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Pioneering a New Paradigm

A new paradigm for leading change

People abused as mechanical parts

Vibrant and engaged human Spirits

Changing a paradigm requires patience and compassion

Many of us worked very hard to introduce life-affirming leadership, yet command and control prevails, even though attempts to control only create more chaos. It’s not our fault that leaders choose domination rather than engagement as uncertainty and fear intensify.  The times have made our work increasingly difficult.  And more necessary.

A new paradigm requires change at the most fundamental level.  It is normal to view such a basic change as threat —most people become defensive and angry.  Even if intrigued by new ideas, fear and habit snap us back into old patterns. We have to be patient and compassionate as we meet with people’s resistance.

A worldview isn’t changed by the right words or techniques or by proving its undeniable success with great examples. It is only changed with direct experience, after which explanations can be heard and understood.

We have to be patient, generous and kind.  We do this work because it’s the right work to do. We introduce life-affirming practices whenever possible.  Moment by moment, relationship by relationship, our work brings vitality to situations and awakens people to their true human spirits.

Immersion with Life-Affirming Leaders
Berkana Learning Journeys 2001-2011

Learning Journeys provided in-depth experiences and enduring relationships with leaders who: 

• faced insurmountable challenges 

• persevered against all odds

• became wise in community engagement

• moved bold visions into workable solutions

We journeyed to them, immersing ourselves in their culture, meeting with their communities, witnessing what they created. In deep conversations, we absorbed the depth of their trials and successes. Listening and sharing stories, we celebrated the human spirit. We returned to our homes and work with new learnings and deepened motivation.

We led journeys to Detroit, post-Katrina New Orleans, South Africa, Zimbabwe, India, Brazil, Mexico, Japan.

Berkana’s exploration: How does change happen in living systems?

Every living system changes using the same dynamics, be it an individual, group, community, nation, planet. 

Relationships are all there is. Nothing living lives alone. Everything exists only as potential until it manifests in relationship. 

Life changes through emergence: separate parts interact in a network of relationships. What emerges is new and different, never the sum of the parts. It cannot be predicted from analyzing the parts. It cannot be altered by working backwards to change the parts. 

Life lives in cycles: birth, growth, decline, death, birth. 

Change is all there is. Life is creative, adapting to changing circumstances. Living and learning are true synonyms. 

Every living system focuses on preserving its identity. Paradoxically, it will change to preserve this identity. All change begins with identity.

Berkana’s Theory-based Practices: How does change happen in living systems?

Berkana’s understanding of change has taken root in four theories that are deeply inter-related:

The Life-cycle of Emergence

Name, Connect, Nourish, Illuminate

Working with Life’s Cyclical Nature

Leaders: From Hero to Host to Warriors

Each of these theories and their practices is explained in detail in several articles and videos in the Resource section.



Emergence: Lessons from a chocolate chip cookie

Nothing in the ingredients of a chocolate chip cookie predicts its taste. No matter how much you analyze the ingredients, you can never predict the cookie. 

Chocolate chip cookies are an emergent phenomenon. The taste appears when the ingredients mix together. That taste is different and new—not in the parts that created it. If you got any ingredient wrong and don’t like the taste, you can’t un-bake the cookie. 

Reductionism doesn’t work with cookies or with life. Life changes through emergence. It’s never the sum of the parts, it’s how the parts interact to create something new. Once a system has emerged, you can’t work backwards to fix it. You have to start over. 

Most change efforts work backwards, changing leaders, policies, systems. This never works. You have to start again, embedding desired values and principles, then paying attention to what’s emerging from all the interactions. Once there’s a system, a culture, patterns of behavior, the only way to create change is to start over.

The Life-cycle of Emergence

In spite of popular slogans, the world doesn’t change one person at a time. It changes as people interact and work together. When local efforts connect as networks, then commit to work as a community of practice, a new system emerges at a greater level of scale. 

This system possesses new and different capacities. These new capacities weren’t in the individuals; they didn’t exist until the system emerged. They are properties of the system, not the individuals. And once present, they exert great influence on both individuals and systems. 

Berkana has developed and worked intentionally with this life-cycle of emergence in many different contexts and cultures. We have demonstrated that when local innovators connect trans-locally, and work together as a community of practice, then systems of influence can emerge at a greater level of scale.

Name, Connect, Nourish, Illuminate

The standard method for change is some version of Gap Analysis. The desired future state is envisioned. Then plans are made for how to fill the gap between this wonderful future and the undesirable present state. Usually, people are identified as the problem and the solution is to train them to become better. We do this as individuals also. What’s wrong and how do we fix it? 

This is deficit thinking at its worst. 

In any community or organization there are those already embodying the desired future state. Berkana’s focus is to name them, connect them to other pioneers, nourish them with resources of time, connection, and support, and illuminate their work to the larger system. The leaders we need are already here. The work is to identify them, support them, learn from them, and honor them as exemplars for who we all can be.

Working with life’s cyclical nature

Life happens in cycles. Everything has a beginning, a middle and an end.

It’s critical to identify where we are on this cycle as an organization, society, or individual. Only then can we choose actions best suited for that life stage.  

Berkana’s sensitivity to the cyclical nature of life appears in its work with:

Two Loops Model – Identify where we are in the rise and fall of an organization or society, then choose a leadership role that serves that time.

Warriors for the Human Spirit—prepare yourself as a leader to serve with compassion and insight as systems break down and suffering increases.

Leaders: From Hero to Host to Warrior

Leadership is contextual. Different times, different situations require different leadership. Sane leaders consciously discern what is needed from them in any situation. And they refrain from using fear or aggression as motivators. 

After a natural disaster, or in a chaotic circumstance, people need the clarity, vision and strength provided by an experienced leader, a hero. But only for that moment. 

Beyond the first period of fear and chaos, leaders need to be skilled hosts, using practices that engage people to work together to determine their own solutions. People support what they create. 

In times of increased suffering and assaults on the human spirit, leaders need to be warriors—disciplined and dedicated servants who can be trusted to choose right action rather than self-interest. 

Truly effective leadership requires clear discernment and conscious choice-making, utilizing a repertoire of methods that can respond best to the current context.

Warriors for the Human Spirit

Shambhala Warrior vision is
an affirmation and a celebration of human life,
suggesting that
in the midst of great chaos and confusion,
the warrior is one
who can appreciate and promote
the goodness of human existence

Chögyam Trungpa

To learn more about warriors click here.