Tag Archive: nature

May 10, 2020

Rooting for Change: A Living Systems Approach to Thinking About and Better Linking Our Organizations

“The ability to self-organize is the strongest form of system resilience. A system that can evolve can survive almost any change by changing itself.”

Donella Meadows, Thinking in Systems: A primer

I just finished reading Leading From the Roots: Nature-Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World by Dr. Kathleen E. Allen. It was a great resource to dig into for the past few weeks as I have been getting out into the woods in western Massachusetts and tuning into the emergent spring season in a way that I never have. Allen’s book has certainly helped with my attunement, along with some interesting readings on edible plants (Northeast Foraging), becoming more local to place (The Natural History of Western Massachusetts), and regenerative gardening and farming (Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture). This is certainly one of the mixed blessings of these times, noting the relative privilege that my family and I have, to focus in a slower and more concentrated way on some of what might feed us more deeply and over the long-term.

Allen’s book provides a lot of food for thought. It is an exploration of a series of design principles from mature ecological systems (living systems) and how these can be applied to human organizations. These principles include:

  1. Run on sunlight (tap the power of photosynthesis/positive energy)
  2. Waste is never wasted (conserve energy, cultivate wise use)
  3. Fit form to function (and function to purpose, paying attention to context)
  4. Reward cooperation (respecting connection and interdependence)
  5. Bank on diversity/difference (for intelligence, resilience, adaptation)
  6. Curb excess from within (via feedback loops)
  7. Depend on local expertise and self-organization (for more response-ability)
  8. Tap the power of limits (constraints can inspire creativity)

In the first chapter, Allen also highlights some of the key dynamics of living systems that provide a better understanding of how generous and generative human organizations might operate.  These include:

  1. Living systems are interdependent – change in one part of the system influences other parts of the system in expected and unexpected ways
  2. Living systems become more diverse as they evolve
  3. Living systems are never static; they are always in flux
  4. Living systems are filled with feedback loops that facilitate evolution
  5. Living systems cannot be steered or controlled, only attracted or nudged.
  6. Living systems only accept solutions that the system helps to create
  7. Living systems only pay attention to what is meaningful to them here and now.

As I was reading, I pulled out a number of quotes and posted them on Twitter, which provoked some fun interactions. Many of these have to do with the underlying network structure and dynamics of living systems, for which I have a particular fondness. Here is a sampling, that will give you a taste of the book and perhaps entice you to dig deeper. Curious to hear what thoughts, feelings and sensations these inspire:

“Once we shift our worldview to seeing our organizations as living systems, then we can begin to see that generous organizations behave more like dynamic networks rather than traditional hierarchies.”

“The quality and authenticity of the relationships between people, and between people and ideas, increase the flow of positive energy in organizations.”

“The structure of nature’s network, the connections and interdependencies, allow the living system to self-regulate, adapt to changing conditions and evolve to survive.”

“Mutualistic relationships can help buffer partners against extreme conditions, open new niches for both partners, and amplify the baseline of resource acquisition.”

“Diversity allows for multiple ways that nutrients can be exchanged, making the entire system more resilient.”

“Opposition is necessary for wholeness.”

“When we recognize organizations are in constant movement, we then see organizational strategies as adaptive cycles instead of linear constructs.”

“We need to let go of the assumption that all of our assets are tangible.”

“Wet sand operates like a network. It is made up of grains of sand held together by saline. When it encounters force, those elements combine to resist; however, when it encounters a slow entry into its system, it accepts the presence of our foot. Living systems are networked and the nudge and wait for change is very effective in influencing them.”

“Generous organizations are open to the wider world. There are no silos in a generous organization.”

“What if a job description articulated a philosophy of relationships and connections that this person would need to develop and maintain while doing their job?”

“What would leadership look like if its highest purpose was to ensure that future generations thrive?”

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February 21, 2017

Practices for Personal Resilience and Development

resilience

Photo by Elade Manu. Found on Flickr and shared under Creative Commons Attribution 2.o license.

This is a slightly edited version of a post from about 3 years ago, and it feels more timely in light of current events. Many groups with whom we work at IISC are trying to find a way to stay resilient amidst onslaughts and uncertainties. I have found my own need for personal practice to have grown accordingly. 

When I take time to slow down my interest is always refueled in practices that support my and others’ ability to maintain perspective and a sense of effective agency in the world. My line of inquiry is not simply focused on what can keep me energized, pull me back from the edge, or deal with burn-out, but also how I can align my internal state with external aspirations in an integrated way. My thinking and reading often takes me back to the work of Barbara Fredrickson, the emotions scientist based at the University of North Carolina, as well as to others in the fields of positive and social psychology. Having revisited some of these writings again recently, here are 10 recommended practices for personal and social resilience: Read More

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April 1, 2015

Aligning Tactics and Beliefs for Collective Impact

“We see the world not as it is, but as we are.”

-The Talmud

A year ago at this time I had the opportunity to be part of faculty for the launch of the Presidio Institute’s Cross-Sector Leadership Program in San Francisco.  My role in representing IISC was to lead conversation around core concepts and frameworks related to the design and facilitation of complex multi-stakeholder change processes. On the last day of the launch I partnered with Jennifer Splansky Juster from the Collective Impact Forum to do a deeper dive around collaborative process design, with Jen offering more guidance around the specifics of taking a “collective impact” approach. During this session, I invited Fellows to step back and consider their cross-sector change work by reflecting on the framework above, the essence of which I have inherited from the thinking and work of Carol Sanford.

This framework starts with the notion that our chosen change methods are grounded in an underlying belief system about what we hold to be true about people, the world and how we know what we know.  Not being aware of or open about this can get people into difficulty when it leads to mixing and matching techniques/methods that may contradict one another, or when people are not operating from the same system of beliefs. Here are some questions I offered the CSL Fellows in consideration of their cross-sector work: Read More

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December 5, 2013

Practices for Resilience and Development

resilience

|Photo by Manuela de Pretis|http://www.flickr.com/photos/24141546@N06/8559396140/in/photolist-e3n9gw-cTpPPN-d1dvTd-d1dvC9-d1dvto-d1dvjW-d1dvbm-cZuvob-cZunHN-9zX8Sz-ax3pnQ-e4wUZj-eaf1p3-bEqAP4-9zJw2f-brvfdL-bEqguP-brvtTs-bEqo76-8Eev3a-bdwXog-9kfqCB-9HgmuC-7L5k6b-ax9ASs-9Nt9k5-c62iqA-bEqygR-f5eTyJ-f4ZDuv-bEqzcZ-bEqoDB-brvFWY-brvpph-83RYMt-bEqrup-fCnaiV-bEqfpi-bEqkhM-bEqpCK-bEqnBe-bEqkVM-bEqdpz-e46RkD-e46RGP-e4cw9J-e4cwju-e46Sxk-e46Rqx-e4cubU-bEqzCR|

When I take time to slow down, as I was able to do over the holiday break last week, my interest is refueled in practices that support our ability to maintain perspective and a sense of effective agency in the world.  My line of inquiry is not simply around what can keep us energized, pull us back from the edge, or deal with burn-out, but focused on how we can align our internal state with external aspirations in an integrated way and grow ourselves so we can help evolve larger systems.  My thinking and reading often takes me back to the work of Barbara Fredrickson, the emotions scientist based at the University of North Carolina, as well as to a host of others in the fields of positive and social psychology.  Having revisited some of these writings over the break, here are 10 recommended practices for personal and social resilience and development: Read More

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August 23, 2013

Thrive where you’re Planted

The following is a letter by Akaya Windwood, President of the Rockwood Leadership Institute and member of the IISC Board of Directors. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did and don’t forget to join the conversation! 

About three years ago, I noticed a stick growing in my neighborhood a few doors down from my house. It was right at the edge of the curb, angling out into the street. I didn’t pay too much attention to it.

Last summer I realized it was a fig tree. There were little bitty figs clinging to the branches. I was sure someone from the city would come by and cut it down. Clearly, it was a volunteer fig tree. No one in their right mind would have planted it so close to the street and at such an angle.

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August 23, 2013

Thrive where you're Planted

The following is a letter by Akaya Windwood, President of the Rockwood Leadership Institute and member of the IISC Board of Directors. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did and don’t forget to join the conversation! 

About three years ago, I noticed a stick growing in my neighborhood a few doors down from my house. It was right at the edge of the curb, angling out into the street. I didn’t pay too much attention to it.

Last summer I realized it was a fig tree. There were little bitty figs clinging to the branches. I was sure someone from the city would come by and cut it down. Clearly, it was a volunteer fig tree. No one in their right mind would have planted it so close to the street and at such an angle.

Read More

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October 31, 2012

Practicing Wholeness

alchemy of wholeness

|The Alchemy of Wholeness by Armanda Moncton|http://www.flickr.com/photos/armandamoncton/1705798622|

On Sunday, Gibran Rivera and I facilitated a workshop at Connecting for Change/Bioneers by the Bay about change practices for a networked world.  Another way of thinking about what we were exploring was to put it in terms of “practices for wholeness.”  Part of our premise was and is that we are suffering from a worldview that leads with and to fragmentation and fixity.  This is part of our inheritance from the industrial age that strives to understand through division and an associated mindset that believes we can make a separation between observer and observed with no associated impact.  For certain tasks, of course, it makes sense and is possible to divide, diagnose and put back together.  But this does not make sense, nor is it possible, in the case of complex living systems.  Furthermore, we have gotten ourselves in a bind because our habits of thought have led us to thinking that the divisions and categories we have created are in some sense primordial.  And so we are hard pressed to believe, or remember, that what we do to our “environment” or “others” we do to ourselves! Read More

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April 20, 2011

The Distant Hill, Under Our Feet

A Walk

My eyes already touch the sunny hill,

Going far ahead of the road I have begun.

So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;

It has its inner light, even from a distance —

And changes us, even if we do not reach it,

Into something else, which, hardly sensing it, we already are;

A gesture waves us on, answering our own wave . . .

But what we feel is the wind in our faces.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

The older I get, the more I think I understand these words by Rilke.  Read More

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December 3, 2009

Twitter and Creation

“What does Twitter do to our relationship with Creation?”  This was the final question in a wonderful conversation the other day with Liz Parsons, Co-Director of Contextual Education at the Boston University School of Theology.  Our free-ranging dialogue ended on this note as we were exploring potential win-win formats for field placements for BU students at social change agencies.  What would be in it for the agencies?  Stating my belief that many students bring with them more natural collaborative inclinations and social media savvy than “seasoned’ social change leaders, I posited this as a value proposition inherent in members of the younger generation.  Which got us firmly down the Twitter path . . .

When Liz’s provocative question popped, my mind split.  On the one hand, I could see the case being made that Twitter and other Web 2.0 tools provide an additional and unhelpful buffer between us and the world.  Too much reliance on the technology can, as essayist Bill Holm writes, “separate and deracinate us from nature and one another” removing “any sense of from-ness or connection.”  The question looms whether we need any more mediation of our experience when so much suffering seemingly stems from disconnection.  In a follow-up message, Liz mentioned that when her husband purchased a laptop, it came with an ongoing slide show of nature photos.  “As if we have to be reminded,” she wrote, taking the words out of my mouth.

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