June 1, 2006
Leading in turbulent times is much like living at the moving edge of the salt marsh: survival requires extraordinary presence and adaptability, and flourishing requires something even more. As leaders today, we must be willing to suspend our dependence on past knowledge in favour of being fully alert to what is emerging before us. Yesterday’s route home is of little use when faced with the need to move more quickly than the tides. Only in being alert to new possibilities and dimensions may we navigate wisely, finding natural, unique, even unrepeatable ways of dealing with the challenges of leadership and governance.
The unpredictability of the sweeping changes suggests that, beyond both the cognitive and social sciences, we need a third way of knowing – what physicist David Bohm describes as ‘a subtle intelligence’ that seeks the wholeness behind all things, and invites into awareness whatever might normally seem vague, ambiguous or unclear. The root of subtle is subtex, which means ‘finely woven.’ This third way of knowing is at once refined, delicate and indefinable. It is a kind of intelligence that can hold an awareness the things that sit by us when we rely too much on memory or past knowledge. It is also an intelligence that loves all that does not yet exist.
We need to understand the subtle intelligence not as a separate mental function, but rather is the source of an imaginative response to our world. As a kind of sense organ, the imagination reaches out and makes tentative contact with wholeness – that is, the things of an order larger than we can see directly – making visible that which is hidden, so as to begin to draw into awareness that which cannot yet be heard or seen.
More than almost any other faculty, the capacity to sense these almost-indiscernible forces is essential to navigating our uncertain and changeable world. By developing this ability, we will reawaken our relationship to our imagination, which makes available the twin gifts of intuition and inspiration. Together these serve as an effective counterpoint to the more usual mechanistic view of the world.
This is, of course, a skill-set that takes time to mature; it is not enough to summon our capacity for insight only when we are quiet or deeply engaged. In the time ahead, the most valuable leaders will be those who see what others don’t yet see and think what others are not yet thinking. Merely to say, “I didn’t see it coming,” is not an effective strategy for survival in the types of change.
Canadian Michael Jones is a leadership educator, dialogue facilitator, pianist and composer who is been introducing innovative leadership ideas in diverse sectors for over thirty years. He has released 15 albums on the Narada/EMI label. His first book Creating an Imaginative Life (Conari Press, 1995) received the Books to Live by Award of Excellence from Body, Mind and Spirit Magazine in 1996.