Should we wage war on climate?

The signs are there, hardly avoidable; it’s coming our way. Climate change is becoming obvious, its effects already bearing on us, and the science that already told us some decades ago about the phenomenon we are now experiencing is now telling us that we have only a few years to act (20 for the more optimists, 2 for the more pessimists). As I write these few lines, the IPCC has just released yet another report, spelling out even more clearly that time is running out – and fast.

 

So voices calling for a war on climate are getting louder, and they are making sense on several levels. Yet it is worth stepping back and asking ourselves: would waging war on climate be the catalyst we have been yearning for for so long, or would it be, at best, misplacing our energies, and at worst, likely to worsen the situation?

 

Well, one of the reasons for recurrent inaction so far is the lack of perceived immediate threat; so introducing the language of war would heighten that sense of threat, which we can hope will be a greater trigger for action. In relation to Covid-19, this is the strategy that French President Emmanuel Macron chose to introduce the first lockdown of our recent history, with his famous “we are at war!”.

Entering a war on climate may also prove to be a uniting option for world leaders that have shown so far to be so divided, it echoes archetypal stories of humanity uniting against extra-terrestrial invaders. And perhaps the most recent IPCC report may feel like this global threat that we would be foolish not to unite to fight. Although the short-lived media coverage may suggest that the threat has not been felt with the required intensity…

Finally, the Second World War is a good example of what can be achieved where, in the name of the ‘war effort’, we divert a whole economy towards a single, exceptional purpose. If ‘climate effort’ won’t do it, perhaps ‘war effort’ will? A very recent example has, indeed, been the huge mobilisation for the economy in this pandemic, and Macron’s framing of it with his “we are at war!” most certainly laid down the foundations for the appropriate measures to be taken without any objection from the rest of the political spectrum.

 

The rhetoric of war, however, brings with it its own problems. Yes it fuels our motivation by mobilising our sense of omnipotence, but isn’t our sense of omnipotence, over nature more particularly, part of the very problem we are trying to solve? We’ve seen what a sense of omnipotence does in the past, as the old joke reminds us: the “war on drugs” seems to have been followed by more drugs, the “war on terrorism” by more terrorism; the “war on unemployment” by more unemployment… what if the “war on climate change” generates greater climate change?

The language of war, and that sense of induced omnipotence, bring also with them the need for “weapons”. Far from trying to reduce, or “substract”, as Leidy Klotz explains in his wonderful book, the very sources of disequilibrium that our industrial activities have produced, the creativity around weapons in this war on climate tend to be, unfortunately, generated by the same mindset that has produced the problems we are trying to deal with: more technology, more industrial inventions, more interference with Nature. A few examples of those are: spraying sulfur massively in the atmosphere, to filter out some of the Sun; CO² capturing and burying into the ground; hydrogen as the next generation of energy …

These ideas are not only misguided and dangerous; they are also missing the point: indeed, by saying climate (change) is the enemy, we are making out that it is something external to us, coming at us like a hungry lion would towards a group of tourists lost in the savannah. Yet climate change is anything but disconnected from us; it is the result of our behaviour as a human species, just like the music that you hear is the result of the orchestra’s behaviour, or the mess in your living room the result of your own lack of tidying up discipline. Hailing it as the enemy out there misplaces the source of the phenomenon, and tends to treat the symptoms rather than the causes. And the causes are now very clear: our economies that have grown to be highly degrading and degenerative, based on the “Take-Make-Use-Lose” linear thinking that have been running down Earth’s life-supporting systems for decades, oblivious to the impact of both our gluttony for Earth’s resources, and the toxicity of our outputs.

If war is the answer, and a successful war is one that targets the real causes, then should we wage war on ourselves, then? Of course not, this would be self-destructive. Yet paradoxically, our current behaviours are, in ways that are becoming clearer and clearer, essentially self-destructive. How can we resolve these dysfunctional psychodynamics?

 

Well, psychology could be of help here, and, in particular, recent developments in integral psychology, which are showing us that rather than pushing out our unwanted symptoms (anxiety, anger, shame, etc.), we can be much more potent in transforming our experience when we start welcoming them as part of us, without judging them. Welcoming those immature parts of our personality underlying those symptoms and holding them in love is much more likely to bring about the very psychological maturation we are seeking, than putting our energy in judging, condemning, and trying to ban them.

Some cancer patients too report that their experience of their illness shifted when they stopped relating to their tumour as some outside invader colonising their body, which then has to be attacked through powerful chemicals; but rather connected to it being a part of themselves that is behaving in a way that has become misaligned with their intentional being.

 

So the question remains: should we wage war on climate?

 

Well, what is sure is that we have to act: completely, wholeheartedly, and to an unprecedented scope, where the whole of our economies and of our behaviours on this planet need to be transformed. If war is what will mobilise you to act, then so be it.

But remember two things: 1) war is meant to be the last thing to do, when everything else you have tried has failed; and 2) the biggest challenge is not to make war, but to make (long-lasting) peace. Peace with Nature, peace with the fact that we are a part of Nature, and not apart from It; and peace with ourselves.

 

So, perhaps we should forget about war, and declare peace with Nature.


Generative Speaking: The other most powerful transformational behaviour

How can you “tell your truth”, whilst at the same time preserve the conditions for constructive dialogue and engagement at work? How do you manage to remain faithful to yourself – and what you think and feel – yet find a way of coming across that enhances collaboration rather than runs the risk of destroying it? How do you say your piece without self-censorship, in a way that engages others rather than drives them away?

 

Even when the 7 principles for Generative Listening are diligently applied, these questions pervade many relationships at work, and yet they are rarely dealt with in a satisfactory manner. More often than not, we think that if we were to really say what we feel or think, it would damage, or destroy, the current status quo in the relationships; create intractable conflicts, and alienate some of the stakeholders – including ourselves. The fear of self-alienation, or of creating fragmentation, prevents many from saying what really goes on inside of them; of sharing their true perspective on the situation at stake.

Others, on the contrary, just “tell it like it is”, seeking fragmentation and polarisation as a way to function or even to rule.

 

Transforming our mental model of conversation, from debate to dialogue

 

What both approaches share is a mental model that truth-telling generates fragmentation, and that this can’t be avoided. It is based on yet another mental model, one that sees debate as the only form of productive conversation.

My many years as an organisational consultant have shown me that there is another way. Far from manipulation techniques, there is a way to be fully present in the conversation, whilst not only inviting but also enabling others to be present too, in a way that makes everyone feel they are part of the same whole – the same enquiry into a shared phenomenon: this is what I call Generative Speaking.

 

Generative Speaking starts with being present to myself first, and in that way starts with the 7th principle of Generative Listening. If I want to speak my truth, I have to know my truth. So I need to constantly check, in truth: how am I feeling at this stage of the conversation, and why am I feeling this?

 

On that basis, Generative Speaking is about truly responding to what others have just said, not waiting my turn to speak so that I can say something that I came up with 10 or 15 minutes ago. Generative Speaking happens in the here and now, where the past (my thoughts/ideas/perspectives before others spoke) meets the present (what has just been said) in order to build the future through this conversational intercourse.

 

Sterile and destructive speaking

 

Though I had been aware for a while of the importance of the quality of the conversation in producing excellent outcomes in work situations, the centrality of Generative Speaking came to me as a flash of insight some years ago, in a high-stake meeting, actually because of its very absence.

 

Picture this: the CEO of a newly merged investment platform has commissioned our firm to facilitate the merger of these two separate, national platforms into a single European one. We have agreed to coach mixed project teams to develop a vision of the competitive advantage this new platform can bring, and prototype new products and business initiatives to make it a reality.

In a specific meeting convened to hear back from the project teams, the CEO listens to the proposals presented to him, and responds in ways that simply close down the conversation, and shatters the motivation of those who had volunteered to engage in the project teams. His main mistakes?

 

  1. Staying mostly with “I like”, “I don’t like”: the issue, certainly at this stage of the conversation which is about receiving the work produced, is not about liking an idea but rather a) making sure I’ve understood it and b) testing whether it makes business-sense. By responding only with liking or not liking, the CEO doesn’t open up the necessary avenue for refining the proposed prototype and exploring how to integrate it in the current portfolio

 

  1. Working with untested assumptions: by many of his comments, it became clear to us (who had worked with the project teams) that the CEO didn’t actually fully understand what they were proposing, and was rather reacting to them based on many untested assumptions. As a result, a good part of the conversation was built on shaky foundations, when a little bit of humility would have prompted him to ask for clarification and therefore ensure the foundations were healthy

 

  1. “It won’t work”: another common response from him was to blatantly declare that the proposed solutions wouldn’t work. No engagement around what seemed to be missing, what triggered questions for him, about how they had thought about addressing this or that issue – no, only, here again, a judgement that closed down any further mutual exploration, leaving barely a space for advocating and convincing, two processes commonly used in debate

 

So by this stage in the meeting, we had a deflated set of project teams, growing convinced that the co-creative approach was only a façade, behind which sat a ruling, temperamental patriarch; and we were no further in the development of value-adding, motivating initiatives aimed at making this merger a success.

Luckily, we quickly spotted this dysfunctional pattern of interactions, and were able to make swift changes in the facilitation of the rest of the meeting, so that it eventually did produce the expected outcomes.

 

A framework for Generative Speaking

 

The guidelines we made up on that particular day have evolved, through our practice of hundreds of organisational conversations (some of them a real success, others wonderful failures), into what I regard as a foundational framework for Generative Speaking:

 

This framework is designed to enable anyone involved in a meeting, a workshop, a performance review or a sales negotiation, to play their part in the quality of the conversation they are having by responding from one of four positions, regardless of their role in the organisation. It is organised in a matrix form, differentiating what is present in what I heard from what isn’t, and what enriches the emerging picture from what obscures it:

 

  1. Position I: What I understand you say, what is clearer for me now. This is the traditional position of reformulation, aimed both at checking your own understanding and at conveying to others that you have been listening attentively to what they were saying. Beyond that, it is a way of continually defining common ground based on shared meaning. It doesn’t mean that you have to agree with them, but at least these are the points you are all clear on. Rather than sharing his personal value judgement on what he liked or didn’t like, this is where the CEO in the above vignette should have started responding from.

 

  1. Position II: What I don’t understand, what still needs clarifying. Directly linked to principle 6 of Generative Listening, this is a time for consolidating the ground on which you are walking in the conversation so that what ensues doesn’t rest on shaky foundations. Again this is a way of showing that you have really been listening, and yet been unable to catch the meaning being conveyed. By bringing it up, it can actually help others refine their own thinking through finding other words to put their point across. It may require a bit of humility if you would prefer to not present yourself as not-understanding, but experience has shown me that genuine humility at this stage reinforces the relationship. Position II is one that the CEO in the story, sadly, didn’t dare to visit initially, and needed time to enter into.

 

  1. Position III: New ideas triggered by what you said – though not present in what you said. Often as you listen to people (or indeed read an article!), and let your mind wander, new, creative thinking emerges. This is precious and must not be left to simply dissipate, though at the same time it is crucial to acknowledge that those who spoke didn’t come up with these ideas – and therefore don’t necessarily agree with them. When you don’t acknowledge it, and behave as if they said it just because you had the thought when they were speaking, you introduce assumptions into the conversation that may come back to haunt you later, threatening to derail the alliance that was emerging so far. At the same time, if you had these ideas when others spoke, maybe it is because there was, in their speaking, parts of the idea that popped in your mind. By acknowledging your new idea, you may then bring that awareness to them and then truly claim shared meaning.

 

  1. Position IV: What to me seems crucial but am not hearing you mention. Position IV is probably the most important, the one that can bring people closer rather than drive them away. At the beginning of the meeting, that position was badly missing in the above CEO’s behaviour, and consequently driving his project teams away. However, his “I don’t like”, or “it can’t work” hinted to something more, if only you looked close enough. Indeed, a simple question was able to unveil it – the question ‘Why?’: Why don’t you like it, or why do you think it won’t work? When asked, he was able to express important concerns about certain key “big-picture” parameters that seemed to be absent from the proposals, and about financial viability where he felt that other elements were not being factored in. Once expressed, they opened the door for the project teams to respond, and for the conversation to enter a truly Generative space. The learning here is that if you feel compelled to react with similar “I don’t like, it won’t work, it doesn’t make sense”, etc., ask yourself first: why do I think/feel that? What to me seems crucial, but I am not hearing it being mentioned? And respond from that space...

 

Transformation: from fragmentation to Wholeness

 

The 7 principles for Generative Listening, and now this framework for Generative Speaking, are, in my experience, the two most powerful transformational behaviours, in that they work at bringing wholeness and integration, and thus ultimately not just collective intelligence, but also collective potency – i.e. the capacity of the whole to act with its powerful collective force.

They transform not only the content on which we base our analyses and our decisions, through developing a more complete, more integrated, more pertinent picture of the whole of the situation. But they also transform the social process that produces that picture, from a debating, arguing, antagonistic process to a curious, enquiring, collaborative and integrative one, which actually creates a lived experience of Wholeness. And it is precisely that lived experience of Wholeness that releases the collective potency.

 

If at first it may feel cumbersome to have to think of the 7 principles, and of the framework, just remind yourself of the process by which you learnt to ride a bicycle. At first it feels like an alien machine, and then, after hours and hours of practice, suddenly it happens: you no longer trying to move this machine, for it is now moving you ...


Generative Listening: the single most powerful transformational behaviour

Listening

Though crucial for authentic Dialogue, true listening does not come naturally. It is an art that requires practice and a specific disposition, so that both speaker and listener connect in such a way that meaning can truly flow through them (as suggested by the Greek root of the word, dia-logos, “meaning flowing through”).

And the dance of meaning-building at the heart of authentic Dialogue starts with a first step: Listening.

 

When it comes to listening, Generative Listening holds the greatest potential. More than deep, or active listening, Generative Listening enables a level of connection between the one who speaks and the one who listens that is truly generative, i.e. it creates new possibilities for action that neither parties had thought of or even expected before starting the conversation.

 

Through my practice as an organisational consultant, I have developed 7 principles for Generative Listening:

 

  1. Slowing down and noticing more of what is present: often as we enter a conversation (especially in an organisational context), we come filled with thoughts, ideas, or concerns related to what just happened earlier today, or what is scheduled to happen just after this conversation. This first principle invites us to enter the present moment, and slow down all this mental activity linked to past and future

 

  1. Listening with all my senses: we could be forgiven for thinking that listening only involves the ears. But in fact all our other senses are important in the act of listening. Sight of course, for it helps us read body language – another crucial conveyor of meaning. But expressions such as “what I heard left me with a bitter”, or “I warmed up to him after listening to this”, or even “this situation doesn’t smell right” shows how much all of our senses are involved in connecting to a reality that we are hearing. In fact, by heightening our 5 senses, we also reduce our often hyperactive cerebral cortex, thus managing to listen not only with our head, but also with our heart

 

  1. Listening to the words / images chosen: speaking is like painting with words; as we speak, we choose (even if sometimes unconsciously) specific words – and not others – to paint a picture of the reality we are attempting to describe. As a listener, it is crucial to notice those words, the images they convey, the power (or dullness) that they hold, so that we really try to inhabit that world that is being described. Attention must be placed on unusual words, or slips of the tongue, for they too convey an important meaning about the speaker’s inner world, and the mental models that may be structuring his thinking and his actions

 

  1. Listening to the emotions conveyed by the person who is talking: emotions are the bedrock of a person’s presence in the world, the roots of someone’s mental models, thoughts, and actions. Listening fully, or even listening to the full person in front of me, requires me to listen to the emotions (s)he conveys. This can be through body language and the choice of words and images (see above), but it will also be through the tone of the voice, its tempo, its pitch; through the silences as well as the hesitations

 

  1. Suspending judgement: this is probably one of the most difficult of these 7 principles, yet probably one of the most crucial. It means suspending both moral and cognitive judgement. By moral judgement, I mean splitting into good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable, mature or immature, etc. For a true, authentic dialogue, this moral judgement needs to be suspended whilst I am listening, so that I can truly get into the lived experience of what it is like to be the person who’s speaking. It doesn’t mean that I have to agree with it, or accept it; just that I let it coexists with my own perspective. If you are still not convinced, try to imagine being judged as you speak – your perspective, and who you are, not being allowed into this space of Dialogue ... Equally, it is important to suspend my cognitive judgement, i.e. my tendency to classify or dismiss what I am hearing into true and false, new thinking or old thinking, right-wing or left-wing, etc. As well as my tendency to finish someone’s sentence for them, as if I knew before they spoke what they are actually going to say

 

  1. Noticing what I don’t understand or what triggers questions for me, rather than what I don’t like about what I hear. I would argue that we greatly underestimate how much we don’t actually understand in what someone is telling us. Working often in international context, I have come to observe that the greatest misunderstandings happen between people who speak the same language, and not those who are trying to express themselves through a foreign language. So checking my understanding rather than working on assumptions and shortcuts in meaning is crucial. If I come to feel that I don’t like what I am hearing, rather than dismissing it, this is the time to check that I have understood correctly – rather than jumped to conclusions – and if the feeling continues, use it to clarify what questions it raises for me rather than stay in a place of judgement

 

  1. What do I feel as I listen to what is being said – and why? Finally, just as it was crucial to tune to the feelings of the one who is speaking, it is fundamental to connect to my own feelings as I am listening. On the one hand, it may provide useful information into the reality being presented. On the other hand, it is a prerequisite before the second act in Dialogue: Generative Speaking. If I don’t pay attention to the feelings that have been evoked by what I heard, I will not be able to constructively respond to what I heard; instead, I will merely act out my inner state, thus putting the Dialogue at risk

 

For some of my clients, and at times for me too, Generative Listening has been the single most powerful tool in enabling the organisational transformation they were looking for. The complete shifts in the way organisational members related to one another generated a huge release of meaning, energy, creativity, and, at times, healing. As leaders started embodying their role primarily through listening rather than through controlling and/or giving advice, the whole dynamics at work moved towards collaboration and engagement, leading to new ways of working together, new activities, and new sources of performance.

 

For others, whilst Generative Listening proved to be a crucial first step in the dance, they realised they were still in need of some tools or processes to help them speak to one another authentically; to be able to bring up tough issues without breaking down the quality of the Dialogue.

So I started working with them on Generative Speaking ...

 


Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk have got it all wrong

We are at a crucial point in the history of humanity. We know what the problem is: our human activities, since the start of the industrial revolution, have increasingly degraded our living environments, which has led to climate change (global warming, more frequent and more violent hurricanes, flooding, extreme forest fires…) and to the erosion of biodiversity around the world.

We also know what the solutions will need to look like, will need to involve: starting from now, and into the future, our human activities will need to work in symbiosis with natural ecosystems, rather than against them. In fact, given the breadth of our impact on Nature so far, our human activities will need to do more than that; more than preserve Nature, more than being “sustainable”: they will also need, to some extent, to contribute to restoring some of the natural capital that we have spent, some of the ecosystems that we have eroded even though we, humans, depend on them for our own survival.

Our human activities will therefore need to be REGENERATIVE.

The task at hand may seem daunting, impossible. The scope of the transformations required may feel so overwhelming that it might be easier to minimise the actual problem, or to seek an escape from it, however wild they may sound, i.e. flying to Mars and start a new human colony there.

In the early 60s, when JFK set the aim of landing a man on the Moon, everyone thought it would be impossible. Yet his Intention galvanised his country, and soon

many efforts converged from all sorts of fields to engage in an unprecedented display of collective intelligence, leading to Neil Armstrong’s moon-landing in 1969.

Today, we’re at such a “Moon moment”. Yet Bezos, Musk et al. have it all wrong. The star we need to reach for is not out there, external to us. It is inside of us. We need to pull together and be creative in order to transform what we produce and how we produce it – rather than build spaceships in order to continue producing what we’ve always produced just so that we can take it with us to another planet.

As humans, we have great, renewable energies inside of us: intelligence, creativity, solidarity, empathy, a capacity to collaborate with others, etc. It is time we apply those to meet the greatest challenge humanity has to face, and discover how we can, together, transform our businesses into regenerative businesses.

And for that, there is good news: some regenerative businesses already exist and are having beneficial impact, combining value creation with the restoration of natural ecosystems.

So stay tuned, for we, Nexus, are going on a journey around the world to meet them and discover what they do and how they do it, and we will be sharing those stories with you so that more and more people can be inspired by these examples.

Soon, a critical mass of businesses will start shifting towards becoming regenerative and, suddenly, that inner Moon we are seeking won’t feel out of reach after all.