This post first appeared on my blog, The Fruitful Route; read more and subscribe here.
"Say that during our session!" said Erinch eagerly during our prep for the International Doughnut Day session, as I rambled through my reflections on using The Doughnut Design for Business toolkit.
"The problem I find is people rush to operationalise their ideas", I had suggested.
This goes right to the core of the tension I find in regenerative business design; bridging the gap between operating from the head and from the heart.
It’s only recently that I acknowledged the personal experience of changing from head to heart composting fruitfully in my past.
When I started out in business, I was trying to sustainably disrupt the retail industry by using sharing economy principles to sell awesome, and expensive, outdoor equipment like folding kayaks and tree tents to groups of friends to share.
As my first foray into business, I really didn't have the chops to pull off such a preposterous idea. And so, when this failed to take, I settled for selling the most sustainable outdoor clothing and equipment I could make or find.
But within a couple of years, I realised my heart just wasn't in the gear game.
With a stacked stock room and an empty bank balance, you have to go out and SELL. And you do that by persuading people that in order to enjoy the outdoors, they need the latest jacket, backpack, tent, running shoes, or whatever you have in your stores.
Which, of course, you don’t.
So, eventually, I realised I wasn't happy pumping up the consumer bubble, but I still wanted to pay my bills by keeping a foot in the outdoor business.
So, I pivoted into selling adventure, travel and nature books, because I knew that what the world really needs is to reconnect with ourselves and nature (not that we are separate, but that's another story) and that these books were a great way in.
It was an entirely heartfelt decision to step aside and do less, not more.
One that helped me find my Ikigai, or ‘reason for living’ (this is Alice Kalro’s adapted version, which adds or removes ‘what causes harm’)
How does this relate to the Doughnut Design for Business toolkit?
Well, I think the toolkit works superbly at engaging people's heads but only makes a start on engaging their hearts, which is where real change comes from; especially when that change must be driven by generous consideration for others, not the selfish decision making that the head excels at.
It's taken me a long time to work this through, a process that has been guided by reflecting on brother Bayo Akomolafe's koan-like notion that "The times are urgent; we must slow down."
The difficulty in living this idea in my work as a freelance regenerative business designer lies in the framing, not of the toolkit itself, but the context where I go into a business to help them explore regenerative ideas.
But businesses don't do slowing down.
People who excel in business are doers; they GET STUFF DONE.
You can imagine participants coming into a Doughnut Design for Business workshop, flexing their knuckles, "Right, let's get this climate and nature crisis sorted."
The implicit demand is for solutions. "Let's crack on."
Our cultural conditioning to look for solutions, even our desire to create a solution, the saviour myth, is a big part of the problem.
I have been struggling with this about Steward, my proposal for a people-powered decapitalisation fund. Aren't I just jumping into a solution? Aren't I perpetuating the problem by seeking a solution?
I think, hope, that the answer lies in Jon Ronson's book The Psychopath Test, where he comforts the reader: "If you're noting some of these (psychopathic) traits in yourself, and wondering whether perhaps you are a psychopath too, don't worry. By asking the question, you can be pretty sure you aren't."
I hope that the three years I have spent literally wandering in the wilderness whilst formulating my latest preposterous idea, and the fact that my 'solution' is to bring a bunch of insightful folk together to spend six months living with the questions, perhaps suggests I have finally got it.
Back to the toolkit again. How can we use this powerful and transformational exercise to stimulate an even more profound transformation?
How can we tap into bigger concepts like love, beauty and emotion that are rarely the stuff of business as usual, yet essential to a thriving future?
I used to teach martial arts; a traditional form of Taekwondo with deep Buddhist philosophies hidden in each move and mantra. We would encourage students to expand the moment of possibility between stimulus and response, attack and defence, to optimise their rejoinder.
Entire epochs could pass between the dip of an opponent's shoulder or the twitch of their toe and your reaction, as you pondered how to use their attack against them.
More recently, I've been captivated by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke's exhortation to 'love the questions'.
"Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and do try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. The point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."
And I think that is the answer here, too; opening up time and space after the first iteration of transformational ideas during the doughnut design workshop for participants to love the questions their answers propose.
To uncover what is hidden, unacknowledged and unresolved within our hearts and organisational cultures before returning again with fresh eyes to seek what those first transformational ideas sought.
Here, I am guided by the great work of Vanessa Andreotti, who provides a practical process for this uncovering and unlearning in the Seven Steps Backwards/Forwards/Aside.
7 steps back
1. Step back from your self-image.
2. Step back from your generational cohort.
3. Step back from the universalization of your social/cultural/economic parameters of normality.
4. Step back from your immediate context and time.
5. Step back from familiar patterns of relationship-building and problem-solving that you have been socialized into.
6. Step back from the normalised pattern of elevating humanity above the rest of nature.
7. Step back from the impulse to find quick fixes and expand your capacity not to be immobilized by uncertainty, complicity and complexity.
7 steps forward (and/or aside)
1. Step forward with honesty and courage to see what you don't want to see.
2. Step forward with humility to find strength in openness and vulnerability.
3. Step forward with self-reflexivity so that you can read yourself and learn to read the room.
4. Step forward with self-discipline to do the work on yourself so that you don't become work for other people.
5. Step forward with maturity to do what is needed rather than what you want to do.
6. Step forward with expanding discernment and attention.
7. Step forward with adaptability, flexibility, stamina and resilience for the long haul.
Because we can't grow our way out of this moment.
We must start stepping back and letting some things go to let future life come.
Hat tip here to Otto Sharmer's brilliant Theory U, the ultimate illustrated lexicography of these emotional acrobatics.
I'll leave you with one final thought: my first response to these sets of 7 Steps was to immediately discount the suggestion that we might step aside; I wanted to move forward.
I'm sure we all do.
But perhaps we do that best by moving aside?
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