The emerging generation is one of hope, awakened and will reboot the way we live – regenerate society as you gain voice, implicitly awakened choices (Professor Lisa Miller).
Yesterday our UK Trustee Louise Sibley and I attended the World Premier of “Lost Histories“, a show based on the family history of Biripi and Gamillaroi musician Troy Russell, created for Musica Viva Australia’s In-Schools Program. Troy, together with Leila Hamilton and Susie Bishop entertained a small group of families from all walks of Australian life as they visited the Art Gallery of New South Wales to celebrate the opening of it’s new Library and Archive as part of the Gallery’s opening of its’ major new development.
This project came about due to Zoë Cobden-Jewitt, now one of our Intersticia Advisors, with whom we started working on our very first Australian project with the Bell Shakespeare Company when they created their Writers’ Fellowship in 2015.
As I sat and listened to Troy, Leila and Susie explore the memory-box holding these Lost History stories I began to think about the stories within Intersticia that we have all created over the past decade. It was at the end of 2012 after Sam, Lock and I had been to the UK in the Summer with my Aunt Joan Doughton (whom our Doughton Scholarship is in memory of) that I first began seriously exploring the concept of creating a family Foundation through which to undertake our philanthropic activities, and the Intersticia Foundation Australia became a reality on 23rd July 2023. Intersticia UK became a Registered Charity on 7th January 2019.
The idea of being able to support younger people as they journey through life began when I was a student at Goodenough College in 1985, but this was further stimulated by a conversation I had with John O’Neil, founder of The Good Life, in 2016. The Good Life evolved from the Aspen Institute, which was created to enable business leaders to take time out to discuss philosophy, ethics and literature as a key part of their own leadership journey. In 2006 two Aspen teachers – John O’Neil (ex AT&T) and Pete Thigpen (ex Levi Strauss) realised that the lessons of Aspen needed to be brought to the tech-leaders and community of Silicon Valley, and so they created Good Life.
When I visited John in Sausalito in 2016 we talked about how important it was for elders with resources to enable and empower emerging stewards and he challenged me to create a Fellowship – a group of people of like mind that I could support in the work that they do to make the world a better place. This is what has guided our thinking throughout the past decade and has informed the people we have chosen and the organisations we work with.
Here is an overview of our major activities in that time.
- We began working with the Web Science Trust and in partnership with them developed Brave Conversations in March 2017.
- We supported our second Rowland Scholar, Hamish Laing.
- We created our first Leadership Scholarship with Negar Tayyar as the first recipient.
- We created Brave Conversations held at the Australian National University in Canberra. From this has evolved into Future Worlds Challenge.
- We continued our partnership with Bell Shakespeare supporting Teresa Jakovich in their Education Programme.
- We supported our fifth Rowland Scholar, Osheen Arora.
- Bel Campbell worked as Intersticia’s Creative Director co-creating Brave Conversations and the development of Future Worlds Challenge and became our third Leadership Fellow.
- We held our first Intersticia Fellowship Retreat at Goodenough College which ten Fellows, both Australian and UK Boards, which was facilitated by Sam Crock and John Urbano.
- We began working with Founders and Coders and Gaza Sky Geeks to create the Founders Programme which supported eight FAC Graduates and fifteen GSG Graduates to work on Tech for Better projects. Our first Founder Fellows being Joe Friel.
- We supported our sixth Rowland Scholar, Timothy Wong.
- We welcomed Nick Byrne as our second Leadership Fellow.
- The Covid 19 Pandemic hit the world severely curtailing travel and all social activities.
- As part of our adaptation forced by the Covid19 Pandemic we created our Digital Gymnasia Series of workshops, initially run through Goodenough College aimed at their Alumni and Student communities, but run out more broadly in 2021.
- The Digital Gymnasia material was integrated in to the Founders and Coders Social Machine curriculum with the help of FAC Graduate Hannah Stewart.
- We held our second Intersticia Fellowship Retreat online with 17 (seventeen) Fellows and 4 (four) advisors (Sam Crock, Marianne Darre, John Urbano, Louise Sibley and Dan Sofer).
- We supported our eighth Rowland Scholar, Sean McDiarmid.
- We supported our third Doughton Scholar, Marco Valerio.
- Louise Sibley replaced Alison Irvine as a Trustee of Intersticia UK.
- We welcomed Marianne Darre and Philip Hayton as Intersticia Advisors.
- Jacquie Crock began working with Intersticia as our first Intern.
- Doughton Fellow Berivan Esen became a Trustee of Intersticia UK.
- For the first time we funded two concurrent Goodenough Scholars, Farahana Cajuste and Sergio Mutis.
- We continued our work with Yalla through creating the Yalla Apprenticeship Programme which supported two GSG Graduates to work full time with Yalla for six months. One is now a full time employee of Yalla.
- We held our first hybrid Intersticia Fellowship Retreat with 8 (eight) UK Fellows and Advisors attending in person at Schumacher College, Devon, and 15 (fifteen) Fellows and Advisors attending via Zoom.
- We began working with Abeer Abu Ghaith, Founder of MENA Alliances.
- Leadership Fellow Nick Byrne joined the Intersticia Foundation Board.
- We supported Gaza’s first Rock Band Osprey V with some funding towards sound and recording equipment.
- We delivered our first Brave Conversations to the Solstrand Leadership Programme, Norway.
- We supported our second Newspeak Scholar, Ardavan Afshar.
- We began supporting the development of a First Nations’ Ensemble through the Musica Viva Australia “In Schools Programme” resulting in “Lost Histories”created by Troy Russell.
- We supported the development of a new theatrical performance “Darkness” with Five Eliza Street, Newtown, Sydney to be premiered in January 2023.
- We supported our eleventh Rowland Scholar, Yujui Li.
- Abeer Abu Ghaith became a Leadership Fellow.
- We welcomed Hannah Stewart as Founder Fellow.
- We welcomed Zöe Cobden-Jewitt as an Intersticia Advisor.
Reflecting on the last ten years it seems fitting that we close the decade by once again working with Zöe on a project in Australia whilst also exploring new initiatives globally as we have always done.
From the beginning our aspirations for Intersticia were always global. Ten years on we have now achieved this working with a range of organisations and supporting a Fellowship of individuals from all walks of life who are all contributing to the crafting of the story of Intersticia.
I would like to thank each and every person who has been a part of this.
An individual human existence should be like a river: small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being (Bertrand Russell).
Ritual is important, and there is no discounting (some) people’s need for it now. The snaking queue, all five miles of it, speaks of our most inchoate impulses, almost-instincts that in the faithless 21st century have fewer and fewer outlets. (Rachel Cooke, The Guardian)
Elizabeth’s sleight of hand was to renew the monarchy quietly (The Economist)
In a culture that extracts the divine feminine from its practices …. a powerful Queen has been an expression of that femininity, female power that goes beyond femininity.
If you have a figure that represents our shared connection with one another and with God and that figure dies at a time when we are confused and fractured as a culture, when we are fearful and doubtful, when people are analysing power and identity then certain questions eventually have to be asked … about power, everyday life, varying cultures. Is it even possible to have a nature like Great Britain or the United States? (Russell Brand)
I began writing this post on the day before the funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II whilst being glued to the BBC livestream of the Lying in State. I began watching this incredible event as soon as it started on the day after the Queen’s death no matter where I was – in a café on top of Verbier, in various airport lounges, at the Solstrand Hotel, even out at a restaurant for dinner.
Unless you were hiding under a rock somewhere you could not help but be touched by this once in a lifetime event, and something that no one will ever see again.
The Queen’s death represents so many things for so many people – colonialisation / decolonialisation; monarchy / republic; pomp and circumstance; connection with something timeless and stable – something that we have always known, particularly with Elizabeth II. For most of us in Commonwealth countries we have never known another Head of State. For many of us this was a connection with our parents, with a time in the 20th Century which represented something ephemeral and for something which is now lost forever.
As a child living in London I was obsessed by Action Man figures but in particular the dress uniforms of the British military. I used to beg my parents to take me to Hamleys where bit by bit I added to my collection and I knew each and every regiment intimately. The Funeral brought all of this to real life as I watched every one of these regiments pay their respects there was something deeply moving about an entire culture across generations coming together to pay tribute to one human being who has had such a significant impact on humanity.
As a part of my own process I walked The Queue (the BBC Queue Tracker was just fascinating to watch) which was literally miles long and consisted of thousands of people queueing along the Thames enduring anywhere between 12 – 24 hours of standing, moving and huddling in London’s cooler Autumn temperatures. Some 250,000 people joined in this ritual the culmination of which was to file in to the ancient Westminster Hall for a fleeting glimpse of the coffin and accompanying catafalque party. Westminster Hall itself is the oldest building on the Parliamentary Estate erected by William II in 1097 and the site of State Trials (King Charles I, Thomas More and Guy Fawkes), Coronation Banquets and the Lying in State of Sir Winston Churchill and Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. From military veterans in wheelchairs struggling to stand up and salute; a small boy with a Grenadier Guards t-shirt; whole families with young children who were bleary-eyed and a bit bemused by it all having camped out all night; uniforms of every military unit, every volunteer organisation and every religious denomination; those who really didn’t quite know what to do when their turn came around to walk past, and those who just came and stood silently. All who came to say farewell and pay their respects not to a monarch but to a woman who selflessly gave her life to her country without ever faltering.
I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong. (Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II)
In these days where most political leaders feel they can lie and break promises for a young woman to make this speech on her 21st birthday and spend an entire lifetime living up to it is something very special.
What I experienced throughout the entire ten days of official mourning with it’s various ceremonies and parades was Britain at its best. People standing quietly paying their respects; the ruthless organisation, exquisite precision, and humbling machinery of the funeral procession. The emotionally charged music and choreographed movements which were not just done in unison but each and every participant did so in a deeply personal way.
During the funeral service itself I was struck by how moving it was, but also that it is rare to witness a moment where quite literally a huge chunk of humanity stopped for just a moment in order to say thank you and farewell to someone who is truly worthy of being called a saint, someone who truly dedicated their lives to their beliefs in their God and their dutty to a higher cause. I believe Elizabeth II was just such a person and deserved every ounce of the grief and gratitude that she was given and my only hope is that future generations remember her as a role model of great courage and grace.
People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer. But in all cases those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten. (Archbishop of Canterbury in his Sermon at the Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II)
The Solstrand programme contributes to the development of Norwegian businesses and the public sector by providing participants with a better understanding of organisational structure and greater insight into leadership processes.
Since 1953, Nordic leaders have come to The Solstrand programme to learn from and with one another supported by leaders and key actors in Norwegian society and international research who contribute their knowledge and experience.
There are two core aspects of the work that we do through Intersticia.
The first is our focus on Group Relations and the dynamics of human interactions in groups which underpin all aspects of leadership and stewardship.
The second is our focus on integrating digital literacy and digital fluency in the work that we do with our Fellows, with partner organisations and through all of our events, especially Brave Conversations.
This year saw me able to bring these together with two Brave Conversations events in September, the first of which was as a part of the 2022 Solstrand Leadership Programme.
I first learned about Solstrand when I met three Solstrand coaches at the 2018 Tavistock Institute Leicester Conference and subsequent to this two of my Leicester colleagues, Marianne Darre and Philip Hayton, have become members of the Intersticia community as Advisors.
In January 2020 I was invited to Solstrand and was privileged to observe this programme over two days through sitting in on one of the Small Groups, participating in the larger group and then witnessing the Artistic Programme held at the Oseana Art and Cultural Centre in Os.
The Solstrand Hotel began it’s life in 1896 built by Norway’s first Prime Minister Christian Michelsen. Michelsen wanted it to be a place where the tradesmen of Bergen (Norway’s second largest city) could gather strength for their big mission in the city.
Since then leaders from all walks of life have visited Solstrand and in post-WWII Europe it became a beacon of hope for the ravaged Norway with the first Solstrand Programme held at the hotel in 1952 as a partnership between the NFF (Norwegian School of Economics) and the AFF (Norway’s largest Leadership and Organisational Development Consultancy). From the outset the founders of Solstrand wanted to draw on the very latest and most innovative thinking in leadership development and the foundations of the programme are built on this philosophy and the crucial aspects of group relations which manifest in the Tavistock institute’s Leicester Conference.
Every year since 1953 some 48 participants from virtually all sectors of the Norwegian economy, of varying ages and stages in their careers come to Solstrand to participate in a 7 week programme split across two and one week blocks over a year and a half to learn about themselves, the groups they participate in and the organisational system as a whole. They are supported by highly trained coaches and a wide range of guest lectures and talks from speakers and thought leaders around the world.
When I first learned about Solstrand my immediate reaction was “no wonder Norway is doing so well!”. It is, in my opinion, the most effective and successful leadership development programme in the world and has provided an inspiration for how we are developing Intersticia, albeit on a much smaller scale. When I think of how it works it resonates deeply with the values that we at Intersticia espouse and integrate in what we do – those of authenticity, integrity, persistence, courage and grace. What I realised when I discovered Solstrand was that, quite simply,
our vision is for Intersticia to become a mini-global Solstrand, one person at a time.
This year I was hugely privileged to be invited to present a Brave Conversations to the incoming 2022 Solstrand cohort, the first fully face to face one since the start of the Covid pandemic and the first to be held totally within the context of the onging Russia-Ukraine War – the first major conflict in Europe since WWII. The week I attended was also the first week of mourning for the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
I always find going to Solstrand a transformative experience, not only because of the sheer beauty of the hotel sitting quietly on the Hardangerfjord, but in the energy of the work being done within the Solstrand programme itself. This time my experience was that of feeling the deep historical and cultural connections between Britain and Norway not just due to the Viking heritage (Lindesfarne and all that) but as two nations which both have Constitutional Monarchies, are both crucial to the defence of the values of Western Europe, are both blessed with energy independence (Norway now Europe’s main energy provider) but both are prepared to be brave in how they approach things and push the boundaries. There is something wonderfully familar about Norway that I have felt since I first visited (perhaps my own Viking roots) but there is also the courage that is displayed within the Solstrand Programme and it’s own ambitions to facilitate brave conversations.
From the outset of this event the group was responsive, curious and willing to embrace the challenge of asking difficult questions and seeking non-conventional answers. In their groups it was fascinating to observe how they responded to the Case Study based on The Nexus Trilogy which sought to highlight issues such as transhumanism, the ethics of AI and the emerging hive mind of connected humanity. As always it was the context of both the programme and the times which resulted in the most interesting conversations and, hopefully, the most effective learning.
I learned a huge amount about myself and the work we do from the experience and hope that the conversations started at Solstrand will continue to resonate for the participants in both their personal and professional lives and empower them to use their Solstrand learnings as much online as in their real-world interactions. As the metaverses evolve we are going to desperately need people who can be brave and not just follow others – we need those who will see beyond what is immediately apparent and have the courage to seek new paths. This is what Solstrand seeks to achieve.
I would like to thank Hans Morten Skivik, Marianne Darre and Gisken Holst for their very kind invitation and their always open and welcoming hospitality at Soltrand. I would also like to thank the Solstrand programme for the opportunity to introduce ideas around the Social Machine and Digital Enlightenment and to challenge them to leverage these brave conversations beyond Norway.
Layers of Time, Stewart Brand, Pace Layering, 1999
It is a rare thing to live through a moment of huge historical consequence and understand in real time that is what it is. (Alan Little)
For the past two years I, like almost everyone else on the planet, have been locked down (or up, depending on perspective!), separated from family and friends and corralled into the virtual world. Zooming or Teaming or just talking on the phone became my primary means of communication which meant that if I wanted to connect I had little option but to go online.
I keep on being reminded of E. M. Forster’s novel “The Machine Stops” where humans had exchanged the meatspace for the virtual-space.
The clumsy system of public gatherings had been long since abandoned; neither Vashti nor her audience stirred from their rooms. Seated in her armchair she spoke, while they in their armchairs heard her, fairly well, and saw her, fairly well. ( The Machine Stops)
We have now had the opportunity to play in this space, and for many this has meant learning new technical skills and embracing new communication styles that are often at odds with our natural inclination. Whilst I’ve always been an early adopter of useful technologies the reality is that communicating via screens is not how I like to do things but this forced me to more fully explore myself as a digital being, both alone and in how I interact with others.
Men seldom moved their bodies; all unrest was concentrated in the soul. (E. M. Forster, The Machine Stops)
As I now reconnect with my global life back in London what has struck me the most is how much I have missed during the last two years being reliant on screen based communications. All organisations I work with are navigating the new world of hybrid work and I know that for many senior managers this is causing enormous stress. Whilst they are happy avoiding the time-waste of the daily commute, their personal sense of control and authority has been challenged, and they realise that they don’t actually trust people to work independently out of the office. Last year in the rush to resume ‘normality’ many organisations began to mandate a return to the office before the main Covid waves had even manifested. Since that time they seem to have realised that their timelines of command and control, and those of the ‘natural world’ are deeply out of sync.
This is where Stewart Brand’s concept of Pace Layering is so very useful, particularly as we begin to transition to whatever the ‘new normal’ is going to be.
I have felt a pressing need to re-engage and resume my London life as it was in early 2020, meeting lots of people, going to events and filling my calendar. But I have largely resisted this spending much more time in my flat, reducing the number of interactions and ensuring that those I have are given the right amount of focus and attention they deserve. I am hugely conscious that my new life can be, and perhaps should be, very different from my old. Being forced to stay put, to disconnect and to reassess has been life changing and powerful, whilst also confronting and exhausting as we spent so much time with ourselves. For some, like those in China, the pain of lockdowns continues and the mental health cost will take years to process. Having had two years being told to maintain social distance and that other humans are dangerous there is heightened sense of distrust of pretty much everything.
So, as we transition in to the new normal it is imperative to understand that people, processes and systems all change at different paces, and that these paces are much more nuanced and complex than we realise. Transitions, as people such as William Bridges, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ Change Curve and Kurt Lewin’s Freeze-Unfreeze describe, all involve loss, fear, uncertainty and discomfort, but they also provide opportunity.
When one door closes another opens but the corridors can be a real bitch!
We are currently in the corridor – the interstice between the old and the new – which Bridges’ model describes as the Neutral Zone:
- Endings – the first stage is that of ‘letting go’, of identifying what is being lost, grieving for that loss, and appreciating that things will never be the same.
- Neutral Zone (in reality, the interstice) – the most crucial part of transition where “critical psychological realignments and re-patternings take place”, new processes and learnings emerge, and the foundation is laid for the future.
- New Beginnings – new understandings, values and attitudes. An emerging fresh identity together with reorientation and renewal.
I have been reflecting on the last ten years of Intersticia and all that we have achieved (more on that to come) and whilst I firmly agree that even before the Pandemic we were in the process of embarking on a new horizon the difference now is that everything around us has changed and we do ourselves a disservice if we rush the process of moving out of the interstice whilst it is still useful and productive.
We need to create our own space to imagine.
Our little community scattered all around the globe is much like a global radar giving us snippets of insights in to how humanity ids dealing with all of this, and the value of our work now is to really listen to the ebb and flow of what they are telling us, their different paces of change and their plans and dreams for the next phase.
The emerging generation is one of hope, awakened and will reboot the way we live – regenerate society as you gain voice, implicitly awakened choices – Professor Lisa Miller
This is why we do what we do, as servants of the emerging generation of 21st Century Stewards. They deserve that we do this with courage, persistence, grace, integrity and authenticity to give them the best chance they have, for all our sakes.
An individual human existence should be like a river: small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being. (Bertrand Russell).
We created the first Brave Conversations in 2017 but it had a long genesis and followed on from a series of events which we called Meta held between 2008 – 2011. (Funny as I think of how Facebook has now rebranded itself to exactly the same name but for entirely different reasons!)
Our “Meta” events were so named because they focused on metadata, which is essentially, data about data. The objective was to bring people from different perspectives and backgrounds (academia, business and government) together to explore the symbiotic relationship between humanity and technology as digital technologies become increasingly pervasive in everyday life. At these early events we were joined by the early thinkers and practitioners in what we now recognise as the Web Science space, but the conversations were far from mainstream. That has taken time and there’s nothing like a global pandemic, countries in lockdown, and everyday living moving online to kickstart the adoption of new technologies!
So, here we are a decade after our last Meta event and having developed and taken Brave Conversations around the world and online and it’s time for us to create something a little different, something targeted at the emerging leaders in our society and those for whom being online is just taken as given – those born in the 21st Century.
Our early Brave Conversations events attracted a number of young people, sometimes with parents and even grandparents, and Brave Conversations Kingston Jamaica was especially targeted to this demographic. Since that time we have been developing an idea to gamify the process of learning about Web Science and the ‘theory and practice of the Social Machine‘ but it wasn’t until we met MIT researcher Jessica Van Brummelen that it all came together with the result being Future Worlds Challenge.
Jessica is an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science PhD student at MIT researching how conversational agents can empower and teach young learners about AI.
What are conversational agents?
According to IBM:
Conversational AI refers to technologies (chat-bots, virtual agents) which interact with users via speech and uses large volumes of data, machine learning, and natural language processing to help imitate human interactions, recognizing speech and text inputs and translating their meanings across various languages.
Jessica’s research focuses on empowering young learners through helping them develop conversational AI development skills and engaging them in discussions about the ethics of AI. (You can find out more about this work here). Once we met Jessica we knew we had the perfect partner to hold our first Future Worlds Challenge and so we now have two events planned for the end of November, each targeting a different time zone and audience.
Each Future Worlds will comprise the first day of learning to programme an Amazon Alexa using MIT App Inventor and then the second working in teams, each with their own Amazon Alexa, to undertake the Challenge itself.
What is Future Worlds Challenge?
There are so many challenges facing humanity at the moment – climate change, the future of education, health care, governance, work-life balance. The idea of Future Worlds Challenge is to help participants working in teams to think through some of these issues from a systems perspective considering each of the following and how they interact with each other and with the global system as a whole.
- Intrapersonal – What are the systems within ourselves: physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual?
- Interpersonal – What are the systems between ourselves and others in our family, community?
- Societal – What are the systems at work within a society?
- Global – What are the systems at work in our relationship with the natural world?
We will combine this thinking with each of the following domains in order to explore the options and choices which are presenting themselves, and then each team, armed with the power of their Conversational AI Alexa, will work towards creating and presenting a Future World which they believe would be the most sustainable and beneficial for humanity.
The winning teams will then be invited to join us (virtually) for our Brave Conversations Barcelona event at the forthcoming ACM Web Science 2022 Conference hosted by Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain.
At this stage we have over 100 people from all around the world who have expressed their interest in participating but there are still places left so if you or someone you know would like to come along please register your interest here.
The assembly line at Ford’s Highland Park Plant, 1914 (Source)
Seven principles and an open invitation (Part One of Three)
By Intersticia Advisor Ibrahim El Badawi
A couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to be the guest of an online “meet and greet” session with the Intersticia’s community, shortly after joining this global community as an Advisor.
The closed Zoom meetup was in the form of an informal conversation hosted brilliantly by Jacquie Crock, whose questions covered various topics, from innovation and digital transformation to Sufism and many rich topics in between, as you can imagine. This diversity (and randomness!) was probably due to the Ask Me Anything (AMA) nature of the conversation, my career journey, and geography. I zoomed in from Sydney, Australia, but I was born in Sudan, which means diversity is a natural fate I couldn’t escape. Rather, a privilege I had to learn to appreciate. Sudan is where Asia meets Africa, Arabian Bedouins meet African Dinkas, where the Blue Nile and the White Niles merge, and where the great Nile emerges. This horizontal mix might be the platform that enabled my vertical career journey. At one point, I was a computer scientist coding in Assembly, and just yesterday I moderated a global virtual lab on public policy with public sector officials from Sydney to New York to Marrakech.
In line with my role and Intersticia’s mission to develop and support emerging leaders for the Twenty First Century, a subtle theme of the conversation was to share my thoughts and lessons that could be a source of inspiration for young fellows who represent the heart of Intersticia’s community.
The energy I felt in the virtual room made me reflect on the conversation we had, and encouraged me to share my thoughts in a structured open way with you, young aspiring leaders, whether you’re part of Instersticia’s community or not, and anyone passionate about the same mission.
Perhaps you agree with me that the ongoing pandemic and its cumulative burden on our societies, in addition to the recent footage from Kabul and the White House, make it timely to talk about the leadership crisis that our world is experiencing.
In this article and in two more to follow, I share with you seven principles that I consider essential for young aspiring leaders to consider while navigating their path in the 21st century and preparing to lead others. Needless to say, I am not sharing these principles as an inclusive list, nor am I talking to you in any way from a superior position. Rather, these are lessons I have learned through my ups and downs in the past phases of my professional and personal journey.
And because I am learning and growing myself, I will dedicate the third article to invite you to a conversation around the meaning of leadership in the 21st century.
Here are my three first principles for leading a life in the twenty-first century.
Principle #1: Remember that almost everything in your life was decided by someone
There is a good chance that you are reading these words at the moment while you are in lockdown in your place, or carrying your mask and worrying about staying 1.5 meters away from the people around you! Right?
Simply because someone has decided that this is how you should work, study and live your life in this pandemic.
As it turns out, many of us actually enjoy this and prefer to continue living this way even when the pandemic is over. According to a Harvard study that surveyed around 1,500 professionals working remotely over the past year, 81% either don’t want to fully return to the office or would prefer a type of “hybrid” schedule going forward.
This landslide vote is not a surprise given the enormous economic, social, environmental and other benefits of remote work, as most of us have experienced in the last year.
But this should make us wonder: if remote work is so awesome, why had we spent the decades before the pandemic commuting to the office or school every day?
Again, the answer is the same: mainly because someone had decided it for us.
Everything in life follows suit. Aside from gravity and other natural facts, everything you can see around you is probably the result of someone’s imagination, vision and action.
You can look around you right now. Notice the knob of your room door, the car across the street and the digital device on which you are reading this article. This principle transcends physical objects to laws, regulations, traditions and ideas that govern your society.
It is a simple fact of the system in which we live, but significant enough to make you rethink your life outlook.
I realised this vividly for the first time when I watched this short video of Steve Jobs, and I watch it every now and then to remind myself of this principle:
Principle #2: This system has missed some major updates
Steve Jobs, however, did not point out another important reality about the design of our world, at least not in this video. Many parts of the system in which we live today were originally designed in the 20th century or earlier.
Since then, the world has been through many changes, and the system has had to be regularly updated to accommodate these changes. But the system has missed many of these updates, and some of them are major ones!
This is a flaw in the system.
Depending on what changes have been missed and where you live in the world, this flaw could manifest itself in different ways. However, some changes are universal, including the invention of the Internet (and the Web) and now COVID.
As I said earlier, it was a non-negotiable fact of life until a year ago that we had to commute daily to work or study. We can trace the roots of this belief back to the early pioneers of the industrial age, including Henry Ford, who decided that the assembly line of the Model T required workers (all men of course!) to be present in the same location at the same time to do the job.
In the 1990s, Jeff Bezos and others challenged this, and since then we have been using the Internet to order pizza, book vacations, and play video games, but we continued to travel to work and study.
It took us a global pandemic, and someone telling us in 2020: Hey! Actually, you can (and must!) now use the same internet to do work from home. Duh!
You can spot missed updates right now, where you are sitting. Try out this exercise: take a look around the physical world around you. Yup, literally the room or space you are in. Whilst you are at that, think of the larger world you live in – the assumptions, beliefs, laws and ideas you, your family, your business, your community or small society operate according to.
Can you spot something that makes no sense and negatively affects your life and the life of the people around you? Or at least bothers you? It can be small or big, from something in your room you can fix immediately, to a problem in the world that goes beyond your ability to do anything about it.
My current long list includes the books stacked on the floor of my bedroom in the new place I moved to recently, the arbitrary borders between countries in the Middle East and Africa, the tradition in some societies that you can only hire or marry someone if they are from certain tribes, and the belief and formal foriegn policy in other societies that they can win the hearts and minds of other people by bombing them.
Also, I do not like the fact that every time I check-in to my local supermarket using the COVID app from the NSW Government I need to manually check out, and I forget to do so most of the time! Why doesn’t the app do that automatically once I leave the shop by detecting the change in my location?
Most likely you already have such a list!
Principle #3: You can and should challenge this outdated system
This list serves as your starting point. A potential space where you can practice leadership by redesigning this part of the system and improving life for yourself and the people (and other creatures) around you.
I encourage you to examine it through the lens of the previous principle.
There is a good chance that the observations in your list exist because the system was designed sometime ago on the basis of certain assumptions or needs. These assumptions are no longer valid, but the system has not yet been updated.
How is it possible that a car company founded in 2003 outside Detroit is now the world’s most valuable car company? Here is one answer from Elon Musk’s biography:
“Anyone who tries to build a car company in the United States is quickly reminded that the last successful start-up in the industry was Chrysler, founded in 1925.”
You can train yourself to have such a questioning radar active all the time, but this exercise can be more significant when you are about to make strategic choices in your life.
In 2013, I decided to change my corporate life and start my entrepreneurial adventure, and I had one key design parameter for this new life: to leverage the internet and liberate myself from the location factor. While enjoying the fun GoDaddy part, a disappointing reality struck me from the system: I had to legally rent a physical office to get my business license.
For more than seven years, I have been paying the monthly rent for an office in Dubai that I rarely use. But you know what? I do not think of this as a rent. This is the cost of no longer being location bound. This is the price I pay for challenging a system that was originally designed by Henry Ford for his Model T.
While challenging an outdated system, be prepared for paying a price.
In my next post I will share with you the remaining principles starting with Principle #4: Avoid the “next big thing” trap.