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.