My oh my, there seem to be a plethora of initiatives bubbling up these days across the leadership and organizational development (L&OD) terrain. What with emotional intelligence, mindfulness, personal and organizational resilience, sustainability, social entrepreneurship/intrapreneurship, conscious leadership, evolutionary-teal organizations, net-positive strategies, regenerative design, biomimicry, ESG, corporate responsibility, circular economics, agile ways of working, self-managing systems, JEDI (justice, equality, diversity & inclusion), regenerative business, conscious capitalism, feminine leadership, and more, it can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming. What common ground inter-relates all these initiatives? Are they all aspects of a general shift toward something?
Sometimes, amid the stresses and strains of leading amid these fast-moving climes, we can overlook the forest for the trees, missing the unifying theme within this bubbling cacophony of terminology. All these initiatives are part-and-parcel of the same evolutionary up-stretch in leadership and organizational development (L&OD) consciousness, from ego-centricity to human-centricity to life-centricity.
This L&OD evolution rides on the back of a wider system-worldview evolution. How we see the world, and our sense of place and purpose within it, is shape-shifting.
We are undergoing a metamorphosis no less. To use the caterpillar/butterfly analogy: the caterpillar is inured in a mechanistic mindset of the dominant status-quo which actually sets us apart from nature and corrupts our potential for harmony with life; the butterfly struggling to be born in our own selves and in our organizational systems is one that seeks integration and harmony with life, aka = a regenerative mindset. This ‘regenerative mindset’ is not new, it’s not something that’s be born out of a small group of practitioners over recent decades, its ancient and yet fresh, its timeless and yet very much of-this-time. Afterall, this is about attuning with life on Earth – nothing more nothing less. Ancient minds have come up with regenerative insights thousands of years before modern minds started toying with the term.
Worldview: Mechanistic Regenerative
Consciousness: Separateness Relational interconnectedness
L&OD Metaphor: Organization-as-machine Organization-as-living-system
L&OD Dynamic: Control-manage Sense-respond
(source: G. Hutchins, Leading by Nature, 2022)
A shift from a mechanistic to a regenerative worldview can give us a nice-and-neat sense of what’s going on, but this technical terminology may mean precious little, in actual fact miss-the-entire-point, if it’s not recognized as an embodied lived experience.
So – what does this evolution in worldview really mean in terms of how we attend to life? That’s what we explore here in this article, with sign-posts for those who desire deeper exploration.
“The greatest voyage of our lifetimes is not in the seeking of new landscapes but in the seeing with new eyes.” Marcel Proust
For the vast portion of our human history we’ve lived in deep communion with nature, attuned to the way nature works. Not a rational-analytic quantized set of facts and figures of ecosystem services mapped into bioregions, but the practical know-how our ancestors possessed was underpinned by a deep qualitative, relational and psycho-spiritual attunement to the rhythms and resonances of nature. The physical AND metaphysical quality of nature went hand-in-hand.
For many centuries, science in the West and East drew from a metaphysical cosmology that understood a depth of dimensionality to nature. Humans were seen as innately part of nature’s ensemble and yet with the seemingly unique self-reflectivity to either fall-out of rhythm or learn to consciously attune with the wisdom of nature. Harmony was the guiding principle for ancient traditions the world-over, and defined through a metaphysical comprehension of nature. For instance: Daoism, Confucianism, Shintoism, Vedanta, Zen, Buddhism, Sufism, Tantra, and such like in the East and Alchemy, Hermeticism, Kabbalism, Pythagorean-Platonic, Gnostic, Druidic and such like in the West. All these traditions are shamanic in origin and centre around the practice of attuning with nature/cosmos in order to be in right-relation with life, just like the core shamanism found throughout indigenous peoples across the world today. All of these ancient wisdom traditions and present-day shamanic practices of indigenous peoples are rooted in a worldview of Animism where nature is seen as sacred – all life is informed by an animating spirit or primordial ‘tune’ which is both transcendent (beyond space-time) and immanent (here in-the-now). Cultivating our consciousness to become more transparent to the transcendent and intimate with the immanent wisdom in nature brings harmony for self/other/world. Nature is experienced as not just ‘out there’ perceptible only to the senses as a purely physical dimension, but also metaphysical with a depth of interiority connected to ‘in here’ through an open heart whereupon we attune with a wisdom that enacts eternal myths and archetypal narratives amid everyday life-experiences.
To no longer sense the sacred metaphysical dimension of nature is to fall out-of-tune with nature, and in-turn corrupt our humanity, lose our way, become sick individually and societally, and forget who we truly are.
This ‘losing our way’ is a Journey of Separation that has defined the Western mindset over recent centuries. The separation of spirit from nature corrupts the science that flows from the 17th Century Scientific Revolution onwards. Today’s mechanistic science is flawed and yet lauded as the upholder of truth throughout society. As the Persian scientist Seyyed Hossein Nasr notes, today’s Western science is divorced completely from any ontological aspect other than pure quantity. The metaphysical aspect of nature is all-but overlooked, or even mocked as mere superstition. Science today is utilitarian, a tool to support human utilisation of a de-animated nature for material betterment, whether it be dressed-up in ethical reasoning or economic motive. There can be no metamorphosis into ‘regeneration’ without a recognition of nature in all its fullness of depth.
Even our present-day Theory of Evolution – which most of us have taken-for-granted as set-in-stone fact, passing-it on to our own children without a thought to question it – is a theory based on this flawed science of Mechanistic-Materialism which ignores the essence of things, and condones all kinds of exploitation in the name of evolution-development-progress. As we expand our worldview, and begin once again to open our minds and hearts more deeply into nature, we are now noticing the gaping holes today’s Neo-Darwinian Theory of Evolution is littered with.
I have written extensively elsewhere about the Journey of Separation of the Western mindset and the purpose of this article is not to revisit the whys-and-wherefores of the desacralisation of nature in the West but rather to shine a light on the vitality of welcoming-in the metaphysical dimension of nature so our contemporary (r)evolution in worldview can become truly regenerative.
(For those interested in a comprehensive exploration of Western worldview development see The Illusion of Separation, and for a brief canter through Western worldview shifts of Animism à Greco-Medieval à Mechanistic-Materialism à Quantum-Complexity see this recent blog article.)
The beginnings of the twentieth century witnessed the breakdown of classical physics so foundational to Mechanistic-Materialism. Yet the spiritual force within the Western psyche was not potent enough to integrate this new science into a more universal and organic perspective – until now.
Throughout the 20th century and into this 21st century, discovery after discovery has aided the breakdown/breakthrough of a 400yr-old mechanistic worldview into a new one struggling to be born. For instance: breakthroughs in psychology – developmental, integral, transpersonal, depth, ecological psychology, etc.; in biology – facilitation ecology, Gaia theory, biomimicry, biophilia, etc.; in systems science – general systems theory, complexity theory, complex adaptive systems theory, living-systems theory, holistic science, etc.; in systems design – systemic design thinking, ecosystemic innovation, regenerative design, etc.; in L&OD – teal-evolutionary, deliberately developmental organizations, organizations-as-living-systems, regenerative leadership, etc.; and across so many other domains like health & wellbeing, economics, agriculture, urban planning, social sciences there are similar breakdown/breakthroughs.
Yet when sifting through these shifts it can become all-too-easy to get absorbed by the facts, figures, frameworks, models and methods, busying ourselves with new principles and processes while overlooking the metaphysical ground-shift required in our consciousness: an ontological-shift in our very being from ‘self-as-separate-from-and-in-competition-with’ into ‘self-as-participating-within’ life.
Is the spiritual potency within the human psyche yet mature enough to integrate all this breakdown/breakthrough into an ontological metamorphosis that is grounded in a truly holistic and regenerative way of being-in-the-world? I believe this time has come. The metaphysical dimension of nature is becoming available to us once again, and welcoming-in the sacredness of life will tip-the-scales of this necessary (r)evolution in human consciousness.
Transcending-and-Including the Mechanistic Mind
In reawakening our capacity to connect with the metaphysical animating-force within nature, we are ‘transcending-and-including’ the mechanistic mind. The tools and capabilities we have gained through the Journey of Separation are not thrown-away but evolved into a deeper worldview context, a more life-centric rather than anthropocentric/humanist one. The reductive mechanistic tool we have honed through the Scientific Revolution (along with all the technological advancements in digitisation, medicine, transportation and so forth that we benefit from today) is still available to us, but as a tool we can pick-up and put-down rather than totalizing over our way-of-being. We transcend the allure of mechanistic dominance by reconnecting to the rapture of reality, and begin to gain perspective on mechanistic reductionism as a useful tool that can serve life, rather than life serving it – a tool that aids our regeneration rather than distracting us toward further fragmentation and separation.
To give an example for illustrative purposes: the rising interest in blue-green nature economics based on quantizing nature’s ecosystem services into a value-based model that attracts impact investment. If this is utilised by a Mechanistic-Materialistic consciousness then this quantization of nature ignores the intrinsic sacred quality of nature, with ‘ecosystems’ and ‘bioregions’ mechanised into quantized ‘services’ that serve human utility. However, this does not then mean that the quantization of ecosystem services is inherently wrong or degenerative, as it can be a tool that helps serve the Regenerative (R)evolution. To banish, polarize and judge the mechanistic in this way would be no better than the Scientific Revolution’s banishment of the relational and metaphysical dimension of nature. What the metamorphosis into regeneration holds-space for is an integration, a transcending-and-including of what came before it, not just a swinging of the pendulum against history in a purely ‘revolutionary’ dynamic, but a spiralling integrative metamorphic ‘(r)evolutionary’ dynamic that shape-shifts while learning and integrating earlier phases of the caterpillar into the butterfly. We have a mechanistic left-brain hemisphere for a reason and yet it ought to serve the more relational and nature-attuned insights of the right-hemisphere tapped into heart awareness/bodymind coherence.
Back to our blue-green nature economics example – if the rise of impact investment in ecosystem services is a tool that serves the quest for life-affirming futures then it is a useful tool for the regenerative journey ahead, as long as it finds itself within a deeper consciousness that respects life as inherently sacred and intrinsically qualitative (not just quantized/mechanized). The nature-economics tool ensures ecosystems are not valued at zero and so plundered without any mechanism of value-based economics to save it. Though to merely expand mechanistic domination for impact investment to plunder the last great frontier of capitalism’s exploitation of life is not a regenerative tool but a caterpillar-mind at work. Discerning the difference comes from an inner-knowing of what feels true to our being – an ontological undertaking.
So, we may see that the metamorphic movement is not a neat-and-tidy linear transition from mechanistic to regenerative, it’s more a spiralling inward-outward transcending-and-including integrative process of reawakening a deeper inner-outer awareness of nature’s animating metaphysical quality, while allowing the modern mechanistic tool to serve an expanding consciousness from ego-centric to anthropocentric to life-centric.
It is clear to me that while the regenerative movement is gaining traction across myriad disciplines, more attention needs to be given to the metaphysical aspect of this necessary (r)evolution. A deeper awareness of psyche/nature/cosmos is rebirthing within us. Regenerative leaders and practitioners are being invited to open their hearts and up-stretch their bodyminds to attune with the inherent wisdom in nature, and truly embody the Journey of Reconnection beyond separation.
No worldview shift can be truly regenerative without deepening our transparency with the transcendent and intimacy with the immanent nature of reality within and all around us. This is at once a profoundly personal embodied experience and a relational-communal affair. Through the inward connection to the metaphysical essence of nature within and all around us (aka: ‘Nature’s Wisdom’) a simultaneous felt-sense immanence and super-sensory transcendence engages us with quality beyond quantity, and a force without form that informs all form. To gain an embodied sense of this is vital as we journey back home to our true nature.
Nature’s Metaphysics Applied to Regenerative L&OD
Metaphysical realisation is first-and-foremost an embodied experience, not a head-based formulation. With this caveat, I offer some words that can provide sign-posts into the metaphysical dimension of organizations-as-living-systems. The 4 E’s – Essence, Energy, Emergence, Evolutionary. There is a lot in these 4 E’s and it’s a topic worthy of a separate blog-article – watch this space
For now, a very brief description of the 4 E’s:
Essence: accessing the metaphysical dimension by tuning-in to the essential nature within self and system.
Energy: Becoming conscious of and sensitive to the life-force patterns and rhythms infusing and radiating through self and system. So as to enliven, heal and renew the regenerative capacities of the living-organization.
Emergence: life unfolds through emergence – a ‘process of becoming’ more fully in-tune/in-flow by working with micro-emergence/meso-emergence/macro-emergence tools and practices.
Evolutionary: Contrary to popular belief, evolution is not a chain-reaction but a flow-response with spiralling phase-change sense-respond dynamics influencing the developmental capacity of self and system. We can learn to work with these evolutionary dynamics in order to better realise the evolutionary potential and purpose of the living-organization toward life-affirming futures.
As said, there is much to all this and words on a screen simply don’t do this justice. The primacy here is an embodied experience of Nature’s Wisdom. The simple intention of this article is to highlight the vital importance of welcoming-in the metaphysical dimension into the Regenerative (R)evolution.
We are living amid a once-in-a-civilisation metamorphic moment. The time has come to awaken from mechanistic slumber and remember the sacred sentience of life each and every day. This is not some wishful-thinking utopia. Movements across the world are already mobilising toward this deeper connection, and nothing less than the future of humanity is at stake (let alone the future of the vast proportion of biodiversity on Earth).
It’s also a time of great distraction with powerful forces pulling us toward transhumanist anthropocentric degenerative futures. Think of the billions (some estimate trillions!) being invested in alternate realities, algorithmic digitized transactions, smart devices continuously connected to a global infrastructure called ‘smart planet’, the exponential rise of satellites rocket-fuelled into orbit each month, and micro-sensors erected at every street corner to track-and-trace our every move for ‘surveillance capitalism’. This is not some dystopian rhetoric, it the reality right now on this planet pulling us further toward fragmentation and separation, if we so choose.
Yet the blackest hour brings the dawn; a time of rising awareness about the real depth of this reality we call life, whereupon we learn to work with the wisdom of nature rather than against it.
This dawn consists of a simultaneous inner-outer awakening – shifting our own inner self-awareness and our outer systemic-awareness of how living-systems really work beyond the confines of Mechanistic-Materialism. This inner-outer awakening is not simply an intellectual comprehension of living-systems-thinking, it’s a psychological and embodied undertaking; a metamorphosis that endures for months/years as our consciousness deepens in becoming more life-centric.
Through over more than 12 years of exploring regenerative leadership in practice, I have found that the most psychologically safe yet powerful way to aid this inner-outer shift is through nature-based immersions.
This is why I’m hosting a special 2-day immersion in the secluded ancient woodlands of Springwood Farm on 13-14th July (secluded yet within easy access to international trains/planes) to immerse in consciousness-raising practices, an overnight solo experience, and tools specifically designed to aid leaders and practitioners on their regenerative leadership journey.
If you wish to be a part of this small-group summer immersion you can find more information about it here – places are very limited and allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis. Participants will gain a certificate at the end of the immersion certifying their engagement in this embodied experience.
‘The best leadership course I’ve ever attended.’ – Ian Ayling, CMO, Wilco
‘Life-changing.’ – Jayne Mayled, Managing Director, True Story
‘I felt I’ve been in the presence of a real master.’ – Simon Milton, CEO, Pulse Brands
‘Magical.’ – Sue Cheshire, CEO, Global Leaders Academy
Giles Hutchins is a pioneering practitioner and senior adviser at the fore-front of the [r]evolution in organizational and leadership consciousness and developmental approaches that enhance personal, organizational and systemic agility and vitality. He is author and co-author of several leadership and organizational development papers, and the books The Nature of Business (2012), The Illusion of Separation (2014), Future Fit (2016), Regenerative Leadership (2019) and Leading by Nature (2022). Chair of The Future Fit Leadership Academy and Founder of Leadership Immersions, co-founder of Biomimicry for Creative Innovation and Regenerators, he runs a 60 acre leadership centre at Springwood Farm, an area of outstanding natural beauty near London, UK. Previously held corporate roles – Head of Transformation Practice for KPMG, Global Director and Head of Sustainability for Atos (150,000 employees, over 40 countries). He provides coaching at individual and organizational levels for those seeking to transform their personal and/or work lives. Giles is a keynote speaker on the future of business and regenerative leadership. He is also a Reiki Master, a certified advanced coach, holds a Diploma in Senior Leadership Development, a Masters of Science in Business Systems, is trained in advanced Integral Solonics leadership development, Spiral Dynamics a range of consciousness-raising modalities and is a certified Harthill Leadership Development Practitioner.
“Leading by Nature is THE handbook for regenerative leadership. A must-read for every business leader who genuinely cares about the future of humanity.’ Jayn Sterland, CEO of Weleda UK
“Leading by Nature is a must-read for those involved in the future of business. I can’t recommend Giles’s work highly enough.” – Norman Wolfe, CEO of Quantum Leaders and author of The Living Organization: Transforming Business To Create Extraordinary Results
You can join the Leadership Immersions LinkedIn group here