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How Four Strangers Wrote the Book “Leadership Singularity” During a Pandemic

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

Pass the Mic Podcast Series is an unscripted group discussion born out of AcornOak’s belief in the power of many voices to explore a new age of conscious leaders.

Each episode begins with one question asked to leaders who are coming with curiosity, uncertain beliefs, and the willingness to objectively listen and share their genuine insights.

Our first episode discusses the genesis and co-creative experience of writing the new book, The Leadership Singularity, during the pandemic.

Starting the Conversation

As the podcast host, Virginie Glaenzer paved the way for this conversation about how four strangers built a trusted relationship, from a distance, to revisit their long-time assumptions on marketing and leadership.

Welcoming Our Guests

We were honored to welcome our panel of special guests eager to share their experience in engaging in co-creation.

John Caswell is the Head Of Crayons and the Founder and CEO of Group Partners, where he makes strategies that work by using Structured Visual Thinking™ to exploit opportunities and solve complex challenges. John’s experience, tools, and techniques help his clients to completely reimagine their business. He is passionate about developing executable and resilient solutions to solve 21st-century business problems.

Jonathan Cook, commercial culture researcher and consultant. Jonathan specializes in using immersive methods to uncover and explore the deep cultural patterns, emotional motivations, narrative structures, and ritual experiences that enable enduring value in an increasingly disconnected commercial culture. He hosts This Human Business, a podcast exploring the place for human experience in a world of commerce increasingly characterized by automation, algorithms, and artificial intelligence.

Patrick Kilcline Novak is the Chief Empowerment Officer & Founder of Trident Strategies. Patrick has over 16 years of experience in the Department of Defense (DoD) and other military contracting environments. He is passionate about empowering leaders to be their best. Patrick is a graduate of the US Naval Academy.

Virginie Glaenzer is a Co-Founder, Fractional CMO, and Marketer for Hire, at AcornOak Agency, a cooperative community powered by women of experience. After moving to the US from France in 1999, with four suitcases and a head full of dreams, she co-founded three tech start-ups and began a journey to immerse herself in conscious leadership training in a variety of disciplines such as psychology, wisdom traditions, awareness, and mindfulness practices. She is the author of Awakened Brand, available for order and the host of the Pass the Mic podcast, which brings compassion and conscious leadership to businesses and individuals, helping listeners look within to become conscious, self-authoring leaders.

The panel began the discussion by describing their backgrounds to provide context around their experience since each was physically separated from the others as they collaborated.

Key Shared Insights & Perspectives

The Experience of Co-Creation

How would you describe your co-creation experience?

John describes co-creation as a safe space to hold competing views and ambiguity, while Patrick enjoys the feeling of freedom that comes from being in an unscripted environment where the diversity of inputs is refreshing and insightful.

For Virginie, co-creation often feels unsettling, like sitting down with someone you meet for the time and starting to draw. However, once the attachment to outcomes is let go, co-creation brings her a sense of pure joy without pressure.

Listen to Jonathan describing his experience of this co-creation process, that he sees as a back-alley improvisation session.

What was the most difficult part of this group collaboration?

The group run into several challenges:

To begin with, in the midst of the pandemic when our individual focus is on survival, the inability to meet physically tested our ability to co-create.

Uncertainty and separation affect our spontaneity and openness to allow incomplete ideas to emerge.

Another challenge of co-creation was finding a cohesive voice. Individuals can feel disjointed at first until they become familiar and gain an understanding of each others’ background.

Finally, as co-creators, we often sense a lack of control, but the process required us to open up, be flexible, and develop an ability to go with the flow.

What was the most enjoyable element of this shared creation experience?

Co-creation is, first and foremost, a synonym for letting go of one’s ego and embracing a deeper understanding of others.

In co-creation, we have the opportunity to glimpse one another’s personalities and voice our unique views. As a byproduct, strong relationships and a feeling of trust is built.

This comforting feeling amongst our team members made it possible to unleash creativity that, as an example, took shape in the unusual illustrations featured in the book.

Listen to the first part of the discussion which focuses on the good and the bad of co-creation from a distance.

Challenging the Status Quo on Leadership and Marketing

Initially, the four authors came together to explore solutions for a business world in distress.

With broken trust, profound social inequalities, and consumption harming our planet, the authors thought it was time to take responsibility as marketers and leaders.

In your view what’s wrong with Marketing and Leadership these days?

John starts with a clear viewpoint: “Marketing is in trouble” and concludes that “Marketing is too important to be left to marketing people.” In the last few decades, marketing has become critical in our digital age but hasn’t won its place at the table.

Jonathan reminds us that Marketing is where people should come together in mutual understanding and desire for what they have to offer each other. Yet, we’ve seen a split between commercial success and trust. This has led to relying on data instead of reaching out to people in the businesses we serve to find a warm human touch.

Patrick invites us to be people of integrity and issues a wake-up call for leaders in every business to be held accountable and responsible for where we’ve arrived.

Listen to Virginie’s rough perspective describing marketing and leadership as a form of cancer as we observe fast fashion and other malpractices consuming our planet.

What was your “aha” moment while writing the book?

1- We are living in a liminal moment

The four authors agreed that having this discussion is part of a liminal moment when we consider the question: “How do we want to be in business?”

We are being given the opportunity to change our systems and processes at this very moment since traditional rules are suspended due to the extraordinary times we’re living.

In other words, there are no textbooks for what we are experiencing.

With public trust at its lowest point, due to leadership that is divorced from reality for millions of people, we can no longer accept business practices that take humanization out of the equation.

2- “How did we arrive here?”

In chapter two, the authors started a list of enemies and the reasons why marketers and leaders were struggling. One aha moment came when we realized how we did this to ourselves.

We are the enemy, our own enemy in a sense. "Lousy marketing has destroyed trust for both customers and workforces."

The time for finger-pointing is over and it's time to take individual responsibility.

3- Inward leadership

When we give a voice to individuals in a safe space, it provides them with a sense of belonging. As a result, it increases personal agency and we witness teams leading initiatives.

Current leaders are not selected based on the idea of sacred leadership, which chooses individuals based on their humility, compassion, and desire to resolve conflicts.

Therefore, to unlearn lessons learned from institutions and previous role models, we must rethink leadership. By asking ourselves difficult questions, we can experience inward leadership. These questions are foundational as we bring people from various backgrounds together and create a common set of values.

Being comfortable with not knowing and constructively helping others bring forth their collective knowledge, involves letting go of control and accepting possible rejection, which is essential to co-creation.

Listen to Patrick sharing his experience witnessing the devastating effects of bad leadership and the importance of true leadership.

What ideas are you taking away related to Marketing and Leadership?

The pandemic pause gave the opportunity to find a new language and brought a new understanding of Marketing as the storyteller of a new way of working.

1- What Leadership Singularity Represents

The book title, “Leadership Singularity,” describes how our experiences are like elements in a compound. We become something that none of us could have individually.

In the same way, every business connects people together to create this lovely new order of complexity, where beautiful things can happen. Singularity is not something we can engineer, but something we become as individuals when we truly listen.

As John points out “the best part of a story is when things don't happen in the way that you thought they were going to, whether you're the reader or the character.”

When you reach someone with a story in which they can be more than what they were, you give them hope and make them want to change: this is a singularity moment.

We must become leaders who step back, listen, and pay attention to the old patterns. Leaders who are brave enough to walk in a new direction by engaging others in playful collaboration.

Listen to John sharing his takeaway of the idea behind the name “Leadership Singularity.”

2 - Leadership Singularity as an Emerging Process

It’s easier to navigate into the unknown when we are all together. Today, we still don’t know what we truly need and this leaves a space for new ideas to emerge.

Being aware that we are in an emerging process allows us to continue building it.

3- The Leadership Singularity’s New Framework

The idea of leadership singularity, the theme that drove this book, demands that those in control of the future of their businesses accept their responsibility to humankind.”

Our old and well-known business model, based on competition and scarcity, dictates how we bring products and businesses to life in a linear process:

  1. What products?

  2. Which markets?

  3. How much investment?

  4. What go-to-market strategies?

The Leadership Singularity’s new business model framework offers a set of questions with a language that is chosen carefully:

  1. What is the purpose of the business?

  2. What are the intentions of the founders?

  3. Who do we serve?

  4. What is the impact of the business?

  5. How do we work together?

  6. How do we make it beautiful?

4- Building Something Beautiful

The idea of building something beautiful fundamentally changes the way marketing and leadership have conceived businesses and organizations.

Instead of focusing on concepts such as efficiency, productivity, and return on investment which is rooted in competition and scarcity, when we apply a new filter, we see things differently.

For instance, people and businesses we formerly considered competitors can be revealed as our peers and allies.

Individual Take-Aways

As we came to the end of the hour, our group concluded the discussion in the same way we started, with a tour de table.

Each participant had the opportunity to reflect on what they heard and share their takeaways from the conversation.

Final Thoughts

Just weeks before the COVID-19 virus changed everything, a tweet got a comment which led to a blog post that brought together four strangers from completely different backgrounds.

Each author believed that there was something important missing from the current discussion about how humanity and society will need to shift to avoid the perils on the horizon - climate change, extremism, rampant inequality, and the disappearance of morality and ethics.

It isn’t that they cannot find the solution. It is that they cannot see the problem.

– G.K Chesterton

The Leadership Singularity is an experiment in itself with four strangers practicing co-creation at a distance while at the same time searching for a new way to lead organizations and market businesses.

A unique experiment: co-creating from a distance

Co-creating from a distance required each individual to step outside their comfort zone and embrace not knowing the answers, much less each other to constructively help the group bring forth their own collective knowledge.

It involved letting go of control and embracing rejection as a core principle of collaboration.

This experiment is the reflection of what our business world needs: people with a sense of urgency and the willingness to let go their entitlement from their titles or experience for a new liminal space to let new emerge.

A new framework for a new leadership singularity

When looking at our current Marketers and leaders practices, it’s clear that we’ve arrived at a breaking point. It’s time to express our authenticity and go inward to strengthen our own

The Leadership Singularity offers a new business model framework with a set of carefully chosen questions. Leaders and marketing have a new purpose that ask different questions and tap into their creative mind to unleash the artists in them.

"Maturity is a leadership attitude that demands that we stand up to the system that would crush us because of its selfish inequity and inequality - this is hard."

Download the digital copy of the book The Singularity here.

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