In part I, we've explored why in a time of uncertainty we look for heroes but we also look for bad guys to blame for our shortcomings, misery and fears. But fear doesn’t have to destroy us.
There is one thing that will bring us together and give us our ultimate individual power: a collective purpose.
When we embrace a cause, something interesting happens to us. The cause becomes a powerful surrender mechanism that unleashes our hidden abilities and capacities for the greater good.
To put our minds as one, we invite you to consider two major and exciting movements where we are witnessing individuals thriving in a collective purpose and making waves.
Building Regenerative Cultures and Practices
Some people are starting to talk about ReGenerative cultures as possible pathways towards a thriving future of people unfolding their unique potential within the context of the communities and regions they help to regenerate - cultures that are healthy, resilient and adaptable.
A regenerative economy goes beyond sustainability and requires local collaboration and solidarity among individuals as co-creative participants.
What Is a Regenerative Culture?
Regenerative cultures are unique expressions of the potential inherent in the people and places of a given bioregion. They add value and health to the nested wholeness from local, to regional, to global in the understanding that human thriving critically depends on healthy ecosystems and a life-supporting biosphere.
In strengthening regenerative economic activities, we need to learn to balance: efficiency and resilience; collaboration and competition; diversity and coherence; and small, medium, and large organizations and needs.
In other words, regenerative economics is an economic system that works to regenerate capital assets, which are assets that provide goods and/or services that are required for or contribute to our well being. Recognizing the earth as the original capital asset places the true value on the human support system, known as the environment.
More precisely, regenerative leadership is the process of aligning one’s own way of being and actions with the wider pattern of life’s evolutionary journey within the communities, ecosystems, biosphere and Universe. As Janine Benyus has said so succinctly: “Life creates conditions conducive to life.” Regenerative Cultures aim to emulate this insight in how we relate to the human family and all life.
What Are the Challenges?
Our challenge is to free ourselves from the mindset of scarcity and competition and step into co-creating a future of shared collaborative abundance for all of humanity and the community of life.
One crucial aspect of this transition is to understand the limitations of the narrative of separation that has informed our understanding of who we are for too long and reconnect with our fundamental interbeing with the very fabric of life that our common future depends upon.
Regenerative leadership can no longer be about positioning your company as a market leader, celebrated for having some positive impact on society. It starts by leading our own lives regeneratively in service to our communities and to the wider community of life.
What Are the Principles?
Capital Institute, a non-partisan think-tank launched in 2010 by former JPMorgan Managing Director, John Fullerton, is searching for a new narrative. The members' explorations are influenced by modern science and grounded in timeless wisdom traditions with which they have established 8 guiding principles:
1. In Right Relationship
2. Views Wealth Holistically
3. Innovative, Adaptive, Responsive
4. Empowered Participation
5. Honors Community and Place
6. Edge Effect Abundance
7. Robust Circulatory Flow
8. Seeks Balance
Fundamentally, one of the core principles of a regenerative culture is to give meaning by building capacity amongst individuals and shifting from competitive to collaborative systems.
How Does One Get Started?
Another organization is Regeneration International, mapping regenerative agriculture projects around the world and aiming to support the transition towards regenerative land management practices and a regenerative food system.
To continue learning, there are events happening around the world such as Regeneration 2030 or The Regenerative Business Summit, where many of the global experts on regeneration will come together to explore how we can deliver well-being and shared prosperity on a healthy planet. You are invited to be part of it, in person or online.
What Questions are being Raised?
We have to admit that capitalism is broken and structurally degenerative, and understand that redesigning the human presence and impact on Earth will go hand in and with re-localization and re-regionalization supported by global collaboration and solidarity.
By daring to ask deeper questions we begin to see the world differently. As we engage in conversation about such questions, we collectively begin to contribute to the emergence of a new culture.
How do we create an economy with its operations based on cooperative relationships?
How would a regenerative economy nurture the entrepreneurial spirit and enable empowered participation?
How can we ensure that the economy promotes robust circular flows?
Questions more than answers can guide us as we choose a wiser path into an uncertain future. That is why Daniel Wahl’s book ‘Designing Regenerative Cultures’ has more than 250 questions in it. Consider them a place to start!
Making Business Human
A good start in the effort to foster a new, adaptive way of doing business is to let go of the idea that our economy is a machine with objective functions we can tinker with in a purely rational way. A business isn’t just something to work with or think about. It’s not a problem to solve. A business creates a culture that we inhabit, as employees and customers alike, not just during business hours, but all the time.
We don’t manage the economy. We live it.
The only way that we can learn to do business amidst the chaos unleashed through repeated, accelerating technological disruption is through the embrace of the full human range of experiences that are catalyzed by our commercial projects. We’ve taken technical management as far as it can go.
The time has come to turn back to human business.
What is human business?
In a literal sense, we might say that a human business is any business that humans put together. Humans create technology. Humans develop algorithms. Humans devise systems of automation.
Increasingly, however, many aspects of business that were originally crafted by humans are drifting away from human control. Machine learning systems have been given the authority to adapt automated business processes on their own.
Human managers oversee these systems, but from a distance, reviewing the outcomes without understanding exactly how those outcomes were developed in the first place. They’ve outsourced decision-making to the black box of artificial intelligence.
A human business does things differently.
While conventional digital businesses regard human involvement as a cost that must be minimized, human businesses understand that human involvement is an investment.
Rather than chasing after technical gimmicks that can deliver quick bursts of income for temporary advantage, human businesses prioritize the maintenance of relationships of trust amongst all stakeholders, enabling stable growth in the long term.
What Does A Human Business Look Like?
The currency of conventional business culture is the brag.
Since the onset of digital dominance, intelligence is the most common boast of all. You’ll often hear companies talk about having the smartest people and the most robust artificial intelligence.
Human business aims at a different quality: Integrity.
Intelligence is a wonderful asset, but applied in the wrong direction, it can lead to disaster.
The key asset of a human business is its compassion.
This isn’t to say that human businesses operate as charities. Rather, a human business seeks mutual profit. Clever tricks that separate people from their money poison the well of commerce, teaching consumers to suspect all offers.
The value of human business isn’t constructed through elaborate supply chain management, intricate coding, or the most up to date technologies. It doesn’t require an unusual mental acuity.
Instead, human business calls upon its practitioners to practice a devotion to empathy, not merely to go through the motions of standard market research, but to take the time to actually listen to customers, to hear the emotional needs beneath the rational justifications, to grasp the pleas for help expressed between the lines.
There are no shortcuts to this connection. It can’t be accomplished through chatbots, or by cramming as many people as possible into a focus group room in pursuit of the perfect answer.
The humanity of listening requires the sacrifice of time and the presence of being there, without the filter of remote viewing.
A Vision Quest Into Human Business
A business that’s dedicated to efficiency will never make the time for this kind of investment, but will offer a quicker, cheaper, more convenient replacement.
That’s why a human business establishes constraints on efficiency, carving out space and time for thick, deep immersion in the subjective experience of the people the business serves.
In small business, these interactions take place as a matter of course. For large corporations, external guides to the strange nooks and crannies of human experience. Small, boutique agencies provide special services to reacquaint corporate citizens with the cultural world outside.
One such agency is Rupture Studio, whose founder, Chuck Welch, advises, “You can never lose the human hand. I think so many brands and organizations are so data heavy and technology heavy that they’re out of bounds. I think brands and organizations are waking up to the fact that you can never lose the human perspective and that’s something that we always emphasize with our clients. Not to say culture is nice to have. It’s a must have, and it drives business. It drives meaning. It drives value.”
To find true value, a human business pursues market research as something more than just a search for answers to its tactical questions. It seeks an understanding of the human ground from which its growth is derived.
It regularly engages in purposefully slow, patient, open-ended qualitative study as a kind of commercial vision quest, pushing beyond the veneer or certainty provided by data to courageously confront the most vulnerable questions of business:
What are we really doing?
Why does it matter?
What makes us different?
Why should anyone care?
Only by remaining open to the unexpected responses that deeply qualitative inquiry can provide will a business access the human emotion that drives the surprising irrational eddies of the marketplace.
Putting aside the intelligent, data-driven predictability of conventional business, business teams discover that they are able to access a new level of commercial insight, a realm of human significance in which their work transcends the mundane concerns of management to attain something beautiful.
Beauty Beyond the Functions of Business
This November, the House of Beautiful Business will convene in Lisbon. This gathering has become an annual high point for a global movement of business professionals seeking to humanize the practice of commerce.
The idea that business could be beautiful is purposefully incongruous, provoking as many skeptical questions as inspired dreams. In business, when beauty takes place, it’s a means to an end rather than the goal itself.
The conventional storyline of business is centered on efficiency, getting the work done with as little investment as possible.
Beauty suggests a rebellion against the orthodoxy of optimization.
It’s the result of a purposeful investment of attention beyond what is functionally necessary, and it suggests that those who choose to associate themselves with the business, whether as workers or as customers, will be invested in as well.
A beautiful business, therefore, is a holistic creation.
It’s more than just an image of luxury created for marketing purposes. It’s the result of a craftsman’s attitude, taking notice of the worth inherent in the materials, tools, and people who are involved in the processes of production and service.
Who is to say what counts as a beautiful business?
Beauty, it is said, is in the eye of the beholder.
So, when we take the extra time notice, create, and maintain beauty in the practice of business, we’re honoring the worth of the subjective conscious realm that distinguishes the human experience from the crude power of machine intelligence.
What makes a beautiful business is the refusal to comply with the rote forms of business practice. It’s the willingness to flourish in a world of helvetica minimalism. It’s a statement that what we’re doing matters.
What’s at Stake?
The consequences of conventional business culture, which regards beauty and humanity as superfluous extravagance, are becoming terribly clear. Small businesses have always been experts in creating beautiful human experiences, but for digital businesses obsessed with scale, small size is equated with failure.
Authentic human experience, however, will always be small. No matter how large our data sets become, each one of us will always live at the intimate scale of individuality.
Even as social media platforms promise us thousands of followers, we will always crave the depth of connection we can achieve with people and places we have taken the time to truly get to know.
As the siren song of scale has estranged us from the humanity of commerce,
it has reduced the world to a collection of commodities, none of which has any special value of its own. The pace of exploitation has accelerated along with the power of the machines designed to calculate the path of minimal viability.
It is not hyperbole to say that the world is dying as a result. Rising temperatures are bleaching the Great Barrier Reef into oblivion. The Amazon, Australia, and California are on fire. Huge numbers of species are going extinct as ecosystems around the planet fall apart. In one recent event, a million seabirds washed up dead on the Pacific shore of North America as a result of unusually warm ocean waters.
The time when we could speak abstractly about a future of calamities caused by climate change is over. The climate crisis has arrived, and it’s going to get much, much worse.
We don’t have the time for the luxury of mincing words. The responsibility for this growing global disaster can largely be placed on the shoulders of business, which has pursued the course of short term profit without care for the consequences.
The inhumanity of conventional business culture has constructed an economy that no longer recognizes the validity of the world from which it derives its wealth.
If conventional business culture is the problem, the solution must come from business professionals who are willing to be unconventional. Leadership will come from businesses that place service to human need back at the core of their operations.
Only a human business that invests in the beauty of our world can save us from destruction.
We can’t wait for top executives to lead us back to human business. Given that they are the most insulated from the consequences of their destructive practices, they will be the last to take action. Business shapes our world, but commerce is also shaped by the collective actions of those who work within it.
It is not too late to turn away from the brink, but the change we need will require something more from us than the lazy habits of clicktivism that we have fallen into.
The struggle for human business begins with each one of us, in the decision to re-engage with the beauty in the world, to appreciate the special value inherent in the people, places, and objects we encounter, and to refuse to surrender to the calculating machine within. Consider listening to Jonathan’s podcast A Human Business.
Building businesses that effectively serve all stakeholders, rather than just maximizing profits in a narrow interpretation of ‘shareholder value,’ requires a different approach.
One of the most important transformations going on at the moment is the emergence of understanding the economy as a moral system.
The economy is a social construct and a moral system based on our ethics and in light of the profound inequalities caused by the system in place, it is time to say out loud what we all know to be true: “Capitalism, as we know it, is dead."
One thing will bring us together and give us our ultimate individual power: a collective purpose.
We invite you to follow the co-authors and listen to one of the last episodes on AcornOak Pass The Mic podcast discussing what it means to be an ethical leader.
Now it’s your turn
Who do you know is making a change in our society? Who should we join? Share your experience and thoughts to continue this conversation.