This article gives a brief overview of what needs to happen if
we— individually and collectively—are to wisely and effectively engage
in shaping the future of our planet and our species. The community of
evolutionary entrepreneurs has a rich toolkit of models, maps and
approaches to work with, but they can be effective only if we deeply
understand the habits of the living systems in which we use them. The
guidelines set out below come from the distilled wisdom of the global
community of ‘hosts of conversations that matter,’ as I understand them
through the filters of my own experience as an evolutionary entrepreneur
working inside the European Commission in Brussels.
As humanity awakens to an unprecedented collective awareness of the
challenges and opportunities facing our species and our planet, the term
‘entrepreneur’ begs to be redefined. Entrepreneurship is typically
associated with starting and running businesses. Most definitions of the
term on the web refer to innovation, risk and business. But I think it
goes deeper than that.
While some entrepreneurs are motivated by the prospect of personal
gain, others are driven by a desire to make the world a better place. An evolutionary entrepreneur is someone who is willing to dedicate his or her life to fulfilling a collective need. But something essential that underlies the whole enterprise remains unspoken in all these definitions.
The word ‘entrepreneur’ comes from the French verb meaning ‘to
undertake.’ A commitment to action is involved—a determination to
manifest a vision and to bring something new to society in the broadest
sense. When we think about entrepreneurship in this way, the concept can
expand to embrace a much wider population—potentially every
man, woman and child on the planet. This kind of entrepreneurship
doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with business at all.
If we want to be evolutionary entrepreneurs who survive the acid test
of natural selection—if we want our undertakings to take root in the
world and thrive, to truly make the world a better place—then we need to
understand what game we are playing, and the environment we are playing
Entrepreneurship is about will. ‘Will’ is a word that
doesn’t exist in science. Science sees our actions, but not what fuels
them. Will is a phenomenon that we typically associate with the
invisible interior of individuals and collectives. We cannot see it—only
the outcomes of the actions driven by it. We could even see
entrepreneurship as a driving force of evolution now that humanity is
awakening into fuller consciousness of its own evolution.
At first sight, entrepreneurship is all about individuals. It is the
individual will with a vision of change that starts the ball rolling.
But the change can only happen if the will of the collective is engaged. How can we maximise our chance of making that happen?
Properties of Living Systems
We start by understanding that as members of the human race living on planet earth, we are embedded in multiple living systems.
Any aspect of society or the economy that we care to engage with counts
as a living system. As entrepreneurs, that’s what we have to deal with.
Understanding the properties of living systems can inform us about what
we must learn and what we must become if we are to succeed.
A living system pays attention only to that which is meaningful to
it, here and now. Just because we have a vision of new possibilities
doesn’t mean the rest of the world ‘gets it’ or cares. As part of the
living system, our first step is to become aware of what has meaning to
that system. To achieve this, we learn to live with an open mind, an
open heart and an open will.
A living system accepts only its own solutions. If we wish to
provide a solution to any of the world’s problems, then the parts of the
system that are part of the problem (as sufferers or perpetrators) must
be drawn into designing a solution that they will all be happy with. To
achieve this, we must learn the art of participatory leadership—how to
lead others into participating actively in their own future.
In nature, a living system participates in its neighbour’s
development. An isolated system is doomed. The bigger the context we can
get our arms around, the greater our chances of creating sustainable
improvements together. To achieve this, we must learn to collaborate.
All of nature, including ourselves, is in constant change. Sometimes
when we are trying to ‘change the system,’ we despair at how unchanging
things seem to be. Perhaps we are looking through the wrong lens. Isn’t
it just as valid to see the world in constant flux? When we do this,
our work becomes lighter. To achieve this, we learn to let go of our
habitual ways of seeing. We look at the way things are changing; instead
of at the way they are not.
Nature seeks diversity—new relations open up new possibilities. How
easy it is to succumb to the temptation of working only with
‘like-minded’ people. This leads us into ‘us-and-them’ thinking and
compounds our difficulties. Rather than closing down when confronted by
those who oppose our ideas or who hold critical attitudes that trigger
our defence mechanisms, we can instead think of them as our precious
teachers and open up to what we have to learn from them. They help us
see flaws in our ideas and help us to bring to conscious awareness our
shadows—detrimental patterns that are hidden in the unconscious.
‘Tinkering’ opens up to what is possible here and now. Nature is not
intent on finding perfect solutions. Even the best battle plan lasts
only until the first shot is fired. Then ‘life happens.’ We are learning
to be available, moment-by-moment, to dance with what is arising now.
Who we are together is always different and more than who we are
alone. The next Buddha will be a collective. Evolution is marching on.
Human consciousness is awakening to itself, to its own evolution, to its
being an organic part of a larger whole, and finally to an embodied
experience of this larger whole. As we enter this new stage of
individual/collective awakening, we are being called to practice a new
life-form composed of groups of mature and well-balanced individuals
merging their collective intelligence as a circle being. Our
practice as individuals is to deepen our self-knowledge, accept
ourselves, accept the contribution we have to offer, and to fully and
completely live who we are. The whole cannot be complete until the parts
are fully individuated. We build ‘circle beings’ by sitting together in
circle and sensing into the middle, by engaging in continuous
collective inquiry about our shared purpose.
Living systems cannot be steered or controlled – they can only be
teased, nudged, titillated. I work inside a very large living system and
every day I watch ‘management’ try to steer and control it. But the
system just doesn’t want to play. Instead, everybody ends up feeling
frustrated and disempowered. We can influence a system in a wise
direction only if we are an acknowledged part of the system. If we try
to work on the system from outside and don’t see ourselves as part of the system,
then although we can provide environmental stimuli, we cannot determine
how the system will respond. As entrepreneurs on the lookout for
evolutionary opportunities in the system we learn how to tread the fine
line between chaos and order—the space where living systems
We first understand that we cannot work alone. When we identify a
need that is sensed in the system, we seek out others who sense it too.
Even when we come together with others to find a solution, until we find
a clear sense of collective purpose, nothing will move. But regular
meetings to explore the situation in search of solutions will deepen the
relationships in the group and help us clarify the principles that will
govern how we pursue our purpose. A cohesive group with strong trust
and a clear sense of collective purpose can move mountains. This is
where the collective will becomes engaged.
Once the purpose and principles are clear, new people will tend to be
drawn into the group. The process experienced so far then needs another
iteration. Each time new people come in, they need to go through the
process of gaining clarity of purpose and buying into the principles (or
adapting them). This helps understanding and engagement. We are
building a living system that is creating its own solutions—concepts,
organizational structures, products and even practices come later,
almost as a by-product of the functioning living system. Living systems
The stereotypical image of the entrepreneur as a rugged
individualist, going it alone against all the odds, seems partial when
seen from this perspective. Rather, in this densely enmeshed living
system that is the planetary ecosystem, I see the Cosmic Will moving
through the collective to the individual and then back to the collective.
As evolutionary entrepreneurs, we are coming not from a place of
unconscious ego activation but from a place of deeply open will. We are
not implementing our own individual vision, as much as sensing into the
whole. We are rooted in our individual perspective within the living
system, that is also conscious of the larger system and sensing into how
it can fulfil it’s highest potential, for the good of the yet greater
whole of which it is itself a part. The life path of each of us,
embedded in our own unique place in the collective and endowed with our
own unique gifts, equips us to play a unique role. Being an evolutionary
entrepreneur means stepping up and undertaking to play that role with
our full commitment. It means being who we were born to be.
Mastery Comes through Practice
How do we learn the skills and ways of being in the world that will
lead us to mastery of evolutionary entrepreneurship? Through practice. A
wise teacher of mine recently said that the highest a human being can
attain is to become a ‘practitioner’ of something. The purpose is to
cultivate an attitude of mind and a way of being. Four helpful
intentions for daily use on an individual or collective basis are: (1) Stillness, (2) Inspiration, (3) Service, (4) Devotion/Gratitude.
In martial arts, the place of practice is called the ‘dojo’. As
evolutionary entrepreneurs, I invite you to start up a dojo in your
Informed by these understandings of the properties of living systems
in an evolving universe, we can increase our impact by joining with
others to create communities of practice. As cohesive communities of
practice, we can reach out to other communities of practitioners in
other neighbouring fields. We can then form systems of influence in
which evolutionary entrepreneurs become nodal points of integral
consciousness that can join with other civil societies, public and
private actors to hold the field for global transformation.
HelenTitchen Beeth works in the European Commission in Brussels as a web editor and peer-to-peer consultant to departments seeking to deepen their sense of collective purpose and ability to take wise action.
1. I do not use the term ‘evolutionary’ here to mean development in
any pre-determined direction. Rather, I use it as an epithet to describe
‘entrepreneurship’ in its broadest context as something that
engages—directly, consciously and with intent—with the living system, for the good of the whole.
2. When I speak of Cosmic Will, I do not wish to suggest that there
is such a thing ‘out there’ with an independent existence. Rather, it is
something that we co-create together as we consciously engage in this
participatory, collaborative dance, creating intricate and beautifully
functioning feedback systems that then become a trait of the Grand
Living Field that embraces all things.