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  • Writer's pictureFyodor Ovchinnikov

Group Reflections on the Work and Teachings of Bert-Ola Bergstrand: a Collective Narrative

Produced by Fyodor Ovchinnikov

On Wednesday, June 9, 2021 a group of participants from Brazil, Kenya, South Africa, Sweden, and the United States gathered for the ninth virtual peer learning session of the Thought Leadership for Systems Transformation program to discuss their reflections on the work and teachings of Bert-Ola Bergstrand.


Bert-Ola is the initiator, founder and co-founder of a number of international platforms and networks that involve millions of people across the globe. These platforms are focusing on amplifying human potential to address global challenges. He served as a judge at the Evolutionary Future Challenge 2018.


Bert-Ola was among 11 guest teachers confirmed based on the preferences and financial contributions of 40 registered participants of the Thought Leadership for Systems Transformation program. Participants had one week to study Bert-Ola's materials on their own before gathering for a peer learning session. The peer learning session provided an opportunity to share individual reflections, identify emerging patterns, and craft a collective message to Bert-Ola to help him prepare for a live session with the group. The recording of the live session based on this narrative will be published soon.

Participants’ reflections were recorded and used to produce a collective narrative according to the Collective Narrative Methodology. Fyodor Ovchinnikov, Gabrielle Cook Jonker, Julius Khamati Kuya, Ken Homer, Michael Sillion, Rafael Calcada, Tatiana Vekovishcheva, and Zen Benefiel participated in the session and directly contributed to this narrative.


We would like to thank Bert-Ola for sharing his thoughtmosphere and the playfulness that he displayed that we can all at least attempt to emulate. Those of us who have personal experiences with his work shared that what he does is a blessing for his network. We discussed that some of us had got the ability to mobilize people globally, bring them together, and give them the opportunity to share what they know, what they have, including what they had never known they had, and these consultants are now building the base.

Building Bridges as If Trust Is Already Here

We discussed that for a lot of networks and communities that we see during the COVID-19 pandemic, networks in the wider circles of these communities became disengaged and people who work with communities started focusing less on these wider, outer layers. Bert-Ola, in contrast, does this exceptionally well which is rarely seen out there.

In our earlier conversations about how much easier it is to have trust in small communities compared to large networks we raised the question about how we can build trust at a global scale with eight billion people. When we asked Mansi Kakkar, one of the teachers in this program, about this, she encouraged us to ask ourselves “What if trust doesn’t have to be built? What if it already exists?” As some of us argued, Bert-Ola does exactly that: he acts as if trust already exists and he does it at a global scale. Before the pandemic he was moving from one place to another, engaging with different groups physically and connecting them virtually. Now he keeps connecting people in so many different ways as if trust is just there to begin with.

When someone first meets Bert-Ola, as long as this person is open to it, there is that feeling like he is an old friend: there is no need to pretend, to wear a mask, to impress him with affiliations or accomplishments, etc. One can just interact with him as a human being and this opens doors for people from very diverse backgrounds to be in a relationship.

Nora Bateson talks about different pieces of data that we tend to pull out of their context and never put them back in. Even if we connect these pieces to articulate feedback loops or thresholds, etc., and even when we actually recognize some complexity in all this, we still miss what Nora calls 'warm data' that we can only learn from complex, unreducible contexts. Some of us argued that interacting with Bert-Ola can immerse us in warm data from multiple networks and communities from around the globe if only we are open to it. Those of us who have worked with Bert-Ola for a long time know how many wonderful things including tangible projects with tangible outcomes are emerging in this environment that connects people from very different worlds.

Engaging People in Serious Play

Having deep respect for and understanding of the power of play, some of us who for a long time worked in early childhood development were intrigued by how playgrounds for adults can be created allowing innovation and change to emerge and what this place looks like in various contexts. So some of us are particularly interested in getting a deeper understanding of the playground and want to see examples of how playfulness actually looks when someone is facilitating it or standing back to allow it to happen in a deformalized way.

Talking about shifting the agenda from profit over people and planet to people and planet over profit we discussed the idea that there is certain playfulness in that and there is value. So how do we create value that brings the feeling of security to others in this sense of discomfort that moving in this direction often causes? How can we as adults who are not particularly used to playing in spaces where we are used to trying to be quite formal, professional, and down the line, steer away from the pitfall of alienating people?

As adults, we often place trust in formal processes, looks, and institutions. As children, we have playfulness naturally in us, but when we grow older we build formal structures and processes around ourselves and become less playful as we do not allow ourselves to play. How do we remove those barriers and allow ourselves to actually be playful? What kind of new insights, ideas, and innovations can come from that?

Those of us who know Bert-Ola well noted that his work is purposefully informal and how a lot of good things like playfulness, trust in the collective, and accessibility come from that deliberate informality. Given that making such informality a goal in working with networks and communities is not very common, some of us wonder if Bert-Ola has ever experienced the feeling of inadequacy in his own process. If he has, how did he overcome that in ways that others might be able to relate to and develop their own ability to trust in the process and move toward that in their own lives and in their communities?

In this invitation to play, how do we choose where to approach the system? Of course, we can start with a simple invitation, with a "hi", a conversation, but some of us wonder if there is some kind of process or method to choose which part of the system, which person to approach to start that conversation.

This is important because playfulness is inherent in all of us and we think that we all want and need to play more. Playfulness is a fantastic word that encompasses curiosity, learning, trust, fun, and silliness. John Vervaeke certainly says that we need more serious play in society which is the essence of his whole Awakening from the Meaning Crisis series. It is only for play we learn, so playfulness and the Playground are essential to transforming systems.

Expanding the Concept of 'Capital' and Developing System Entrepreneurs

We discussed that Bert-Ola talks a lot about social capital and mentions human capital, network capital, structural capital, and financial capital, and some of us wonder how we can have a broader conversation about capital: the concept of currency is part of it, but capital can also be defined in terms of other things we have together: attention or time capital, the biosphere resource capital (our natural resources and all the power we have in the world) and, what some of us consider the most important form of capital, narrative capital (how we tell stories and transform people's inner narratives and identities around what they do together with all the other capitals).

How do we connect all of that together with the social capital and maybe draw a map, but make people have this type of conversation around capital and especially Bert-Ola’s partsocial capital? How do we set up a broader movement of what Bert-Ola calls 'weavers' or 'system entrepreneurs' that intersects with all kinds of other entrepreneurs? There has been a lot of talk about 'social entrepreneurs' and 'social capital' over the last decade, but this coming decade is about bringing system entrepreneurs into action. Today it is not just top down or bottom up work matters but both, and in the middle of this is the 'system entrepreneur'. So how do we become system entrepreneurs and how do we form schools and academies transforming traditional academic institutions into a learning society, a learning journey of becoming a 'system entrepreneur'?

Motivation, Metrics, and Revenue Generation

One very important question we are curious about is “What drove Bert-Ola to do the work he is doing?” and some of us wonder how he measures the success of his work. If he is working in different systems and there is no visibility for much of what he is doing, how does he measure whether what he is doing is working or not?

Some of us also want to know what revenue enables him to do this kind of work. Where does the traction come from? How does this work become a living? From which part of the system is it possible to extract income to be able to continue doing that?

We are also curious about some of the new approaches that Bert-Ola is trying to put in place to ensure that the foundation in Learning Societies remains strong, brings more people on board, and enables them to realize that there is a change that needs to come not just from outside, but first from within. When he looks at the future of his work given the current situation with the Coronavirus, does he see that the conditions of his work will change in some aspects or will they remain the same?

Sharing Maps, Tools, and Methods in Accessible Ways

One of the questions that we had was the question of methods, tools, and methodology. Is there anything that Bert-Ola can share about methods and tools that we can use to build the same in our communities or for our networks and purposes? Are there any methods, tools, methodologies that we can learn?

While looking at Bert-Ola’s materials, some of us had a question about getting the word out in a way that is more accessible and wonder if he has someone in his network who is a good graphic facilitator or graphic recorder where he could sit with them and map out what it is that he is doing. There is so much complexity to it that it was very hard for some of us to visualize how it comes together so having a visual map could be really useful. Interestingly, one of us actually drew a map of what Bert-Ola does while talking to people here today.

We also discussed a personal account of how the World Cafe community came up with a set of seven principles, a pattern and process of how people were moved, and a set of etiquette. Those three domains were all interwoven but until they were teased apart and clarified, it was difficult for people to get to know what was going on. So some of us wonder if he could use a model like that: what are the principles of systems entrepreneurship, what is the etiquette when approaching people, and what are the things that Bert-Ola learned? Some of us said that it feels like he is actually an artist and we can look at his art and go “Wow, that's really great art!”, but we cannot replicate it ourselves, so we are curious to know what he has learned that he can put into a coherent formula or even just different elements that would enable us to find our own way into making this ours and being successful with it at a practical level.

Finding the Right Balance between Sensemaking and Strangemaking

Earlier in this program, Anthony Upward shared with us Karl Schroeder’s concept of “strangemaking” that complements “sensemaking”. We need more sensemaking to connect with people and invite them in, but we also need more strangemaking to expand people’s horizons, to give them a new perspective, and open new opportunities for them. Finding the right balance between sensemaking and strangemaking is very powerful because if we only have sensemaking, we are not allowing people to actually move beyond their existing models, and if we only have strangemaking, people think that we are weird and do not want to engage with us.

We discussed the story about a world-class facilitator and teacher who refused to create a facilitation toolkit for the United Nations because she believed that just a toolkit without proper context and training would do more harm than good. When the United Nations insisted, this wise and kind teacher said her famous "F*** the toolkit!" which was not at all the language she normally used. That emotional reaction speaks to the frustration that some of the best systems transformation practitioners have with the prevalent bias in favor of simple, accessible communication that enables scaling within existing cultural narratives: pure sensemaking without strangemaking.

Given that Bert-Ola’s ability to do strangemaking is so phenomenal and that many people benefited from and deeply appreciate his work, some of us wondered whether the most effective arrangement would actually be for Bert-Ola to focus on strangemaking while people around him would to sensemaking for him in different forms that speak to their different communities. So instead of creating one “official map of Bert-Ola’s work” or his own manifesto that would reduce the richness of his work to a few digestible ideas, what if Bert-Ola's power is to actually stay in the middle of his network of networks as this “weird magician artist” and inspire people who know him well to do sensemaking for him which would open the possibility for multiple interpretations of his work?

We wonder what Bert-Ola himself thinks about all that: is the current relationship between sensemaking and strangemaking working well for him or could it evolve somehow to be even more powerful?

Finding Leverages to Accelerate the Work for the Decade of Action

Probably the most important question, at least for some of us, is about accelerating this work. After the “decade of learning”, what is the next step for the “decade of action” that we are now going into? We have to put into practice many of the things we have started thinking up, so how do we, like some people say, scale it up but also how do we put all kinds of power behind it: institutional support, money, knowledge, movements, communities, etc? So where is the button we can press to put our action learning into a more fluid process of flow?

What is the next step for the Impact Playgrounds here? How can we start experimenting more with playfulness and Playgrounds? How can we have more Playgrounds and serious play? Hopefully we will be able to bring Impact Playgrounds to the local level in our communities. As some of us want to learn how to engage our communities in play and learning, what are some of the approaches Bert-Ola can share with us so that he can also create some local actions at a local level that can steer people's minds and enable them to think so that they could grow and move?

We need Bert-Ola’s work at scale, this is fantastic work! As our institutions and cultures evolve to recognize it, it is important to understand where we need to evolve. What institutional or financial support could Bert-Ola use and how? If institutions or individuals with power and money honestly would like to support Bert-Ola's work, what is the best way for them to do it? For example, if a family office would like to give Bert-Ola as much money as can be effectively used, how would Bert-Ola use the money? If the European Commission or some kind of national government would be willing to support Bert-Ola in any way, what support could he effectively use to do the work?

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