In Conversation With Erik Mandersloot
What does synchronicity, consciousness, collective meaning, wilderness and ancient wisdom have to do with business? More than it might seem. Aberkyn, part of McKinsey & Company, is putting our humanity at the heart of their approach to cultural and leadership transformation.
Founded in 2012, Aberkyn is a community of transformational facilitators that places emphasis on the importance of making change personal and systemic at scale, driven by their purpose to expand consciousness with leaders and organisations to create positive, enduring change in the world. It has built an ever-growing community with over 180 dedicated facilitators with the ability to serve clients across the globe in more than 35 languages.
Erik Mandersloot is a McKinsey partner and former Managing Partner at Aberkyn between 2016-2022. Erik is a serial entrepreneur, who has initiated and led ventures in market research, communications, participative strategy development, networking organisations, implementation & change services and leadership development. Next to that he has always been active in academic environments.
With 30 years of consulting experience, he has been working with leaders from a broad scope of industries and nationalities who were pioneering in reinventing their organisations. During his tenure, he helped to integrate and grow Aberkyn into the McKinsey eco-system.
He is particularly interested in synchronicity and how that can be used as an organising principle. He initiated and led a ten-year action learning and research program, called Touching the Community Soul, on this topic.
Here, he speaks to CEO and Co-founder of The Beautiful Truth Group, Adam Penny, about how Aberkyn is changing the world.
Adam: What problem is Aberkyn trying to solve, and how is it solving it?
Erik: Aberkyn came into being because we experienced the huge, positive effects of more self-awareness among leaders. There was a sense of untapped potential and desire for these CEOs, managers, executives, and leaders to become more human in their roles. When we started exploring what drives people and what makes individuals who they have become, we realised that it instigates a different conversation with more trust. It allows people to slow down and to truly help each other create space for renewal.
“The better I see and know myself and understand what drives my energies and behaviours, the better I am able to connect with others and help others to perform and develop.”Erik Mandersloot
Adam: How did your journey with Aberkyn start?
Erik: I’ve always worked on the brink of the personal and the systemic transformation – where the two meet, as well as being an entrepreneur and working in academic fields for many years. I’m about to celebrate 30 years as a practitioner, a term I like to describe someone who helps leaders in organisations with the ‘Inner Game’ as well as the ‘Outer Game’.
My journey with Aberkyn really began because of friendship. One of my best friends is one of the founders of Aberkyn and they were really interested in the potential and innovation in my work on synchronicity at the Business School in the Netherlands.
Adam: Why is consciousness an important topic to Aberkyn?
Erik: The scientific and philosophical exploration on what consciousness is, is still being debated. I often use the term ‘awareness’, the ability to observe. The better I see and know myself and understand what drives my energies and behaviours, the better I am able to connect with others and help others to perform and develop. Understanding my, often fear-based, reactive patterns or wiring allows me to make a choice in any moment to step into pro-life and pro-love choices. It also allows us to unlock our own intuitive channels, which helps to create and identify the magical moments of synchronicity, ‘fruitful coincidences’ as Carl Jung defined them.
“When we can be more open to information that is outside of our awareness by expanding our consciousness, we have the opportunity to increase the array of interventions and solutions at our disposal.”Erik Mandersloot
In the action research programme at the Strategy Center of Nyenrode Business University in the Netherlands, we explored frontier practices in management as methods to expand consciousness, including nature experiences, breathing work, advanced emotional release work, horse and bird ‘whispering’, dance, meditations, visualisations, shamanic rituals, energy work, channelling, lots of other things that can help us expand our consciousness to become more aware of who we are.
Adam: Tell me more about the concept of synchronicity, and how that is incorporated into Aberkyn’s work.
Erik: The term was coined by Carl Jung in the late 1920s and refers to circumstances or experiences that are not causally related however seem to have a deeper meaning or connection with each other. When probed many people can recall those coincidental moments. Accidently meeting a long-lost friend that came back into your mind after a long time. Or finding the love of your life after a series of coincidences. Many have stories about finding their home. Or just having a Knowing, with a capital K, something you just Know as a truth, beyond doubt or need for rational justification.
“We think of our subconscious as our own, but part of it may actually be part of a bigger field of consciousness that we are all part of.”Erik Mandersloot
I’ve taken a particular interest in the topic because it allows us to explore the relationship between our subjective experiences and how they are connected to our perception of reality. We think of our subconscious as our own, but part of it may actually be part of a bigger field of consciousness that we are all part of. I find it fascinating to explore whether there is a deeper sense of connection between individuals or events, beyond space and time. It showcases the importance of connection as a vehicle to drive positive change. It may help us to find ways forward or innovate in a non-linear way using those fields, especially in our increasingly complex world with seemingly unresolvable challenges like the climate.
The question becomes, how can businesses adopt a reality where everything is connected? Can we create the conditions for synchronicity to occur? How can we use that to improve the way our businesses operate and maximise their positive impact? And how can organisations benefit from these moments of magical flow even as the world starts changing faster and faster, or becomes increasingly complex? We need to reflect about to what extent our linear and deterministic ways of working can cope, and whether we need to step into a new domain of how we perceive reality.
“People are becoming aware of things that they were not aware of. Their beliefs are being challenged. However, it often changes how they experience life for the better. And it helps to create better, more people focused, leaders.”Erik Mandersloot
Adam: Aberkyn talks about making change personal. Tell me more about the importance of recognising the people that make up a business.
Erik: We work with leaders to focus on their own internal exploration – ‘the inner game’, which then ripples out across the organisations they lead – ‘the outer game’. We support them in their awareness of their inner games, and how the inner game helps the outer game. On the individual journey, we are all limited by how we perceive reality. When we can be more open to information that is outside of our awareness by expanding our consciousness, we have the opportunity to increase the array of interventions and solutions at our disposal.
Adam: Ancient wisdom blended with modern scientific thought and practical knowledge is at the core of Aberkyn. Do you find ideas of spirituality, consciousness and nature challenging to implement within global corporations?
Erik: People often think that trying to encourage leaders to have conversations about connection, synchronicity, humanity and consciousness will be extremely challenging. But that in itself is a limiting belief.
We begin by taking stock of beliefs. We’re all informed by our values – the things we find important – so we need to look at what those are, where they come from and why we hold them. Often people realise that beliefs that might have served them in the past are no longer serving them and are even hindering how they want to live or progress their organisations.
Evidently, this is not always an easy and painless process. People are becoming aware of things that they were not aware of. Their beliefs are being challenged. However, it often changes how they experience life for the better. And it helps to create better, more people-focused leaders. Especially when they start seeing that this way of thinking and working helps them to coach the people they lead.
“The fact is, we can be much stronger if we are collaborative, if we care for each other, if we spread the load, if we help each other out.”Erik Mandersloot
Adam: What becomes possible with this human centred approach?
Erik: The purpose of McKinsey is to help create positive, enduring change in the world. We are exploring what type of leadership is needed to create holistic impact taking all stakeholders into account. We call it Thriving Leadership, fitting with organisations where the hierarchies fade to the background and flexible, evolving team collaboration grounded in strong personal relationships allow people to give their best in appreciative, non-fear based, inclusive ways of working with a focus on psychological safety and productive conflict. The fact is, we can be much stronger if we are collaborative, if we care for each other, if we spread the load, if we help each other out. The ‘blue zones research’ shows that in parts of the world that are much more community-based, people are happier, healthier and live longer.
Adam: Looking towards the future, how do you think businesses and individuals will change, and how can we begin that transformation?
Erik: In the end it is mind over matter. Modern science is shaking hands with the essence of many wisdom traditions. Mankind creates based on a worldview and how we direct our energies, our attention and intention. It will be interesting to see what becomes possible when we collectively transcend from a predominantly fear-based to a trust and love-based worldview.