What is Regeneration? Part 3 – Potential

starfish

by Carol Sanford

It’s Not about Better Problem Solving!

This is the third post in a series on the seven first principles of regeneration, drawn from living systems sciences.

A regenerative business sees the world in terms of potential rather than problems. By focusing on the core of what’s trying to happen instead of what already exists, a company is able to introduce profound and transformative disruptions into an industry. For example, PayPal enables people to engage directly in exchange, bypassing the problems created by banking infrastructure. Instead of trying to improve banking, business PayPal asks what customers are trying to pursue and invents the means to support them. This requires reining in the strong tendency to start with what is already in the system, and instead to focus on the evolutionary impulses behind what people are striving toward but not yet able to accomplish.

When you start well-intended efforts by identifying a “problem,” you are trapped into thinking that you have to fix it. This leads you on a search for the causes and results in efforts to try out many solutions. It pulls all of your energy toward an endless effort that is based on the mindset that got people into the rut in the first place. Einstein warned us about that. But how to do we not start with what exists, what we already have?

Here’s what to avoid:

  • Don’t do surveys to find out how people feel or what they want. They are starting with existing conditions and trying to improve on them.
  • Do not do an environmental scan or try to build a database of existing skills or resources and figure out how to make better use of what you already have and are currently doing.
  • Don’t ask customers what they want. They start with what they have and how it doesn’t work or isn’t sufficient. Plus, they’ve already told your competitors what they want and sent them on a wild goose chase.
  • Don’t pay consultants to collect data for you. That’s a waste of money. It can never lead you to innovation or better competitive positioning, much less disruption. And, according to the Harvard Market Research Center, most customers won’t respond well to what you come up with based on data.

Maybe it’s not a surprise that no matter how well intended the effort, focusing on problems doesn’t eliminate them, only makes room for them to become chronic. Getting people to behave less badly is counterintuitive to the human brain. We are asking people to punish themselves and every bit of research in the world of motivation says this does not work.

Okay! Okay! So what do we do? As crazy as it sounds, we skip over what exists. We act as though the problem doesn’t matter. This sounds harsh, even cruel, but consider: within regenerative processes, problems are not useful information. Nature doesn’t care that rat populations are exploding in the suburban countryside. Regeneration in this instance occurs when this niche within the ecosystem is filled by returning populations of foxes and owls. Circumventing problems is how much real change comes about and particularly the kinds of change that disrupt markets—and also history, for that matter.

Instead of lamenting a problem, ask, “What are customers (or the planet or social groups) seeking to achieve and why?” This is the route to the creation of something that doesn’t yet exist. Don’t look at why current methods aren’t working. Keep your eye squarely on the your buyer’s intention, on the intentions of living systems and social groups. How can you make their lives, as a whole, more workable. To be clear, I am talking about the highest intentions of people as communities, not selfish individual ideas. What is possible in order to make our lives and the living Earth around us what they are intended to be?

Thinking along this line is how Elon Musk got to Tesla. He calls it starting with first principles. He saw that people want to get from one place to another, to go places that enhance living. That was it. So he didn’t improve current automobiles; he bypassed the current concepts and started with the core intention. This is also how Larry Page and Sergey Brin got to the driverless car. They didn’t try to solve a problem in the existing system, foundering on what is currently being explored. They asked what are the core processes involved in moving from place to place, under all conditions.

We can see this at work in the physics of energy. Kinetic energy is already released and has exhausted its potential. The only place where the potential for qualitative change exists is “before”—before energy is manifested and spent, before problems are created. Regenerative thinking dwells in this before, with the potential for what can come into existence.

Seeing true potential requires us to go back to the DNA of our intentions, conscious and unconscious, back to first base, where the uniqueness of the opportunity exists. What is screaming to be directly realized directly? This is the question that PayPal answered when they noticed that customers were encumbered by the current banking system and could be released by a method to make direct payments.

The same is true for engaging with people. For example, when we pay attention, we see loads of potential in the children around us. We see their shortfalls as well; there is no end of shortfalls to fix. But if you start with who a child really is, deep inside, what makes them unique, and you help them realize more and more of that, to become closer and closer to their own singularity, then they thrive. Who wants to make a child “less bad”? Don’t we instead want to support them in their quest to realize their unique potential? And don’t we feel the same about each new business and each watershed? No two living systems are the same; each is pursuing a unique potential. Find that and you become a great business leader or a great biologist.

Going back to the DNA of an intention is graspable by looking at how a starfish regrows a broken limb, which I mentioned in my last blog. A starfish or a salamander is capable of regenerating a limb lost as the result of injury, disease, or aging.Some of their cells are able to reform and resume their stem cell nature. They use the DNA of that specific animal, in that ecosystem, and then regenerate a new set of cells.

Regeneration is always about going back to base material and regenerating from what is at the core. The regeneration process bypasses the existing problem, a missing limb. It doesn’t try to sew it back on or build an artificial replacement, or teach the animal to adapt to its loss. It generates the limb anew, from the same base that created the original one. As it does so, it takes account of changes over time, the evolutionary capacity of natural systems, and adapts the new limb to the starfish or salamander’s current age and habitat. That is the way a regenerative thinking process works for economies, agriculture, investing, or any other arena. Find the core of the intention.

At The Regenerative Business Summit, we are creating a way for people to explore the ideas and principles of regeneration for themselves. “How can we increasing work regeneratively?” The summit will include no outside experts, panels, or business promotion, but will work entirely attendees who have been testing their own ideas about regeneration and who want to work together in a field of inquiry to explore and apply new ones. They will engage in business assessment processes to decide where they are on a path and where they want to go with regard to regeneration.

Attendance at the summit is by invitation only and we are filling up fast. Please check our website, TheRegenerativeBusinessSummit.com, and let us know if you would like an invitation. Also read about our opening night festivities, which will include the awarding of The Regenerative Business Prize. You might like to nominate your own or another regenerative company. Please also talk to us about joining the movement to create more and faster change through Enlightened Disruption.

Save the Date: First Annual Regenerative Business Summit.  Oct. 18- 20, 2016. From Friday Evening on 18th to Noon on 20th.  Seattle WA. At The Foundry by Herban Feast.  I am looking for the link that was in recent newsletters to sign up for further info. You may know where it is. I will send when i find.

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Carol Sanford is an Educator & Thinking Partner with Game Changing Fortune 500 executives and Rock Star Entrepreneurs for 40 years. Author multi-award winning books The Responsible Business &The Responsible Entrepreneur: Four Game Changing Archetypes for Founders, Leaders & Impact Investors, Top 100 Global Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior. TEDx X4. www.carolsanfordinstitute.com
This article was reposted from Carol Sanford Institute with permission from the author. The original post can be read here.

The Regenerative Business Summit

RegenBusinessSummitThe Regenerative Business Summit will bring together a highly curated, invitation-only set of business owners and leaders with a stake in six essential value-adding business streams: fooding, sheltering, transacting, adorning, recreating and communing. Summit participants will build lasting alliances and ventures in and across these six streams, ultimately pushing the edge of social and planetary change. Through our blog, publications, webinars, workshops, and an annual summit held each fall, we invite established and emerging business leaders from the six essential value-adding business streams to identify product, service and process innovations that can be tested and evolved by individual business or across sectors.

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Regenerative Enterprise Part 9: Financial Capital to Living Capital

Financial Capital to Living Capital

In order to begin restorative development at any scale, regenerative enterprises must identify and reverse the currently predominant inter-capital flows that are degrading ecological, social, and cultural systems. At a macro-level there is one primary flow which, once reversed, will act as a leverage point to restore holistic health and the foundation of wealth for our global society.

The current flow in need of reversal is between living capital and financial capital: living capital is systematically damaged and destroyed in order to build financial capital. From mountain-top-removal coal mining, to rainforest clear-cutting, to chemical-based monoculture farming, to ocean over-fishing, to the entire fossil fuel extraction and combustion industry:27 Living capital decreases, financial capital increases. What would it look like if this trend were reversed?

One exemplar to consider is Polyface Farms in Virginia, USA. On this farm, the Salatin family grows a diversity of grass-based animal products (primarily rabbits, chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cattle) in a way that continually improves the quality and productivity of their land, creates multiple jobs, and earns significant amounts of financial revenue.

Because they are building their soil, catching and storing water, and increasing the health of their forests while they sell top-quality grass-fed meat, their farm system removes financial capital from degenerative systems into vibrant living capital.

A regenerative enterprise can certainly obtain a financial capital profit in the process of regenerating local ecosystems, but the majority of financial capital flowing through the enterprise will be transformed or invested into long-term living, social, and cultural resilience. Polyface Farms’ annual revenue is approximately two million dollars, which they flow back into the land (growing their herds, digging multi-functional ponds, building new infrastructure) and the local community (through jobs, feed purchases, and professional services).28 As Mark Shepard of New Forest Farm writes in Restoration Agriculture,

“Degrade the ecology and degrade the economy.

Restore the ecology and restore the economy.”29

A regenerative enterprise flows financial capital out of the current destructive economic system. The financial capital flows in to non-financial forms of capital, especially living capital.

This financial capital does not disappear. In fact, regenerative enterprises can create significant long-term financial returns, as demonstrated by Windhorse Farm and Polyface Farm. These farms show the balance between long-term financial return and reinvestment in the living capital foundation that generates the surplus in the first place. Financial capital returns should be continuously re-invested into cultivating the health and resilience of living, cultural, social and spiritual capital, not extracted for the purpose of creating financial or material capital that has no functional interconnection with the regenerative context from which it emerged.

 

Excerpt from:

Regenerative Enterprise: Optimizing for Multi-Capital Abundance by Ethan C. Roland & Gregory Landua

 

27 Worldwatch Institute. Vital Signs 2012. New York: WW Norton, 2012.

28 Salatin, Joel. Personal Communication. 2012.

29 Shepard, Mark. Restoration Agriculture: Real World Permaculture for Farmers. Austin: Acres USA, 2013.

©2013 Ethan C. Roland & Gregory Landua. All Rights Reserved.

 

Regenerative Enterprise Part 4: Extraction vs. Cultivation

The following section articulates one of the three important properties of regenerative systems in the context of the business world and the eight forms of capital.

 

Regenerative Enterprise Part 4: Extraction vs. Cultivation

Extract: “To pull or take out forcibly”16

Cultivate: “To apply oneself to improving or developing,”

“Raise or grow”17

We live in a world where huge amounts of living capital are ripped from the earth, hammered and smelted and twisted into material capital, and traded to create financial capital. The scale of this extraction is hardly fathomable by the human mind. In the over-developed nations where the authors live, stories are told about why this extraction is necessary and good: “Consumers are purchasing more and more things,” “The economy must keep growing,” and others. Massive ecological and cultural degradation tell a different story: extractive industries and processes destroy the foundation of our wealth and our very lives.

In the context of this book, we define extraction as the removal of capital from a system in a way that diminishes its overall the health, function, or resilience. A nearly ubiquitous example of the current extractive economy is the mining of soils known as agriculture. Millions of tons of soil are inexorably lost every year through tillage, biologydestroying chemical fertilizers, and the resulting rapid erosion. Dr. David Pimental of Cornell University estimates that some farms lose more than 250 tons of soil per acre per year, destroying their ability to produce food: “As a result of erosion over the past 40 years, 30 percent of the world’s arable land has become unproductive.”18

The extractive economy asks, “How much can we get out of this landscape?” or, “What can we take from these people or this place to make a financial capital profit?”

Within the framework of Regenerative Enterprise, the questions become: “What are we cultivating in our interaction with this landscape? How can our connection with the system we are harvesting from grow the integrity, resilience and long-term viability of these people and this place? In this context, we define cultivation as the addition to and removal of capital from a system in a way that develops and evolves its health, function, and resilience.

When a regenerative ‘cultivation’ approach is applied to agriculture, a productive revolution ensues. Agricultural systems like Permaculture, GROW BIOINTENSIVE ®, and Holistic Management®, demonstrate that agriculture can actually grow soil instead of depleting it. How can this understanding be applied across other fields and arenas? What, exactly, are regenerative systems cultivating?

 

16 “Extract.” Merriam Webster Dictionary. Web. Accessed 5 Mar. 2013.

17 “Cultivate.” Oxford American Dictionary Online. Web. Accessed 5

March 2013.

18 Pimentel, David. “Soil Erosion: A Food and Environmental Threat.”

Environment, Development, and Sustainability Journal 8.1 (2006), 119-137.

 

An excerpt from:

Regenerative Enterprise: Optimizing for Multi-Capital Abundance by Ethan C. Roland & Gregory Landua

©2013 Ethan C. Roland & Gregory Landua. All Rights Reserved.

 

Regenerative Enterprise Part 3: Regeneration Defined

Regenerative Enterprise Part 3: Regeneration Defined

Using the eight forms of capital as a lens, it is evident that current human-led processes are rapidly depleting living, cultural, and spiritual capital on a global scale.15 This trajectory fundamentally limits the long-term viability of humans and other species on the planet – instead of life flourishing, it is degenerating.

In this context, degenerative systems optimize the increase of financial and material capital by depleting the fundamental generative basis of living, cultural, and spiritual capital. Degenerative systems intentionally apply intellectual, experiential, and social capital to achieve the increase of financial and material capital at the expense of living capital.

A “sustainable” system is defined as one that maintains existing pools of each form of capital, while providing for the upkeep and replacement of the fundamental living capital that all beings depend on for survival. But simply ‘maintaining’ the currently depleted state of living capital would be disastrous – 90% of all ocean fish would still be lost, two thirds of all species on earth would still be threatened with extinction, and the millions of acres of forest already cut and soil already eroded would not return.

In this context, we must move beyond sustainability and into regeneration of all forms of capital.

Regenerative systems actively build life, complexity and diversity. They grow the foundations and the potential of what humans perceive and experience as ‘wealth’.

 

15 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Ecosystems and Human Well-being:

Synthesis. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2005.

 

An excerpt from:

Regenerative Enterprise: Optimizing for Multi-Capital Abundance by Ethan C. Roland & Gregory Landua

©2013 Ethan C. Roland & Gregory Landua. All Rights Reserved.

Regenerative Enterprise Part 2: The Eight Forms of Capital

Regenerative Enterprise Part 2: The Eight Forms of Capital

In 2009, the authors developed a new economic map to fully conceptualize and account for the world’s multiplicity of resource flows: The Eight Forms of Capital.13 Even as the soils erode away, biodiversity plummets, and ecosystems reel from the shocks of species loss, fragmentation, and climate change, economists and governments insist that economies must ‘keep growing’. How is this possible? Can our global society truly continue to grow forever?

The infinite growth required by our current global system is primarily an infinite growth of one form of capital: financial. The Eight Forms of Capital economic model recognizes that there are other forms: social, material, living, intellectual, experiential, cultural and spiritual capital. We propose that the ongoing growth of financial capital is only possible through the loss of other forms of capital.

The current global society is organized and controlled primarily through the flow of financial capital, but the survival of any human or society depends primarily on living capital and the material capital that arises from it: food, water, energy, and shelter. It is the cooperation and collaboration of people in the forms of villages, tribes, regions and nations that support each other to successfully gather these provisions of ecosystem services and transform them into the goods and services that underly the global economic system.

The Eight Forms of Capital provides a clear framework to understand this global web of interactions and transactions. The Eight Forms of Capital can be summarized as follows:14

 

Re_Blog2_VueMap_1

 

        • Social Capital – Connections, relationships, and influence. Can be complexed to webs of social indebtedness.
        • Material Capital – Non-living physical objects: Timber, minerals, metals, fossil fuels. Can be complexed to plastic & electronic products, and further into structures, infrastructure, and technologies.
        • Financial Capital – Money, currency, securities, and other instruments. Currently, facilitates the exchange of goods and services.
        • Living Capital – Soil, water, animals, plants, human health and the health of other organisms, complexed to the ubiquitous ecosystems of which humans are a part.
        • Intellectual Capital – Ideas, concepts, knowledge, “truth”. Held primarily in the human neocortex, intellectual capital is highly valued in the current society.
        • Experiential Capital – Actual embodied ‘know-how’, built from personal experience.
        • Spiritual Capital – Sometimes expressed as karma, faith or presence, spiritual capital is defined by an entity’s internal connection and awareness of a greater whole. Spiritual capital is often complexly intertwined with cultural context and Cultural Capital.
        • Cultural Capital – Shared internal and external experiences of a group of people: Cultural capital is an emergent property of the complex inter-capital exchanges in a community, village, city, bioregion, or nation. Story, myth, song, and art are tangible manifestations of cultural capital – they are also sometimes liquidated and exchanged for other forms of capital, usual financial.

 

Pools of capital can be held and developed by multiple entities, and various flows can occur within and between each form of capital:

Figure 3.2 – Multi-capital pools and flows.

RE_Blog2_CapitalPoolsFlows

The sum total of global inter- and intra-capital exchanges is the current economic system. The international trend is to deplete the pools of most forms of capital while exponentially increasing the amount of financial capital. This mono-capital trajectory has significant impacts on the sustainability of current and future generations.

 

Excerpt from:

Regenerative Enterprise: Optimizing for Multi-Capital Abundance by Ethan C. Roland & Gregory Landua

 

13 Roland, Ethan, and Gregory Landua. “8 Forms of Capital” Financial

Permaculture, 2009.

14 ibid

©2013 Ethan C. Roland & Gregory Landua. All Rights Reserved.

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