By Priscila Freitas
A few months back I left my ordinary life and a well-valued position in the business of marketing and innovation to try to make sense out of how to build a more beautiful world, following very personal reflections shared in my previous post. I embarked on this journey very determined to find answers to some deep questions on how we could ever be able to create a more lively, more meaningful, more sustainable pattern to this playful experiment of existence, truly resisting the idea that things are as they are and there is nothing we can do other than selling and buying stuff for a living. Mainly because I am a grumpy optimist and as such I do make a point of trying to transform things that could work better just because they can. Transformation can be painful or beautiful, but whichever way it is full of possibilities.
Thank God I discovered soon enough that there are many of us who have been walking those steps already, confidently so.
There is a whole range of different options being thought of, many more than I ever knew existed. People who step forward caring for their place and community. People who focus on creating webs of connections to replace the transactional world we are sometimes caught in. People who are regenerating the environment, growing forests out of water, growing food where there used to be car parking, creating businesses that serve the broader ecology, being inventive, being creative, daring to reimagine the entire system for collective good.
It is fascinating, it is possible and more: it is happening.
During my journey, I was often involved in exciting conversations about how to bring these concepts to the world of business. These conversations gave me hope. They also intrigued me on many levels. There are enough brilliant people working on the case for “sustainability” and saying that business as usual is no longer an option, all doing very relevant work. I do not really think though that keeping focused on how businesses can thrive if sustainability becomes a must is really the way to make it happen.
For me it is not a matter of investing yet more time finding data to justify the need for change. It is not a matter of reading trends to predict the next biggest opportunity. It is a matter of choice.
At this moment, all versions of the future are probably right. Climate change might happen or not, the world might collapse or not, the business system might be forced to change or not, who knows. I do have my own point of view about all of this, but it does not matter really. I have learned that what matters, though, is making a personal choice on which of these versions of the future we would like to support.
We can either choose to keep things as they are and take the chance to see where they will lead us, or we can step forward and design better things. If we want to step forward, we need to go beyond business and focus on what really matters, and it is to create a healthy way of relating with life. Treating life as a priority. It is so obvious that it sounds even strange.
Taking the leap to transform choices into action requires an effort. We need to rewire our brains, language and competencies towards what can create life-sustaining possibilities.
Below I am sharing a curated list of 5 precious lessons that can help in doing business the human way:
1. Seeing the invisible
Even though we have been trained since a young age to think about things as if they are linear, and separate, the dynamics of life and nature belong to interbeing – things are in relation with one another. Everything that manifests has a submerged web of intricate connections that is not always visible, but it is immensely contributing to the material reality we interact with. Fritjof Capra calls these “hidden connections”, the base for understanding that life works in systems. Developing the ability to apply systems thinking means to unfold what is invisible, identify where to intervene and basically be able to explain what a factory worker in China, a banana farmer in Brazil and the polar bears we see in climate change campaigns have in common.
2. Dancing with complexity
It is already a tradition in the world of business to associate the word “complexity“ with negative attributions. What is complex is interconnected, not so obvious, not necessarily linear, and therefore not necessarily predictable. This is perhaps within the worst nightmares of any person holding a managerial role. Because the industrial system depends on predictability, there is an impulse to reduce, control and fight when confronted with complexity. I have been there too, and I can fully say this does not work, and for a very basic reason… life is complex. When I say it, I mean it – our genes perpetuate in non-predicable patterns, natural shapes and forms expand and contract in several different ways and modern science is proving that even evolution was made possible by chance. If this sounds very fluffy let me just say that this thinking is the base of what made things like Google and Facebook ever possible. We grew smart enough to be able to do that, but are we able to flow with it? When leading from complexity, we need to understand that clear intentions matter more than detailed forecasts, emergence is the way things actually happen regardless of our will, and responsiveness is a critical competence.
3. Community nurturing
There is a major difference in nurturing a community versus commanding a group or a team. In a lively community, the levels of caring behaviours, interdependence, resilience and harmony can be far above average than settlements of individuals. Communities are at the base of our social structure since tribal times, and they are still very much present all around us. Humans are designed to be social animals, we are meant to interact and to bound. Families, segments, groups, tribes, cities, countries and of course, teams. Within the business world, the term “community became famous after the advent of the so-called sharing economy, but practioners of non-violence and life-sustaining systems have been aware of this since the beginning of times. Nurturing a community is focusing on the relationships, bringing a strong sense of belonging and collective and being able to leverage diversity with highly self-organized and profoundly rich horizontal structures. It is not about team management. That worked for a while, but people are now more and more going back to what is meaningful to them, more and more seeking cooperation and identity, and therefore the primary role of the leader will be to serve and to care.
4. Story catching
We have heard about the importance of storytelling as the most primal human mechanism to interact and make sense of the world. Still, it is hard to have your story heard in a world where everyone just talks. “Share of Voice” is a very tiring concept. We need to develop Share of Listening. We need to be able to knit, to connect one story with another in order to generate new meaning. I first heard about the term “story catching” in a very inspiring talk by Jon Young. He was sharing the importance of being heard for the neurological development of the human brain, and how much the possibility of sharing a story and having someone to catch it, to acknowledge it and engage with it has deep effects in young children’s ability to develop curiosity and even leadership skills. Empathy, deep listening and focused attention are in the very basic foundation of this process, and more story catchers are needed to sustain the ability to weave meaning.
5. Innovating from beauty
The essence of being an innovator is to get used to finding a problem to fix. We seek for things that need improvement like flowers seek the sun. We like to map the end-to-end user journey and all the frictions that should be removed and model interventions that can create a breakthrough. I need to say that this work is fascinating, and it created amazing things that people love, sometimes out of the best intentions. There is no problem with it. There is just a missed opportunity when all you do is to see the world with the lens of seeking gaps. There is a missed wonder. All the time there are beautiful things happening at millions of fractions, some of them just waiting to be noticed to flourish. When I was studying Buddhism in Bhutan, I learned about the concepts of compassion, wisdom and flow. This means to appreciate all things, to accept what comes, and to join the natural unfolding that happens all around us. When we add to this the notion of imagination, the opportunity we have is to act as creative participants to these wonders of the world. Let’s not be problem solvers, but revealers of wonder. Besides being a very useful approach to innovation, it is much more joyful. Instead of trying to fix things, let’s help what is already beautiful to flourish. Permaculture versus soil manipulation. Joining versus intervening. Shifting the lens to innovating from beauty opens a broad space for conversations that come from a place of loving kindness for the world, acting as a curious child.
This list is deliberately incomplete, and I hope it keeps evolving. In the next few articles I will do a deep dive in each of these skills and share thoughts from celebrated masters that have been helping me to gain a deeper insight on each of these matters. I will also share resources and useful readings and links that can provide inspiration and broader context. If you would like to receive this information, you can come back to check my blog now and then or you can also leave your email here (and no, I do not intend to sell you any stuff later, but yes, I would love to open a space for conversation).
The invitation being offered here is for believing, and giving it a try. We need to reinvent what is not serving life any longer, and we need it soon. We need to go human. It is simple, and also one of the hardest things to do. This know-how is not out of reach. It is in the bushman, in the village folk, in my grandmother, in you and me.
Credit of the Image: Chris Phutully, CC by 2.0 via Flickr.