Dancing at the Edge - Reviews
Reviewed by Edgar H. Schein, Professor Emeritus, MIT Sloan School of Management
"I found this to be a most refreshing book. Instead of yet one more book about the Leader of the Future, we finally have a book about the Human of the future. This is a book about you and me. What must we all become if we are to cope with the global changes that are upon us. The authors first provide a pretty complete account of how the world is changing—climate, technology, and, most important, culture—are all getting less and less predictable. To deal with all of this we must get more serious about what social scientists have been telling us for a long time, notably Don Michael in his classic Learning to Plan -- and Planning to Learn.
What might planning to learn entail? This book lays out a very complete prescription. We must 1) enlarge our consciousness, become more mindful, especially of ourselves and our immediate environment; 2) enlarge our network of relationships, become more willing to work with others, especially with other cultures; 3) enlarge our knowledge base, become wiser in our decision making taking into account the growing cultural diversity of the world; and 4) enlarge our capacity to act in innovative and countercultural ways.
As daunting as this prescription sounds, the good news is that these are not new “competencies” that have to be added to the already endless lists of such competencies that are floating around; instead these are competencies that we all have already by virtue of being human. All cultures teach their young how to be mindful, how to acquire knowledge; how to relate to others and how to act creatively. What the authors are saying is that we have to enhance these capacities, get better at learning, and, most important, value the learning process itself. We cannot do this by ourselves in lonely individual pods. We must create conditions for each other to enable such learning and, in that process learn more ourselves. The implication for western highly individualized, task oriented societies the implication is clear—going it alone just wont work any more in the kind of world that is coming down the pike.
As I read this book I found myself being encouraged rather than being depressed about how bad things are. They are bad. The world is becoming incredibly complex and generating a multitude of problems which the authors detail at the beginning of the book. But there is something hopeful in the message that we can all learn; We can become capable of dealing with these complexities and these problems. The solution is not out there with new leaders who have incredible new competencies, but with self-enlargement. The psychologist Philip Zimbardo has been lecturing to young audiences on how we can all take “heroic action” from time to time. Instead of focusing on “them,” the leaders and the heroes, lets each of us get focused on ourselves to see a little bit more, to relate to others a little bit more, to become a little bit wiser and to take a few counter-cultural risky decisions. This will teach us to become more agile, and that, in turn, will make us more fit to deal with the uncertainties of the future.
If there is a flaw in the analysis it is a bias toward the “haves,” those of us who have experienced the arts, workshops, and colleagues who push us forward into the unknown future. But what of the “have nots” who will not even see nor can afford this book. What can be done for others to help them grow and learn? The authors point out how important contact with the arts is in learning to enlarge oneself. But how do we connect the “have nots” with the arts? I have one example worth noting. In Seattle there has grown up an organization that is called Path with Art which invites homeless and indigent people to join art classes: “Path with Art provides marginalized adults the opportunity to engage in the creative process as a unique means to improve and rebuild their lives.” (www.pathwithart.org)
I attended one of these classes, one session of a six week course on watercoloring, and was astonished how learning how to paint in a group session under a stimulating teacher brought these people to life. Learning how to paint was self-enlarging, socially stimulating, built new knowledge and skill, and encouraged creative action, all the competencies that this book talks about. So I concur strongly with the book’s emphasis on getting more involved with the arts, not art appreciation, but the doing of it. That is something that all of us can do at whatever level we choose, and those of us who do it could help others to get involved. What made Path with Art work was not the quality of the paintings but the participant’s discovery that being able to paint anything at all was amazingly ego-enhancing and gratifying.
Dancing at the Edge with its emphasis on building from what we already have is a very important book that should be read by all."
Reviewed by Howard Doughty in The Innovation Journal. Howard A. Doughty teaches political economy at Seneca College in Toronto.
"Maureen O’Hara is a licensed psychotherapist and long-time collaborator of Carl Rogers. She
teaches at National University, one of the largest private, non-profit universities in the United
States... Her co-author, Graham Leicester, has worked with the World Bank Institute, headed
Scotland’s “leading think tank,” the Scottish Council Foundation and is current director of
International Futures Forum... We may be forgiven for expecting a good deal from such high
fliers. And a good deal is what we get.
They start with a profile of the “persons of tomorrow.” The twentieth century, it seems, looked
for people with specific skills; the twenty-first will require people who are adaptable, possessing
“competencies” that cannot be measured “in the abstract” and are not susceptible to written
exams. The twentieth-century was built by individuals; the twenty-first century will require
teamwork and collaboration. Finally, the twentieth century is said to have presumed that
competencies could be discretely defined, acquired alone and learned sequentially; in the new
age, we (or those of us who are successful) will reveal the holistic nature of our inner essence
and meet complexity with our innate capacities, suitably nourished, that “are already part of our
rich human repertoire, but undervalued, underestimated and so underdeveloped in our late
As required for such transformative steps, O’Hara and Leicester begin the meat of the text by
confirming that we live in tremulous times. Crises in governance, economics and ecology, they
say, foretell “powerful times.” We have already seen the results when the collapse of the
Ottoman Empire and the decline of the British Empire produced “identity” problems. Moving
on, seemingly oblivious to the Holocaust, the rise and fall of Stalinism and Maoism, the threat
of atomic warfare and climate change; they mention the warnings of the Club of Rome but note
also that corporate futurist Peter Drucker was still “upbeat” in the 1990s. The world, then, is
poised at the beginning of the current millennium at a turning point, an historical moment when
we experience a “disturbing [of] the psychosphere” (p. 21)....
Read the full review at The Innovation Journal
Reviewed by Oya Günay. Oya has worked at Deloitte Ross Tohmatsu, Turkey; for Ottoman Bank as the Head of Securities Market Operation, for ABN AMRO Capital Markets Turkey as CFO and at ABN AMRO London.
"The book that I would like to recommend for this quarter is Dancing at the Edge by Graham Leicester and Maureen O’Hara. In this book, the writes focus on the 21st Century’s competencies and argue that competence should not be understood as abstract achievement any more but rather should be seen as a whole and in action."
Reviewed by Michael Marien: Global Foresight Books
"Am I a “person of tomorrow”? There is much to admire here, and much to aspire to. I leave it to others to judge whether I have yet to embody all, most, or even some of the 21C competencies to any significant degree. That said, it should be noted that O’Hara and Leicester themselves modestly conclude that the above chapters are only “an introduction to further exploration,” and that “we issue the invitation as aspirant persons of tomorrow ourselves.” (p.142)
As a set of guidelines to how we should think and act in powerful and liquid times, this is an excellent start, ably assisted by the distinctive artwork of Jennifer Williams that sets a questing tone, and the handsome production values of Triarchy Press."
Read the full review
Reviews on amazon.com and .co.uk
By Sune Petersen
"Good read with a clear and yet thoughtful tone. Wisdom, leadership and cultural adaptation is what is needed for all of us in the future."
By Mary Ann Allison
"So well written it is an easy read, this book brings comfort and hope while not dodging... the many challenges confronting individuals, organizations, and everyone on the planet.
O'Hara and Leicester's picture of "persons of tomorrow" is a major contribution, as is their description of competence in the 21st century.
One example: O'Hara and Leicester have convinced me that psychological literacy - "the capacity to reflect on one's experience at a psychological level whilst in the midst of it" (p. 60) - is an essential enabling condition for 21st century competence.
...Although Dancing at the Edge made me feel good, this book does not offer a facile, lightweight, prepackaged "feel good" solution. I recommend it highly."
By John Renesch
"Dancing at the Edge is a comprehensive examination of the times we live in - straddling two paradigms of consciousness, one losing credibility ever more rapidly while a new one is being born but is not yet ready to be embraced by the masses. The authors explore the challenges facing any of us who are trying to midwife this new paradigm, what they call "persons of tomorrow." I love one quote they cite from a Native American woman dealing with the vanishing of the buffalo, which was at the heart of her peoples' culture: "I am trying to live a life I do not understand." Many people might say something like this today. If you see yourself as a leader of change, read this book!"
By M. Williams
"Dancing at the Edge challenged my thinking about leadership in the 21st Century like few books written in this century have done. Stepping out of the linearity of the "old" way of thinking like a lone ranger and seeing the future in terms of collaboration and reflection mean we can no longer expect to accomplish much if we are unwilling to change.
The section on humility and learning was particularly insightful because many of us think because we are "educated" we know how to lead, when in reality educated means humility because we recognize the need for others in our lives to help us continue to learn so we can lead more effectively."
By Arthur Warmoth
"This is an excellent presentation of the current relevance of the imortance of a solid sense of self that originated in humanistic psychology."
Reviewed by Noah Raford. Noah is an advisor on futures, foresight, and innovation at the UAE Prime Minister’s Office.
"The organisers asked me to speak about “Game Changers in Politics”, as gaming changing was the theme of the event. I borrowed a trick from Jamais Cascio and opened the talk with the story of amazing changes in society and government, all of which seemed totally outrageous and impossible. But all of which actually happened.
Then I gave a brief tour of some of the amazing things that are already transforming things at our doorstep...
I ended with a page from Graham Leicester and Maureen O’Hara’s book “Dancing at the Edge: Competence, Culture and Organization in the 21st Century“, and discussed the psychological responses we all have to these kinds of massive change.
My hope was to inspire the audience to ride the wave of change we’re all likely to see in our lives and, judging by the audience poll afterwards, I guess I did a pretty decent job."