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Has democracy had its day?

Posted By Robin Jourdan, Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Robin Jourdan, a member of our Emerging Fellows program believes that democratic systems have not solved many problems, but they evolve into the future. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.


To be called democracy, a governing system is made up of basic rules: open and free-will elections, political participation, civil rights, and separation of powers. In a free country, people may speak their minds and shape their own and their children's futures. Threats and weaknesses in democracies are plenty. Some leaders have destroyed the substance of democracy in their country, muzzling the press and imprisoning opponents, while preserving the show of freedom. Deciding to introduce the euro in 1999 was undertaken chiefly by technocrats rather than by popular vote. Distrust in governments and weak leadership push prevalent anxieties.


Trust is a tangential challenge for experts and technology. Often citizens reject experts as an objection to power abuse. Experts must remain servants not masters to the system. Similarly, expertise-christened artificial intelligence may make most people better off toward the end of this century. Wearable and implantable technologies enable people to interact in new ways. Famously, "I think; therefore, I am," was expressed by Descartes. We're not sure if machines think, but as that distinction becomes fainter, our relationship with them will likewise shift.


As an economic system capitalism is a relative newcomer. Sharing periods of global maturation further confuses the system by conflating democracy and capitalism. Indeed, the US Constitution isn't an economic document. It provides for intervention in financial situations when the economy requires regulation. Deeply ingrained in the material, economic liberty is the means to protect occupational freedom. This specificity leaves open the door to alternative financial solutions. Democratic socialism is when the means of production are socially and collectively owned or controlled, alongside a democratic political system. Even the ten most innovative countries are a mix of capitalist, socialist, democratic, and autocratic.


As an alternative model's success, China can't help but represent a challenge to democracy and capitalism. Achievements of the Beijing Consensus include China itself. China has become the land that failed to fail and is on a trajectory to become a viable global, science superpower. Also, these successes create compelling arguments to modify capitalism.


From an ability to marshal vast resources against wicked problems like climate change to nurture long-term thinking associated with complex problem-solving, Brussels and Beijing are tallying up successes. Democracies haven’t yet solved these problems for many reasons including unrelenting political cycles. Such evidence creates a compelling argument and threat to democracy’s hold.


Economics, health, and safety have, at times, held contentious positions. Globally today, nine out of 10 people breathe polluted air. Ignoring climate change and other wicked problems could come at a cost in the trillions of dollars, antithetical to capitalist goals. Threats to corporate profits win little public interest, but businesses can wield power to change the conservation conversation in ways that don't rely on politics.


Has democracy had its day? Changes to democratic systems are likely to continue, as it is bred to mirror the culture it supervises. Whether direct, representative or constitutional, all forms are a dominantly Western construction. That so many people are prepared to risk themselves for this idea testifies to its enduring appeal. Democracy may not exist in any pure form, but we'll miss it if it's gone.


© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  change  democracy  economics 

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How can we solve problems without a solution?

Posted By Robin Jourdan, Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Robin Jourdan checks the possibility of solving insolvable problems in her new blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.


Labor and environmentalism are often portrayed at odds with democracy and capitalism. Is labor environmentalism compatible with democracy/capitalism? For over a century, labor championed an evolving environmental movement. Labor promoted conservation of the national resources and opposition to industrial exploitation of public lands for profit. Since World War II, labor union members linked the dangers of pollution in the workplace with the contamination of the surrounding communities. Labor unions were also essential organizers of the first Earth Day. Earth Day has grown to become the largest nonspiritual celebration. More than a billion people take part every year, stirring policy changes.


By joining forces, labor and environmental organizations had increased business regulation to protect workers. Until the mid-1980s. Industry's response exposed workers by using claims that lost profits could result in layoffs or complete shutdowns. Such assertions change the conversation for workers and union representation. This results in pitting jobs directly opposite to safety, health and environment. Today's business hostility and centralized government ambivalence create a formidable front to environmental quality. A response is birth of the green labor movement. Itself a new model, it holds promise to disrupt political alignments.


Union environmentalism that protects members from unsafe conditions has risen. This outcome has also benefitted the natural environment as a byproduct. Increased use of machine workers, especially in dangerous and hazardous situations may result in a whole new thinking. Globally today, nine out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air. The United Nations Environment is focusing on tackling the growing yet overlooked threat of air pollution. To a large extent, this a response to accelerating carbon emissions via increased energy demands, especially in China, India, and the US.


Beijing has shown what is possible to reduce air pollution and are increasing their actions and ambition for the next 20 years: a model for others to follow. World Heritage sites will face heightened threats; especially crucial to nations who value their long heritage. Going forward, leadership will be judged on its capacity to resist temptations to manipulate the system, versus commitments, met as a proactive and responsible role model. A wildcard is recently surfacing in the US as a group of young people have begun lawsuits over climate change inaction.


Today's technocrats can take advantage of their ability to consider and grow in the face of issues such as proper workforce planning for health issues. As the number of active workers declines, elderly non-workers' health issues will increase similarly.


New Environmentalists, new hope? Global leadership who take on fighting inequality, including that induced by climate change, will be rewarded. Efforts reversing climate change will be challenged by a more significant influence of urban areas. Ignoring climate change will come at a cost in the Trillions of dollars antithetical to capitalist goals.


Is labor environmentalism compatible with democracy/capitalism? Approaching tipping points at work in today's short-termism world can provide specific incentives. For an economic incentive market truth offers the highest reliability. For example, in the future, holding jobs hostage over environmental concerns will diminish as AI and machinery take over dangerous front-line work and lowering costs. This change could cause the market into a full-court press protecting Spaceship Earth. Problems without solutions may be only a temporal issue. Given additional information and evolution, even the toughest solutions can be found.


© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  change  environment  society 

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How Have Companies Changed in The Past?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, January 2, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Charlotte Aguilar-Millan has written her first post in our Emerging Fellows program. Through a brief review, she inspects the flexibility of working within European socioeconomic contexts. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Ever since companies emerged in the Seventeenth Century they have evolved and changed as their operating conditions have changed. As successive changes have occurred, the workspace has changed with it. From the small office of Ebenezer Scrooge to the vast factory of Dilbert. Within the 20th century there has been a significant shift in the style of a working office from a closed smaller office style to what can be seen today in open plan offices.

As employees are spending more time at work, and as the working career is lengthening, the workforce is now taking more ownership of what is expected from a workplace. Employees today have higher expectations for their working life. They no longer expect a long retirement to look forward to. Instead they aspire to live their golden years along with their working years. With this new expectation, there is an increase in the need for flexibility within the workplace.

One such way companies have been adapting to these needs is with more flexibility on working hours and location. With rising intangible based operations, there is now a desire and opportunity on the part of staff to work where it is convenient for them. This has been incorporated into staff benefit packages. It is now a standard feature for a vast number of careers including consultancy, technical support engineers and even accountants – the service based creative economy.

Staff are able to be based at home to complete work and only go into the office when the need arises. Employers, as well as employees, experience benefits such as reduced stress from the absence of a daily commute. Staff feel more focused on their work by leaving the noisy open planned office and an empowerment to shape the classic 9-5 working day to their needs.

The new type of working environment does however have a large stigma attached to it. Working from home has not come without side-affects. Research has suggested that those who regularly work from home also experience a fall in opportunities for promotion in comparison to performance. This has placed the onus on some employees to feel that they must be available for longer hours when working at home. This is an area which employers are able to exploit as more employees receive a work phone or work laptop in order to work from home. There is also an expectation that these are kept on at weekends and evenings.

The company of today has had to adapt to lifestyle changes in their employees lives. This has seen, for example, the development of ‘peternity leave’ where staff are able to take time off to buy a new pet. Other changes have arisen as a result of legislation, including changes in parental leave. In the UK, legislation mandated that where both parents desire to split maternity leave within the first year of a child’s life, an employer must allow this. Other countries within the European Union have legislated initiatives, including Sweden paying a ‘gender equality’ bonus to parents who adopt this shared parental leave and Germany adding two months of parental leave to those parents who split the leave.

While structural unemployment rates continue to fall – for example in the UK from a high in 1984 of 12% to 4% in 2018 – this allows employees an opportunity to seek the benefits that resonate most to them rather than accepting those which an employer offers. As a result, companies have had to accept change in order to attract staff.

Employees are now aware of the opportunity for further flexibility in their work place. Will a growing desire for flexible working manifest itself into a global gig economy where employees no longer have just one employer but the flexibility to pick and choose work when suits them? If a gig economy manifests itself, will this see the end to companies as we know them? What, exactly, does a disembodied company look like?

© Charlotte Aguilar-Millan 2019

Tags:  change  work  workplace 

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Immunity To Change

Posted By Administration, Sunday, September 20, 2015
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019

Simon Dehne reflects his thoughts about the immunity to change in his blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Why I enjoy practicing in the foresight space is two fold. The first is one of self-discovery and the other being able to help people question how they think and to give them tools help them think critically.

As a new practitioner, I have soon discovered that just challenging people on their unquestioned assumptions and raising there awareness on emerging trends that may disrupt or at least challenge there business as usual thinking is not enough for me. I have found I prefer a type of workshop that allows people to learn, experience, challenge and self discover more about how they made sense of reality.

As a result I have found that I have been gravitating towards more a hybrid workshop and presentation format. This allows people the freedom to participate instead of just listening to a keynote speaker and at the end think that was nice or otherwise.

Recently I have been running workshops using Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey’s work on “Immunity to Change”(Lahey 2001). This process has been useful as I have found it is something that organisations understand as I pitch to them to convince them to pay for my services. Plus it resonates with them regarding self development for their organization and I have found a topic around helping people to learn how to change seems to resonate with many people what ever their purpose might be.

As you would expect each workshop is different, but not for the usual reasons that you might think. The main reason is because of me. As I deliver, participate and experience facilitating the Immunity to Change workshop I find that I develop a deeper understanding of why it seems to be so effective. That is because it is an effective tool or map that allows people a process that helps them think deeper in terms of just an event or pattern that might be happening that they are trying to solve or improve on.

What is the Immunity To Change Process?

Kegan and Lahey have found based on 15 years of working with hundreds of managers in a variety of companies have led them to a surprising yet deceptively simple conclusion. Resistance to change does not reflect opposition, nor is it merely a result of inertia, even as people hold a sincere commitment to change, many people are unwittingly applying productive energy toward a hidden competing commitment.

Thus they have developed a process they have called an x-ray, which is a three-stage process to help people and organisations figure out what’s getting in the way of what they are trying to change or achieve.

The Process

So I thought I would provide a summary of my mini workshop and the key points that I have found to be effective and which seems to resonate with participants. Note, an effective workshop is determined by be as a result of the amount of engagement and follow up questions that I receive during and after the workshop.








Today’s challenges require new thinking – but how do we develop new thinking?

Explain a number of tools that they can learn and use that will help them think about how they think.


Mental Models

Exercise – Arm Wrestle

Purpose is to get them to arm wrestle a colleague to see how many times they can win. Many people default to a mental model of strength and competition. Only a few work to together and cooperate so both can win. We all have implicit mental models and I have found this is a good way to bring this to the fore and increase the participation and energy in the room.



Exercise – picture of an old lady and a young lady

Group discussions on what people see. Purpose is to highlight that people with similar backgrounds can have different perspectives on what they see. Our perceptions create our reality and so helping them learn some ontological humility.


Ladder of Inference

Helping people understand how they create reality and the introduction of reflection

The ladder of Inference developed by Chris Aygris helps people begin to understand how their assumptions and beliefs form how they make sense of their world and the actions they take.


Introduction to the Immunity To Change Process

Showing a YouTube video of Robert Kegan I have found to be an effective way of building credibility and reinforcing the outcomes.

After running many of these workshops now, I have found it effective to pause the video or rewind back to ensure as many people grasp the process that is used. Plus it gives me a chance to reflect on the energy in the room. My goal is for people to have fun and learn a process to help them reflect on their thinking and actions (Kegan 2012).



Walking though the process using the X-Ray map

I walk through examples of my own personal X-Rays of how I have used the X-Ray to discover many of my hidden commitments and big assumptions. I prefer to use myself as an example to make it personal and real. A key goal is to be open and honest and I find that if I can show my own vulnerabilities and challenges many people are more willing to embrace the process and learning and be more authentic.


Action Learning -

Immunity To Change

Running the process - Individual

I ask each person to work through the process on themselves. Share their understanding of the process with others and seek me out for clarification.



I ask for volunteers to share what they have done and discovered. Talk about the challenges/discoveries in the process.


OST (Open Space Technology)

Learning to slow down and reflect on our assumptions, beliefs and values. To start to reflect on how we think about what we are thinking.

As a prelude to working in teams to work on an improvement goal that is important to them. I discuss a process to help people learn to slow down.

I have found the OST can be an effective way for people to stop and reflect on how they are thinking. To listen to what is being said instead of thinking about what they are going to say next (Owen 1993).


Challenging our assumptions

Revisiting Ladder of Inference

I rewind and ask people to think about how they are thinking, what are their assumptions and beliefs that maybe going unchallenged and to reflect on this thinking before they respond.


Thinking about thinking

So gently/slowly I am trying to introduce them to how we conceptualise. We all apply our own assumptions and beliefs usually implicitly and so the opportunity to be mindful and reflect on how you are making meaning of a situation as you debate an issue/problem such as we are about to do.


Action Learning -

Immunity To Change

Running the process - Group

Hopefully with some new models to use as maps, such as Ladder of Inference, OST, and fostering reflection, people in the groups can use the X-Ray process to develop more generative conversations.



Seek volunteers to share what they have discovered.  



As Kegan and Lahey point out, our perceptions shape our reality. We assume how we make meaning is an accurate understanding of reality. Our big assumptions create a disarming and deluding sense of certainty, which throws up the challenge of why should we, even look for alternative views or perspectives that may challenge our assumptions, which create our reality (Lahey 2001).

So bringing this all together how does a group of people co-create a desired future that they are trying to achieve. In part it is about helping them identify their hidden commitments both individually and collectively. However, as a group, often we can get stuck with little or no progress. So a large part of these types of workshops are about fostering reflection and helping develop more generative conversations. Reflection means thinking about our thinking, holding a mirror to see the taken for granted assumptions we carry in our language and appreciating how our mental models may be limiting us.

Deep, shared reflection is a critical step in enabling groups of organisations and individuals to actually “hear” a point of view that is different from their own and to appreciate emotionally as well cognitively each others ways of how they are creating meaning(Jones 2015).

In order to learn from the future, we first might need to understand more about ourselves. And what might be holding us back. To uncover our biases and blind spots and from that self-knowledge and insight we gain, increase our level of self-awareness. Self-awareness is a necessary step if you want to build a useful Strategic Foresight process that will help us learn from the past, from the present and from the future (Lustig 2015).


Jones, C 2015, Getting Unstuck, Outskirts Press, United States of America.

Kegan, R 2012, Understanding Immunity to Change, viewed

Lustig, P 2015, Strategic Foresight - Learning from the Future, Triarchy Press, Axninster, Engalnd.

Owen, H 1993, Open Space Tecnology - A Users Guide,

Tags:  change  foresight  future 

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