By Nick Jankel

Professional Global Keynote Speaker, Transformation & Innovation Catalyst, Leadership Theorist & Practitioner, 6 x Dyslexic Author, 3 x TV Coach, Co-Creator of Bio-Transformation®

This article is part 6 of 8 in the series Regenerative Leadership & Regenerative Business

The Operating System Of Humankind Is Changing

The Triple Threat of the digital, disrupted, and damaged world is not going anywhere, no matter how much we might want it to. None of us gets a choice in this: we all have to deal with them to some degree, even if we are just about to retire.

Nowhere on Earth is safe from freak weather, global pandemics, or troubled pension funds. What is more, these drivers of change will hit us at the same time. They are not just trends to manage. They are destabilizing and disrupting the fundamental ‘Operating System’ (O.S.) of our world.

Just like a computer has an O.S. upon which you can build software, humanity also has an O.S. This Operating System is being transformed by the Triple Threat.

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The ‘apps’ — businesses, institutions, political parties — built upon the old O.S. will not be fully adapted to or optimized for the emergent O.S. It is highly likely that your business or institution either needs rapid upgrades to work on the new O.S.; and/or you need to build new ‘apps’ that make full use of the possibilities that the digital, disrupted, and damaged world brings.

The new O.S. that is emerging has no precedent in human history. Briefly, we have moved through several key operating systems in the history of our species: from tribes to hierarchies/ aristocracies, to enterprises and markets, to the emerging era that is dominated by digital technologies and the global/local networks they afford us.
This is not meant to be a history that is true and eternal; just a useful way of understanding the evolution of humanity, society, and organizations.

The Tribal Operating System

In pre-modern Tribal O.S., we have an intimate relationship with nature and each other. Small communities are the source of our identity and also our physical and psychological surviving and thriving. Each tribe member has a deep sense of belonging that holds them safe. Trade is local, occurring mainly through a network of people who have developed trusted relationships with each other.

On the other hand, brutality is rife. Rampant xenophobia drives violence based on whether you are in the group/tribe or not. Slavery of conquered peoples is common. Naive and disempowering myths about our genesis and purpose lock us into false certainties. In Tribal O.S., the strongest, angriest, or most loyal man (it is, and always has been, usually a man) wins.

The Institution Operating System

In early-modern Institution O.S., educated and powerful people such as priests and aristocrats (and then scientists and scholars) are afforded the time needed to generate legal entities and encode laws that write down what the rules, responsibilities, and rights are that we must follow to survive and thrive within the state. These structures provide ‘citizens’ of these institutions — whether guilds/clubs or nation-states–with stability and security. Trade evolves to allow the exchange of goods, value, and ideas between people separated in space and time.

On the other hand, nationalistic, religious, colonial, and class-based ideologies lead to the oppression and suppression of those of a lower class or ethnicity. People of the wrong education, gender, or color are diminished and demeaned, subject to poverty, penal servitude, and state-sponsored violence. Mercantile capitalism makes vast profits for the elites, often through the suffering of those in colonies. Those at the top of the pyramid, who maintain their hierarchical power through (usually self-serving) laws, rules, and customs, win.

The Enterprise Operating System

In late-modern Enterprise O.S., reason, rigor, and a right to liberty are prioritized. Critical thinking and scientific knowledge are used to undermine priestly dogma and aristocratic power and replace them with provable certainties and meritocracies. Analysis and logic are used to trump ideology and religion. The mechanistic thinking of cause-and-effect enables machines to be built that replace human labor. Free-market capitalism and the liberal order allow people to scale innovations, driving major returns on capital invested and improving the lives and living standards of billions.

On the other hand, the focus on competition over compassion — and measurement over meaning — generates social alienation and consumer addiction. Extractive and accumulative greed leads to rampant inequality, ill health, and environmental destruction and degradation. Those who are most competitive, ambitious, and algorithmic (using science to predict, control, and dominate) win.

The “Network” Operating System

In post-modern — or, maybe more accurately, ‘metamodern’ — Network O.S., digital and real-world networks allow for unprecedented co-creativity, collective wisdom, sharing (of private physical and intellectual property), peer-powered services, mutual aid, and mass creativity. This O.S. affords citizens the ways and means to criticize and disrupt all claims to truth and power, whether by science, politics, or capital.

Regenerative thinking — circular, conscious, and holistic — allows capital to innovate healthy social and economic systems that promote and affirm human flourishing; and alleviate the suffering of all sentient beings. Those who are most co-creative and collaborative — and digital and agile in an interconnected system — win, or rather thrive: because the aim of the game has changed from winning in a zero-sum game to flourishing as a network.

On the other hand, a desire for forced equality and flatness in Network O.S. can generate tyranny from below. The relentless need to criticize and deconstruct previous ideologies and institutions can erode certainties and lead to rampant negation and nihilism (such as deaths of despair).

In the absence of purpose and compassion, Network O.S. can enable an abstract and technocratic — as opposed to an empathic and connective — form of globalization that reduces rootedness and local self-reliance.

Integrating All Operating Systems In One Organization

Of course, the three older Operating Systems still exist in our current metamodern world even as the new Network O.S. comes online. Some companies and societies operate under the thrall of strong men. Some have steep hierarchies where those with the most wealth, status, or education maintain power. Some really believe in meritocracy and the survival of the fittest/smartest/highest achievers.

The Regenerative Renaissance many of us yearn for must include all the best innovations of humankind; while being able to consciously transcend the persistent and pernicious protective patterns of previous stages of our evolution that are no longer a fit; or fit for purpose. That means harnessing the best of Tribal O.S., Institution O.S., and Enterprise O.S.; while fulfilling the promise of Network O.S.

This explicitly means releasing the values that an over-reliance analytical consciousness has made us addicted to; while embracing the insights and powers that connective consciousness opens up. We harness the best of pre-modern Tribal O.S. to find our way (back) to an intimate relationship with nature and build generative communities of mutual aid — and local trade — that fulfill our yearning for simplicity, authenticity, narrative expression, and belonging; while losing strong-man leadership, barbarity, disempowering myths, naive certainties, identity-driven violence, and xenophobia.

We harness Institution O.S for its elegant legal entities and structures that provide us stability and security; and the capacity for innovations and investments in other places and spaces; while losing the nationalistic, religious, colonial, and class-based oppression/suppression that diminishes and demeans other people and our planet.

We can optimize the liberating reason, scientific rigor, creative entrepreneurship, and ingenious innovations of advanced modernity’s Enterprise O.S.; while losing the cut-throat competition, faux meritocracy, and extractive greed that together lock those without capital, knowledge, or power out; and push the world towards rampant inequality and ill-health and environmental destruction and devastation.

And we can make use of the co-creativity, collective wisdom, peer-power, nature-based experiences of webs of reciprocity and meaning, and regenerative thinking of Network O.S.; while losing the forced flatness, technocratic globalization, deconstructive nihilism, and reduced rootedness that can come with it.

A few businesses and communities are slowly exploring how to make the most use of Network O.S. Many organizations and institutions use all four in different departments, functions, and localities.

The Next Stage Of Human & Societal Development

I believe that each organizing approach has a role to play across most organizations and nations, depending on the moment, but that we must all be looking to make the most of Network O.S.—as rapidly as possible—to mitigate the threats and unlock the opportunities, of the digital, disrupted, and damaged world.

If we want to harness the unique and unprecedented opportunities of Network O.S. while mitigating the existential threats of the Four Horsemen of a potential Anthropocene Apocalypse — the Industrialization Crisis, the Inequality Crisis, the Illness Crisis, the Identity Crisis — we will need to adapt ourselves and our organizations fast. We need to design regenerative business models and regenerative business design. This takes truly transformational leadership.

Otherwise, we will be using habits and ideas developed in an old O.S. to try to thrive in a new one that is characterized by unprecedented levels of digitalization, disruption, and damage. This cannot be anything other than a failure because of the elementary law of evolution: adapt… or die.

Or, as Einstein may have put it, we cannot solve problems using the same level of consciousness that created them.

Regenerative Leadership: A Paradigm Shift In Leadership Consciousness

Anthropologists and historians suggest that it is our lively and enlivening nature that has allowed our species to cope with previous radical shifts in climate through adaptation and collaboration. It is our regenerative capacity to unleash more aliveness in any place or space—whether generating art on cave walls or babies in arctic tundras—that makes us so uniquely human. As the Jeff Goldblum character says in Jurassic Park: “Life always finds a way.”

As we regenerate our own minds and bodies to get the developmental “upgrade” of regenerative thinking, we consciously choose to live, love, and lead within planetary and psychological constraints—while harnessing our full potential for creativity and collaboration and reciprocity, and interdependence.

We become limitless in purpose and possibility even as we ensure our projects, enterprises, and economies are bounded in profit and productivity.

The secret lies in a return to nature, human as much as ecological.

We can choose to go on the journey to experience a paradigm shift of our consciousness as leaders, sensing, experiencing, and then cognitively understanding the idea and ideals of Network O.S. as rapidly as possible.

A great and simple place to start is with these 5 Essential Capabilities of Regenerative Leaders.

As the Operating System of our world changes — and a new Operating System for humankind emerges — transformative “apps” (business models, policy models, democratic models, and leadership models) can be built upon it.

We can challenge the breaking down assumptions at the heart of our unsustainable business models and social systems and replace them with future-forward, humanity-empowering, planet-regenerating insights and methods that are breaking through.

Transformational Leadership Development Programs

We deliver outstanding transformational leadership training programs designed to ensure your organization can survive and thrive in the disrupted, digital, and damaged world—and customized to your unique context, strategy, and culture.

We offer creative and experiential leadership training—with cutting-edge thinking, empowering and effective tools, brain-based leadership practices, and innovation/transformation fieldwork—aimed to meet your leaders’ real needs and challenges.