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Better Futures

What am I up to? My activities in the past six months can be lumped into three groups:

1) Amartya Sen is right. A better future depends on our business and government leaders developing new skills, mindsets, and "adaptive capabilities". So my dharma has been about building new capabilities through leadership development programmes for large organizations in transition. I've been doing this at CEDEP, the center co-located at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France, and I will be doing more experimental curricula design with some new partners in 2006. While it's easy to point fingers at and demonize, people in big corporations are rarely evil; they just need some help and the opportunity to do the right thing.

2) Many of us are frustrated by the slow, incremental and often lacklustre problem-solving approaches we see within our existing political and institutional frameworks, especially with the exploding number of shared global issues that will affect us and future generations. This is especially maddening to us process designers who have been developing better collaborative problem-solving approaches that we know to work, but still seem to be missing in important places. For instance, I was pulling my hair out recently hearing about how the WTO Doha-round trade talks and summits work in practice. (A friend aptly called them "plummets" -- of resources, time, and attention.) Why such a suboptimal, outdated format designed from the outset to create further problems on issues so important to the lives and fortunes of so many people on this planet? Don't they realize this very structure of working gets in the way of seeing the ideas (which are usually already there) and mustering the political will to act!

So with this big gripe in mind, I'm building a new consulting network and community of practice focused on cutting-edge "systemic change" projects and processes with fellow colleagues from Pioneers of Change, an inspiring global learning community of changemakers. Combining our process design know-how and diverse experiences, we hope to develop a series of high impact engagements that have a fair chance of bringing about worldchanging activities either at the local, "multi-local", regional or global level. We will focus on a range of so-called "stuck" issues. We may start with something like immigration and integration in Europe. We will also offer something our global network can easily provide: a set of learning journeys (e.g. field trips) that help leaders see the implications of important social and political innovations in the emerging worlds -- everything from new approaches to development, property rights, sustainability, new technologies, emerging social values and trends, etc.

While we will be proactively pushing these multisectoral projects out there, we also hope to be pulled into some conversations. So we will do single-client work, and we will design conferences (heck, give us a summit!) if we feel it's a high leverage thing to do. By the next WC update, we will have a website and more to share in terms of our approach and service offerings. This is an ambitious venture in an increasingly noisy space, so wish us luck and be our champions!

(3) Creating content is another leg of my work. Worldchanging, of course, is an integral part of this. This work also includes doing the conference circuit. For instance, I was recently speaking in November at Triple Bottom Line conference on the Future of Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) which I covered here in a post on Money Flows. Lastly, I am in the throes of a book proposal on the topic of personal foresight. While the greatest act of creation of all is how we choose to live our lives, it's ironic that many of us feel lacking when it comes to both wisely planning ahead and being fully engaged in the present. We feel paralyzed by too many options and uncertainty about the future, or feel stuck with the self-limiting "scripts" in our heads and hearts. Yet many of the self-help stuff puts us off in the false promises that are peddled. So this book is about overcoming these dilemmas with a customizable framework for individuals, a synthesis of the latest thinking from strategy, cognitive psychology (especially how we make decisions), complexity theory, and other long-standing wisdom I've found useful. I feel this book is just as important as any global systemic change project because we need to change the world first by changing ourselves. Gandhi was right in saying "We must be the change we wish to see in the world." But what does that mean? What are the concrete and practical links between personal transformation and broader change? This question is especially relevant now, because as history and science tells us, individual actors are hyper-empowered during phase transitions. If this is true, how can we channel our energy and courage in the right directions? How can we all be worldchangers in our own way? I'm early in my explorations, so I welcome any suggestions from readers since this book is really for people like you!

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Thank you, Alex, for your genuine concern about the intellectual logjam among high-level decision-makers. Thank you for considering, and taking, action to do something about it. Finally, I sincerely hope your book gets written and published. The subject is a problem I'm deeply familiar with in my own life. I think the world needs a book that matches your description (and probably many more like it).

Posted by: Jonathan Pfeiffer on 31 Dec 05

It appears I had the wrong name of the contributor in my above comment. My apology, Ms Boyer.

Posted by: Jonathan Pfeiffer on 31 Dec 05

A Happy New Year to you Anne-Nicole.Thank you for laying out cogent roadmap that in parts clarifies some of the to do thoughts swirling around my head. I am particularly interested in your proposed book because I agree with you and Ghandi (in the same breath) that we have to be the persoal catalyst for the changes we which to see. In my own little corner of the world, Nigera (and by extension Africa) there are lots of off-radar possibilites for creating new relevant and effective paradigms for leadership, but we will need support and intellectual input. I definitely would like to be part of some of the interesting initiatives you spoke about. Perhaps it might even be possible sometime this year for us to actually meet and talk. Cheers, Tunji

Posted by: Tunji Lardner on 2 Jan 06

The topic of your book proposal is part of what I've been looking at in my thesis explorations. The genesis of my thesis was the idea that although there's a lot of information out there about what we should be doing, and a lot of information about how bad our current practices are, there's relatively little information about how to bridge the gap. There's no road map. So I'm very interested to see what you come up with.

Two books in particular which I've found interesting and useful in this area have been "The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices" by the Union of Concerned Scientists and "Mid-Course Correction" by Ray Anderson. The first book outlines the rationale behind several recommendations for consumer choices. In Ray Anderson's book, I found his diagram of the relationship between education and action succinct and powerful (I don't have my copy with me right now, but it's in the second half of the book, if I remember correctly).

I've also found myself taking an interest in branding efforts related to environmental or sustainable ends: for example, BP's efforts to brand the concept of a "carbon footprint". These branding efforts are interesting because they are in part attempting to establish a language around sustainability that's attractive and understandable to the general public, and because they are clearly attempts by companies to grab ownership of sustainable concepts. So, BP's rivals will find it hard to talk about carbon footprints now that BP has essentially branded carbon footprints. BP's competitors will have to talk about carbon footprints in some other way. I haven't decided yet whether such behavior is helpful or harmful.

Perhaps it's my background, but I find that language is really important with issues of sustainability. People have to understand what you're talking about to grasp what you mean. So, for example, the company ECOVER talks about "full disclosure" in its ingredients, but what does "plant based non-ionic tensio-active, surfactants, biodegradable complexing agent, and cellulose derivatives" mean to the average person? I'm not suggesting that we dumb-down information; rather, I'm pointing out a fundamental problem. People understand relationships like energy efficiency saving them money, but what meaning does "biodegradable complexing agent" hold for them?

This is a roundabout way of suggesting that personal improvement through education be an area of particular focus in your approach. We're always hearing about how the US ranks so poorly in science and math compared to the rest of the world, but it's never really clear how that affects anything. Let me suggest that the effects of such ignorance have critical consequences when talking about sustainability, because we need a certain level of competence to deal with these inherently complex issues.

Posted by: Dave Chiu on 2 Jan 06

Dear Ms. Boyer,

I enjoyed reading about your frustrations in getting "things moving" so to speak. This sounds very similar to problems that many of us face.
It's going to be hard work, but I hope that we can work out new ideas to go forward.

Happy New Year!

Posted by: Dave Coulter on 3 Jan 06

Interesting initiative, Nicolle-Anne Boyer. I wonder if it will be one of your priorities to be inclusive of other perspectives on the issues you cite.
For instance, in many parts of the world, frustration is growing over the so-called 'Anglosaxon' approaches to problems.
It may be crucial for you to succeed to be aware of the peculiarity of the Anglosaxon discourse.

Most ordinary citizens and leaders in Europe and elsewhere do not really go along with the singleminded focus on "personal foresight" (Anglosaxon individualism), on the discourse of "leaders" as actors of change (Anglosaxon obsession with authority and top-down approaches) and on "issue marketing" (e.g. Tony Blair's heavily marketed Africa Commission - those of us who have followed this up know that it was only a typical Anglosaxon media and marketing stunt - not much more), or on the talk of "corporate responsability" (the recuperation of critical discourses by corporations).

I'm sorry for being so singleminded here myself, but I sense that frustration over the emptyness of Anglosaxon approaches to world problems is growing very strongly about everywhere one looks.

I hope you will be able to go beyond a mere Anglosaxon point of view.

Good luck with that!

Posted by: Lorenzo on 3 Jan 06



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