Reconnecting with the spirit of exploration

As we enter the liminal time between 2020 and 2021, I find myself in a reflective yet restless frame of mind. It feels like I barely had time to think this year; looking back, 2020 seems like one long Zoom blur. Before we knew how disruptive it would turn out to be, I had many new ideas I wanted to explore at the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, many fell by the wayside. Some because of a lack of time, but mostly because I felt like I couldn’t string coherent thoughts together. While others seem to have had their thinking kick-started by Corona, I was confronted by a considerable amount of inner work that I needed to do.

For many, this pandemic exposed old fault lines and forced them wide open. In less confronting times, our defense mechanisms work to hold these at bay, but during these times when we are confronted with our mortality and with the best and worst of humanity, our old stories and meanings are no longer sufficient. So I needed to reauthor old stories about myself and my place in the world. I needed to enact a few necessary endings, reframe relationships, re-establish boundaries, and rethink what I believe and want to bring to the world.

I also realise this can become an excuse not to speak up, not to write, and to keep hiding in a way. So, I promised myself that I would use this quieter time (hopefully) to get back to writing and exploring ideas. Hopefully, something coherent will emerge from the effort.

What are the questions I have been exploring?

I guess it can best be summarised by How can we be fully human in the face of uncertainty? What happens to individuals and collectives when they face the anxiety of perpetual uncertainty and increasing complexity. How do we collectively turn this anxiety into creative energy? What does this mean for notions such as leadership (and leadership development), teaming, and organisation design and development? How must we structure our organisations for fluidity and rapid adaptation while maintaining our humanity and emotional wellbeing?

I believe this is an important exploration. Last year, even before this pandemic hit, Alicia Juarerro said something that struck me, I paraphrase: “if we (humanity) don’t find ways to become more comfortable with uncertainty, we have a big problem. Because it means that anyone who promises certainty will always have a following.” We can see this play out everywhere at the moment. People tend to turn to strongmen when they are afraid. Times are too urgent now to sit back and allow that to happen.

I believe much of our world is complex. I believe humans and human relationships are complex. Many of the keys that will help us find new ways of organising, governing, and thriving lie in the inter-disciplinary field of Complexity. Complexity is messy and often filled with paradox. Therefore one of my main messages this year, when speaking at events or consulting to clients, has been to embrace ambiguity and messiness. To embrace being in the space of not knowing: in complexity, questions are often more useful than answers. To be congruent with what I believe, I cannot afford to be too sure about my “rightness” or overly critical of other perspectives. So I try to practice what I preach by being curious, “sitting in the question,” and inviting divergent views to find interesting synergies and potentially generative differences.

Over the next few weeks, I will explore some of the different ideas I have found interesting or valuable. Among others, I will look at the following, primarily through the lens of complexity:

  • group relations & systems psychodynamics: looking in particular at the complexity of roles, the importance of boundaries, our relationship with authority, unconscious dynamics and defenses, and other key ideas from this field that I believe are critical for understanding and intervening in social systems.
  • the interplay between constraints and affordances in human systems — in particular ideas from constraints based coaching in sport
  • adult developmental theories
  • resilience and adaptation in natural systems
  • human systems as flow systems — exploring flow in its broadest sense, drawing mainly from biology but also other disciplines like physics
  • design & in particular the principles of architecture and designing contexts for emergence

As you can see, they are quite diverse, and while I have been pondering some of these ideas for several years, I am still in the process of weaving them together, so sometimes it may seem like random reflections. Maybe you can join in the exploration and help me find the areas of synergy and difference.

Photo by Oziel Gómez from Pexels