I heard a beautiful story recently – a true story set at the height of World War II during the devastating Siege of Leningrad, when the Germans blockaded and bombed the city for over two years. The story centers on the famed Hermitage Museum. To protect the museum’s vast collection of paintings, the curators and docents took them all down from the walls. But as a sign of their commitment to bring the paintings back, they left the frames in place. During the siege, many of the staff lived in the museum’s basement. And astonishingly, at least one continued to give tours to occasional visitors. He would stand with people in front of the empty frames, describing the missing artwork in such vivid detail that it was as if the paintings were still in place.
I was touched by the passion, dedication and courage that underlie this story.
As I heard it, I also wondered: what if those empty frames were not filled with imagined scenes of what had once been there, but with scenes of a future that could one day be here? Could we describe a better future in such vivid detail that it would be as if it were already present and real? And might that help us believe that it could be true – and move confidently in that direction?
In fact, that is exactly our intention with a new initiative called Thrivable World. For many years, my colleagues and I have been working with a framework for thrivable organizations. The framework describes ten fertile conditions that must be continuously cultivated if life is to thrive at every level of an organizational ecosystem. It’s based on the core conditions necessary for any living system to thrive, elaborated for an organizational context. Over the past five years, we’ve tested the framework with a small number of pioneering organizations. It has proven to be a sound and useful guide, and the stories of those pioneers are wildly inspiring.
But with such a small sample of pioneers, for the most part it’s still just empty frames. Ten fertile conditions. Ten empty frames.
Our goal, then, is to invite people from around the world to bring together their stories and insights so that, collectively, we can describe each of those ten fertile conditions in such vivid detail that it is as if they were already widely present across organizations and society. Unlike the Hermitage tour guide, our role as hosts and curators is to point out the frames and to invite visitors to describe the vision within each frame. Each of us has part of the picture; together, we have all of it.
To invite those stories and insights, we’ll be creating immersive, engaging – and decidedly playful – experiences of thrivability. After all, as my friend and colleague Belina Raffy likes to point out, we have to align how we talk about thrivability with what we say about it.
In all, we’re embarking on a heroic quest to chart how organizations must be if humanity is to survive. The stakes are truly that high. Business is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. Only in transforming its impact – only in moving beyond even sustainability to truly regenerative, thrivable results – can we hope to have a positive future (or any future at all).
The quest will involve ten events over the course of a year (one for each frame), with the events taking place more or less simultaneously in multiple cities around the world.
We are convinced that this quest and its outcomes will create greater momentum to make that vivid vision a reality – and that it will offer useful guidance for every organization that wants to live and contribute to thrivability.