comment 0

Heading for 2021

Uncertainty is such a personal thing.

Although it affects all of us, it does so in very different ways, and it ‘s easy to get a little self indulgent.

I’m writing this just before Remembrance Day.

78 years ago my father was flying a B24 Liberator with Coastal Command. Eighteen hour sorties over Scandinavian Fjords looking for submarines, responsible for a crew of eight in an aircraft that was less an aircraft and more a bunch of rivets in loose formation. He was twenty two.

Twenty five years earlier, my grandfather was in the battle of the Somme. I never had the chance to ask him about it, so I feel more than a little humbled talking about uncertainty.

That doesn’t stop it feeling very real for all of us right now. For the last fifty years from the mass production revolution, certainty has been a platfrom upon which we built the economy. From scientific management through concepts of scale to the high priests of Lean Six Sigma, turbocharged by technology and the all conquering spreadsheet, we have worked on the principle that our economy and society was complicated. That if we look hard enough, we can work it out, and if we can work it out, we can control it, and of we can control it, we can forecast it. Bingo. For much of that time, it was true enough to power the economy, and fortunes were made.

However, somewhere around the turn of the century, our ability to connect more and more tipped us over from complicated to complex. We moved the boundaries of our systems from the containable to the uncontainable. The internet of things has a shadow side, and the metaphorical butterfly, or maybe it should be a black swan flapping it’s wings, wherever it may be is causing havoc everywhere.

We have never had better qualified experts, but by definition expertise requires boundaries in order to be an expert. Experts also have a tendency to fall in love with their own expertise and like the person who only has a hammer, tend to see everything as a nail that their expertise can solve. when a few experts argue, it’s interesting, but when all of a sudden we have many, ranging from Scientists to Shamans, we get a version of Bedlam.

We need a wider, more varied dialogue. The perspective that comes from ‘The wisdom of crowds” combined with the deep domain expertise of the experts to give us a balanced view that recognises and respects a variety of views.

What I’ve learned about groups.

  • Don’t start with goals, or objectives or outcomes. All of these bring out our “inner expert”, a need to be right, and often to compete. Great conversations find their own direction.
  • Insight is enabled by trust, an absence of judgement, a “safe space” and the opportunity to just notice. On our own, it’s often when we’re just waking, or in the shower, or an early morning walk. Insight escapes a busy brain. We need the group we’re part of to provide similar sanctuary from the day to day.
  • We need diversity in whatever form we can find it, from race, to gender, to discipline and age. Insight happens where tensions meet. Where expertise and secor specific experience meets intelligent ignorance and the power of powerful questions.
  • It needs generosity, commitment, and equality. I’ve found that the best groups I have been part of are not organised for reward. People “pay” with their attention, intent and willingness to help others for the sake of it. The Coach in me terms it “autotelic”, where the purpose comes from the doing of it.
  • The best groups develop a rhythm. They meet regularly, at a set time, in small groups of around eight (I’ve tried many combinations, but eight plus or minus two always seems to work best). Meetings become a habit, and an important part of the week.
  • Individuals within groups often surface areas that need more “operational” and goal driven groups. These are best done outside the core conversation groups. Insight does not like predetermined goals.

Heading for 2021

I’ve learned more about effective groups since the beginning of this year than at any other time. Constriants are powerful things. Whilst we would not have chosen previously to run these conversations anything other than face to face, lockdown gave us no choice and we found to our surprise and delight, we have able to hold great, generous, exciting an d insightful conversations over Zoom (other media are available..)

The groups we have run have not missed a beat, and eight months later have become an important part of our week. We have often said that we should make them more available, because they are valuable, and a “social good”.

So, with a second lockdown upon us and a long winter ahead that’s what we’re going to do.

A Framework for Conversations.


  • People who want to start something new in 2021. It might be a business, a social enterprise, or a change of direction.
  • What they want to start will be generous and generative. People and communities will be better for it. Profit is no problem, just not the only thing.


  • Two groups. Minimum six, maximum ten people.
  • Meeting weekly. around 90 minutes between December 20 and April 21.
  • No judgement, advice, or selling (in any form)
  • Conversations are open, animated, spirited and direct as well as generous and supportive. This is not therapy, or for the faint hearted
  • “Chatham House” rules. What goes on in the group stays in the group.
  • There is no charge. This needs doing.
  • If oversubscribed, we’ll select for diversity.


  • Whatever the group want to talk about.
  • Occasional guest speakers relevant to the topic stream.

We’ll start with an open session for those interested at on 25th November.

Register here:

What next?

Follow this blog to be kept up to date.