Gregory Bateson: The man who made me think in new ways

The most important task today is, perhaps, to think in a new way.”    ………..
…Gregory Bateson



I have had the privilege of meeting and talking with many great writers and thinkers, but none have transformed my thinking more than Gregory Bateson.  I was privileged to go to his final Lecture which was in London at the ICA, October 28th 1979, shortly before his death in 1980.  Sadly, it was only after he died that he became my intellectual mentor, studying his many publications, listening to his Esalen seminars on tape and trying to make sense of the many news ways of seeing and experiencing the world that he gave us.

As I wrote in a paper to celebrate his centennial:

“When I speak to colleagues in various fields, I am continually surprised at the number of people who have never heard of him.  Yet when I then ask them have they heard of: the double-bind theory of schizophrenia; double loop and treble loop learning; cybernetics; systems theory; paradoxical family therapy; Margaret Mead’s anthropology in Bali, many have heard of several of these, without realising the influential role played by Gregory Bateson in all of them and many other areas.  Bateson was focussed on the fundamental principles and the underlying connecting patterns in the various fields of social sciences.  He left it to others, such as R.D.Laing (Laing, 1971), Chris Argyris and Donald Schon (Argyris & Schön, 1974, 1978), John Lilly (1972) , , Watzlawick, Weakland and Fisch (Watzlawick, Weakland, & Fisch, 1980), Fritjof Capra (Capra, 1983, 1996) and many others to apply and develop his thinking.”

I have not written a book without at least one quote from this great teacher and I have published two papers about his thinking which I have now made available on my website:

These are:

Hawkins, P. (2004) “Gregory Bateson: His contribution to Action Research and Organisation Development” The Journal of Action research. 2(4) pp 409-423.

Hawkins, P. (1991) “The Spiritual Dimension of the Learning Organisation”, Management Education and Development Vol. 22, Pt3

More recently I have had the pleasure of meeting both Gregory Bateson’s daughters:  Mary Catherine Bateson and Nora Bateson, who each have continued aspects of the work that their father started.  In 2015 I had the privilege of doing a video interview with Nora Bateson who now leads the work at the Batson Institute ( ).  This can be watched via my website:  In this interview we discuss how Gregory and Nora’s thinking can help us develop an eco-systemic way of seeing the world and address many of the great challenges that now face us. These challenges have grown much greater since when Gregory first opened our eyes in the 1960s and 1970s to the ecological crisis. Even back then he was saying that if we did not begin to think in new ways, we did not have “a snowball in hell’s chance of surviving the 21st century”.

We should all read the work of Gregory, Mary Catherine and Nora Bateson, and I hope my two papers and the video interview provide a window into his work and an encouragement to read more.

Professor Peter Hawkins September 2016.