Recently there has been a flurry of activity around the notion of regenerative leadership. This comes not really as a surprise within the context of the global trend of the reGeneration rising — what Paul Hawken called so aptly “a planetary immune response” to the crisis we are facing.
The awareness of the need for widespread regeneration of our social and ecological systems is steadily growing and with it we are also beginning to witness that ‘regeneration’ can mean different things to different people. In my opinion, it will not serve to tell people that their interpretation of regeneration is “wrong” and dismiss them.
How can we engage more people in the generative dialogue that can deepen our collective understanding of the deeper significance of regeneration and the transformative potential of regenerative practice as held in the work of Carol Sanford and the Regenesis Group?
How can we celebrate that every day there are more of us wanting to become active participants in the reGeneration rising and meet them where they are at, rather than dismissing them or insisting they have to start from where we might want them to be?
In 2018, the markenting giant J. Walter Thompson published a report entitled ‘Regeneration: The New Sustainability’ — a clear sign that the so called mainstream is waking up to the notion that not doing any more harm to our communities and ecosystems is by now no longer good enough.
We need to go beyond sustainability and aim to have a positive – a regenerative – impact on the systems we participate in. The J.W. Thompson report highlighted many inspiring examples of incremental change, of business doing things a little better and aiming to have some positive impact, but it fails in highlighting the need for deeper transformations of the entire playing field the exemplary companies mentioned are operating in.
More and more business are making the bold claim that they are already regenerative enterprises. Personally, I sense those companies who committed to having a regenerative impact as their “direction of travel” rather than claiming they are already there have the necessary humility and honesty to embark on the long journey of transformation that will be necessary to create enterprises that truly add health and value for people and planet.
It is a long journey as it cannot be the doing of any individual or a company alone. Re-patterning the future regeneratively requires the transformation of the whole playing field, the redesign of our economic system and our monetary system, and — ultimately — the collective redesign of the human presence and impact on Earth.
The path towards achieving this is through myriads of locally attuned projects carefully adapted to the bio-cultural uniqueness of the places and bioregions we inhabit, and this requires global collaboration and solidarity. As a natural pattern, regeneration is glocal (not a typo) in its very essence. It is fundamentally scale linking — healing the world one heart, one place, one bioregion at a time.
Regeneration is about alining with life as a planetary process
Many people are currently speaking about ‘regeneration’ in the way they are used to speaking about the newest trends to get on board with in order to be a cutting edge consultant, company or leader. Yet the inherent potential of becoming regenerative is much deeper than that.
The notion of regeneration is deeply woven into the fabric of life and the evolution of “eternally regenerative Universe” as Buckminster Fuller liked to call it. Bucky tried to remind us decades ago that we are far less beings (nouns) here to hoard individual wealth and recognition, and far more doings (verbs) here to contribute to manifest life’s potential to be regenerative and decrease rather than increase entropy.
Life — as a planetary process — is syntropic. It temporarily — over the time scales of biological evolution — reverses the tide of entropy and acts as a neg-entropic force by creating more complexity, coherence and bio-productivity within the structurally closed and energetically open system integrity of our planet.
“Wealth is our organized capability to cope effectively with the environment in sustaining our healthy regeneration and decreasing both the physical and metaphysical restrictions of the forward days of our lives.”Buckminster Fuller, in ‘Operation Manual for Spaceship Earth’, 1969
Once we understand ourselves as processes that are actively re-patterning relationships and reweaving the fabric of meaning through which we collectively contribute to bringing forth the world, we will understand wealth as something very different from the money or assets we own.
Bucky was one of the early visionaries to understand Universe as “eternally regenerative.” He saw humanity at a threshold: an evolutionary transition that would align our human patterns to the patterns of regeneration and renewal we can observe in the natural systems we participate in and have emerged from.
Our challenge and our latent potential is to free ourselves from the mindset of scarcity and competition and step into co-creating a future of shared collaborative abundance for all of humanity and the community of life.
One crucial aspect of this transition is to understand the limitations of the narrative of separation that has informed our understanding of who we are for too long and reconnect with our fundamental interbeing with the very fabric of life that our common future depends upon.
We have the inherent potential, as life, to aline with the the biotic community and to nurture the vitality enhancing patterns of life as a planetary process. As Janine Benyus has so beautifully summarized in a single sentence: “Life creates conditions conducive to life.”
Regenerative leadership — to me personally — is the process of aligning one’s own way of being, one’s actions, ways of communicating and being in relationship with the wider pattern of life’s evolutionary journey towards increasing complexity and coherence within the nested wholeness of community, ecosystems, biosphere and Universe we participate in. In doing so we add health and value to the continuously transforming and regenerating whole that brought us fourth and that we have co-creative agency in!
As both co-creative participants in and emergent properties of this continuously transforming wholeness we can consciously choose to manifest the potential of expressing our unique essence as expressions of life’s evolutionary journey.
“Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person. ”Buckminster Fuller
At this time of planetary crisis we are all called to step into regenerative leadership. It starts by leading our own lives regeneratively in service to our communities and to the wider community of life.
“We are great programmes of integrity with the capability to support the integrity of eternally regenerative Universe, and we are here for that purpose: to be in support of the integrity of eternally regenerative Universe.”Buckminster Fuller
The time to act is NOW! We have already failed to respond to climate change and social and ecological break down early enough to have guarantees for success.
Even if we do the seemingly impossible now and rally all of humanity with all its diversity of perspectives, worldviews and belief systems into a locally attuned and bioregionally and globally collaborative effort to undo the damage of centuries of exploitation of people and planet, we will not know for a few decades whether we responded in time to avoid cataclysmic run-away climate change.
Regenerative leadership can no longer be about positioning your company as a market leader celebrated for having some positive impact on society. The near future will be fundamentally different than the past and the present.
Much of the conversation about how to help corporations and companies become ‘net-positive’ and ‘regenerative’ is still stuck in assuming that the world in a few years or decades will be not fundamentally different from the one we live in today.
We have to get off these mental tram-tacks, admit that capitalism as usual is broken and structurally degenerative, and understand that redesignig the human presence and impact on Earth will go hand in and with re-localization and re-regionalization supported by global collaboration and solidarity.
Regenerative leadership will require us to avoid becoming complicit in more ‘predatory delay’ just because big corporate clients are only willing to engage in more incremental change. Let’s help them make incremental change— if only to keep them engaged and buy us some more time — but let’s not shy away from stressing the urgent need for transformative innovation and change.
This also means inviting many corporates to face the fact that they are too big not to fail and — as multinationals depending on global supply networks, fossil materials and energy — they are structurally degenerative and explotative. A deeper understanding of regeneration as a pattern by which life creates conditions conducive to life invites us to understand that death, dissolution, and collapse are part of nature’s “expert contrivance to create plenty of life.”
We have to question the very structures, patterns and cultural narratives that shape our current economic systems, corporations and societies. We have to co-create diverse locally attuned regenerative cultures everywhere! Time is running out! The window of opportunity is closing fast!
Daniel Christian Wahl is a member of our advisory panel and author of the internationally acclaimed book Designing Regenerative Cultures.
Photo by Ben White