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Education, Regenerative Principles, Regenerative Supply

by Carol Sanford

A current, prevailing worldview is that everything and everyone can be categorized as a particular type. Each of us—plant, animal, or human—can be classified within a system of limited possibilities. Based on this belief, all of us humans are hungry to know who we are and how we fit into our time and place. We so eagerly want to know what types of lovers, wives, parents, or men we are that when magazines promise us quizzes to sort ourselves out they quickly disappear from newsstands. This helps us identify ourselves, and it may seem to help us understand nature and other beings. But despite its allure, by itself it cannot give us real knowledge. On the other hand, we hate it when we are compared to a specific other person or when our situation is described as a generic example of things as they are. We love the idea that no two snowflakes are alike. We know from genetic science that there are no combinations that repeat. Nature does not create exact duplicates. From microbe to baby deer to human brain, every particular example of each life form is unique. To overcome confusion about the degree or quality of likeness and difference among living beings requires discernment developed over time. It is true that based on surface characteristics, a person, a tiger, or a watershed is not unique and can be identified and categorized according to rating scales similar to the ones we enjoy reading about in magazines. Personality characteristics and personal strengths are easily organized into typologies. Nevertheless, at our cores each of us is singular, and every whole, living being has an essence that is permanent, not an accident of birth, and not the result of socialization. This irreducible reality is captured in the root meaning of essence, which is not to become something, but to be something.

Why Does Essence Matter to Business?

In the business world, we have a firm grasp of differentiation, which is often the basis of branding. A truly great business—one with a long and consistently creative life—goes beyond differentiation to essence or singularity. It becomes aware of its unique identity early on and adheres tenaciousrosely to it over the long-term; it hires to preserve it, develops products and services that express it, and makes it the basis for orientation and development. Singularity is the source of disruptive innovation, and a wise business jealously guards it. Yet even so, a great business often does not express equal understanding of singularity with regard to people and natural systems. In a living system the only lasting and precise way to augment health and wellbeing is to work with the essence of a particular whole—the same way we work when we’re raising a child, governing a city, or growing a brand. For example, when we mistakenly set out to make a child more like an idealized someone else, she quickly loses her identity, which is the source of her intelligence and vitality. The best way to set a child on the wrong track is to tell her to be “more like your father” or “more like your sister.” Advocating or advising from ideals of any kind interrupts essence expression. Ideals arise from societal or cultural aggregations of assumed truths. We form them in order to corral people who seem to be wandering beyond the bounds of accepted society. In other words, we use them to standardize norms, to make people all alike so that we can predict and control their behaviors. The imposition of ideals to for the purpose of dominating is not only characteristic of our relationships with children. We extend it to everything alive. John Mohawk, a tribal elder and a professor at New York University, has said that “ideals are how one culture eradicates another, as the Europeans have come close to doing with the Native People’s of North America.” Within the context of standardized identity, people learn to normalize themselves by mimicking others. In the business world, this can show up as the imitation of products or approaches that belong to other companies’ brands, a symptom of the failure to identify and adhere to singularity. And because we have spent so much time collecting and organizing ideals, standards, best practices, competences, and categories, most of us haven’t learned to recognize and value singularity in any aspect of our own businesses.

Developing the Capability to See Essence

In a regenerative process we look for singularity not in existence, but in potential. I love to suggest that the essence of the IRS is not collecting taxes. That is only a surface. At its founding, the IRS was intended to increase the wealth-producing capacity of citizens and fund the agreed-upon costs of existing as a nation. How would our relationship with the IRS change, if we were able to see through to that essence? How would the IRS work with us if they were able to hold in mind their unique identity? Would the nation ever experience a shortage of revenue? I suggest that every one of us living in the United States would be wealthier and probably happier. It isn’t easy to see the essences of people around us because they are often obscured by the challenges of family, school, and work life. When people are persuaded to conform, their essences are overtaken by personality traits, and the characters they play take center stage, nudging out their true selves. In order to develop the capability to recognize and engage with essence—our own and others’—we must hold it in mind and pursue its living expression in all of our efforts. Every watershed, community, and business has an essence. No two businesses are alike, although at a functional or object level (as with personality in humans), they may share many traits. We may classify types of employee, natures of raw material, categories of business plan, but until we take the time to know people, materials, and systems as their singular selves, we are failing to know and nurture them in the same way we fail to know and nurture a child when we exhort her to be like her father. A regenerative view of the world sees phenomena not only as dynamic, but as singular. That is, instead of categorizing, identifying, and grouping according to what things have in common, a regenerative business always seeks to discern the essence that makes each thing distinctly itself. It accepts and welcomes the realization that each expression of being is one of a kind. This ability to appreciate singularity becomes the basis for deep creativity and motivation, a diametric opposite of the deflating belief that everything has already been seen and done by others before us. It requires constant resistance of the tendency to categorize and pigeon hole. Instead it seeks to see each phenomenon, each customer or retail location or product, as unique and new and deserving of our full presence and attention. Looking to existence, writing down our observations or collecting facts, will not reveal singularity. In order to sniff out essence, we must become trackers and look for it in the same way that native peoples follow the traces of animals who have passed by. Essence becomes apparent in the patterns that are specific to a person, those that reveal how they engage with the world, their purpose in life, the unique value they create as the result of their endeavors. The same is true for the essence of any natural system, community, or organization.

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. Get Notified:[UNIQID]

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.

This article was reposted from the Carol Sanford Institute with permission from the author. The original post can be read here.


Regenerative Supply

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 starfishdo? 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,, 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. Get Notified:[UNIQID]

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.

This article was reposted from the Carol Sanford Institute with permission from the author. The original post can be read here.