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When I established the Enlightened Enterprise Academy just after the start of the COVID pandemic in 2020, I had a clear reason for doing so. I realised the pandemic was going to be a global health crisis, and that it was likely to trigger a global economic crisis. And, unlike the ‘Global Banking Crisis’ 2007/8, “global” would mean global this time around. 

At that time I reflected on the fact that as a society, and as organisations, the crises seemed to be increasing in frequency, scale, and impact. More importantly we seem incapable of learning much from them. But a small percentage of leaders are undaunted. They know how to respond, and do learn the lessons. 

As we went into the first COVID lockdown in the UK we had just run a conference on that very topic, “Undaunted: How Successful Leaders Face Up to Wicked Problems and Avoid Predictable Surprises.” It was based on extensive research and case studies and included an international speaker line-up. 

Successful leaders even manage to gain advantage in adversity. About a year before the pandemic I saw Martin Reeves, Chair of the Boston Consulting Group's BCG Henderson Institute, present research indicating that in the previous three larger economic downturns around 14% of companies managed to thrive in adversity, and he explained why, based on this article

There are no prizes for guessing the reasons, the main one being they are prepared. But critically, “They are prepared for the next downturn, not the past one.” The business context is ever changing and the companies that thrive are constantly adapting their strategies as the context changes. They know how to adapt and are designed to be adaptive. 

Over time I have come to realise that what is true for business is also true for any organisation, individual, or society. Few are able to adapt in the face of adversity, but a small percentage are. But, why are so many of us unable to adapt?

The primary reason we are unable to adapt is our inability unwillingness to challenge and change our understanding about the way the world works, especially if the change needed is transformational rather than incremental. For most of us it takes a crisis to force us to embrace transformational change. In normal times we are more likely to resist it.

A few years ago I learned that this idea is recognised in a concept called “The Overton Window.” Named after an American policy analyst Joseph Overton. It says the general population will be more open to accepting radical political ideas and policies when faced with a crisis. I think this explains what people today are willing to entertain the radical ideas of the populists on the far right and far left of politics in so many counties today. The populists are still minorities, but growing minorities. Still, the majority resists transformational change. 

I'm with those who believe we need transformational change, but not the change being offered by the populists who offer false promises and will make matters far worse. 

Transformational change is needed if we are to reduce the frequency and scale of the crises we have been seeing, and if we are to stand any change of transcending the highly complex challenges we face in the twenty first century. But the change has to start with each and every one of us recognising why we think the world works the way it does, where those ideas came from, and why they are often wrong or, at best, not very useful today.

The way we see the world today is largely based on the ideas of the first Enlightenment which began three centuries ago. Since then the world is transformed but our thinking has only evolved incrementally. We now need to embrace transformational changes.

To give one example, the Enlightenment thinkers believed we could control nature and our natural environment. And they paid little attention to the exploitation of natural resources since they were abundant at the time. There thinking has determined our relationship with our natural environment, causing the greatest challenge we face. If we are unwilling to transform that thinking our survival is at risk and our quality of life will be significantly damaged. 

These days we are faced with many significant crises, referred to as the "Polycrisis", "Permacrisis" or "Metacrisis". They are each large scale, highly complex, systemic risks. Collectively they represent an existential risk to humanity – to whether we continue to existence, and to how we experience our existence. For this reason I prefer to speak of the "Existential Crisis", rather than use the other new terms which, whilst valuable, offer only partial understandings of the greater problem.

Earlier I said the majority of us are only willing to embrace transformational change when forced to do so by a crisis, but even faced with a crisis some choose to be Wilfully Blind, to adopt the stance of denial. They usually do so out of fear. They fear the uncertainty that is often a feature of transformational change. But there are ways to address that, and we must address it. 

We must address it because the crises we must transcend threaten our existence and that of future generations, or the quality of our existence and that of future generations.

Many of today's biggest challenges were not challenges during the first Enlightenment. So when it comes to addressing them, their thinking leaves is in the dark. A "New Enlightenment" is essential if we are to address the 21st century challenges. We must be willing to challenge the way we understand the world.

These arguments are central to the way the Enlightened Enterprise Academy thinks and what it does. And a core element of what it does is to run the Salon, bringing together the leading thinkers of our day from a very broad range of disciplines, to explore the challenges of our time. This approach is inspired by the Paris salons of the 18th century that were the catalyst for the first Enlightenment. We wish to be a catalyst for the New Enlightenment. 

We believe there to be individuals at every level in every business, organisation or institution who recognise “the system isn’t working,” that many ideas are outdated, and that transformational change is needed. And there are a limited number of organisations that do.

We believe many of these people and organisations wish to help drive the change. They will be the pioneers of the New Enlightenment and we wish to establish a global community that supports them. Are you one of them? Do you want to join us?

You can join the Enlightened Enterprise Academy and the Salon today. The salon programme begins in June and will include exclusive interviews with some of the world’s leading thinkers. It will also include weekly live online dialogues in which you can take part. In addition we offer programmes and are developing other products and services to support the network. Membership of the Salon also includes standard Membership of the Enlightened Enterprise Academy. £19.99 per month or £199 per year, with discounts available for people in lower and middle income countries and for full-time students.


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