Future Champions: Envisioning a World That Works for All at EDGEof
We walk through the doors of the creative clubhouse EDGEof in downtown Shibuya in Tokyo, to discover a sensory space filled with soothing scents, technicolor lights and a soft, ethereal soundscape. Glowing white chairs and lamps illuminate intimate corners as guests gather around the “vision bar” to take a cup of tea or sake, as well as a vintage card illustrating an archetype that embodies or inspires them.
It is there we are welcomed by our hosts Daniel Goldman, a co-founder of Edgeof, and Scott Levkoff, founder of The Mystic Midway of California, and into the fantastical “leadership funhouse,” the idyllic setting for their 2-hour immersive journey titled Future Champions, a project of Prosperity Exchange, which ran as a series of events from June 18–23. I am joined there by the Food Innovation Program’s research fellows, whose adventures in Japan aligned serendipitously with this unique event.
“We chose the format of a ‘journey’ for this first series of events both to invoke the spirit of discovery and learning, and as an invitation to each participant to see themselves as a hero or heroine of their own stories on the path of realizing their visions and becoming better leaders,” Levkoff said.
“The mission is to do so via entrepreneurship and community,” Goldman said, whose core work is “Prosperity Exchange,” a project that supports Edgeof and Future Champions. “There are many sub-projects, and Edgeof represents one sub-project of the Prosperity Exchange, touching on entrepreneurship and community, and Future Champions is aimed at getting people in the community on a path to being better leaders.”
The leadership concept behind Future Champions, was largely born out of the work of Deborah Ancona, Faculty Director of the MIT Leadership Center. “We all hunger to know what leadership is, yet the concept remains amorphous,” she writes in her article “Leadership in the Age of Uncertainty.”
In response to this uncertainty, Ancona, and her team at MIT’s Sloan Business School of Management, developed a framework that encompasses four key leadership capabilities: visioning (creating a compelling vision of the future), sense-making (making sense of the world around us), inventing (creating new ways of working together) and relating (developing key relationships within and across organizations).
“Added to these capabilities is the notion of a change ‘signature’ — your own unique way of making change happen,” she writes. “Leaders in business settings need all of these capabilities to be successful and need to cycle through them on an ongoing basis.”
Levkoff and Goldman, inspired by Ancona’s curriculum, applied her leadership framework to the Future Champions event by inviting participants to explore a “mythic landscape” of inquiry and entrepreneurial mindsets that foster continuous learning.
“The Future Champions vision is to make participants familiar with the four necessary capacities for leaders, as relayed by Deborah Ancona’s work at MIT, and to inspire the majority of them to continue investing in their growth as leaders,” Goldman said.
To help guide the participants through their leadership journey, the hosts invited special guests, including myself, to serve as “sage” advisors. Each of us had the honor of creating a safe space for sharing personal stories, and of representing the wisdom found within each of the leadership capabilities: visioning, sense-making, inventing and relating.
Grouped in teams of four, the participants, which included the Food Innovation research fellows, move from station to station defining and refining the visions they wish to bring into the world, as well as discovering their own distinct ways of making change happen.
Each journey begins at the “visioning station” guided by my colleague at the Future Food Institute, Beatriz Jacoste. About four participants join her at a corner of the room, next to a keyboardist making ambient sounds. Jacoste starts by sharing her own personal vision as inspiration: “My vision is that all people reach their fullest potential,” she says. Jacoste then holds a small hourglass in her hand to keep the time as each participant shares her or his vision of the world they are driven to create in the future.
Soon afterward, a young man approaches the group. “I am the spirit of time. It is now time to move to the next station,” he says, directing participants to the “cartographer’s table,” a map the paints a broader view of the four categories, and then over to my station, the“sense-making station.” There, we sit on glowing white benches below a tall wall of mirrors, symbolic of the need for self reflection to make sense of ourselves and the world around us. As Ancona wrote, “without understanding where we are, we cannot get to the world we envision.”
With this concept in mind, I share my own vision and sense of the world — “One of my visions is of a world where all humans have found their ‘ikigai,’ which is Japanese for ‘reason for being,’” I said. “But many of us experience existential frustration, confusion and fear of the unknown. How can we learn to trust the process and harness our energy to design a meaningful life?” I then invite the participants to share their personal discovery of the world, providing perspective as they map a new terrain, a process that prepares them for the next station — “inventing.”
At a station made of white miniature houses and other inventive shapes, Christian Schmitz, Ambassador to Japan at World Innovations Forum, walks participants through the steps needed to achieve their vision for the future. One-by-one participants explore ways to get from the world of now to the world of their vision.
Amidst this thoughtful discussion, the “spirit of time” whisks participants away to the final station — “relating,” which is guided by Eric Siu, founder of Touchy Human Camera. Here, they explore the community and connections with people they can cultivate to make their visions reality. This station reflects the purpose of Future Champions — to connect and build supportive relationships with our fellow leaders and adventurers.
For Zack Porges, a research fellow at the Food Innovation Program, the exploration of the four capabilities “created a cross-pollination opportunity allowing for a free flow of ideas across disparate cultural groups and unique perspectives.”
“It helped clarify my own vision and showed me opportunities I hadn’t explored to make my vision a reality in order to solve social problems while valorizing cultural heritage,” he says.
After all participants move through the stations, we continue the adventure with a climb to the Edgeof rooftop. The sun has already set, and a string of yellow lights shine around us as connect as a newly created community. After special guests reflect and share our visions, Levkoff raises a glass to give a toast — “To the realization of all visions in service to a world that works for all!” he says.
After some reflection, Levkoff shares: “Even though each event brought together a new group of strangers, after having shared a journey together; featured guests, participants and interns alike share in a warm feeling of community and hope for the future — a future in which we all are champions with the leadership capacities to realize our visions.”