Towards emancipation

(Making this Dream come true 3/5)

Last year, in December, I embarked on a new journey towards systems thinking in the European Institutions. With a group of consultants from the Systems Innovation Network, our purpose was to introduce a method called Theory U, developed at MIT, for leading change and catalysing renewal.

The project was ambitious, but we were confident about the methodology and above all, we had all the energy, expertise and network necessary to provide something valuable. Very quickly, we leveraged an interest and developed a followership around our goal. And, throughout the first semester of 2021, we organised a series of workshop and interviews, using the powerful u.Lab methodology, with colleagues from various services as well as citizens.

This was an exciting period which brought a number of learnings. In this post, my aim is to share some of them with a view to provide another set of conditions to deliver the Dream.

1/ Emancipation from the founding fathers

You probably have heard that in order to become responsible adults, one has to kill her parents. This is a sine qua none condition to be able to live a life, independent from the beliefs and injunctions inherited from childhood. A life lived light and agile, and out of any box.

This invaluable process is what leads to wellness, by being aligned with our true selves and our core values. It requires a deep journey within, but it is often something very powerful that leads to a real feeling of inner freedom, to invent our own path and our own direction.

For an organisation, there is a need for a similar process. This is what will avoid the risk of being stuck in behaviours and mindsets from an old time. For the European Institutions, it means honouring the initial dream and contributions from the founding fathers, while detaching from them to start our own story of emancipation.

The question is not to force a world as we want to see it, but reflect the world as it currently is. And to internalise the common values, goal, processes as well as positioning accordingly. The idea is not to be opportunistic but to become the ideal fit for our times.

Unfortunately, because we did not take this exercise seriously enough yet, the gap seems bigger and bigger with the expectations from citizens. Our times for instance, call for more empathetic organisations, less formal and rigid, better agile but also willing to steer a more desirable future, with courage and perhaps a bit of craziness, as we could notice during our interviews.

This exercise of mourning is a prerequisite to better adaptation and resilience.

2/ Development of a sense of co-responsibility

Since the 50s, the reality is that we are part of a complex global system and the evidence of our impact on it is clear. We have entered the Anthropocene epoch, which can be defined by the “new age of man”.

It means concretely that if our culture is healthy and positive, then our environment will react positively. And all of this calls for a better awareness of our individual and collective impact. It means, each of us has a clear co-responsibility, another argument in favour of co-leadership, which requires shifting from a culture of domination to a culture of partnerships.

The fact that the government institutions and leaders still try to impose their worldview on others, as if this was the only source of truth is a problem. Because we have to acknowledge a big difference today and this is that we also navigate by sight, through trial and error in the Anthropocene epoch. Sometimes, we do not know. Most of the time, we need help.

A perfect illustration of the need for a shift comes from yesterday's session of Together-Ensemble on the Covid-19 crisis, in which John Ryan, acting director general of the department for health in the European Commission, asked for more modesty, listening and respect in science communication. 

Indeed, one of the conclusions of this workshop was that when the scientific community does not apply these behaviours, it can be one factor explaining the feeling of panic and chaos during the Covid-19 crisis.

3/ Stopping the panic

Looking at animals everywhere, let me tell you, they don’t seem to be panicking at all today. I see this as a good indicator that more than a difficult context, our human brains are the ones which deceive us today.

We just have to adapt, there is no need for civil war. There is also no point in rushing towards solutions, it would lead us to run up against a wall, which is not even there. Our times call for more thinking and strategy to avoid being reactive.

When we panic, we may well become self-destructive. For example, many people can fall into the trap of following fantasy leaders (another way to say that they are a bit narcissists…) or voting for people who give them the confidence they need. I’m warning you, they won’t do any better. It will just be another delegation of power, which will not lead to a better life, on the contrary. In fact, in this new age, we just have to accept that we need new skills (and I covered them in a previous article).

This trap is well explained in this quote from Machiavelli: “If a people accustomed to living under a prince by accident became free… how difficult it will be for them to maintain this freedom”. We haven’t learnt to be free, we feel uncomfortable not following, and we would like to be guided more.

How many people have I heard over the past year and a half tell me how lost they are today and how much they would like to be taught the right behaviours. No… We can do better as an exceptional civilisation. Let’s stop the panic and adapt to the Anthropocene era (after 60 years, it’s high time).

4/ More collaboration experiences

When 10 years ago, I started to search the conditions for better collaboration, I admit that I thought the journey would have been much shorter. To me, the initial purpose of the EU institutions is collaboration, even their unique reason d’être if you think about it.

So why collaboration does not happen by itself? Well, we inherited a culture of individual competition, coming from schools, with individual assessments and scores. And we continue to reproduce this same model in the workplace. It’s a basic as that.

So, for a collaborative culture, the point is to develop experiences of collaboration. To live situations in which we see clearly the impact we have on others. I will provide some powerful examples I helped co-design in the coming weeks.

5/ … And global acceptance

Finally, I want to share today the need to foster global acceptance that things will be difficult and sometimes slow and this is why the culture of empathy and care will be absolutely key.

I was the first to blame our leaders for their poor decisions. I regret, I now empathize more with them, knowing the difficulties they have to go through. Everything we experience today is unique.

For instance on the topic of disinformation, “Misleading information that is spread by our citizens in good faith without intent to mislead but just because there are so many concerns and so many divisions in society. So I want to say that the European Commission is working really to develop campaigns based on empathy, on understanding, on building bridges and dialogue.” Sandra Cavallo, DG Communication, European Commission in Together-Ensemble, June 2020.

The more the institutions will be transparent and emotional the better. We can see this direction has already been embraced and this is very good news! Let’s encourage them more!

I am happy I managed to mention systems thinking only once in this blog post 🙂 Tomorrow, I will write a post about Trust: Why its lack needs to be demystified and why it has become a powerful currency in the Anthropocene epoch.

Photo by Sebastian Voortman on

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