bill Plotkin, Stephen Harrod Buhner, Henry Mintzberg. Just to name a few.
A Mankind that has sprouted the shared ecology of all these beings in a time when it is so much needed, is a Mankind that is already evolving. There is hope. And there is much work to do. Let’s suit up and get back to the waves.
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Stelio is a curious and active contributor to the global community evolving the concept and practice of work in this decade. If you’d like to know more about him, start here.