Some notes on storytelling and sensemaking

Over the last few weeks the following short clip of Bertrand Russell has been appearing in my Facebook news feed. It is a wonderful clip and well worth watching:

In his message to future generations, he says that when studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ‘ask yourself only what are the facts, and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed. Look only and solely on what are the facts.”

This is quite awesome, but of course, there is one aspect that has to be taken into account, and that is that troublesome philosophical question of “what is a fact?”

Star Wars Storytelling and Sensemaking

I had a great time teaching holonomic thinking last weekend at Sustentare Business School, and we really went into this question in detail. As I think some of you will have seen, I have been using Star Wars recently to discuss the way in which leaders need to understand the path from data to wisdom, and this path takes in storytelling, sensemaking, mindfulness and humility.

We looked at the great experience of Dee Hock, the founder of VISA, who says that visionary and innovative leaders must be able to hold four different ways of thinking about a situation in their minds at the same time:

  • How things were
  • How things are
  • How things might become
  • How things should become

So unlike Bertrand Russell who only wants us to deal with the facts, for me I would side with Hock who takes a much more fluid way of thinking about reality and the world, in order to imagine how things could be in the future.

In thinking about intelligence, we can consider the well-known pyramid of knowledge. In this story, we start with a collection of data. This data is then processed into information, this information is then analysed which leads to knowledge, and this knowledge is then studied which leads to wisdom.

Wisdom pyramidHowever, this way of depicting the path from data to wisdom misses some important aspects of the way in which we process information. The biggest problem we have in organisations is the fact that as humans we pay attention to different aspects of reality based on how we imagine reality to be. So when faced with a wide array of data, our backgrounds, assumptions and world views will filter the data so that we focus on different patterns.

(There is also a huge parallel story of people who collect data but think they have information, people with lots of information who think they have knowledge, and people with plenty of data, information and/or knowledge who are convinced that they have achieved wisdom, but whose actions in life fall mightily short of the words they speak. But this is a separate story to where I need to take this article).

Different people will take the same data, select a limited set to analyse, ending up with different sets of information from which very different conclusions will be drawn. Just to help us think about this, we can scatter the pyramid of knowledge in the following manner:

Data Information Knowledge Wisdom

To make this more concrete we can imagine a large and complex IT project which consists of many different stakeholders from different organisations. Large IT projects not only have business owners, but also project managers, technical designers, programmers and outside consultants.  The reason why many complex IT projects either fail or are delayed at great expense is that different members of the project team fail to come to a unified understanding of what the requirements of the project are, at what stage the project has reached and what now needs to be done.

In the UK, in early 2014 the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) announced that it would have to abandon its Digital Media Initiative (DMI) at a cost of £98.4m last year. This caused a huge outcry amongst MPs angry at such a waste of taxpayer’s money.

In the last few years there have been many other high profile complex IT projects managed by the UK Government which have also failed:

  • Rural payments agency (subsidies to farmers) spent £32 million on a failed system. They then rehired the same IT company to do more work.
  • HMRC (UK tax office) spent £9 billion on an IT led change. 2m pay have paid too little tax, 4m people have paid too much.
  • 160 out of 9,000 health organisations are using a new patient record system costing the NHS £12.7 billion.
  • A project that was meant to save the Department for Transport (DfT) about £57m eventually cost £81m

The command-and-control logic of western high-volume manufacturing creates huge amounts of waste in organisations, as management separate the management of work from a workforce who actually do the work. But when an organisation, or a complex ecosystem of stakeholders manages to achieve a unified vision and instil a shared purpose across the whole organisation the results can be remarkable.

Sensemaking began in the world of human computer interaction to study the way in which people understood the technology they were being asked to use. It then spread to organisations, and there are now a range of methodologies to help people understand the way in which we frame situations differently, and therefore understand the same situation or scenario differently.

One example of sensemaking software is Sensemaker® developed by Cognitive Edge. The starting point for understanding Sensemaker® is based on the insight that people primarily make sense of the world through telling stories, and not through analysis.

Although people tell stories, they rarely tell fully constructed stories. Rather, when people engage in conversation, they do so by sharing fragmented narratives, such as anecdotes shared around a water cooler at work, or the swapping of memories at a family reunion. Sensemaker® attempts to capture these fragments of narratives, as these are the fundamental way in which we communicate, learn and perceive the world.

These narratives form a hugely valuable set of research data, and therefore must be captured in the field in their original form. Computers should not capture and analyse this data since semantic analysis is limited due to the flexibility of language. And neither should experts interpret the data, since as we have already seen, people are limited due to cognitive and cultural bias.

Sensemaker® allows the person providing the data to decide what it means. So for example, a traditional questionnaire may ask a question such as “are you consulted at work on a regular basis?” The answer that comes back will be an average answer based on month’s of experience.

Sensemaker® is different in that instead of asking questions, people are asked to provide anecdotes, each of which is a discrete item, and then to signify that these mean. In the example below, people are asked a question about leadership behaviour, and in giving them three dimensions, they are forced to think more about their response than just being given two dimensions. The placing of the dot in the triangle generates three items of quantitative data.


In terms of complexity, what we now have is distributed cognition, where people are adding layers of meaning to their answers, as opposed to the content being interpreted. Because the data does not suffer from disintermediation, i.e. filtered by some form of analysis, the data can be visualised using complex representations, such as fitness landscapes, which can store thousands of stories. The removal of intermediaries also allows the original material to be easily accessed in a variety of forms by decision makers.

Sensemaker® fitness landscape

Sensemaker® fitness landscape

In this landscape diagram for example, it is now possible to identify belief systems, and this approach to research is in direct contrast to traditional employee satisfaction surveys and customer questionnaires, because it allows the continuous free capture of narrative with instant feedback.

Sensemaker® software allows the interpretation of the capture of thousands of stories almost instantaneously, whereas traditional research such as questionnaires and surveys often result in a delay of weeks or months before the data is available.

Having sensed or seen an anomaly or interesting pattern, Sensemaker® therefore provides a powerful, natural and intuitive approach to gaining multiple perspectives and new insights into complex problems. It reveals the world as seen through the eyes of customers, staff and stakeholders, identifying ‘weak’ signals of hidden and emerging opportunities and threats. Good decision makers therefore use sensemaking tools in the following manner:

Good decision makers therefore use sensemaking tools in the following manner:

  • To empower decision making in policy, strategy and planning
  • To gain deep insights into customer, staff and stakeholder attitudes, opinions and values
  • To support organisational knowledge across teams, departments and silos
  • To assess project or program impacts and efficiency
  • To identify market shifts or trends before they can become a surprise

If we come back to my module at Sustentare last week, I was teaching a group of HR professionals. In a few weeks I will share some research from their thoughts on the value of developing sensemaking skills and an appreciation of complexity. But for now the main observation was how they described the current problems with leadership that they are facing.

These problems are not unique to this particular group. I would categorise the current crisis in leadership as an inability to see. This is what makes Bertrand Russell’s observation so interesting. It is one thing to collect and analyse facts, but some people simply cannot see what is right in front of them. They are not able to make sense of rapidly dynamic complex scenarios, and they are using outdated tools to understand how to really gain deep knowledge and wisdom by understanding the fragments of stories that people narrate.

Using Sensemaker® is one way forward, but leaders first have to understand why tools like it are so powerful. As Henri Bergson said “the eye only sees what the mind is willing to comprehend.”


SenseMaker® is a software ecology which integrates decision support, research, monitoring and knowledge management. It is available from Cognitive Edge from which the extracts in this article about the software come.

A Special Announcement: Our Workshop at Sustainable Brands London November 2014


I am absolutely delighted to be able to announce that Maria has been invited to join me this November at Sustainable Brands London where we will be running a workshop Holonomic Thinking: Upgrading Our Leadership Skills and Systems Thinking for the New Economy:

Maria Moraes RobinsonConfronted with rapid escalation of complexity in the world, business leaders and brand managers increasingly feel that they are no longer equipped to deal with the new economic paradigm which is emerging and being co-created. Many executives are continuing to use frameworks and methodologies designed decades ago, but this approach is no longer working. It is not always the case that we need to change our methodologies. What we need is a new way of seeing and thinking that allows us to be mindful and truly make sense of complex situations.

Holonomic thinking upgrades our way of seeing by expanding our mode of consciousness from the analytical to the intuitive; one that not only is able to understand the parts of a system, but at a deeper, intuitive level of perception, is also able to understand brands as the relationships and processes within that system.

This workshop will appeal to professionals who are looking to deepen their leadership skills relating to sustainability, strategy, branding, systems thinking, creativity and dialogue. It will include both powerful practical experiential exercises and case studies which practitioners can take back and implement with their own organisations and communities.

This is a three hour workshop which will take place on November 3rd. It is a deep dive into Holonomics and holonomic thinking, and will be our only workshop in the UK this year.


We are both really looking forward to the three day event which starts with six workshops, three in the morning and three in the afternoon. The next two days will see plenary presentations, break out sessions and plenty of networking opportunities, as well as the innovation open, a great opportunity for new start ups to showcase their ideas and gain global exposure to the world’s top brands and thought leaders in sustainability.

Sustainable Brands LondonAnd finally, Maria and I are very happy to be able to offer all readers of Transition Consciousness a special 20% discount for those of you wish to attend. Please get in touch with us via our contact page to find out more and for the discount code. We are grateful to Sustainable Brands for allowing us to extend this offer to all our readers of Holonomics, and also to all the friends of, and colleagues at Mandalah, Biomimicry for Creative Innovation, The Institute for Open Economic Networks (I-Open) and Schumacher College.

For complete information about Sustainable Brands London 2014, please be sure to check out the website:

Encounters with otherness: Towards a participatory way of knowing – A Dissertation by Joana Formosinho

Joana Formosinho

Joana Formosinho

I am delighted today to be publishing this third dissertation from the 2014 class of Holistic Science at Schumacher College. Joana Formosinho is a zoologist with a background in animal behavioural research, but as she says in her introduction, she felt that her research and research methods had not brought her a profound level of insight:

I found that the doing of the science took me away from my study subjects rather than bringing me closer to them. After months of science on a particular species, I would find I knew a lot about them that was factual, but did not understand more about their way of being in the world; sometimes, I found I understood less, as though being was drowned in a sea of facts.

This is a feeling deeply shared by many scientists, including myself, trained in cognitive psychology, which brings them to Schumacher College, and to the masters degree in Holistic Science which has as its focus the mission of developing a science of qualities to complement quantitative scientific practices.

Joana’s dissertation is titled “Encounters with otherness: Towards a participatory way of knowing” and you can download a copy below. Please note that due to her illustrations, the file is quite large, 67MB, due to Joana’s beautiful sketches in which she illustrates her work.

Encounters with otherness: Towards a participatory way of knowing

Encounters with otherness: Towards a participatory way of knowing

In introducing Joana’s dissertation, I have two different audiences to consider. The first audience are those of you who are already familiar with Goethe’s way of science, with participatory forms of enquiry taught at Schumacher College and other like-minded educational institutions, and of the differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods.

A second audience though who come to Transition Consciousness while having deep interest and a great deal of experience in the areas of sustainability, innovation, strategy, leadership and business design, may not be so acquainted with the form of inquiry that Joana’s dissertation takes, and so I thought I would first introduce some words which come from the late Henri Bortoft, one of the world’s foremost scholars in Goethean science:

Paying attention to the outer world generates inner responses that reveal the essential nature of whatever is being observed. The science that Goethe advocated was one in which we simultaneously observe the outer world as well as our inner responses to it. It is in a sense a mystical approach to science, a science of subjectivity rather than objectivity.

Goethe came to believe that all of life unfolds through the repetition of patterns. Everything that exists is a record of a unique pattern of unfolding and when you observe anything deeply enough you will see the unique underling pattern that is its essential nature.

Radical Inclusivity is the direct knowing of the nature of reality. When we liberate our minds, at least to some extent, from its current perceptual framework. We begin to see the underlying pattern of reality that normally lies hidden beneath our conventional awareness.

These three paragraphs of Henri’s were recently commented on by James Soutter, a regular contributor to the Henri Bortoft Facebook page which brings together researchers and practitioners of Goethean science, as well as those who have an interest in hermeneutics and phenomenology, and James made a hugely important observation on the importance of what Henri was trying to communicate:

These three paragraphs of Henri’s [above] express something which he seemed very keen to help people understand. Yet although there is little that is actually difficult about what he is saying here, its implications are so mind-blowing – and go so much against what we have been taught – that most people just seemed to glaze over when confronted with it.

What appears in the ‘exact sensorial imagination’ (although this is true of all imagination, albeit without its limpid clarity and receptivity) is not a *representation* of the phenomenon but a *higher dimension of the phenomenon itself*. I feel I should repeat this: what appears in the ‘exact sensorial imagination’ is not a *representation* of the phenomenon but a *higher dimension of the phenomenon itself*. It *is* knowledge of the phenomenon, in the exact meaning of Aristotle’s famous – but much misunderstood – observation that “knowledge is identical to the thing known”.

The epistemological implications of this are beyond immense. It means that knowledge is directly conveyed to us – without any intermediation – by the appearance, the manifestation, of the phenomenon within the imagination (another point Henri was often at pains to try to get across). True knowledge is the appearance of the phenomenon in the imagination, again not as a static image or representation, but in the dynamic form of appearing which shows us truths about the phenomenon – as a direct knowing – which are not discernible merely by an outward examination of it. And Henri wasn’t being hyperbolic when he suggested this is a ‘mystical approach to science': this is a form of knowing which is identical to the knowing of the mystics (for instance, the ‘infused science’ – “knowledge conferred on human beings without previous experience or reflection” – of the Catholic mystics).

And so this brings us back to Joana’s dissertation, which in focusing on encounters with otherness, is her journey into acquiring knowledge of things in themselves. The dissertation is written from the first person perspective, as Joana points out for the following reasons:

Firstly, because one of the problems with modern science is the passive, impersonal way we talk about it. By virtue of the methodology—detached objectivity—the scientist is removed from the science, and from the sharing of the science with others. The intention behind this is a striving towards objectivity, to get ourselves out of the way of seeing. It has a fundamental problem, however: that we, us as subjects and seers, are the only way we have to access the world and that no matter how much we try to remove ourselves, we are still there, trying to remove ourselves.

Secondly, because experiential narrative is in keeping with the phenomenological tradition within which I am working, where the focus of investigation is on direct experience as lived.

Thirdly, because the direct experience of the practicing scientist matters. Science is a human narrative of the world and scientists are transformed as citizens in the doing of their science. The science we have is an expression of our society and, engaged with at the level of process as well as outcome, can reflect our society’s state of being back to us for reflection.

All of these three reasons focus on science, but as Maria and I show in our book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, this approach which facilitates encounters with the higher dimensions of phenomena are of equal importance in business. Last week I spent two days teaching what we call holonomic thinking to HR professionals, an approach inspired by Goethe’s phenomenological approach to science, where we re-aquaint ourselves with ‘seeing’.

Joana Formosinho illustrationIn these classes rather that exploring encounters with plants, we explored the sensory world of restaurants, and discussed how few business leaders have this expanded level of consciousness, which when combined with humility, keeps them open to an intuitive understanding of customers, clients, stakeholders and ultimately, their own business, their products, services, and of course people. I use this example to show just how important this exploration into ‘otherness’ is, and that it is not a philosophical extravagance, but a desperately needed aspect of our education that our current schooling misses out, thus leaving us as adults with a highly diminished and restricted experience of reality.

For this reason I strongly recommend that you download a copy of Joana’s dissertation and take time to enter into the spirit in which it is written – detailed, sensory and insightful. It complements the other two dissertations I have also recently published by Louise Pardoe and Richard Widows (links below).

Reading Joana’s dissertation is an opportunity to experience a first-hand account of ‘exact sensorial imagination’ and the other stages of Goethe’s extremely fluid methodology. As she writes in her closing section, ‘Goethe saw the essential aspects of nature as unquantifiable and sought instead to participate in nature’s qualities, to open himself to the things of nature, to listen to what they say.’ When I speak to students, I tell them I am attempting to help them master just two things – seeing and being receptive. When we acknowledge otherness, we acknowledge that we need a degree of humility to achieve this degree of openness to otherness, but those who do achieve this humility, gain an expansion of vision and untold power. Not a power over others, but in recognising others, the ability to co-create untold new realities in authentic participation.

To be taught how to listen to nature is to be taught from nature about our own powers of perception. These are huge lessons to learn, and I hope you enjoy all of these dissertations, that you yourself may then wish to be inspired to explore further the participatory way of knowing.

Related Articles

What if Human Beings Could Experience Life and Death Simultaneously? A Dissertation by Louise Pardoe

Goethe as a Pathway to Meaning and Connection – A Dissertation by Richard Widows

Holonomic Thinking: Desenvolvendo uma Liderança Sustentável

“Novas soluções podem emergir de qualquer parte”, diz Robinson

Simon Robinson

Fechando as discussões sobre governança e liderança do III Fórum RNP, o fundador da Holonomics Educação, Simon Robinson, apresentou o conceito de Holonomic Thinking, uma metodologia de pensamento holístico empregada no desenvolvimento de uma liderança sustentável.

“Ajudamos os líderes a desenvolverem novos modelos mentais, para eles implementarem novos modelos para a nossa realidade”, disse. Como cenário futuro, ele acredita que, em 2030, o mundo será palco de uma nova onda, mais significativa: a revolução nas ciências da vida. “No período das nossas vidas, podemos ver seres humanos geneticamente modificados. Estamos no momento em que podemos mudar nosso caminho de evolução”, previu.

Nesse contexto, os líderes terão que desenvolver as habilidades de contar histórias (storytelling), entender cenários que mudam rapidamente (sensemaking), ter atenção plena ao momento presente (mindfulness) e humildade. “Quando somos humildes, podemos valorizar as pessoas, suas contribuições. Novas soluções podem emergir de qualquer parte da organização. Isso é uma coisa que o Hospital Sírio-Libanês faz muito bem”.

Segundo Robinson, “temos que engajar todas as pessoas da nossa organização e não só usar mapas estratégicos. Queremos que dados e informações fluem, o que é uma contradição, porque nossa filosofia é manter o controle e parar o fluxo”.

Ele finalizou defendendo que os gestores devem olhar as tendências globais e enfrentar os riscos. “Para criar novas oportunidades, devemos usar as novas histórias de futuro”, postulou.


Related articles

Developing Sustainable Leadership and Holonomic Thinking

Was the 2014 UCI Downhill World Champions in Hafjell the craziest and most inspirational race ever?

What can I say. Yesterday in Hafjell there had to be one of the most insane downhill mountain biking races ever. Not just insane, but truly inspirational, and in this report I will explain why. If you would like to watch the whole event, click on the picture below to access the Red Bull replay.

Credit: Sven Martin/Red Bull Content Pool

Credit: Sven Martin/Red Bull Content Pool

From a British perspective the results could hardly have been better. With Tahnee Seagrave in third, Rachel Atherton in second and Manon Carpenter putting in a blistering run to give her the win, it was a British one – two – three on the podium. Here is Manon’s run as seen from her helmet cam.

And then came the men’s downhill, and on a course that was gnarly like you would not believe, every single rider made mistakes, including champion Sam Hill who in this crash below, managed to get back on again with just a minor injury to his hand.

Credit: Dave Trumpore

Credit: Dave Trumpore

There were thrills and spills aplenty, and you will see some of the heart stopping moments in this compilation:

In what has to be one of the worst things ever to happen to a rider, just a few metres out of the starting ramp and Neko Mullaly’s chain snapped. He let out a huge yell of disgust, but you know, with no ability to pedal, he hung on, kept going, and rattled down the course.

And then the second split time came in.

Neko Mullaly

Neko Mullaly

With only around 15 riders remaining, Neko Mulally was 1.784 seconds UP! he was the fastest rider with NO CHAIN! How the hell was this possible?? Insane, really, this was the ride of a lifetime be sure of that. And then there was more drama to come.

As you have already seen Sam Hill, who was putting in a gold medal run at three seconds up, crashed spectacularly but with little injury, and Danny Hart came off on an innocuous flat corner, just over cooking it slightly to his own disgust, losing him valuable seconds.

Elite rider after elite rider came down the course, but none could beat Mulally’s time, keeping him in first position until the very final riders.

Brit Gee Atherton started his run, and despite a slightly ragged couple of sections (this is no criticism!) was almost one and half seconds up at the second split time. Gee is a ridiculously fast rider, and kept it tight over the final ‘table’ (a jump over a bridge) putting himself in the top slot. No one managed to better his time until there was just one rider left – a fellow Brit Josh Bryceland.

Looking at his run, Bryceland has a deceptively relaxed style as seen from the side of the course, but as you will see from his helmet cam footage, he is fast fast fast, and unfortunately, so pumped up for a run which saw him 1.3 seconds up on Atherton and in gold position, was just a little too fast over the final table, causing him to overshoot the landing ramp and land flat from a huge height, breaking his foot in the process.

This was an absolutely shocking end to a sensational championship, one which is not based on points, but is a one off competition in which riders only have one chance, one run and give it their all. Luckily reports are that Bryceland has had surgery and is already on the mend which is great news.

But can you imagine yourself in the position of Mulally? What would have been your emotional state after your chain snapped so soon into your run? Would you have turned off the pressure, relaxed and just tried to glide down to the bottom. Or would you put in the run of your lifetime, seeing you end up in fourth position?

Mountain Biking has been developing as a sport over the last twenty years, and those countries that have star riders like the UK has in Steve Peat, Danny Hart, Gee Atherton and Josh Bryceland, as well as such champions in women’s downhill too, these countries are the ones with large numbers of kids taking up riding in all disciplines, and not just downhill. It is an insane sport, one that has to be experienced, or at the very least seen live, but what a race, what drama and what inspiration from so many amazing riders. And hurrah for the UK – five medals from six positions, including going over the finish line with a broken foot.

Related Articles

Talking bikes at Bike Forever

Ciclismo na Grã-Bretanha: O que o Brasil Pode Aprender?

Developing Sustainable Leadership and Holonomic Thinking

BrasiliaI had a really interesting time last week in Brasilia where I was invited to speak at the third forum of Rede Nacional de Ensino e Pesquisa (RNP) (The National Network of Teaching and Research). The forum was a three day event exploring every aspect of e-Health, and I had been invited to talk about holonomic thinking, and take a look into the future up to the year 2030, and explore what organisations would be like, and what would be the implications for developing a new generation of leaders to cope with this new paradigm and reality.

I thought I would share my slides with you (which I have translated back into English) but also as I like to do quite graphical presentations, I thought I would also discuss in this article a few thoughts I shared with the audience.

My first slide is the famous painting by Japanese artist Hokusai, The Great Wave off Kanagawa. I used this slide to develop the theme of both flow and turbulent change, and will talk more about it as we progress. I opened with a look at three key trends which are currently impacting on our economy – the rapid change in technology including the move to wearable devices, the explosion in social media since 2005, and the fact that we are now moving from social networking to social collaboration, and finally the internet of things, a trend which could see up to 30 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020.

Of course with these changes come issues of ethics, privacy, control, design and scalability, all of which were explored in depth sty the forum over three days. The ecological impact of so much new technology is also a clear impact, and so we need to move to a circular economy with zero waste and zero pollution.

Juan Enriquez

Juan Enriquez

I then returned to the picture of the great wave. I recreated this slide based on one shown at the first forum of bioeconomics in Brazil in 2012, where I was able to listen to Juan Enriquez, one of the world’s leading experts in biotechnology. I have already written about bioeconomics in detail, but here the clear message is that the revolution in the life sciences will be a wave that absolutely swamps the much smaller digital revolution wave. We could be abut to see the birth of a new specifies of human being, now that we have the technology to consciously evolve ourselves.

You can read my three articles about bioeconomics here:

Brazil’s first forum on Bioeconomics

Brazil’s second forum on Bioeconomics

Brazil’s Second Bioeconomics Forum: Homo Evolutis – Are You Ready For Genetically Modified Us?

I then started to talk a lot about stories, and the stories we tell ourselves about the future. Before leaders are able to become story tellers, and inspire people with new stories of the future, leaders first have to be mindful and clear about what exactly their own stories are. They also have to be more aware about the stories we tell our children and young adults about the future of civilisation, stories which mainly come from fear-mongering films, television and books. Do leaders think that technology will be a magic elexir to solve all of societies ills? Or do we need to move from seeing people primarily as consumers to seeing people as guardians of the planet?

Given these future trends, I then explored the four key leadership skills that leaders must develop for the new paradigm which is yet to be born, and as it is being co-created, is not predictable.

These skills are story telling, sensemaking, mindfulness and humility, all of which are parts of a single whole and are not to be seen as compartmentalised. E-Health is a hugely important project for Brazil, and promises many benefits for the whole society here. But without these four skills, the vision is not going to be able to be implemented to its full potential.


If we think of what a project is, it is a story which has a beginning, a middle and an end. It is a way in which we can help people make sense of complex scenarios, and also inspire people through our visions. Stories are ways in which we can help people understand the relationships and connections between people, and hence I used Star Wars as one of the great examples of story telling in a complex political and technological reality.

It is interesting that George Lucas had already written two drafts of Star Wars when he rediscovered Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces in 1975. This blueprint for “The Hero’s Journey” gave Lucas the focus he needed to draw his sprawling imaginary universe into a single story. I have already written an article you may wish to read on Star Wars and changing our collective story:

Star Wars and the Intersection of Game Play with Storytelling – Changing Our Collective Stories

Mindfulness is about being aware of the present moment. It is about being aware of one’s own thinking processes, and understanding the way in which both we and others construct reality. You have to be mindful in order to be present in order to be able to understand when something is not going well.

A poor leader just hopes that at some moment problems will resolve themselves. This is not authentic leadership. We have to make sense of the situation now, we have to continually check that things are making sense, before continuing or putting in more money.

What I am seeing as a consultant is that the majority of companies are asking about project management. Yes, we do have well-known techniques such as PMI, but these on their own are not enough to ensure the success of a project. How do we design dialogues to help people discuss if the project really is progressing or not?

So the leader has to have project management skills, Here we are talking about leadership, and these skills are required from people in the whole organisation and also whole system which could include multiple stakeholders. Mindfulness helps us break out of hierarchical thinking. if are have a level of humility we are then able to really see where the people are and where the resources are to help me achieve this task?

If like Anakin Skywalker we get stuck in ego, if we are not mindful of our thoughts, and if we do not have a level of humility, we will never be able to make sense of a situation and see people as they truly are. Through the lens of our ego we will only see others as a threat to us, and thus our attempts at co-creation and collaboration will be far from authentic, and could well be destructive, deceitful and fail to produce any meaningful results.

Dee Hock Leadership Insights

I finished my talk by looking at three great case studies of organisations that can give us an idea of what future organisations will be like. One of my examples is the philosophy of Dee Hock, the founder of VISA, an organisation build on the principles of nature, and my friend Jan Höglund has compiled a list of his sayings in this article: Dee Hock in his own Words.

I finished my talk as I began, with a return to Hokusai’s great wave. This is a great metaphor for the turbulent times we may well find ourselves in over the coming years, and we will need strong leaders to chart us through these treacherous waters. As Maria and I discuss in the final part of our book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, business leaders absolutely have to be practitioners of universal human values – love, truth, peace, non-violence and right action.

Human Values

When these human values are in place, there is much less reliance on rules, bureaucracy and control, and organisations become agile, resilient and sustainable, being able to evolve as changes in the environment demand. No matter what life may throw at us, with human values operating, we are all able to align ourselves behind a single vision, we are valued as human beings, and solutions can emerge naturally as and when needed.

Yes our world will be very different by 2030 and yes perhaps the technologies will be unrecognisable from today. But without human values, these technological changes will count for nothing. We are at a huge turning point where the way we used to work is no longer working for us. Leaders now need to recognise this, make sense of these changes, and they are being asked to change too.

I was able to attend the forum for two days, and it was a great honour to be able to be there and hear such a wide range of profound talks exploring difficult issues with people from so many different educational and research-centred organisations. Brazil is developing some great projects which have the ambition of improving education and research here, and to find out more please visit Rede Nacional de Ensino e Pesquisa – English website


Pat Williams talks to Henri Bortoft about Goethe’s Approach to Science

Henri Bortoft

Henri Bortoft

I received today this interview from the journal Human Givens, Volume 8, Number 4, 2001 from my friend Ezra Hewing. Ezra, like Maria and myself, has a great interest in the work of Henri Bortoft, and how his philosophical insights can be applied in business settings.

This interview leads on from the great dissertation by Richard Widows I have just published, in that Henri discusses the many ways in which entering into Goethe’s way of seeing can help us discover solutions to many organisational problems we face in business today, such as the limitations of a bureaucratic mindset and the need to move into a more intuitive form of perception.

You can download a copy of the interview here:

FFT – TNT – Casting New Light HGJ Vol8 No2 2001-2

Ezra Hewing is the community development manager at Suffolk Mind. His previous roles include coordinating community mental health services, teaching young offenders and adult prisoners, and working in substance misuse. He gained the Human Givens Diploma in 2006. You can read more about Ezra’s work in this article I published early last year:

Work and the mental health continuum – Ezra Hewing’s work on changing perceptions in organisations

You can find more about Human Givens here: