Leadership Library Review: “Navigating the Cultural Shift and Fostering a Developmental Society” (Coaches Rising Interview with Tomas Björkman)

November 2021

We think that we can negotiate with our planetary boundaries and are all subject to the fixed market, when it’s actually the opposite. Tomas Bjorkman

What are the big take-aways?

Note: This podcast dialogue speaks not just to coaches but to anyone engaged in contemplating the most perplexing health, equity, environmental and political questions of our era.

In a soaring conversation with Joel Monk of Coaches Rising, Tomas Bjorkman – “applied philosopher,” entrepreneur and founder of Ekskäret – issues a call-to-action for fostering adult development as our path toward evolving global civilization.  Bjorkman argues that a critical mass of humans must become self-authoring (a stage in Robert Kegan’s framework, described here in 5 minutes by his protégé Jennifer Garvey Berger) in order to create the necessary tipping point into a collective awareness of the constructed nature of our societal systems, so that they can be changed before they collapse.  While Bjorkman is not the only thought leader playing on this field of inquiry, he does it particularly explicitly and well.

Why do I like it?

Humans are suffering, Bjorkman suggests, from an increasing self-generated complexity that is beginning to outgrow the limits of our valuable yet entirely made-up modern systems (such as money and democracy).  I agree with Bjorkman that a cultural transformation is both needed and very possible: if more people could develop the complexity of consciousness that is able look at certain taken-for-granted systems from the outside, humanity could view them as the inventions that they are and change them. Enough of us imagining new ways of operating could better serve ourselves and the planet that produced and sustains us.  Thanks to adult development theories (a.k.a. vertical development or consciousness development), we know that this kind of individual and collective growth can be deliberately cultivated.  Nurturing adult development is, in fact, becoming a concern of diverse local and global enterprises that are at the forefront of accelerating complexities; because they live on the horizons of the emerging future, some of them are starting to realize how inadequate many of our current systems are for handling the types of changes we are experiencing – technologies like artificial intelligence being just one example – and the speed at which they are happening. 

In what situations would this be useful?

Regardless of whether you consider yourself a leader, if your philosophy is some form of realistic optimism, you’ll be inspired by this provocative conversation.  If you are heartened by validation of your life-affirming instincts that self-transformation is key to any larger transformation, you will enjoy the ideas Bjorkman skillfully weaves together.  Bjorkman’s ultimate exhortation for reckoning with complexity is subversive, counter-cultural and paradoxically simple: slow down, and – if you can afford it – be less focused on material things and more attentive to connection, purpose and meaning. 

It’s worth noticing that Bjorkman’s message is starkly different from the ones implied by certain recently much-celebrated titans of international business, including Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, who seem to be using their vast resources to build vehicles specifically designed to separate themselves from Earth as fast as possible.  (And via a gargantuan penis, in Bezos’s case. While Bezos decided to boldly go there for inspiration about what to do with his billions, by contrast, his ex-wife MacKensie Scott went in a distinctly different direction with her “Seeding by Ceding” project after their divorce.)

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

Dr. Riane Eisler, another “practical visionary” whom I only discovered because she was featured in Thomas Hubl’s 2021 Collective Trauma Summit, offers a similar paradigm shift to Bjorkman’s. A lawyer, economist and scientist, Eisler identifies the last several thousand years of human history as reflecting a Domination System; the revolution she urges is recognizing this illusory construct for the incomplete story it is and rewriting our species’ self-understanding as a Partnership System.  On another how-to note, Otto Scharmer’s transformational change process – called Presencing – propounds a pragmatic approach to consciousness and systems transformation (what Scharmer calls a shift in awareness from “ego-systems” to “eco-systems”), in order to allow the future to emerge.

All of these theories of change require a deep capacity to come to healthy terms with our human past, including integrating its very dark parts, so that we can take an objective view of our outmoded constructs and let go of the destructive self-replicating patterns they perpetuate.  This is an inherently developmental set of moves, necessitating thoughtful navigation of uncertainty, ambiguity and polarities.  For more on leadership and adult development, start here with Jennifer Garvey Berger.  For a description of how coaches participate in “Leading with Humanity” through expanding consciousness, see this Institute of Coaching report, a retrospective on Covid-19. For the most ancient written leadership wisdom on polarities, consciousness development, systems awareness – and even the partnership paradigm – that I know of, check out Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching (which dates to 6th-century B.C. China).

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