I talk a lot about organizations as living systems and about aiming for thrivability.  But what exactly does this mean?  How does it work?  And how do you know when your organization is “thrivable”?

To explain what I’m talking about, let me share a beautiful story of thrivability at work here in Montreal. Read more

When you’ve lived in in nineteen cities (in seven countries), you don’t really get the concept of “home.” People ask me where I’m from, and I don’t know how to answer. “But where do you think of as home?” they ask. And I choose whichever city pops into my head first. It’s easier to make something up than to suffer the strange stare of incomprehension that follows if I insist that I have no concept of home. Read more

For the past ten years, my research and consulting work has focused on the basic pattern of all living systems.  I see that same pattern at play in the Middle East now, and I think it offers an interesting lens for understanding what’s going on there. Read more

This discussion originated in a conference call around the Humanity 4.0 slideshow. The call was hosted by FourYears.Go.  It continued in a series of incredibly rich emails among participants, and I thought I’d move it here in the hope of sharing what we’re learning and inviting others into the conversation.

Recently, several people have asked whether I thought the term “self-organizing” was more appropriate than “self-integrating” (the term used in Humanity 4.0 to describe the role or activity of life within a living system). Read more

Earlier this week, a new collaborator asked me for a few guiding principles that go along with thinking of an organization as a living system.  “Just give me a few sentences that I can share with my colleagues,”  he said.  As I anticipated, it was a valuable exercise.  Here’s what I sent him: Read more

I was the last of five speakers at a local business school’s Sustainable Business conference a few days ago.  The experience should have left me feeling encouraged at all the good things happening across industries.  But instead, it left me heartbroken.  Soon, I know my sadness will turn into strengthened resolve to share the new story I see emerging in the world — one with life at the center of its plot.  But I think the sadness is also part of that story. Read more

Here in Quebec, we are fortunate to have thousands of lakes, and the tradition is to spend summer vacation splashing in the water at a lakeside cottage. Tragically, this tradition has been threatened in the past several years. Household use of phosphate-based lawn fertilizers and cleaning products has stimulated massive growth of blue-green algae in the lakes, which has choked out all other forms of aquatic life and turned the water toxic. It’s poisonous enough to kill a dog.

It struck me one day how closely this situation mirrors the state of our financial system. We’ve over-stimulated growth to the point that all other forms of life are being choked out and our biosphere has become toxic to us. Read more

I just finished reading an article about sustainable communities, in which the priorities were equity, the environment and economics. This seemed to be a rephrasing of the triple-bottom line factors of people, planet and profits. Seeing it this time raised a question: why do economics and profit get equal billing with the living systems (people and planet) of which they are a part?

Yes, people need money, and projects need resources. Truly, the economics must work if sustainability (or any) initiatives are to succeed. But doesn’t listing profit/economics as a player at the table in its own right separate it from the humans it serves? Instead of being a servant, doesn’t it become a master? Read more

Forget life after death – the bigger question is: do you believe in life before death?  As absurd as the question seems, the evidence would suggest that most of us don’t, at least not fully.  And that may be the root cause of the most pressing challenges humanity faces.

The question first came to me about a year ago when I was working with a coalition of nature museums, helping them craft a powerful manifesto about the contribution they wanted to make to the world.  In our discussions, it became clear that the scientists and administrators were uncomfortable talking about the concept of “life,” preferring to refer exclusively to the tangible aspects of “nature.”  As I understood the issue, the concept of “life” fell into the realm of religion, not science.  We could talk about characteristics of “aliveness,” but not about an animating and integrative essence that made them possible. Read more

I’m pretty constantly on my soapbox these days, hawking a view of organizations as living systems.  Included in this new paradigm is a shift in our concept of the work contract, from one that views people as resources or assets to one that recognizes their full role, contribution and humanity.

Despite much change in our working arrangements over the past two decades, fundamental transformation is still needed.  It was in one of my most cynical moments that it struck me how much the still-dominant employment contract is only a few steps removed from slavery. OK, most of us in the developed world have the option to quit, but even then, if you’re required to be at a desk from 9 to 5, it’s slavery with a timeshare plan.  If they’re able to sell you along with a company’s other assets, you’re a slave.  A consenting one, but still chattel.  Think about it: they say you’re their most important asset.  They come right out and say it!  And it’s meant to be a step up from being considered a costly burden. Read more