Episode 1 – Wouter van Noort

🎤  Is the pandemic functioning as a contrast fluid, showing us what real transformation (external and internal) can do?

🎤  How can we really embody change (as individuals, as organisations) and stop to just think about possible futures?

In our first episode of the #21for21 series, Carola and Marco talk to Wouter van Noort about personal development in the context of transformation.

In the fascinating and rich conversation that follows, Wouter addresses several topics such as consciousness, systems change, the role of the self in transformation, the future-now concept and how it is time for internalisation.

Listen to the episode below 👇 🎧

About Wouter van Noort

Wouter van Noort is a Dutch journalist who explores our potential futures and systems change, and recently started a weekly newsletter Transcend, about transcendental purpose and meaning. He works for the daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad and is a commentator for several tv and radio programs. Wouter founded Future Affairs, a fast growing digital subdomain of NRC with a podcast, a weekly curated newsletter, an online community and live events.

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Episode transcript

Voice Over 0:00
Today, the world is transforming at a fast pace. In this podcast we explore more responsible ways to use the global transformation for the benefit of society. As a listener, you’ll hear from 21 transformational leaders about how we might address the challenges of the 21st century. This is the future. I’m Ready. A podcast brought to you from Amsterdam by digital society school and transformational studio. Your hosts for today are Carola Verschoor and Marco van Hout. Carola is founder and chief creative of transformational studio. Marco is co founder and Creative Director of Digital society school in Amsterdam. Together they bring new questions for topics that are still largely unanswered. Engaging with thought leaders on transformational topics that open up the conversation and the exploration of what’s next as we navigate the 21st century. So that we can all say, “Dear future, I’m Ready”.

Marco van Hout 0:59
Hi, everyone, this is Marco and Carola from Amsterdam. Welcome to “Dear future, I’m ready”. A special series in which we talk to 21 transformational leaders for the 21st century, 21 for 21. Today, we are very happy to be talking to Wouter van Noort. He is a Dutch journalist, who explores our potential futures and systems change and recently started the weekly newsletter transcend. About transcendental purpose and meaning. He works for the daily newspaper NRC hollows block which is one of the larger newspapers in the Netherlands and is a commentator for several TV and radio programs there. Wouter founded future affairs, the fast growing digital subdomain of NRC with a podcast, a weekly curated newsletter, and online community and live events. Welcome, Wouter.

Wouter van Noort 1:52
Hi, guys, how are you doing?

Carola Verschoor 1:55
Good morning, it’s so nice you are here.

Wouter van Noort 1:56
good morning.

Carola Verschoor 1:58
It’s been a hell of a ride since we first met. And then we’ve been navigating the waters of digital and digital futures. And we feel so delighted to have you as our first guest in this series. This is a series about transformation. And transformation is something that is happening and unfolding right now, right this minute. And it’s very, very complex and very, very layered, which is why at 21 for 21, we’re talking to 21 transformational leaders. Those of you that are ahead of the curve, and we want to learn from you Wouter, what the view is like out there? We’re going to be talking to you about personal development in the context of transformation. And this is a fascinating topic. Because we are in a context that is really changing, it feels like the end of an era. There is such a big pragmatic shift, things that seemed obvious before no longer are the case, a systems are collapsing around us people are asking new questions or looking for new ways of working, doing and living, because the way we used to do things is failing us. So what do you make of all of this?

Wouter van Noort 3:09
Well, I completely agree with you that we are living through a watershed moment that basically, the scope of systems change, and the amount of stuff changing and shifting all around us, really needs no introduction anymore. And we can probably just skip to the part of what to do about it and what our role in it is? I think the pandemic has a function like contrast fluid, it has shown all kinds of things and movements that were already going on, but brought them to the surface. And I think a really special function of the pandemic, in this sense has been that it has raised our own awareness of our functioning and in the systems. And above all, it created a sense and an awareness that we can leave systems, we can leave 9:00 to 5:00 office work, we can leave commutes in traffic jams, we can leave industrial education, everyone who invested in cryptocurrencies knows that we can leave the current financial system. So it has brought to the surface a sense of urgency, but also a sense of direction, I think.

Carola Verschoor 4:23
Wow, that’s amazing, some very, very interesting concepts in there. And we’ve seen that happen also in your work, because many of you have been following future affairs probably for some time. Now, certainly Marco and myself have been doing so. And we’re seeing that you’re moving now into the domain of personal development with transcend. So obviously you are leaving some things behind or perhaps things are evolving for you. How’s that process been?

Wouter van Noort 4:49
Yeah, they’re definitely evolving. And I think I myself went from probably a sense of powerlessness. In the years leading up to the pandemic, when so many systems were already clearly failing, but it didn’t seem to catch on with the mainstream. People in the mainstream still thought that this was maybe happening some distant time in the future, hence the name of my vertical future affairs. But I think the times that we sounded like future, it’s definitely over. And I think part of that change is that we are now entering a transformation. And in my view, a transformation is not only a profound change, but mainly a profound change within someone, within someone’s awareness, within someone’s view of their own position within systems. So it’s not just systems change, it’s not just some abstract entity, it’s really about our own role in the system. So that makes it for me quite a logical step to go from a futures and scenario kind of journalism towards inner transformation journalism, because I think the two are really closely linked.

Carola Verschoor 6:08
So to your point of transformation being an individual transformation as well as a systemic one, the difficulty is not in addressing these issues. These issues are as old as mankind, as long as we are alive. We wonder, where did we come from? Where are we going? Right? But I think that in the context of the transformation, and you talked, you touched upon some very important issues in at the beginning of this conversation, the secret sauce is, how are we going to integrate these concepts as we change as the world continues to spin? And this process of integrating things that up until now were siloed, is a very important.

Wouter van Noort 6:47
Absolutely, but will you sketch about the systemic crisis, and its relation to personal and awareness change? I think that’s a really important point. And I think this crisis, the pandemic has also brought to the surface, a very clear systems perspective. If you keep on thinking in a siloed way, now, I don’t know where you’re coming from. A tiny virus particle can shut down the entire world economy. Also, policy wise, if a policymaker pulls one lever, all kinds of other interconnected things happen if you close schools, because of the virus you create educational problems, you create psychological problems. The interconnectedness of the world, and our position in that world has become so clear now. And I think a part of a transformation is also a crisis. So I’m actually quite hopeful. What comes from this crisis? A crisis is usually a point in time where our old ways of doing things or old ways of solving problems that have worked in the past, I mean, we’ve come a long way as as humanity, but they are now failing us. And we need this crisis to show their failure to be able to enter a new paradigm and new, I realized that this might sound a bit vague and spiritual, but we need a new level of consciousness. And I think this crisis is really bringing that about, and at least, it shows us that we are interconnected that the natural world is not disconnected from us. We are a part of it, and we are dependent on it. And I think that’s exactly what we need to internalize in this moment in time.

Carola Verschoor 8:40
Yeah, that’s absolutely right. I think that the tension comes, of course, from the fact that it is painful, that realization, and as a creative and as a designer, I couldn’t be more excited for the times that we’re living in, because it means that we have to use our imagination in new ways that we have to look at. What are the principles and the values upon which we design our own future? You know, that brings me to the topic of imagination, because that’s a great human talent. One which also from the beginning of times, is something that has fascinated us as humans. And I think that the big challenge today is can we start creating future visions, future pictures, the future ways of looking at a better, kinder, more sustainable and perhaps most importantly, more meaningful future. And if you would, describe that? What would your vision before it?

Wouter van Noort 9:38
I think we live in an unprecedented era really, and the importance of imagination and the importance of free thinking and unlearning, what we have learned before has really become pivotal. And I think if you look in the right direction, this hopeful future is already everywhere around us. There are designers now creating all kinds of sustainable solutions for problems. I think in the cryptocurrency sphere, for all its flaws, and for all its environmental impact. And you see a lot of new and exciting ideas about organizing ourselves about creating a new financial system. Just today, there was news about the Swedish company Volvo, extending their birth leave, to all its employees worldwide. They give everyone who worked for Volvo in a factory or in office, almost half a year of maternity or paternity leave. So these shifts are already happening.

Wouter van Noort 10:46
And I think the, I mean, you know, the lists of where it’s going, it’s going from a control society to a trust society, it’s going from masculine values to feminine values, it’s going from mind to heart, from the tower to the square, from centralized organizations, to decentralized organizations. And, I mean, all these terms, I mean, they’ve come, we’ve all heard them in keynotes, from trend watchers for the past years. And there’s nothing really new in them. But suddenly, they resonate in a different way. And I think all these terms, that they show how systemic the changes? How it’s a combination of psychological change, and systems change? So I’m actually quite hopeful, if you look in the right places, you can already see this different future unfolding. And this different level of consciousness, really getting to fruition.

Marco van Hout 11:44
I found this really, really inspiring. And Wouter, if you would have to say what the relationship is between the future and the now? You talk a lot about, we talk a lot about the future. But actually, all these examples that you give, are in the now. What is the relationship and the balance between them.

Wouter van Noort 12:02
A lot of my work has been based on looking into the future and trying to lay out possible scenarios and see where this future is already being constructed. And now in my personal journey, that is more about personal growth, consciousness, some might call it a more spiritual kind of growth. All the wisdom that I find their points to the fact that really there is only now. And all human suffering stems from thinking too much about the past or too much about the future. And that’s why I like what an American Foundation is doing, “The long now Foundation”, they integrate, I think these foundations quite nicely, that there is only now. And by thinking about the past, in the future, you only create unnecessary suffering. But you do have to reckon that this now is going to stretch into the future, and that the people that are going to live that now, in the future, the future generations have a decent place to experience that now. And I think there’s no real necessary disconnection between thinking about the future and being in the now but it’s definitely there’s a danger, And I think it’s too much about the future and forgetting the present.

Marco van Hout 13:32
Yeah, I agree with that. And I think also, in the beginning, you mentioned that we are entering a transformation, but it’s perhaps more of a realization that we are entering, so that we realize more about…

Wouter van Noort 13:43
Absolutely. And that’s why I think the systemic and the person are so related, and so and so interconnected at this moment, because they fit together, we are the system to use a cliché, and the system is only going to change if we ourselves gonna fundamentally change and this fundamental change can only come about from a shift in consciousness about one’s own role in the world, one’s own position, in relation to other people. The response that I see from on my newsletter transcend, on other people who are striking this nerve, it really resonates. And there is something in the air, the last few months that makes people more open for this kind of thinking. And I think that’s really promising.

Carola Verschoor 14:36
Wow, so excellent reflections there gentlemen, thanks so much for that. Because I think that there’s a point that you’re touching upon, which has to do with our creative or as I like to call it our co creative capacity and creation only occurs in the now. And the realization that Marco just referred to is one in which it’s really understanding that we might be affecting future knows, indeed, by the things that we destroy.

Wouter van Noort 15:03
There’s an inevitability of a future now. There will be there’s an arrow of time, and there is entropy. So there will be a future now, and we are living in the present now, but we have a responsibility towards the future now. In relation to the lawn now, and the futures that we create for next generations, I think a really interesting point has been raised by a British or an Australian philosopher, Roman Norick, who wrote “The good Ancestor”, a really great book, which I could really recommend to anybody. And he raises the concept of seventh generation thinking, which is a concept that was thought of by indigenous Americans. And they have this sense, this non dual sense of themselves and nature, they have a responsibility of nature, because they are part of nature, and they are stewards of their lands instead of their users of their lands. And I think there’s something in the air, there’s something changing in this moment, maybe also due to the pandemic and other systemic failure that is so visible now, that has made more people open for this non jewel, more connected way of seeing things. And I think that is really reason for optimism.

Carola Verschoor 16:29
Yeah, it definitely is. That’s also why this to this point that you were just making. That is why at the digital society school and a transformational studio, we have reframed the classic design question of how might we, which is a way of sort of formulating a design challenge, in the search for how do we create solutions, right? So how might we create something that delivers a certain outcome? We’ve reframed it to. How might I so that we? To really connect the self in the system. What is it that I’ve got to do for the benefit of everyone, including myself? There’s nothing wrong with that. But particularly, including everything and everyone else around me. So our design question is, how might I so that we, if you would formulate that question for yourself about her? What could be?

Wouter van Noort 17:20
Well, for me personally. First of all, I really like that view, by the way. I think it’s a clear example of also embodiment. We’ve been really good at thinking about how the future should be in, what we should do but now? As probably, the time has come to do, to embody this change. And I think your design question is a good example of that. And if I speak for myself, I mean, I have a very humble role. I’m a journalist, I see myself as a curator of ideas as a node in a network, and I try to amplify the good and expose the bad. And I think that’s my role in this. So what I continue to do is I will seek out practices and I’ll seek out thinkers also, I’ll seek out doers who are embodying this change, and embodying this shift in mentality and inaction. And also continue to look critically at the systems that are failing at companies that are misbehaving leaders that are trying to cling on the old ways of doing for personal gain, whereas it’s very clear that things are necessarily to shift. So I have a very humble role, but I look forward to it because it energizes me to be part of a network of change and a network of intelligent people that can actually contribute to the shift that I see happening now.

Carola Verschoor 18:56
As you know, we haven’t promised our audience any answers. We said to them, that we are here to help generate new questions. So thank you so much for helping plan the sees of those questions. To close. Could you maybe complete the following sentence another one for you hear about her? The sentences of course, “Dear future, I’m ready”. And can you tell us what you’re looking forward to what we should be ready for? Your future? Ready, according to Wouter.

Wouter van Noort 19:23
I’m ready for a world in which the good stuff that we see happening all around us already has entered a new phase of exponential growth. I think we’re reaching a tipping point. We’re very close to the tipping point, towards a more sustainable future towards a more human, future towards a more embodied society with ancient and new wisdom combined. I’m optimistic and I have called myself the most pessimistic optimist you will ever meet because I am Do fear that it might get a little bit worse before we get better. But otherwise, I think the large development of humanity has really been towards progress. And I think we are not done with progress yet. I think the most relevant question is for everybody to ask themselves is, where do you see the future already? And what would you like to amplify from what is already happening towards the future?

Marco van Hout 20:38
Thank you so much Wouter, a very inspiring. And thank you for joining us in “Dear future, I’m ready 21 for 21” podcast series. And of course, thank you to my co host Carola and thank you, listener for tuning in and we look forward to have you next time again. When we meet another transformational leader in “Dear future I’m ready”. Thank you and see you next time.