Produced by Perpetua Muthoni Ng'ang'a
On Wednesday, February 23, 2022, a group of 26 participants from Morocco, Kenya, Indonesia, Chile, Brazil, Russia, Greece, Sweden, the UK, the USA, and Canada gathered for the Opening Session of the Thought Leadership for Systems Transformation program to discuss their reflections on the work and teachings of Graham Leicester.
Participants’ reflections were recorded and processed according to the Collective Narrative Methodology to create a balanced summary of key ideas that showed up in group discussions using participants' own words and giving every participant an opportunity to ensure that their ideas are included.
Anton Titov, Cass Charrette, Christiana D. Gardikioti, Claudia Tramon, Dounia Saeme, Evgeniya Aksenova, Frank Noz, Heather Nelson, Juan Sebastian Cardenas Salas, Jyo Maan, Lynn Chittick, Melissa Troutman, Michael Sillion, Natalia Harzu, Perpetua Muthoni, Peter Stonefield, Rafael Calcada, Randy Sa'd, Ray Guyot, Rob Lindstrom, Samantha Lutz, Sean Kvingedal, Sofya Popova, Solomon Felous, Sophia Bazile, and Tatiana Vekovishcheva participated in the session and contributed to this collective narrative.
Here is the recording of the group call with Graham Leicester based on this collective narrative:
Embracing transformative innovation
As we gathered to discuss the work of Graham Leicester, we talked about how Graham gives us a new model of transformative innovation that manages to give us a long-term perspective and the ingredients of what it takes to persist. We talked about how this gives us a new horizon that enables us to envision a different reality that is beyond the binary reality of sustaining the old ways or disrupting things. Some of us felt that one of Graham’s books actually gives us a perspective of something that is aiming to put human beings at the center of innovation and to bridge the gap of the past. It both forces us and gives us the freedom to imagine things differently, to look at things in a different way. We discussed and reflected on two simultaneous actions that we need to take: ‘hospicing’ the world that is dying or about to die and being midwives for the new world that we want to see. We also wondered how to express what we would like to see in this regard.
Acknowledging that worldviews shape people’s identities
Graham’s work pushes us to imagine things differently, and some of us felt that this meant that we commit to discovering a deeper sense of I and lose attachment to our points of view. We talked about how worldviews have a lot to do with identity and some of us even indicated that worldviews are the origins of our identities. We talked about how we need to be aware of our language and worldviews when we are talking about self-discovery or how to approach our self-discovery and ways of being in a new context.
We recognized that there is personal identity and group identity and that in both of those identities people have specific values. It was suggested that as we saw through the pandemic, some communities are more effective at adapting than other communities, and it could be related to their various identities, how they see themselves, and the values they hold which makes them more willing to accept. Some of us felt that maybe those communities had that slower way of thinking so they could be more accepting and open towards the transitions that were taking place.
Getting out of our bubbles
There was also the idea that we behave based on how we see other people in our community behave. One of the things we reflected on was that if we are looking to facilitate change within these local communities, yet we are seeing all the same people do the same thing and we are in our own bubble, it is going to be really hard to transition to an understanding of the perspectives of ‘extremes’ outside the bubble. We discussed how if we all only had one way of looking at things and we have other people come in, but we do not really go out of our bubble very often, that is part of that messiness, part of the identity, of our values. How do we break them down so that we can understand those other values and perspectives?
One question that arose was about the inner works in the context of the seven essential lessons for surviving a disaster. They all apply equally to individuals, organizations, and societies but we wanted to find out what the inner works that Graham mentions are. We also wanted to find out what goes beyond the subjective, objective, and binary approaches and what new ways of thinking have evolved with Graham since the publications we read.
Embracing the slow and messy yet urgent nature of systems transformation and slowing down to build trust
We talked about the paradox we find ourselves in, in which systems thinking and transitions take time, despite being urgent. We then wondered how we could be practical and prioritize this change even inside these time limits. It also came up that systems transformation is messy, and not everyone would naturally accept that messiness, be able to work through it, and understand how it works. We talked about how slowing down can help create trust within the communities, which we believe is a crucial part of facilitating systems change.
Understanding the critical role of language and education in understanding complexity
We talked about how the language of complexity is not enough to really explain what is going on around us, and we said that we need to untangle everything that is happening in the world. On the one hand, some of us felt that there are too many language channels but that practicing and untangling the language of complexity would help us find a common language. On the other hand, we also talked about how reading Graham’s work felt like we were downloading something we already knew. It gave us language for what we already knew and experienced. It felt like he used a language that we comprehend; a language that represents us and resonates with us.
We discussed how important it is to slow down and think in a different language. We talked a lot about how some of the things that we are seeing are not tangible, but that there are a lot of other core competencies that could be useful. Our example was the use of signal language. Our main question was how do we find a way to pass this knowledge, to pass this capability? Some of us were curious to know how we can make those other core capabilities contagious? We also contemplated the idea of cultivating this next level of consciousness of human beings. One of the questions we had was on how to change the education system, particularly creating space for it to emerge instead of deciding what it would be.
Developing competencies for systems transformation and choosing where to start
How can we start training our leaders as our top teams of “wisdom athletes”? How can we create a narrative that we expect our leaders to have as they take part in this “crewmember wisdom” academy? We wondered how we could navigate the tension of wanting to make a difference and to bring the system of tools and competencies, but not being sure that we, ourselves, we are the ones who should be doing this and whether we had the competence of changing things for the better.
We recognize that there is a lot of focus in his work to make the principles or competencies visible, but we are also interested in hearing him share his history and personal journey and letting us know how he felt when he was doing the research and thinking about ideas such as radical hope. The group was interested in finding out how Graham felt when bringing his ideas to practice and would like to hear his personal story, to know where he found his hope, and to hear about his inner state.
Some of us were curious to find out how to implement Graham’s core competencies and how to distill some of them in order to adapt and transition. Talking about systems change, one of the questions that came up was that of identifying where to start and how to prioritize different groups as we bring the core competencies to them. Some of us believe that we should start with the younger generation, whereas others think that we should prioritize practitioners.
As we discussed small organizations and startups, some of us suggested that it is central for Graham that while the market is successful in doing transformative innovation, other sectors such as the public or social sector do not have it because of a lack of understanding of how to do it. That is how he ends up giving us the NHS example and telling us that we basically need to persist and understand that what it takes at the beginning is getting the core nucleus of people that are committed and become the pioneers of such a change.
Applying and tracking the progress of transformative innovation in various contexts
We also talked about how we have to transform the tools we use to look and listen. We also reflected on how we have discovered new tools to detect things, and that now we need to figure out how to use and measure the impact of these new tools or designs as we use them. How would it be possible to measure innovation as it progresses? Some of us discussed that it would be great to figure out a way of evaluating innovation.
Given that the IFF paradigm, which—although it is already 20 years out—is basically a relatively new thing in the making, how is this approach, this concept, this philosophy being accepted? Is it being resisted? Is it moving fast? Some of us believe that this theory is a result of the core philosophy of the IFF of putting theory into practice and sharing the conclusions, the know-how, the wisdom of practice with everybody else as a means of a new way of thinking and as a means of orientation into the unknown, but not as a book that is meant to be used as a guideline for people to read, to learn and apply it.
Some of us believed that these concepts were definitely not in the minds of the decision-makers. Some of us, based on our experience with the European Union and the Greek reality, as well as all the things that are happening in the world today, were curious whether these ideas were on anybody's radar. While we were discussing Graham’s work, Russian troops were preparing to invade Ukraine, and some of us noticed that we had not seen any examples of Graham’s work in that region. This makes us wonder what he thinks about the potential applications of his ideas in this context.