I don’t believe it would be an exaggeration to say that the present time is unique, unprecedented. All you have to do is read the papers to realise the importance of what is happening in our countries, and the speed at which it is happening. Our world has grown in complexity. It seems everything that is happening is inter-related, and that it is more and more difficult to find clear explanations for the circumstances that surround us.
What is happening? And above all… what is going to happen? Undoubtedly, this is the question and, as there is no convincing answer, we have chosen to isolate “things we don’t like” from “our normal life” and label them with the word “crisis”. However, I think there is widespread feeling that when this “crisis” disappears, things will not go back to the way they were. Why not? What do we suspect? It seems that these visible changes hide “something” that goes much deeper and that is going to affect the way we relate to reality in the immediate future.
For centuries, we have perceived “reality” as an objective entity, independent from us, in which the human being appeared to be confined. Our limits were configured by a context that was seen to be hostile and resistant. Man defined himself in “contrast” to the reality around him, and his capacity for action was reduced to mere “reaction” to it, either through “resistance” or “adaptation”. Whatever the case, this turned him into the victim and, as such, he paradoxically contributed to re-nourishing the paradigm. The very term “contrast” suggests “something” or “someone” we can oppose and that points to a “dialectical” focus in our interrelation with reality.
Although it remains very present, this way of relating to reality fell apart in the 20th century, which was undoubtedly the largest burial ground for beliefs in the history of our civilisation.
Perhaps that is why a new form of relationship between the human being and reality has gradually appeared: that in which we no longer feel defined by it insofar as we assume that what we refer to as reality is only our interpretation of it. Thus, we abandon the dialectical viewpoint and accept that there are other interpretations of reality that are as legitimate as ours.
Furthermore, in this relationship model, the human being can no longer attribute his suffering to external reality, but rather to his interpretation of it, opening up a space for “free choice” with regard to his attitude to life. Similarly, human action is no longer reaction, but rather becomes response. In other words, we become “responsible” and, consequently, the protagonists of our lives instead of the victims. Another important consequence of this change in how we see ourselves and reality is the reference of time. If, under the old awareness of reality, things and people were the “mental objects” we created in another time, our encounter with present reality comes by appealing to our past experiences.
However, in an interpretive world -one that is susceptible to reinterpretation- what is really valid for the observer is the “here and now”, since it is the only space in which he can approach his interior and exterior reality.
The way in which we relate to reality also affects our concept of the future. Accordingly, the future that results from a historicist concept of reality is a foreseeable consequence of it and will inherit the same limits and restrictions. For people who see themselves living an interpretive reality, the future is defined largely by the limits of their own interpretation, and this circumstance turns it into a space that is laden with possibilities. This interpretive relationship with reality can be seen more and more clearly in our society. Phenomena such as the rapid growth of coaching, including its different forms and areas of application, are evidence of this.
In the business context, the interpretation of organisations put forward by the Chilean Fernando Flores in 1980, when he saw them as a web of conversations, i.e. as a linguistic phenomenon, marked the beginning of this new relationship with reality in the business world.
Other authors have continued to develop this view in their work. In particular, Jim Selman (creator of the “Merlin Method”) makes an important contribution to the concept of “innovation”, which he defines as “turning something into reality intentionally, something new that can be sustained and repeated over time and that has value-added or is useful for the community”. This “act of creating reality” characterises the “transforming leader” whose work begins by redefining his own relationship with reality, i.e. his relationship “with himself, with others, with circumstance and with time”.
In the light of all that, can we conclude that we are perhaps standing at the door of a “new paradigm”? A new way of relating to reality? Whatever the case, Einstein’s words seem more relevant today than ever: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”
First published on ideas.ie.edu, IE Alumni Association News. Written by Julio Peirado.
President and founding member of International Executive Coach Association (IECA), a non-profit association that brings together executive coaches certified by the IE Business School “Higher Education Programme of Coaching and Management”. It also collaborates with IE, fostering and providing executive coaching on its ExMBA programmes and its higher Executive Education programmes.