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

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

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

“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

The Social Labs Revolution

I spent a nourishing day recently learning about social labs — an extended process to solve complex challenges by gathering diverse stakeholders in an alternating rhythm of meetings and on-the-ground prototyping. In one example, a lab to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy sources brings together utility companies, alternative energy providers, regulatory bodies and end-users. Representatives of these different groups might meet once a month or once a quarter, trying out different possible solutions in between, in a process that can last for a year or a decade or more.

Unlike strategic planning, in which the most likely solution is identified, implemented and then evaluated, the lab process supports ongoing experimentation in search of many possible solutions, with learning and adaptation along the way. The premise is that this is the only viable approach to complex problems like poverty, healthcare, transforming finance and ethnic conflict. Read more

For the past two days, 12 of us gathered in Montreal to explore what happens when the spirit and practice of thrivability meet the world of impact investing.  The group consisted of local business leaders committed to the practice of thrivability; impact investors in search of what else is possible “outside the lines”; and thoughtful explorers and supporters of the emergent future.  Our goal was less to provide definitive answers and more to get something started – to begin to identify key questions for a more extensive exploration. Read more

This is part of a series of harvests from the Thrivable World Quest, a learning adventure across multiple cities to explore how organizations must be if humanity is to survive – and thrive.

On the first “island” of the Thrivable World Quest, we explored the need for Heroic Cause in organizations. And one of the things we discovered is that what’s needed is something that feels quite a lot like a Quest – a little boldness, a lot of determination, a sense of adventure, and a band of people who are resolved to defy the status quo and to overcome the challenges they face, against all odds. Read more

This is part of a series of harvests from the Thrivable World Quest – a learning adventure across multiple cities to explore how organizations must be if humanity is to survive – and thrive.

With the Thrivable World Quest, we’ve embarked on a huge group treasure hunt across multiple cities to explore the conditions needed for organizations to be truly in alignment with how life thrives and how people thrive.  Over ten months, we’ll stop at ten “islands” – different themes that we’ve found to be vital points of leverage in an organization.  On January 23rd, we explored the first island: Heroic Cause.  Our simple starting point in the exploration was the belief that a thrivable organization has to serve some bold Heroic Cause. Read more

Every time I speak to an MBA class about thrivability (as I did recently), it’s only a matter of time before someone asks: how do you measure it?  For some reason, it’s only MBAs who ask this.

As it happens, we hosted a Thrivability Montreal conversation about this question last year, with guest speaker Kristian Gareau, who was doing research on the topic for his Master’s program.  I took detailed notes that evening, but until now I hadn’t yet synthesized them into a blog post.  At the time, it didn’t seem as if we had come to solid enough conclusions, though there were many valuable insights that emerged.  Actually, that may be the conversation’s conclusion in itself: thrivability is measured more in insights than in conclusions.  After answering the MBAs several times since, those insights are finally coming into focus enough to share them here. Read more

Stepping out of the train station in the center of Amsterdam, I was immediately struck by the way the city flows.  “It’s orderly… but organic,” was the thought that came to mind.  There are three times as many bicycles on the road as cars (three times!), and even more pedestrians.  Then there are the busses and the electric trams.  Every centimetre of the city seems to be a swirl of constant motion.  And yet, in the week that I was there, I saw not a single traffic light or stop sign (nor a helmet, in fact, even on children).  It should have been rampant chaos, but instead it was a beautiful, self-organizing dance. Read more