In anticipation of her upcoming keynote at SB'20 Long Beach, we revisit this groundbreaking blog series from renowned author and regenerative business expert Carol Sanford. This is part 3 of 5.
This is the third blog in a series on the seven First Principles of regeneration, drawing from living systems sciences. Read parts one and two.
Principle #3: A regenerative business sees the world in terms of potential rather than existing problems.
By focusing on what is at the core of what’s trying to happen instead of what already is happening, a company is able to introduce profound and transformative disruptions into an industry. For example, PayPal bypassed the problems created by banking infrastructure by enabling people to engage in exchange directly. Instead of working on improving what exists, a regenerative business asks what customers are trying to pursue and invents the means to support them. This requires reigning in the strong tendency to start with what is already in the system - instead focusing on the evolutionary impulse behind what people are striving to accomplish but unable to figure out how.
When you start well-intended efforts with “finding the problem,” you are trapped into thinking you have to fix the problem. Then you have to find the cause and likely try many solutions. This pulls all the energy toward an endless effort that uses the mindset that got us into the rut in the first place; Einstein warned us about that. But, how do we not start with what we already have?
Here’s what you don’t do:
- survey people to find out how they feel or what they want. They are starting with existing conditions and trying to improve on them.
- 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.
- ask customers what they want, because they start with what they have and how it does not work or how it is not sufficient. They send you on a wild goose chase while they have told competitors the same thing.
- pay consultants to collect this data for you - it is a waste of money and does not lead to innovation or better competitive positioning, much less disruption. And most customers don’t respond well to what you offer as a result, according to the Harvard Market Research Center.
Envisioning the role of consumption in a just, regenerative economy
Join us, along with Forum for the Future and Target, as we use future scenarios to identify potential shifts in consumption that would enable a just, regenerative economy in 2040 at Brand-Led Culture Change — May 22-24 in Minneapolis.
A problem focus, maybe not surprisingly, does not, after all the well-intended effort, eliminate the worst challenges we have, and that is why they are now 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. OK, OK! So, what do you do?
As crazy as it sounds, skip over problems already in existence. Act as though the problem does not exist — or better yet, that it does not matter. Consider that it is not very useful information for regeneration. Circumventing is how much real change comes about and particularly that change which disrupts markets — and history, for that matter.
You ask ‘what are customers (or ‘Earth’ or social groups) seeking to achieve and why?’ This is the route to create something that does not exist yet. Don’t look at why current methods don’t work; keep your eye squarely on the intention of the buyer, Earth systems, or social groups. How can you make their lives, as a whole, 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 life work the way it is intended? That 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 did not improve current automobiles, but rather 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 did not try to work with a problem not solved in the existing system. That moves the mind into what currently is being considered. They asked what would be the core process of moving oneself, under all conditions.
In energy physics, we find a way to see this. Kinetic energy is already released and has exhausted its potential. The only place potential exists is before it is manifested, before problems are created.
The true potential requires us to go back to the DNA of the intention, conscious or unconscious. You go back to base one where the uniqueness of the opportunity exists. What is screaming to be realized, directly? The same is true for engaging with people. We can see all that potential in children, if we are paying attention. We can see their shortfalls, as well. There is no end to the shortfalls. However, it you start with “who they really are” deep inside — what makes them unique — you help them realize more and more of that, and then they thrive. Don’t try to make them less bad. Support them in realizing their unique potential. It is true of each unique watershed. No two are the same or pursuing the same potential. Find that and you become 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. Starfish are capable of regenerating after being damaged by injury, disease or aging because some cells reform and resume their stem cell nature. They use the DNA of that specific fish, in that ecosystem, and then regenerate a new limb made of cells. Regeneration is about going back to base material and regenerating from core material. The regeneration process bypasses the existing problem (in this case, a missing limb); it does not try to sew it back on, or accommodate or adapt to its lost limb. It regenerates from the same base that created the original one. The regenerated limb takes into account the evolutionary capacity needed based on the current age and environmental conditions of the reptile or starfish. 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 these ideas and answer for themselves, ‘How can we increase work regeneratively?’ No expert panels or business promotion, but working with other attendees who have been testing their own ideas about regeneration, and who want to explore and apply new ideas, while they are together in a field of inquiry. They engage in business assessment processes to decide where they are on a path and where they want to go in regard to Regeneration. The invitation-only Summit is about learning and moving the needle on what my new book, The Regenerative Organization, calls Enlightened Disruption. Check our website and see if you want an invitation, and talk to us about joining in to create more and faster change.