But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change. With the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. Thomas Jefferson


This piece is the second of two posts on worldviews. The first was The Mechanistic Worldview.

The mechanistic worldview has exhausted its ability to solve our most complex and urgent problems. This worldview has been eclipsed by a more encompassing worldview, which I call the ecological worldview that offers new knowledge and understanding for solving the severe threats we face. The mechanistic worldview works for space travel, accounting systems, and other linear processes but not for living systems.

The destructiveness of the dark side of the incomplete mechanistic worldview is apparent. We watch climate change evolve and worsen before our eyes: species go extinct, and forests burn. Mass migrations begin and are met with violence. Droughts make life unlivable. People die. Republican politics and politicians regress: separating children from their parents at the Southern border: That’s not America. We see the decline of our institutions and the lack of integrity in many of our leaders. Corruption is the culture of the White House. Images of these things break our hearts. We live in fear and anxiety. Aggression surrounds us. And our president and Republicans in Congress deny or justify it.

America’s president is the personification of the dark side of the failed mechanistic worldview. Those who want to guzzle, raze, and reduce much of our world to ashes and wastelands for ego, money, power, and greed resist change mightily. When a worldview is in deep decline, and nothing can renew it, those invested in it eventually lie, cheat, and steal to maintain their power.

A significant minority of Americans support this destruction, somehow thinking that they will benefit from it. They are not thinking straight, and their ignorance, blindness, and false beliefs drag the country and their communities down. Robert Greenleaf wrote in The Servant Leader that the real enemy is fuzzy thinking of the part of good, intelligent, vital people…

We still have time to change our thinking and take dramatic actions to save the planet as we know it, but time is growing shorter faster than anticipated. Millions do think clearly and want transformative change. But we need more urgency. Every day of delay leads to enormous suffering, more annihilation, and makes transformation more unlikely.

Patterns of thinking hold us in their grip. If then, we want to change society, we must begin by changing the way that we think — Danah Zohar in the Quantum Society.

Our worldview will not be changed by those who cling to the problems we face. As long as they make money and hold power, the scoundrels will continue doing things they know are wrong. Our view of how life works most optimally will be changed by new thinking from new people.

America needs fresh people with new minds in power. This year’s elections allow us to elect new leaders who are younger, diverse, and with more women at all levels of government.

Changes in how we relate to the world.

Sit down before nature like a little child, and be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss Nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.
T.H. Huxley

The ecological worldview began to form with the discoveries of quantum theory early in the last century, followed by the learnings from the study of living systems. This worldview focuses on life itself and the relationships that connect all living things. The ecological worldview is striking in its similarity to the organic worldview of indigenous cultures, most of which were destroyed by the mechanical thinkers of our industrial world. Science is discovering what nonmoderns have known for thousands of years.

When we look through the lens of an ecological worldview, we see the world differently than when we look through a mechanical lens. Ethics, spirit, values, quality, deep awareness, and the five senses again matter. We have new thoughts, feelings, and will see transformative creative possibilities. We speak and write differently.

The universe is alive: a network of dynamic relationships that are interconnected and interdependent–not dead and mechanical. Betterment flows from the totality as the diverse elements interact and self-organize together in patterns that optimize and sustain the essence of the whole. We see life organically rather than mechanically. Change is not linear or mechanistic.

We need to think exponentially. We see networks, processes, patterns, beliefs, and relationships. We can influence events but cannot have total control, accurate prediction of distant events, or certainty. We must shift from unawareness to mindfulness of ourselves and the world around us. Chaos, paradox, and discontinuous change happen faster and faster. They require us to be mindful. Margaret Wheatley wrote, Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful. Absent awareness, we are lost.

The mechanistic worldview is an either/or world. Either/or thinking gives the illusion of control and stability. Dualistic thinking creates enemies, simplifies relationships unrealistically, and establishes boundaries to defend. Either/or thinking is not helpful in the world of quantum physics and living systems.

The ecological worldview is primarily a both/and world. We transcend fragmented parts with rigid boundaries and identify with a more inclusive whole, often with permeable boundaries. Both/and thinking provide space for our creative abilities and relationship skills. Humans are a presence in nature, just like the species of plants and animals. People are part of the unbroken whole–not separate, detached, and superior. This world is the alive and creative world of choices–a world of gray–a both/and world where little is certain.

This world was never as self-evident to me as the day I sat in a small boat in the Baja of California bobbing in light waves. I watched as a 40 foot long and 40-ton great gray whale surfaced beneath the boat and introduced her new child to the boat’s elated occupants. I peered into the large, serene eye of the mother and tried to imagine her life. Her gentle and knowing return of my enthusiastic reaction linked us in a mystical moment. I realized that in one slight movement, she could destroy the boat and kill its occupants. Instead, she chose to form a relationship with us. The mother and child floated with the boat for a few minutes. They allowed the exhilarated people to touch them and to lean over and kiss the barnacle-covered parent before mother and child submerged and disappeared. For a few short moments, the sky, the ocean, the people, the bobbing boat, and the whale and her child were one interconnected living system.

An ecological thinker’s purpose is sustainability. In the subatomic world, elements are life-like, in a relationship, exchange information always, and transform based on these dynamics. Humans are alive and meant to be in a relationship with one another and with the life around them. We develop through our relations with all of life.

We cooperate with our environment rather than be at war with nature in our insane rush to consume her. Living in monocultures is not sustainable; diversity is our strength. To be sustainable requires that growth must be limited, and our economic systems transformed. These “rules” are how life works optimally.

Institutions aren’t the only things that have to stay current with new knowledge. We, people, do too. We would be wise to examine our assumptions and change how we think to adapt ourselves to the insights and illumination that emerge from Quantum Physics and the New Sciences. Life calls us to evolve our awareness and creativity, to engage with others and learn together, lead differently, and transform how we live on the planet, Then we will develop ourselves and live sustainably.

If we refuse this call, we do so at our peril.


From 1991-94, I was privileged to lead a business unit that, I later learned, embraced the concepts of Quantum Physics and Chaos Theory. My first learning about the science merging with leadership and organizations came from author and consultant Meg Wheatley. I recommend her book, Leadership and the New Science (Third Edition).

My eBooks at offer more insight into my learning: Learning to Live: Essays on Life & Leadership and Value Driven Leadership: A Story of Personal & Organizational Transformation.


The Leaders Journey

I believe that twentieth century scientific discoveries (from quantum physics, chaos/complexity, ecology, etc.) will spread through the social and philosophical systems of Western industrial society. New knowledge will expand our consciousness in explosive ways forming a new ecological worldview that will transform how we relate to nature, one another, and ourselves. A science based organic worldview (indigenous cultures have long had organic worldviews as have artists and mystics through the ages) will lead to personal transformations within leaders from which they will lead sustainable organizational transformations that will coevolve with a sustainable global economy and a sustainable environment.

Personal transformation is difficult. Perhaps it is as difficult as anything a human being will do in life–as a person, leader, or follower. “It is very hard work to make this personal change,” said Richard Knowles, consultant and former leader of transformation at DuPont and in the vanguard of leaders who’ve made this inner shift. “For me it was a painful journey.” This personal development requires the courage of a pioneer, the honesty of a child, the imagination of an artist, and the confidence of the naive.

The first step in our conscious evolution (seeing our potential and moving intentionally toward it) is to see reality as it is and to accept that the old ways of control, domination, and alienation are bringing forth unacceptable unintended consequences for nature, communities, and people. A moment of metanoia–a change of the inner person–is required. We pay attention and accept the call to begin a courageous journey within–resisting the system’s efforts to impose its controls on our spirits.

Richard Knowles was tough enough to climb through the ranks at DuPont to become a plant manager in Belle, West Virginia. He has a PH.D. in engineering and was a mechanistic thinker by education, occupation, and upbringing. His entry point to transformation:

I was troubled by the way we led because it seemed to be so harsh and difficult for people. I didn’t understand why that had to be. I was just in it, and I was trying to live in that system, but I had no understanding. Once I began to wake up to that, I had to break it because I couldn’t reconcile the huge disconnect. I felt like it was going to destroy me either physically or emotionally. The dominant culture is often brutal, and it doesn’t have to be that way.

Once he became aware of the cruel impact mechanical ways of management have on people, this tired warrior could not return to the archaic and failing methods. To refuse the call of his insights would perpetuate the unacceptable, and he would join the legions of the walking dead. For Dick refusal was not an option; this courageous man would not live a divided life. He chose to be authentic and began the process of conscious evolution.

The new adventurer wanders and explores in search of new insights and wisdom. By braving the unknown, the leader is energized and experiences being alive in profound ways. Richard Knowles:

I thought I was going insane, because I didn’t have anybody to talk to. The stuff we were doing at Belle was working; the work on myself was very difficult and hard, but seemed to be paying off. I had read Gleick’s book on chaos ( 1987) and said, “damn, there is something here.” Until then, my work was intuitive. It was scary as all get out; it was working, but I had no frameworks for it. I didn’t have the vocabulary.

I went to the Second Annual Chaos Network Conference in Santa Cruz, California in June 1992. I was so desperate at that point I felt, “well, I am going to go.” I told my boss I was going to an O.D. conference since chaos sounded far out. He apparently never read my expense account either. At least he never said anything because the conference was held at a place called The Dream Inn, and I just thought that was staggering. Here you are going to a chaos conference at the Dream Inn, they’ll think I’m crazy.

It was about a three day meeting and my whole world changed. Everybody there understood what I was doing. They gave me a vocabulary and a framework. I met Meg Wheatley, read her new book Leadership and the New Science, and felt like I was coming home.

The leader’s new growth is difficult and painful. The naive, curious, innocent, and courageous adventurer moves from a world of absolutes into a world of paradox. The limits of traditional thought are reached, and the seeker grows comfortable with ambiguity until new understanding emerges.

The proud achiever realizes that rigid boundaries between people must be torn down. The leader comes to realize that life in organizations is often narrow and superficial, and the importance and contribution of executives is often inflated greatly. To build trust, empathy, and understanding the humbled traveler accepts, reflects upon, and grows from feedback given thoughtfully by diverse people. Great insights come from those the emerging person might not have paid any attention to when living the elitist executive role. The trail blazer meets fellow travelers on the journey, and they provide support and encouragement. Mentors and teachers appear mysteriously at the moments they are needed and guide the learner along the way.

The lonely traveler understands how unaware leaders often are of the organization’s reality and how little truth exists in organizations. As consciousness grows, the leader realizes how little those with power know about people, leadership, and thought itself. The leader begins to see the potential that waits to spring forth from people. A growing person becomes comfortable with feeling scared and inadequate much of the time. Despite the persistence of these hated emotions, confidence grows and courage and authenticity increase. Strong resistance to change and unexpected enemies build the leader’s capacity to stand alone.

Despite the shock of seeing reality in a whole new dimension, great excitement emerges for the potential the visionary can see in the evolving picture of the future. Commitment grows and the leader’s sense of purpose is strengthened. The leader dies many deaths and emerges as a changed person. Knowing the path is uncertain and even dangerous, the leader points out the direction and will never be distracted from living the new vision of truth.

The leader finds new meaning and shares new knowledge with others. Life in the organization becomes participative to gain the wisdom in the system and to utilize the diversity needed for sustainability. The leader does not go to diversity classes. Instead, time is spent with people different from oneself, and the leader learns from the experiences.

The leader understands the importance of authentic feedback for change. A climate of openness exists, decisions are made on merit, and it’s okay to be real. Turbulence is encouraged, and leaders in all areas of the organization tinker and experiment. This emergent growth heals and frees people and as restoration occurs people begin to come alive and their restricted potential comes forth. This is how transformation happens, how movements begin, how recovery occurs, how paradigms change, and how people self-transcend. This journey within can be taken by anyone but only those of courage and character will heed the call to be more than they are. Those who want to lead sustainable organizations must.