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Leadership is the creation of beauty

Photo credit: Craig Burrows

Female leadership has a truly generative nature, that is, an attitude to the original contribution with a high aesthetic component. It draws indeed on a creative dimension and feeds on belonging.

It is not defined by a merely directional dimension and at the most authentic core, female leadership identifies with the creation of beauty.

Most of the time, however, women tend to sacrifice these vital dimensions to the mainstream, strongly directive leadership focused on goals and objectives. That is indeed what we inherited from traditional leadership models. We are thought to drive fast, well weaponed, strongly directional, and boldly functional.

Yet this unidimensional aspect of leadership is not nourishing for women, it does not express nor fulfil the feminine quests for a more authentic contribution to the world. Soon or later in their leadership journey, female leaders encounter this dilemma and it becomes a turning point in their personal leadership.

A soul-making process

I believe leadership is the artful process of creating a soulful journey. It is the process of making our own soul through our endeavours in the world. Our creative nature needs to be fully embraced.  Along the way to realizing our mission, we truly want to build meaningful collaborations, sponsor people and awaken places. 

Beauty dwells in relationships for us and we implicitly and inevitably suffer from the hard unbalance between tasks and relationships that characterized most of our working places.

But we tend to forget the true nature of our work and leadership. We are often trapped in excessive functionalism, which is an enemy of the creation of beauty. We are easily seduced by the efficiency of the tasks, functions, and roles at the expense of soulfulness. Sadly, it looks like we are still suffering from an industrial approach to our mission on Earth.

Time, Space, and Self

In our times, three important forces, time, space, and self, are terribly shrunk and make soulful leadership arduous and awkward for women. Even more now in the digital era, time is excessively squeezed and space is constrained. A more natural rhythm that would be in tune with a feminine quality of presence is not there to support intuition, creativity, sense of belonging.

As a consequence, the self is anxious. To be successful and perform, we send essential parts of ourselves into exile. Typically we hide the parts of ourselves that we suspect are considered weak and doubtful. At the very moment of this separation, we lose our innate beauty. And simultaneously, we lose our unique gift of leadership as a potential creation of beauty.

From this very moment on, we stop being generative of a soulful journey for ourselves and we weaken our capacity of being great sponsors of the potential and growth of the others around us.

The greed for destination obliterates the journey”, says John O’Donohue, an Irish author who has actively worked during his life for bringing about soulfulness and beauty in leadership. The greed and the speed to achieve often make the destination a false high and unique priority that entirely dominates the leadership approach. When we are flattened by this greed, we may become frozen and detached, truly absent from what is the meaning of the journey. The process of awakening talents and allowing the flourishing of workplaces along the way toward the vision becomes hardly a priority.

Subsequently, a sense of emptiness and dryness can emerge and affect the leadership journey of women. They start to feel the need to integrate a more nourishing and more meaningful approach to leadership. They seek new vital lymph to infuse their roles and they aspire to heal the painful sense of separation and disconnection.

Beauty awaits the gaze of our leadership

In the search for soulfulness of our female leadership, we are unconsciously driven by the possibility of creating beauty in the world we inhabit.

How can we do that in fact? 

Beauty dwells all the potential and the giftedness of people and places. Our gaze needs to develop the capacity to see them. And acknowledge the indispensable necessity of their true contribution.  Beauty dwells also in those spaces and those times that call for our attention and creativity. In the appearance of an obstacle, in the emergence of a conflict, in presence of a failure. In these very moments that call for our attention, we can create something magical: a new sense of belonging.

Acting consciously so as to activate the sense of belonging wherever we walk, defending the value of beauty, defending the value of creating an expressive work environment, and caring deeply about sponsoring the truthful contribution of people, need to become top priorities of our leadership, while we travel toward our vision. Awakening a sense of belonging means awakening a sense of belonging to oneself, to a sense of unique presence, activating creativity and imagination around us.

Our very first act of female leadership is however an act of self-leadership: finding and voicing our own belonging to beauty.

A reflection moment for yourself

  • Where do you see beauty in your leadership endeavour?
  • Where can you bring more beauty to your private and professional context?
  • What parts of time, space and yourself do you feel you have sent into exile? 
  • What little steps can you make to re-include them in your leadership journey?

What synergy in Nature can teach us to thrive in our endeavour

There is a famous and crucial law in the theory of systems and complexity, called the Ashby law or Law of Requisite Variety.

In simple terms this law can be stated as follows: 

In order to deal properly with the diversity of problems the world throws at you, you need to have a repertoire of responses that are (at least) as nuanced as the problems you face.

The law is crucial because it refers to the capacity of a system to survive in a complex environment: a viable system is one that can handle the variability of its environment.

Or, as Ashby simply put it, only variety can absorb variety.

For you as an entrepreneur, the law clearly calls for high flexibility and richness of capacities and perspective to respond to your challenges. The more variable and fast-changing the environment, the more flexible your enterprise and its internal systems need to be.

It is more and more under our eyes that the complexity of our reality is increasing at a pace that has been never observed before. This means that also your modality and capacity to respond in a more flexible and diverse way need to go to the next level.

You may tend to play in a safe and controlled space by choosing variety reduction. This appears unfeasible and unsustainable in our new reality. Many organizations and social systems, that have grown so far by keeping lower levels of variety, are facing now extremely hard times. They turn to be rigid systems that have not developed the internal stretch to resiliently respond to the external variety. Conversely, it is interesting to know that another implication of the Law of Requisite Variety is that the part of the system with the higher flexibility will play like the queen in a game of chess: it will act as the catalytic element within that system for making the system respond properly and thrive.

Complex challenges are difficult because they require you and your team to change your ways, your mindset, and your behaviours. They are not just complicated technical problems, where your past ways of thinking, relating, and operating can help you fix the problem. They are “non-linear” problems, that cannot be solved by just downloading your proven approaches to problems.

How can you then move faster toward abundant flexibility of perspectives, practices, and tools, learn fast, and become capable to thrive in complex times?

The answer is: together, in circles of entrepreneurs.

“Together” means speed, diversity, richness, resilience, and superior intelligence.

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Where do we find a truly new model for thriving together? We cannot be blind here toward the greatest model of all, Nature, always displayed magnificently in front of us.

Even a fast look at the rainforest can provide us with an immediate, easy grasp of the power of togetherness and true interconnectivity. The most diverse vegetation here ensures resilience, generativity, abundance, and anti-fragility to all the parts of the ecosystem, while simultaneously affirming the uniqueness and the fundamental/foundational contribution of each species enriching the soil for all the plants. Every plant shapes a form, a way, an exchange, a contribution, uniquely contributing not only to its own growth and flourishing but also to every other part of the ecosystem. It is the realm of synergies.

It is then crystal clear to us that in order to create multiple and flexible responses we need multiple intelligences, collective wisdom, and upskilled collaborative capacity.

It sounds obvious. Why then do we see entrepreneurs ending up going alone, over and over again, even now, trapped in the downfall of their “hero” mindset?

Often you as an entrepreneur do not see an alternative, a different collaborative approach, and a new leadership model. Fighting harder seems the only way. Taken away by your passion and commitment, trapped in your everyday endless to-do list, you find it easier to follow the known path of working harder and harder, downloading the usual ways of acting, and just throw yourself in the fight arena.

As we see so perfectly in the rainforest, however, another arena is possible, the synergetic arena. Here successful synergies can generate more resources, resilience, and fast response to challenges because of self-reinforcing circles that enhance mutual growth and evolution.

Stephen Covey says it very well: Synergy is everywhere in nature. If you plant two plants close together, the roots commingle and improve the quality of the soil so that both plants will grow better than if they were separated.

It is possible to create ecosystems of entrepreneurs that activate the collective entrepreneurial intelligence to support individual sustainable businesses in a more generative effort.

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Circles of entrepreneurs empower each individual endeavour by offering multiple perspectives, expertise, awareness, and diverse competencies in a supportive and insightful environment.

Rosalind Armson, author of “Growing Wings on the Way”, and working with individuals and organizations facing complex and uncertain situations, says:

“While I bring requisite variety to the task of improving a messy situation, I find myself asking, ‘How can I be sure I am not contributing to the process that keeps the mess in place?’ ‘How can I be sure that some of my variety of actions, thinking, and emotions is not getting in the way of improving the situation?’

I am thinking here of my confusions, prejudices, preferences, entanglements, and blind spots.

These too are manifestations of my variety and, unless I can account for them in some way, they can make the situation even more difficult to understand than it was before.

I need awareness of how I interact with situations that I am trying to improve. This means I have to be aware of how I see the situation (my perspective); how I understand the situation; how I distinguish systems within it; how I communicate my understandings to other stakeholders; how I act in it; how I see and recognize the outcomes; and how I evaluate the outcomes.”

This crucial process of increasing awareness and accelerated learning can be held and powerfully facilitated in circles of entrepreneurs. The collective entrepreneurial intelligence helps respond with increased flexibility and generative capacity to the complex environment we are living in.

Blind spots, obstacles, and collective entrepreneurial intelligence

In previous articles, we have talked about the importance of truly coming together to form an authentic village of trusted fellow entrepreneurs and tap into a deep level of entrepreneurial synergies. The greater the challenges, the bigger and the higher quality of support you need.

But why should you really do that? More specifically, how can you get a higher level of impact and performance, accelerated growth, and change by diving into the wisdom of a village of entrepreneurs?

The truth is that collective entrepreneurial intelligence will help illuminate your blind spots, that is, the places and the spaces you are operating from but are unaware of.

Why is it important to become aware of your blind spot?

Bill O’Brien, CEO of Hanover Insurance said: “The success of an intervention depends on the inner conditions of the intervener”. This place, your inner condition, is the key, as it determines your actions. Furthermore, it determines the success of your actions and your successful (or not) outcomes.

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In that place, in the source of how you think and feel, lies also your key potential to overcome and transform obstacles.

But how is your blind spot connected to the obstacles you encounter?

Well, the inner space from where you operate is always a filter of reality, is always related to a perceptual position, to a point of view, to a specific perspective, a view of the world. Most often the obstacle challenges that point of view, revealing the limitation of the view. Therefore you may lack the resources to deal with it, solve it, or transform it unless you expand your horizon, embracing a much larger perspective.

To clarify this point, let’s take the example of your blind spot as a driver. One of the first things they teach you when you are learning to drive is the existence of the blind spot. When you drive, and you need to look in the rear-view mirror, you must be aware that you do not have a complete vision. You know that you have to move and change your position or look into the other rear-view mirrors in your car, in order to see outside the blind spot.

The fact is that the rear-view mirror is a small angled mirror, although you have the impression that you see everything when looking through it.

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This may happen also to your source of thinking and feeling. For certain obstacles and specific challenges, your view may have got a small angle and needs to be enlarged to be able to overcome them.

Becoming aware that you do have a blind spot in your leadership is essential.

When you are stuck in front of a challenge, you may often tend to insist on keeping your position, sticking to the same perspective, trying harder, and actually doing more of the same. As you simply don’t see, you may even tend to deny that something else exists outside what you see and perceive.

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Being conscious of your blind spot as a leader and entrepreneur is therefore a primary knowledge and awareness. It keeps you alert in the first place to the fact that you may need to look for an enlarged horizon in front of your challenges. It reminds your attention to move out of your habitual angle and search in order to see what you don’t see.

Most often than not, the place you don’t see holds the resources you need to overcome your obstacles.

Interestingly and curiously enough, the resources, the answers, and a fresh way toward your challenges may come from the place outside your blind spot. Often the obstacles you encounter are an explicit invitation to search outside your blind spot, a true call to expand your view, and even your identity as a leader and entrepreneur.

The presence of other perspectives and perceptions on the same problem immediately opens up your vision, enlarges your horizon, and allows you to envision a new, unexpected way forward.

Therefore a group of trusted fellow entrepreneurs, what we call “a village of entrepreneurs” is a way to help illuminate your blind spot. A collective entrepreneurial intelligence offers indeed a vast span of different perspectives, experiences, and wisdom in a way that can wisely stretch the “small view angle” you may unconsciously have when facing your own challenges.

Basically, you are moved to or invited to another position by the others, the effect being the same as when you move position as a driver to see outside the blind spot or look in another roar-view mirror with a different angle.

A village of entrepreneurs is capable of enlarging the space of a problem in such a powerful way that reconnects you to the needed resources to solve it. By helping identify the core of the filters that do not serve you in dealing with your burning challenge.

In this way, collective entrepreneurial intelligence allows you to move in a much faster, substantially unimagined way toward a solution or a transformation of your obstacles.

As a female entrepreneur are you playing in a generative zone?

As a female entrepreneur, you are probably already playing in the generative zone at the intersection between business self-interest and the common good.

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You enjoy a large supportive network of fellow entrepreneurs, belong to several communities, and amplify positive effects coming from your business in the culture and your environment.

Sometimes however you may have the persistent, unsatisfactory feeling that any way you are alone in your endeavor.

Deeply inside, you may ask yourself: “Am I really getting the opportunity to be supported, confronted and inspired in a truly constructive way, in a caring yet non-complacent context?”

In a previous article, we talked about the importance of tapping into the energy and the benefits of “the village” in your female generative enterprises. Embracing the village means for you going to deeper levels of female synergetic entrepreneurial efforts together with fellow entrepreneurs. The collective intelligence of female entrepreneurs is crucial for you not only to support and empower each other but also to open a space for generative solutions for your challenging endeavors.

However what you encounter most often in your networks and communities is a surface level of collective intelligence, which is in fact “collected intelligence”.

Think about a puzzle: different pieces come together to make an entire. Sometimes you may think in this way also when you want to bring diversity into your organization: matching different pieces to create a bigger whole.

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“Collected intelligence” foresees a “match” of diverse capacities and competencies. It is only a first level of synergy, a surface level. In this scenario, 1+1 = 2

Although you may constantly work for it, this matching of support, competencies, expertise, and talents may lead you to levels of collaboration that result in the classical outcome of 1+1=2.

Making a truly “generative field” of relationships

However, for you to bring about excellence, accelerated growth, and resilience in your enterprise and environment, this may be not sufficient and gives you this unsatisfactory feeling of being alone anyway, although you are investing so much time, energy, and effort in your networking and community-building activities.

To play successfully in the zone of win-win at the intersection between self-interest and the common good with your enterprise, you may enter a generative field of relationships where 1+1 can be much more than 2. It is the space where the collective intelligence of female entrepreneurs is at true play.

As a metaphor for this collective intelligence, think about the molecule of water, H2O.

This molecule is made of two very different atoms, with their own very specific features. When they join to form the molecule, however, the molecule itself transcends the specific characteristics of the two atoms and forms something completely new, with incredible and unforeseen characteristics. We could say clearly here that 1+1 is much more than 2.

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The incredible properties of water are made out of the special interaction of H and O atoms. An example where 1+1>2.

This is an image that allows you to imagine that a much deeper level of synergy and collaboration is possible. This can be then a fertile ground to bring innovating excellence, creativity, and anti-fragility to your businesses, with performances that could not be achieved alone. The outcome is indeed much more than just the sum of the parts.

Vital to this deeper level of collective intelligence is the creation of high-quality interactions among entrepreneurs, built on trust, mutual respect, and recognition of each other’s unique resources, capacities, and contributions.

Why is this deeper level of synergy so important for you?

Learning to access deeper levels of support, encouragement, and collaboration among fellow entrepreneurs is about upskilling yourselves for future complex challenges and playing a new level of leadership with your enterprise.

Belonging to a generative space is essential for you to realize your most authentic purpose by accessing a higher level of intelligence together with fellow entrepreneurs. It is about increasing your co-creation capacity and shaping together the future together with like-minded creators.

On the one hand, indeed this deep level of synergy creates the conditions for you to boost your potential beyond your usual capacity and imagination. On the other hand, it shapes and activates the true space of the common good, a space of more conscious interconnectedness, where diverse and innovative businesses cross and communicate for mutual benefit and sustainable growth.

Belonging to a generative space is deeply reconnecting you to your female creative capacity of maintaining a tissue together so as to create a much larger, beautiful social and entrepreneurial tapestry. 

As female entrepreneurs, we can make female entrepreneurship more collective, more conscious, more co-creative, and unlock its full potential for a true impact on society.

The hero and the village

An integrative journey towards generative entrepreneurship

Your journey as an entrepreneur can easily be associated with the image of a hero. The symbolic meaning of the hero myth is evident: you as an entrepreneur are courageous enough to go into the arena alone and fight fiercely and autonomously to defend and build your vision. Fundamentally, you show some essential, primary leadership features, the most important ones being the ardour and the capacity to stand up, get out of a fearful crowd, and accomplish a mission. You take full responsibility for creating your own life and give shape to your unique vision, not withholding the freedom to be independent and alone.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way”

The Greek hero Theseus, fighting against the Minotaur in the Labyrinth in Figure 1, offers you a good view of messages and symbols that relate to the hero metaphor.

In this picture of the hero’s attitude and posture, you can easily recognize and read typical traits such as courage, strength, determination, commitment, muscular approach, fighting skills, technique and technology, competence, mastery, expertise, independence, and proof.

The “sense of I” is crucial here. The positive hero mindset is a healthy affirmation of the “I”, of your individuality, of the unique stand in your unique endeavour, of your distinctive contribution to the world.

The motto of a hero could be “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”.

The hero myth however does not come without its downfalls

Looking again at the picture of Theseus, you may recognize immediately that he has to constantly demonstrate his invincible strength. Wearing a mask and a shield, and holding a weapon, he is basically armoured. He cannot afford any vulnerability.

He can be fixated on a perennial fight, perceiving fight as the only way to be and to exist. 

His pride to be alone in the arena can turn easily into painful loneliness behind the scenes. His need to master everything every moment may lead him to live under constant stress and in the longer term, he may arrive to consider this as a normal part of the game.

For you as an entrepreneur, this may often translate into working harder and harder and staying routinely in the stress and anxiety zone of the fight in order to survive.

Another way

It may be no longer sustainable nor generative to always stay in places of a lonely heroic mindset and attitude. In fact, in the complex and ever-changing contexts we are living in, it has the opposite effect, as it may bring you unsustainable or short-term solutions. Often you may be driven by survival needs, instead of innovative and creative outcomes, driven by your higher vision.

When the level of your entrepreneurial challenge is not balanced with adequate supporting energy around you, the downfalls of the hero myth can keep you in the “Stress zone”. 

Figure 2. Entrepreneurs often find themselves in the high-challenge quandrants of the challenge vs support graphic representation. In particular, the downfall of the hero myth can keep entrepreneurs trapped in the bottom-left quadrant of loneliness, unbalanced life and hard work.

Figure 2. The challenge vs support graphic for entrepreneurs. The downfall of the hero myth can keep you trapped in the bottom-right quadrant of loneliness, unbalanced life, and “hard” work.

This is a region in the representation of support vs challenge in Figure 2 where you as an entrepreneur are not surrounded by an appropriate level of support while facing a high level of challenges. This is often the case, especially for pioneering ventures, sustainable scaling ups, and generative and regenerative endeavours. 

“It takes a village to raise a child”

A generative community of entrepreneurs goes much beyond the network that one could build. It is indeed about finding an alliance, a group, a community, a village of entrepreneurs, that grows and goes after each entrepreneurial dream, together. The village is a metaphor for synergetic energies and forces, of multiple perspectives, of enriching diversity and complementarities.

As Stephen Covey said: “Synergy is what happens when one plus one equals ten or a hundred or even a thousand! It is the profound results when two or more respectful human beings determine to go beyond their preconceived ideas to meet a great challenge.

Figure 3. A circle of entrepreneurs. A humble synergy of diverse perspectives. The motto here could be “It takes a village to raise a child”.

In a trust-based village gathering of entrepreneurs, unimaginable resources can originate thanks to the care, deep listening, peer conversation, relational intelligence, emotional intelligence, collective wisdom, connection, and belonging. Shortly, thanks to a sense of “We”.

Finding the right village that helps sustain your own endeavour and vision is not easy. Often you may encounter difficulties in connecting to a sphere of influence that would offer the impact, the accountability, the resources, and the relationships you need to grow further.

More essentially, entering a village may require a serious moment of recognition of your own limitations, along with the reaffirmation of your unique strengths in front of the challenges ahead.

In this respect, we love to cite the following excerpt from the book “Leadership and the New Science” by Margaret Wheatley to conclude this article:

If we take seriously the role of explorer and inventor, we will realize that we can’t do this alone. It is scary work, trying to find a new world, hoping we won’t die in the process. We live in a time of chaos, as rich in the potential for disaster as for new possibilities.

How will we navigate these times?

The answer is, together.

We need each other differently now.

We cannot hide behind our boundaries or hold onto the belief that we can survive alone.

We need each other to forgive us when we fail, to trust us with their dreams, to offer their hope when we have lost our own. (…).

We have each other’s curiosity, wisdom, and courage.

And we have Life, whose great ordering powers if we choose to work with them, will make us even more curious, wise and courageous.

LATEST POSTS

Blind spots, obstacles, and collective entrepreneurial intelligence

In previous articles, we have talked about the importance of truly coming together to form an authentic village of trusted fellow entrepreneurs and tap into a deep level of entrepreneurial synergies. The greater the challenges, the bigger and the higher quality of support you need. But why should you really do that? More specifically, how can you getContinue reading “Blind spots, obstacles, and collective entrepreneurial intelligence”

As a female entrepreneur are you playing in a generative zone?

As a female entrepreneur, you are probably already playing in the generative zone at the intersection between business self-interest and the common good. You enjoy a large supportive network of fellow entrepreneurs, belong to several communities, and amplify positive effects coming from your business in the culture and your environment. Sometimes however you may haveContinue reading “As a female entrepreneur are you playing in a generative zone?”

The hero and the village

An integrative journey towards generative entrepreneurship Your journey as an entrepreneur can easily be associated with the image of a hero. The symbolic meaning of the hero myth is evident: you as an entrepreneur are courageous enough to go into the arena alone and fight fiercely and autonomously to defend and build your vision. Fundamentally,Continue reading “The hero and the village”

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The missing resource(s)

When we are on a journey to our desired state and dream, we may happen to fall into a state called “CRASH state”.

In generative change, CRASH is an acronym that stands for C= Contracted, R= Reactive, A = Analysis Paralysis, S = Separation, H= Hostility, Hurt or Hatred

The feelings of contraction, disconnection, reactivity and hostility, or hurt may come on our way at a certain moment, and we often reach out to the mind for an analytical perspective and a rational solution to what is challenging us. When we confront a challenge from the CRASH state, we may also perceive it as an unsolvable or impossible problem.

We tend to gracelessly get rid of the CRASH state: it is an impediment and we want to proceed fast and without obstacles disturbing and distracting us on our beautiful journey.

Surprisingly enough, however, the CRASH state is an ambassador of unexpected, unpredictable messages about our need to integrate a new resource into the journey. Like a three-legged stool would fall on one side if a leg is missing, we may fall into a CRASH state as we miss the support of a crucial resource needed at that moment of the journey.

It may be pivotal (though not easy) to welcome the CRASH ambassador and open a space to listen to the often astonishing news she is bringing to us. More often than not, the news is about a missing resource knocking at our door willing to be listened to, to be integrated, and above all, to contribute actively in our journey.

It may happen also that one missing resource is tightly linked to other missing or weakly-developed resources. The integration of a single new resource may actually invite and activate a number of closely linked resources, that is a cluster of resources.

In one of my experiences with a coachee, I could attend to how she strongly felt the call to integrate a deep sense of care and caring as a fundamental attitude to continue her journey in a generative way. Interestingly enough, soon after that special attention to care and caring was activated, and resourceful capacities emerged spontaneously and were activated in the process: for instance, her inner capacity for advocacy was enhanced and her ability to set healthy borders in her relationship with others became much sharper. These specific capacities were diverse, an unforeseen manifestations of deeper care and caring.

When we fall into a CRASH state, we may welcome the positive intention of this state AND ask ourselves: What is the message of this ambassador? What is the missing resource she is willing to bring into my journey right now?

It may happen that we are not able to answer this question immediately. That we do not see what is missing. It is out of our view, our perception, our tangible feeling. What do we do then?

The first step, welcoming the CRASH, is probably the most difficult one. Yet it is a crucial step. We can say to ourselves: I don’t know what this is about, but for sure it has its own reason to be and to manifest right now, it makes sense, it has a meaning.

This is an exercise of deep trust in our own healthy system.

The welcoming can last some time: the deeper the CRASH, the more compassionate, patient and embracing the welcoming, and the holding of it.

I deeply believe that the missing resource is secretly held in our initial intention, in our desired state. In other words, our desired state invites, calls the missing resource(s), in a way we may not be totally aware of, to realize our dream and our vision.

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Brazilian Visual Artist Tatiane Freitas, “My old new chair”

Then the generative journey toward our desired state becomes a journey of integration of new, nourishing, enriching, and supporting resources, with a consequent expansion of our identity and the authentic creation of something totally original and unpredictable, inside and outside us.

Abundance starts with seeing

Resources are the incredible potential for a system to function, grow, and flourish into its wholeness.

Identifying the resources, seeing the resources, and bringing them on board are at the core of the generative change. The desired state may be often the healthy expression of an ecological willingness to integrate a new resource. Resources are always available inside and outside us, in our own system and in connection to the bigger system we are in.

The matter is: do we see them? Do we recognise them? Do we connect to them? Do we bring them on board in a conscious and creative way?

Sometimes, finding back and uncovering a resource requires stopping breathing and diving into an underwater world. It is rescuing something that was left on the seabed.

Sometimes it requires us to go to the balcony and see the entire panorama, have the entire view from a distance and see all that is contained there and we do not see when we are “downstairs”, as a part of the panorama.

Other times it requires to see the all richest forest full of different trees, plants, and living forms instead of focusing and being obsessed with one single type of tree.

These are indeed the possible characteristics of re-sourcing: diving down, looking from a distance, and identifying a new form, in order to integrate the missing part that would make all system grow in an ecological and generative way. Living systems are able to self-sustain themselves in order to learn and thus thrive.

On the journey to our desired state, it is crucial then to continuously ask ourselves: what are the resources I can awaken and connect to, that can help and support me in the realisation of my dream and my desire?

On generativity

Photo credit: Azuma Makoto

A fascinating etymological history.

The term generativity was introduced for the first time by Erik Erikson to indicate the stage of care in his theory of human development, the aspiration and the need to leave a legacy for future generations, in contrast to a state of stagnation. Erikson relates generativity to “making our mark” on the world through creating or nurturing things that will outlast ourselves and will be beneficial for the next generation.

Generativity and generation have indeed the same etymological root, common also to words like genius, and gene: they derive from the Greek-Latin root gen, which relates to birth, and origin.

If we go even back in the history of the linguistic root of Sanskrit, we find the root j-a-n. Fascinatedly, I discovered that j means “motion that allows advancing” and a-n means “animating breath of the waters”. (1)

In particular, our Indo-Europeans ancestors have joined the two consonants j= motion ahead and n= water with the vowel a =effect of action, completion, while constructing their language from spiritual beliefs and tangible experience. Impressively, from the same 3 sounds-symbols, they constructed also another root, j-n-a, which means “to know”. (1)

“To generate” and “to know” have the same ancient elementary nuclei of sounds and symbols, both being archetypically connected to divine waters, movement ahead, and action, learning, and completion.

Generativity and Creativity

In the root “gen” lays an essential notion of creativity, in a way that comprehends two basic steps of creativity connected by an act of motion. The first step is diving into the water, finding a place that is more profound and more open, that is, tapping into the world of infinite possibilities (the divine waters). The second step is moving ahead, and having a direction. The two steps are joined by the connecting-transitional element of bringing out, taking out from the invisible, inside world into the tangible, physical, outside world.

These are also the two crucial steps both in the process of Generative Change by Robert Dilts and Stephen Gilligan (2) and in the Theory U framework of deep change (3).

The presence of the divine, cosmic waters refers to what in Generative Change is called “the creative unconscious”; and in Theory U “the source”. The movement ahead is what in Generative Change is named as “desired state” and in Theory U as “intention”.

The three elements integrated into the root “gen” fundamentally constitute a unique relationship and create a conscious connection between the world of infinite possibilities (the water) and the idea of moving ahead through mindful, conscious action. It is the link between an inner, unshaped world to a shaped, and defined world; the link between the source of everything and a future emerging and taking a shape.

I find it fascinating that both these processes, developed as technologies for deep change and creativity, contained fully integrated the core of the first intuition and perception of our ancestors, at the (now) forgotten moment of constructing a language from their spiritual beliefs and very deep experience of the world.

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The essential U-process

     

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The essentials of generative-change

Linear representations of the U process and the generative-change process.

Both are generative, ecological, and systemic (complex).

Generativity and Emergence

In Generative Change, we talk about a continuous conversation between the creative unconscious and the tangible world. Like for any authentic conversation, the essential condition is to be present, open, attentive, connected, and welcoming of what emerges. A conversation that has a direction, but not a destination (cit. Robert Dilts, in Generative Coaching). Similarly in Theory U, generative listening at the source level is about embracing the unknown and attending to the very new we cannot foresee nor imagine.

The process of generativity is essentially an open-end process.

It involves ceaseless creation and interaction while attending to and holding the complex phenomenon of emergence, the unfolding from within.

Generativity and Ecology

Accordingly, generativity is inherently ecological. It primarily makes space and welcomes what needs to emerge for a system to continue to learn, grow, and prosper. It is about the process of new parts of the system becoming visible and being integrated for the system to thrive while being embedded in a bigger system.

It is about creating and interacting from a deep place, from “the pattern that connects” (4), that takes care of and sustains primary connections and relations. And, then it is about giving birth to a unique shape, so as to create “the difference that makes the difference” (4).

Finally, it is about offering our unique contribution to the world while sustaining relations and unleashing new forms, for expanding and enriching life and creating abundance.

(1) Franco Rendich, Dizionario etimologico comparato delle lingue classiche indoeuropee

(2) Stephen Gilligan and Robert Dilts, The Hero’s Journey

(3) Otto Scharmer, Theory U

(4) http://www.naturearteducation.org/AnEcologyOfMind.htm, a movie about the thought of Gregory Bateson

Why do we need a narrative mindset?

Photo credit: ©Carletto Del Monaco

Recently, the power of narrative attracts more attention in learning and transforming individuals, teams, and communities.

Why is a narrative mindset so crucial in this time of complex challenges? How is it related to our capacity for creating meaning, overcoming paradoxes and living in uncertainty?

My experience

Like all humans, I am not satisfied with just existing in this world. I continuously ask myself the questions “Why am I here? What am I doing here? What am I gonna do?”

We, humans, are meaning-seeking creatures.

I am trained as a physicist and worked as a scientist for more than a decade in the field of nanotechnology. Although the field I was working on is considered very “advanced”, I experienced a full immersion in the old, mechanistic paradigm, vastly extended in and beyond the disciplines of science and technology, to the organizational structure and the stakeholders’ system in the sector.

I found myself included as “a small piece in a machine” and, simultaneously, I was excluded from the same machine as its direction and purpose were dropped from above. In fact, as a scientist, I felt that I was subtly and implicitly requested to become an executor, with (now I know) very misleading messages about “participating” in a profound innovation. 

Technology has its own roadmap without necessarily connecting to human motive and purpose. So for a while, I was torn between the good feeling of contributing to scientific and technological advances and much deeper sensing that something fundamental was missing in the discourse.

Until the time came for me to leave in search of the lost piece.

Two modes of thought

Among many thinkers that illuminate my path during this searching journey, I got fascinated by the work of cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner on narrative thought. (1)
Bruner distinguishes between logico-scientific thought and narrative thought. These two ways of thinking do not exclude each other, they are complementary, and we do need both.

During the last centuries of human history however, the narrative thought has been progressively undermined, if not silenced, to give abnormous, unbalanced space to the logico-scientific mode of thinking.
The table below reports some characteristics of the two thinking modes.

Limits of the Logico-scientific thought Benefits of the Narrative thought
Imperfect generalizations Contextuality and reflexivity
Tacit justification Expression of purpose and motive
Rigid consistency Temporal sensitivity
Non-contradiction Unpredictability and paradox

Imperfect Generalizations vs Contextuality and reflexivity

The logico-scientific mode operates by generalization, and by applying “universally true” conditions. Any phenomenon (eg, event, entity or “problem”) is abstracted from context and the knowledge is organized in definitions and categories. The narrative thought, conversely, is sensitive to the situational particularity and therefore provides the necessary condition for meaning creation. As Gregory Bateson said, without context, there is no meaning. (2)

Tacit justification vs Expression of purposes and motives

The narrative mode of thinking constantly reminds us that behind a story there is a storyteller, behind a narrative, a narrator.
It connects significantly to our own specific experience and engages our imaginative and creative capacity toward making meaning of it. It seeks universal understanding grounded in our personal motives and purposes. It is therefore meaningful and heartful.
This primarily means that an outcome is not a logical necessity, it does not possess a top-down truth. The fact that an event is considered an instance of general law is called ‘tacit justification’.
Within the narrative mindset, we talk about “choice”, “perspective”, in the logico-scientific mindset we talk about “necessity”.

Rigid time consistency vs Temporal sensitivity

Logico-scientific thought is also timeless. What is true now, it will be true tomorrow. The same event today or tomorrow has the same significance. That is very different in a narration where every event localized in time has his own peculiar significance. Further, the narrative mode seeks to connect apparently non-related events into a meaningful whole. A crucial feature of this thinking mode is forging the links between exceptional and ordinary events. The laser power of the moment, the transformation that happens in an imperceptible instant.

Non-contradiction vs Unpredictability

The logico-scientific mindset derives his own reason from pre-established logic rules. Every anomaly, uncertainty, contradiction is a problem, while narrative readily incorporates them into unfolding stories. It is often from the unpredictable, the paradox, the conventionally called “irrational”, that the narrative creates new meaning.

Narrative, meaning, and complexity

Remarkably, the principles and values of the New Science (modern physics and biology), such as uncertainty, chaos, paradox, self-organization, relational field, resonate with the narrative view. Narrating provides thus a mental landscape and a tool to overcome a paradigm rooted in seventeenth-century science and still very alive today.
At this very moment in human history, we are dramatically experiencing the limitations and the consequences of an overall dominating logico-scientific paradigm. The narrative mind
 opens the landscape of a new level of consciousness, linked to the emerging perception of the complexity of the world.

From observer-scientist to participant-narrator: a transformational journey

Personally, I dived into the limits of the logico-scientific thought that contributed to my disconnection from a deeper personal motive and from the participation to an authentic collective purpose.
I experience narrative as an invitation to reconnect deeply to ourselves, to our rich context and to our unique, significant experiences. It allows the unique voice inside us to emerge, our authentic story to naturally unfold, our profound participation in Life to take place
from below and from within. (3) It is a mindset for grasping complexity, as it does not offer a unique answer, but opens the space to construct multiple worlds. Narrative accesses complexity and our capacity of making meaning of it.

In my journey in search of the lost piece, I experienced a profound shift from being an observer-scientist to become a participant-narrator. This has primarily restored in me a deep connection to a sense of the whole in Life. Acquiring a narrative mindset is inherently transformational.


  1. J. Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds
  2. G. Bateson, Mind and Nature
  3. C. Swart, Re-Authoring the World