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Think Garden lab: origin story

The threads of Think Garden’s lab began entwining over a decade ago, when the first of us (Patrick) left an international consultancy he’d worked with for 10 years and ventured out on his own. Seeing an opportunity to tackle the incumbent management consultants who excelled in the corporate space at good and best practice—but often failed to successfully deliver emergent practice in complex landscapes—Patrick combined his past consulting experience with his academic background in the biological and social sciences—particularly geography and cultural anthropology—to understand why so many organisations struggle with complexity and the uncertainty it brings.

Flying under the radar for an extended period of time—his trojan horse was the guise of conference speaker and leadership author—Patrick was given access to and insight into the senior leadership teams and strategies of major international organisations across five continents in the retail, financial, resources, aeronautical, automotive and infrastructure sectors. This insight revealed the blindspot that many organisations were ignoring: that increased connectivity was fundamentally changing the business landscape and—despite all the hype and talk about new ways of working—many strategies appeared to be situationally unaware and ontologically bereft of these changed landscapes.

With his understanding of ecosystems, evolutionary processes, topographical landscapes, climatic patterns, and social systems and culture, combined with his beliefs around dynamics and relationships begetting things—and not the other way round—Patrick returned to his scientific background and the Think Garden lab was born.

The lab was created specifically to research a natural-sciences based approach to changing human systems. The work done to date by the established players (management consultants) was—to our eyes at least—suffering from the inertia of their past success, and was failing to understand the notion that ‘connection changes the nature of things’, and that commensurate with this is the emergence of an entirely new ontology: that of complexity, networks and evolutionary dynamics.

And so from these origins our new identity as a lab began to emerge—slowly.

We knew what we weren’t going to be: another management consultancy. That was the easy part. But what were we going to be?

Of course, this was the wrong question—we’d fallen prey to the allure of the idealised future-state—the very thing we were counselling our clients to avoid!

So we then asked ourselves these four questions:

  • Where are we at?
  • Where have we come from?
  • What are our propensities?
  • What are we becoming?

These questions were much easier to answer.

After all, our lab works with dynamics and configurations, not things.

And so we started—and we continue to this day—visualising and mapping these dynamics, using the tools we use with our clients. What we saw was not one dynamic, but—and this is of probably no surprise to you—many dynamics, deeply interwoven and enmeshed, all connecting to and influencing each other, and ultimately unfolding across lots of different spatial and temporal scales.

As we sifted through these dynamics, a number of patterns started to emerge: patterns which showed us at which spatial and temporal scales we could best exert ourselves to achieve maximum agency—after all, maximum agency is what we are about.

Sifting through dynamics, emerging patterns, and spatial and temporal scales? That’s why we are a science lab, researching the reconfiguration of transitioning human systems.

This is our Think Garden origin story.