It happened 20 years ago this month. I was teaching graduate students full-time in organizational leadership, and one of my students made me an offer. He wanted to use some of our course work to expand leadership in his vast public healthcare network.

Leaping from academics to consulting revealed a steep learning curve. First off, I had no company. The following journey offers an overall report of our discoveries and some emerging and enduring questions.

Phase One: Leap and Learn

On January 15, 2000, I created Leadership Innovations, Inc. In doing so, my goal was to create innovative leadership programs.

Most of our clients included executives and managers looking to expand their leadership profiles. I focused my efforts on developing a model or methodology that I could call my own.

Between 2000 and 2006, leadership was finally becoming distinct from management. Leaders coped with change between paradigms, and managers coped with complexity to optimize the current paradigm.

  • Fundamental concern. The company’s focus involved three macro-conditions of change regarding 1) access to information, 2) compression of time, and 3) globalization (beyond economics). Most clients and thinkers were concerned with adapting to this new world of change.

Phase Two: Cocooning

By the end of 2006, I decided that some cocooning was in order and changed the name to Zampella Group. This change denoted enough space to explore the emerging field of leadership development without committing to a direction.

The period from 2006 to 2018 incubated a direction that established leadership as a possibility for everyone in organizational life. We also shifted our client base to include learning professionals and eventually began working with experienced coaches.

I discovered the importance of vertical development and cultivating mindsets beyond skillsets. Leadership development also emerged as a field of study, practice, and coaching beyond executive and performance coaching.

  • Fundamental concerns. During this period, VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) emerged, evolved and constituted a universal acronym as both a description and impact of non-linear change, and as the context for learning and development.

Phase Three: Emerging

By 2018, now as a team, we had spent three years developing our commitment. Last year, we rebranded as Bhavana Learning Group. The name signified our commitment to integrating Western learning models with Eastern wisdom practices to support the human side of change.

After conducting extensive research in coaching, leadership, and learning, it was clear that learning involves much more than acquiring knowledge. Our focus on learning to unlearn expands into the unknown. This involves the practice of letting go of outmoded beliefs.

Some of these beliefs, such as speed and multitasking, have been disproven by science. Others, such as balancing (or replacing) material needs with psychological needs, have been revealed by our hyper-connected reality.

We clarified our client base by adding educators to our community of experienced coaches and learning professionals.

  • Fundamental concerns. We enter this period cultivating an emerging interdependent mindset—mutually dependent awareness—that focuses on individual contemplation, which encourages unlearning with deeper connections to each other, to society, and our planet.

An Organic Process

I confess that this three-phased journey was not as neat or strategic as it seems. Nonetheless, it was organic. Not haphazardly informed (as organic often implies), but actually organic—as in intentionally present to what’s growing: being with mistakes and gaps, new questions and research, dancing with emerging client needs, and discovering new services and practices.

Questions emerged. Some were resolved, but most led to deeper inquiries and insights. This dynamic deepened our interest and fortified an emerging direction.

Our focus on research—to open enduring inquiries—was important early on. Our commitment to research and questioning the nature of change and related learning methods offered the necessary grounding to challenge our assumptions and evolve our efforts.

Surprisingly, we discovered the limitations of Western learning models to serve this level of human change. We ventured East to consume, study and synthesize wisdom, and develop practices and techniques.

The Nature of Change

The nature of change fluctuates between two vectors: the byproducts of change in a commercialized framework and the context of being human in the face of disruptive change. The latter can be unsettling, isolating, and anxiety-ridden. It led us to explore our capacity for learning and unlearning and to cope with what it means to unlearn.

The nature of change also discloses the decay of our current rationalistic, paradigm based on data, “independent” analysis, and “individualistic” approaches. This view of being human insists on learning methods that meet some arbitrary measurement standards. Such methods bias learning toward objective knowledge and material needs, as superior to experiences and psychological needs.

Lamentably, greater technological “advancements” have perpetuated increased separateness and isolation.

  • We are linked (isolated) but not connected (lack belonging).
  • Our need for instant gratification shapes our expectations and notions of progress, success, and (un)happiness.
  • We’ve substituted care for speed and quality for productivity.
  • Those “moving fast and breaking things” produce instant results and gain immediate rewards regardless of the impact or consequence on society, the planet, our democracy, or the human condition.

This nature of change requires embracing an interdependent mindset that

  • Reframes our current notions of progress, success, and growth to include greater introspection and appreciation of pluralistic views and experiences.
  • Develops a new moral imagination to reframe commercial interests with social good and economic justice.
  • Cultivates shared commitments and communities of practice where isolation is replaced with belonging and mutual growth.

The tension between the independent-individual mindset and the interdependent-collaborative mindset will likely define the 2020s as Millennials, and Generation Z enters the workforce, where multiple perspectives and cultures, shared experiences, social ethics, and belonging are highly valued.

Discoveries and Commitments

A few guiding principles emerge as we focus on sustainability. Today:

  • context and direction (who/why) are more valuable than content and process (what/how to);
  • learning (and unlearning) is more useful than knowing;
  • principles are more worthwhile than goals;
  • awareness must inform action;
  • intentional presence accomplishes more than multitasking;
  • commitment sustains more than incentives;
  • culture is more vital than strategy;
  • discerning context reveals a deeper understanding than knowing content; and,
  • practice transforms culture more than knowledge or study;

And, to be clear, scaling and technologies are goals or strategy, not principles or values.

When viewed through the lens of the human experience, these guiding principles reframe our notion of business and commercial enterprise. Moreover, as professionals who will deliver human services and interventions, we will be tasked with questioning our role in the current system.

As our firm moves into its third phase and decade, the following fundamental questions will guide us:

1 – How can we better understand and begin to dissolve the forces, conditions, and causes that isolate us and socialize us as reactive, competitive, and fragmented?

2 – How can we better prepare adults for a cycle of development to include both learning and unlearning?

3 – How can we organize culture around equity and dignity as guiding principles that inform conventions such as strategy, profit, and scaling?

4 – How can we create a culture of practice that integrates both knowledge and wisdom?

20 Years of Leaps

In a word, these last two decades have been unpredictable.

This period may mark the most disruptive 20 years for technological change in human history. One study revealed that we absorb 34 Gb of info a day, and a 2011 piece stated that we each digest more than 174 newspapers per day.

Twenty years ago, my landline and slow AOL served as my primary connections. Today, my cell phone serves as a source of computing. I deliver services to clients internationally via a video platform, and we just delivered an immersive, deep listening certificate program, all delivered online.

Where this will lead us is hard to say, but our focus is clear: integrating Eastern wisdom practices with Western learning methods to support the human side of change. We owe any clarity and direction to our focus on research, our evolving practices, and our growing community of learners.

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Tony Zampella is the learning designer at Bhavana Learning Group, which serves coaches, educators, and learning professionals and executives.

As an instructor, researcher, and designer of contemplative learning programs and practices, Tony’s work explores the human side of change by bringing wisdom to learning. His focus includes ontological inquiry, Integral meta-theory, and Buddhist psychology to sustain contemplative practice.