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"Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.
It is precisely that simple and also that difficult.”

– Warren Bennis

The Argosophy: The Foundation for a New Conversation Among Leaders

20 May 2020

Part 3 of An Open Invitation to a Conversation on Transformational Leadership

Read part 1: Missing Conversations: Why Trust Erodes and Meaning Disappears

Read part 2: Call of the Wild: Disrupting the Status Quo for a New Mindset

Written by Stefan Beiten

Stefan Beiten is initiator of The Argonauts.
He is a lawyer, international entrepreneur and investor, with more than 20 years of experience, Stefan is an expert in the development of successful teams and growth-promoting cultures, both with in-house and foreign companies.
Connect with him on Linkedin


In this part I relate how I began to reconstruct the broken fragments of my life with the help of friends and a circle of conversation which opened a new perspective on sharing secrets and discussing deep feelings from a place of openness and trust. I connect this to the ancient Greek view of the need to balance order and chaos, allowing disruption as part of life’s natural harmony. What is not acceptable, I find, is allowing ourselves to stumble from disaster to catastrophe, never coming to terms with the natural imbalance we have created.

I ask:

  • How do we replace human hubris with humble acceptance of nature’s imperatives?
  • Will this latest Black Swan event wake humanity from spiraling descent to oblivion?
  • How did The Argonauts concept arise and what is its core philosophical foundation?
  • Why do we see the metaphor of a garden requiring cultivation as a central metaphor?

Tackling the ‘Missing Conversations’


had the luck and privilege to find a safe space to tackle my own “missing conversations” when, a decade ago, I was invited to join the Young Presidents Organization. YPO is the largest CEO organization on the planet, with 28,000 members representing more than 12% of the global GDP. For decades, the core of YPO has been its “Forums,” where groups of 6-10 members meet each other in a space of absolute trust and respect. These peers, all of them senior executives, convene in person at regular intervals, following a scripted conversation designed to lead them to find WHY by continually, in these closed circles, examining and discussing their own personal and professional lives.

So it comes of no surprise that, in a recent survey done by YPO, 96% of their members believe their companies have a responsibility beyond shareholder value. They hold that stakeholder trust must be their top priority as leaders. Their experiences have taught them that the priority is to create and sustain a healthy balance between shareholders’ and stakeholders’ interests within their organizations, with trust as a pre-eminent value.

Learning from the ancients

I’ve learned from Dr. Quarch that the sages of ancient Greece conceived a similar formula. In a healthy human ecosystem, feeling and thinking, the emotional and rational mind, disruption and balance, live in harmony with each other. Nine months of the year we are under the rule of rational thinking, balance, and order (as represented by the Greek god, Apollo), while for three months, constructive disruption reigns, with passionate and wild emotions (represented by his brother Dionysus) allowed to flow, channeled into an overall harmonious construct.

This wisdom emerged from a safe space of mutual trust and respect (the sanctuary of Delphi) on the basis of a WHY that comprised the DNA of the ancient society. These were the twin imperatives of the god Apollo to humans: “Gnōthi Seauton” (Know Thyself) and “Mēden Agan” (Nothing in Excess). Together they could be translated into something like Man, find out what it really means to be human. Do not mistake yourself for being a god. Better not act in excess, or life will take its toll. It is a clear and unambiguous order to be humble yet self-curious, a rule that led to Socrates’ conclusion that “an unexamined life is not worth living.

[T]o change the world, you first need to cultivate your interior condition as a human being

Prof. Dr. Otto Scharmer

Eastern philosophy has mirrored this timeless truth: Confucius articulates the same foundation in his essay,The Great Learning” as MIT Prof. Otto Scharmer observes in “Eight Emerging Lessons”: “[T]o change the world, you first need to cultivate your interior condition as a human being” and focus “on harmony between the external and interior.”

In the mechanistic thought-model of the world, this natural law of internal and external harmony has been ignored for too long, especially when we have been materially successful, individually and as a species. We came to believe that man can control and exploit without consequence, conquer all and eventually vanquish even death itself. We have been conditioned to oppose disruption as an integral part of the natural order of life. We ended up believing that we are gods or a godlike Homo Deus. The real gods (or God, nature, the universe, the manifestation power of quantum physics or whatever source one prefers) periodically show us who is the real boss, just as Apollo suggested.

These myths whisper a clear message to us, bearing an eternal truth: Whenever the sacred harmonic principle is ignored by the hubris of humans, life reminds us with Pandemics, Fukushima, Chernobyl, climate change, transhumanism, just to name a few of the cascade of catastrophes that regularly afflict us. Our illusion of permanence and invulnerability is suddenly ripped asunder, suddenly surprised by an iceberg, or a strand of RNA, or a tsunami, or a leak. Invariably, we fail to recognize and prepare until it is too late.

We wake up to find ourselves living a classic Greek tragedy in real-time, non-stop, still stubbornly mistaking what is happening for an abnormal or surreal phenomenon. We keep pushing that boulder up the hill. We wait for the lights to come on again in our theatre of reality TV while watching the cold shadows flickering dimly on the screen from our social isolation. Plato would have a blast in his cave self-quarantine.

A choice between the egocentric WHAT focus or ecocentric WHY awareness

Dr. Scharmer’s research, the “Theory U”, shows the two basic human responses to disruptive events – a traumatizing, destructive one and a constructive, evolutionary response (which the Greek differentiated by the Titanic and the Olympian). The “freeze” reaction, which tends to amplify ignorance, hate, and fear. Or the “opening” response, which tends to amplify curiosity, compassion, and courage. It’s a choice between the egocentric WHAT focus or ecocentric WHY awareness. We may perceive the advantage of the latter. But how do we go about reconstructing it or, perhaps more aptly, giving birth to it anew?

Everything that is not part of the physical world is a human and social construct, as Yuval Noah Harari made clear in Sapiens: nations, companies, money, religions, the market – with or without an invisible hand – are but concepts turned into perceived reality. Therefore, any new WHY which allows for a different mindset calls for a different construct on every level of society and its institutions. We have to see “through our current economic myths just as Copernicus saw through the myths of a geocentric world that constrained society in his time,” as Tomas Björkman asserts in The Market Myth.

“[we have to see] through our current economic myths just as Copernicus saw through the myths of a geocentric world that constrained society in his time”

Tomas Björkman

The Black Swan

The Coronavirus crisis is the fourth catastrophic event that I have experienced in my lifetime. The common denominator is that every time we call it a Black Swan (at least since 2007 when Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined the term and the system behind it), something unforeseeable because it does not fit our linear logic-only WHAT model of the world. With every crisis, the Black Swan looms larger and larger. We play dumb every time. We freeze. We flee. We fight among ourselves. And then, when the new-old thing looms, and then hits, well, we never saw it coming. Of course, because the data was withheld. The numbers were misreported. Who could have expected such a thing? We did better than expected! We fall back into a blame game with invisible enemies, as the Four Horsemen ride roughshod over Meaning.

Leaders today need to be smarter than that. We had better be. And we can be. By now, we are aware that this is not a movie. This is not an accidental collision with an unforeseeable iceberg. It is our model of the world, our way of life that has unleashed the punishing Titans. The next Black Swan, or the next Titanic, floats just around the corner.

So what will our response be: a Titanic “freeze” or an Olympian “opening”? We know where the former leads. But is the latter, however desirable, even possible now? Let us not underestimate the disruption that this seismic paradigm shift would engender. If we could pull it off, it would bring an urgently needed regeneration. A reconstruction. A renaissance. But wait. What if I were to tell you that it is not only possible but happening right now?

The Origin of The Argonauts

The origin of the Argonauts saga lies in the legendary pre-Hellenic legacy of ancient Greece. The myth, passed on orally across many generations, tells of a motley crew of Greek superheroes – not gods but fallible human beings – who accepted the invitation of their leader Jason, and the longings of their own hearts, setting off on a courageous seafaring adventure aboard their ship, the Argo, in a quest to find the Golden Fleece in a distant land. The Golden Fleece was for them the ultimate destination, the fulfillment of their journey, the supreme object of their longings, passions, and enthusiasm. We can understand it as their WHY, the Meaning of their bold – some would say reckless – a voyage into the great unknown.

In my traumatic years after 2008, I found my fellow Argonauts crew within my Trust Circle. We called ourselves “The Honey Badgers” and shared with each other our deepest doubts and toughest challenges. For me, it occurred in my darkest days of turmoil and uncertainty. Yet this diverse group of peers – gathering monthly by Skype from New Zealand, the US, and Europe – came to be my brain and heart trust. Looking back, it becomes clear to me that without the wisdom of this group and the deep conversational process in which we engaged, I would never have reached the insight or found the strength to make the decisions that led me out of my inner darkness. They helped me slay my dragon and keep my demons at bay. Our monthly conversations and yearly retreats laid the foundation for my road to transformation and reconstruction, rediscovering my authenticity and redefining my WHY.

I felt what Swedish songwriter Fia Forsström beautifully paraphrased in her song Shedding Skins:
“Oh, the moment we stop running from the demons in our heads | And instead we choose to love them | When saying yes to life both shadow and light | Oh, our suffering is done and we come alive.”

Today, twelve years on, The Argonauts, as an organization and a worldwide network, is tackling the challenges we have been discussing here. Distinguished and energetic leaders from all around the world, from every discipline and domain, are engaged in ongoing conversations with each other, finding new and authentic meaning in their lives and forming long-lasting and meaningful relationships. Together we are impacting the world with social and financial investments. We are meeting regularly, in Circles of Trust and external forums, formulating and disseminating this disruptive, yet ultimately constructive, philosophy and methodology on the WHY level. We are empowering and encouraging our members and friends with the knowledge, the tools, and the human connection they need to accomplish something greater than themselves.

The Argosophy

The Argonauts community is building on what organizations like YPO have started, taking it to the next step of evolution. Under the arching roof of a common philosophy called “Argosophy” the community guides its members along the path of the principles set forth in the “Integral Theory” of Dr. Susanne Cook-Greuter and Ken Wilber, Don Beck and Christoper Cowan´s Spiral Dynamics and Ichak Adizes’ Managing Corporate Lifecycles. All these support us in our quest to transcend the crippling constraints of our society´s achiever state and ascend to higher states of enlightened individual and organizational development.

In the “Argosophy”, Dr. Christoph Quarch, as The Argonauts’ Chief Philosophy Officer, provides a constitutional framework for this new thinking. He offers a basis for a new mindset paradigm that brings ancient wisdom to today’s challenges and makes this wisdom practically applicable to the world we live in. The Argosophy adds the long-neglected WHO to the WHY: Who do we truly serve? We are on this planet to enter into a vibrant conversation with life itself, answering an imperative “Yes!” and by this become fully alive. We seek to live by life’s universal principles, its intrinsic wisdom of abundance and diversity. With this awareness, we can reach what Scharmer calls the “transformational ecosystem-based learning and leadership” that eventually manifests in a “universal social field of co-creation.”

The Argonauts, as a global leadership network, aims to mutually evolve to that next level through an ongoing conversation among members and friends. By cultivating a new model based on the metaphor of the “flourishing ecosystem of a garden,” as Dr. Quarch puts it, the leaders of any organization, regardless of its size, for-profit or non-profit, can become conscious stewards of continual organic growth. These leaders evolve from being ego-centric officers of a technocratic machine to become eco-centric gardeners of a living organism: natural-born leaders spreading the affirmation of being fully alive in abundance.

We move away from René Descartes’ mid-seventeenth century proposal that humans should be “master and owner” of the planet, which has been the underlying thinking paradigm of Western societies since. We, from now on, strive for harmonious cultivation of life itself. With this new value proposition, leaders move from serving shareholders slavishly and thinking quarterly to encouraging and empowering stakeholders to aspire to a higher and holistic purpose, with the WHAT not neglected but subjected to the WHY. Transactionalism is not rejected but subjected to a transformation. Doing – human achievement – is not devalued but revalued to the extent that it contributes to human being, to our coexistence and collaboration to survive and thrive on this planet.

The transformative and disruptive paradigm of the Argosophy and The Argonauts community breathes fresh life into aging structures and mindsets. The new conversational methodology develops and represents a vital revival of consciousness for leaders and their organizations. It oxygenates and purifies the water in which we swim – capitalism and democracy – without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

In Part Four, I come full circle to detail the significance of The Argonauts as a leader-driven force for transformation in the world, starting with changing myself.

You are invited to the Argonauts conversation. If you have something to say, we would like to hear it, either in short-form or long-form, in writing or in your voice or video. Write to us at feedback@The-Argonauts.com and tell us what’s in your heart and on your mind.

Interested in joining a different conversation? Learn more about The Argonauts and Membership by   contacting us here. 

Stay courageous.


Stefan Beiten

Initiator of The Argonauts

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