Where Do We Go From Here?

Just as communism fell in Russia, capitalism and Western-style democracy are not immune to the same fate. In fact, the US election, the global rise of nationalism and the worldwide persistence of poverty, social unrest and environmental degradation are all signals that capitalism may be about to hit a wall.

The difference is that the communists had capitalism to turn to. But what do we turn to next?

To answer that question, we have to understand the worldviews that underlie communism and capitalism and that render both unsustainable.

In simplified terms, communism values the collective more than the individual, whereas capitalism values the individual over the collective. As practiced, each in their own way, the two systems see the world and its institutions as machines to be managed and engineered. With these limited lenses, neither has been able to create the conditions for widespread personal and societal thrivability.

What’s needed instead is a worldview – an overarching narrative – that is elegantly able to integrate individual and collective needs. Only a narrative grounded in the self-organizing, self-integrating processes of life meets that requirement. After all, nature never settles for the false dichotomy of part versus whole.

The good news is: paradigm pioneers around the world are blazing an enticing trail, with innovative approaches like social entrepreneurship and impact investing. Grounded in the language and logic of living systems, these new options invite each of us to find our greatest personal reward by making our best contributions to the collective good. The early results are extremely promising.

The bad news is: the individualist, mechanistic worldview won’t hand over sole control without a fight. Donald Trump is the most extreme product of this worldview and its duly appointed spokesperson. Indeed, the entire US election process can be understood as the individualist worldview having a massive temper tantrum.

So, how do we put this unruly brat of a worldview (and a president-elect) to bed?

Certainly, we must resist and block the unreasonable demands and abuses of the tantrum.

Equally, though, we need to tell the emerging story, recognizing the values of individualism and also weaving them into a more complete view. We have to imagine together a society in which individuals can be honored even as they honor all life.

If we look beyond the dogma of communism and capitalism, beyond the dichotomy of individual versus collective, or of republican versus democrat, we can see that the expanded story is all around us, in everything that is alive and in the most vibrant parts of our communities. “You don’t start with the corporation and ask how to redesign it,” advised author Marjorie Kelly in a recent essay. “You start with life, with human life and the life of the planet, and ask, how do we generate the conditions for life’s flourishing?” The same is true of our societies and their governing structures.

“To change something,” said Buckminster Fuller, “build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.” That is our most urgent task.

What Rituals for Modern Times?

It was a year ago, during a week-long island retreat, that I strongly felt the connection between ritual and reverence and the vital need for both in every context of our lives.  For over a decade, my work has been driven by the belief that if we are to be wise and capable stewards of life on Earth we must feel reverence for it.  Without reverence for life, we lack the vision and motivation to do all of what is needed.  Without reverence, we aren’t fully nourished.  We aren’t fully alive.   Read more

Nothing is Worth More than this Day

Nothing is worth more than this day.  So says the wall in front of me.  Years ago, I posted those words as a constant reminder to myself.  But, of course, at some point, they fade into the background, unnoticed.  Today, I felt drawn to reflect on them again.

This day.  Another precious day of life.  As one eminent philosopher says, “Every day above ground is a great day.”  (OK, it’s actually from a song by Pitbull.  But it’s still a great line.)

How will I spend this precious day?

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A City of Two Tales

Three suitcases. Two stuffed animals. A bag full of typically Canadian gifts.  And we were off!

My ten-year-old and eleven-year old children and I are traveling along the East Coast of the US on a two-week “epic adventure road trip.”  The journey is a response to my growing urge to show them more of life.  They’re getting to the age when school really starts to feel too small for all that the human spirit holds.  I wanted to have time with them to talk about anything.  To explore.  To be silly without a schedule to cut things short.  As US citizens living in Canada, I also had a desire to show them some of the history and significant places of my homeland.  Staying with family and friends along the way, I wanted to help them feel that they are part of a larger story. Read more

#ServingLife

This is a story in two parts: the first a few years ago involving a beautiful client organization; the second yesterday involving a convicted felon (also beautiful, it turns out); both related to the concept of “serving life.”  It’s a story of the surprising depth of meaning and possibility that has unfolded for me within that phrase. Read more

Mission Questions, Not Mission Statements

What if companies had mission questions instead of mission statements? How much more engaging and inviting would this be than the typical bland pronouncements about “being number one” or “being the best”? Why do you want to be number one? What learning, discoveries and milestones — what unfolding story — is to be found on that path? What are you all wildly curious about? What compels you to come together in this work because you can’t gain enough insight into the story alone?

“Your greatest source of untapped power is the part of your story that is unreconciled.”
— Michael Margolis

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Generative Journalism

peter-pulaI’m at the end of three head-spinningly rich days with Peter Pula, the founder and CEO of Axiom News.  We’ve been exploring what he and his team mean by “generative journalism” and what more it might come to mean.  The gist of our discussion has been that there’s tremendous power in aligning their work with the core characteristics of living systems.  (After all, only life can truly be generative.)  It’s exciting stuff that seems likely to have broad relevance, not least of all for media organizations trying to figure out the future of journalism – but, really, for any leader hoping to catalyze greater capability across a community. Read more

Software to Save Humanity (But Not How You Might Expect)

I’ve just had a remarkable experience. For the first time, I presented at a business conference where all the other speakers were saying nearly the same thing that I was. Each in our own way, we all spoke of living systems principles in organizations — things like self-organization, emergence, resilience and wise stewardship.  And the audience couldn’t get enough of it, easily embracing things that others find challenging.

What was most remarkable was that it was a gathering of software developers. We were at Microsoft’s New England Research & Development Center — the NERD Center. And my every assumption about techie nerds was shattered. Read more

Journal Entries on the Way Home

June 2, 2014

On Wasan Island, a few days into a week-long exploration of the Soul of Place.  Already so full of richness… trust and connection…. heightened awareness of what’s possible and what’s really needed – for each of us, in our work, in the world.

Today, we’ve been exploring the patterns of homecoming, asking: Where is home and how do we find our way there?  And why is this important?  To reflect on this, we each went alone to the place on the island that called to us, that felt most like home.  I chose the East Dock, with its charming white wicker furniture.  As I arrived, I moved one of the chairs into the sun.  And then I wondered if the ability to change a place is a prerequisite to feeling at home there.  Later, in conversation with two other people, I moved a log that was standing on end along the path, making it my seat while we talked and then putting it back as I left.  Someone had said that if we are to be truly welcoming, we must be open to being changed by the encounter.  Is the same true for a place? Read more

Cultivating Homefulness

“Placemaking” was the official topic of the week-long retreat that has just come to a gentle close. But the phrase has never felt quite right.  Volker Hann, the host of 5-acre Wasan Island where we gathered, hinted at the inadequacy of the term: “Am I a placemaker? Or am I placemade?” Read more