The first stage of alchemy is the reduction of material to its basic elements so that the material for what comes next can be found.
It seems appropriate for what is happening at the moment as our economies and societies fragment, organisations splutter and old models of leadership are increasingly called into question. There is no data for what happens next and in these circumstances it is the classic and timeless elements of leadership and strategy that are important. The Stoics had them as courage, justice, moderation and wisdom. None of these can be taught, only expressed. We need leaders to show them right now.
Artisans have always expressed these qualities. They are prepared to stand alone rather than court popularity because they are accountable to their work. Their relationships are equally deep – not just with the other humans around them, but equally with their environment, from the materials they use, to the tools with which they express their craft, to where they work. Artisans have always had a real sense of a relationship with place – think winemakers and “terroir”, or Murano and glass.
They work hard at creativity, not through techniques, or processes, or workshops; they invite it in by doing the work, and let the work guide them. They don’t do a job, they express their personality, values and vision through their work.
And they flow with change, not try to “manage” it. They are in sync with those around them, with their materials and tools, and where they are. They are a conduit for creativity. That’s why the alchemy happens.
Formulaic leadership and scientific management were appropriate for an industrial age, but we are leaving that behind as we enter into a period of complexity and uncertainty that will require every ounce of our humanity, creativity and connection – with each other, with where we live and the planet.
I cannot see it being delivered by hierarchical, centralised leadership; what is happening is altogether too fluid and fast. We have to dance with what is going on at the edge, where it happens. We each have an important part to play, and will thrive by taking responsibility.