After thirteen wonderful years, I’ll be leaving Forum for the Future at the end of Oct. I’ll be exploring ways to advising, initiating and/or leading institutional interventions that accelerate the evolution of our global society toward a sustainable footing. But what on Earth does that mean?
Monday 31 October will be my last day as an employee of Forum for the Future. I joined in March 2003, so that’s 13 and a half years.
A lot has happened across that time. The second Iraq war was about to start. The iPhone was still 4 years away. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan still thought that self-interest would make any financial crash impossible. Lord Stern showed action on climate change was economically a good idea. The field went from ‘just’ CSR to a growing understanding that sustainability is crucial to successful business – still observed more in the talk than the walk, alas. Forum went global, and pivoted from individual partnerships to shifting systems through collaboration and more.
Professionally, I went from green accountant to Director of Sustainable Business. I’ve worked with Boards all around the world come up with ways they can be more successful by creating a more sustainable future, through their strategy and business model innovation, in sectors from retail to energy, hotels to telecoms. As a senior executive I’ve managed people, formed teams, co-created strategy, co-ran operations – feeling the burden and possibilities of leadership. Personally, I got married, had kids, became a home owner, lost both my parents, and grown a beard.
It’s been a privilege to do that in Forum. Forum has played – and, will continue to play – a vital role in my life and career. The mission has shaped my purpose, the experiences have grown my abilities and the people have inspired me for over decade. My sense of who I am, how I am to live and what I am trying to do – all this and more come from my time at Forum.
…starting something(s) new.
Over the last two years I’ve been a Policy Fellow at the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) in the University of Cambridge. I started by asking ‘what is the role of business in the transition to a global sustainable economy?’. It gave me the chance to explore lots of different thinking, and reflect on my own experiences. I started realising that voluntary action by charismatic CEOs was not going to be enough.
My thoughts turned to ‘how can we generate the political economy we need (so that businesses and others have to be active in the transition)?’ Then earlier this year I did a three month sabbatical, exploring some different different ways to answer that question.
So, my personal theory of change has been iterating fast – and subtly moving away from Forum’s work. Forum is focussing on important issues that are becoming ready for action. I was getting more and more interested in trying to shift the wider landscape in which those specific issues exist.
I realised I was being drawn to something a bit different: advising, initiating and/or leading institutional interventions that accelerate the evolution of our global society toward a sustainable footing. Now that needs some unpacking! Here goes.
My purpose*. Part of a generation that puts global society on a sustainable footing, based on a ‘living system’ paradigm-in-action.
- People have capabilities they need to choose how they want to thrive.
- Social and planetary systems no longer over-whelmed.
My role*. Be part of the ‘innovation function’ we need to accelerate the evolution of how society is organised, meaning:
- The interplay of economics, law, politics and more that set the operating context for activities, both formally economic and beyond, of individuals and organisations.
- The dominant beliefs which are expressed in that interplay.
What’s next*. Make strategic contributions to institutional intervention(s) that accelerate that evolution by testing ways to put a ‘living system’ paradigm into practice.
By ‘institutional intervention’, I mean an organisation that is a systemic effort to evolve towards living systems-in-practice. It could be single issue or wide-ranging, large or small, existing or new. The key thing is that it is testing and demonstrating a way of being that is deeply rooted in a living system paradigm, and so, if successful, opens up a path to a sustainable footing.
And my ‘strategic contribution’ could be advising as a consultant, initiating as an entrepreneur or leading as a senior executive.
*=my current understanding, which I’m sure will evolve with experiences.
Now, I had a number of possibilities in this direction. These were increasingly difficult to develop while I was a Director in Forum. I had some days in Findhorn Foundation, which gave me a chance to do some ‘inner work’ on my own purpose and mindset. And then abit of money came in after my dad’s death. I realised I’ve had 2 jobs in 17 years. Now is the chance to try out some different stuff, at least for a while.
I’ve developed a ‘bushy strategy tree’ – Beinhocker’s phrase for having a variety of live options. In effect, I’m starting off as a freelancer with a number of different sorts of leads, some to stay as a freelancer, some to scale up a particular advisory organisation, some that are specific interventions in specific systems. (I’ll be writing more about each very soon.) The ones which fly, fly. In 6 months time I may be full-time on one thing, or still have a portfolio.
So, I’m becoming an Affiliate Director at Forum, providing my expertise and insight where they need it. I’m becoming an Associate Fellow at CSaP. And I’m diving into the ‘institutional interventions’ that I’d only be dipping my toe into so far.
If you have an idea, an existing organisation or a project that you think fits the bill, get in touch. I can afford to do a few days work for free – as long as it is a really great idea!
I’m sure I will make many mistakes along thew way. But I will be learning to a social entrepreneur / systemic change agent / insert better name here. I will be testing my emerging theory of change, live in the world. I intend to play my part in the generation that puts global society on a sustainable footing.
Wish me luck!