Over the past years I’ve increasingly been working with people and organisations exploring systemic approaches to change. This is at a time when many people and sectors are investing more time and effort into exploring what systems change really means. To help, I bring an understanding of different perspectives on systems change, a very practical approach to working with systemic issues, and a belief that working well with systems starts with working well with the self.
It might sound strange, but my research and perspective of systems is centred around circles! I believe it’s possible to develop an intuition and understanding of circular and interconnected ways of living and working. Western thinking of course, comes from a place of linearity and disconnection. But if we want to explore new, more inspiring and more sustainable forms of living and working, we need to get back to believing in circles*. To get back to this, we need new kinds of developmental and collaborative experience. This is very much at the heart of my work.
Through the Way of Nature processes we say that there are three pathways to development: Wisdom, Heart and Energy. This helps me think of our work in systems too. Wisdom is about seeing and sensing interrelation and notions of co-arising. I’m grateful to people like Peter Senge, Fritjof Capra and James Lovelock for their lessons and explanations of what systems are at this level. Then, systems are also about heart – feeling and sensing how things connect and form relationship. This is where the work and teachings of people like Thich Nhat Hanh and Joanna Macy are so helpful, and work into systems constellations, about which I learnt so much from colleagues at Kessels & Smit like Margriet Schut. Through all of this there are then perspectives on energy, which I know might be interpreted in different ways. At the more practical level, this can be about recognising different forces holding a system in place (at a basic level, yin and yang is about understanding releasing versus activating energies.) Working more deeply with energy around systems we begin to sense and feel deeper forces influencing and releasing deeper dynamics of change.
I believe we are at time where we must refine all of the above levels of thinking and acting towards systems. We are absolutely right to be exploring more collaborative and systemic ways of working. We must now build our capacity to think, feel and sense systemic change in new ways.
Here are a couple of projects to show my approach to systems more practically:
The Good Enterprise Lab & Purposeful Business Ecologies
These initiatives bring different kinds of business and stakeholder together to work more effectively towards regional social issues. We first successfully piloted this in my work with Edge Hill University in the North West of England. It was amazing. At one point we helped large corporates like PepsiCo work more closely with food charities and local farmers and social enterprises. this had never happened before. We are now looking to roll out this process across a couple of different locations in the UK.
Collaborative Strategy and Learning Reviews
Over the last years I’ve increasingly worked with organisations to look at how they support systemic and collaborative processes. Most recently I’ve worked with foundations – Tellus Mater and Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation – in reviewing and shaping up more collaborative ways of working collaboratively.
Ongoing ‘Lab’ work
I am currently also working with a small group to develop a collaborative mapping and potential lab process around energy in the UK. I’ll be updating on all of these projects as they evolve in coming weeks and months.
*Here is my favourite quote on this, as transcribed in the book Blab Elk Speaks. Black Elk was a Sioux holy man. He saw the demise of the Native American way of life, the break up of his country’s ‘hoop’, and ultimately the loss of connection of his people. In Black Elk Speaks he says this:
“…Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back to where they where. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves….”