(from the Context Institute)

Early Adopters – influenced by IDEAS
Mainstreamers – NOT influenced by ideas, influenced by EXAMPLES
Laggards – forced, reluctant


To become an Intentional Change Agent you need to innovate the new, implement the change and have the courage to face the turbulence, and educate re the perceived cost of the change, so that…

perceived value of the new – perceived value of the old > perceived cost of change

This requires Connectivity, Self-Organisation, Sustainability, Diversity.


are the leverage points.

If you can change metaphors, re-frame the framework, it has a ripple effect throughout the whole system.

(But if you ASK people to change their framework they will resist!)

I have just been struck by something I’d never realised before, but which is immediately so blindingly obvious that it’s already hard to remember why it felt like a realisation.

At the same time, like so many realisations, which can be ‘thought’ and understood in a tiny fraction of a second, they turn out to be much more complicated when you try to write them down, so please bear with me. I’m going to start by talking about practising and performing music.

A musician faced with a new piece of music for the first time will often play it through perfectly, and then find that they can’t play it anywhere near as well when they try again. This is something like beginner’s luck but – like beginner’s luck – it’s more than luck. The same will happen when practising a piece that you know fairly well. The best effort is often the first go through, and you will often falter in the tricky parts on subsequent attempts. The same will also happen when you don’t play a piece for years and then revisit it.

Why does this happen? Ask any musician and they’ll tell you that it’s because on the first go through you aren’t thinking about or analysing what you’re doing. As soon as you start to think, the brain gets in the way, and you ‘forget’ how to play things that you know how to play.

In the process of learning and then performing Western music, it’s absolutely necessary to think about what you’re playing, and about how you’re playing it. Analysis of the tone, style, technique and so on are fundamental to our musical tradition and you can’t improve as a performer within that framework without thinking about what you’re doing, looking for weaknesses, and finding better ways of achieving your intended interpretation. But the fact remains that you really can’t play reliably well while you’re thinking, so the thought and analysis has to be part of a preparatory process the end result of which is the achievement of knowledge that has been embedded beyond active thought and into innate or intuitive behaviour – wisdom, perhaps. At this point you can trust yourself to perform a piece of music, because you can switch your brain off and allow your body and your intuition to do the rest.

And now we start to get to the nub of the matter. As this musical metaphor hopefully shows, thought about and analysis of any aspect of how we live our lives are essentially useless in any real context, unless they have been processed into wisdom and intuition. Why? Because when you’re faced with decisions, you don’t have time to think. Thought is clumsy. It will paralyse you, make you make mistakes, or make you act in a manner that isn’t self-consistent. We only act fluently and in a way that is true to ourselves when we aren’t thinking about it.

Which leads to the conclusion that if we don’t like the way we behave when we aren’t thinking about it, there aren’t any short-cuts. We need to analyse our lives, think about it deeply, and transform ourselves until the thought turns into wisdom and the wisdom turns into intuition and we start to act in ways that we are happy with.

I don’t think there’s anything terribly surprising there, when focussing on each of us as individuals, but what about when we consider society as a whole?

Going back to the musical world again, it’s important to point out that not all musical traditions work the same way and Western music didn’t either until relatively recently – it’s really only over the last few centuries that thought and analysis have been so deeply embedded to its composition and so critical to its performance, and perhaps unsurprisingly I think it is safe to say that the same is true of life in the West. We have only been seriously analysing the way we each live our lives as individuals, and the way we treat others both as individuals and as a society for a very short period of time.

But what about if we don’t want to or can’t analyse and transform ourselves?

The way we act when we aren’t thinking is the result of the wisdom and intuition of our culture, which we have been immersed in since birth. (The pieces of music we already know how to play fluently.)

We throw away that intuitive way of being at our peril.

But as individuals and especially as societies we must be very careful to balance ‘practice’ and ‘performance’ in our lives. If we spend too much of our time analysing and thinking, and practising new ways of being in our day to day activities, we will fail to act with any fluency and accuracy, we will start to act in manners that are not self-consistent, we will confuse each other, and we will descend into chaos.

The abstracted minds of philosophers and psychiatrists and sociologists and their ilk explore the boundaries of the ideas that make up our intuitive beliefs and our collective wisdom.

When we are analysing and thinking about things, we temporarily forget the wisdom and intuition which is our starting point. It’s necessary to do that, otherwise progress would be impossible.

(You also can’t succeed as a composer without exploring the boundaries of accepted practice and questioning the framework.)

It is the job of the composer to push the boundaries.

It is the job of the performers to judge whether to play the new music, and in so doing to gradually embed it into our intuitive understanding, or to discard it as not helpful, not positive, not deserving of recognition.

If we learn and then perform a composer’s music that we don’t like, you’d be amazed how quickly you can learn to like it. But is that to our benefit?

attempt to compose a new piece of music for us to play. , we can begin to understand why the world is in such chaos.


But many people really aren’t that motivated towards self-analysis, and even if they are they tend to have been alive for a few decades before they get around to it. So how should people behave while they lack their own hard-earned individual wisdom and intuition?



Robert Gilman is an astrophysicist turned thinker. He founded The Context Institute with his wife in the 1970s, and has recently revitalised it. He calls himself a planetary midwife, aiming to ease the birthing of the new era of human culture, which has been on its way since the Renaissance.

The Foundation Stones Project

Nature is raw, uncontrolled, pure creative chaos, bounded only by death.

Music is rarified, controlled, distilled creativity; it is the conscious combination of individual universal truths (harmonies and motifs) to form a pathway (as the music progresses and modulates) to a sort of transcendence.

The common musical structure of simple to complex and then back to simple is important because the ‘simple’ represents our human state and the ‘complex’ represents the transcendent state. The return to the simple brings us back into our selves before the piece ends.

The composer’s destination, and the listener’s goal, lies in the complexity of the piece and is a sort of immersion in, recognition of, and understanding of (perhaps achieved in that order) some aspect of the human experience, viewed with the clarity of the outside perspective of the transcendent state.

The composer leads us to understanding through the musical journey, the progression, development and modulation of themes, but the truths themselves are expressed through harmonies. A single chord carries deep meaning.

Harmony is a representation of truth, of celestial order, of God. Music is a distillation of the mortal human experience, the removal of nature’s chaos and death leaving only the eternal, and perhaps the most accessible pathway to the divine.

I’m studying harmony at the moment, which is a brand new field for me. I have been listening to and playing classical music in one form or another for most of my life, but I’d never gone beyond a cursory study of ABRSM Grade 5, and I’d never seriously considered the question of how composers compose. I suppose I’d always assumed it was 99% inspiration and left it at that. But inspiration can’t speak to you unless you know its language, and I now realise that harmony is the language of musical inspiration. Obvious really. But then I’ve always found that the most important and transformative truths seem blindingly obvious once they’ve revealed themselves.

Studying harmony feels a bit like code-breaking. Previously hidden universal truths gradually reveal themselves as you learn to hear in a new way, and I’m really looking forward to finding out where this journey will take me over the next months, years and decades.

In particular, I hope I will find the beginning of an answer to a question that is conspicuously absent from the books I’ve read so far, whether written in 1932 or 2009. Namely, why is one person’s harmony everyone else’s harmony? Why do we universally agree that some chords are happy and others are sad? What makes some chord progressions resolve to a musical full stop, others ask a question, and others leave you feeling uncomfortable? So far it’s an elephant in the room, a glossed-over simply-stated fact which on the face of it really doesn’t seem to have any business being a fact at all.

Adam lay y bounden, bounden in a bond;

Four thousand winter thought he not too long

And all was for an apple, an apple that he took,

As clerkes finden written in their book.

Ne had the apple taken been, the apple taken been,

Ne had never our lady a been heavene queen,

Blessed be the time that apple taken was,

Therefore we moun singen,

Deo gracias.

Anon. 15th Century


This is from the First Sunday of Advent service, which I went to at Exeter Cathedral tonight. I’m not a regular churchgoer, and I’m often surprised by the readings and choral pieces in Anglican services because they seem to contradict what I understand to be core Anglican beliefs. This, for example, is praising the terrible sin that supposedly invoked God’s wrath and fury, and caused Adam and Eve to be cast out of paradise in shame – which in turn has of course excused the subjugation of women for two millennia. But the implied meaning here is very different, and to me much easier to understand and accept. I am no theologian, but sin, to me, is separation from God – or divergence from the Way, or deafness to the spirit world, or whatever metaphor you prefer. For this particular sin, eating of the Tree of Knowledge, to be praiseworthy, it must have had a purpose – and to me that purpose was to cast mankind adrift from the wisdom of God so that we could forge our own path – aspiring ultimately to re-gain entry into paradise, or the spirit world, by our own merit. (And why it is necessary for us to do that is perhaps the mystery of mysteries…)

So Eve started our descent into a world of darkness, confusion, abandonment and sin. And then, after “four thousand winter” of man being “bounden in a bond”, Mary gave birth to Christ, who came into the world to show us the Way – to enable us to turn our descent into ascent, our darkness into light, our abandonment into reunion, and our sinfulness into full awareness of our true selves.

Eia mater Domini, / Ah, mother of the Lord,

Quae pacen redidisti / who gave back peace

Angelis et homini, / to angels and mankind

Cum Christum genuisti: / when you bore Christ,

Tuum exora filium / pray your son

ut se nobis propitium / to be gracious to us,

Exhibeat, / and wipe away

Et deleat peccata: / our sins,

Praestans auxilium / granting us aid

Vita fui beata / to enjoy a blessed life

Post hoc exsilium. / after this exile.

Deo Gracias. / Thanks be to God.

Anon. 13th Century

How lovely. “The Lord, who gave back peace to angels and mankind.” Peace here is a possession or a power – I think perhaps even a means of contact and communication with the higher realms… “Wipe away our sins, granting us aid to enjoy a blessed life after this exile.” Reconnect us by giving peace back to us, wipe away our separation from God, end our exile.


I went to a Celebratory Evensong at Exeter Cathedral yesterday. I always find services at the cathedral to be profoundly reassuring. There is a palpable sense of permanence, of a continuous chain of human skill and striving across the centuries, and a quiet (and very English) determination to ‘fight the good fight’ in the face of a world that’s very noisily going crazy. I was given hope that the rock of faith can weather this storm too and that mankind’s spirit will remain essentially untouched as long as that continuous chain of striving remains unbroken.

When I got home I found myself contemplating the power of common worship, of prayer, of love, and of forgiveness.

Love is light. Light is energy. Energy is food. Love is food, the food of life.

Love, and, crucially, memories of love sustain us as we move through our lives. Memories of love are just as real and powerful a lifetime later as they ever were, and they nourish us. Just think back to a moment in your life which was full of love, and notice yourself smile, feel your spirit being lifted, feel your body being energised. It’s an everyday miracle, and it truly is “better to have loved and lost” because love is never lost. It never loses its power to nourish us.

But when we love, loss is inevitable, and loss is frightening. Fear causes hurt and harm. Hurting oneself or another blocks the light of love. Hurt comes in many forms, and just as love never loses its power to nourish, fear never loses its power to destroy. Bitterness, resentment, despair, hatred, loneliness, jealousy, guilt… all of this must somehow be left behind when we experience loss.

To leave the hurt behind we must overcome the fear. To overcome the fear we must understand that loss is necessary. We must understand that we choose our experiences, and that we therefore choose their endings; that everything is transitory, and while we crave permanence we also know that we only need to experience things temporarily in life in order to learn what we need to grow; that anything that didn’t happen as it should or wasn’t completed can be corrected, but only by moving forward and welcoming new experiences; that we are here to grow, and that growth by definition means loss.

Love and fear. Good and evil. We are bound up in both on this Earth, and in order to fully experience the one we must conquer the other. And it really is very simple, although of course it is profoundly difficult. If we can forgive ourselves and others for the hurt and harm that we did and that was done to us then at a stroke the hurt and harm will disappear, because the fear will disappear. The grace of forgiveness is everything. Without it, even love loses its power to nourish, sustain and transform us.