A story about the creation of a metamodern political party
"We are building an aircraft while flying it!" This was our mantra during the election year of 2018. The parts had been prepared for approx eight months and then put together in a rush, just three months before the real take-off, three months before the collective decision to join the general election in Sweden.
The Swedish political party The Initiative was born on November 23, 2017. It was initiated as a sister to the Danish party The Alternative, and also in response to the growing meta-crises of the world. With the election of Donald Trump and growing nationalism in Sweden and Europe, many of us felt the need to do something. Now.
At my first meeting with the Initiative, a weekend-long workshop in the countryside, the book "The Listening Society" by Hanzi Freinacht was very much present. During the following month, I was also presented with "Reinventing Organizations" by Frederic Laloux. Those were the philosophical and organizational cornerstones of our first aircraft model. I found them both inspiring, and they gave me a feeling of coming home. As an Experience Designer, I had long been designing events and processes for societal development in a holistic (system thinking) way and with an understanding of the complexity of a human being. My business partners and I had been struggling with making our perspectives on development understood for years. And now, all of a sudden, I was offered a shared vocabulary for it! All of a sudden, I had found a larger group of people who understood my perspectives of the world and its development. It all went under the name of Metamodernism and Teal organizations.
Without a clear ideology, structure or a party program, we rushed into the election year. Some of us saw it as the ultimate prototype, a way to learn how to build the aircraft in real-time. Most people though saw it as a light of hope. A hope for something new, something that would meet and offer a solution for their nagging feeling that something is wrong within the system. Something that would challenge the status quo of Swedish politics. And as The Alternative had managed to get into parliament after only one and a half year, the belief of a possible election victory was not too far away.
"We are building the aircraft while flying it." For a process-oriented party that was quite a handy symbolism. Well, we did get critical feedback on the wording: Is this really a politically correct way to describe a process for a party that holds a vision of a more sustainable and flourishing world!?
The ones building the aircraft were some 30 volunteers, a board of eleven people and two full-time workers (pro-bono). With the focus on the election, the work consisted of operational and strategic work connected to that end. The philosophical parts of the plane were buried under bags of hopes, dreams, decisiveness and action. Luggage that gave us a lot of pain.
Were we to build a party that fits into the existing system or were we to create something more transformative? Were we to create an incremental innovation, a development of what already is, or a radical, disruptive change? This question was an intense tension and conflict during these times. Without a collective understanding of the philosophical parts, the luggage just became too cumbersome. The perspectives of what a political party is, how a political organization should organize, and what we needed to do to be elected, they were just too strong. The struggle pulled us down; it drained us of energy.
During the frantic months, we campaigned, collected votes and distributed ballots. People noticed! They joined! They wanted to be a part of the party and the story. They believed in what we were building, even though we didn’t manage to clearly communicate what our purpose and mission were. There were voices within the party urging us to take a hard look at ourselves and our prospects - getting into parliament when unheard of is not likely to happen - but let's cause a stir, let's test what campaigning is like, let’s prototype. In hindsight, this perspective was lost. The old ways of how to play the political game were too strong. We were not mature enough to change the game. Expectations were not met. The people in our party felt defeated waking up to election results. The election did not become the success story many had hoped for, even though more than 600 people decided to cast their vote on us! Some would say that we had been naive. Too visionary. A lot of people lost faith and trust in the Initiative - they saw us as beaten. They left.
But were we defeated? No, absolutely not.
We were given the opportunity to reap the benefits of learning. That those that are in for the long haul are needed just as much as the dragonflies who funnel their energy in short bursts of high vibe engagement. Those quiet thinkers and sturdy builders are what kept the Initiative afloat and enabled our next growth phase.
The new iteration of the party began. We had learnt so much during that first year, not the least about the struggle between postmodern and metamodern worldviews. We took the aircraft back into the hangar to give the plane a thorough go-through. We went back to basics, working with a smaller group around the DNA of the party and the metamodern philosophy, but also with a new focus on creating a culture of wholeness and wellbeing. Parallel, we explored organizational structures and ways to move forward. This work was gratifying, and we made exciting progress, completely behind closed doors. We had learned that opening up for more co-creators too early was precarious. We aimed to build a more easily accessible structure, and culture, so more people could join the crafting. To join the co-creation.
Building an aircraft on the side of full-time work, family life, illnesses and yeah, life, was not an easy ordeal for us. It was a learning process, though, and an important one. We were given time to reflect, explore and feel into our beliefs and engagement. Feel into the questions of the process.
And an intriguing question has recently emerged; have we asked ourselves the right questions when building this aircraft? Is it possible to create something radically new when still thinking the same thoughts and navigating from the same perspectives that shaped the old (our present) world? Can I understand what is needed without the experience of the new? Is it even a new “aircraft” that is required for transforming politics and deepening democracy?
What we've learned through these years is that it has always been about the people.
Change comes from inspiration.
Change starts from within.
Change spreads by living it.
That is how systems change. One person at a time.
We are too caught up in the system, norms and structures we have grown up in, to be able to imagine what a new political party or a political system can be. Yes, even us metamodern guinea pigs and complexity thinkers. I cannot truly embody a new story of the world, without first-hand experience.
The idea of building a metamodern political party with the purpose to change the system is an entirely misguided thought. To build a metamodern political party for the future is just the wrong take. We are too imprinted by the worldviews and ways of living that has put us into the meta-crisis of today.
The Initiative has always been about the people and, this is where the transformation of the political system needs to start. We need to create the conditions for new thoughts to be born, for people to grow, think and innovate. We need to create frames, rooms and contexts where new thoughts and experiences can be generated. Where new, radical, paradigm-shifting ideas can be born. We need to become prepared to see what is needed so that we can catch the moment when it arises.
We need to focus on the people leading the change.
And who is leading the change in society? Everyone! You are the creator of the world you live in. You are in command of your life. You are a leader. Therefore, The Initiative, or any other metamodern party, needs to start with you.
Your reality is a creation of your imagination. Let us widen the frames, the scope of our realities. Let us expand the universe of thought, so that a more beautiful society can be labored.
We don't need an aircraft! We need pilots, crew and passengers who know how to lead themselves and others in complexity. We need to prepare ourselves to manage the politics of today and tomorrow, with the right values and a mature approach. We need to strengthen ourselves in thinking and to navigate in uncertainty, through empathy and deep listening. If we manage that, we have every opportunity to lead and transform the existing political system into something new.
We don't need to develop a political party that fits into the existing system. We need to develop political self-leadership, among citizens as well as leaders, so that when the time comes, we can step up, lead and take-off.
"A good pilot can fly anything that flies - and, with some difficulty, even things never meant to fly." (unknown)
Maria, Jonas, David, Alva, Fredrik, Jessica, Kristofer, Martin, Niclas, Tove, Stefan L - thank you for hanging in there and learning to fly with me!
And Tove Winiger, thank you for editing and metamodern midwifing 💚