…thoughts on and about my PhD journey and beyond…

Many agents acting in parallel

In celebration of this year’s World Day of Interconnectness (WDI), I have contributed a chapter to an e-book published to mark the occasion. The e-book can be downloaded from here. Please share the e-book and think about what ‘interconnectness’ means to you.

Other events scheduled for the WDI on 10.10.10 include a free leadership webinar 24 hour marathon and lots more at the WDI website.


Davis, H. 2010. Many agents acting in parallel: recognising patterns of interconnectness in leadership, learning and life, in, M. Carlton (ed). Exploring our world of interconnectness: in celebration of World Interconnectness Day 2010, Hamilton, NZ: Maruki Books, pp. 22-26.


This chapter discusses the significance of interconnectness to leadership, learning and life in times signified by the convergence of the natural, social and economic worlds and where the principal means of production is knowledge.

Where a common metaphor for the industrial era was the machine, a recurring metaphor for the knowledge era is an ecological one. Metaphors emanate from mindsets appropriate for the times within which they were set. However, the speed of change experienced in the last 50 years has added to the complexity already associated with paradigmatic change leaving us with little space to process it. Within the contexts of globalization and sustainability, as with everyday life, this has allowed archaic patterns of thought, values and culture to linger and intermingle with those appropriate for the world we are now experiencing. The challenge for leadership, learning and life in the 21st century has never been greater.


It’s time to stake a claim that relationship-based intangible attributes like interconnectedness are indeed central to leadership, learning and living harmoniously in the knowledge era. We urgently need to fix problems emanating from using 19th century thinking for 21st century issues. A worldview based on mechanistic, linear and rationalist thinking was fine for a 19th century industrial era but no longer serves the needs of a world where volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity mark the terrain. The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) is a consequence of applying old world thinking to 21st century problems. One simple way of shifting this balance is to speak up, speak out and join together. The annual World Day of Interconnectness is a vehicle to do just that.

Personally and collectively we can no longer condone a thinking that sees the world and world events as disparate, unrelated or ‘none of our concern’. We need look no further than the crumbling worldview of the economic rationalist to see that a rational, arms length, profits before all else approach is folly. It’s not working, it’s not healthy, it’s not fair and it’s costing us our planet.

Truth does not cease to exist just because it is being ignored. – John St. Augustine

We have an opportunity, post-GFC, to do things differently. The World Day of Interconnectness reminds us that we can all make a difference, that we all can and should take responsibility for our own actions and to join with others who seek sustainable and humane futures. It’s a reminder that we are of the world as well as in the world and that responsibility rests with all of us to improve the human and environmental condition.

Relationship-based attributes such as interconnectness are vital. Actually, relationships and intangible soft skills have always been important but they haven’t necessarily been privileged in the discourse of leadership or through the lens of globalisation based on neo-liberal/economic rationalist principles that has, up until recently, been the dominant paradigm.

As people become more mindful of their own actions and interactions, an expanded—and in some cases new—sense of interconnectness surfaces as we recognise and take up responsibility for how our actions impact on our lifeworlds. Paradoxically, the seemingly selfish act of spending time and energy reflectively seeking to know who we are often leads to growth—not contraction—of our sense of responsibility to others and the environment, allowing us to see the world as the interconnected whole that it has always been.

A knowledge-intensive era is very different from the industrial era where much of the current globalization, economic and leadership hegemony is drawn. Our world is now a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous place and it is far more fitting to think about harnessing the strength of this ‘messy’ world than to spend our energy trying to tame or order it. This calls for mindsets amenable to working with the ‘mess’ based on, for example, ecology, complex adaptive systems theory or quantum theory, rather than a Newtonian mechanistic and linear mindset grounded in stability that worked for the industrial era.

We are now witnessing a shift towards a third wave of globalisation that can be tracked directly to concerns for the world running deeper than economics, and the realisation that we actually live in a society not an economy. This new wave of globalisation is premised on the joining together of the sustainability (human and ecological) and economic discourses. Previous to this sustainability and the economy were at odds with each other and often in conflict.

The ecological metaphor is also an excellent guide for how we might expand our thinking to lead, learn and live productively in the knowledge era. This metaphor privileges the interconnected nature of our world as well as the deep interdependence between ourselves, the environment and the economy. An ecological model illustrates that there are no ‘externalities’ and that everything—including ecological and humane considerations—is in play and needs to be taken into account when determining economic value, costs, benefits and policies.

In a knowledge-intensive economy leaders have a particular set of literacies to absorb and these are very different to those needed in the command and control doctrine of the industrial era. Leadership literacies for the knowledge era focus on people-centred attributes and encourage leaders to see themselves as teachers, enablers and stewards who encourage commitment and responsibility in themselves and their followers. They also need to tap into intangible qualities like trust, values and commitment. In order to be leadership literate for the knowledge era leaders must develop a deep understanding of themselves and their world. Leaders will have an awareness of and responsibility for the interconnected world of the enterprise to its stakeholders and the environment. Leaders also need to be able to surface underlying values, assumptions and ideologies that are in play in order to understand how leadership practices effect production in a knowledge-intensive economy.

Importantly, an ecological model can also encourage us to think about working with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, rather than against it. Indeed there is a growing interest in combining design science and humane leadership principles based on knowing ourselves well, which in turn expands our notion of interconnectness. An example can be seen in the work of Johansen[1]:

Leaders must learn how to make the future in the midst of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. We need not passively accept the future. Leaders can and must make a better future.

Leaders in the future will need to have vision, understanding, clarity and agility. The negative aspects of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) can be turned around by following these principles:

  • Volatility yields to vision
  • Uncertainty yields to understanding
  • Complexity yields to clarity
  • Ambiguity yields to agility.

As we become more mindful of and take responsibility for our own actions and interactions, an expanded—and in some cases new—sense of interconnectness surfaces. This paradox helps to explain the notion of interrelatedness, this intangible leadership attribute so important for the knowledge era. To comprehend the paradox is to recognize that before we can truly understand our interdependence with others—people and the environment—we must first know ourselves in a way that transcends our own ego and in a way that is not fearful of difference and diversity of viewpoints, as Gandhi reminds us:

You and I are the same thing. I cannot hurt you without harming myself – Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

Another connection between a strengthened sense of interconnectness and the benefit of knowing ourselves more clearly is a deeper understanding of our own values. This knowledge helps us in our day to day interactions with our colleagues and our wider communities where virtual and real communities of practice may emerge based on comparable interests and values sets. In addition, our values are a mediator of the messy and unknowable world we experience every day.A


This chapter discussed the significance of interconnectness to leadership, learning and life in an environment signified by the convergence of the natural, social and economic worlds and where the principal means of production is knowledge. It outlined the paradigmatic shifts occurring in society framed by the interrelationships between knowledge production as the main driver of growth and wealth creation, globalisation and deepening concerns about our world’s environmental sustainability.

It called for recognition of the interdependence and interconnectedness of leadership, learning, and life by seeing the world as the interconnected whole that it has always been. Interconnectness and other relationship- based attributes were discussed and positioned as appropriate leadership literacies for times epitomized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

Borrowing from Complex Adaptive Systems theory this chapter also reminds us that there are always many agents acting in parallel—whether we realise this or not—and confirmed the significance of action and activities like the annual World Day of Interconnectness, to our unfolding understanding of our world.

[1] Johansen, R. 2009. Leaders make the future: ten new leadership skills for an uncertain world. San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Heather Davis

Heather is in the final stages of a PhD study identifying appropriate leadership literacies for the knowledge era and testing them in the higher education sector in Australia. The theme of interconnectness resonates very well with her studies and outlook on life. Heather makes good use of Web 2.0 technologies to share her research experiences, including a blog at https://leadershipliteracies.wordpress.com.

This is the second year that Heather has contributed to World Day of Interconnectness activities. Last year she hosted a webinar “Small ‘l’ leadership: taking leadership personally” as part of the Leaders Café Foundation’s contribution of free leadership webinars.

Heather lives in Torquay, Australia, with her partner Philip and has two adult children, Ashleah and Rohan, who live nearby.


Comments on: "Many agents acting in parallel" (1)

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Demetrios Perdikis, H and H, Thesis Whisperer. Thesis Whisperer said: RT @heatherdavis: Many agents acting in parallel: http://wp.me/pmHri-gH […]


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