Playbook for systemic innovation

Mindsets and methods for transformation

This playbook emerged in response to a complex challenge: We need new ways of thinking about innovation.

Our contribution is a fusion between mindsets from ecosystem innovation and our experience with working with systemic design. The result is a process that can leverage an organizations’ ability to be part of large scale transformation.

The playbook is a collaboration between Halogen, Demos Helsinki and Future Fit Leadership Academy. Here we present our insights as a collection of mindsets and methods for bold, systemic transformation.

Watch the recording of the international launch from September 16th 2021.


Transformation is possible

All sectors of society are under pressure and organisations are searching for new ways of working and solving sustainable challenges. Business as usual is hard enough as it is, and introducing new business models, new competences and new forms of collaboration can seem almost impossible. But it is possible.

This playbook is a practical guide that will help you take on systemic challenges. The framework is meant for organisations that acknowledge ecosystems and are open to evolve together with other organisations based on a common purpose. The motivation for each member can be different, but the challenge they are solving unites them.

Theories, methodology and approaches presented in this playbook were tried out in pilots carried out in parallel with developing the framework. This gives the playbook a grounded and practical approach. The step by step layout in sections breaks the approach into comprehensible and doable actions.

This playbook’s methodology is based on:

  • Systemic design
  • Systems theory
  • Transformative innovation
  • Ecosystem innovation
  • Foresight
  • Regenerative leadership

Five mindsets of systemic transformation

In this methodology we aim at regenerative transformations. We are not only sustainable in our actions: we aim to go beyond stopping negative impacts and instead shift to having a net positive impact, generating more than we exploit. Truly regenerative leadership also includes the social dimension, regenerating value and quality of life for humans as part of the ecosystem.

Systemic challenges are typically complex, interconnected and involve many stakeholders. This requires a systemic mindset. In addition, ecosystem innovation supports us to tackle challenges from different perspectives. Ecosystems are like living organisms, consisting of people and organisations working together towards a common purpose.

The design driven transformative approach has five mindsets:

• Establish a systemic and regenerative mindset.

• Defining the challenges and understanding the system.

• Envisioning a new future as a regenerative system.

• Activate the ecosystem in demonstrators to prototype new solutions.

• Manage an innovation portfolio to see the new system emerging.

Mindset for a systemic approach

A systemic approach requires that all stakeholders share a common mindset:

  • The basics of systems thinking: When you are a part of a system, your actions influence the whole.
  • No systemic innovation in a vacuum: You cannot operate in silos, but have to collaborate as part of the ecosystem.
  • Systemic innovation needs a purpose: Set a direction that is relevant to the organisation and respects planetary and humanitarian boundaries.
  • The process will be thought provoking: Stakeholders must be open to questioning many aspects of their own mental models.

It’s important to note that systemic innovation is not a cure for everything. In this playbook we are addressing transformation processes, i.e. going from one way of doing things to a new way of doing things. One example is transforming from a linear to a circular business model.

Not all organisations are ready for working like this. Systemic innovation, when the right mindset is not in place, could end up causing more problems than solutions.

The key is to apply new ways of thinking. Working with transformative systemic innovation does not mean that you should stop working in a traditional linear way all together: Both traditional and new ways and mindsets are necessary.

We need to understand and “dance” with the system as well as getting things done with timelines, milestones and projects. Putting all efforts and resources into the transformation alone, would result in navigating into chaos.

A call for systemic organisation

The traditional linear organisation is designed primarily for stability. It is a static, siloed, structural hierarchy. Goals and decisions flow down the hierarchy, with the most powerful governance bodies at the top. It operates through linear planning and control.

In contrast, a systemic organisation is designed for both stability and dynamics at the same time. It is a network of teams within a people-centered culture. The systemic organisation is guided by a strong purpose. A systemic organisation can easily co-create with other stakeholders within an ecosystem, as it has the ability to efficiently configure and adapt.

For the transformation to be successful, we argue for systemic organisation as a guiding principle.

A regenerative mindset

Systemic transformation plays an important part in responding to climate change and social inequality. Adding a regenerative dimension makes the process more complicated, but we believe it is necessary to succeed.

Regenerative sustainability could be described as the “next wave of sustainability”. It is a more holistic way of thinking about sustainability than the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Regenerative sustainability means to integrate “inner” (mindsets, world views, paradigms and behaviour) and “outer” dimensions of the sustainability necessary for transformation. Instead of seeing gaps between “problems” and “solutions”, regenerative sustainability sees systems as transitory states that handle complexity and seek a state of wellbeing.

To envision a regenerative future, we must be open to values and principles that are truly regenerative. These values and principles will allow us to solve challenges with a systemic perspective.