The making of an agile corporation…

This is the story of what it took for one huge company to transform its leadership and ways of working.

Why is this of interest to me?

It’s another of the “imaginal cells” that are emerging in this time when we see ever-more clearly that old systems are no longer working. As I mentioned in my post on Metamorphosis, I’ve been on the lookout for examples of different ways of thinking and the experiments that are testing these new paradigms.

The first was Doughnut Economics. In that post, we heard economist Kate Raworth describe her vision for an economic model that ensures sufficiency for all without exceeding the limits of what earth can provide. In April 2020, Amsterdam became a Doughnut City. I’ve just received further information about the application of this model for our post-pandemic future…

 In June, the city council of Copenhagen committed to turning  into a Doughnut City—a good life for all within planetary boundaries. Dozens of other cities and towns worldwide have been in touch with Kate Raworth, economist and author of Doughnut Economics, to indicate they are also interested. These commitments demonstrate very exciting and bold examples of leadership in how we can transform the crisis of the pandemic into an opportunity for human renewal.

Leading for agility…

Today’s imaginal cell story is about a huge corporation and its whole-system transformation. I learned about it through an interview on the coaching summit I mentioned last week.

I almost didn’t watch this session, though. The title was Scaling Leadership, Agility and Vertical Development Inside an Organization, and the organization is Hoffmann-La Roche (Roche), a global healthcare company with about 94,000 employees in more than 100 countries.

I’m a fan of localized business and the small is beautiful philosophy, so I was sceptical that I would find anything of interest in this conversation. But they used words such as whole-system, transformation, emergent, and sustaining. It seemed they were speaking my language.

…we will explore lessons learned and emerging insights from Roche’s whole-system transformation of leadership and ways of working. As one of the highest profile (and most currently relevant) organizational transformations taking place, Roche’s unique integration of agility, vertical development, and emergent change has resulted in significant impact across all areas of the business. They will also explore how Roche is sustaining transformation in today’s disruptive environment…

It was inspiring!

So I listened…and was inspired. I’d like to let you hear for yourselves but unfortunately the video isn’t available for sharing. So here are some of my impressions…

  • What Roche wanted was greater agility, which they define as speed and flexibility with stability.

  • Changing “how” starts with mindset, and requires self-transformation of company leaders.
  • The old leadership approach was reactive, trying to keep everything under control and putting out fires as they flared up. Leaders expected that there were right answers in any situation and they were the source of those answers.
  • It had become apparent that the level of complexity they were dealing with very quickly outmatched those traditional strategies.
  • The experiential program that Roche implemented was to shift leaders from the reactive mindset to a creative mindset, one in which they would proactively shape processes and structure to fulfill the company’s purpose and vision.
  • Leaders were coached to notice their reactive patterns, recognize their creative capacities, reconnect with purpose, and remember the key principles of the company.
  • The main competency they were aiming for was the ability to act in the face of limited data, ambiguity, and complexity where there is a high likelihood of not being correct, at least not entirely—and to still do it. In other words, they needed to find their confidence and inner knowing to navigate the predicaments that arise in this complex world we live in.
  • The courage of these leaders was acknowledged—courage to be vulnerable, to go into uncharted waters, to risk taking the next step when there was no clear path or right answer.
  • The benefit to leaders was a huge release of stress when they came from this entirely different place while carrying out their duties.

The language of agility is important…

Here were a few distinctions that were made:

  • invite (to encourage self-authority) …instead of… order or direct (which makes the person subject to someone else)
  • mapping (to see interconnections) …instead of… choosing (A or B)
  • value creation (when we can create value, it is unlimited ) …instead of… value capture (resources are limited and we have to compete for our share)

Summing up this approach…

  • People are invited to choose somethig new. A different way. A more empowered way. A more purposeful way. A less-frightened, more courageous way.
  • According to Tammy Lowry from Roche, “It isn’t about processes or practices, it’s a fundamental change in the way our organization works together. It’s a revolution.”
  • People are invited to courageously step into it and be prepared to do their own inner work.
  • If you’d like more details about what this deep-dive experience looks like, check out this article.

What makes this inspiring for me…

  • The program quickly moved through the company because the leaders who participated were so enthusiastic.
  • There have been measurable results in terms of company performance in relation to its purpose.
  • They are bringing leaders together to have connecting conversation in which they can benefit from learnings across all divisions of the company.
  • The initiators see this approach as translatable into society. It starts with shifting the mindset and creating an opportunity for reimagining how that might work. That is what excites me most!

The fact that this is happening in a huge company—the fact that almost prevented me from listening—turns out to be the convincing aspect. If this new mindset can permeate a large corporate culture, where else might it percolate? I wonder…

Reality check…

The first step in recovery from anything is facing the facts, recognizing the reality of the situation we are in, acknowledging where we’ve arrived in life.

Here’s where we—the humans of the world—find ourselves in this summer of 2020. We are in a…

  • plight = a condition, state, or situation, especially an unfavourable or unfortunate one
  • quandary = a state of perplexity or uncertainty, especially as to what to do
  • dilemma = a situation requiring a choice between equally undesirable  alternatives
  • imbroglio = an intricate and perplexing state of affairs; a complicated or difficult situation; a confused heap
  • quagmire = a situation from which extraction is difficult

It’s no coincidence that these are unfamiliar words. They’ve fallen out of use because so far we haven’t experienced life events this way. We’ve been used to identifying problems and coming up with solutions when something isn’t working the way we think it should. Not always easy but pretty straightforward.

This problem-solving strategy has been serving us well for many years..until suddenly it isn’t.

The big shift of this time…

We’ve transitioned to an era when problem-solving is not able to help us.

Look back at the meanings of plight, quandary, dilemma, imbroglio, and quagmire, which are all synonyms of predicament. They describe a state of affairs that is much more far-reaching than any one problem. We are in a predicament, and the challenge of this time is to figure out how we can navigate our way through it.

Navigating is not the same as problem-solving. To sailors, wind is not a problem. It’s a fact of the environment they are moving through, and they have to figure out how to work with it to get where they want to go. This involves harnessing the wind’s energy and avoiding missteps that capsize the boat or otherwise get them into trouble or take them off course.

I started my reality check after I’d been feeling cranky about the pandemic and social unrest for a couple weeks. I didn’t know why I felt that way or what to do about it. I just knew I didn’t like feeling that way.

Then I came across a Carolyn Myss video in which she brought up the idea that this is more than a problem to be solved, and she identified our current situation as a predicament. That rang bells for me and I wanted to get a clearer distinction between problems and predicaments—which is what got me looking up the synonyms. It shifted me out of the crankiness to have that understanding, but left me wondering…what can we do about it?

A couple weeks later, I found insight in an interview on an online coaching summit about leadership in times of uncertainty. The speaker was leadership coach Steve March on the topic of Adapting and Thriving in Times of Uncertainty. Although he was speaking to people who coach business leaders, the information applies to all contexts in life. His approach filled in the missing piece about what is the way, if not problem solving will no longer work. And it clicked together pieces of living systems theory that I’d studied with Fritjof Capra at Schumacher College in 1994.

And so…

What can we do to find our way through this predicament, this unpleasant, confusing situation that is difficult to get out of? First, we need to accept the realities of our predicament. Here’s the way I see it.

  • We are in the midst of a quantum leap of consciousness.
  • Our old systems of operating don’t fit with where we’re going.
  • We are in a situation that is messy and complex, and problem-solving can’t help us because problem-solving takes only a narrow view of what is possible.

Complexity is not bad…

In systems theory, complexity is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s how all natural systems work. And, as you’ll see from the following distinctions, a complex  system is actually the one where  the most possibilities exist.

A Simple system is one that has a single path to a single answer. If you want to get to the solution, there is one, and only one, way to do it.

A Complicated system is one that has multiple paths to a single answer. To get to the answer, you have multiple different choices you can make. However, there is only one correct solution.

A Complex system is one that has multiple paths to multiple answers. When you toss in the word “adaptive”, you end up with a system that changes based on the choices that you make, and as a result of these choices, the answers change.

If that sounds discouraging…

Multiple paths and multiple answers that change depending on our choices. My grandma would have said, “That’s a fine kettle of fish!”

Take heart. As Steve March explained in the interview I listened to, there is a means of dealing with change that goes beyond problem-solving. It harnesses the principles of living systems theory and allows solutions to emerge and unfold in a natural way.

This way of engaging with life does require some things of us.

  • We need to reorient ourselves and our understanding of how life on this planet works, to understand that we, like every other living thing on this planet, are governed by certain principles of nature. And that these are not impediments to our growth and progress. In fact, they are the way through.
  • We need to bring internal awareness to the situation rather than being totally focused on external events. Our inner deeper knowing is the compass that will  help us navigate through what we face in the world outside us.
  • Internal awareness requires us to dial back our busy-ness to a level where we can feel and hear our deep inner being and act from the human virtues that live there: trust, love, value, strength, compassion, will, joy, passion, stillness.

In fact, it’s quite simple. It just won’t be easy.


And in case you’ve forgotten where those words come from

We are going to transform. Period.

I haven’t written about death since the coronavirus descended upon us. Yet death is relevant in several ways right now. Not just that death is the possible outcome for a few of the people who contract COVID-19. Not just that death hovers closer in our awareness than ever before. But also because death is part of transformation. Think back to the caterpillar—it must completely disintegrate in order to provide the necessary material for a butterfly to come to life.

In the past 24 hours, I’ve heard two interviews which reminded me that death is an integral part of transformation. Sarah Kerr is a death doula whose work speaks to me. In this podcast, she’s in converstion with author and coach Michael Bungay Stanier. On his podcast, We Will Get Through This, he asks the very best in the world how to stay resilient. Facing death is part of that.

Listen here. Click button “Listen on Apple Podcasts” and scroll down to #29.

Zach Bush is a medical doctor with a unique combination of interests, including topics such as the role of soil and water ecosystems in human genomics, immunity, and gut/brain health. He is also a hospice doctor. His passion, as stated on his website, is “applying the rigor of science, strength of humanity, and the intelligence of nature to transform health and our world.” This video is the last few minutes of a longer interview about what we are doing to the environment.But that’s not what it’s about…

If the video does not show up, you can see it here.

Dr. Bush’s description of the Intensive Care Unit reminds me of the question of ventilators and COVID-19. As it happens, also in the past 24 hours, I sent my sons a message—an addition to my personal directive—letting them know that I do not want to be put on a ventilator. I did a lot of reading about it, and my reasons are summarized in this New York Times article by a medical doctor and this article from ABC News, also written by a doctor describing a better alternative. If you have not yet thought about this and made your wishes known, now is the time.

And so…

We are going to transform, one way or another. Are you going to go kicking and screaming, whimpering and complaining, or with grace and ease? And, I wonder, what would grace and ease look like?

Your thoughts?

Metamorphosis

In school, I learned a simplistic version of how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly—it hangs from a branch, spins a cocoon, and then a butterfly comes out after a process called metamorphosis. I took this description at face value and didn’t think much more about it until I became interested in transformation.

Butterfly

It’s actually much more magical than I was told…

Inside the chrysalis is where the magic happens. The caterpillar disintegrates, except for a few key cells—the imaginal cells. They are the essence of the completely new form that is about to emerge. How a caterpillar totally rearranges itself into a butterfly is described in this passage from Scientific American.

First, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out.

But the contents of the pupa are not entirely an amorphous mess.

Certain highly organized groups of cells known as imaginal discs survive the digestive process. Before hatching, when a caterpillar is still developing inside its egg, it grows an imaginal disc for each of the adult body parts it will need as a mature butterfly or moth—discs for its eyes, for its wings, its legs and so on.

…Once a caterpillar has disintegrated all of its tissues except for the imaginal discs, those discs use the protein-rich soup all around them to fuel the rapid cell division required to form the wings, antennae, legs, eyes, genitals and all the other features of an adult butterfly or moth. …One study even suggests that moths remember what they learned in later stages of their lives as caterpillars.

Don’t I have more important things to think about right now?

After all, our economy is being decimated by a pandemic of epic proportions, and long-standing injustices have come to a head, catalyzing violent societal upheaval.

From my viewpoint, metamorphosis is highly relevant at a time like this. Humanity is in the midst of transformation—experiencing disintegration of the systems that created the structure of who we thought we were.

We’re in the soup…

Beliefs we held dear, things we were sure were true, our unconscious biases—these are being challenged and, in the process, losing their power to hold our societal structure in place. At the moment, it all seems like an amorphous mess.

The good news is, our society is sprinkled with citizens who have been inspired to see a more beautiful world and develop their ideas into the beginnings of better systems that are waiting to grow out of this mess, to form something completely different. These are the imaginal discs of human society.

Butterfly or dead caterpillar?

By the way, most caterpillars successfully transform themselves into beautiful new creatures, but not all. Those that don’t…they become dead caterpillars.

We are at a choice point in our transformation. We can try to go back and seek comfort in what was familiar but not serving us well. The consequence will be similar to that of the unsuccessful caterpillars.

OR we can each do our part to help the imaginal cells flourish. This time in history is calling on us to become more conscious…

  • to become better humans by examining our behaviours and the unconsious beliefs that are driving them, and
  • to believe that constructive change is possible. The power of thought is stronger than most of us are willing to acknowledge because we don’t want to take responsibility for what we create. But whether or not we admit it, our thoughts give energy to what happens around us.

What do you want your thoughts to energize?

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share some of what is in the chrysalis and ready to emerge.

Why not start over?

I have long been interested in the big picture of life and its events. I often ask myself: What is the point? Why am I doing this? What exactly is going on here?

While teaching a college course about issues in consumer economics, I couldn’t confine my curriculum to simply talking about the technicalities of money management and buymanship. It seemed obvious to me that how we think is the driver of the choices we make, and that conscious choices serve us better than mindless ones. So that became my underlying theme as I discussed the practicalities of navigating the consumer culture.

I wrote a book called Conscious Spending, Conscious Life, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I see this pandemic—an event which is affecting everyone on the planet—as part of our human journey of consciousness.

And I’ve been doing energy work for years, learning various methods for clearing my energetic clutter as the practices of energy medicine and psychology have evolved. So dealing with the unseen is familiar to me.

In the blink of an eye…

Here’s what I know to be true in the realm of energy:

  • We are all connected.  See psychiatrist Carl Jung and the collective unconscious, physicist Fritjof Capra and The Web of Life, biologist Rupert Sheldrake and  research on telepathy, journalist Lynne McTaggart’s Intention Experiments.
  • Things can happen in the blink of an eye. Witness the world-wide spread of a new coronavirus, COVID-19.
  • There is an air of mystery. A virus is frustratingly intangible to our usual senses.

We are being invited…

This crisis is inviting us to transform—our selves, and therefore our world. We have been propelled into a situation we can’t back out of. The only way out is to navigate through. And that navigation depends on engaging our consciousness in ways we wouldn’t have if we’d continued on our old familiar paths.

Caroline Myss is a five-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally renowned speaker in the fields of human consciousness, spirituality and mysticism, health, energy medicine, and the science of medical intuition. All of these areas come together in her big-picture view of what this pandemic is calling forth in us, individually and collectively. She says: “We’re going to evolve out of this. It’s a journey of consciousness—together we have the chance to create a better world.”

Key thoughts from Caroline Myss…

This experience that we are sharing has the elements of the larger context of mystical transformation. 

  • First, the nature of a sacred journey is that we never get to decide when it’s going to start, how it’s going to start, or what will be asked of us. We never get to make that decision – it simply ignites. 
  • The second thing is we never get to choose the components – they just arise out of the setting of our lives. 
  • Third, transformation accompanies some kind of trauma. There is something that has to be changed.
We have to now go into deep reflection and ask:
  • What is it within myself that I need to transform?
  • What is the person I need to be as I go forward for the rest my life?
  • Is there a part of me that instead of being a hoarder, could I be more generous?
  • Instead of being impatient, can I be a better listener?
  • Instead of wanting to be first, can I embrace being second?

What is it in you that needs transformation? Because there’s something in all of us that needs transformation. Otherwise we wouldn’t need to be here now.