Business The Way Nature Intended

Photo credits: Dixit Motiwala

I recently interviewed a number of business leaders across a variety of different organizations across the globe, and was struck by the consistency of my findings. Many in business are patently aware of the now desperate need for a radically different approach to how we organize and operate. This concurs with recent findings from leadership and organizational development studies pointing to a {r}evolution afoot.

As the organization specialist Peter Drucker insightfully said, ‘In times of turmoil, the danger lies not in the turmoil but in facing it with yesterday’s logic’.

An emerging new logic

So what is this emerging new logic?

It is nothing more, nor nothing less than a dawning realisation that our organizations are actually living systems rather than machines. That these living systems are intimately entwined with the living systems of society and our more-than-human world. And for these organizational living systems to thrive in times of increasing volatility, they need to learn to become regenerative, with leaders at all levels of our organizations helping create the conditions for this to happen.

What do we mean by ‘regenerative business’?

Regenerative business seeks to create the conditions conducive for life, by operating in ways that contribute, replenish and evolve within the evolution of life: It is a strategic intent to serve life; a purposeful mind-set that guides our journey.

This mind-set can be characterised as a shift from an overly mechanistic and materialistic perspective of the world rooted in separation, self-maximisation, fear and control, toward a realization of the inter-connectedness of life.

This shift from fear to love is a shift from simply providing services to creating connected, inclusive, and altogether more human organizations where going to work actually enriches us, deepens our learning, and makes us better people–a far cry from the prevalent malaise where the vast majority of people in our organizations are over-stressed and dis-enfranchised. It begs the question, ‘why on Earth would we wish to work in an organization that doesn’t value the livelihood of ourselves, our communities and our children?’

Nature: Divergence and Convergence

Let’s take a look at Nature through the lens of organizational and leadership development to explore this ‘regenerative business logic’.

Living systems need a blend of ‘divergence’ and ‘convergence’ to thrive amid volatility:

‘Divergence’ through: the inclusion of a diversity of perspectives from diverse people spanning silos within and beyond the organizational boundaries (facilitated through generative stakeholder dialogue approaches); empowered self-organising teams adapting to their local terrain, freed from cumbersome bureaucracy and control-based hierarchy (facilitated through self-management team dynamics); bottom-up emergence nourished by an improvisational, participatory and exploratory cultural mind-set (fostered by a blend of appreciative inquiry, action research, art-of-hosting, white space/swarm approaches, and heart-based communication methods).

Convergence’ through: a life-affirming resonant sense of purpose (that resonates deeply with a threshold of people within and beyond the organization); a clear strategic intent that guides and governs the over-arching direction-of-travel (a shared understanding of the organization’s unique value-creation and delivery niche, and how this relates to the wider stakeholder ecosystem); a soul-based culture that underpins and infuses the day-to-day meeting conventions, management protocols and behavioural values (regularly revisiting how the organization’s soul is being embodied in practice, and how we each learn to reveal our deeper human nature while at work).

The ‘divergence’ provides the vibrancy, creativity and effectiveness, while the ‘convergence’ provides the mission-driven intent and soulful purpose of the organization. Both together provide the aliveness, agility and purposefulness for the living system to thrive amid volatility.

The tension of divergence and convergence

This tension of divergence and convergence is what leaders across all levels of the organization need to be conscious of, so as to optimally allow value-creation and delivery to flourish amid this tension. It becomes an art: An artful mastery of creating the conditions conducive for life to flourish within our organizations while adapting to an ever-changing terrain in authentic and purposeful ways.

Examples of regenerative life-affirming businesses

Regenerative life-affirming business is not a utopian dream; it is how life really is. It is our prevalent practices that are a deluding aberration. It’s fallacy to think we need to be singularly at odds with life.

We are waking up to this reality, and here are a handful of examples: The financial services provider Triodos makes money work for positive social, environmental and cultural change; the chemicals company Pantheon Enterprises applies conscious chemistry for non-toxic chemical products while encouraging its people to become more conscious and empowered so they go home from work wiser for it; the legal services provider IACP’s boardroom considers the impact all its decisions have on the next generation, our children; the global network of social-enterprise community centres, Impact Hub, has check-ins at the beginning and end of every meeting for people to centre themselves and share in authentic and purposeful ways; Jamies Farm produces food for the local and global community while transforming the lives of vulnerable children through the combination of ‘family, farming and therapy’.

Becoming future-fit

There are lots of useful learnings, techniques and tools, as well as plenty of case studies we can take inspiration from to help us ‘home grow’ our own unique brew of life-affirming business, as no two organizations are the same.  And it’s not about ‘being holier than thou’ but embracing our foibles and failings; learning and sharing as we go; creating safe space for learning to become more human in our more-than-human world, and having fun as we become. This is what my latest book Future Fit explores in detail.

Purposeful work can enliven and enrich us – we all know this in our hearts. It is not rocket science – sure there are some complexities and, for certain, facilitation and coaching help.  But essentially, this is about learning to respect our own selves, respect each other, and respect life. This is simply good business sense, as hot-off-the-press research shows that organizations embracing this regenerative logic consistently out-perform their mechanistic counterparts in these volatile times.

Speaker, adviser and author Giles Hutchins’ latest book Future Fit (2016) is available on here and a three minute video about it here.

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