Steady at the helm, these are challenging times

We live in moments of dramatic change, we’ve entered into an era that intertwines complexity with exponentiality, and it seems that our current frameworks of reference, our logic, our systems of organization, of coherence and decision-making mechanisms are inadequate to deal with the challenges we face.

This also makes us innately conservative and defensive of our current circumstances — what cognitive psychologists call the status quo. Thus, they argue, we become relatively mediocre or foolish when faced with big issues and can relate to a question only partially, by addressing tasks or seeking tools for each particular matter. Like a Swiss penknife, the brain has things it never needs and does not even know the use of.

Ernst F. Schumacher argues that we human beings are prepared to solve “convergent” type problems.

Convergent problems are those that can be approached via solutions which converge little by little and in a growing manner, until at last one of them consolidates itself as the stable and most appropriate answer for a relatively long time. There are solved convergent problems, but also convergent problems that have yet to be solved. The latter are those that require even more time, research, development, and skill in order to be solved, but that we may suppose shall be answered at some point.

However, it also often happens that, faced with certain problems, numerous groups of highly specialized and competent persons propose alternative solutions that are contradictory. Not only do these answers not converge but, on the contrary, “the more they are clarified and logically developed, the more they diverge, until one group seems to be the exact contrary of the other” (see A Guide for the Perplexed). We are thus facing divergent problems.

Schumacher points out that, in the terrain of politics, the contraries most often pitched against each other are liberty and equality. Liberty favors the strongest, those able to thrive on their own means, while the weak suffer. In this scenario, there is no trace of equality. On the other hand, an equitable policy requires a decrease in freedom, unless there is intervention from a higher level. “We do not know who invented the French Revolution’s motto, but it must have been someone of extraordinary discernment. To those two contraries, liberty and equality, irreconcilable in ordinary logic, he or she added a third factor or strength, fraternity, coming from a higher transcendent level. Liberty and equality can be established through legislative action supported by force, but fraternity is a human quality.”

The resolution of divergent problems requires the intervention of self-awareness, the human factor par excellence. We cannot expect to have an accurate formula providing a valid and enduring answer to contradictory pairs that are part of the human experience. Divergent problems have no final answers: they require us to put into play superior strengths, such as love and compassion, understanding and empathy — not as occasional drives but as regular and safe resources. For Schumacher, divergent problems bring tension into the world, enhancing man’s sensitivity and increasing his self-awareness.

The awareness we refer to is, on one hand, the one enabling us to distinguish good from evil, but also that which refers to the accurate perception of a situation or fact. Biologist Edward O. Wilson applies the name “consilience” to the knowledge unit that takes place when sciences and humanities meet for the resolution of a problem. This requires developing a holistic –or network, as we shall hereinafter call it– vision for problem-solving.

What role is our culture playing in this? Terence McKenna –who was, among many other things, a writer, philosopher, historian, and faithful representative of the ’60s generation– said that culture is our operational system — not something we learn but a psycho-geographical environment penetrating us, an information layer, a sort of suit of clothes we inhabit in order to live in a specific part of this planet. It is ultimately a program, a common understanding shared by a majority of individuals. This also implies that whatever is alien to that shared system finds it difficult to seep in. This reaction is still a part of our strategies for survival: to reject the unknown, to take refuge in the status quo before investigating the new and standing up to that which does not even rank as a threat. Culture is modified through interaction, and changes are often very slow to arrive, until an evolutional, Copernican leap takes place.

Now is the time when we need to download an update of our culture, to overhaul our operating system.

We need to implement new organizational systems that replace those that are obsolete today.
Our underlying logic, our habits, the processes and the protocols under which we operate are part of an old and obsolete operating system unable to respond to current changes and challenges.
So how do we really prepare ourselves to respond to the changes and disruptions we are experiencing?

The technologies to do this are just emerging, but they are still in an embryonic period. We need to activate “consilience”.

As Enrique Valiente Noailles so inspiringly challenges. “How do we go through the mental challenge to which this situation exposes us? The mother of containment and resolution is in this capacity. If humanity loses its final relative calm in the face of this catastrophe, it loses the only thing that is really in its hands… ”

Understanding the foundations of the system under which we currently operate, most probably unconsciously, will allow us to stand on the foundational stone from which we can design a new operating system to discern and understand changes, and find much smarter ways to activate our decision-making mechanisms and sovereignty.

Sovereignty is a term that both Jordan (Green)Hall and Daniel Schmachtenberger have brought into our agenda and define as: “the capacity to take responsibility. It is the ability to be present to the world and to respond to the world — rather than to be overwhelmed or merely reactive. Sovereignty is to be a conscious agent.”

Sovereignty can be understood as consisting of six distinguishable capacities.

  • Discernment
  • Attunement
  • Coherence
  • Clarity
  • Insight
  • Embodiment (and ability to act).

1) Discernment.
We must activate discernment when we enter situations where we have no idea if we are doing right or wrong.
Discernment is the ability to feel whether we should go more in one direction, or less in that direction. It is like when we balance on a railing, we raise the right arm more and the left less or vice-versa in order to maintain equilibrium.

2) Attunement.

For attunement first, we need coherence.
But to have an idea attunement is like tuning an old radio, we set the dial to one side or the other of the static until we just synchronized the channel. Attunement is to know where exactly we should center our focus.

3) Coherence.
Coherence is the ability to coordinate a series of related senses and actions and integrate them into a whole.
It is the coherent phenomenon that emerges from the interrelation of different actions or senses that operate in coordination.
Attunement is the bridging relationship between discernment and coherence. As the “tunning” improves, it empowers the integration between them.

4) Clarity.

Clarity arises when a system or organization enters a state of total coherence.

5) Insight. Then insights emerge.
Insight is an emergent of that interactive whole and allows crises and changes and complexity to be understood in a clear and coherent way.

Mastering these basic abilities allows us to perceive signals and respond with actions with less and less effort. Once these capabilities are mastered and embodied in a coherent whole, that works systemically, it enables us to respond to any possible set of circumstances.

It is my belief, however, that certain requirements need to be in place for this to really work.

The first is Trust.

Trust is necessary, both at the core of the individual that exercises sovereignty, but also among the members and their relationships, within an organization or system that looks to exercise it.

Trust enables collaboration and reciprocity.

Sovereignty also requires Purpose, again, both at the individual and collective levels. Everyone must be aligned under a common purpose, further still, the common purpose must be in alignment with each of the individual purposes of the members that structure that whole.
If this happens, then collaboration is spontaneous, and the aforementioned capabilities automatically kick in.
“Consilience” and sovereignty are activated and emerging higher forces come into play allowing for the resolution of divergent and complex problems.



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Ernesto van Peborgh

Ernesto van Peborgh


Entrepreneur, writer, filmmaker, Harvard MBA. Builder of systemic interactive networks for knowledge management.