I had a small operation the other day. Here is the story:

One of my wisdom teeth had been growing at a right angle with respect to the one next to it. It had just started breaking into that other tooth. (Despite that, I had no pain, which was fantastic.) They recommended it to be taken out. I thought that is a good idea, considering it could cause problems and discomfort at some point in the future. And so we (I and my mom) chose a day, called the doctors and made all necessary arrangements.

The day came. I was quite nervous the night before, even though I knew all was going to be fine. I mean, I am healthy, all is ok with me, why do I have to go through this? I had to trust the doctors. At the end of the day, sometimes that is all we can do: trust and love our fellow people.

The operation went very well. The doctors were brilliant. They gave me local anesthetic and started working. They first cut into the gum, and then into the bone. They did not cut out any pieces, which was great I was told (and I am sure very happy about it!). It was hard work for them (two of them, working on me!) and hard work also for me. Although I did not feel any pain, there was quite some pressure being put on my jaw. They said I have a delicate jaw, and so were careful.

The tooth would not come out at first, but in the end they pulled it out. Wonderfully shaped thing, just growing the wrong way. Then they put a couple of stitches, and the operation was over. They said it went very well and that there was going to be no swelling (and there hasn’t been). Knowing their job well, they could foresee how the case was going to develop.

I could not feel my mouth and jaw for a while afterwards, off course. Then when I could, I was crying because of the pain. Then, my mom made me a painkiller cocktail and I was fine. I am still not able to open my mouth fully, but after a few days, that will be gone, too.

So why am I telling you all this? Throughout the operation, the doctors were talking, and asking me questions. One of them was: ”What do you do? What is your job?”. ”I do organisational development.” I said. ”I work with the UN and International Organisations.”. ”You have a complicated job.”, they said. They knew nothing about it, just as I knew nothing about dentistry, and pulling out (very difficult!) wisdom teeth.

And so there I was, totally vulnerable and relying on their skill and expertise. I know exactly how (I’d like to think) to go about most sustainable development and/or knowledge management puzzles, but I know nothing about wisdom teeth puzzles. I am very happy they knew, because in that moment, all I knew wasn’t worth a penny. They were in charge. They were working on my system and solving the wisdom tooth puzzle. I could not do that. I solve different kinds of puzzles.

In a way, what the doctors knew made possible what I know, and vice versa. They look after me, and I look after them, by working with my clients, and helping them look after the world. We all have a role to play, are related to one another, and depend on each other. I would not be here unless they were too, and vice versa. In the ”developed world”, people would not exist unless the ”developing” world also existed. There would not be consumption unless people had things to consume. There would not be justice unless there was also lack there of.

Our values with respect to and attitudes towards the elements that make our systems define the nature of the relationships among these elements, and from there on, how the systems behave. First, I and my mom chose the best doctors who could pull out difficult teeth. We also chose a good day for the operation (i.e., moon was in the right sign, and waning – medicine astrology knowledge worth considering, and yet another system that is – I tend to think – operating on us). Then, despite I was scared, I managed my fear, I trusted the doctors, and they appreciated that. And all went well and for this I am super happy and grateful.

Systems are beautiful in that they hold us, and keep us together.They give us life, and we give them life. They make us be, and we make them be. System dynamics are something we can give a direction to, in the very least, if we know the system elements and the relationships between these elements, and if we know what we want out of these systems.

We are always in a system, and we should all know about systems. Knowing about systems gives us the power to transform them and do better at the next level (or iteration). It has got to be easy to see, feel and understand systems, because they are all in and around us. All it takes is to look into something as small (although it felt big, I tell you!) as a wisdom tooth and feel the connections between it, us, and everything else.



My great great friend Jono sent me the below poem sometime back. I find it speaks true and from within the depths of my heart. I love it (and Jono does too). I wanted to share it with you.

Merry Christmas! 🙂

The Invitation – Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain! I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

I came across this beautiful quote today.  I could not make it invisible by not sharing it. Here it is:

“It is lack of love for ourselves that inhibits our compassion towards others.  If we make friends with ourselves, then there is no obstacle to opening our hearts and minds to others.”

– Author unknown…

After I read it, I took a moment to reflect whether it is true. I realised that it is. Whenever we are in love with ourselves, we immediately open to all and everything around us. And, if we are feeling negative about our lives, it is actually because we are unhappy with something about ourselves.

Such a simple yet powerful realisation. It all starts with us. We can change the world by changing ourselves. Often, we go about it the other way around, and that is a waste of our souls.

For example, you may feel stuck in a really difficult meeting with your colleagues. And you may want to escape. And you may not understand how your colleagues can be so irritating. It is not them, actually. It is you. Why is that you find them irritating? What is it about you that makes you feel irritated?

And so on. Plenty of examples can be given.

I am going to experiment with this state of being over the coming days. Join me! 🙂

My and my sister’s favourite artist, Josephine Wall, is again to my rescue in helping me to put my message across. The below two pieces speak of love and opening of the heart (and so much else). Thank you Josephine.

A beautiful Saturday day. Sun shining in Rome. All’s great. And, an article, a truly amazing article by the McKinsey Quarterly. It got my brain firing on a number of issues. It resonated with both my mind and heart.

The article is about women at the workplace, the challenges and the opportunities. It talks about why, despite decades of talking about the need to have more women in senior positions of management, this is yet to happen. There is the general notion we urgently need to strike a gender balance in senior and at all levels of management, and yet there are (often unconscious) barriers that stop us from doing so.

Here’s the article:

Changing companies’ minds about women

Leaders who are serious about getting more women into senior management need a hard-edged approach to overcome the invisible barriers holding them back.

On Mindset …

So, let’s talk about mindset first. On a metalevel, I was struck by how often the notion of ‘mindset’ comes up in the article, directly and indirectly, as well as the need to change that ‘mindset’. Struck and pleasantly surprised. If McKinsey talks about it chances are the corporate world is thinking and talking about it too. And that is a good thing because tackling mindset in the context of change is what wins us the change.

A synonym for mindset is approach, motivation, belief, inspiration. Mindset is exactly what we have deeply ingrained in ourselves which drives us to feel, think and behave. It is complex and over-arching. To put it bluntly, mindset creates our world. And if we change it, our world changes. We have the power to play with our mindsets and in that way change our contexts and what we attract and happens to us. And when we do this, and if we pair in sustainability, love, openness, fairness and justice values, powerful transformations at personal, interpersonal, organisational, systems and other levels emerge.

Therefore, tackling mindset as we seek to effectively address challenges at every level is important. For this, we don’t need to understand mindset in all of its components as it will be different each time we look at it. Still, models like the below are helpful tools in diving deep into mindset and becoming more conscious of how it works in us. It is the journey (motivated by the need to transform for the better) that matters more than the result.

(The image is courtesy of Paradigms, Mental Models, and Mindsets: Triple Barriers to Transformational Change in School Systems.)

Despite the power we hold through creating and leveraging our mindsets, I have seen mindset being somewhat overlooked in the context of change in the corporations and organizations I have worked with. What is more, people resist talking about mindset. It is too general they say, too intangible. There is nothing we can do about it because there is nothing to hold onto. And, if we try to change the mindset underlying what we do, it won’t work because people resist change …

Well, to be frank, I’ve often felt like an alien hearing such thoughts and comments. I guess I am often overly idealistic! But that doesn’t mean there is no truth in the notion that mindset is our greatest power and asset, our greatest tool in changing our world, and organisations, and communities, for the better.

Also, mindset is not at all that intangible. We can often feel it, taste is even as it is coming across at us from people, teams and organisations. The point is how aware we are of these waves of meaning constantly conveyed to us. And, if we are not aware, how to develop that awareness. Because if we are aware, we have to power to change our world.

For example, research on the development action logic of sustainability leaders by Barrett Brown explains how leaders of large-scale sustainability initiatives approach, understand and engage with the world in order to enable sustainability changes in their organisations and society. Barrett has found out that effective leaders for sustainability, i.e. leaders who are able to foresee and drive large-scale sustainability transformations, tend to be at later stage of development action logic or cognitive development/meaning-making capacity. According to the Washington University Science Completion Test, they are Strategists, Alchemists and Ironists. The descriptions of these cognitive profiles make mindset sufficiently tangible for a leader, a trainer, or anybody else, to work with and develop.

And so, mindset is not only important, it can also be sufficiently tangible for us to develop and cultivate.

On Mindset and Women in our Organisations …

So how does the McKinsey article I refer to above entertain the notion of mindset? It generally assumes it is something we all know and are aware of but often choose to ignore in the way we work:

”Subtle changes in these attitudes toward advancement are another powerful benefit of changing how companies “think about women around here.” By addressing the mind-sets holding women back, corporate leaders can reshape the talent pipeline and its odds, increasing the number of women role models at the top and, in turn, making it likelier that more women will retain their ambition.”

”This is a powerful idea that resonates with our experience: strong as the general business case for women is, companies are more likely to transform mind-sets if they build their own case. That case should be grounded in the impact women are having at your own organization—whether hard business results or indirect benefits, such as building better teams.”

”When the findings are impossible to overlook, leaders can use them to make the invisible mind-sets visible and then manage these mind-sets to remove their influence.”

”If you’re ready to start challenging the broadly held mind-sets holding women back in your organization, first become conscious of your own beliefs and how they affect your behavior and decisions. Then, as you help your company move forward, remain vigilant: every time a senior executive leaves or enters an organization, its culture can—and does—shift.”

The article gives some interesting facts:

For example, with the corporate world being predominantly male-oriented, it can be hard for women to move up the corporate ladder simply because they are of a different kind. In order to move up, anyone, not just a woman, needs dedicated sponsorship, feedback and support. (Coaching, yheah?) Tough feedback men tend to give to men is well received by men but is not always appreciated by women. Support on the other hand is well appreciated by women but tends to be shunned away by men. With male and female brains being wired differently, and not many men in the corporate world being able to coach and support women in a way that women find useful and constructive, even if opportunities are available for women to move up, they either do not take them or do not perform in a way that is perceived as impactful and successful. And, in this way, the corporate system is not being transformed because the most powerful lever in it, i.e., the mindset, is not being pushed in order to enable all-encompassing transformations.

Another point the authors of the article make is that it is not just whether there is the ”right’ mindset in an organisation. It is also where it is if it is there. Because our organisations are still largely hierarchical, unless there is the ”right” (in this case, a mindset that sees the barriers that stop women from moving up the corporate ladder and also a mindset that is able to cultivate confidence and skill in women) mindset among senior executives, change won’t be rippled down and across the organisation.

In a nutshell, mindset is our greatest asset and resource. What we do with it determines our future. Allowing women to assume senior management positions and blend into the senior management of our organisations determines our future too. The more balanced the gender outlook of our organisations is, the more sustainable our world can be.

Beautiful ”Sweet Synergy” by amazing artist Josephine Wall:

Embedded Sustainability: The next big competitive advantage

By Chris Lazslo and Nadia Zhexembayeva

Greenleaf Publishing 2011

I put together a summary of Lazslo’s and Zhexembayeva’s book as part of my LEAD Europe training in leadership for sustainability. The book is very good and so the summary worth sharing with you here.

The book is organized in two parts: business strategy and change management.

1.    Business strategy – This part explains why embedding sustainability creates business value.

There are three distinct but interconnected trends that are putting increasing pressure on business to be sustainable. Whether business managers like it or not, business has to transform. These trends are as follows:

  • Declining resources (i.e., fish, and other natural capital rapidly diminishing),
  • Radical transparency (i.e., increasing number of activist organizations and NGOs using social media to catalyze change) and
  • Increased expectations (i.e., employees wanting to work for ethical companies; customers not willing to pay a premium for sustainable products, but wanting smarter products with sustainability at their core).

Lazslo and Zhexembayeva argue that the most adequate way for business to transform with sustainability at its core is by Creating Shared Value (CSV) for both stakeholders and shareholders.  Pursuing both stakeholder and shareholder value creation means value is created for both business and society. Responsible business does not have to compromise profits. CSV creates increased competitiveness by getting business to embrace what is sustainable whilst realistic and possible. CSV also ensures that business invests not only in the present but also the future.

Lazslo’s and Zhexembayeva point out that business strategy tends to focus on adding and removing costs, making trade-offs, mitigating risk, reducing energy and waste, differentiating products, entering new markets, protecting and enhancing brand and influencing industry standards. In all these, it does not normally look at resource  and natural capital availability and value chain security. This is despite that resources are declining and value chain security is rapidly diminishing.

It is good practice to look at business strategy as an opportunity:  i.e. pursue change proactively, systemically and aim for zero harm and positive benefits. Sustainability strategy should be no exception. Pursuing sustainability may be about a radical and disruptive move-away from the classical business paradigm. Pursuing sustainability should be inherent to the business, as well as motivating and aligning employees around a common vision for sustainable business. In this, product differentiation and radical innovation (facilitated by methods such as The Embedded Sustainability Cloud) are key.

2.    Change management – The second part of the book outlines the methods, competencies and processes for embedding sustainability.

The authors point out that embedding sustainability means incorporating health, environmental and social values into the business with no trade-offs in product price and quality. Embedding sustainability means a radical transformation in values, mindset, consciousness and behaviors. Here are some of the key messages:

  • Building transformative relationships is at the core of embedding sustainability. Cooperation with competitors is a source of gain.
  • Developing new competencies such as design, inquiry, appreciation (open mind) and wholeness is important. Leadership and design thinking should join forces.
  • There has to be on-going cultivation of an inspiration-ideation-implementation cycle of feeling-thought-behaviour. This cycle, if inspired by values around sustainability, can be deeply transformative. Topsy Turvy (reverse brainstorming) and appreciative inquiry are useful methods to cultivate such a cycle. Same goes for learning the language of systems thinking and practicing lifecycle analysis.
  • In order to get change to stick in, we must harvest the low-hanging fruit, balance short-term with long-term thinking, monitor and evaluate and remain open to change and circumstance.

The messages the authors put across in the book are simple yet sophisticated. To sum them up, the authors quote George Orwell who once said that industrialization has cut the soul of man, but he did not notice it for many years. In a similar way, the paintings of Tamara Lempicka from the industrialization age show lots of beautiful however sad and empty people surrounded by grey and cold buildings. In my mind, embedding sustainability in business and our lives is key to achieving not only a comfortable balance with our environment, but also a new way of living life. We can do it.

I love Rome. Especially these days, I really, really appreciate it. Seeing a third day of riots in London, it makes me really appreciate Rome – one of the safest cities in the world, especially in the dead summer month of August! (Watch out though, especially in the dead summer month of August …)

I  love Rome also because, after having lived in it more than five years, I am still discovering it. It is still offering me little surprises that make for great , sometimes deep and thoughtful experiences. 🙂

For example, last night, I stumbled across a (free!) Bibliotheca di Roma open cinema on Isola Tiberina. It was right by the river and next to the big Isola del Cinema. The Gladiator had just started showing. Without giving it much thought, I sat down and watched. And as I did that, thoughts about past, present and future mingled in my mind into a nice cocktail. I guess some might call it awareness.

I had already seen the Gladiator. The movie came out on 2000 and I first saw it with my sister Mol Mira Guerrero. We saw it on a big screen and it was amazing.

Back then, I remember feeling an awe for the beauty and greatness of the Rome they have in the movie. I remember thinking how much such beauty and greatness resonate with what I have in my heart. (It is probably nothing more than a certain flare for the deep and the dramatic.) I was probably thinking I should be somewhere like that, drawn to the beauty and intensity of it.
And now, where was I? Right in the middle of Rome, by the Tiber river smelling its algae and mud (not too appealing actually!), watching the Gladiator with a different set of eyes. I had made it to Rome, or Rome had made it for me to get to it. I guess I had seen what Rome is like, today. … I had never thought life would bring me to Rome, but it had.
Definitely Rome still has lots of greatness and drama which we often lose in the details of our lives. (Luckily, films like the Gladiator are there to point us to that when we can watch and listen to ourselves.)

Another theme I found in the movie just as I had found it back in 2000 is the theme of greatness. Greatness has a life of its own, and no person can take control of it. It takes control of us, and gives itself to those who have it in them, already. Greatness takes many forms, and follows no prescriptions. Small people moving the crowds is one form of greatness. Another is transcending boundaries and doing the right thing. Greatness makes the world go round. We are pushed and pulled by it in our searches for ourselves. Greatness knows no fear but (overcoming) fear is part of it. Perhaps another word for it would be love?

And finally, the theme of life and death. Back in 2000 it definitely did not resonate with me like it does now. Now the words ”you will see them again, but not yet” have extra layers of meaning. Now it is not just mere belief that people have (about what happens after people die, or how they begin a new life, or just go back to where they were before …), now it goes much deeper into my awareness about the world and the Universe. It is something I am grateful for, accepting that there would have been no other way for me to learn it but by loosing someone I am deeply connected with to a form different from the one I am in. Sadness is part of it, but so is awareness and understanding, both precious in terms knowing about life.

I will see you again, Mol Mira Guerrero, but not too soon! Also, I know you were watching the movie with me, especially in the final song, remember? It is one of our favourites:

Hans Zimmer’s and Lisa Gerard’s ”Now we are free”

Thank you, Ridley Scott, for the great movie! And thanks for seeing myself in it and being able to have these experiences.


Recently, I had the privilege to listen to a talk by Dave Snowden. Dave is the Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of the Cognitive Edge. He is the creator of the Cynefin Framework which is revolutionising current thinking about and understanding of the nature of reality, learning and evolution.

I first listened to Dave ten years ago while he was still working with the IBM Institute of Knowledge Management. (There, he led a programme on complexity and narrative.) He was invited as the main speaker to an event co-organised by the British Countryside Agency (currently part of Natural England) with whom I was working on a Learning Networks dissertation project. Then, he spoke about the nature of communities of practice and effective collaboration supported by the use of information and communication tools and frameworks.

Dave’s talk I had the pleasure to recently listen to was on ”Linear versus Complexity, New Thinking Paradigm for the Development World”. It took place at the International Fund for Agricultural Development.  As Roxy Samii at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) said, it was a truly humbling experience! The IFAD blog post and webcast of the lecture is here.

Dave Snowden as Speaker

With Dave being such a good speaker, it is good to note a thing or two about his style. He may come across as slightly (if not more) opinionated, but his points are good, speak truth, and quickly relate to you being so personal. Being a great story teller, he oscillates between deeply personal and fairly abstract. I find it interesting that he has a background in both Philosphy and Physics, which I think makes for an approach that is rigourous yet effectively tackles the abstract, i.e. what we often find so difficult to define. He takes a natural science approach to social science. A well-rehearsed speaker, Dave throws pearls of wisdom at you as he speaks, and mixes these with satire which may taste bitter but being so true is refreshing. Sounds good, right? It is a pleasure listening to and learning from him.

Below are some of Dave’s talk points. These are not meant to be a comprehensive account of what he talked about. For a comprehensive account, please watch the webcast.

Cynefin Framework – Four Different Kinds of System

The Cynefin Framework is a sense making model in which data precedes frameworking (as opposed to categorization models in which frameworking precedes data). The framework is there to help define the system we are having to deal with and therefore define our optimum approaches to it. It is a decision-making framework that has been used for knowledge management, project management, IT Design, strategy making and so forth. Its purpose is to help us assess a situation and then apply a most appropriate approach of addressing and learning from it.

There are four different kinds of system that are there to frame our experience. What is complex and chaotic to one can be merely simple to another. Part to defining the type of system we are dealing with lies with its nature, part with our experience and expertise. These two can be quite hard if not impossible to distinguish though.

  • Simple Systems (cause and effect relationships are simple and predictable). Here, we sense, categorise and respond. Applying best practice (i.e., established  examples of what works in a particular context) works well in simple systems.
  • Complicated Systems (cause and effect relationships exist but they are not self-evident). Here, we sense, analyse and respond. Applying good practice (i.e., a range of examples of what works well in a given context) works well in complicated systems provided we have the right expertise.
  • Complex Systems (cause and effect relationships are only obvious in hindsight, learning by doing). Here, we probe, sense, and respond. Here we apply emergent practice (i.e., new practice, some combination of best practice and good practice, or not, which is different and unique). When the system is complex we apply emergent practice in order to adequately ”work” it.
  • Chaotic Systems (no cause and effect relationships can be determined). Here we act, sense, and respond. In order to effectively understand and function in a chaotic system we must act very quickly to either innovate or stabilise it and therefore learn from it. In complex systems we apply novel practice.

Depending on the ontology that applies to the situation, we should think and analyse accordingly. One size does not fit all!

The Catch behind Disorder

The central space on the above diagram is key. It is Disorder, i.e., the space where we dont know which space or system we are in. The danger is that when we are in Disorder we would interpret the situation according with our preference.

Complacency Zone

Furthermore, Dave points out that whereas the boundaries between:

simple <-> complicated

complicated <-> complex

complex <-> chaotic

are there for transitions, the

simple -> chaotic boundary is a complacency zone.

When we get used to believing that ”simple” paradigms underlie everything then we get to see all problems as a failure of process. In reality, this is often not the case. In other words, simple is highly vulnerable to rapid change, whereas complicated and complex are not. If we have learnt to function in primarily simple, i.e., very bureaucratic environments, we would apply best practice approaches even when the situation calls for good practice, emergent practice, or even novel practice.  And, as Dave says, this is a recipe for disaster.

Pearls of Wisdom

Some pearls of wisdom Dave threw at us as he spoke:

  • Partial fragmented stories of failure create more learning than documented examples of good practice.
  • Failure can have more learning potential than success.
  • Delegation is not distributed decision-making/distributed cognition.
  • Micro-management is a deadly enemy of understanding complexity and complex systems.
  • It is important to not confuse measures with targets, i.e., focus too much on measuring and forget the thing to measure! (British National Health Service) It is important to manage the evolutionary potential of the present rather than measures and targets.
  • Computer Science and Economics graduates are often partially autistic (Asperger’s syndrome). However, this means they will often detect patterns other people will not. This is very valuable and can be highly adaptive to the human species.
  • Computers will always only mimic people’s intelligence. They won’t replace it.
  • We evolve to make decisions based on limited data. We like ”messy coherence”. Deep inside, we perceive order as threatening.
  • Different cultures are defined by patterns we tend to experience in that culture. These patterns define our brain function and get us to go about things in some ways and not others.
  • Tacit knowledge is at the heart of deep expertise. Tacit knowledge can not be made explicit! (Polanyi is right, Nonaka and Takeuchi have not read Polanyi)
  • Explicit knowledge without tacit knowledge makes no sense!
  • Knowledge Management often assumes knowledge can be codified whereas it can not!
  • Communities of Practice are often too structured and therefore we do not need them.  What we do need are more adaptive social computing structures. Peer-to-peer knowledge is better than focusing on achieving targets. Blogs can build communities very fast.
  • Technology is so pervasive these days that Twitter can be more effective than Google.
  • Important to no longer design applications but rather design architectures in which applications can emerge.
  • Architectures for resilience are better off than architectures for effect.
  • Development projects are almost never planned for resilience which is on the other hand much more effective. If they are planned for resilience they currently will find it hard to be funded.
  • Adduction is the ability to make connections among things not normally connected. (I see, so this is how it was called…) It is a source of innovation and has a lot of adaptation potential. It is however often discouraged, why?
  • History of Science goes through three stages: 1. Management Science (simple, all about targets), 2. Systems Dynamics (complicated, Senge’s learning organization framework, learning objectives, imposing ready models on reality) and 3. complex dynamics (complex systems change at every level, not just at system level).


At his lecture, Dave pointed out the Cynefin Framework has been used to frame challenges experienced by businesses and foundations, such as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation. The point is to enable donors to fund projects and programmes without having a clear idea of the objective. I wonder how it could be used to transform the corporate sector and enable socially responsible and environmentally sustainable businesses around the world.

I love complicated and complex. Even chaotic can be exhilarating!

This is cross-posted from an internal Food and Agriculure Organization of the United Nations (FAO) blog. The post is created by Elena Di Paola. Elena is my colleague and Knowledge and Information Management Specialist in FAO’s Office of Knowledge Exchange, Research and Extension.

”In Kabuki theatre, there is a gesture which indicates ‘looking at the moon’, where the actor points into the sky with his index finger. One actor, who was very talented, performed this gesture with grace and elegance. The audience thought, ‘Oh his movement is so beautiful!’ They enjoyed the beauty of his performance, and the technical mastery he displayed. Another actor made the same gesture, pointing at the moon. The audience didn’t notice whether or not he moved elegantly; they simply saw the moon.”

This passage is taken from the book “The Invisible Actor” by the Japanese Master Performer Yoshi Oida. In his work the author expresses preference for the actor who shows the moon to the audience; the one who is able to become invisible. According to him, an actor’s role is not to display how well he performs but, through his performance, to enable the stage to come alive. In this way the audience is carried along and becomes part of the story.

Management experts drew inspiration from Yoshi Oida’s lines to describe the features of an effective leadership style, typical of some Asian countries: Invisible Leadership.

As Professor Tojo Thatchenkery, Director of  M.S. in Organization Development & Knowledge Management School of Public Policy at George Mason University says, in most Western countries …: 

“Leadership is closely connected to charisma and visibility. If you are not visible, you are not a leader. In many other parts of the world, especially in Asian cultures, leadership is not about being visible. It is the opposite: quietly doing your work and assuming that rewards will come. […] they practice a form of quiet or invisible leadership because of an unconscious, deep rooted cultural assumption that leadership is about enabling and empowering, not about bringing attention to oneself and shining”.

The behavior of invisible leaders exercises a relevant influence on knowledge sharing dynamics. Research by Fritjof Capra concluded that:

“The most powerful organizational learning and collective knowledge sharing grows through informal relationships and personal networks via working conversations in communities of practice.” 

The invisible leaders are those who belong to and promote networks of conversation within the organization that go from bottom to top and top to bottom and, back again, in a continuous flow of feedback exchange. The use of these networks provides them a more complete overview on the organization’s resources and needs, and helps them make informed decisions.

Invisible leaders’ core values, privileging the collective over the individual, are beneficial to a knowledge-sharing culture.

If you are interested in more practical details, here is my personal vade-mecum for those who want to practice invisible leadership.

The invisible leader promotes:

  • Open door policy
  • Team work
  • Facilitation versus direction
  • Informal relationships through networks of conversation.

The invisible leader involves the team in:

  • Setting goals and visions
  • Decision making
  • Consensus reaching.

The invisible leader increases sense of inclusiveness, responsibility and gratification by:

  • Confidently delegating
  • Sharing successes with team mates
  • Giving voice to all (even to the silent that tend to hold back valuable input when overcome by predominant personalities)
  • Making feel everyone equally important.  

To go to heart of the matter, the key to invisible leadership is mainly about doing the best things in the best way for a common objective. This attitude leads to quicker and more successful results than when power is exercised as dictated by hierarchical differences.

On that note, find the invisible leader within you and let them express what you want to see happening in your team, in a way that is subtle, delicate and yet determined. This is what will make you effective in leading your team.

This is cross-posted from an internal Food and Agriculure Organization of the United Nations (FAO) blog. The post is created together with Gauri Salokhe. Gauri is my colleague and Knowledge and Information Management Specialist in FAO’s Office of Knowledge Exchange, Research and Extension.

One of the characteristics of a learning, or a knowledge organization is, of course, learning from experience. In other words, we do something, we evaluate what we have done, we draw lessons learned, good practices and recommendations, and then we apply them in our work. Clearly, this process should not only be circular but also on-going.

My colleague Gauri Salokhe and I recently completed one such learning loop with regards to our work in supporting and sustaining FAO knowledge-sharing networks and communities. In particular, we were both part of the 2008 FAO Thematic Knowledge Networks Review process (described in detail in an internal to FAO Knowledge Café blog post). The Review process yielded nine recommendations (which we later came to call Nine Keys to Cultivating Knowledge Networks at FAO) for enabling and cultivating knowledge-sharing networks and communities, and indeed knowledge sharing initiatives, in the organization. These recommendations are, as follows:

Nine Keys to Cultivating Knowledge Sharing Networks and Communities at FAO

  1. Sponsor from top – Ensure that sufficient resources are available to create and sustain knowledge networks.
  2. Support demand – Create networks as a response to a real need, rather than in a top-down way.
  3. Ensure right blend of membership – Where possible, membership should be at least partly external.
  4. Develop a business case – Organize consultations with potential network members to establish an appropriate business case for the network.
  5. Select appropriate methodologies and technologies – One size does not fit all. Different types of networks need different methodologies and technologies.
  6. Facilitate continuously – Provide continuous facilitation for helping and supporting network members to work together and achieve their goals.
  7. Recognize staff­ time – Staff members should be recognized for their contribution to knowledge networks.
  8. Promote – Sponsors and facilitators should share their experiences and promote knowledge networks.
  9. Monitor and evaluate – There should be on-going monitoring and evaluation of knowledge networks.

The Result: FAO Knowledge Network and Community Purpose Checklist

Gauri and I then took to develop a FAO Knowledge Network and Community Purpose Checklist based on the above recommendations. Our idea was to develop a tool through which use to embed the lessons learned that had emerged from the Knowledge Networks Review. In order to achieve it, we took material from two other checklists: Nancy White’s online community checklist and another checklist provided to us by Lucie Lamoureux. To this we added our own thinking, knowledge and understanding of the FAO context.

The result is a network and community purpose checklist that has been created to cater specifically for the context of FAO. It has nine sets of questions, one for each of the above recommendations. By going through these questions, networks and communities sponsors and coordinators are able to ensure all aspects of the initiative (sponsorship, membership, demand, business case, facilitation, methodologies and technologies, time, promotion and monitoring and evaluation) are examined, understood and provided for. Doing this equips the owners and coordinators of the network or community with important understanding about the nature of knowledge sharing, and therefore enables them to succeed regarding time, resources and effort invested in the initiative.

You can download the FAO Knowledge Network and Community Purpose Checklist here.

In our minds, this is a fine example of learning from experience and integrating what has been learned in the workings of the organisation! The checklist can be extended to other types of initiatives such as web sites, portals and databases. Now it remains to put the checklist to work and evaluate its use and impact!

If you find the checklist useful or use it in any way, please do let us know! Thank you! 🙂

Have you seen Home, a movie  directed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Photographer and Founding President of GoodPlanet.org (as well as UNEP Goodwill Ambassador)? You should.  The movie puts together beautiful images of the Earth from above. It is an account of how beautiful our planet is, and how people tend to often ravage it for its resources. And, it ends on a glimmer of hope that it is not too late to change our course.

Some of the movie’s messages:

– The carbon being pumped into the atmosphere is causing global warming. Over the last 15 years the highest ever temperatures have been measured. Carbon is part of the composition of the Earth but is should not be pumped into the atmosphere as it does not belong there.
– Many changes inflicted on Earth by humanity are  irreversible (i.e., we can not quite get back half of the world’s forests …).
– There are many sustainability success stories uccess stories (i.e., wind power in the Netherlands …)
– The Global Warming is a wicked problem as there is a lack of economic model to address and pull it back/reverse it.
– Climate and Earth will always change, the point is that they do that sustainably.

Some moments hard to bear:

At one point, the helicopter flies over the North Pole … It shows ice breaking into pieces, I guess way too thin than what it used to be. A female polar bear is swimming among the pieces of ice and is followed by a couple of small cubs. She is trying to get on top of a bigger piece of ice, her kids are following. She eventually gets on top of the big piece of ice and turns up to look at the helicopter. She reaches out with her paw, like in desperation. Seems like she is hungry. (They can no longer hunt for food as they used to because the ice is too thin.)

At another point, the helicopter flies over somewhere in Nigeria. The city road is congested with trucks, and cars, and the traffic moves so slowly and is also chaotic and disorganised.  The cars and trucks seem old … and so the pollution must be great. Poor people, poor Earth.

Finishing Note:

In the end, the movie ends on a positive note, outlining success stories and claiming it is not too late to transform our economic models and practices and live sustainably. I hope so. Please go see it.


July 2018
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