KYN talks to Erik Mandersloot, managing partner of Aberkyn about the uses of Synchronicity as an organizing principle.
Erik is a facilitator of transformation and has over 20 years of entrepreneurial experience in the field of organizational transformation with a strong focus on blending human and systems transformations. He has done 10 years of Action Research on “Synchronicity as an Organizing Principle” and is now embedding that in an Executive Doctorate Program at Hult/Ashridge in the UK.
Erik lives with Madelon and their three young adult children next to the sea west of Amsterdam in The Netherlands
Aberkyn is exploring synchronicity as an organizing principle. Let’s start with a definition of "Synchronicity". What is it?
Carl Jung, the famous twentieth-century German psychologist, suggested that our human experience can be rooted in a collective human unconscious that connects us beyond space and time. People predominantly experience themselves in separateness of the world around them; but most however also experience "meaningful coincidences" where unrelated events seem connected. We witness similar ideas, as if coincidentally, emerging at different places at the same time. Jung called this Synchronicity: a moment where seemingly unconnected events form a meaningful pattern. We need not wait for historians to interpret these events from some future vantage point. We can sense them, make meaning and benefit from them as they occur. When many hold new views at the same time, we might call it a new spirit of the age.
So, this spirit of the age that we now live in – or Zeitgeist would be another term – is a powerful shaping idea that can change how we humans see our world?
Yes, however Zeitgeist is a more conscious thing, more in the realm of sociology than psychology. As we look back into different stages of human development, it is clear what the Zeitgeist was during important historical eras: The Reformation gave us the idea of religious diversity, the Enlightenment gave us the idea of progress and improvement, and the 1960s the idea of sexual liberation. But because we live life forwards and understand it backwards, it can be easier to see the Zeitgeist in the past than in the present. Synchronicity can be an element of the upcoming era as we become more aware in the present.
In the present, then, what synchronous patterns are we beginning to see emerging around us?
In Aberkyn, we believe one big shift is how we define what work is and what it takes to create open human-centric organizations. In the past two decades a variety of organisations have simultaneously started exploring radically different ways of working. They have moved away from the mechanical thinking that belongs to the First Industrial Revolution, 250 years ago, to a more organic view of the organization. Instead of seeing themselves as hierarchies that resemble machines, these organizations are exploring what a more organic identity would mean. The metaphor of an organism is more fitting in an era of constant flux. This is not only because of an increased pace of change and complexity in the world, but also because of an internal desire to build organisations that take people and their unique talents and creativity as the starting point: human passion, instead of human resource.
So, we are seeing independent events that are connected in a wider shift?
Yes. The same impulse is expressed at the same time all around the world: the desire to work differently in more democratic, humane, agile and sustainable ways. This you can find in many places. In "Reinventing Organisations", for example, Frederic Laloux (a former colleague at McKinsey), unlocked a desire to explore new ways of working. Through showing (by case studies) that work can be done differently and successfully, he opened the hearts of many to explore and now shape organisations that adopt self-organizing principles, taking the whole person to work and constantly adapting to changing environments. In their recent book Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini also portray this shift from "Bureaucracy" to what they call a "Humanocracy" - the title of their book.
Can you give some examples?
There is already quite a flow of pioneers. All taking different entry points so to speak. We have seen organizations exploring more democratic ways of working. Semco in Brazil, for example, with its radical employee participation, and Mondragon in the Basque Country in Spain act as cooperatives with employees and owners having influence in strategic decision making.
Then we have seen humanizing organizations, like Barry-Wehmiller and Nucor that asked what does it mean to be human in an organization? Can we be fully ourselves and create organizations that are a community where people have a high sense of belonging?
And we are now seeing many organisations using societal and environmental responsibility as an impetus for organizational renewal. These are not only large corporations like Unilever and Nike, but also many more that are forming swarms under labels like Conscious Capitalism and B Corporation.
Why is this so relevant now?
Almost all organizations face exponential increase in speed and complexity. Now especially due to the pandemic, of course. Beyond that, hopefully temporarily, we are moving ahead into a next technology revolution. It has only just begun. Traditional centrally orchestrated organizations will not be able to keep up with the speed of change. We need to embrace forms of self-organization that operate as a swarm. This needs completely different ways of thinking about organizations and human express themselves and work with each other, within their organizations and in chains of networks of organizations. Understanding synchronicity and what it takes to create the conditions for it to occur can be a valuable ingredient for this.
Are you saying Aberkyn was founded on the idea of Synchronicity?
It is at the heart of all we do. We all hold a worldview of interconnectedness. At the start, we set out with the intention to explore what becomes possible if we were to focus on expanding consciousness in organizations and embedding "transformational leadership" in all our work with clients. With a global group of practitioners, we aim to help our clients bring the human transformation into each organizational or business transformation. And in addition, we took up the experimental challenge of creating a new type of organization that can contribute to the learnings of the other pioneers. We want to experience ourselves what it takes to innovate and go through the journey of trying out, making mistakes and trying again.
How, then, do you use synchronicity as a founding practice?
It is all about raising consciousness … About becoming aware of more. We humans continuously filter all the input we get from our senses and body with predominantly the left part of our brain and turn it into a story that we call reality. Influence those filters, and we can become of aware of more or other things; the story can change; as a consequence, our perception of reality alters. When we start becoming aware of more, we experience ourselves differently and we obtain new possibilities that we have not seen before. Within Aberkyn we use this as the core of transformational leadership.
We also apply in in the way we design our organization. One starting point is that we seek to find synchronicity in our lives. An effortless unfolding of our aspirations. We think of this as working with the wind at our back. We use Carl Jung’s word Synchronicity within Aberkyn, because this term catches those meaningful coincidences. Making meaning of what happens and turning upsets that happen into setups to learn and develop ourselves and adjust the way we work to what is needed next. We are also very aware of those magical moments that most people experience when suddenly everything falls into place and it feels as if an unseen hand is helping us forward. Said simply: this happens when our inner worlds are in sync with the outer world.
Do you also include this in the service you give your clients?
Yes, when clients show an interest. It takes curiosity as it is not a common topic. We speak about synchronicity – we introduce it as “flow” – and explain that our premise: any system or being by nature seeks to be in balance and to expand. The natural state of being is in flow and in connection; so, to enjoy these, we need to find where the blockers are, and work through them. To work with synchronicity we look through three different lenses: Inspiration – the sources of energy, “what makes us tick”; then Relation – how we relate to ourselves and how closely we are connected with others; and finally, Organization – how flexible we are in adjusting to our changing environment?
So, Aberkyn is both a laboratory where we can test, and a place where we can share what we are learning with others about synchronicity?
Yes, as far as I can see now, we are unique in this. We are part of the movement towards open, human centric organizations, part of the spirit of the age, the Zeitgeist; and the means to sense and develop this is through working with the concept of synchronicity. We have made it into a practice by being conscious about it. It is a continuous process of healing – become more whole – for the members of our community in order to be fully present and express themselves to be of service. Individually and collectively. From that perspective Aberkyn can be labelled as a Healing Organization.
Inspiration: Shared Worldview & Purpose
- Purpose as a force pulling us forward – Since its founding ‘Raising consciousness with leaders to create a better world’ is what unites all the members of Aberkyn
- North Star to set our intentions – We contribute to 100 large transformations that help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and aspire to have a community of 1000 practitioners around 2030.
- Dedication to essence – who we are, the energy that we bring and how we show up makes the difference
Relation: From Fear to Love
- Caring friendships – strong personal relationships to go far beyond a professional and transactional connections create unique bonds and magic
- Personal transformation is a constant – whenever we are triggered, we look into ourselves to discover parts of us that are not yet healed; we own the trigger and see it as an opportunity for growth
- Open relations with courageous conversations – we invite everyone to keep all relationships open, even if it requires difficult conversations, as this will give us a strong social fabric and allow to work seamlessly together
Organization: Constantly Evolving Design
- Hybrid community – we operate as a blend of an intentional community and a professional service firm; we acknowledge that most practitioners are free spirits that prefer working free-lance giving them the space to follow their heart and make their own choices
- Distributed leadership with little hierarchy – we distribute leadership to people that have energy and talent for topics allowing regular changes and we use consent decision making
- Stable core with freedom to shape – the core supporting processes are of high quality and rigor creating a safe container to do our work and that allows for flexibility to let our regional communities organize themselves in the way they want in the moment.