Building Sustainable Legacies


The Emperor’s Clothes

When I first heard about the fairy tale of the Emperor’s clothes, I always thought that it would take just one sufficiently innocent and courageous person to point her finger at the emperor and everybody else would automatically fall out of the magic spell that had previously had let them see an altered reality. But, today’s reality is proving me wrong. Today, we are living in this weird situation where about half of the people realize that the emperor is wearing no clothes and is pointing more or less discretely to the naked leader. The other half of the people, however, see the emperor in all of his magnificent beauty of glimmering, luscious and richly decorated clothes. They are blind-sided by the appearance of wealth and the impression of power this creates. They feel the power and they either feel frightened or encouraged by what it may bring to them. If it is not question of how many people see the emperor without clothes, then what are relevant triggers or levers that might open the eyes of those who still see him in his magic dress?

When we talk about change, we remain interestingly speculative with regards to interdependencies, causes, consequences and what are precursors, pre-conditions, enablers and levers of change. Kathy Miller has provided an enlightening response to my blog suggesting that people rather than organizations are the shapers of organizational culture. She points out – correctly so in my opinion – that culture is also shaped by the structure, size, leadership and governance of an organization. These are clearly organizational elements rather than people elements. I would like to further expand that trajectory of thought by investigating what other elements influence organizational and more particularly systemic change beyond the people and organizational related factors.

We have previously established that a variety of aspects that can be summed up as people related factors of change strongly define and influence a culture. We have also established that there are a number of organizational related aspects that impact and shape culture. In the context of the subject of climate change, Andy Hoffmann has investigated why pointing out facts has at best no impact at opening the eyes of those that deny a reality that quasi an entire community of scientists have confirmed. He concludes his assessment with the observation that arguing with facts simply results in the other side generating other (alternative?) facts that further prove the opposite point of view and thus further entrench the already existing difference. If not facts, then what?

Research suggests that in order to even get a chance at changing somebody else’s mind, we need to empathically and authentically connect with that other person. From person to person, not from role to role. And this is where things fall apart. We don’t want to personally engage, there is an inner discomfort, a resistance that creeps up and that communication shuts down. I have extensive personal experience in this and I often self-observe what happens to me when I am confronted with an opinion, a feedback or comment that goes against what I believe in. There is a physical shift inside of me, that turn my receptors from open to close, my smile from broad to narrow, and my heart from trusting to a stand-by mode. Sometimes I manage to turn the switch back on “open”. When I do, it is because I manage to re-establish first my own heart connection to my inner values and purpose, maybe to my soul, and then from that space, to re-establish a connection to the best in the other person that I had previously seen. A colleague of mine describes this as “veils” that are lifted off again that had prevented a clear vision. I pretend that most of us who have self-observed such events will be able to describe some change in our physiological disposition that can serve as a signal and hence potentially allow a reversal of the process. This however, does not work well when I enter a discussion being convinced that the other person holds a “wrong” own perspective that I happen to disagree with or question in terms of honesty of interest and intent. And this is where things get sticky.

If such mastery is required at the personal level to attempt to generate change at the systemic level, we are in for a tough ride. I am struck by the parallel to the current reality across the Atlantic. There are impressive public attempts (including from the New York Times) to influence the personal moral obligation of a high ranking US prosecutor to demand an independent investigation of the Russian intervention in the US election process which is required in order to implement the checks and balances that are in theory well in place from a governance perspective but that don’t get the traction they should. Is it possible that when organizational elements fail to generate the framework for change, that we are thrown back to the individual courage, morals and ultimately mastery which are comprised in the people dimension? If mass protests don’t work, and structural frameworks can be circumvented or be neutralized or ignored, then how are we ever going to point out what one child pointed out so naively in the fairy tale of the emperor’s clothes? Or might it be the simple accumulation of individual, structural and mass pressures that little by little fill the famous barrel until one last drop makes it overflow and thus creates the change. And it mattered very little what that last drop actually was, as long as the drips kept coming. If that were true, then a possible conclusion might ultimately be a very encouraging one. Namely, that irrespective of the immediate or estimated impact of any individual action, new policy or public engagement, what is important is to do what is right  every singly moment a day. Right from an interconnected perspective that embraces values at the individual level, interests at the organizational level and a sense of common well-being and safety at the societal, global level.

Author: Katrin Muff, PhD

Active in thought leadership, consulting & applied research in sustainability & responsibility, and directing the DAS & DBA programs

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What if organizations evolved like people?

Based on Frederic Laloux’s inspiring book Reinventing Organizations, Peter Green has created a most enlightening visual arts video both summarizing Laloux’s work and translating it into a lesson of “Lean and Agile Adoption”.

If you are a general manager, HR manager, a team leader, business student, young entrepreneur, start-up wizzkid, this video will inspire you to consider different ways of organizating for success. I am so curious to hear what you think of the video and what concrete action you are inspired to do! Let me know please!

https://vimeo.com/121517508


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My favorite book this summer!

Among the large pile of books I read through this summer, one stood out and has left a pleasant after-taste: REINVENTING ORGANIZATIONS by Frederic Laloux (Belgium). Frederic has attempted to do mission impossible and has actually come up with something of incredible value. He took the human development perspective and applied it to business. The idea is simple and has been considered for centuries: human beings develop over a life-time and societies develop over centuries into increasingly developed forms and belief systems. Why not organizations as well. Based on much work done by Integral Studies (Ken Wilber et al but also many other developmentalists such as Jean Gebser, Don Beck, Jean Piaget), Frederic developed first a historical overview of the development of organizations and then created a white space of the organization of the future. And here comes the magic – rather than just leaving things there, he went out and found a dozen companies of all sizes and from various industries and developed small case studies to understand how these companies are living already today partially or fully the principles of the organization of the future.

But don’t take my word for it, here is an excellent New York Times review on the book

We are running a Collaboratory event that I will facilitate together with other BSL colleagues featuring Frederic Laloux, Christian Felber and others on November 21-22, 2014 in Vienna in association with LiFT and the Zentrum für Integrale Führung led by Christiane Seuhs-Schoeller. If you are interested to join us, please let me know!

 

 


Sustainability By Enlivening Your Day

A great blog post on creating an environment where you feel more present. How do you live the principles of sustainability in your own daily life?


The Landfill Orchestra

Here is an invitation to dive into the amazing story of a slum that is built on a landfill and has started to build musical instruments out of trash. You’ll be transformed when you hear the sound of the recycled cello built frim an oil trum and when you see violins that looks unlike anything you have ever imagined yet sound like heaven.

A short film of hope that points out that we should throw neither things nor people away and that miracles are possible when we make the best out of both! Enjoy!


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Walking Up the Stairs

With reference to my friend Benjamin Akande, Dean of Webster University, who recently shared the following very impactful story.

Walking Up the Stairs

This is a story about the importance of empowering others. John T. Quinlivan, a retired executive at Boeing Corporation, shared this wonderful story with me. It’s a story about a simple act we all take for granted. A few years back John was the person in charge of delivering Boeing commercial jets to countries around the world. This particular delivery was to the nation of Kenya. The Boeing 767-400 plane landed at the Kenyatta International Airport with much fanfare and celebration.

The day began with great pomp and ceremony, as Boeing entertained airline executives and top government dignitaries with a demonstration flight in the new 767 over the beautiful landscape of Kenya. Later that day, the aerospace giant opened the airplane up for what is generally referred as static display, where people are invited to walk through the plane, sit on the seats, and get an up-close look of the plane.

More than two thousand Kenya Airways employees and invited VIPs showed up to get a glimpse of the country’s new acquisition that afternoon. At the completion of the static display, the plane was cleaned and secured for the night. But then, the unaccepted happened, a group of children from a nearby orphanage showed up. they came to see the big bird that had landed near their home close to the airport. Despite protestation from the hosts, John Quinlivan insisted that they too should get a tour of the brand-new plane. When they finally made it on the tarmac, they stood transfixed at the bottom of the stairway looking up at the massive bird. From the top, John motioned to them to come up, but nobody responded to him. “They just stood there,” John told me, and then he asked one of the Kenyan hosts to tell the children and adults who were with them in Swahili to walk up the stairs. again, there was no reaction.

It became clear to John that he had a small problem. The problem? The children and their handlers had never walked up stairs before. They didn’t know how, and so with the help of the Boeing staff and Kenyan hosts, they assisted the children, as they made their way up to the plane. It took a while, but they finally made it to the top of the stairway and into the place. They stretched out on the large seats in first class, checked out the cockpit, sat in the pilot’s seat, and looked in the restrooms!

At the end of the tour, it was a sight to see the kids attempting to walk down the stairway. A few found it more comforting and assuring to just sit on the steps, slid their way down as carefully as they could.

This is a story about a simple act that we take for granted. My friends, walking up stairs is enabling others to reach their goals. Walking up stairs is overcoming insurmountable odds and doing the impossible. When we walk up stairs, we are enabling others to participate in the American Dream. It begs the question: what stairs are you helping others to climb?

According to John, “the people of Kenya were thrilled to be a part of the Boeing 767-400 tour. But it was more than that. They were so proud of their new plane. You see, we must always remember the radical changes that products/services bring to people’s lives and the transformational capacity to an organization or even to a nation and to its people.” For John, it’s about access, connectivity, opportunity, inclusion and education. These are defining attributes that are to be part of DNA of any organization.

Which begs the question: are you enabling these attributes in your organization?

Walking up the stairs

John T. Quinlivan with Kenyan children at the airport