Monthly Archives: May 2011

In our most recent call, Dr. Otto Scharmer suggested that there are two main drivers for waking up the workplace, or change in general: desperation and aspiration.

How desperation can wake us up

These are indeed times of desperation for many. In the face of huge systemic challenges, we often lose the sense of meaning and connectedness that comes from knowing that we can make a difference. Commenting on exactly this link between the personal and the systemic, Otto suggested that “the most systemic is actually the most personal.”

Changing what we do (behavior), or how we do things (structures and processes) isn’t going to cut it. Coming out of years of research, Otto Scharmer’s Theory U suggests profound change requires us to access not only our open mind, but also our open heart and our open will (i.e. changing how we see, how we feel, and how we are).

The desperation of today’s systemic challenges, then, is driving us to actually bring our whole selves to work. We simply can’t deal with these challenges effectively if we’re merely acting from within the boundaries of our institutional roles.

How aspiration can wake us up

On top of that, Otto is seeing a second driver for waking up the workplace: aspiration. More and more people today, and particularly young people, have a deep longing to link what they’re doing in their job to their deeper aspirations in life in a more direct way. Put differently, evolving our ‘work’ into our ‘Work’, which means connecting what you do to your calling, your purpose, to making a difference.

In short: whether it’s out of desperation, aspiration, or both, ‘work’ as we know it is facing increasing evolutionary pressure to wake up.

Transforming ‘work’ into ‘Work’ through presence

So how is Otto suggesting that we do that, exactly? Through ‘presencing’ (‘sensing’ + ‘presence’), which refers to the capacity for sensing and actualizing an emerging future possibility. This is quite different from ‘normal’ learning, where you reflect on past experiences and draw conclusions from them. Presencing means listening to the future, and acting not from ego but from that heightened state of presence and awareness.

To be effective in doing that, you have to go through a very personal process. It often requires letting go of fears and assumptions, and connecting deeply to yourself and others. The ‘connecting’ part seems to be important, judging from the frequency with which it came up in conversation. Connecting to your Self and your Work, connecting to others, connecting to nature, and ultimately, connecting to an emerging future possibility.

Good artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs know how to do this. It’s not new. What is new, is the evolutionary pressure for intentionally cultivating the capacity for presencing on a collective scale. For Otto, what is so important today, is that we build communities for sensing, listening, connecting, and supporting each other in creating what he calls “landing strips for the future.”

Otto’s question for all of us

Before we concluded our call, there was one question that Otto wanted to offer to all of us listening in:

“We are drawn into this space because, probably, we feel the possibility of a different way of living and working together. We feel the possibility and maybe have had glimpses of that experience, that there is actually a future possibility in my life that I can make happen, and there’s a way of connecting, for me, with that state of awareness. […]

So we being connected in this call right now, that gives us a feeling of being connected to a larger whole, that maybe one, two days out, I may have lost again. So what is it that we could do that would allow us more regularly and more easily to connect to that larger whole, that sometimes we get and sometimes we lose? That’s the question I want to leave with.”

Sound familiar? It’s been an extraordinary experience for us, interviewing these amazing pioneers and thoughtleaders on a weekly basis. We have a few more calls to go, but I think Otto’s question is quite a timely one. How do we actually create infrastructures and spaces for connecting to this larger whole and deeper source?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on what it is that we could do, individually and particularly collectively!


Ever since I got off the phone with Rand Stagen – our interviewee from last week – the conversation we had with him has been reverberating around my mind. I just can’t stop thinking about it!

Rand presented what I consider to be, the most powerful and inspiring approach to Conscious Business I have heard in the series so far. Perhaps he wasn’t as visionary as someone like Brian Robertson, or as academically rigorous as someone like Susanne Cook-Greuter, or as personally nourishing as someone like Tami Simon, but the totality and integrity of his approach just blew me away.

Here is my take on why I think his approach has enormous implications for this series, and the work of all of us in the field of Conscious Business.

The world’s best problem solvers are in business

I suspect that at the heart of many of us following this series, there is a shared mission. Even though the articulation of the mission may vary, if we get abstract enough I think we’re pretty much aspiring to the same thing. Here is how Rand articulated that mission.

“The best problem solvers are in business. The business community has to play a meaningful role in solving the biggest problems in the world. How do we bring business to the table in a more conscious way?”

So how do we bring business to the table in a more conscious way? Because we’re not talking about a small undertaking here, we’re talking about bringing a fundmantally different business paradigm into the world.

Stagen’s revolutionary approach

What Rand’s company – Stagen – has developed, is a revolutionary approach. They are a consulting company, and as such have a consulting division (or operating group)  who work with their business partners in transformation initiatives. OK, not too revolutionary so far. They also have a learning division which facilitates a 52 week leadership academy for CEOs.  An unusually long program for the field perhaps, but still not totally revolutionary.

Here’s the amazing part.

They will only work with a client on an organisational consulting level, after the CEO of that company has themselves gone through the 52 week leadership development academy.

Let me say that again. They will not enter into a full consulting partnership until the CEO has devoted 52 weeks of their precious time into developing their own leadership.

For me, that business model is revolutionary. It smacks of long-termism. But why create such a demanding entry for their consulting clients? Why make it so difficult? Leverage. Stagen’s mission is to create massive impact, and bring Conscious Business into the world. So if that’s the mission, where do you start? You start with the people with the biggest seat at the table, the ones who have the most disproportionate impact on business – CEOs.

The solution to the eternal struggle

The eternal struggle for practitioners attempting to bring conscious approaches to business is getting buy-in.  You may know that these cutting edge methods and approaches are the next paradigm of business, but as Susanne Cook-Greuter pointed out, less than 7% of people even have the level of consciousness capable of seeing that paradigm.

Stagen’s solution is to build a leadership development program for CEOs that creates the intrinsic motivation for buy in, and only then throw the conscious kitchen sink at a business. Wow, the bravery and integrity of that approach just blows me away.

There are business models that would deliver much quicker results, and immediate impact. Requiring a CEO to go through an entire year of personal leadership development before working with their company is not exactly the easy path!

And that is exactly what inspired me so massively about Rand’s story. They have not compromised, and taken the easy approach. They have built their practice around the long road ahead, the 10, 20 or 30 approach where the real drivers of business – the CEOs – take responsibility for role-modelling the new paradigm before anything else is put on the table.

The patient path of transformation

New paradigms do not occur over night. Rand’s company recognise that the majority of today’s business leaders come from a stage of consciousness that does not usually intrinsically believe in Conscious Business from an ideological standpoint. But they recognise that it is those leaders that desperately need to be brought to the table.

It is this patient approach to business transformation that I felt so inspired by in our talk with Rand. His is the most complete and mature approach to bringing Conscious Business into the world that I’ve heard so far. Considering the breadth of wisdom and experience we’ve had on the series so far, that’s quite a statement!

What approach or perspective has inspired you most in the series so far? If you share this mission to bring business to the table in a conscious way, which of our talks has ignited your passions the most!?


Last week I wrote that adult development was the missing link for many big questions we’re struggling with in business and society. This week Bill Torbert elaborated on his research that business transformation can only be successful when the CEO is at the strategist level of action logic.

In this blog I will explain to you:

  1. How Bill Torbert describes adult development
  2. How the first two post conventional stages (individualist & strategist) will look differently at organisational transformation. And consequently,
  3. How CEO’s succeed in organisational transformation

Adult development

Bill Torbert describes adult development as occurring through 7 levels of action logics: from opportunist, to diplomat, to expert, to achiever, to individualist, to strategist and finally to the alchemist. Action logic is how people at different levels of development “try to figure out what to do in any situation.”

Bill explained that one of the key characteristics of adult development is that it occurs in sequence. You cannot skip a level and developing up levels requires considerable work. He describes the experience of developing to a new level as being ‘born again’, which emphasizes how these different levels really shift ones perspective of the world. Furthermore, each action logic has a set of assumptions, and in order to grow out of this action logic, you need to inquire into it’s core set of assumptions. If you don’t challenge your assumptions, you will stop developing.

The individualist

There is a key assumption contained in all levels before the individualist, which is that “the world they see is the real world and that people who don’t agree are stupid”. The individualist challenges this assumption, and starts to understand that people have different world views, different frames of reference, and as a consequence, they will act differently. This shift is the hallmark of post-conventional development.

If you look at organisational transformation from the individualist perspective, suddenly it becomes important to listen to the other perspectives in the organisation. Their feedback will now be seen as valid, and might even challenge a leaders assumptions. From the individualist perspective, this will be seen as a good thing, as an individualist know they do not hold the absolute truth. This is precisely the reason why Bill explained that the individualist starts to prefer difference over similarity.

An Individualist leader understands that, if a key success factor for business transformation is motivating and empowering their people, they will need to motivate them within their own worldview. Listening suddenly becomes a golden skill. Consequently, a unilateral hierarchical approach seems futile, as you cannot force transformation – a painful lesson many organisations still do not get.

The developmental challenge of the individualist

The problem that an Individualist faces is that he has difficulty figuring out how decisions have to be made. Does everybody need to agree? Integrating all “valid” perspectives can be an endless task and will severely hamper organisational effectiveness.

This might be the dark place many developing leaders in organisations find themselves in – not yet knowing how to combine their newly emerged worldview with their old habits of steering effectively. Downshifting back to unilateral control feels wrong, but what do you do? This is the kind of challenge can lead people to develop further.

Enter the Strategist

The Strategist understands that while all perspectives have a value, they are most effective within a certain context. The strategist action logic allows for a new level of discernment, through which effective decision making and cooperation can be combined. Because of a deeper understanding of the different action logic’s, the strategist can devise collaborative processes in which the best of all perspectives can be integrated. They can use the “hot” buttons of the different action logics to motivate and avoid all their “cold” buttons. This way, strategists start to master a shifting of their style depending on who they meet – knowing what to do, when and where.

During an organisational transformation, the strategist is able to generate a shared vision and co-create new structures. These solutions don’t need to be imposed on the employees, as their needs and different developmental perspectives have already been integrated during the creative process.

The three key elements for leading a successful business transformation

A CEO will only be able to succeed in transforming their organisation if they:

1 – understand that people have a different worldview, or level of development (individualist perspective)
2 – are able to appreciate the specific qualities and limitations of the different developmental action logic’s. (strategist perspective)
3 – have the leadership skills to apply their insights into co-creating processes that will result in solutions, systems and structures that engage all different action logics. (applied strategist competencies)

The result

The result is a truly transformed organisation that creates an engaging working environment for all the different action logics. This enables the business to effectively catalyze the motivation and productivity of all employees, in service of realizing its vision and goals. Through integrating the best ideas of developmental perspectives, leaders and CEOs can find highly competitive solutions to the current challenges of organisational life.


Our evolutionary challenge
According to Bill Joiner only about 10% of the people (at the so-called ‘Catalyst level’ and above) are agile enough to deal with the evolutionary challenge we’re collectively facing. To be clear, that doesn’t mean the other 90% is incapable of leading their businesses, fixing bikes or raising children. However, to truly be able to deal adequately with the complexity we face, you need a developmental or agility level (i.e. inner operating system) that goes beyond the conventional level of our times.

The missing link is stage development
Ken Wilber speaks about society facing a ’war of memes’. Our internal operating systems, or levels of development, are not always in harmonious agreement. This can either occur between people, or within people. As Bill Joiner mentioned, adult development is the missing link for many of the big questions we’re currently struggling with in business and society.

Developing individuals is not the (quick) solution
If we assume that only 10% of the people can deal adequately with our current challenges, then what can we do? The easiest answer would be to help people develop so that they will be able to deal with the complexity, but there are some constraints.

  • Development can only happen when an individual is intrinsically motivated. You can bring a horse to the water, but you cannot make it drink. So, we can only work with a developmental coalition of the willing.
  • Many sources write that development takes about 5 years a level. You can’t make the grass grow harder by pulling on it.

So, even though developing individuals is the long-term solution, our coalition of the willing will need to explore other options. Here are two I’d like to suggest.

Optimally leveraging developmental capital
Right now, our institutions, ranging from business to politics to healthcare to education, are not aware of adult development. This severely limits their ability to select effective leaders. Wouldn’t it be great to transparently get test results from our ambitious politicians, before we have to vote? With their developmental level as an integral part of any assessment. There is no reason why business couldn’t include adult development levels in their leadership selection, assessment, and allocation processes. Quick wins, baby!

Exploring Conscious systems
Conscious systems and structures allow an organisation to operate as a system above the developmental level of many of its individuals. We don’t all need to know how a telephone works in order to use it. Unfortunately, the same is true for guns. However, I believe it is safe to assume new conscious inventions will serve individuals better in their needs to pursue purpose, passion and effectiveness. I also doubt the R&D team of an organisation will come up with a Kalashnikov 3.0. when you ask them to improve organisational effectiveness. (Check our call with Brian Robertson about Holacracy, which I believe is such a conscious system – you’ll find it in the downloads section)

The organisations investing in adult development, leveraging their developmental capital, and building ‘conscious structures’, will gain a great competitive advantage.  But the best part is, that at the same time, they will be providing a great service to the developmental coalition of the willing. So that we can kick back, relax and enjoy a beer.


We embarked upon this series with a question unashamedly routed in idealism. What could business look like beyond the sole pursuit of trade and profit? What would happen if we saw business as a vehicle for evolution itself – a transformation of our potentials and of our deeper dreams and aspirations?

I still feel ignited by that question, and yet, I am now also holding a further aspect of that question. How can we role model the ideals of a conscious approach to business, while also creating a bridge to the conventional business world? How do we meet people where they’re at?

Our conversation with Leadership Circle CEO Bob Anderson brought that second aspect of the question to the forefront of my own enquiry. While Bob is a strong advocate of these very sophisticated and cutting edge approaches to business he also made an important statement.

“The language of business is effectiveness, not development.”

I want to take the time to explore and unpack that statement further, as it feels like such a central principle of this idealistic quest.

A personal reflection

I’m going to come at this issue from a rather personal space, as it is a perspective that I am still myself exploring, and I’m not sure I can claim to offer any concrete answers. I hope that at least some of my questions speak to things in your own life and work.

Part of my personal motivation for this series was to widen the space for this conversation of Conscious Business. I still feel called to that exploration, but as I am also starting to notice, there’s another motivation. And that is to perhaps try and extricate myself from the growing realisation that there’s no escaping the practical realities of the mainstream business world.

I still have this hope that if we help make the case for Conscious Business more widespread, then I will be excused from having to deal with the ‘pre-conscious’ business world, and enjoy the freedom of this idealistic space.

Something Bob mentioned during our call brought this hope, and its limits, further into my own awareness.

In his work with leaders, helping them to address the issues of increasing their leadership effectives, Bob uses a very powerful two part question.

  • What is it that I really want – what is the vision of where I want to be?
  • How do I get in my own way – what are the beliefs and assumptions that have me show up counter to that vision?

In listening back to the call this morning I noticed myself posing that question to myself, and to my desire to effectively bring these ideas out in to the world.

Am I excusing myself from the party?

If I have a vision of being someone who is helping embed these more conscious and developmental approaches into business, what are the things that have me get in my own way?

While I have no intension of off-loading my idealism (if such a thing were even intentionally possible), today I notice a questioning of it. In what ways is that idealism de-railing the mission I find myself upon?

Or perhaps, as a wise friend said today, it’s not the idealism that’s the issue, it’s the escape into it that is a problem.

If business isn’t interested in development for its own sake, how do I, as well as this series in general, help business become more conscious (which by definition is a developmental process)?

I notice myself starting to see that some of my idealism has a rather personal agenda. While masquerading as a force for change, it’s perhaps also a clever way of excusing myself from the business of meeting people where they’re at.

Where is business at? If it’s in the business of effectiveness how is my role in the spreading of these ideas making business more effective?

Rather than trying to answer these questions myself, for now I feel content to hold them and allow them to run their own course. And at the same time, I’m also interested in your thoughts and needs.

If this series is about asking what business can be in the most ideal sense, how can it best help you in your own mission to make business more effective?