Analogue leadership in a digital world

Humanity 101 – Intersticia Retreat 2023

Humanity 101 – Intersticia Retreat 2023

The privilege of trust is the opportunity to empower others.

The privilege of trust is to recognise that leadership is inherently temporary and carries a specific responsibility to do no harm.

The privilege of trust is to recognise the vulnerability of others and see it as an opportunity to encourage not to exploit.

The privilege of trust is to elevate the needs of the many above the ambition of the few.

(Paul Gilbert,

I wanted to begin this post with a quote that spoke to my feelings about our fourth Intersticia Retreat which we held in early September 2023 at the beautiful Darwin Lake Holiday Village.  Eighteen members of our Intersticia community, plus Nancy the wonder-dog, came together amidst British Rail strikes, delayed flights and in to THE most glorious English Autumn weather, a symbol in itself of one of the global challenges we all face.

This fully face-to-face opportunity has been a long time coming and much has happened in the six weeks since we met which is having a direct impact on many members of our community.

As we entered the interstice of our Retreat every one of us came with our own expectations and hopes for the week – suffice to say that one thing about our community is that one never knows what will emerge and whatever our initial plans the group will always take things in unexpected and creative new directions!

The general plan was to craft a mix of learning within all the various ‘spaces’ through the combination of different groupings and conversations.  For the ‘formal’ we planned for a combination of content and discussion complemented by work in both plenary and small groups; for the ‘informal’ our objective was to use the small groups of each cottage to collaborate around the task of catering; for the broader environmental context we planned for long walks and the opportunity to reflect in the beauty of the Peak District.  Needless to say things never go according to plan!

It became apparent from the first day that our group of curious, highly intelligent, generous and fearless young people were wanting to contribute as much as they could to the learning of others and to the interrogation of any and all topics of concern.  As the week progressed ach and every member contributed to what our shared space became with each session stretching through questions and discussion and the intersticial space between their professional and career aspirations and their personal ambitions and challenges opening up.

This is precisely what we have been hoping to achieve and create for our community and the most wonderful thing to observe was that there was a safe and supportive haven where each individual could experiment, explore and push the boundaries of their own personal development in concert with that of their colleagues.

Whilst we didn’t go on as many, or as long, walks and explorations as we had hoped we did explore together some of the elements that Stewards of Humanity for the 21st Century will need to become proficient with in order to have any measure of impact or success, and our hope has always been to be able to draw on our own community for expertise in this.  Our 2023 Retreat demonstrated this very powerfully with all of the content sessions being delivered by members of our community.

The container of the Retreat itself was held very powerfully by Sam Crock and Marianne Darre who worked tirelessly to craft and recraft the agenda as each day reformulated itself.  Our walking was continuously reformatted by Louise Sibley who creatively presented different options based on weather, timing and everyone’s energy, whilst Dan Sofer found innovative ways for his Small Group to meet embracing the natural environment.

One of the key areas we explored was that of Voice and how to express oneself and in this we were ably led by Jess Chambers who brought her vast knowledge and experience to get everyone thinking about how we all communicate.

In life we have enough breath to speak our thoughts. 

This was beautifully complemented by Dr Marco Valerio who brought us the work of his PhD on The Placebo Effect and Somatics which enabled everyone to begin to more fully understand the power of mind-body connection and the impact it has on how we are perceived and how we interpret the world around us.  For me the poignancy of this was the importance of appreciating and understanding that whilst we are hurtling towards an AI driven world we do live in the physical space – the interstice between the analogue and the digital.

Dr Philip Hayton gave this context by introducing the concept of VUCA, first described by the US Army War College in 1987 to describe a complex, multilateral world perceived to have emerged after the end of the Cold War.


Philip built on Marco’s work by presenting this as the challenge that we all need to develop skills to cope with, and referred in particular to Polyvagal Theory and the need to understand, proactively work with, and continually recognise the power of our innate biological nervous systems in how we react to the environment around us.

The complexity of living in such an environment is something that challenges us all, and as humanity struggles to manage the convergence of multiple issues including the intensity of climate change, the increasing development of artificial intelligence, the rise of inequality, the increasing humanitarian needs as the result of conflict, (see the UN Foundation and my own questions to Pi).  As the current commotion around AI intensifies – it is estimated that some half a trillion US dollars is being invested in it’s development – the reality is that the only way to even begin to address these is to invest in people.

As we have always stated, however, we need Analogue Leadership in a Digital World and therefore, as much as we need to understand our biological selves we also need to learn to understand the technologies which are evolving. This is where Dr Ardavan Afshar‘s presentation on Machine Intelligence was so important, and stimulated a very long and detailed conversation around its role and place within our societal systems.

For every dollar we invest in Artificial Intelligence we need to invest in human minds, in human beings. (Yuval Noah Harari, interview with Zanny Minton Beddoes and Mustafa Suleyman – The Economist)

As is so often the case we could have included so much more drawing on the work of our Fellows and this is now one of our key challenges as the expertise within our community continues to grow and develop.  But it presents us with an exciting challenge – to craft a programme for each of our Fellows helping them to learn individually but also for them to teach the rest of us and grow the knowledge base of Intersticia itself.

This is the challenge that John O’Neil gave us when we began Intersticia many years ago, and it is incredibly rewarding to feel that we are beginning to achieve some small success even though we have a long way to go.

Our 2023 Intersticia Workspace at Darwin Lake, Matlock

Small Group Work

I would like to thank each and every one of our Fellows who participated and contributed, but in particular I’d like to give a huge thanks to our Elders – Sam Crock, Marianne Darre, Louise Sibley, Dan Sofer and Philip Hayton – who so selflessly and generously gave their time, insights, knowledge and wisdom to everyone in our community.  It was also wonderful to have Ed Saperia join us which meant that all of our key partners were with us.

Intersticia has now been slowly crafting our community for the past decade and bit by bit bringing people together whom we feel share our values, ambitions and hopes for the future of humanity (I presented a video telling the story of our first decade which can be viewed with permission only).  This 2023 Retreat nudged this just a bit further forward but with it raised the bar of what I believe we can, and should, aim to achieve.

A cohort of authentic, courageous, dedicated, humble, curious and yet gracious people who will each take the challenge of creating a better world.

Our work is just beginning.

October 2023