Steps Towards a Deeper Ecology of Business

A fantastic article

The Nature of Business

There is much to be downbeat about these days: Whether it’s the daily drip feed of fear-filled news from around the world, or the woeful state of our debt-based economies closer to home relentlessly sucking the lifeblood out of our inner and outer worlds.

In these stormy seas, we can easily lose sense of what is really going on, where the tide is really taking us. These transformational times inevitably invoke fear and can keep us clinging to out-dated modes of being and doing, constricting the very creativity, inspiration and adaptive flair we need to sail these stormy seas to calmer waters.

breakthrough2

We are in the midst of a metamorphosis of epic proportions; an evolution of humanity’s consciousness no less with positive repercussions now evident in business and beyond. And this is just the beginning.

Here are some familiar cases to remind ourselves of how far we have already begun…

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Somali youth centre

This is an article about youth, hegemony, and the misguided approach of the Western mind in dealing with both Youth, based on nearly a decade of research subsequent to a life-changing experience I had whilst volunteering for an independent Somali-run youth centre in St Pauls, Bristol, in 2005

Somalia has longer standing ties with the UK than one might think, and the UK has more involvement with Somalia’s conflicts than we are led to beleive, but before I became aware of all that, I had simply stumbled upon an offer put to me after inquiring as to the usage of a shop/cafe space, with the view to setting up a community cafe.

What I found was a working youth centre, set-up by two friends with own savings and loans, with a drive to improve prospects for their brothers and sister uprooted to the UK because of terrible conflicts back home. But it was struggling to make ends meet, and they asked if I’d be interested in volunteering to see if I could help turn it around for them. Being who I was, I took up the offer, and spent my time making small improvements, getting to know the members, and seeing if I could help in funding efforts.

Heshima

I wish to attempt a fresh angle on leadership and organisation design, taking an integrative/appreciative stance to look at leadership, with the view to finding possible new ‘currencies’ that can play a conscious and deliberate part in re-designing organisations capable of thriving sustainably, I’d like to explore the idea of integrity discussed in context of power, and the theme of cross cultural interaction, with a focus on Africa, whose culture I have long been fascinated by.

”Rather than asking ‘What is leadership’, the question is, ‘How might we understand leadership as a phenomenon?’. Instead of pondering ‘What is charisma?’ you will be invited to consider ‘How do followers make judgements about the aesthetic quality of a leader’s performance?’ (Ladkin 2011, p1).

I have an experienced example of the potential power of words and symbols in changing power relations, and the power of having a tangible premise of integrity as a core attribute for acquiring social status – the cultural phenomena of Heshima on the Island of Pemba (an island of of Zanzibar), where my wife is from.

heshima

Elizabeth McMahon (2006) suggests that the concept of ‘Heshima’ played a crucial role in integrating slaves into the community after emancipation. Heshima, which means respect/honour, shows the potential in having a social currency based around mutual respect.

The net result over time was that ‘the ongoing cooperation of social, economic and cultural groups across the island helped to facilitate new identities between slave and elite, moving people into a localised feeling of Pemba-ness.’ (McMahon 2013, p240). This was visible to me in the experience of being in the place where such a symbol holds collective value – it is literally one of the most wonderful places I have ever been to, and is visible in the tangible and long standing local cultural difference between Pemba and the main island of Unguja, which lies within the same overall cultural and historical context (Ingrams 1967, Kresse 2009), evident even in the open-plan layout of residences, and the lack of tensions that arise from silo’d communities. However, there are many other issues that arise in Pemba culture that cannot be seen from their view, which is why integration, whilst honouring diversity, is so important to me.

The way it translates back into my consultancy practice is twofold – it serves as a symbol for the power of honour and respect that comes from displaying a track record of humility and integrity, rather than coercive power (Kamwangamalu 1999, McMahon 2006) – a pragmatic realisation that can be felt and accessed, but not grasped, controlled, or owned – much like ‘ubuntu’ it’s premise is ‘a person is a person through people’ (Karsten & Illa 2005, Nafhuko 2006 p408, McMahon 2006, Swartz & Davies 1997).

Understanding the importance of heshima whilst meeting my wife’s family and travelling there, as well as negotiating parenting values, has also given me practice in viewing through a ‘foreign’ worldview, and experience that our effective communication is limited by conflicting interpretation (Johansen & McLean 2006).

To translate this over into organisation studies, this ‘social currency’ of real effect, is somewhat similar to the broader African idea of ‘Ubuntu’ as leadership / organisation design principle.

<more reference hyperlinks coming>

Too qualified?

In the spirit of this article (students snub work in cafés), I would like to expand on the idea that spending time in ‘lowly’ roles can be gold dust for those who may also have leadership/management aspirations, or indeed a self-employed career. I was recently teaching aspiring undergraduate hospitality managers the nuts and bolts of HR, and couldn’t help bringing in some of my OD-inspired views.

The value of observing

A long established observation I’ve made in roles as colleague and/or manager in the hospitality and community development industries, is that an entry-level role is fertile ground for learning some of the most important aspects of management, that if missed, can lead to stunted career growth, poor performance, and burn-out.

I have previously mused on experience as a manager that graduates are often missing vital skills that can best be honed by taking the practical route (in addition, study is also so much more meaningful with practical experiences to reflect on).
We can pick up things around management and leadership styles and their effects, and, if we remain humble and self-aware, nip some of the less savoury phenomena in the bud in our own behaviour before we take the stage, thereby hopefully avoiding some of the more base pitfalls that we are all, as humans susceptible to. This will hopefully also enable a degree of resilience when subject to bad managers – maintaining boundaries and dignity is of course vital, but professionalism pays off.

On the one hand, one gets to experience the first-person reception of such behaviour, and on the other, the effect on the group/collective/organisational domain – for example, the effects of autocratic controlling styles on culture ~ levels of initiative/autonomy/accountability, and the general levels of respect, which have massive amounts of correlation with motivation and effectiveness, which in turn directly affects the hard data of departmental/organisational performance.

It is our behaviour record, measured by our integrity, that adds the most value to our professional ‘brand’.

Much like with other disciplines such as marketing, the discipline of management needs a paradigm shift

Control

Control, and how newly titled managers exert it, seems to be the central tension our behaviour record has to contend with.

Of course the elements of organisational design, leadership, and the existing culture (which has a huge subconscious element in its narrative of becoming what it is) are outside of what can be controlled, but the choice of whether to be intrinsically or extrinsically influenced and motivated, remains within our control as individuals.

Control for an organisation is essential – it’s the means by which organisations can most efficiently utilise resources, but the autocratic and controlling manager fools themselves into thinking control is their right as manager (representing the organisation’s interests at best, and serving as a playground for their ego as an all too common worst) – the hero trap being another common, slightly more refined pitfall that most managers face: ‘I care more about everything, put more in than everyone, and that gives me the right to tell people what to do.’

Control and accountability is their duty, but is it their right? Are they representing the best interests of the organisation (which should include its people) by retaining tight reins of control?

Is it actually in their best interests personally to treat it as a right (not to mention the organisation’s)?

Though there’s no simple answers, and context is king, my overall thinking is that control needs to be handed over, not to anti-hierarchical fuzzy collective ownership, but to the explicit interests of the organisation/department, in light of what is, not one, super-human heroic manager who holds information close, making decisions from their expertly-elevated view.

The stance of control, whether most simply enacted as autocratic micromanagement completely blindly, or in a more sophisticated but no less damaging hero-mode, is a fast-track route to burn-out. You have to be pretty well accomplished to successfully manage a team/organisation in a controlled manner – if you’re not, then it’s an even quicker inevitable endgame: Either your team’s best move out, you get moved on, or you hit a crisis.

It really doesn’t have to be that way, and you really don’t have to be super-human.
Fear & Feedback

Fear, what comes down from above and the (lack of) development of attributes around self-awareness are what lead to these common traps, that are still rife in so many organisations and managers today.

Rather than take a stance that looks down on such behaviours, if one has the humility that comes with true integrity, one is aware that such traps are always waiting for us, no matter our self-perceived / actual stage of development – there are always parts of our motivating factors and decision-making processes that arise from what we are unaware of, otherwise known as our shadow.

A common measure of development (in terms of emotional intelligence and leader-ability) is the degree to which we seek feedback on ourselves, in particular the gaps between talk and walk (another way of describing shadow), and for example, the way we give praise (or not) to others – that, I believe is the best place to start.
And there doesn’t have to be a radical full-scale change in the design of the organisation (yet…) – any manager can choose to become more aware, transparent, and find creative ways of gleaning feedback from their ‘subordinates’ – they’ll most likely do very well, though there’s of course always infinitely more to learn

Frontend and backstage

A recurrent tension consultants have to manage is the interplay between ‘frontstage’ display/interaction (2nd person sociological/behavioural reality) and ‘backstage’ percept and thought activity (first person experience) (Goffman 1959).
On the one hand one deals with interpretations others may have of you and what you’re trying to achieve in the consultative role, based on the interplay of the impression given, and on the other behind the scenes one is trying to make sense of impressions perceived in the interpretive view one holds as an individual and in the role of consultant. Tensions will likely be high in the contracting stage, simply because the client is in a position where they feel the need for external help, compounded if they are in a position of high responsibility, with little insight into the causes of the issue – they may well be inextricably linked up in the causality behind the issue (DeHaan 2006). It is here that models such as Spiral Dynamics can be incredibly useful in understanding the dynamics behind what makes up the sociological landscape of a given context.

We have to dive in the soup of actually interacting and find our confidence in the moment – preconceptions are useful and needed, but something more is required. How to make sense of this when you are in the swing of things? My observations of the consultation exercise showed that there is merit in the view that: ‘people, whether individually or in groups, pursue their own ends with a cynical disregard for others’.
‘On the rare occasions when audience and performer co-operate, both endeavour to return hastily to the shelter of their various masks and disguises and to avoid disclosing their inner selves’ (Smith 2002, p143). To unpack this I realise ’Face-to-face interaction is socially organized and thus warrants sustained sociological treatment’ (Smith 2002, p2). and further that ‘Cynicism’ and ‘manipulativeness’ are, in ordinary usage, predicates that apply to individuals: such predicates serve to impute psychological predispositions’ (p144).

Although this seems cynical in one sense, Smith points out that this refers to sociological rather than psychological phenomena, which in my experience and interpretation would be to say that these phenomena arise as a result of the social complexity that is an organisation because of subconscious biases – simply because that’s how the organisation has developed, rather than seeing (some) people as fundamentally (mostly/all) manipulative and selfish. Another way of saying it, is that these sociological phenomena are the collective manifestation of aggregated individual unconscious psychological phenomena, and we have to learn the skill of fitting in sociologically without losing our integrity – learning for example the kind of fierce integrity, which is unlocked through embodiment – getting truly back in touch with our bodies. To me that also means one needs to constantly work on understanding ones intention in the moment, which is once again where sober reflexivity becomes extremely important.

I wonder if in cases when frontstage is a process that is seen through an overly psychological lens reveals/leads to a narcissistic view in the consultant, as he sees coercion and power-play as something a consultant has to do in order to effect change, which implies a perceived elevation and legitimacy, and the need to coerce. If political elements are seen as part of a sociological phenomena, that arises just because (emerges as part of the ‘biography of an organisation), then one can enter into it with humility, without being naive and ineffective – or coercive.

If I know myself at all, I know that I do have very strong values with regards to human dignity, and have a definite leaning in the radical humanist paradigm (Burrel et al 1994), and the overall message is one of balance – not giving up one’s values full stop, rather momentarily and periodically putting them to one side to see a fuller picture. ‘Consultants will be better able to act on their values if they are fully aware of the negative consequences of their chosen path and the positive features of the rejected choices’ (Nevis 1987, p205).

In Opening the doors (McAuley 2013) one needs to very quickly find ways to diagnose the bigger picture, and the approach to diagnosis can take on a number of forms. Becoming aware of the unique context-specific facts & trends, powerplays, stories, (Nevis 2013, Schein 1999) and formal and informal systemic elements (Cummings & Worley 2008).

The most resounding impression from witnessing the consultancy simulation is that all preconceived ideas behind a consultancy contract can get thrown out of the window very quickly, and in developing strategies for moving forward, it is extremely important to quickly gain a sense for what values and ‘language’ members of the client group are aligned with, by being aware of the client, and to try to see beneath what they are asking.

Burrel and Morgan’s (Burrel et al 1994) seminal work on sociological paradigms offers the OD consultant a useful integrative tool with which to better understand and apply their toolbox of multidisciplinary theoretical insights as well as to become aware of the disinterested hostility (Deetz 1996, Smith 1999) that may be at play between the different ontological world views that the different paradigms build their epistemological deductions and methodologies upon, and it is well argued that one still has to ground one’s practice within a predominant paradigm in order to understand it more deeply and avoid a shallow associative sweep that skims over underlying basic assumptions (Deetz 1996). What is undoubtedly of important value is one the one hand the integrative stance of checking limits to one’s approach, and on the other, a tool with which to better understand different views within members of the client organisation, in order to better speak the language of colleagues and stakeholders. I have found the value in learning to know others’ languages, which I first gained by studying the integral model, as one of the most useful expansions of awareness that a person in a consultative or facilitative role can make.

As OD consultants we have to be aware of the necessity to integrate paradigms, and be able to relinquish preferences (Nevis 1987), and I know for myself I will have to watch I don’t develop a one sided ‘value or ideology, e.g. a bias towards participative management and involvement of members of the client organization in a drive for empowerment.’ (p205).

If I know myself at all, I know that I do have very strong values with regards to human dignity, and have a definite leaning in the radical humanist paradigm (Burrel et al 1994), and the overall message is one of balance – not giving up one’s values full stop, rather momentarily and periodically putting them to one side to see a fuller picture. ‘Consultants will be better able to act on their values if they are fully aware of the negative consequences of their chosen path and the positive features of the rejected choices’ (Nevis 1987, p205).

The key to enabling this challenging remit from within is self awareness (Schein 1999) – being alert, present and observant (Nevis 2013). ‘The effective consultant draws power from awareness and teaches client systems to do likewise’ (pxi), which is an ongoing process, differentiated from looking back in reflexive introspection. ‘True awareness is the spontaneous sensing of what arises or becomes figural, and it involves direct, immediate experience.’ (p23), which for me is a ‘learners stance’ expressed prophetically by Eric Hoffer: “In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

This connects to the concept ‘beginners mind’ (Suzuki 1987) – a state where there are many ‘possibilities (but in the expert’s there are few)’ (p1), but it also in my experience, this presence of mind takes cultivation – not so much in the practice of mindfulness meditation (though that can help), but in finding that inner space of ‘effortlessness’ within mundane, day to day tasks (Suzuki 1987), which is also a dedication to work. Paradoxically I find that this comes about by embracing in myself all of my failings, or ‘mind weeds’, which allows me to better see and understand them as they arise, either in others individually, or as part of the sociological system (Smith 2002) one is engaging with. ‘You should rather be grateful for the weeds you have in your mind, because eventually they will enrich your practice’ (p20).

In the movement phase issues are in the discussion that has followed on from the initial contracting and diagnosing phases (DeHaan 2006). There is a suspension as we try and make sense of the emerging situation, where expectations brew that need to be managed, which can pull a less experienced consultant into wanting to prematurely diagnose the situation in order to offer satiation to these frontstage processes.

The ‘soft power’ of Integrity

My working with these ideas started even before I set up Fusion Organic Cafe, and here I hope to offer a few of my opinions, grounded with some theory.

Power and control are arguably the hot topics of our time, and the beauty of organisation studies, is that is a meta-disciplinary field that studies where the rubber meets the road – where preconception and realisation lead to measurable results, and are validated by what transpires. Businesses tend to be more interested in what works, then in how beautiful or comprehensive a theory might be ‘in theory’.

An organisation in its broadest sense can be defined as any collective grouping working towards a common aim, which includes a family – and it is they who teach me the most in terms of validating whether my espoused values match up to my behaviour – this is why I think the insights gained from organisation studies are transferable, and worth spending a little time with.

In my experience the key to unlocking the usefulness of theory and meta-disciplinary research is the abandonment of the idea of certainty in knowing in absolutist terms – everything must be viewed within it’s context <for instance social backgrounds>, underlying assumptions need to be understood – and most importantly, our own individual embodied experience needs to be integrated. What is interesting, is how theoretical journeying, when connected with / expanding from embodied experience, can aid one’s ability to get in touch with the intuitive Self where true integrity comes from.

“Uncertainty in an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one.” Voltaire.

Reflexivity is key, and theory when used to ask better questions, is very helpful – so long as it’s enacted with ontological humility.

“Ontological humility is the acknowledgement that you do not have a special claim on reality or truth and, that others have equally valid perspectives deserving respect and consideration. This attitude is opposed to ontological arrogance, which is the claim that your truth is the only truth. Even though it may make sense intellectually that people have different perspectives, most people do not naturally act from this understanding, especially in the midst of disagreement or conflict.” – Fred Kofman, Conscious Business.

Theoretical praxis then become tools, some of which work well in some contexts, and less so in others, and the application/enactment becomes the mastery, rather than knowing. The assumptions upon which they are built then become the ‘lenses’ with which we can  view things, each shining light on various elements that go on in the individual and collective ‘subconscious’ elements of the reality (context) one wishes to examine.

If we take Schein’s statement: “Neither individual health nor organizational/systemic health can be understood without the ability to take three different perspectives: (1) an individual perspective based on psychology; (2) a systemic perspective based on anthropology, sociology, political science and systems theory; (3) an interactive process perspective based on social psychology, sociology and other theories of dynamic processes.”

I am exploring the relevance/usefulness of these descriptions here.

Those familiar with the Integral model will immediately see how this relates to the three key perspectives: 1) ‘I’ internal/subjective view, which relates to personal embodied experience, reflexivity and self-awarness (of oneself, and the subjective perspective of individuals, 2)  ‘It/its’ outer ‘objective’ view  3) ‘We’ inter-subjective / collective / cultural view.
This is just a snippet of what the integral model lays out – here my main purpose in mentioning it is for the use of framing topics in discussion, as each of these core perspectives, offer partial views of truth, that need to be integrated in order to build a bigger picture.

The limitations of adhering too closely to any one model, in my experience, leads easily to confusion between map and territory, because as soon as one strays into the stance of ‘knowing’ in a static sense, referring back to one epistemological framework conencted to one ontological view, one subconsciously falls back into ‘Modern’ enactment of certainty in knowing, built upon the construct of separateness. Without wanting to go into this further here, whilst the founders of Integral and Spiral Dynamics do give a complete picture that seeks to caution of this failing, it seems the allure of ‘knowing’ is all too easy to fall prey to. <I touch on this here – a lot more research to be done>

Ontological humility is a given when you really go through the implications of ‘post-modernism’, a journey which my main course lecturer John McAuley is very knowledgeable of. He embodies a ‘learner’s stance’ – remaining within the uncomfortable-ness of ‘post-modernism’, and soaking up what’s been coming through, he has managed to blow out every preconception I had of the limitations of ‘academic’ ‘intellectual’ and ‘business’ paradigms in bringing us closer to our integrity, in a practicable manner.

As OD consultants we have to be aware of the necessity to integrate paradigms, and be able to relinquish preferences (Nevis 1987), and for example I know for myself I will have to watch I don’t develop a one sided ‘value or ideology, e.g. a bias towards participative management and involvement of members of the client organization in a drive for empowerment.’ (p205) at the cost of practical matters such as basic financial performance.
‘Consultants will be better able to act on their values if they are fully aware of the negative consequences of their chosen path and the positive features of the rejected choices’ (Nevis 1987, p205).

In examining our experience, and behaviour, in relation to power and integrity, theory is a good starting point. In looking from the first perspective of individual leaders in relation to the sociological views and behaviours, and how these interact with external systemic elements through power, French & Raven (1960) gave us the idea of hard versus soft power – hard being the powers that come from position within the power-hierarchy – Reward Power, Coercive Power, Legitimate Power, which utilise coercion and payment. Soft being powers that can can be found and utilised regardless of position within an organisation – Expert Power and Referent Power. A further two soft powers were added by Cartwright (1954) – Information power, and connection power, both of which relate to the power that can arise by being in a certain physical or social position, by means of which one has leverage on how information may be accessed or disseminated.

I was struck by a glaringly obvious gap in the ideas behind what makes up soft power. Even Joseph Nye’s power seeks co-opting as an alternative of coercion (hard power), and he acknowledges that it’s still difficult to distinguish between when ‘soft power’ becomes coercive.

In reflecting on what I see as behind my successes at Fusion, I wondered of the true (non-coercive) power that comes from embodying espoused values, getting done what has been promised, and building up a social track record of being a person who communicates with humility – the power of integrity (Argyris 1970, Brown 2005, Harrisson 2011, Kofman 2007). I will reflect on this at the end, with the concept of Heshima.

I have found in my experiences of past work my integrity is where my ‘power’ comes from. It seems to be the key to confidence, yet is nearly impossible to grasp, or pre-plan, and only gets ‘unlocked’ when I have embodied the humility that comes with the acknowledgement that my view is limited, and a collective view is always more complete than a solitary one.
Experiencing lived-in values by being a part of the collective (which calls on humility) I think helps maintain a tangible sense of mindfulness that does not become skewed (Alexander 2011), which is perhaps akin to ‘the kind of empathy that serves as an antidote to the dark side of emotional intelligence – the manipulative use of talents in the service of one’s own interest, and at the expense of others.’ (Goleman 2014).

Hermeneutics – the study of interpretation, is an important topic for those that wish to engage with intuitive perception as any kind of basis for making decisions, which offers a sobering reminder to keep one’s self-awareness grounded in reality when engaging phenomenological ways of interpretation: “While it is a principle of hermeneutics that there are no facts, just interpretations, that does not prevent us from asking if they are bad interpretations” (McAuley 2007). The emphasis is on how to keep emergent thematic analysis free from preconceptions – a phenomenological perspective that seeks to expose what was ‘implicit, taken for granted, or misunderstood’ – in a sense, a ‘reading, an interpretation of the self-interpretation of others within a context’ (Cole 2011).

This un-graspable concept of the power-of-integrity could also be called wisdom , about which in enactment it can be said that:  ‘by engaging in an extensive awareness process that attends to both positive and negative features of available alternatives, consultants are able to act wisely rather than dogmatically’ (Nevis 1987 p205-206). Integration of fields, views and paradigms offers a way to find this Self that is whole through integrity, and modern psychotherapy offers much in helping one bridge the gap between espoused values and actual behaviour in organisations – ‘presence is represented as an extension and higher-order use of self’ (Tolbert and Hanafin 2006. A very good example of an integrated model is Scharmer’s ‘presencing’ praxis model in ‘Theory U’.

In a refreshing addition to literature on consultancy, I have managed to find a bridge between Sufi wisdom (which has influenced me for a number of years) and leadership (Hawkins 2005), where such wisdom as that which Nevis alludes to, is delivered in short stories.
‘Organisations which have been poisoned by their own success are often unable to unlearn obsolete knowledge inspite of strong  disconfirmations.’ (Hedberg cited by Hawkins 2005, p50)
‘Unlearning is the process by which organizations unlock the evolving of their culture’ (Hawkins 2005, p51).

This resonates very strongly with my experiences in organisations to date, where issues could be seen as arising from clinging to outdated knowledge, rather than a blame and shame game pinned to individuals who are ‘wrong’ – ‘only through this process <of unlearning> can the experience of regret mollify the influence of righteousness’ (Nevis 1987, p206), which to me suggests a need to think about unlearning as an element of organisation strategy <and by extension, society at large) that needs further consideration (Akgün et al2007, Hedberg 1979, Prange 1999, Thomas 2011, Tsang & Zahra 2008).

Integrity in culture starts from integrity within individuals – change truly starts with oneself, and a master of the modern path to Self-Integrity, is Rudolf Steiner.

“We must face ourselves with the inner tranquillity of a judge. If we achieve this, our own experiences will reveal themselves in a new light. As long as we are still woven into our experiences, and stand within them, we will remain as attached to the nonessential as to the essential. But once we have attained the inner peace of the overview, the nonessential separates itself from the essential. Sorrow and joy, every thought, every decision will look different when we stand over against ourselves in this way” (Steiner 1918).

This needs to be balanced, and a useful concept to keep in mind is the stance of ‘beginners mind’ (Suzuki 1987) – a state where there are many ‘possibilities (but in the expert’s there are few)’ (p1), but it also in my experience, this presence of mind takes cultivation – not so much in the practice of mindfulness meditation (though that can help), but in finding that inner space of ‘effortlessness’ within mundane, day to day tasks (Suzuki 1987), which is also a dedication to work. Paradoxically I find that this comes about by embracing in myself all of my failings, or ‘mind weeds’, which allows me to better see and understand them as they arise, either in others individually, or as part of the sociological system (Smith 2002) one is engaging with. ‘You should rather be grateful for the weeds you have in your mind, because eventually they will enrich your practice’ (p20).

This of course calls on more than reflexivity, as validation only happens through action. Resilience was the core attribute that got me through the tough times at Fusion –  being alert, present and observant (Nevis 2013). ‘The effective consultant draws power from awareness and teaches client systems to do likewise’ (pxi), which is an ongoing process, differentiated from looking back in reflexive introspection. ‘True awareness is the spontaneous sensing of what arises or becomes figural, and it involves direct, immediate experience.’ (p23), which for me is a ‘learners stance’ expressed prophetically by Eric Hoffer: “In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

The key to finding resilience, is in my experience though embodiment, in turn aided by nutrition – both explored with artistic-pragmatic ‘self-science‘ approach to see what works for oneself, rather than the torture of following external sureties that are inevitably built upon assumptions, that mean they might not apply in every context.
We have to find our own ways, but theory and philosophy can help us to check hidden aspects.

To finish this long ramble, I have an experienced example of the potential power of words and symbols in changing power relations, and the power of having a tangible premise of integrity as a core attribute or ‘social currency’ – the cultural phenomena of Heshima on the Island of Pemba (an island of of Zanzibar), where my wife is from.
heshima

Heshima serves as a symbol for the power of honour and respect that comes from displaying a track record of humility and integrity, rather than coercive power (Kamwangamalu 1999, McMahon 2006) – a pragmatic realisation that can be felt and accessed, but not grasped, controlled, or owned – much like ‘ubuntu’ it’s premise is ‘a person is a person through people’ (Karsten & Illa 2005, Nafhuko 2006 p408, McMahon 2006, Swartz & Davies 1997).

To transfer such a concept as Heshima back into our organisations is totally possible, but not straightforward – and it begins with understanding – this is a very good working example of this kind of post-metaphysical’ approach to dealing with today’s complexity, with integrity.

Organisations of today, especially businesses, have an amazing amount of freedom in how they work with the systems around them – and with freedom comes responsibility – especially if one’s organisation espouses high ideals and values such as Rudolf Steiner’s

I proved to myself with Fusion that it is possible to go about building a ‘conscious business’ – one that truly walks its talk, but it requires a complete change of mindset.

In picking out the truth, one has to be very careful to incorporate what lies outside one’s view, and integrating corporate and academic knowledge on leadership, psychology, sociology etc is the only way to do justice to Steiner (who has in my opinion an incredible amount to offer to today).

“And besides, when the time comes, on account of the evolution of humanity, that the ideas and thoughts mentioned by me in The Threefold Commonwealth are no longer valid, others must again be found.” Steiner <it is my intention to try and shed some post-post-modern (ontologically plural / integrative, practice-focused) light on Steiner’s Threefold Social Order in my dissertation>

One person who is successfully updating Steiner is Otto Scharmer, with his ‘Theory U’ and subsequent works.

If you have read this far, I thank you for your time.

I am currently working freelance as an Organisation Development consultant, as well as facilitating workshops in healthy eating, for children, teenagers or adults. I can be contacted professionally though linkedin.

I also run a private catering operation  where I operate the healthy-tasty ethos in full force.

Melvin Jarman

Leadership as Facilitation

This is an attempt at an auto-ethnographic view of leadership, grounded in the organisational  theory that has inspired my past and current work, and bringing in a little of the philosophical material that has helped me make sense of my life, and perhaps most importantly, the insights arising from moving beyond a mono-ontological/cultural view.

In my life, and especially in my relationship and with my children, the need to understand other cultures has led me through the most medicinal processes, despite feeling anything but when caught in the tension. My deep questioning of my cultures started with being half German in a UK school – I denied my German roots to myself for many years (very subtly, which I can only see in looking back).
Through both my unusual upbringing (Steiner school and Anthroposophy), as well as through my travels and experiences of other cultures, I have found the questions asked of oneself and what one does as a matter of course, are not easy to work through. It has been fatherhood, and integrating the Afro-Arab culture of my wife that has led me to really experience the truth in Jung’s idea of cultural shadow, which is redemptive, rather than blaming.

My work setting up and running Fusion helped me to live out both my own personal leadership development, as well as to see what works and what doesn’t in a larger organisational context. What has become clear to me is that there is something far more fundamental and universal at play than bad leaders, though awareness of one’s leadership ‘style’, it’s strengths and limitations is I think part of the responsibility of being in a leadership position.

There is growing consensus that the new kind of leader called upon in these times is more of a facilitator than one who directs – an important question is: ‘Can wisdom be taught’.

For example in business, there is a direct causal link between leadership development and shareholder value (which also goes through employee fulfilment and customer satisfaction). If we then look at the leadership development, we see that the higher you go up the developmental leadership competencies, the more facilitative and non-directive (in a egoic sense) the leadership consciousness is, leading to ‘Self transforming, inter-independent’ modes of thinking/practice, whose role is to curate, co-design, and bring collective insight to the service of the organisation – to grow a community of practice.

Cross cultural interaction

‘There is a need to reinvent our democratic processes so that community voices are heard, and I believe the facilitation process is taking, and will continue take, an active part in this.’

Understanding oneself is absolutely key if one is to work with organisational/collective issues, and what is termed as hermeneutics is very well placed to help facilitate self-discovery and understanding of one’s own taken-for-granted reality. The added cautionary note that ‘The hermeneutic paradigm does not replace other paradigms; it complements and enriches them’ is important, and is for me summarised as integration, which I have been actively pursuing as reflexive practice since I first came across integral theory over a decade ago.

Cultural shadow

An important element in shining lights on our taken-for-granted assumptions, which relates to both micro (internal/personal) and macro (external/collective/inter-personal) development, is the idea of collective cultural shadows/complexes, which can only be seen once one is able to view one’s culture from ‘the outside’, (which I would say is enabled by truly understanding other’s).
For example (and I am grossly oversimplifying this to try and express this in a couple of sentences), our Western culture on an archetypal level is heavily focused on development (which is I think ultimately a very good thing), but if one then sees all development in the context of one’s own culture, it’s easy to unwittingly dishonour the developments another culture that may have elements that ours is sorely lacking in. We are so often sure that we have found ‘the best way’ to do something, which works for a time, and then becomes stale and rigid, becoming the very thing that blocks progress. Ultimately I think other cultures can bring what our own lacks, and ours can offer new perspectives in return – but the starting point has to be true mutual respect – and people respond far more to behaviour, than espoused values.

Examining our own behaviour with the ruthlessness of a judge is key, and there is the key question of control. Is life a measurable, predictable set of phenomena that can be analysed and controlled, or is the human existence more healthily lived if approached as akin to the natural world – viewing things with a ‘learners stance’, witnessing the emergent self organising systems and sub-systems of phenomena that make up our world, inextricably interlinked, which centralised control systems ultimately cannot manage. There’s many ways one could go with this thought, but I’d like to keep a focus on the mismatch between espoused values, and behaviour as experienced from ‘the other(s) – the collective view.

This really applies most to those who are aware of the global issues, and who seek to live their life in contribution to a better future. There is more integrity in leadership that states its profit objectives and works towards this, than leadership that espouses grand values, yet behave in a controlling manner, or refuses to check out it’s own ‘behavioural back yard’.

Often people who espouse a moving away from the Modern control paradigm, exhibit behaviours that are far more controlling than they might be comfortable with – ‘few people are aware that the maps they use to take action are not the theories they explicitly espouse’.

The concept of ‘triple loop learning‘ can help break old cycles and find the solutions that lie outside the paradigm that created the issues. It is through humbly (and necessarily) acknowledging my own iterations of my cultural shadow, which for me seems to be epitomised by our tendency to view ourselves as somehow superior, in however subtle a way, that I have been able to better see the ‘gold’ that comes with the shadow – strategising, is for me good example of both most useful, and potentially most destructive elements of ‘developed’ cultures.

Real (by which I mean authentic/experienced/lived-in) knowledge of another culture also allows one to build bridges, and not only honour, but cherish the greater insights of diversity that is there in all cultures despite ignorance, prejudice or hegemony that might make different cultures seem inherently oppositional. New ‘social currencies’ formed around respect could be helpful – and we have many examples of these as living, perceivable phenomena in other cultures seen by some as backwards – one if which I have experienced in Pemba, that has also been studied.

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Heshima serves as a symbol for the power of honour and respect that comes from displaying a track record of humility and integrity, rather than coercive power (Kamwangamalu 1999, McMahon 2006) – a pragmatic realisation that can be felt and accessed, but not grasped, controlled, or owned – much like ‘ubuntu’ it’s premise is ‘a person is a person through people’ (Karsten & Illa 2005, Nafhuko 2006 p408, McMahon 2006, Swartz & Davies 1997).

Issues are complex, and frameworks such as Integral and Spiral dynamics can help us to unpick these complexities with a new way of thinking, that doesn’t seek to blame, or lay ‘universal truths’ onto others, yet give the ability to understand the core dynamics of a given context.

Experiential knowledge combined with intuitively-guided academic and cognitive/intellectual/self-scientific research also in my view helps, but I think ‘ontological humility‘ is a must.

If I were to try and philosophically summarise this, I would say that (with my current understanding) I feel that somehow uncovering/sharing/learning/unlearning epistemologies as they arise in-context, and transforming our relationship to/with them, allows the experience of a more holistic, phenomenologically experienced, emergent, collective ontology. There are no concrete answers, rather deep questions arising from the ontological exploration, with the view that new ways of thinking are needed in this ever more complex and fast changing world – a rethinking of core assumptions , or a new ‘paradigm of complexity’.

Conclusion – weaving the threads

All this philosophising for me has to come back into the practical, otherwise, what’s the point. Food, music, entrepreneurship, organisations, theories, philosophies, stories, whether intellectual tools or arts, – all are forms of cultural bridges that allow cross-connection for a two way traffic of insights, and an emerging ‘collective insight‘ that is becoming more visible.

The external turmoil that ravages our World has long served as a core motivator for me, but what is changing is my relationship to it (from wrestling with my internal turmoil’s). An agenda of wanting to ‘improve’ from the point of view of improving what is ‘external’ to me, has died/is dying. What I seek to improve is myself, by engaging with life and the world – to the world I strive to bring love (partly through my professional work), free of agenda, but full of intention. The knower is receding as the chief, and the learner (which by default connects to others) is becoming the new facilitator of my development. Yet still, within all this love and communion, some fierce integrity, insightful agentic and dialectic tools, and undeniable facts are equally essential. An alchemical fusing of the most high tech, and the most ancient, through self-knowledge and integrity, utilising acquired wisdom submitted to love – humility, and the will to really listen to others. <another blog post exploring the topic of integrity here>

My experiences  have shown me the absolute benefit of utilising technology (physical, social or intellectual), my interest which came about in me in part due to a backlash against the prevalent tendency within the Steiner community of resisting technology, business and academia. Thanks to a decade of studying/practising Integral theory I have been able to sift the baby from the bathwater – though it was all the wonderful people from the many cultures I’ve experienced who showed (through their embodied integrity and humility) the way that does not follow any external validations, but rather seeks to build bridges of shared insights starting with Self-knowledge – and this took me to see beyond dialectic thinking as a core base of ascertaining truth. What is before us is emergent, and as yet hard to define.

My upbringing gave me a fostered, natural aptitude for using hermeneutic tools of insight, as well as a resilience that I am grateful for beyond words, and it is to the the philosopher who has had the largest influence on my life that I will turn to in conclusion – The intuitive thinking Steiner lays out for me encapsulates the new kind of thinking that is required – a re-integration of thinking feeling and willing – clear insight employed from embodied feeling/love, in the moment when it is needed. His intuitive thinking needs to develop with the many insights that the other paradigms, disciplines, views and meta-views contribute, and like the ‘Western’ culture it’s from, to stop countering truths that come from a different base of assumptions (which is something I think he tried to make very clear). I am led to wonder if, ultimately, an archetypal tension that is most fundamental to modern Western cultures, is the tension between youth and wisdom –  that which is emergent, enthusiastic, yet often blind, opposing what is established, experienced, yet often cold – we have a lack of connection between the young and the old, something that I have experienced as very different in some other ‘less developed’ cultures.

Another key one being perhaps the masculine/feminine agency/communion tension, but that would be another articles worth.

I am currently working freelance as an Organisation Development consultant, as well as facilitating workshops in healthy eating, for children, teenagers or adults. I can be contacted professionally though linkedin.

I also run a private catering operation  where I operate the healthy-tasty ethos in full force.

Melvin Jarman

The social aspect of nutrition

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When I started working with young people who required specialist education <before I started Fusion>, I was tasked with cooking nutritious meals with the students, from a 100% Organic and Biodynamic supply list. Something I truly  beleive in as a good idea <based on self-science and artistic experiences of my work>.

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My first challenge, apart from trying to engage them in the work, was to try and find their enthusiasm – I knew from my own adolescent sense of self-rightness, if I did not, any noble goals of feeding them nutritious food would fall down into ‘I’m not eating this s***.’

DSC00831What was interesting, was at the time there was a nutritionist advising a strictly 100% wholegrain vegetarian diet, who presented a whole ream of sound evidence, that such a diet would have a positive effect on the student’s conditions.

DSC00826In my mind was ‘what’s the point, if they aren’t going to eat it’. So in order to assert my beliefs in balance to these nutritional ideas, I called upon a theoretical model, that has had profound influence on my thinking, and work, for the last decade – Ken Wilber’s ‘AQAL Integral Model‘ (as well as Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics Integral).

Without wanting to spend to much time explaining the philosophy behind it, what I can say, is that the AQAL model was and is an invaluable dialectic toolset for integrating worldviews and ideologies (the foundational ontological and epistemological meaning making systems that all philosophies, views, opinions and people have) – as tools, enacted from embodied feelings, these (and other) theories are mind-tools to gain insight, par extraordinaire. They can either lock you into falso knowing, or they can shine light on areas of a given context involving ourselves, that we simply can’t see beforehand. The trick is to be able to choose the right tool for the right contextual nuance – that’s where the heart, and the art and mastery come in – as service to truth that emerges, rather than to hidden false ‘knowing.

What I was then able to express, was a valid rationale for my natural urge to want to get to know them, and just get on with it, without the constraints of restricted ingredients.

AQAL view of considerations for working to change diets of young and/or vulnerable people.

AQAL view of considerations for working to change diets of young and/or vulnerable people.

Within a fairly short space of time, I had them clocking for seconds of dahl rice and salads:)

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What I can add 8 years later, is that if one wants to achieve much progress, it is necessary to approach young people without too many preconceived ideas about who they are, and what you’re trying to do.
This is I think as important, if not more so, than what one brings with personal and professional knowledge and experience. Does one view the students as less developed and needing assistance in finding society’s best path, or do we see them as people, just like us, who are looking for what motivates them, gives them self-expression, and ultimately help them towards finding meaning for themselves?

By engaging with the enthusiasm in those we wish to teach, we can progress rapidly – this takes laying aside our adult agenda’s in the moment, whilst keeping aware of the wisdom we have been lucky enough to glean from our own lives, so that we can bring it at the right time
If we try to teach from a more knowledgeable perspective, the students who need us most will recoil.

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Young people have a keen sense for authenticity!

The youthful age carries both intense energy to get things done, and rebellious lethargy to anything that seems in-authentic/authoritarian. I think for teenagers especially (and arguably for all people), there is an abhorrence of ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’, which is I think healthy, but also extremely dangerous if allowed to get carried away – the need for youthful enthusiasm to be tempered by wisdom, given with humility – which seems to work best from embodied role modelling of integrity, honour, humility – which is surely the essence of what we’re trying to teach them.

A tall order perhaps, that requires more than just emotional intelligence – but it really is all there in the students, in us, and if this informs our approach, what could be a slog, becomes a fun and mysterious journey – very hard work that is truly satisfying..

Boundaries are important, respect is important, theoretical or philosophical insights are important, but most important of all in my view are integrity and humility. Without them, mutual respect, and willing progress (which is much more effective than forced) are hard to grasp. Less talk, more action.

References – these are the key books and articles that have either influenced me, or have helped me make sense of my experiences from 2 years working as a catering tutor with students of Freeman College <which is when all of the above photographs were taken>, and subsequently as founder/manager of Fusion Organic Café – whilst not all strictly relevant to this article, these are chosen from my degree readings as my top influences in thoughts on these topics (people and work).

I run workshops in healthy eating, for children, teenagers or adults. I can be contacted professionally though LinkedIn.

I also run a private catering operation, where I operate the healthy-tasty ethos in full force.

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The importance of Attitude

If I think to consolidate the single most important learning from 17+ years working in kitchens/ethical businesses, I’d say that attitude really is the single most important factor.

Although experience is a key factor we look for in a recruit, what I have found is that within a very short space of time (3-6 months), the attitude someone holds towards their job trumps experience.

An inexperienced person who is happy to simply engage with their task, and have a basic premise to improve what they do, very quickly becomes a far more reliable asset than an experienced person, who can perform, but who rests back into thinking they’ve learned all they need to know.

What I mean by attitude is twofold –
*interpersonal attitude <humility, wanting to improve how and what one does, happy for feedback from anyone>
*task attitude <enthusiasm for the work, integrity of finding work you can enjoy, and embrace>

So simple, yet often so elusive.

Yet the causes for a disengaged attitude are complex.

What feeds this from a systems point of view is in many cases simple things, like knowing one’s role, accountabilities and job description.

What unites both, and is a key factor in any kind of organisation is of course communication.

My sources for these ideas are in a large part from the following:

Fred Kofman’s ‘Conscious Business’, which is well worth reading, and owning.

It was, along with Holacracy, and my good friends at Waking up the Workplace, highly influential in what went behind Fusion Organic Cafe‘s vision and manifestation, together with all the wonderful people who made it happen, and are still making it happen today.
These guys deserve a mention with their new project too.

As many good things seem to come in threes, Kofman is of Otto Scharmer’s MIT colleagues, which means Bill Torbert and Action Inquiry must get a mention as well!

Taken from a great summary article of Conscious Business.

“Seven qualities of conscious leadership

The seven qualities of conscious leadership that Fred Kofman describes are distributed in the following three interdependent categories:

Three characters attributes: Unconditional responsibility, essential integrity,and ontological humility.

Three interpersonal skills: authentic communication, constructive negotiation,and impeccable coordination.

One enabling condition for previous six: Emotional mastery”

Melvin Jarman Jan 2014

I am seeking work as an Organisation Development consultant, and run workshops in healthy eating and sustainable food enterprise, for children, teenagers or adults. I can be contacted professionally though LinkedIn.

I also run a private catering operation, where I operate the healthy-tasty ethos in full force.

References – these are the key books and articles that have either influenced me, or have helped me make sense of my experiences from 2 years working as a catering tutor with students of Freeman College.

The self-science of healthy eating

After nearly 18 years cooking healthy food for generally health-conscious people in ethical establishments, including setting up Fusion Organic Café in Sheffield, I have been on a journey of discovery of what healthy eating is.

In this article, I intertwine my professional experiences as a gourmet health food chef, with my own experiences of a self-science stance to both eating and cooking/preparing. I will pepper this with links to the every growing research that is pouring in.

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I am not trying to sell a view to anyone, simply trying to share a few learnt experiences arising out of deeply questioning what we are told we should eat.
Tasty has always been a very important factor for me as a chef, along with knowledge of what is beneficial in ingredients, ethics and cooking processes.
Most of all, I value experience, personal and shared, over opinion based on external sources derived from a generalised view. Science is key, but for me it must pair up with experience if it’s to be of any real use. I also think we need to go deeper than calorific, mineral and vitamin values, and I hope to show that there is some interesting new research to show that the living elements of nutrition – our bacterial realms in our guts, play a much bigger role than was previously though.
Equally important, are the sociological, psychological and behavioural aspects <touched on in this post>, as well as the art of cooking, and most of all, love as the key ingredient.

The self-honest realisation is that we are what we eat, and need to nourish ourselves if our goal is to be healthy, but I wonder if holistic nourishment is actually possible through self-deprivation.

I invite consideration of a different view of healthy eating: A healthy diet is more about self-science than hard discipline – finding healthier choices through what tastes good and feels healthy afterwards, so that healthy choices can become treats, and indulgence can become a key nutrient, (even if sometimes it’s a ‘less than healthy indulgence’ on paper).
There’s thousands of special diets’ out there that purport to be the answer to all ills, and though some may be appropriate in specific contexts, and I’ll wager that guilt <for example, arising from strict adherence to an oldskool nutritional view> would be far more damaging than what’s imbibed on a whim’s outing – so long as the healthy things still go in there.

In all these years I have seen how some (customers) who appeared neurotic, would also tend to be unhealthy, though they had a ‘near-perfect’ diet, whilst others who tended to more humbly and pragmatically allow themselves indulgences, and generally seek to enjoy their lives, were a lot more sprightly.

What I am advocating is balance – ‘one man’s meat is another’s poison’, getting to know oneself and body (self-science), and allowing both mindfully chosen indulgence as a preference to a limiting diet, as well as discernment – for example, when hearing that ‘sugar is bad’, one should be aware of the difference between refined white sugar, and say honey, raw sugar and natural vs manufactured alternatives.

Strict diets can be very worthwhile, especially as a cure of chronic conditions, but on an ongoing basis, if stress is the primary by-product, with chronic elevated cortisol levels, then the self-prescribed cure could be doing more harm than good.

A pragmatic and open minded approach, buying better quality food and thinking about what one puts on one’s belly, observing how one feels seems to me the best way forward. As for ‘all bad’ foods – there might be some ingredients that are fairly pointless, but if you enjoy eating something, it is probably doing some good – self-science along with knowledge of what’s health-ful, will in my experience help one begin to find a healthier equilibrium.

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However, we also need to listen to our body <which is us as much as our brain> if we are to be true scientists – a path of ever greater awareness, through both self-science, and research, will lead us to find the foods that are healthy for one’s quirky individual self. So in my view, the first step towards cultivating this self-kind attitude (that’s essential if the self-science is to be holistic), is to simply become more aware of what we eat, how it tastes, how we feel afterwards, and where it comes from.

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Health can overpower

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food”
Hippocrates, who also said in the Hippocratic oath doctors swear to: “apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick, and do no harm to any human being.”

The idea that food is medicine no doubt goes right back to our very beginnings. A resurgent idea, or if you like, a phenomena that I have been noticing, is idea that Health can overpower Disease.

The observations that our attitude can have as much impact as the actual foods we consume, and that agenda-free self-love can have a large impact on health, has a resonation in the world-within worlds that is our gut’s ecosystem.

“nothing in nutrition and health makes sense except in the light of the gut microbiome.”

Recent research in microbial science has shown some fascinating correlates between what we put in our guts, and our overall health, and even our DNA. Starting with recent realisations that we have brain cells in our guts, emerging research offers scientific basis for a completely new approach to diets and healthy eating, a changing of culture.

‘Overall, dietary changes could explain 57% of the total structural variation in gut microbiota whereas changes in genetics accounted for no more than 12%.’

The field  of Macroecology needs to be integrated into our view of health. From a recent study of Tanzania’s hunter-gather Hadza tribe:

‘The breathtaking exchange (horizontal transfer) of microbes between the Hadza and their environment is more or less how it’s been for eons until humans started walling ourselves off from the microbial world through the many facets of globalization. Rather than think of ourselves as isolated islands of microbes, the Hadza teach us that we are better thought of as an archipelago of islands, once seamlessly connected to one another and to a larger metacommunity of microbes via a microbial super highway that runs through the gut and skin/feathers of every animal and water source on the landscape (for those of you keeping up with your homework, this is Macroecology 101).

Here we can also see the possibility that health can indeed overpower:
‘The scientists found that specific groups of microbes transferred from lean mice to their obese cage-mates, who began with less diverse microbial communities. The transfer only occurred in one direction: from lean to obese mice. This transfer appeared to prevent obesity and encourage metabolic profiles resembling those of lean mice.

A sweep of recent research shows that:

a) There is a strong connection between biodiverse gut health and overall health, and that microbes play a key role, both positively, and negatively, by way of Enterobacteriaceae.

‘The microbiota is an important constituent of the intestine’s defence barrier because it induces and maintains specific immune responses and hyporesponsiveness to antigens. Furthermore, it is known that certain bacterial species in the gastrointestinal tract can liberate low molecular weight peptides that trigger the immune system.’

b) That the key to weight loss, obesity and helping to cure autoimmune diseases such as diabetes may lie in gut bacteria.Microbes also play an important role in Cancer.

This finding provides support for the more general concept that the gut microbiome should be considered as a set of genetic factors that, together with host genotype and life-style (energy intake and expenditure), contribute to the patho-physiology of obesity.’

‘Studies using cultures of human colon cells grown in flasks show that probiotics can interfere with the action of cancer forming substances.’

c) That modern diets vs ‘archaic’ hunter gatherer diets,are often bad for microbial diversity, and worse, that we may be losing some of the most beneficial microbial friends with our ultra clean food culture that often trends towards mono-dominance, rather than diversity:
‘Changes in human ecology may lead to the homogenization of human-associated microbial communities, with resulting erasure of key features of the evolutionary histories of our microbiotas. Therefore, it is imperative that our human microbiome be sampled as thoroughly and as rapidly as possible, particularly in societies that are undergoing dramatic cultural, socioeconomic and technological transformations.

d) That spices play a key role, also in keeping bacterial colonies healthy for us, and seem to offer balance to Enterobacteriaceae

‘There is reason to believe that traditional herbs and spices, which entered the human diet during the Paleolithic and have been passed down through the generations for tens of thousands of years, were selected by our hunter-gatherer ancestors as much for their ability to promote gut health as for their taste.’

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Modern food myths:

Current research is making leaps and bounds in terms of understanding which foods are particularly healthy.

Some taken for granted assumptions about what foods are healthy are being busted. One is the idea that all ‘fat is bad’, and the rise of the Paleo diet is in line with research that suggests cholesterol is a key nutrient for a healthy brain. If one chooses to eat animal products, then maybe what we add in our diets is as important as what we leave out.
As always, I seek for an integrated view, after balance, and I think the Paleo ban on grains is unrealistic, and so therefore, for me not something I abide to.

I do think choosing healthy grains is important, as well as looking at what are healthy carbs, with the key variable being the cooking process, with the secondary being quality of ingredients/products, and third being variety/strain of the grain used. Bread is such a wonderful thing, so for me, it’s more about knowing some of the facts on different kinds of bread, and, linking back to the gut microbes, knowing the importance of slowly made bread‘it’s likely that the fermentation of the sourdough changes the nature of the starches in the bread, creating a more beneficial bread.’

Once again, rather than putting something <like salt> in an all bad box, I suggest it’s better to find out which foods compliment one’s dietary choices.

www.fusionorganic.co.uk

Sourdough yeasts change the colour and texture of Rye flour

Bread and yeast leads nicely on to alcohol, where once again microorganisms play a key role, there seems to be a world of difference between ancient techniques and industrialised production methods, and as is often the case, slower seems to be better.

To pick another one of a growing list (this one chosen because of my own experiences) – coffee is not as bad as some would make it seem, though balance is always advocated – along with experimentation!

So as far as food types to include/avoid, what you include seems to be almost more important than what you exclude, at least where diets are concerned.

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Unnecessary foods that cause harm

There are many products that are sold to combat one specific symptom of a poor diet (eg obesity), which are not designed from a holistic/systemic perspective, and therefore cause problems elsewhere. Some would say that’s putting it kindly.

Artificial sweeteners are I think truly harmful/non-beneficial ingredients, that don’t even help one to lose weight.

I can’t say I stick to a strictly organic diet, but I certainly try to avoid food that has added chemicals, the most prominent examples being fast food and ready meals (though some might say otherwise, I think this is the problem with looking at just data, based on flawed assumptions on what makes a healthy diet).

Once in a while is fine I’m sure, and I do occasionally opt for a service station burger if I’m hungry, but they never give me much energy, and often don’t feel great in digestion. In addition to suspect ingredients, for me it’s the lack of conscious effort, creativity and freshness – lack of love, that makes them a pointless, if not damaging regular dietary choice.

I personally regard GMO food in a similar or even worse category, not so much because I am anti-genetic engineering per se, but because it is very much largely being driven by profit motives rather than furthering our planet and species, and long term studies are left to discovery and salvage, rather than safety and prevention. It seems GM foods may have a direct impact on our bacterial ecosystems too.

Another key area for me is meat and dairy, where buying local/organic is definitely advised – animal cruelty and overuse of antibiotics are two good examples of why it’s in everything’s interest to eat better quality food. Buying local also helps to to tap into your local microbial networks, and organic food is beginning to be proven scientifically better for health.

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Moving forward

I think it’s the self-science-with-integrity that can lead one to fall in love with healthy eating, whilst still having indulgences that make you happy.
Some may well be hit and miss, but the only way we can find out, is to try things, and share ideas.

It seems collectively we need to look back to what our ancestors might have eaten, as well as to keep abreast with the latest science that may point towards the optimum foods to keep in one’s stores – the main idea being raising self-awareness of food, and eating food that is from the area you live in. Fermented foods are particularly beneficial it seems.

Changing buying habits is key, but I agree that it will take more than information spreading – a change in ‘environment’ is need too.

The idea of supporting local sustainable food has gained traction in recent years, though further shifts are needed – changing our microbial gut life is dependant on there being the right kind of food available at affordable prices, and there is a whole area I have left off this article – the enrichment of daily life that can come about from embracing guilt-free healthy lifestyles that surround getting good quality ethical/sustainable ingredients to our grateful guts – the daily/weekly/yearly rhythms that are iterated by following seasonal and stomach’s suggestions, are are wonderful things to get children involved with. Either way, it is in the interest of all of us to change our eating, buying and growing habits.

Growing your own is always the best plan 🙂

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This is more of a preliminary exploratory sweep, rather than any comprehensive study – I shall be spending a bit of time over the next few months trawling for more research and better quality references.

Nowadays it is ever easier to cross reference sources – I have chosen mainly blog-based reports as they summarise well for quicker reading, as well as the fact that many are paid access, but in nearly all cases I have already checked via my university access, and their sources appear sound.

I run workshops in healthy eating, for children, teenagers or adults. I can be contacted professionally though linkedin.

I also run a private catering operation  where I operate the healthy-tasty ethos in full force.

orgfusion

Foods that help our gut ecosystem biodiversity: <List will grow>
Honey
Cassava
Coconut
Pro-bacterial natural anti-infectants
Tomatoes
Turmeric
Kale
not raw