How You Can Put Holonomic Thinking Into Practice Successfully – The Organisational Learning and HR Perspective

Now that quite a few people reading our book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Maria and I have been receiving many wonderful emails and comments from readers. We have also had some great and inspiring conversations too as you can imagine.

Maybe the most common question is regarding the way in which both Maria and I are putting holonomic thinking into practice. We do this in any number of ways, and of course Maria and I have different backgrounds too, with Maria having many years of consulting experience in strategy, change management and balanced Scorecard, and myself with customer experience design, new media, product development, product marketing, branding and business development.

Maria opens the Strategy Execution Summit 2013

Maria opens the Strategy Execution Summit 2013

So for example Maria has built holonomic thinking into the courses she gives on change management and strategy. Maria also crafted the agenda of the two day Strategy Execution Summit here in São Paulo last month around the insights of Holonomics, ensuring that there was a profound narrative centred around the evolution from sustainability being a peripheral activity, to one where sustainability becomes a central pillar of the strategic process and map.

We both say that it is often the case that you do not have to leave behind the frameworks, tools and methodologies with which you are already working. What we are doing is expanding people’s levels of consciousness so that they can gain the original insights from those people who first developed these tools and techniques. Often people try and implement tools and methodologies in a linear manner, treating them as templates where you do step one first, fill in the checklist, move to step two, fill ion the checklist and that will be the path to success.

Service Design Talks, São Paulo, 2014

Service Design Talks, São Paulo, 2014

But often the use of methodologies alone is not enough to guarantee success. When it comes to Design Thinking for example, designers may already have a deeper way of exploring phenomena, but if they are unable to communicate the value of their processes and ways of knowing to the wider organisation, their ideas and designs will not receive the attention they deserve and their operational execution will not be successful.

Holonomics is not a new methodology, and neither is it a tool. It is an expansion of consciousness which allows to see more, see the whole organisation. In order to implement holonomic thinking across a whole organisation, we therefore need to rethink how we implement communications activities and training sessions.

My own company Holonomics Education uses four key techniques which are dialogue, story telling, gamification and experiential learning to take whole organisations from a traditional mindset to a transformational mindset. I also teach Holonomics at Sustentare Business School in Joinville, in the south of Brazil, and so I thought that I would share some of the recent feedback I received from HR professionals who had recently participated in an intensive two-day module on holonomic thinking:

Before attending the module, my mental model and way of thinking only saw the negative features of complexity, seeing only limited possibilities. Complexity has come to mean knowledge, a set of provocations that result in change. It is the possibility of expanding the consciousness to the whole, to make sense, see answers and different ways of thinking. It is the possibility of recognizing the characteristics that relate to thought, sensations, feelings and intuition. For me now complexity means an increase of possibilities, a wealth of options that lead to the results. It is the ability to undress our mental models and experiment, creating new possibilities.

I enjoyed the concepts relating to nature. The way we see animals allows us to take lessons back for the organization.

Before the course I understood the concept of complexity as being linked to uncertainties and contingencies. After the module, I now define complexity as opportunity. It is the opportunity to be an adaptive, creative, dynamic and more agile in our organisation.

In the organisation where I am, every day I am going to seek to raise awareness about how important it is to have a systemic view. I will now always remember how much better it is to share ideas and co-create solutions. In terms of our communications process I’m going to look for trainings and exercises which show that people do not always see the same thing as we are seeing. I will seek ways to translate these trainings into a form that help people understand the company and its culture more deeply.

One of the things that became very clear was how people see things, different mental models see different situations and solutions. I also absorbed the leader needs: make sense, be humble, tell stories and be aware of yourself.

One of the most impressive things was known organizations using organizations of animals, insects and micro-organisms as a basis for creating new models of systems and business.

One of the things that became very clear for me was how people see things, the way in which different mental models see different situations and solutions. I also absorbed the four key qualities leaders need: sensemaking, being humble, telling stories and being mindful of yourself.

As you can see, these students are saying that holonomic thinking can be powerful and empowering, opening their eyes and minds to new possibilities. And these insights are coming from the deep work they did exploring the dynamic way of seeing, which is probably around 50% of our book Holonomics. You need deep insights first before can begin the implementation and the change process.

Students from Sustentare Business School

Students from Sustentare Business School

My module on Holonomics at Sustentare provides the foundation for a number of MBA courses, including Business Administration, Innovation, Design, Leadership and the course Education, Organisational Training and Development. Students on this final course generally have an background in Human Resources, although there are consultants and psychologists who attend the course as well, amongst others. Maria also teaches one of the modules on this courses, as she too is a lecturer at Sustentare, hence her joining in for this photo at the end of a course I gave last year.

The Holonomics Platform

The Holonomics Platform

The Holonomics module, and in fact all the work we do on holonomic thinking is centred around the Holonomics Platform of mental models, systems models and business models. Often in business people like to jump in and introduce a major change in their organisations based on a new trend or methodology. But where Maria and I start is at the very fundamental level of seeing. We then take students or clients through a transformational process, finally allowing them to really experience the dynamic way of seeing, a way of seeing which Henri Bortoft characterised as ‘going upstream’.



This is not a temporal process, but one in which you begin to appreciate appearance, the way in which phenomena appear to you in your lived experience. This can be quite dramatic, since it starts to develop in people a deeper sense of the other, and hence opens up new ways of thinking about both our relationships and how to authentically engage people. Often when we are discussing resilience and sustainability, the dimension of people is lost, and hence we have to examine to role ego plays in the dynamics of our interactions (and hence me in recent blogs discussing ego and leadership a lot).

This dynamic is also why I wrote recently about what I am calling knotwoks – networks with ego. I see a lot of people discussing co-creation, collaboration and the sharing economy, but often people who use these terms are stuck in ego, and hence the actual dynamic that plays out, maybe even unbeknown to them, is that the traditional command-and-control logic is still in operation:

Others can co-create but I am going to be the one that stays in control of events and I will decide what is and is not co-created.

I want others to share but I am not going to share myself.

This isn’t authentic co-creation.

The Ladder of Seeing

The Ladder of Seeing

So how does this play out in practice? How can we take a whole organisation up the Ladder of Seeing, developing an authentic sense of wholeness in an organisation, where the brand or purpose or essential essence of the organisation is expressing itself authentically in each an d every part?

There is no escaping from the need for deep experiential training across the whole organisation. Because of this, Maria and I see that the role of HR in organisations is becoming much more strategic, in that it is the HR department who can play a more central role in helping their teams, colleagues and departments to develop holonomic thinking, developing stronger working relationship with those in strategy, business development, innovation and planning.

The key theme of next month’s Sustainable Brands summit in London is Reimagine, Redesign, Regenerate. Maria and I will be sharing with many of the world’s leading brands the way in which are introducing holonomic thinking into national and multinational organisations in Brazil. Our opening plenary session will be broadcast live and will be sharing for the first time in public one of our actual cases of implementing holonomic thinking into an entire organisation. We will also be running a three hour workshop at Sustainable Brands where we will have an opportunity to go much deeper into the details as we explore Holonomics and sustainable leadership.

Sustainable Brands

We hope to be able to see some of you there, and for those not able to attend, we hope that our work will inspire you to continue developing your organisations, strategies, products and services from a level of consciousness where both people and planet matter.

Related Articles

On Creativity, Ego and Transformational Leadership

Beware of Knotworks – Networks with Ego

Guest Article: The Transformation of Strategy, Leadership and Sustainable Brands in Brazil – Maria Moraes Robinson

This is Service Design Thinking – the 2014 Service Design Talks, São Paulo

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