I had a great time presenting a workshop at the McGill Business Conference on Sustainability this Saturday and got some really good questions and comments.

One was about Starbucks and why it started out feeling so alive and authentic and doesn’t anymore, for anyone involved.

The person who raised the question said that when she started working there, the baristas had thorough training and were able to make coffee drinks to order. More recently, coffee making has been automated and the baristas seem to receive less training, and so they are less able to interact knowledgeably with customers. The result has been a loss of the full sense of Mastery, in which the employee is able to bring some unique part of themselves to their work. This seems to be the first part of the problem. Read more

My work is based on a view of organizations as living systems. Why is this important?  It’s the key to sustainability, in every sense of the word.

For humanity, and even for most organizations, the challenges we face are too complex and too urgent to solve with individual intellect alone.  What is needed is the wisdom and speed of self-organizing collective intelligence in support of individual intellect and initiative.  Working, thinking and reacting collectively is a hallmark of living systems — consider the speed with which the individual cells of your body self-organize to react collaboratively to an injury or an invading virus. The survival of our organizations — and, more importantly, of humanity — demands that we learn to understand and work deliberately with this powerful capability that comes with being alive. Read more

My colleagues and I have had an ongoing debate about whether we should use the phrase “spirit of life” when we talk about the integrative property or force that animates living systems, including ourselves and our organizations. Of course, we mean it in a non-religious sense, referring to it in the context of a model grounded in biology, complexity science, quantum physics and the vast literature on organizational success.  To me, “spirit” seems the most accurate term, with its dictionary definition as the “breath of life” as well as its hint at the underlying integrality and creativity of all living systems. Still, the word makes some people squirm. And so we’ve tended to skate around it, using watered-down euphemisms or just skipping quickly past that part of the model.

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