Caught in the transition from human-centered jargon to truly humane leadership and societal development

Abi Golestanian
6 min readDec 3, 2020


Credit: @simonshim

Last month, hundreds of industry leaders, humanists, dreamers, and changemakers united together for a virtual festival of deeply reflective conversations, workshops, and film. The immersive four-day event compelled us to consider the gloomy and hopeful signals and forces of our times and the agency required of every one of us to reclaim our future.

Those who joined from Fjord Berlin reflected on the most poignant questions that both inspired philosophical discussions and offered stark reminders of the opportunity and responsibility we as designers have to ensure our work serves as a catalyst for positive change. Here are a few of the themes that emerged throughout the event, which made us pause and reflect on our daily lives and ways of working, and role in broader society.

How could we redefine what it means to lead tomorrow?

Management manifests symptoms, including a hindrance to an ability to deal with reality. If business is to regain legitimacy in the eyes of its employees, customers, and ecosystem partners, they are going to need to bring in more humanity, not process and engineering. There is this notion of management as a concept — a body of theory. Managers are real. But the future needs vision leaders, who take action and prioritize doing no harm over innovation for innovation’s sake.

Once management is understood, not as science, but as art, we can begin to look at the values we recognize and the archetypes of behaviour we are primed to believe make a good leader. People are so often rewarded in a framework based on the measurements of the goal, rather than the goal itself. What we need, is a new way to reward and recognize people, that considers the individual based on a body of experience and development, and factors in a cadence and focused growth that works for them, not only the organization.

The leadership of societies, too, is in flux. Traditional capitalism leans on a global measurement framework to indicate success and progress, often through economic metrics such as GDP (Gross Domestic Product). What GDP fails to capture, however, is the true wellbeing of people and the planet, leading to policies and strategic decisions that lead to economic growth, rather than social welfare. Considering the externalities, such as those seen in the degradation of the environment or increasing inequalities, would paint a truer picture of development, as well as measures of human health, education, and skills.

Digital is becoming a strong contender for the means of leadership tomorrow. As digital enablement sweeps across governmental practices, we are witnessing a shift to digital democracies, where the government acts as a technology and opens up transparency to decision-making. This is one solution to foster trust and legitimacy in our global leaders, but what does this mean for less digital-savvy members of society? Who might we leave behind? Digital has the ability to shape societies, and if we rely too heavily on digital frameworks in our evolutionary race to support future democracies, we might unintentionally break off from rural communities who are most vulnerable to the activities and practices of urban societies.

Read Jacqueline Novogratz’s ‘Manifesto for a Moral Revolution’ and listen to the HBR podcast with Audrey Tang on how Taiwan is using technology to foster democracy.

Credit: @omarlopez1
Credit: @omarlopez1

How can we prevent harm through radical reforms?

As capitalism is being reinvented, how might the world look without inequality? Rebecca Henderson, one of the key speakers of the event, remarked...

“The point of business is to not maximize markets, but to build a fair and just society”

Reform can be both accelerated and fulfilled by a community.

As community becomes increasingly important in business practices, not only in organizational values but with new business models such as ‘Exit-to-Community’ and cooperative models, where end-users are factored in as shareholders and future proprietors of new businesses. If community ownership is embedded into the business model itself, those future businesses can be more confident that the product or service not only meets the direct needs of those it serves, but is enabled by the intrinsic motivation of all those involved to ensure it brings about positive change for the greater good.

Future harm cannot be anticipated more greatly than through the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it rate of technological growth. As intelligence shifts from human to machine, AI will reflect and amplify the flawed nature of humanity and the bias within, and machine-learning, which breaks the link between human intelligence and technology, could lead us toward a dismal future of political division, inequity, and exclusion. If “algorithms are opinions coded in numbers”, an instrument of perceived truth, what steps can we take to reduce the toxicity of data we embed into power structures that lead to these unintended consequences? How can we ensure that there are gates that also challenge and question the tools, and even those behind the tools, to ensure there is a balanced representation for inclusive and harmonizing future solutions?

Read Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s ‘The Mushroom at the End of the World’, Rebecca Henderson’s “Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire”, and Ruha Benjamin’s ‘Race after Technology’.

Credit: @podustricat

How is time morphing as a response to our new behaviours?

The pandemic has unforgivingly stress-tested our ability to adapt and accommodate for the health and safety of wider society. The resulting isolation has shone a light on our relationships with others, nature, and ourselves. Each having to prioritize mental health and consider the inner work required to cope with the outer work. We’ve had to reframe isolation into solitude and find new means for connection and intimacy, with the hardest being intimacy with oneself. As Gemma Mortensen reflects, “Our mental architecture has the ability to obstruct what we actually need to do to create change”.

New rituals, such as those that support us in being intentional with technology or reconnect with nature, can help remind us what it means to be human and give ‘every day’ things significance.

“Rituals have a formative quality, they help us become something, and they shape the people we practice them with”— Casper ter Kuile

Rituals have been crucial to stabilize our new environments, to provide safety in uncertainty. But there is often a conflict of understanding between rituals and routine. What we mean by routines, are those regular activities or habits that fulfill a functional purpose. Rituals, however, have a symbolic or meaning orientation. When we practice rituals, we are reliving a story, or narrative, deeply set in our beliefs, often inherited through generations. It’s because of this that they are so powerful, and forge deep connections with those we practice with.

Reflecting on the concept of time also encourages us to consider whether our choices will make us ‘good ancestors’. How can we become engaged citizens who have learned from the past to improve the quality of life for our future generations? We could begin by considering where we sit on the continuum of time, cataloging the learnings and needs of the dead, the living, and the unborn, to transform ideas into actions and colonize the future. We have the opportunity to embrace roles as active colonists, requiring a deep understanding of the gravitas of our collective responsibility in developing future concepts that do actual good, building upon a mindful awareness of the narratives and wisdom of those who lived before us.

We’ll leave you with this final question… Have you been a good ancestor today?

Read Kim Robinson’s ‘The Ministry of the Future’, Casper ter Kuile’s ‘The Power of Ritual’, and take a Deep Time Walk.



Abi Golestanian

A visual designer, thinker and dreamer, currently residing in Berlin and working at the Design and Innovation Consultancy FJORD