The ideas in this little book are rooted in IFF’s process of social learning over several years. There is little that is entirely new. What is unique is IFF’s capacity to bring so many diverse, deeply informed perspectives together, both in theory and in practice, and to deploy the emerging body of learning in service of groups striving to master complexity, uncertainty and rapid change.


These are the conditions of conceptual emergency. Individuals in every corporation seeking to marry their higher aspirations for the world with the need to generate commercial results, in every government department struggling to provide care and compassion within a framework of scarcity and political competition, in every community feeling a sense of powerlessness and loss of agency in the face of globalisation and the forces of ‘creative destruction’, in every place where the models in the head and the stirrings in the heart are at odds – all of these individuals recognise the description of a ‘conceptual emergency’ and all liberate tremendous energy and potential when encouraged to articulate that emergency and explore the routes out of it.


Over the course of the next twenty-five years we will be forced to confront the consequences of two hundred and fifty years of material progress. We will not be allowed to ignore them as ‘unintended consequences’ that can be simply ameliorated for very much longer.


The leaders who emerge in this period, to whom we will turn for inspiration and guidance, will be those who are best able to articulate and to embody with authenticity the lineaments of a new approach sketched in these pages. In doing so they will restructure the corporations, the governments, the communities of which they are a part. They will be working with the grain of our emerging futures, promising not utopia but meaning. They will articulate what we already know, and provide the enabling conditions that allow us to live that truth and develop the potential that has lain dormant under the dominant force of reductionist reasoning. They will appear at all levels in organisations and societies and it will be the task of the visionary manager to recognise them and to remove the constraints that hold them back from releasing the potential in others.


We do not describe a vision of the future, but the reality of the set of values, behaviours, attitudes and principles that will allow us to navigate the challenging years ahead. They provide a compass not a map. When allied to a sense of direction and purpose we will see – have already seen – that the possession of this compass restores effectiveness in action, reclaims the right to dream of a better future, rejuvenates the will to take on intractable problems, reshapes the landscape of organisation, and rekindles confidence and hope in powerful times.