We talk about regenerative. We talk about regenerative economies. We talk about regenerative agriculture (and sometimes we do it). We talk about regenerative culture and design. We even talk about regenerative medicine (urk). But what is regenerative behaviour? Is there such a thing?

In a conversation with colleagues in the Global Regenerative CoLab recently, the discussion meandered around whether the ‘regenerative movement’ needed branding. The heritage of thinking that has developed the movement, and the depth and vastness of the different strands that come together from ecology, psychology, biology, philosophy, design, anthropology, — all the ‘ologies’ and then some — seemed to me too complex to be boiled down into a set of bullet points or slogans to be slapped on an infographic. Convesely it’s also true that every movement for change needs to be able to explain itself clearly and succinctly if it wants to accelerate change and reach outside the ‘convinced’ and not be convinced that everyone ‘gets it’ just because the people inside the movement do!

I find myself less fascinated by what regenerative is (since many people from Carol Sanford to Regenesis International to Daniel Christian Wahl have plenty of literature to dive into), than by how the people who practice it, embody its values and stand as representatives of a different approach to the future from business-as-usual. So I explored across different regenrative networks, how we view the outward manifestation of the inner work that Regenerators do.

Here’s what I asked :If regenerative as an adjective is powers or processes that cause something to heal or become active again after it has been damaged or inactive. If regeneration is an act or the process of regenerating : the state of being regenerated; is spiritual renewal or revival: is renewal or restoration of a body, bodily part, or biological system (such as a forest) after injury or as a normal process. If regeneration is what nature does to continue the cycle of life. Then what is the regenerative behaviour that we should expect of people who practice regeneration? Who best embodies that for you?

Here’s what came back (as a convenient list of bullet points which somehow contradicts my original premise 🙂 ) grouped loosely together as themes:-

The ‘Should-We-Even-Be-Doing-This?’ group

  • Top of the list — Producing a list of Do’s and Dont’s of regenerative behaviour isn’t regenerative behaviour! They emerge from our constant participation and choices — often made under very extenuating circumstances — in the real world. It’s a constant act of checking within,,, They arise from our acceptance of out inextricable interconnections, our exquisite fragility, and a deep compassion. Sahana Chattopadhyay’s words, one of our Activate writers surfacing my own concerns.
    There is something about the long, deep work of self development that wants to respect its complexity and not succumb to boiling it down to bullet points. But I still ask myself if that’s snotty and superior or an important response to our trained desire for the snappy, simple slogans of the last 60 decades of magic & sparkle marketing.
  • One answer was this great question from Ravinol Chambers: should there be an expectation or a hope that when we talk about regeneration in whatever area outside of ourselves (which is easier to do) that we should also be endeavouring first regenerative behaviour inside ourselves (which is harder to do)?

The Nature-Based-Solutions group

  • Making choices and taking action that is conducive to life; from my biomimicry colleagues and an echo of Janine Benyus’ fundamental principle of how life works — life creates the conditions conducive to life. And yet how many daily actions and decisions do we take that aren’t? Driving the car to the shops. A less-than-sustainable energy supplier? Reclaiming land from the ocean on which to build more houses?

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  • reconnecting humanity to the belief that nature is sacred; this is part of our responsibility to end the story of separation, and includes remembering that humans are also part of nature, grown from the same molecules that all life are built on, yet with a greater responsibility because of our ability to impact all other life
  • embracing death and rebirth as a constant cycle of life; As Neil Davidson who talked about this says — much more challenging than it sounds. Humans, especially those of us raised in the western economy and traditions, avoid the subject of death. We jump through hoops to avoid acknowledging mortality. Our distorted view of time, sometimes with a subconcscious view of an afterlife, impact us every day. Few of us live according to the motto: never put off until tomorrow what you can do today. We always believe there will be more time. It’s also endemic in our economic design. Companies, products, brands are designed to last forever and go on and on. Some manage to regenerate and add new life and purpose. But what if we naturally assumed that all companies, brands, products have a finite life? What if we designed houses to be taken down and recycled every 10 years?

The Systemic Sense-Makers group

  • An ongoing commitment to nurturing ‘ableness’ in ourselves, our projects and across the systems we work in (this very much from my Regenesis colleagues like Nuno da Silva); this echoes the ‘three lines of work’ that is the commitment of a regenerative practitioner; self, project, system in order to create systemic change. Working on all three, all the time, in everything we do. Seek the highest potential in ourselves, in our projects/teams/organisations and seek the highest potential impact in the system in which our projects sit. To be able to do this requires skill; to know where to create acupuncture points in a system for maximum impact, to be able to find those nodes from which ripples spread.
  • connecting the system more to itself; this is almost a practice of holding up a mirror to oneself, but instead to a system. Yes, thank you Robin Lincoln Wood. Helping a whole system see its potential for regeneration; such as the conversations we see taking place in organisations like Forum for the Future, Ellen Macarthur Foundation, where pre-competitive collaborations allow previously competitive brands to find nodal points where they can enact change such as in plastics, food systems and commodities.
  • a sufficiency approach, not consuming more than one needs; sufficiency as a economic mantra originated in Thailand and is the name of a Thai development approach attributed to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s “sufficiency economy philosophy” (SEP). It has been elaborated upon by Thai academics and agencies, promoted by the Government of Thailand, and applied by over 23,000 villages in Thailand that have SEP-based projects in operation. Thanks to Phillip Clawson for being the only person to bring in a Global South perspective (more on that in another post).
  • commitment to questioning implicit assumptions and agreements we haven’t realised we agreed to; this is another Pandora’s box to open. Often we don’t even know what they are, they are so deeply embedded in our training for a young age. Like — people retire and travel the world. Our economic system was designed for people to retire at 65 and probably die at 75. That’s not happening any more. Today we live a 100 year life and we should be questioning the ‘norm’ of school, university, work, retire, die in favour perhaps of school, career 1, travel, uni, career 2, travel, career 3, never retire and always be useful. Or perhaps ‘travel locally’ as coronavirus has taught us to do. If we don’t question norms, we’re stuck with them.
  • commitment to deep sense-making in a polluted data information ecology; I feel that sense-making is one of the most important qualities of regenerative practice. How do we make sense of a complex world without falling back on the sense-less soundbites we have been encouraged to consume? How do we stay grounded in something solid and precious when we are bombarded every minute of every day through algorithms, vested interests and determined manipulators of what is fair, right, true and truthful? Is it even possible anymore? Check out The War on Sensemaking below.

The Human Development & Potential group

  • The embodiment of belonging to and fully knowing ones-self; the deep reflection, humbleness and practice of completely knowing and understanding our individual complexity with all its shadows, foibles, messiness — and then choosing to work on embodying the best qualities of the human spirit. Love this.
  • Making choices and taking action that is always healing; I believe one of our fundamental roles is to heal the story of separation. Humans from Nature. Humans from other Humans (every ism you can think of falls in here — nationalism, racism, ageism, homophobia….). Masculine and Feminine. Inner and Outer lives. Laura Storm & Giles Hutchins talk about this in Regenerative Leadership, and it’s the focus of our first module in the course Regenerators Journey that Laura and I have designed and run together this year.
  • Integrating intuition or holistic mode of consciousness into our rational thought; since the scientific and industrial revolutions, our pattern of thought has been mechanistic. We’ve valued rational thinking, science-based evidence, understanding and breaking this down into manageable parts and atomising everything — including the future. Gradually, as science advances, we have come to recognise and understand more about the less visible qualities of being human that as yet, cannot be fully scanned in a machine — like intuition and faith.
  • commitment to dealing with personal energy drains: fake narratives (in and outside our heads), identity and identifying, dealing with cultural dependence (i.e. fear of being ostracised or not belonging leading to less-than-truthful behaviours), fear of change. Another huge subject. If you want to read more on this, I suggest you check out Carol Sanford’s book No More Feedback.
  • Regenerative behaviour is Behaviour without fear; ouch, huge for a bullet point! Can we be without fear? Perhaps in the context of regnerative behaviour, what we mean is to live without having our highest potential suppressed by limiting beliefs, or an inability to live fully within an uncertain world. To be afraid to be without the anchors we have come to expect and instead to embrace risk-raking and radical experimentation and iteration as a way of life. Instead of living by numbers, dot-to-dot. My Regenesis colleague Sarah Gilles suggested: “Regenerative behaviour is one that should conquer fear and find love again. Love for ourselves, each other, our environment, our relations with all species, …
  • Integrating context and deep listening in conversation, communication and action; this one is a post on its own, but for brevity many principles in regenerative practice stem from the thinking of people like J G Bennett and Gurdijeff for whom external considering is the valuable practice of always taking the ‘other’s worldview and viewpoints into consideration without judgement which gives context, and internal locus of control is being able to take and exercise agency for your own life. Leaders like Otto Scharmer have done much to integrate deep listening, and living with an open heart, mind and will as principles.
    In designing regenerative economies, context is also vital in many other ways. The Sustainability Context Principle, for example, calls for respecting ecological, social, and economic thresholds & allocations. It suggests that reporting organisations should consider their individual performance in the context of the limits and demands placed on economic, environmental, or social resources at a macro-level.
  • a continual deepening in wisdom and compassion and the ability to sense what is needed and to respond with effective action; a suggestion from Michelle Holliday. Again yes — part of that individual and collective life practice. Developing the ability to sense what is needed is the work of a lifetime, but sometimes a unique gift of an individual. I always think of it as my ‘sniff’ test. When I walk into an organisation, can I for just a moment — before I look at goals and values and spreadsheets — sense into the building or the organisational design to where the energy blocks are. Sometimes on rare occasions, I can. What is almost more important is having an effective process to do that. There are few. I personally value my work with Regenesis International when it comes to finding ways to express place-sourced potential, Carol Sanford’s application of much ancient and modern wisdom to business practice, and the wisdom of nature-based design in biomimicry, my partnership with Laura Storm and my thinking coach Josephine Matthews.
  • enhance integrity, beauty and regenerative capacity; integrity — what does it mean for us to live in integrity? To not withhold, manipulate or otherwise disguise information, emotion, thoughts? To identify your personal worldviews of how change happens and to live those out in an embodied way? I have always thought there is yet a discussion we need to have about the role of beauty as an agent of change. My own theories of change include something like ‘shock & awe’ — unexpected exposure to mortality (which I wouldn’t wish as a bad experience on anyone but which is transformative) but also the awe that comes from the beauty we see on top of a mountain, in a running stream, but also in a work of art — be that Starry Night by Van Gogh (my personal fave) or a handcrafted, handsewn garment that has loved worked into every stitch, fibre and cut.

The Philosophies & Practice Group

  • to follow what is written on the back of your heart; from Daniel Christian Wahl — whose work can be found in spades here on Medium – sourced from Rumi. I expect lyricism from Daniel and he rarely disappoints. Do you know what is written on the back of your heart?
  • practising forgiveness and humility; this from one of our recent Regenerator’s Journey cohort Reidun Westvik Lauritzen. Twenty years with horses taught me humility in a way no human ever could have done, as did travel to far flung places in search of wildlife. Connection and partnership with those spiritual creatures and witnesses the miracles of life in the deep oceans and on the savannahs, gave me the sense of speck-ness and time. I’m still working on forgiveness, it’s not my middle name — yet. Do you struggle with either of these?
  • not taking advantage of, or manipulating others; exploring how truth, truthfulness and information works in the world today inspired a whole new chapter in my book and put off its publication date yet again!!! The exploration of how many different ways in which ‘truthfulness’ in particular is avoided in human connection requires a ruthless and radical self-examination of our motivations and behaviours, from individuals through to corporations and governments — all of whom misrepresent data, information, truth and avoid truthfulness for their own desired outcomes — if we are to avoid taking advantage of or manipulating others even unintentionally. If we could change this one human characteristic, I think we would take a giant leap forwards. Think: how many times to you ‘like’ a post for reasons other than that you actually like it? Do you like it to gain attention of the writer? Do you like it to be in with that particular in crowd, or be identified with it or identified with the subject matter? Do you comment on it to showcase your own knowledge, services, products? Do you positively review something because that person is a friend or colleague? Do you take on the challenge of not reviewing a friend’s work that you think isn’t up to scratch and risk a falling out? This is truly tough.
  • an individual and collective life practice; yes, it is. Never stop reflecting and learning yourself, never forget to do it together with other journeyers. The rise of collective intelligence as a strategic way to develop right action and right relations in the world, is valuable.
  • moving at the speed of trust; I leave this one to last not because it is least important but perhaps because it is the most. Is it a practice or philosophy? It’s almost a rule to live by and one which those of us who give trust too easily and who under-estimate the time it takes to build it in a world plagued by fake news, find hard. It was one of the first points of conversation with Trish Hansen of the Global Regenerative CoLab group who began this whole conversation for which I was deeply grateful to be included. It comes from the BlackSpace Manifesto and if you had to have a mantra, it’s a pretty good one. And ‘make every interaction build trust’ from Ruth Andrade of Lush. So important and yet so hard to do, and can be scuppered by so many invisible traumas and unspoken thoughts. It took me most of my life to understand that because my thinking and action often moves at the speed of light, that I was moving faster than the speed of trust. I often failed to understand when relationships broke down just as they were getting started, it was because my head was 10 steps ahead and I had assumed a relationship of trust that was not yet built. One of my most important life lessons. And I wish I had learned it earlier as much grief and pain came before the lesson was learned. It is something to watchout for if, like me, you suffer from naive enthusiasm! You can burn more bridges than you build because you go too fast.

Who embodies regenerative practice for you?

Not too many people came back with an answer here which suggests that many people fly under the radar and do not seek fame or guru status — or possibly that its hard for human nature to make this leap!! You would expect Nelson Mandela and of course he appeared. But so did the man who walked at this side and for me was the architect of Truth & Reconciliation Commission, Bishop Desmond Tutu. There is something about his infectious joy and faith in humanity that belongs in embodied regenerative behaviour.

It’s here we should speak about the depth of reference to the schools of indigenous wisdom. Not with a romantic notion of what their knowledge means for us today, but in recognition that many indigenous peoples continue to embody something we who are also indigenous but not connected to the soil and nature in the same way any longer, have lost. A belief spoken by elder, teacher, author and Citizen of the Chiricuhua Apache Nation, Stan Rushworth, sums it up for me: “You need to really examine the myths that cause you to behave like a fallen people. You believe you were cast out of heaven where we (the indigenous) believe we were born into it.” Earth as heaven.

I hope if you’ve made it this far, you’ve found some useful things to think about and make practices of in your own life. Thank you to the Global Regenerative Co Lab, my biomimicry buddies, my Regenerators community, my LinkedIn and Facebook communities for their input and help, and thanks to Trish Hansen of GRC for prompting me to think about the subject.

Here are some more resources:-

Regenesis International
Carol Sanford Seed Communities
Global Regenerative Co Lab

The discussion in my LinkedIn thread for more details and more detailed comments from participants.
The discussion from my Facebook thread — ditto but you might have to scroll through a bit to find it.
Tagging those of you here on Medium with thanks for your contributions Daniel Christian Wahl Sahana Chattopadhyay Neil Davidson Dave Pendle paul pivcevic Katie Boone Michelle Holliday