Future Champions: Envisioning a World That Works for All at EDGEof
We walk through the doors of the creative clubhouse Edgeof in downtown Shibuya to discover a sensory space filled with soothing scents, technicolor lights, and a soft, ethereal soundscape. Glowing white chairs and lamps illuminated intimate corners as guests gathered around the “vision bar” to take a cup of tea or sake, and a card that illustrated their archetype.
We are welcomed by our hosts Daniel Goldman, co-founder of Edgeof, and Scott Levkoff, founder of The Mystic Midway of California, and brought into the fantastical “leadership funhouse,” the idyllic setting for Future Champions, a series of 2-hour immersive journeys that ran from June 18–23. I am joined in the space by the Food Innovation Program’s research fellows whose Global Mission 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 says.
“The mission is to do so via entrepreneurship and community,” Goldman added, 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 Future Champions 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 says.
To help guide the participants through their leadership journey, the hosts invited me and some special guests to serve as “sage” advisors. Each of us had the honor of creating a safe space for sharing personal stories and the wisdom found within each of the leadership capabilities: visioning, sense-making, inventing, and relating.
Grouped in teams of four, the participants moved from station to station defining and refining the visions they wished to bring into the world and discovering their own distinct ways of making change happen.
Each journey began at the “visioning station” guided by my colleague at the Future Food Institute, Beatriz Jacoste. The first team joined her in a corner of the room, next to a keyboardist creating ambient sounds. Jacoste started by sharing her personal vision as inspiration: “that all people reach their fullest potential.” Jacoste held a small hourglass in her hand to keep the time as each participant also shared the vision they are driven to create in the future.
Soon afterward, a young man approached the group. “I am the spirit of time. It is now time to move to the next station,” he said, 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 at on glowing white benches below a tall wall of mirrors, which symbolized 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 shared 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 invited the participants to share their personal discovery of the world, providing perspective as they mapped a new terrain, a process that prepared them for the next station — “inventing.”
In the space made of white miniature houses and other inventive shapes, Christian Schmitz, Ambassador to Japan at World Innovations Forum, walked participants through the steps needed to achieve their vision for the future. One-by-one, participants explored ways to get from the world “of now” to the world “of their vision.”
The “spirit of time” soon whisked participants away to the final station — “relating,” which was guided by Eric Siu, founder of Touchy Human Camera. Here, they explored how to cultivate community to help make their visions reality. This station reflected 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 the participants moved through the stations, we continued our adventure with a climb to the Edgeof rooftop. The sun had already set, and a string of yellow lights glowed around us as we connected as a newly created community. Levkoff raised a glass. “To the realization of all visions in service to a world that works for all,” he said.
He continued: “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.”