Holos Blogs & Essays
A mind-shift to a new world of opportunity
By Claudius Van Wyk
Reflections on the book by Drewell and Larsson: ‘Changing The World We Create – beyond climate crisis, polarised societies and failed leadership’.
I have written much recently about the current state of leadership in the world. In 1992, shortly after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, he poked a business colleague and me firmly in the chest with his strong fingers and presented us with a provocative challenge:
“…You businessmen must tell us how to run the economy – but in a way that works for all South Africans”.
I have described that story here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/celebrating-quarter-century-transformation-strategies-van-wyk/
At the time I didn’t even know how even to think about his proposition. Surely the collapse of communism/socialism showed capitalism as the only viable economic solution to lift the previously disadvantaged South Africans out of poverty?
Map and territory
Like the fish that is unaware that it swims in water, I was unaware of the economic assumptions in which I swum mentally. In studying neuroscience and psychodynamics I had become conversant with Korzybski’s notion of the ‘map’ and the ‘territory’ showing how we create a subjective internal mental representation of what is going on in the world. And as Churchill pointed out, we then we shape the world from those assumptions. Ultimately then cybernetician Gregory Bateson shows how that world shapes us. We are blind to our own assumptions and especially to the fact that we have created the world we experience.
Authorship of reality
One particularly significant day during my studies of neurolinguistic programming, the message sunk in; a mind-shift occasion: “I am the author of this experience!” The feeling for me was like standing on the edge of an existential precipice – see: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/creating-new-mental-maps-complex-world-claudius-van-wyk/
I have subsequently wondered, in the long evolutionary process, when fish gradually became amphibious, capable of living both in the water and on the land, what sensory awareness they had of the difference? For us humans, Marcel Proust said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”.
In that same year of the encounter with Mandela I registered the close corporation ‘Transformation Strategies’. I hoped henceforth to dedicate my life to helping people, especially myself, better understand, and hopefully better manage the personal and shared assumptions that guide their interaction with the world.
My guide and mentor, Jan Smuts, in formulating his concept of holism as described in his seminal book ‘Holism and Evolution’ (1926), was intrigued by the contention of St Paul writing to the Corinthians (chapter 13) where he declared:
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
Later the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, contemplated that when we come to know that what we know is only a proxy-knowing, i.e., that we hand over the authority of our experience in the world to our assumptions, then we experience a new quality of ‘awe’ in in existence. That triggered the existential philosophy.
Strategies for transformation
My challenge became how to develop and present strategies for transformation. I chose neuro-linguistic programming as my vehicle, but deeply encompassed in Smuts’ holistic approach. I offered trainings, facilitation, coaching both at individual and organisational levels. I was honoured to facilitate a week-long short course at Schumacher College in Devon entitled: Holism and Consciousness – Transforming Organisational Practice – see: https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/blog/holism-and-leadership-transforming-organisational-practice-in-an-age-of-uncertainty
It included a brief introduction to Clare Graves’ bio-psychosocial model of emergent adult values. This is known as the ‘spirals’ model that tracks the evolution of human mind-states through history and illuminates the shared, and often contrary assumptions that shape our human dynamics and interactions – see: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/your-stance-matters-claudius-van-wyk/
Science and truth
I had also been struck by the contention of the philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn, that there are revolutions in scientific thought. What we hold to be scientifically valid becomes outdated, and hence unhelpful. I have attempted to present this case in many posting, – such as this one – read: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/perpetuating-cartesian-dichotomy-name-hard-evidence-claudius-van-wyk/
Leadership ‘doing nothing’
In 2002 Transformation Strategies participated in the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development – there was a sense of urgency about the human ecological footprint. Our theme was Leakey’s pending ‘sixth extinction’ of planetary biodiversity and the disruptive consequences. We wanted to change human behaviour. Now, in 2020, an anguished Greta Thunberg still accuses world leaders of ‘doing nothing’ – see: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/killing-messenger-claudius-van-wyk/
Then I came across a book, ‘Disclosing New Worlds’ (1997) by Spinosa, Flores and Dreyfus of MIT. There they argue that humans beings are at their best not when they are engaged in abstract reflection, but when they are intensely involved in changing the taken-for-granted, everyday practices in some domain of their culture. They insist generative history-making is not through political power but is about changes in the way we understand and deal with ourselves. ‘Taken-for-granted’ and ‘culture’ seem to go hand in hand!
When we met Jane Pightling of ‘Evolutionary Connections’ we sensed that we had something to share; the collaboration of ‘Evolutionary Connections’ with ‘Transformation Strategies’ generated ‘The Evolutionary Transformation Group’ – see https://www.evolutionarytransformationsgroup.com Together we formulated our approach to accessing our inherent ‘Complex Human Adaptive Intelligence (CHAI) – see: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/accessing-complex-adaptive-intelligence-seed-new-economic-van-wyk/
Changing the world we create
Recently I was given a copy of the newly published book ‘Changing The World We Create – Beyond climate crisis, polarized societies, and failed leadership.’ (2019) co-authored by Mark Drewell and Bjorn Larsson – see: https://www.amazon.com/Changing-World-Create-polarised-leadership-ebook/dp/B081VP9NDT
Intended to serve as a layman’s introduction to Thomas Bjorkman’s book ‘The World We Create’, this is not just about solving problems; it’s about shifting our minds on a grand collective scale. As Bjorkman points out in the dust cover: “We need new ‘maps’ of our very existence – current ones are antiquated and inaccurate”.
This interpretation by Drewell and Larsson in a relatively easily-digestible read – and it is very useful to come to grips not only with the need for change in our collective assumptions, but strategies to implement change. Their key message is that societies are driven forward by the way they collectively make meaning and find purpose. “Our focus point, therefore shifts from fulfilling material needs through progress to the processes of finding deeper meaning.”
The authors revisit the ‘Two Loop Theory of Organizational Change’ – a model of change introduced by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze in their paper, “Using Emergence to Take Social Innovation to Scale” (see image above). In it, they suggest, as did Spinosa and co-authors (above), that change emerges in human systems out of a spontaneous series of local actions.
For change agents, especially those involved in developing communities of transformational practice, this little book is highly recommend.