The nature of healthy growth is pretty straightforward. Whether a plant, animal, business or society, the essential elements are the same. We take in nutrients from our surroundings, meet our basic needs, and everything we don’t need for basic survival gets channelled into growth. Then, more of those nutrients get used for maintenance and repair and replacing parts that die as we age. Eventually, the balance tips, and we leave the stage to make way for those that follow.
We seem to be ignoring that in business. As a society, changes in technology have damaged vast swathes of our physical and social infrastructure. The pandemic has added to that. Yet all the rhetoric seems to ignore the fact that we cannot grow until we have repaired what can be repaired and let what needs to leave the stage go on its way.
It reminds me of the classic scene from Monty Python of the Black Knight. “T’is but a flesh wound,” we say and charge onwards for growth regardless, whilst seven billion still need vaccine, and we celebrate billionaires spending ten very expensive minutes at the edge of space.
We can get past the issues we face, repair where we need to, and replace what is gone with something altogether better – healthy growth, rather than a psychotic variety built on addiction to more.
We need to repair our relationship to work and remember that done well for the right reasons, it drives healthy growth in all its forms – personal, societal, and economic. The challenges we face on mental health are not flesh wounds, and inequality is not a temporary aberration. We need to let go of our dependence on the industrial age and carbon hungry behemoths that, like the Black Knight, do not recognise their situation.
Most importantly, we need to take responsibility—each in our own small way. Work with and for those committed to repair and healthy replacement, and not prop up those whose time is done. We know that “change management” doesn’t work in most cases – what does in individual actions. So we need to start, and a good place is to look hard at what we are doing today and talking quietly, in an unhurried way about it, with those around us.
That’s what we are working, with others, to enable at Originize.
One of the joys of slow conversations with interesting people is how ideas and connections creep in unexpectedly. I talked with other people in Originize, including farmers and scientists, about how “regeneration” is steadily replacing “sustainability” as a foundational expression. The difference is vital in my view. Sustainable is “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level“, whilst Regeneration is “the action or process of regenerating or being regenerated.”
I like Regeneration – it feels to have a different intent, more positive and less defensive, and about moving forward and creating rather than staying where we are. But, in the way that seems to happen often, an idea intruded, and we found ourselves talking about the characteristics of regenerative conversation.
So many of our conversations, particularly in business, are either dialectic – a battle for supremacy and being “right” – or “creative” – often invoking innovation and the search for new, quick and preferably risk-free. These sorts of conversations are undoubtedly sustainable, and indeed, often go on interminably at “a certain rate or level.”
On the other hand, regenerative conversations deal with working out how to use what we have, have achieved, and learned to bring something new and valuable into the world. They are not about discarding and replacing but about building and recycling, not about the pursuit of the guilty but about identifying what we can do, where we are with what we’ve got. They are not about explosive growth and ambitious goals but around steady, healthy development. It is a decade since Jim Collins released “Great by Choice“, in which he noted that great companies grew in moderation and, over time, ten times faster than their hastier counterparts. Of course, the world is very different from a decade ago. However, I suspect that it is still the case that unhurried companies are having regenerative conversations more than sustainable conversations.
For the past few decades, a lot of money has been made by making things complicated. Lawyers and consultants thrived by making the straightforward complicated and charging to interpret it. For a while, it almost worked with complex, but complex is different. It goes beyond analysis to feelings, senses and intuition and nobody else can feel for us. Employee engagement is complex and change is complex, which is why owners do better than consultants in leading it. When it’s complex, agency matters.
We will hit many more bumps in the road yet, and we cannot plan sustainability in the face of uncertainty, but we can Regenerate.
Perhaps Regeneration sits halfway between defensive sustainability and its more assertive sibling antifragility. Neither defensive nor aggressive, but more altogether more reflective and unhurried.
I think this is a time for regenerative conversation. (Thanks for triggering this thought, Ciaran.)
Books I’m reading this week.
Gathering Moss. Robin Wall Kimmerer. I loved her previous book, Braiding Sweetgrass, which is both gentle and relaxing, and a call to arms. Nature does Regeneration in ways we have so much to learn from, and her books are beautiful ways of dancing with ideas of how we can.
The Art of Gathering. Priya Parker. Recommended by Sue Heatherington as a reflection on how we can best share and harvest ideas together as we seek to regenerate our businesses, careers and environments.
Wetiko. Some time ago, I read Paul Levy’s “Dispelling Wetiko” on indigenous wisdom regarding why we think the way we do in the West. It was an excellent provocation that stays with me. Then, I saw this article which summarises it well. I hope you get something out of it.
Talking out Loud. To yourself is a valuable aid to thinking. As the author of this article does, doing it in public spaces may be a little extreme for some, but it works. Try it with your dog when out for a walk….
Living Beautifully. Alan Moore’s monthly newsletter is a work of art. A wonderful collection of articles and examples around his passion for beautiful business. Read slowly.
Edward de Bono died this week. A giant of a thinker. This is his obituary from the Guardian.
One of the challenges we face in these uncertain times is that we have nowhere to hide. It used to be the case that we could hide behind the marketing literature, the company brand, or, at a push, pricing.
Now it’s different. Topics are being brought into play that requires us to have an opinion that belongs to us, not one we’ve borrowed from the company. Whether it is diversity, climate change or something more local, our stance differentiates us from automation.
The dictionary defines stance as “the way in which someone stands, especially when deliberately adopted (as in cricket, golf, and other sports); a person’s posture”.
The metaphor is appropriate. We may have been given an expensive company bat and even had lots of time in the training nets, but nobody else will deal with the ball coming our way.
Developing a stance requires work and commitment. It is an attitude, not a strategy. It defines our boundaries and those areas we are not prepared to compromise on for the sake of an easy win. It’s more specific than vision, and the boundaries of the “how” of purpose. I find stance a filter through which to look at what I’m doing and ask “does it pass”?
Here’s where I’ve got to regarding on my own lens.
The way we run business does not reflect reality; it is just where we have got to so far. We can ensure that business is a force for good for more than just a few.
The conflict we see about the nature of business is not to be feared. The better way is to be found in the heat being generated.
There are better ways to be found; we can’t see them yet.
We can bring these better ways into being if we dare to question and challenge from a position of humility, generosity and compassion.
Complexity is to be welcomed. The answers are not in plain sight, so going both broad and deep and following intuition as much as data is needed. The pursuit of efficiency at all costs is a trap for the unwary and an easy excuse for not doing the hard work.
It will take time. It is more important that progress is made together than I am seen to make it.
You will have your own, even if you can’t write them down yet. I suggest it is essential to find them, because we all have a thread we follow, and our stance is what keeps it in our hand.
It used to be the case that people asked us what we did for a living. Today, with what we are facing, the question is how the way we make our living represents what we stand for.