Emergent Strategy

Recently, I was having a conversation with good friends Kathy Coffey from Leadership Snohomish County, Deb Needham from the City of Renton Emergency Services and Mark Jones from Sunyata (and everywhere). Kathy shared a recent experience she’d had with a small group of people from different parts of the world talking about the word resilience. Turns out many, many cultures have no such word – it is simply embedded in their way of being. When people from those cultures looked further for the word, the best they were able to find were words about “bouncing back.”

I suspect this is why many of us have started using regenerative. It is a word that reaches into the roots of a system. Words that reach into life force. Regenerative immediately suggests working with the inherent wealth of any system in ways which regenerate that wealth, rather than extract it.  

More and more I am setting aside old words. I don’t want to sustain; I want something more. Of course, in my case, I say that from a place of white male privilege and acknowledge that many yearn for a life that is sustainable. I don’t want to thrive. Perhaps it is mostly my hearing, but thrive gives me a sense of individual prosperity more than collective. I do what to be resilient, but I want to do more than bounce back. 

Right now, today, I find the word regenerate to be powerful. Questions about how we use the abundance available to us in ways which build that bounty just make sense. Questions about how we stop the extraction and depletion of the systems around us make sense as well. This couples with the realization that I’ve spent a lot of my life extracting and extracting again from Bob. I need to live in ways which are more regenerative now.

Deb, Mark, Kathy and I were talking about a fledging initiative at NewStories which links the communities of Spokane (where I live), Snohomish County, and Renton. We’ve come together because we’ve noticed that some businesses have prospered since the onset of COVID while others have hung on, or gone out of business. We’re curious about what has helped some businesses prosper. We suspect that one key factor is that businesses have prospered when they’ve cultivated relationships rather than customers, when they’ve leaned into rapid prototyping, and willing to quickly to change what’s not working. 

As we’ve worked on this initiative, a couple of other things have come up that I want to write about today. We have a planning group of about 10 people. EVERYONE is tired, prone to sickness, has their attention pulled in multiple directions. While we have not talked explicitly about this, I suspect the same thing is true here that I find everywhere – lots of grief. 

Working in regenerative ways to scope out and launch this regenerative project is essential. My friend Christina Baldwin used a phrase years ago: “proceed at the pace of grace.” It is time to let go of our mind set and practice of rushing. We have to let things emerge. My friend Nomura Takahiko in Japan calls it Slow Innovation.

Adrienne Maree Brown gets at what’s required here in her book Emergent Strategy. “Change is constant. The world is in a continual state of flux. It is a stream of ever-mutating, emergent patterns. Rather than steel ourselves against such change, this book invites us to feel, map, assess, and learn from he swirling patterns around us in order to better understand and influence them as they happen.” 

The work I am most called to now is helping groups and communities discover how to regenerate. This is work from the inside out where scale comes not through replication but through connection. We connect by inspiring, informing and inviting each other. We regenerate systems by proceeding at the pace of grace. We do it with slow innovation. We do it will emergent strategy.

Somehow, over the last year, I’ve stopped collecting and writing about my reflections. This blog is a restart and I’ll be showing up more frequently now. As will others in our NewStories constellations.

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