Moving from revolution to sustained change

In a blog post originally published on LinkedIn, Osvald Bjelland – founder and vice-chairman of The Performance Theatre, and chairman and CEO of Xynteo – shares his five key takeaways from this year’s TPT.

We have just wrapped up The Performance Theatre 2018, which took place in Potsdam and Berlin 1-2 June. Together with 150 remarkable leaders from the worlds of business, policy, science, civil society and start-ups, we tackled the theme of ‘Unfinished Revolutions’. Leveraging the powerful intellects and huge range of experiences and perspectives in the room, we tried to move past simply identifying all the revolutions we need, to investigating how to convert a movement into a sustained solution.

I had the great privilege of moderating a conversation with Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever, and Felipe Calderón, former president of Mexico. This conversation formed an enriching moment within our broader 36-hour discussion, which featured not only leaders who have been in the game for decades but also people like last-mile entrepreneur Joanna Bichsel; Lindsay Stradley and Ani Vallabhaneni, co-founders of Sanergy; neuroscientist and “constructive journalist” Dr Maren Urner; and Victor Ochen, an incredible young man working to help young people affected by war (both Victor and Joanna are among the six young innovators nominated this year for the Inspired Leadership Award).

What unites all these mind-blowing women and men is that they are ‘doing their thin’´ to drive movement towards a future-fit growth model, one which drives prosperity for the many.

But what strategies in particular are they using? If we want to finish our revolutions, we need to be able to isolate what specific actions work, and which don’t. Here are five of my key takeaways:

  1. Spend time on framing the change you want. Evidence from the New Climate Economy shows us that the cost of inaction on climate change is much higher than the cost of action.
  2. Connect the global and the local. As Paul said, we need global frameworks but all change is local. SDG 6 codifies our commitment to clean water and sanitation but it is in the cities and villages that the work gets done.
  3. Leverage the right actors for systems change. Entrepreneur, author and activist Deborah Frieze taught us her four-part framework for thinking about the key actors within a changing system. The trailblazers, who are often the first to ´walk out´ of the existing system to build a new one; the hospice workers, who stay within the existing system to manage its decline; the illuminators, who call attention to the work of the trailblazers; and the protectors, who create space for the trailblazers to achieve impact.
  4. Do not ignore the weak. One of our speakers cautioned us against ignoring the interests of the weaker parties within a system. Though it may seem easy and efficient to move beyond them, we may be losing a connection to those very actors you may need in the future.
  5. Above all else – listen. Deeply, and actively. One of the most powerful moments of TPT Berlin/Potsdam was when we left our meeting venue and visited frontline change-makers in the community – from a church that housed a mosque, to a visionary playground serving as a catalyst for an integrated community, to a judge who shared her experiences of processing applications for refugee status.

This last point perhaps hit me the hardest. We as leaders need to be much, much, MUCH better at listening to the people we ultimately serve. We need to get out of our offices, boardrooms and conference centres into our communities. It is so obvious that we need help finding the answers. As Paul said, ‘movements are happening, but we are just not listening’.

My ambition as founder of The Performance Theatre is that it can help leaders shed the barriers that stop them from connecting with and learning from their communities – to lead with humility and openness to the wisdom, energy and ingenuity that are all around us. Only then can we finish perhaps the biggest revolution of all – creating a growth model that works for all of humanity.