Catalysts – Weaving the Future

From Confused to Catalyst

Right now, we are facing multiple challenges that will yield a variety of threats and opportunities.

They are classic “Wicked” challenges – they are multi faceted, linked and adapt as they are tackled. There are no neat, packaged linear solutions, just agile actions from which we can learn through success and failure as we go.

Because they are multi faceted and complex, we need people who have variously the knowledge, the connections and the enthusiasm to solve them to work together, each acting as a catalyst for their own area. I wrote about why, and what they look like in earlier blogs..

In science, catalyzed reactions are typically used to accelerate the rate by which a specific chemistry proceeds. Essentially, the action of the catalyst is to provide an alternative, lower energy pathway for the reaction. For this to occur, the catalytic substance interacts with a reactant and forms an intermediate compound. In our case, the compound is a conversation.

So it is for us when it comes to catalyzing the future. The rate at which things are happening is not fast enough for us to avoid significant, even potentially terminal, challenges. We need to find ways of making then happen faster. We humans really don’t like change – we get used to things; we form habits and we find a comfortable place to exist. We really don’t want to move out of there. If we want things to change, we want others to change. We’re just fine as we are. 

The challenge is that we have over time become short term thinkers. In earlier times, when we were more connected to the natural rhythms of the natural world, we thought longer term. Native Americans had a basic rule to think of the impact of whatever they did on seven generations beyond them. Other indigenous peoples were similar. 

As the rate of change has accelerated, we learned to think shorter term. Three months, a quarter, is a long time in the corporate world. Twenty five years used to be the default period for a mortgage. When we harvest natural resources, from oil to forests, we calculate short term gains rather than think in terms of the aeons it took to create the “asset”. 

We have, over time, become separated from the natural world and each other. We have become stratified and disconnected and reached a point where we have a zero sum approach. Your gain requires somebody’s, or something’s loss. 

The result is that we have myriad opposing camps. Nations, Religions, Generations, and Worldviews. We hunker down in our areas of comfort and stand by to repel all who encroach on it – often, even if they are not a real theat, they just have is a different view.

We seem to have created something of a cultural tower of Babel, the narrative of which concerns the separation of a people all speaking one language into many different tribes all speaking different ones, and unable to communicate and progress together. Seems apt somehow.

Catalysts are to be found at the Boundaries.

Catalysts exist at the boundaries where different viewpoints meet. They translate.

My own quest in recent years has been to find a way of sitting at the boundary between those who value measurement and proof; people I termed “puzzlers” and those who value different, more intuitive and older ways of knowing, who I termed “mystics”. I wrote a short article on it here.

To summarise the challenge, it often seems to be the case that both sides want to persuade the other of the value of their viewpoint, whereas the real breakthroughs come when both sides accept the power of the others viewpoint and skills. 

I have found the insights that are created, and more importantly moved to action when these two viewpoints can be synthesised to be enormous. Whilst mystics generate deep wisdom, it is often the puzzlers, whose skills include real expertise in planning and execution who can accelerate the implementation of the insights at scale.

Puzzler and mystics of course are but two two categories. There are legions of others, including different generations, climate deniers and climate changers, capitalists and alternative economists, globalists and localists  – the list goes on, and on. 

Of course, they are not discrete. There will be subsets of each in other areas. There are both capitalists and alternative economists within mystics for instance, as well as within puzzlers. 

Because of the complexity, I do not see any “universal” catalysts. Catalysts are likely to exist within relatively small groups where their relationships and credibility allow them to weave their magic.

I don’t have any hard evidence of this, but find Robin Dunbar’s work on the size of effective groups valuable when thinking about this. His argument that we can only really hold a maximum of 150 effective relationships seems sound, and intuitively correct at a personal level given that being a catalyst is all about relationships.

There is also much we can learn from the world of conflict management. Although the debates I have witnessed between puzzlers and mystics have never ended up in physical violence, views are strongly and passionately held, and I have found work like Arnold Mindell’s “Sitting in the Fire” valuable reference material. I think there is much to learn here, and will be looking to talk to those engaged in this challenging field to see what might be learned.

So, perhaps we can think of what we are talking about as the synthesis of many related minor conflicts; many small groups each with a mediator who helps them understand each others views and make forward progress. Each is hugely valuable in its own right, but to make progress at the rate we need to, how might we bring them together?

Catalysts are rarely the heroes of the piece. They are the people who ask the questions. 

  • Van Phillips, a young man who lost his foot in a boating accident. “If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they build a decent foot”. The end result was the Flex Foot prosthetic now used by paralympians and others.
  • Henry Dunant, a Swiss who asked why we didn’t use times of peace to limit the damage caused by War. The end result was the Red Cross.
  • Percy Spencer. American Engineer working on the magnetrons that powered radar. “Why did my candy bar melt”. End Result – the Microwave.

Simple questions have always driven change, from Copernicus to Quantum Physics. We remeber the inventors, but rarely those who originally asked the question.

Catalysts ask important questions of people.

Connecting Catalysts

We are facing something rather more than “a little local difficulty”

  • How do we stop our ecosystem collapsing?
  • Do we have to have poverty?
  • How do we replace what we take from our natural world?

We are in search of a way of accelerating the changes we need to make to survive, before it either becomes too late , or more likely the damage we suffer is far greater than it needs to be. 

Change is fractal. Big change is made from lots of similar, smaller change. It is inductive – big behaviour change is made from lots of small change, not the other way round. Behaviours create cultures, not the other way round.

Enter the Catalysts. 

Each of us small catalysts will be effecting change in a small group. It’s hard, invaluable, irreplaceable work driven by a combination of purpose and commitment.

We can’t all be Seth Godin, but we all have our own small Tribes. The task then, is how to support each other. To bring those  we connect to each other together in a such a way that Serendipity gets to come to the party. People who never thought they’d get on, finding themselves doing just that.

This is where the power lies. connecting small. The seductive idea of the ability of infinite connection to lead to infinite scale based around a small number of people just doesn’t work. Dunbar is right.

Much is made of influencers on social media, but for the most part, they deal in shallow, transient matters and personally, I don’t much care which fake airpods you want to have validated. 

Catalysts are bringing together people who wouldn’t normally mix. Holding space. Creating room for important discovery, and turning discovery to execution.

To get the change we need, we need to connect the Catalysts. To link measurers to mystics to generations to cultures to fr profit to non profit to ecologists to capitalists to………….

Weaving change

The fabric of the change we crave is made from the warp of ideas and the weft of differences. 

The driving force of evolution relies on three things. Identify, Information and Relationships. Who we are at heart, what we notice, and who we talk to. 

Catalysts are the Weavers of change.  People who notice and then do. The fact that they may do small doesn’t matter. The do, not watch. 

Right now, the internet is their loom, and the dialogues they are building are the shuttles.

Real dialogue always starts small. Today’s stock markets grew out of conversations in coffee shops three centuries ago. The Impressionists movement grew out of artists who couldn’t get their work displayed at the Salon in Paris because it wasn’t considered “proper art”. Punk Rock grew out of frustration with the excesses of Rock that were suffocating originality, and Live Aid out of the failure of the conventional charity establishment to deal with huge, unexpected, immediate, existential needs. Every single one of these started with a conversation between a small group of curious people who cared.

Catalyzing the Future

Weaving change starts with dialogue. To get dialogue. We need to meet. 

If you are a catalyst, or want to become one, join in at Originize, and/or

Catalyzing the Future. 30th September. Pro Bono. Lots of work by catalysts for whom dialogue matters as a way of shaping next.

#Foresight #Agility #Resilience #Antifragility #Humanity

Creating Catalysts of the Future

We are made from what came before.

We make ourselves out of the promises that lie ahead.

And we are always in the process of becoming.

Jacquline Novogratz. Manifesto for a Moral Revolution.

The elements of change build up, little by little and seem to be just minor changes on what was true yesterday. A piece of technology here. A changed relationship there.

They’re not, They are part of an altogether bigger picture of what next really looks like.

They grow as the old ways gently decay, until at some point they connect and bring the new reality centre stage. To manifest, they need catalysts. Always people, sometime events. 

Coronavirus is a catalyst. It has set things in motion. 

Now we need the people.

Not everybody can be a catalyst. Catalysts are rarely those in authority – their interests are more often protecting the status quo. 

Who are you?

Most of us have been brought up and educated to be part of a system that is now changing. We need to change with it.  To do that we need exemplars – those who show the way through practice.

We are all born with a unique path open to us. In addition to all that we learn, from our parents, schools and communities there is something else – something that only we can do. It can be difficult to explain.

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among  

things that change.  But it doesn’t change. 

People wonder about what you are pursuing. 

You have to explain about the thread. 

But it is hard for others to see. 

While you hold it you can’t get lost. 

Tragedies happen; people get hurt 

or die; and you suffer and get old. 

Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.

The Way It Is. William Stafford

In times of change, such as we face now, we need to hang on to that thread – our uniqueness is how we help others around us.

Our uniqueness is key to CatalyzingtheFuture

Who are you part of?

If I was to ask you “who do you identify with” how would you answer? 

Answers I have received include profession, cause, family, region more than nationality, generation but rarely employer. It’s a small sample and not scientific, but I found  it interesting. Individuals see themselves as, say Yorkshire or Londoner, and many “European” (sorry Boris) 

The relationship with employer often seems transactional, and in inverse proportion to the size of the business. People identify more with successful smaller businesses than large corporates.

Employee engagement, as measured by the metrics of Gallup and others is below 30%, and even this figure can be called into question. How do regard a measure  of an emotion taken at a single point in time as a reliable indicator when things change so quickly?

Who and what we feel we belong to matters. The name of the group, its language, how well recognised it is, how successful or otherwise it is all matter. Groups have both ego and soul, and both determine how their members navigate an uncertain world.

In Tribal Leadership, Dave Logan et al identified five “tribes” based on their view of themselves: The shape followed a normal distribution, with the majority belonging to tribes of “My life sucks” (25%) – the place of the disengaged, the “I’m great, you’re not” tribe (49%) – the place of the professions, sales and other successful and competitive players of finite games and then the “we’re great you’re not” tribe (22%) of sports teams and elite education.

At the opposite ends of the curve were the “life sucks” and “life is great” tribes – tiny by comparison, but important nonetheless because that is where change is triggered. Change never happens from the comfortable middle. 

The biggest, and most difficult transition is from “I’m great” to “we’re great”. From me to we. The future depends on we.

These tribes have their own symbols and language. They are exclusive. They stick together in self reinforcing echo chambers, competing within a system they understand and are often blind to the systems emerging that are different and rather inconvenient.

We all belong to tribes of some sort. They tend to be small  – fewer than 150 people “The “Dunbar Number” based on his research amongst communities over time. You can get a clue as to who your tribes are by looking at your most frequent contacts, or your social network, or the books on your shelf or Kindle. 

We’re at our best when we’re working with others who understand what we’re trying to do, share our values, and are prepared to help. We may have to do some “fitting in”, but we are able to be our true selves in the company of others. The more compromises we make, the less effective we will be, and catalysts need to be confident in being themselves.

Who we belong to matters because it determines how we feel as we face the change we’re in. It determines how we feel about ourselves. It determines how we process information, and how effective we are in handling change for ourselves and those around us.

Catalysts are quiet iconoclasts. People who want to change the system they are part of, not just accept it.

Catalysts help people cross boundaries.

Where do we find catalysts?

They are all around us, in our networks.

“The power of a bold idea uttered publicly in defiance of dominant opinion cannot be easily measured. Those special people who speak out in such a way as to shake up not only the self-assurance of their enemies, but the complacency of their friends, are precious catalysts for change.

Howard Zinn. You can’t be neutral on a moving train

All points in a network are not equal.

Whilst networks may have a centre, the real power sits outside of the centre in places of what technically are known as “betweenness centrality”. These are people who are highly connected to others – the “superconnectors”, then those who are highly knowledgeable, and connected to ideas and information – the “Mavens”, and the “Influencers” – those people who other people take note of as examples and follow. (One of the most readable accounts of this remains Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point”)

Whilst Catalysts can be found in many places, they are more often than not low profile. They do not have big egos, and prefer to live in the background. They are givers who loke to help others.

They do the hard work of bringing the influencers, the mavens  and the superconnectors into the same space as that which they are looking to catalyse, and then get out of the way to let the magic do its work.  

They are the Producers more often than the Directors, the Consigliere rather than the Don, the Adviser more than the Politician. They understand people and systems and have a clear sense of what they want to see in the world. 

Jacqueline Novogratz is a catalyst, and her book “Manifesto for a Moral Revolution” is a call to action from someone who has done the work. Greta Thunberg is a catalyst, as someone who sat down outside her school, on her own starting the work.  Tim Berners Lee is a catalyst, quietly creating the basis for the internet; the biggest transformation of our times. 

Catalysts prepare the ground for entrepreneurs. They highlight the gaps that entrepreneurs move into.  

Catalysts are alchemists. They inhabit the space between what is and what will be. 

You will find them at the edge, on the boundaries with one foot in the known and the other looking for a foothold in the unknown.

What makes Catalysts different?

We believe that the Universe comprises 95% “Dark” energy and matter we don’t understand. We go about our lives in the understood reality of the other 5%. 

Most of us in business live our lives in the same way. We compete over the 5%. Catalysts have one foot in the 95%, and bring small parts of it to our attention. 

Catalysts see differently. The image at the head of this blog is a piece by Dale Chilhuly. He sees differently – literally. He lost an eye in 1976, which turned through necessity from front line glassblower to observer. Seeing the whole production picture rather than a part. Along the way, he became an icon. Epiphanies rarely occur in familiar surroundings. Catalysts move beyond the familiar.

Seeing is one thing. Perception is another. Understanding differently is key. This the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, a woman who broke through medical and gender barriers through understanding differently. She was a formidable feminist. She saw nursing as a science and a profession, she used ground breaking innovation in statistics. When we understand differently, we have little choice but to do differently.

Catalysts drive through fear. In March 2003, when the enthusiasm in the West for the Gulf War was high, Natalie Maines, lead singer of The Dixie Chicks made an off the cuff remark: “I’m ashamed the President of the United States is From Texas”.

It didn’t go down well. It changed her career. Even after the mood music had changed as the folly of the war became clear, music stations avoided her. 

She said

“I feel a responsibility to do it now. I didn’t realise how quiet I was being. But it’s exhausting to keep doing it. You feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle. But, it’s just not in me to shy away from things I truly  believe in. I’m not afraid” 

We’re seeing much of the same now as current day catalysts bring change forward through speaking their truths. Going against the grain of respectable convention. Unafraid.

Becoming a Catalyst.

We are all potential catalysts, and It’s not for the faint hearted. It’s not about heroism, or ego, or fame, or money. Its about making a difference to something that matters to us.

As we understand who we are, what’s important to us and as we appreciate what we see that others don’t, the catalyst in us beckons. 

What we do about it is down to us.

A Time for Catalysts.

Whatever age we are, no matter where we live and no matter what we do we cannot avoid noticing what is around us. 

We read about it, feel it, react to it emotionally and experience it. In our hearts, we know that we are entering a new era of awareness, and that it brings with it opportunity and responsibility.

The time is now.

Being a catalyst is a choice.

Catalysts are more effective when they link and work together. I’ll write more about that later this week.

In the meantime, have a look at Catalyzing the Future. It’s where other catalyst are heading.

Uncertainty, Catalysts and AntiFragility.

“How did you go bankrupt?”
Two ways. Gradually, then Suddenly” 

Ernest Hemingway, The Sun also Rises

We can’t go over it,
We can’t go under it.
Oh no!
We’ve got to go through it!

Michael Rosen. Going on a Bear Hunt.

From local bonfires to global forest fire

What’s happening has been happening gradually for a while. Sparks falling onto dry ground. Things are changing beneath us. We are at that “betwixt and between” point, where one period ends and another emerges.

We have been obsessed with Science ever since the Enlightenment in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.  We have valued individualism and reason over community, and set in chain the changes that have brought us to now.

Along the way, we have had the second agricultural revolution, the first, second and third industrial revolutions, and introduced science into how we organize society, business and every other facet of our lives. We have increasingly drained our societies pf the benefits of the “commons” – things availalbe to all for free, from looking after our children to sport – in favour of privatising them to “grow” the economy. As though the only things that matter are those we can assign a price to.

Somehow we have lost touch with ourselves and the joy that business can create. We have dealt with the pressures we face by either moving towards autonomy at the expense of belonging, or favoured belonging at the expense of our individuality. We have been straining our root system. We have been coming adrift.

In becoming homo economicus we have grown but not evolved. By giving primacy to the economy we have become fragmented. We have not grown, but rather become potbound, having roots which fill the economic flowerpot, leaving no room for them to expand into other area of our society.

Some, a very few, have become autonomous “global citizens” wandering at will to source and engineer the best combination of intellect, skills and cost wherever they may be found and combined to maximise profit regardless of consequences to others, and build giant corporations which belong nowhere. Citizens only of a very small part of the supply and demand communities they have created.

Others, the majority of us, have focused on “joining” by sacrificing our individuality in order to fit in to the enterprises created by the global citizens. We have found belonging more locally with others who have also sacrificed autonomy in return for work, and share the same pressures on their identity. Willing hostages to the system we have created.

Whilst economies were growing, this problem did not really surface. Millions around the world were being lifted out of poverty, whilst unimaginable fortunes were being accrued at enormous speed by a very few. The middle classes in the West, after a century of steadily increasing fortune found themselves suddenly and brutally stranded in barren ground.

We have inadvertently created tinder dry conditions for business. And all it needed was a spark. Coronavirus is that spark.

People, like all forms of life, only change when something so disturbs them that they are forced to let go of their present beliefs. Nothing changes until we interpret things differently. Change occurs only when we let go of our certainty, our current views, and develop a new understanding of what’s going on. 

Margaret Wheatley. Finding our Way.

For all of us, our world has changed. In a moment. 

We have encountered what Margaret Wheatley describes. Some for better, some for worse. It has left very few of us unchanged.

Change at this level used to have the good grace to happen gradually across multiple generations. Now, it is happening suddenly, within a generation and the pace of change looks set to happen ever faster and more unpredictably as we cope with the complex effects of climate change, inequality, biodiversity loss and other byproducts of industrialisation as they combine and multiply.

“You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out”  

Warren Buffett

Unfortunately, a lot of us are, if not naked, then dressed pretty scantily. 

We have allowed ourselves to become dependent on a system we do not and cannot control. We have debts derived from education and housing, as well as day to day living for many, which make us dependent on jobs, which we work hard at even as they are moved around the globe, gigified or digitised. 

We spend so much time at work, we often depend on the workplace for our relationships and a sense of meaning and purpose. We offer our love to a job that rarely returns it.

So when the sparks ignite, it hurts.

As individuals, we need a new relationship with change.

Business – from Resilient to Antifragile.

Whilst it may be confusing and painful now for many, fires eventually burn themselves out. They consume the dead wood, and create conditions for growth.

Now is the time to get ready.

All the changes we have seen happen and that are continuing to happen only hurt because we didn’t see them coming. We were what Margaret Heffernan terms “wilfully blind”

“We know, Intellectually, that confronting an issue is the only way to resolve it. But any disruption will interrupt the status quo. Given the choice between conflict and change on the one hand, and inertia on the other, the ostrich position can seem very attractive.

Margaret Heffernan. Wilful Blindness

Coronavirus has brought us, if not 20/20 vision at least a kick up the backside to get our heads out of the sand. It has brought us a global, biological “time out” to look at what’s around us. Nobody has been unaffected. Uncertainty is  proving a great leveller.

It has brutally exposed the fragility of extended supply chains and economies overly dependent on service – ways of moving wealth around rather than generating it. 

It has shown us that both the office, and the commute to it is a habit that can be changed for many of us, and that meetings can be done far more effectively and much less painfully virtually.  There is no corner office on Zoom or Teams.

We have seen initiative and innovation in important, unexpected places.

We have a different view of the jobs that matter, and the people who count in a crisis.

We know who means it when they say “people are our strongest asset”

We have rediscovered our friends and family.

It has exposed poor leadership, and amplified good leadership. Good leaders have harnessed purpose to bring people together to defeat a common enemy and poor leaders have used their own uncertainty to blame other people for not dealing with it.

It has shown us, as individuals that we can be far more effective when being ourselves in the company of others when we don’t have to hide so much behind the mask we wear to the office.

It is in many ways an enforced dress rehearsal for what may be next as we face the linked, complex challenges to come. 

All of the ways that the system we are part of has been changing whilst we haven’t been looking can help us when we acknowledge and harness them. 


We can choose

We can use technology to help us “spot the dots” we can bring together and catalyze.

If we see technology as an enemy, consuming jobs that can be automated, we’re right. If we see it as a powerful tool to harness to be ourselves, and connect to others as who we are rather than a role description, we’re right. 

We can choose the information we consume. 

We can create echo chambers to reinforce our biases and fears, or we can create small vibrant communities where we pay attention and listen to people whose views we do not understand to find common ground and new ways forward.

We can paddle around in the sewage of misinformation and manipulation that is much social media, or we can ride the white waters of knowledge and courses available for free or near free from people who are the top of their game.

We can automate the parts of our job that are begging for automation to make room for the rich conversations we can generate with other humans about the things we can’t automate. 

We are all artists. We can rediscover that.

“All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up

Pablo Picasso

We can start businesses. We can write, or sing, paint or code.

We can choose, consciously, who we associate with. Evidence suggests we become the average of the five people we most associate with, and an American friend told me “it’s hard to soar like an eagle if you’re surrounding yourself with turkeys”. A sobering thought. We see the world not just through our own eyes but the eyes of those we associate with.

Both mystics and puzzlers agree, from different standpoints, that we create our own worlds.

We have lots of opportunities to create the world we want out of the debris.

Catalyzing the future

Shockabuku. A swift, spiritual kick to the head that changes your reality for ever

Grosse Pointe Blank

Coronavirus has been a Shockabuku.

Most of us now see the world at least a little differently, and have choices to make. 

All the important elements that were present when the flames caught  – skills, money, connections, ideas are still there as new growth. We can nurture them, and transplant them to more fertile ground.

We can resolve the challenges we face and deal with the conflict and change to grow individually and contribute our unique abilities to whatever comes next.

There are no solutions, no “best practices” and there is no normal, but here are some things to think about.

  • We are entering a time of increasing uncertainty, and none of us have the answer. Together with others though, we can chip away at it. It needs those who will lead, by example.
  • The most powerful thing we can become is ourselves in the company of others who help us become that, and whom in turn we help to be themselves. This is a time for generosity of spirit
  • The challenges we face are going to create whole new industries. They require, and will grow very different cultures. We have the seeds of success. We need to create the conditions for them to thrive
  • We can access pretty much anyone, or anything, pretty much anywhere. We can create what we can imagine. We don’t need anyone’s permission. We are enough as we are.
  • We do not see reality. We each create our own interpretation of what’s real. We get to choose.
  • Participation is not a choice. We’re all in the game. We’re all players, not spectators
  • ◆ The future belongs to those with “skin in the game”. People who take responsibility for what they do. Accountable to those they work with.  We all have a part to play.

We’re entering an extraordinary time. For many, perhaps even most, it will not be easy for a while. We’ve been brought up an educated to expect perpetual more, and we know that is not sustainable. It’s a big shift. It will conditions for real growth for those who choose to lead.

Catalysts and Antifragility

All the conditions exists for an exciting future, if we can just join the dots. 

We are past resilience – we are into antifragility. Using the power of this shock to grow.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” 

Steve Jobs

Catalysts are those who find the dots, and bring them together. They harness Antifragility. We may not know precisely how they will join, or what shapes they’ll make, but catalysts trust that they will. 

Catalysts are those who lead in times of uncertainty. They are able to create worlds of shared significance for people. They do not sit in corner offices, they are to be found at the edge, looking for the dots –  the shoots that are beginning to push through, often unseen by those busy avoiding blame for the fire.  They are concerned for every aspect of their world – the people, the products, the ideas. Meaning  is important to them, and they have a sense of purpose. They know what matters.

I am of course describing every one of us. 

Steven Pressfield writes elegantly about “The Resistance”. The voices in our head that tell us it can’t be done, or that we’re not good enough to do it.

The introduction to The Alchemist. Paolo Coelho tells us that there are four obstacles we face to becoming who we can be:

1. We are told from childhood that everything we want to do is impossible.

2. We believe that if we do what we want to do, those who love us will not love us anymore.

3. We are afraid of the defeats and trials we will face on the way to what we want.

4. As we get to within sight of what we want, we do not believe we deserve it, and abandon it.

All of these pressures are likely to be familiar to us (it’s certainly true for me), and overcoming them is no small task. We can’t do it through intellect – we have to walk the path. That takes determination and patience.

Being a catalyst requires courage,  practice, and a fair amount of falling off. We find others doing the same. We form communities. We get the hang of it in the end, and when we do………

The truth is, we are faced with enormous challenges, and even more enormous opportunities. We need catalysts to help them emerge. We need you.

Catalysts are very human, because when it gets to complex, even chaotic, nobody does it better..

It’s what we do best. As ourselves, with others, discovering how, in pursuit of things we believe in.

There’s never been a more important time to be a catalyst.

There are no courses, no training. Becoming a catalyst is as easy as it is challenging. We have to notice what’s going on around us, explore it fearlessly with others, and step into the uncertainty to do work that matters.

There are people doing just that, on September 30th, at CatalyzingtheFuture. Would be very good if you joined us.

#Foresight #Agility #Resilience #Antifragility #Humanity


I read quite a lot, and I tend to jot down in a notebook phrases that strike me from the books I get through. On the latest of our regular Originize Zoom meetings on Friday night I shared one of these phrase and it generated a bit of interest so I thought I’d expand on it a bit in this blog.

The quote was:

“To be heard you must speak the language of the one you want to listen”.

It comes from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Kimmerer.

We all speak more languages than we probably realise. Andy Adler who was on the zoom, and comes from a veterinary background, mentioned that whilst doing an MBA that one of the useful things he learned was to speak, amongst others the languages of “Finance” & “Management”. It makes me wonder if a key skill for a leader is to be speak the language of their followers.

Language doesn’t just have to be purely the spoken word. Science, art, music, painting are also languages. Another quote in the same book attributed to Greg Cajete is:

“We understand a thing only when we understand it with all four aspects of our being: mind, body, emotion, and spirit”.

So maybe if we want to be fully understood we need to speak with all these four aspects. We know the meanings of the words we say, and we are starting to appreciate how much we say with our body language, but have we yet consciously got to grips with putting emotional and spiritual content into the message we want to convey?

One of the ways to do this is through stories and metaphor. Stories cut across language barriers. However today there seems to be a tend to say things in as short a way as possible, time is money and all that. The salesmen though know the the truth that the scientists do not, “facts tell, stories sell”. As Daniel Pink put it we are all in sales whether we are researchers looking for funding or parents asking children to tidy rooms. Quite often in our Originize conversations we discuss two different groups, the puzzllers and the mystics and about finding a language of the middle, and maybe this another way to improve communication. With better communication comes better understanding and better understanding opens up more possibilities, So here’s to being better communicators in the future.

PS The photo above was taken at Savern in the Alsace region of France at about 10:00am. The ladies pictured had been standing for hours in rain like stair rods. My french was not good enough but I wish I could have spoken with them and learned their story.


Everything has a cycle.

It comes into existence and if it makes it past the early stages, blossoms, then declines, then dies and contributes to a new existence. It’s true of everything in the natural world.

We do not seem to think about organisations, and their systems in the same way. From businesses looking for government support because their model has bumped into current reality to politicians and bureaucrats prioritising their ailing and inflexible systems over the people those systems are meant to support, it seems we thinkthat because it worked last year, it must work this. The painful paradox of an education secretary worrying that students might get into a job they are not qualified for does not escape us.

Algorithmic thinking does not cope with reality very well. Trying to deal with anomalies such as we currently face based on historic data sets, context and thinking faces obvious limitations.

We humans on the other hand are brilliant at it. Not very efficient admittedly but hugely effective.

We are part of nature, and no different to it. We stumble around, try things, fail, try again and eventually succeed by evolving something new not bodging together something from bits we already have.

Much of what we built in the industrial age is now failing. We have bodged, until now we can bodge no more. Now, we have to deal with reality.

It offers huge opportunity alongside considerable inconvenience. We have to adapt, evolve and deal with the uncertainty and inefficiency then will require to create the foundations of whatever is next.

This is only a machine age if we just want to sit around and watch. If we want to create something beautiful, it’s an intensely human age.


Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

If we had an “emotionometer” right now, today here in the UK it would be off the charts. We have thousands of students being graded on a basis cobbled together by people in difficult circumstances who appear to be slaves to a system.

There will be joy, heartbreak and anger. Why?

Of course it’s difficult. Covid isn’t personal, it’s an event and an indicator of how fragile the systems we design so carefully are. We cannot choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond.

How we respond speaks volumes as to our clarity of purpose, and thought.

Putting the system to one side for a moment, what we have is simple.

  • We have students who have put years of work and effort into passing exams they haven’t been able to take. Not being able to take them does not remove their effort, understanding or capability.
  • We have Universities and employers in need of the talent that is in the wings. Exam results help them select, but do not determine their selection. The real proof of a University or employer is what happens to someone whilst they are part of it. Good universities catalyse learning in students, and good employers harness talent.
  • If, for sake of argument, Universities have to accept students without the comfort blanket of exam results, it will change little except that for a year their performance tables might see a blip, but if they maintain standards, the output will be consistent, although their “conversion rate” might (and only might) fall. We might, just might, have fewer graduates at the levels forecast for one year. The system will be miffed.
  • It’s not as though we have no reference points. We have historic, if variable data, and real time assessments of professional teachers. We’re not guessing. It’s just like the harvest – sometimes the weather affects it. It doesn’t mean we refuse the reduced crop.

So what is going on here? What, in ten years time, will be the net effect of one year of disruption? For whose benefit does the system exist? Is it really this arthritic?

It feels like we have built a system to serve us which we are now serving. The servant has become the master. We have politicians floundering, and the high priests of education in a tizzy as they try to ensure the system is happy.

The education industry we have created is short of raw material this year, for a number of reasons, mostly culpable. We have capacity. We have reference points. We have need. It’s one year.

The worst that might happen is that some students get lucky, and get to go to somewhere they might not otherwise have got into. Getting through the course is then down to them. Getting in does not guarantee graduation, and as long as the Universities uphold standards (and don’t compromise to keep the system and their performance targets happy) little harm will be done.

Imagination. Vision. Clarity. Leadership.

Would’t that be good?

The Machine Part Fallacy

Photo by Flickr on

Right now, huge amounts of effort, airtime and emotion are being expended over how fair the exam results are for our children who have not been able to sit formal exams due to the disruption caused by our reactions to COVID.

We are obsessed by how this years results might compare to last years results, or set a precedent for next years.

So, why I wonder does it matter so much? In the end, there are a finite number of University places, Apprenticeships and job openings, and the system will flex to allocate places. There is a market, and the market works.

The fact that relative to other years the grades may be an anomaly is of minor importance at a practical level, other than for those operate the machine and would rather use algorithms than make decisions.

Based on what? An assessment of years of work determined by a short exam, or by teachers who know the pupil, their character and the standards required?

For the benefit of whom? The pupil, the employer, our society, or for those who would like to pretend they are in control?

By 2025 the fate of those who are getting results this week will have been only marginally affected by their exam results. By 2030, they will be largely irrelevant. Talent will out, and is not determined by the lag indicator of exams, but by the lead indicators of purpose, vision, character, determination and the support we offer them. People will perform in line with our trust and interest in them.

We are heading into a future none of us can predict, and for which exams based on an arbitrary and industrialised education process are horribly poor indicators. Like GDP, our exam systems measure everything except what’s really important.

We are not components. Lets not treat our students as though they are. They are unique individuals.

I know that’s more difficult to scale and regulate, but I can’t get too excited about an education system for which this is a priority.

Exams are useful indicators, but when it comes to selecting people I want to work with, I want to talk to students, and the teachers who know them, not bureaucrats.

Effortless Beauty

A Murmuration of Starlings.

It turns out that what drives us is not that much different from what drives every other organism on the planet – and probably beyond.

We crave connection to others – to be part of a group, at the same time as we crave autonomy – the freedom to make our own decisions.

Resolving this paradox has determined our survival and our contentment since the earliest times.

We cannot survive, even now, on our own. No matter how independent we think we are, we’re not. We cannot survive without the help of others. Isolation is terminal.

On the other hand, if we choose belonging at the expense of being ourselves, that’s as bad – survival as subjugation. A wasted life barely worth living.

We know when our lives are beautiful – things are in balance. We experience receiving and giving as part of something that makes our lives worthwhile. That may sound very kaftan, but reality is we all know and revere those all too brief moments that are like that. Just because we can’t measure them, or predict them it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

If Starlings can do it……..

Starlings do not have a head office, or HR departments, or policies. They just hang out with other starlings, work in sync with those next to them and be themselves in that context. Behaving in this fashion confuses predators, who can only pick off those who are separate from the murmuration. Independence has its price.

Next most vulnerable are those on the edge of the Murmuration, so everybody takes turns at being at the edge, rather than the safe middle. Leaders and managers please note,

The end result is awe inspiring to behold. A defintion of beauty, created by birds being themselves with others, just doing their thing. No plan. No Strategy.

Given that every living organism on the planet comprises pretty much the same elements, just arranged very slightly differently why are we so different?

Or, if starlings can do this, why can’t we?


The answer of course is that we can. We have spent around 99% of the time we have been in our current sapien form on the planet in groups of 150 or less. The indigenous people we have left still do. They know those around them as well as they understand their surroundings and although there are differences in status, there is no organisation chart, and certaintly no HR. They flex their structures in much the same way as starlings murmurate – instinctively, according to need and threat. They self organise.

I’m intrigued by what is happening in many organisations at the moment. For the last four months, I’ve watched many organisations cope not just well, but thrive as they’ve used the power of the internet to effectively “murmurate”. Often, driven by the disruption that Covid has generated, combinations of Zoom, WhatsApp and other tools have linked those who do to others who do in getting things done whilst managers look on in a state of bewilderment trying to take credit.

The boundaries between our organisation, suppliers, clients and others become very porous and left alone, stuff just gets done. I wonder what would would happen if we sent managers on holiday, and suspect that without a need for mostly needless control, the answer would be more of better.

Balancing autonomy and belonging.

Perhaps a difference between good leaders and good managers is that the leaders create worlds of shared significance, and managers resource it. Emotional resonance and operational support. No direction, no control, no permissions in sight. Organisationally, we not me.

One of the things we are learning in the small experiment that is Originize, is that conversations around what matters to uncover shared significance can weave magic.

We are diverse groups – puzzlers and mystics – all doing our own thing who meet together, once a week, with no leader and no agenda to talk about what we’re noticing – in our businesses, in the wider world, with each other. A small group within a larger murmurating flock of those who balance autonomy and belonging. Neither subjugating or being subjugated.

Just hanging out improving each others lives.

Beautiful Businesses are possible

I’ve long been a fan of Alan Moore’s work. I love the immediate tension between beautiful and business – when was the last time you read “beautiful” in a business plan or strategy, or heard it mentioned in a weekly management meeting?

Yet, I believe it to be increasingly not just valid, but essential. If we can balance beautiful and business by balancing autonomy and belonging, we can create remarkable organisations that create real value for everybody involved.

As it becomes increasingly clear that whatever we’re going into post Covid, it’s not where we were, it seems a positive aspiration. To enable those around us to be themselves whilst hanging out together doing stuff that matters.

Less planning and effort, more doing and enjoying.

We can learn a lot about effortless beauty from Starlings


Be careful what you own

We have a strange relationship with ownership.

We talk casually, and with pride about the house we own, the car we own, the company we own.

There’s a Buddhist exhortation to be careful about what we own, because often it will end up owning us.

No matter the legal niceties, if we have used debt to buy what we “own”, we don’t really own it at all – we’re renting it. Our name may be on the title document, but we all have landlords – a bank, a finance company, a major client – all of whom we must satisfy in order for what we own to remain ours whilst we pay for it.

The same is true of the promises we make. As individuals, with people we know, we’re mostly reasonably careful. There’s a relationship at stake. As a business, it’s easy to be more cavalier. I wonder what the discount rate is on a Bank’s promise?

We are about to go into an extraordinary period. As the economy writhes, the promises – financial, and moral – we made will increasingly be called in, and our futures will be heavily affected by the way we honour them.

Flexing the Courage Muscle

The inspiration for this blog came from a zoom call orchestrated by Richard Merrick last Friday called Setting Conversations Free. During the conversation the idea that our fears are holding us back cropped up a few times, and there were a couple of phrases from Roz Savage, one of the participants, that stuck with me. One was “flexing the courage muscle”, by this we were discussing if we are not used to responding to fear the “muscle” we use to cope with it atrophies, and when fear does crop up we don’t know how to deal with it. The other phrase was that for Roz “moments of greatest growth came from moments of greatest challenge”.

Before I had a horse to challenge (and educate!) me, I used to like to spend time in the mountains, and so I read a lot of old climbing books. One quote that has always stayed with me is this:

“And we come back to our daily occupations better fitted to fight the battle of life and to overcome the impediments which obstruct our paths, strengthened and cheered by the recollections of past labours and by the victories gained in other fields” – Edward Whymper,1871, First Ascent of the Matterhorn.

So it strikes me that being courageous/overcoming fear is a transferrable skill. There is saying that you should do something that scares you every day. We know the benefits of physical exercise for our bodies, so we make a conscious effort go to the gym, run, swim, walk etc. We know the benefits of mental exercise, we do puzzles, we read. However how often do we make a conscious effort to exercise our emotions?

If we want to exercise the courage muscle we don’t have to scare ourselves silly, the accepted figure for improvement seems to be 4%. Just doing something 4% beyond our current capability is enough to bring about an improvement. The key is to do 4% as often as possible, and not to be afraid of failing. Failing is how we learn, we are not born with a fear if failing, if so babies would never learn to walk, but as we grow up we are taught failing is wrong, and so we start to fear. We fear talking to strangers,expressing emotions, asking silly questions, all sorts of things.

The question is what can we do that will exercise our courage muscle that 4% so we become bolder day by day? What is that other part of our life that we can come back from “strengthened and cheered”. For me now, its riding my horse, but exercising the courage muscle could just be something small like asking something of somebody you are not all that familiar with, or speaking out where you would normally stay silent. Gradually you get bolder so when something unexpected and scary turns up in your life you are better equipped to cope with it, or you chose to accept that big challenge that will help you grow.