Analogue leadership in a digital world

Photograph – looking over the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes, Israel

We cannot change the past, but the past can inspire us to campaign and change the future. (Julia Gillard)

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (Jesus of Nazareth, The Beatitudes, King James Bible, Matthew 5:1-12 KJV).

I took this photo as I sat on the Mount of Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Israel, in 2022 and pondered the words of Jesus of Nazareth. I felt deeply moved, but above all deeply saddened that the words he spoke at this place have been so ignored or deliberately manipulated by so many for so long in pursuit of their own agendas, and that his message has so often been used as an excuse for violence rather than peace.

So too with the words of the Prophet Muhammad.

In the Quran, man is called “khalifatullah”: Allah’s representative, His vicegerent, His responsible steward on Earth. … That man chose to accept the “trust” signifies that God has granted him free will. … Man is not free, however, to escape the consequences of his wrong choices, any more than the earth can escape the consequences of man’s constant misuse. (Barbara (Masumah) Helms).

As Barnaby Rogerson states in The House Divided it is a pity that throughout history the gap between the ideal example established by the Prophet(s) and the reality of political leadership has been a continuous tragedy.

I am writing this post as our Intersticia community gathers in London for the first of our Voice Workshops developed and facilitated by our Creative Fellow Jess Chambers.  Jess gave a great introduction at our 2023 Retreat and is following this up with both group and 1:1 sessions in London over the next month, for Intersticia, Founders and Coders and The Yalla Co-Operative.

Jess’s work is about

crafting a dynamic voice that completely and truly represents your dynamic thoughts and ideas. I believe that when we work with the voice, we are working with the whole person. (Jess Chambers)

Our hope for the programme is that as individuals our community will learn to trust, integrate, harness and amplify their voices in the work that they do, whilst simultaneously enabling them to craft a community voice for Intersticia and what it stands for.

With this in mind I am also beginning to prepare for our next Brave Conversations to be held in Stuttgart as a part of the 2024 ACM Web Science Conference.

I have been mulling over what the key themes to extract for the world in 2024 are, both for our Intersticia community and for Brave Conversations. Both our Intersticia work and that of Brave Conversations Stuttgart 2024 exist within the context of a world undergoing a confluence of social, political and technological change, perhaps the greatest confluence in recorded human history.

  • 2024 is the year which seems the most number of human beings participating in ‘democratic’ elections, something that has been described as an ‘election extravaganza’ (Reference)
  • Technology companies are releasing more and more powerful Large Language Models and Machine Learning systems and Intelligent Agents (Reference)
  • They are also rapidly developing and releasing new ways of interacting with technologies such as Augmented Reality (Reference)
  • Social Media companies are under increasing scrutiny by governments and regulatory authorities around online safety (Reference)
  • Progress on human longevity is becoming increasingly interesting with progress being made on the Science of Ageing (Reference)
  • It is hoped that renewable energy sources will achieve one third of global power generation in 2024 (Reference) particularly as the planet warms at an unprecedented rate (Reference).

Within all of these there is no one theme that is paramount, but it is the collision and convergence which is creating a pivotal moment for humanity – one in which we may either destroy life as we know it, or we may muddle through to embrace a Brave New World that is positive, or, something entirely unexpected may emerge.

History has shown that the success of homo sapiens has come about through collaboration, social intelligence and our preparedness to believe shared myths and stories (Harari 2015).  The power and influence of stories, and the voices that tell them, are often under-appreciated but they changed the path of history, and all too often resulted in the destruction of our environment and the desolation of landscapes, and the traumatisation and humiliation of human beings.  Whilst history does show that warfare has inspired, funded and progressed the human technological condition, it has also enslaved us because more often than not we have given in to our anger and aggression, we have allowed our primal reactions to dominate rather than to draw on our capacity for forgiveness and compassion.  We keep repeating the same mistakes and following the same patterns.

The definition of insanity is doing the same experiment and expecting different results. (Albert Einstein)

With this in mind one framework I have been pondering is that of the Strauss-Howe Generational Theory, sometimes referred to as The Four Turnings. What intrigues me is to reflect on how human generations have been shaped by what they encounter in the key years of their development (their 20s) which then determines how they respond to major changes or crises that they meet later on.

For me as a Generation X (with a bit of ‘late Boomer’) what I find frustrating is that despite being armed with an unprecedented knowledge and understanding of a combination of history, psychology, anthropology, archaeology, sociology and politics, and supported by the growing power of artificial intelligence, we keep repeating the same mistakes that have rhymed throughout history:

  1. Dictators still think they are all-powerful and will defy history
  2. Democratic societies still don’t appreciate the fragility of their governance systems
  3. Religious leaders still exploit tribal differences to propel and further their own power and influence and political agendae.

History has told us that this often breeds results in the short term, but is usually destructive in the longer term.

Trying to foretell and influence the longer term is what Hari Seldon sought to do with his Psychohistory (the inspiration for, and basis of the Social Machine), which of course didn’t work.  This is perhaps because Seldon too succumbed to the arrogance, hubris and confidence that scientists always seem to bring to their own models, rather than drawing on sufficient humility to allow for Black Swans and the unexpected.

Carrying the past through collective memory and stories is crucial to our survival but it fails to serve us unless we heed all the lessons, good and bad, that our ancestors learned. Central to this is the power of forgiveness which is a powerful theme that permeates throughout human cultures:

Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve Peace. (The Buddha)

Those who cannot forgive others break the bridge over which they themselves must pass. (Confucius)

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:  But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.  (Jesus of Nazareth, The New Testament, King James Version, Matthew 5:38 – 5:39)

Having a cross-cultural understanding to focus on what brings us together, rather than what pulls us apart is crucial in a world where people are increasingly moving.

As Edward Said said:

We need to concentrate on the slow working together of cultures that overlap, borrow from each other, and live together in far more interesting ways than any abridged or inauthentic mode of understanding can allow. … We need time and patient and sceptical inquiry, supported by faith in communities of interpretation that are difficult to sustain in a world demanding instant action and reaction.  (Edward Said, Orientalism)

As I consider the work of Intersticia as a group of people whom we have chosen deliberately to craft as global a community as possible, spanning across multiple generations, it seems that a key priority for us in 2024 is to harness the collective support and curiosity of the group experience whilst acknowledging and supporting the individual and cultural identity of our people.  As one of our Advisors Philip Hayton so astutely told me at the Leicester Conference in 2018 ‘this IS the work!”

If we can harness this to support each of our people individually whilst crafting a collective voice then our work will truly be transformational for us all and have a degree of impact beyond any one of us individually, and we can honour the trust that our Fellows have put in us to enable each of them to be the best person that they can be.  That is our hope.

We need to be able to sit in the interstice of forgiveness in order to break the cycle of madness or else we will be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past and if so we will only have ourselves to blame.