Adam organizes, designs, and facilitates processes that help move people forward together on their most important and intractable issues.
Adam Kahane has always wanted to work on important and difficult challenges. When he was younger, he thought of these challenges as problems that could be solved by experts, and he wanted to be one. He studied physics at McGill University in Montreal and energy and resource economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and held a series of public policy research positions in North America, Europe, and Japan. Then he worked as a corporate planner at Pacific Gas and Electric Company in San Francisco and as the head of global social, political, economic, environmental, and technological scenarios at Royal Dutch Shell in London.
Adam’s thinking about how to approach difficult challenges changed dramatically in 1991, when he helped a team of South African leaders think through how to effect the transition from apartheid to democracy. He learned that such complex matters are not simply problems to be solved by experts but problematic situations to be worked through by stakeholders. He also learned that diverse teams—made up not just of colleagues and friends but also of opponents and enemies—can do this work collaboratively.
This experience transformed Adam’s understanding of his vocation. He left Shell, moved to Cape Town, and threw himself into supporting collaborative efforts to address complex challenges. He cofounded Reos Partners, a social enterprise that guides such efforts around the world.
Over the last twenty-five years, Adam has worked in this way in more than fifty countries, with executives and politicians, generals and guerrillas, civil servants and trade unionists, community activists and clergy. Along the way he learned that collaboration is not as straightforward as he thought it was, and that this is true not only for extraordinary multistakeholder collaborations but also for ordinary ones at work and at home.
Adam is a director of Reos Partners, where his consulting, facilitating, and teaching all focus on helping people work together to address their most important and difficult challenges. He and his wife, Dorothy, have four children and nine grandchildren and live in Cape Town and Montreal.
Systemic transformation, complex situations, conflict resolution
Adam’s work has been praised by government, business, civil society, foundation, and academic leaders and mentioned in newspapers and magazines around the world.
Adam writes a monthly column on solving tough problems for the magazine strategy+business. Recent ones include:
Working with diverse others doesn’t have to mean compromising your values. But if you just can’t do it, there are other ways to solve difficult problems.
Disagreement can make solutions to our most difficult problems hard to see. But with practical tools and a shift in mind-set, diverse groups can create new realities.
Strong teams include diverse perspectives, and healthy working relationships and successful outcomes hinge on honest communication. But there are ways to make sure you “fight right.” See also “How to Fight in a Productive Way.”
Three “stretch” strategies can help teams move forward when members can’t agree and don’t like or trust one another.
Collaborating with the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust.
This book argues that our conventional, constricted understanding of collaboration—requiring a harmonious team that agrees on where it’s going, how it’s going to get there, and who needs to do what—is wrong, and that we need a new, stretch approach that embraces discord, experimentation, and genuine co-creation.
You can read a summary of this book in English or Spanish, read Globe and Mail, Stanford Social Innovation Review, or Amazon.com reviews, watch an excerpt from a speech, listen to conference, radio, podcast, or webinar interviews, see tweets recommending the book to school boards and divorce lawyers, or watch an enthusiastic video summary in Italian.
You can buy this book in English from Amazon, Indiebound, Barnes&Noble, Indigo, or Berrett-Koehler, in Spanish from UNAM, in Chinese from Readmoo, and in Portuguese from SENAC. Russian, Spanish, Thai, and Vietnamese editions will be published in 2018.
Transformative Scenario Planning: Working Together to Change the Future.
Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change.
Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities.
For more information
Subscribe to Adam’s Collaborating with the Enemy newsletter and receive a free download of “How to Learn to Stretch,” a six week program of exercises to build your capacity to work with diverse others.
Praise for Adam Kahane’s work
“Solving Tough Problems is a breakthrough book that addresses the central challenge of our time: finding a way to work together to solve the problems we have created.”—Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa; winner, Nobel Peace Prize
“Adam Kahane worked with us on the future of our country. The four scenarios we built have come to life one after another, and today we are living the best one. In Transformative Scenario Planning, Kahane explains how scenario planning can transform the future. In Colombia we can attest that such transformation is really possible.”—Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia; winner, Nobel Peace Prize
“Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ His life was the unfolding of an even deeper truth: the need to change himself if he wanted to change the world. Hence, his autobiography was titled My Experiments with Truth. Adam’s story of his engagements with people in many countries, whom he was called to help in their efforts to change their worlds, is an account of his own realization of Gandhi’s deeper insight. It is an honest and beautifully told story.”
—Arun Maira, former member, National Planning Commission, and former Chairman, Boston Consulting Group, India
“Power and Love includes the story of the Visión Guatemala team, in which a group of us, who in the ordinary course of events would never have met or worked together, had an unprecedented experience that opened up new horizons for us and for our country. Adam helped us cultivate our dreams and ideals and gave us the energy and hope to act to renew our society.”
—Raquel Zelaya, former Secretary of Peace, Guatemala
“Advances and changes in humankind have left the world with supercomplex problems—from achieving sustainable development to maintaining peace and security—that require changes in the way we face them. Collaborating with the Enemy gives us not only a privileged look into Adam’s extensive experiences in high-level engagements to address these problems but also his honest and brave reflection on his successes and failures, and from these his articulation of an important new approach to collaboration.”
—Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, former Head, President of Indonesia’s Delivery Unit, and Distinguished Practitioner, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford
“The quality of a decision depends in large part on the quality of the process by which the decision is made. But the political process in my country (as in most) actually causes us to ‘enemyfy’ each other. If we are to solve the great challenges of our time, whether climate change or economic division and social unravelling, we must learn how to collaborate with those we believe to be our enemies. Adam shows us a way to do so.”
—James Shaw, Member of Parliament and Coleader, Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand
“Kahane addresses an important challenge that we face every day: how can we move forward together in situations where we are in conflict and unable to construct a shared vision of the future? In doing this he overturns conventional practice—including his own—and proposes a new approach to collaboration that is better suited to our difficult current context.”
—Jan Kees Vis, Global Director, Sustainable Sourcing Development, Unilever
“Adam’s Solving Tough Problems helped me understand that all our pressing problems—be they strategic issues inside a company or societal challenges like conflict, poverty, or climate change—require that those with a stake and the power to act come together in open dialogue to create a joint diagnosis and a deep commitment to moving forward together. In Power and Love, Adam goes further and deeper—into the kind of leadership that it takes to do this. A must-read for every reflective leader.”
—Ravi Venkatesan, Director, Infosys, and former Chairman, Microsoft India
“Our societies face really hard problems—poverty, injustice, unsustainability, corruption—that are insoluble by conventional means. Conflicts of interest and profound uncertainties about the future are producing paralysis and inaction. Adam Kahane has, more than anyone, developed and successfully employed tools that enable us to create futures of shared progress and profit.”
—Peter Schwartz, Senior Vice President, Salesforce.com, and author of The Art of the Long View “A refreshingly counterintuitive perspective on collaboration. I recommend it highly.”
—Marcello Palazzi, Co-Founder, B Lab Europe; Chairman, SIX, The Worldwide Social Innovation Exchange
“In Collaborating with the Enemy, Adam Kahane shows that people who don’t see eye-to-eye really can come together to solve big challenges. Whether in our businesses, our governments, our communities, or our personal lives, we can all benefit from this smart and timely book.”
—Mark Tercek, President, The Nature Conservancy; former Managing Director, Goldman Sachs; and coauthor of Nature’s Fortune “Adam Kahane proposes a solid and clear methodology, supported by his experience in the many processes in which he has participated, that invites us to defy our situation and to transform—not only to change—it, beginning by transforming ourselves.”
—Luis Raúl González Pérez, President, National Human Rights Commission, Mexico
“Kahane takes the core message from his seminal Power and Love into uncharted territory: our messy, challenging, and necessary task of working with others to solve intractable problems. He redefines collaboration, testing our assumptions about the interplay between individual agency and collective action. At once theory, memoir, and practical guide, Collaborating with the Enemy is a vital primer for people working at all scales to make the world a better place.”
—Ross McMillan, President, Tides Canada
“Nowadays, opposition and conflict are the new normal, yet normal responses to them seem impotent. Amid this chaos and as if delivered to us by ‘special order,’ Collaborating with the Enemy shows us how thinking and seeing differently can help us navigate this challenging landscape. Kahane abandons orthodoxy in taking on the most intransigent problems, showing us the path to effective action in a complex world.”
—James Gimian, Publisher, Mindful magazine, and coauthor of The Art of War and The Rules of Victory “Transformative Scenario Planning is a deeply human book that offers tangible means for tackling the intractable problems that confront us at every level of life, from domestic and local to national and beyond. It offers realistic, grounded hope of genuine transformation, and its insights and lessons should be part of the toolbox of everyone in leadership roles.”
—Thabo Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town
“In our field, the hardest nut to crack is how to address conflicts between parties with fundamentally different worldviews. Adam offers a robust theory and a straightforward practice to address this vital challenge.”
—Ofer Zalzberg, Senior Middle East Analyst, International Crisis Group
“Kahane writes with humility, sharing what he has learned from both his successes and failures over a long career dedicated to helping address some of the world’s toughest problems. Collaborating with the Enemy offers practical guidance for how to work with diverse others, which is a precondition for confronting many of the complex challenges we face.”
—Morris Rosenberg, President, Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation; former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada
“How many of us have dreamed of developing the art of helping others solve ‘impossible’ problems and bridge ‘uncrossable’ divides? Adam Kahane has taken that journey. Read, listen, absorb, and integrate.”
—Peter Goldmark, former President, The Rockefeller Foundation
“To transcend the perilous state in which we find ourselves, we need to learn to collaborate with those with whom we’d rather not. Drawing on his experience enabling sworn enemies to create peace in places like South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Colombia, Adam Kahane shares insights and lessons we can all use when collaborating with ‘those others’ is our only or best way forward. Collaborating with the Enemy belongs on the same shelf as Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Machiavelli’s The Prince.”
—Stephen Huddart, President, The J. W. McConnell Family Foundation
“Adam Kahane helps us overcome romantic and linear approaches to conflict transformation. Collaborating with the Enemy provides a hands-on critique of the myth of the uninvolved mediator and explains the art of working with the enemy.”
—Gorka Espiau, Associate Director, The Young Foundation, and former Peace Advisor to the President, Basque Government
“Power and Love is a profound book that offers us a wise way to negotiate our toughest group, community, and societal challenges.”—William Ury, Distinguished Senior Fellow, Harvard Negotiation Project; co-author, Getting to Yes “Collaborating with the Enemy is a lighthouse for our troubled times. If we are to find a way to reconcile the divides that imperil our common life, here we have a profound guide and a source of hope.”
—Rufus Black, Master, Ormond College, The University of Melbourne
“Power and Love is a rare and valuable book. Kahane has immersed himself in the practical challenges of helping people effect social change, and against this backdrop he unfolds a simple and penetrating insight: that power and love are two axes that delineate our individual and collective journeys. Either we master the balance of power and love or we will fail in our efforts to realize deep and lasting change.”
—Peter Senge, Senior Lecturer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of The Fifth Discipline “Solving Tough Problems is a seminal book. Exciting, vital, essential reading.”
—Edgar H. Schein, Professor of Management Emeritus, MIT Sloan School of Management, and author of Humble Inquiry
Selected articles about Adam Kahane’s work
The Gazette, Canada, 2016: “Quiet Montrealer brokers peace around the world”
El Tiempo, Colombia, 2016: “The challenge is to create an agreement that people can live with”
WCPO Cincinnati, United States, “To solve our child poverty problem, we have to be ready to fight. And that’s OK”
Haber Turk, Turkey, 2014: “The poison of loveless power”
The Guardian, United Kingdom, 2013: “Four new ways to deal with the problem of drugs in the Americas”
Governance Now, India, 2013: “In a fragmented society, scenario planning is the best”
strategy+business, Unites States, 2011: “How to Balance Power and Love”
La Nacion, Argentina, 2011: “Neither war nor submissive peace can work”
Siam Intelligence, Thailand, 2010: “How Scenarios Solve Conflict”
- Collaborating in Daily Life
- Learning about Collaborative Leadership in Thailand
- Reos Partners’ Peace Work Recognized by 2016 Nobel Prize Laureate
- Reading Power and Love in Asia
- The Bandung Scenarios: Possible Futures of Energy in Indonesia
- Progress on Agreeing New Strategies to Deal with the Drug Problem in the Americas
- Exploring Alternatives to the War on Drugs
- Accelerating Innovation in the U.S. Electricity Sector
- Drugs Scenarios Reos Partners Supports “Game-Changing” Scenario Project on Drugs in the Americas
- Announcing the Launch of Adam Kahane's New Book: 'Transformative Scenario Planning'
- Transformative Scenario Planning
- Learning by Doing: Using the Change Lab Approach to Design New Change Labs
- Learning from Experience: The Mont Fleur Scenario Exercise
- An Introduction to Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change
- Changing the World by Changing How We Talk and Listen