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Competence in Complexity Program – Developing 21st Century Competencies: London-Based Workshops in 2020

We live in a world of boundless complexity, radical interconnectedness and rapid change.  In the words of Harvard psychologist Robert Kegan, many of us are feeling ‘in over our heads’ in this environment, struggling to take effective and responsible action, to lead or manage others – and to take care of ourselves.

International Futures Forum, in partnership with PPS International Limited and SyNet Group, has developed a program to develop the ‘21st century competencies’ which enable us to thrive in this landscape and to support participants to demonstrate them in effective action.

The program is based on IFF’s books Dancing at the Edge:  Competence, Culture and Organisation in the 21st Century by Maureen O’Hara and Graham Leicester and Transformative Innovation:  a guide to practice and policy by Graham Leicester.

Dancing at the Edge takes a distinctive stand in relation to competence.

  • It follows the OECD definition that competence is not an abstract achievement but “the ability to meet important challenges in life in a complex world”;
  • This is not a capacity of the individual.  Our competence is always demonstrated in a human system, in a culture, in a pattern of relationships. It is impossible to be competent alone;
  • Competencies are qualities of persons as a whole.  They cannot be distinguished one from another, developed in isolation and mastered one stage at a time.

The 21st century competencies are innate–but they require the right setting to show themselves and a supportive environment in which to develop.

We know that these competencies exist because we have seen them demonstrated in practice by the ‘persons of tomorrow’ all around us, the people we know who seem to have it all together in today’s powerful times and display qualities of being, knowing, doing and being together that appear both admirable and effective.

The Program

In tune with the underlying ethos of Dancing at the Edge, the IFF program offers participants an opportunity to explore and develop their 21st century competencies in practice.  It provides a framework for mutual exploration, or–as the book has it–a ‘rehearsal space’. It is an ‘experiment’ in the sense that life itself is an experiment–an opportunity for learning in the presence of others as abstract plans and concepts meet complex reality.

This compact and robust programme consists of a preparatory webinar plus two face-to-face workshops: one designed to support individuals in their personal and professional development, bringing their 21st century competencies to awareness so that they can be consciously developed and improved; the second designed to initiate and support transformative innovation within an organisation or other professional setting, expressing 21st century competence in effective action.

21st Century Competencies

The first module runs over three days and focuses on the capacities we need to develop in ourselves in order to be competent in complexity.  It brings to awareness three critical ‘literacies’—ways of reading and making sense of the complex landscape within ourselves, our interactions with others and with the wider world.  These 21st century literacies are:

  • psychological literacy:  awareness of our own and others’ psychological responses to challenge–the ‘double task’ of acting and reflecting on our actions at the same time—so that we can become master of that response rather than its victim;
    • cultural literacy:  learning to see the cultural context for our own and others’ behaviours so that we can be more culturally adept and can consciously act in ways that encourage the cultures around us to evolve;
    • knowledge literacy:  reflecting on how we and others know and justify what we know (epistemology) so that we can grow beyond our blindspots, manage diverse worldviews and expand our ways of knowing.

The promise of this module is to develop conscious capacity in all three of these domains – helping participants to discover more of their innate capacity, feel more comfortable in complexity and less prone to overwhelm and to sub-optimal responses (at work, at home, in society at large).

Like Federer playing tennis, participants will leave feeling that they have more time on the ball.  They also leave with a sense of their own emerging 21stcentury competencies (their ‘edge’) and a plan to develop them.

The flow of the workshop is broadly speaking from Knowing to Being.  It involves:

  • Some preparatory reading and reflection;
  • Taking stock of the contemporary operating environment:  the real, the conceptual and the existential emergencies we now face and how these are showing up at the level of the individual, the organization and in society/culture;
  • What it takes to feel at home in complexity and therefore no longer overwhelmed by these emergencies;
  • Exploration of the ‘threshold literacies’, new levels of awareness, needed to become an adept in the 21st century–psychological literacy, cultural literacy and knowledge literacy;
  • An exploration of the qualities of ‘persons of tomorrow’, those who seem to thrive in this world, acting effectively, having it all together, dancing at the edge;
  • A personal assessment of each participant’s sense of their own emerging 21stcentury competencies (their ‘edge’) and a plan to develop them.

Transformative Innovation

The second module builds on the first and runs over two days.  It reviews, consolidates and expands on learning and experience in developing the three literacies and the qualities of persons who are effective in today’s powerful times.

There is particular emphasis in this workshop on expanding our ways of knowing, including knowledge of the future and the Three Horizons framework for understanding patterns of change and transformation over time.

The program then shifts attention to ‘doing’:  competence as ‘meeting important challenges in life in a complex world’.  How do we exercise our 21st century competencies to work with others, to shift the culture around us, to introduce the new in the presence of the old and to realize a future pattern in tune with our aspirations for the future?  This work draws on two further IFF texts – Three Horizons:  the patterning of hope by Bill Sharpe and Transformative Innovation:  a guide to practice and policy by Graham Leicester.

The flow of the module over two full days is broadly speaking from Knowing and Being to Doing. It involves:

  • Some preparatory reading and reflection based on experience of the first module;
  • Exploring and expanding our ways of knowing, including the ways in which we know the future—our ‘future consciousness’;
  • Introduction of the Three Horizons framework as a way of sensing, knowing and revealing the future potential of the present moment, the landscape of change in which we are operating;
  • The use of Three Horizons to frame ‘transformative innovation’–innovation that shifts patterns of activity towards our desired future rather than just improving what we have in the present.  Participants will be encouraged to work in their own context to develop their own initiatives;
  • Introduction of IFF member Jim Ewing’s transition tools – a set of maps and frameworks, referenced in Transformative Innovation, to design and guide effective transformative action. Participants will have a chance to work with these in the context of their own projects/settings.

The promise of this module is that participants will leave with an understanding of how to grow an environment in their organization or professional setting that is supportive of the development of 21st century competence and a set of approaches for demonstrating those competencies in effective, future-facing, transformative action.  This completes the program–although we recommend joining the 21st Century Competencies community of practice in order to keep learning and developing, or taking a specific transformative challenge into the Capability Accelerator program of guided action learning.


Module One focusing on 21st Century Competencies is three full days.  Module Two focusing on Transformative Innovation is two full days. Both modules are designed to be valuable and rounded experiences in themselves.  Participants may opt to take either module on its own, or to take the full program.

We recommend that participants undertaking the whole program take a gap between modules of a few months for learning, practice and reflection.  That means taking one module in Spring and one in Autumn or vice versa.  It is also possible to take both modules in a single week.

The current schedule is as follows (all workshops at Wallace Space, London):

11-13 May 2020:                Module One – 21st Century Competencies

14-15 May 2020:                Module Two – Transformative Innovation

12-14 October 2020:         Module One – 21st Century Competencies

15-16 October 2020:         Module Two – Transformative Innovation

13-14 May 2021:                Module Two – Transformative Innovation

Depending on your learning style, it is possible to complete both modules in a single week or complete one module in Spring and one in Autumn or vice versa.  Past participants have found having a gap between modules of a few months for learning, practice and reflection is beneficial. For example:

11-13 May 2020:                Module One – 21st Century Competencies

15-16 October 2020:         Module Two – Transformative Innovation


12-14 October 2020:         Module One – 21st Century Competencies

13-14 May 2021:                Module Two – Transformative Innovation

Participants may also wish to follow up the program with a process of supported action learning for transformative innovation in the IFF Capability Accelerator, as described on the IFF Academy website.

Administrative Details

The program faculty will include Alex Grimshaw, Managing Director of PPS International Limited, and Graham Leicester, Director of International Futures Forum and co-author of Dancing at the Edge.

The programme is held at the Wallace Space, Spitalfields in central London.

There will be a complimentary drinks reception on the Sunday evening before the program commences for those traveling from afar.


Fees for the program include the introductory webinar, all learning materials–including copies of the three books associated with the Program, plus workbook, IFF prompt cards and IFF mini-Kitbag – and lunch/catering on all course days.  They do not include travel and accommodation.

Prices are listed here for each Module.  Booking both modules at the same time earns a 10% discount. Note also that IFF is an educational charity (No SC038749).  Partial bursaries are available: please inquire with IFF.

Module One (three days)

Individual (self-employed, self-financed)                                £750 plus VAT

Public or social organization or NGO                                       £1050 plus VAT

Corporate                                                                                      £1500 plus VAT

Module Two (two days)

Individual (self-employed, self-financed)                                £500 plus VAT

Public or social organization or NGO                                       £700 plus VAT

Corporate                                                                                      £1000 plus VAT

Cancellation policy: a full refund is provided up to two weeks before a workshop; thereafter 20% is retained by IFF to cover costs.

Book Your Place

You may pay online or request an invoice to reserve your place.  For more information about the program please contact Camilla Storrie at IFF.

Contact: or on +44 (0)1383 324002.