Harvard University’s Leith Sharp showed us the first steps to driving change through sustainable leadership at June’s Green Speed Learning Forum (GSLF) Webinar.  The GSLF webinar was a taster of Harvard University’s Executive Education Program for Sustainable Leadership which examines how we can transform organisational structures to address environmental and global health challenges.  Leith introduced us to Forensic Idea Flow Mapping, the flow and friction factors that influence it and the networks and systems that underlie change processes. Here’s what we learned.

We’re at a crossroads and need to forge a different relationship with our planet.  Leith described the evolution of life on earth from 3.8 billion years ago and the journey of our species that has led us to where we are today: in an evolutionary hot house of our own making.  She said the impacts of climate change are already upon us, and according to Oxfam, the gap between rich and poor means that the richest eight people in the world now own the same wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion. “We were born into the century where humans will either evolve back into alignment with nature, or our planetary life support systems will evolve in response to our impacts, and then we’ll be playing a very dangerous game of catch up” Leith said.

 We need a radical increase in the flow of purpose driven ideas, at all scales and across all sectors.  Leith said the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are a strategic plan for the survival of humankind that sets the direction of where we need to go.  “The combined seventeen SDG address social equality and our relationship with planetary support systems.  To achieve the SDG, we need a radical increase in the flow of purpose driven ideas, at all scales and across all sectors,” she said.  What rate of change increase is needed to radically increase purpose driven ideas at all scales, and across all sectors? According to a poll, the current rate change or innovation is nowhere near pace and we need to transform it by tripling or quadrupling it.  “We also need to look at the lifecycle of an idea from inception to scale and to unleash radical journeys and ideas,” she said.

 Forensic idea flow mapping can help bring ideas to life.   “We can use forensic idea flow mapping to recall a past journey and to call on it to bring ideas to life,” Leith said. Forensic idea flow mapping helps to reveal a great deal about our organisations and the lifecycle of past ideas from inception to full scale implementation. The lifecycle of every new idea is as unique as a finger print.  Each idea has its own unique eco system, risks, assets, opportunities, and contexts. “Many idea lifecycles experience friction and some experience flow,” she said. Leith has mapped the journey of over 1000 ideas by asking people to visually chart every move they made to take that idea from inception toward implementation. This has allowed her to find patterns in journeys that experienced friction where a project may not have been implemented successfully and life cycles that experienced idea flow when every move allowed you to achieve full implementation of the idea.  “The more flow that you achieve in forensic idea flow mapping, the more you’re able to engage with your communities and achieve your goal,”she said.

We need to recognise that there are adaptive and hierarchical networks at play.  What separates flow from friction?  Change processes require two networks or operating systems, and each network/operating system has different operating rules, priorities, language.  Adaptive networks provide responsiveness to context, sensing, connecting, ideas, learning and adapting.  Hierarchical networks provide efficiency, control, scale, accountability, structure and cohesion. Leith uses idea flow mapping to determine which moves were dependent upon the more traditional and hierarchical command–control operating system of the organisation, and which moves were dependent upon what she calls an adaptive operating system, an agile network-based system that stimulates shared purpose and non-hierarchical relationships. “Friction is reduced by leading from the middle to unleash enormous synergy between adaptive and hierarchical networks.  We need to balance adaptive and hierarchical networks and our shared purpose must translate across the two networks.”