Toward a Seismographic Leadership

Toward a Seismographic Leadership

How do you handle issues that are born outside of your reach, have been going on since long before you were born, and spread out in time and space way beyond your direct sphere of influence? The job description and brief of a public servant, NGO leadership, or corporate team pay only a little attention to the nature of the challenges that present themselves every day. There will be no mention of excessive complexity, of opaque knowledge grounds, or of fields and issues that are deeply connected, yet functionally separated by policy or bureaucratic decision.

“Welfare,” a concept closely linked to the Nordic countries, is under attack. Responsible leadership is under pressure. While many people look at the results of the Nordic model of collaborative political development of the last century such as the welfare state, flexicurity, or liveable cities, there is less focus on the processes through which these results were achieved.

The turbulence around leadership is relevant in all sectors. Welfare strategies and narratives are being reinvented to follow suit with increased complexity and new insights. The general situation can be compared to what happens when the tectonic plates under the crust of the earth start to move, creating earthquakes, and allowing new landscapes to morph.


An example of this grinding of ‘layers’ of management practice, which interact across organizations today, is the relation between New Public Management and Cultural Sustainability.

A decade and a half of New Public Management, with a strong focus on quantifiable targets and detailed internal governance, has produced an overseeable version of organizations, but often at the price of a high stress-rate and low adaptation capacity in relation to world complexity. Strong on measuring efficiency and results, but weak on cultural sensitivity and belonging.

At the same time, complexity grows by the minute, driven by profound changes in population patterns, climatic conditions, generational expectations, and globalized markets. This needed change calls for new partnership and leadership capacities, and new discourses and dialogues across all sectors. There is a need for unexpected approaches, openness towards artistic sensitivity, philosophical wisdom, and open-ended collaborative formats. This more ‘organic,’ creative, ‘tribal’ sense of leadership is strong on culture but may be weak in democracy and longevity.

Growing Pathways of Seismographic Leadership

These tensions in leadership approaches and conditions beckon for an action-research base of ‘tectonic’ sensitivity.

Growing Pathways’ directors Kajsa Li Paludan and Oleg Koefoed have been invited to join an emerging action-based research program under the Centre for Business Development and Management at Copenhagen Business School. As we see this as a great opportunity to expand our work on cross-sectorial and transdiciplinary transformation, we have accepted the invitation. If we succeed, this will not be the end of Growing Pathways; it will merely give us – and our networks – another platform through which we can explore, learn, and experiment through reflective practice.

Peter Bjerg Photography
Research Fellows and Team at Copenhagen Business School

We will contribute to the Urban Seismographic Leadership research team mainly through the lens of two specific questions, as well as work with the overall task of developing groundbreaking new methods across all projects and partnerships. The two specific questions are:


How do corporations save the world and fulfil the SDGs?

Today, companies big and small alike promote narratives either on how they reduce their negative climate impact. Such an impact on the world can be understood both as standing on the edge of the abyss, fighting the adverse effects on climate and life, and as developing new methods, systems, and products for a better world. The latter points more towards the other possible narrative of wanting to leave a ‘positive impact’, i.e. change the climate or environment to better than it was.

Which narrative does a company tell (about) itself, and how does the narrative influence the corporate footprint and structures? Does the company narrate itself e.g. as a superhero fighting to control the destructive waves coming in from outside? Or does it narrate itself as a gardener, spreading seeds and caring for new sprouts?

The UN Sustainable Development Goals offer 17 specific areas where companies, governments, and civil societies might contribute to a positive impact on the world. How can the 17 goals become part of the narratives told by and about companies on how they will ‘save the world’ – and how will this relation between goals, narratives, and practices influence the forming of new partnerships and the identification of intervention fields?

This research will serve to develop methods based on opening organizations and their environments to new ‘world-saving’ narratives; leading to new strategies for implementing the SDGs in the everyday lives of organizations, and strengthening their collaboration with partners and communities.


Nature Networks – mapping and growing health and leadership. How do we re-connect nature and health?

Could it be time, in this age of turbulent change, to reconsider the ways that we connect to nature and how that influences human and systemic health? While the connection between health and nature may seem obvious, it nevertheless remains a fact that health-related practices and human relations to nature are combined way too seldom. When they are interlinked in practice, it often happens with too little common reflection on the assumptions lying behind how actions or programs meet their goals.

The dominant medical view on human health focuses on the individual as the carrier of diseases or conditions that might lead us to call someone ‘healthy’ or ‘ill’. Treating with these conditions are then placed under the practice of the health care system – but the human being is not really considered part of the health care system, nor is he/she viewed in continuity with a larger natural system. A more eco-system oriented perspective could, for instance, consider health issues a matter between overlapping systems: human beings, health care, and natural systems. Not to mention the different public and private actors that deal with these different systems. Changing the perspective in practice could maybe lead to more sustainable health effects on humans, ecosystems, and social systems such as health care.

A more eco-system oriented perspective could, for instance, consider health issues a matter between overlapping systems: human beings, health care, and natural systems. Not to mention the different public and private actors that deal with these different systems. Changing the perspective in practice could maybe lead to more sustainable health effects on humans, ecosystems, and social systems such as health care.

Through the concept of “Nature Networks,” we will develop new formats for leadership and collaboration. We will invite partners to co-create network building, peer-to-peer sharing, and common experimenting platforms, where a more connected and integrated perspective on nature and health might contribute to more sustainable effects. 


Cultural Mapping – a story to be continued

Inspired by the urban nature mapping process that Growing Pathways will conduct in Copenhagen in 2017, we will use the new ‘seismographic collaboration’ to carry out a cultural mapping process across selected locations in Denmark and other European locations. This mapping will reveal the potential of the projects and the questions and will serve also to stimulate the work on the whole research team.


We would love to tell you more about our work on these projects, and the ways that we work with network building, cultural mapping, and transformative learning through commons. The first opportunity is to join us at Copenhagen Business School on Monday, March 13th. We are giving a seminar with the whole seismographic team, with the presence of Steven S. Taylor from Worchester Polytechnic Institute, USA, and with workshops presenting the different projects under the common umbrella of Urban Seismographic Leadership. Please note that the workshops may be in Danish – read their description and get in touch with us if you are in doubt!

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Growing Pathways

Growing Pathways is a think tank and agency. Our vision is to create new pathways to follow: fields in which we can grow with, for, and as life, instead of trying to harness earth's resources and people's goodwill. Imagining and prototyping for the future.

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