Archive for January, 2008

Thrivable future

Let’s say that 5 years from now incredible and inspiring cooperation has taken us through a swift turn toward thrivability? It is 2013, and we are feeling very lucky as we begin to see that our changes could be heading off the downward spiral we were on. In fact, increasing numbers of upward spirals are synergizing, converging into massive shifts that we hesitantly believe will usher in a new age.

If that is the premise, then what happened between 2008 and 2013 to make that happen?

And, what are the consequences to our markets, businesses, and lifestyles?

There will be sacrifice, assuredly. What did all the people who worked in destructive industries do for a living? How did the bumps in the economy caused by massive and quick shifting do? How were we able to both care for our local populations as well as regional and global populations so that shifting toward thrivability did not have devastating consequences, even to the greedy who made it harder to accomplish?

I hear the technologies exist. What we lack is will. Okay, so let’s say we have the will? Then what happens? What  will my neighborhood look like?

Will I be making trips to see my friends in Virginia? When I pass through West Virginia, will the people there be suffering massive depression? What can be done to make their region, and all of appalacia thrivable? Sans coal?

And what about Africa? Will there still be, be more, or be less internal strife in many countries over scarce resources? I have a secret hope that Africa leap-frogs in the next decade or two….but what will 2013 be like? With trouble in Kenya now, I am concerned about how countries in sub-Saharan Africa will become thrivable.

What will be playing out in Asia? The many cities being built in China and the troubles in Afghanistan and Pakistan? And how will climate change have already impacted these areas–and how will they have adjusted?


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Thrivability as a business objective

Whether or not thrivability is just a word game or something larger and more inclusive than sustainability…it is still a stronger term for what businesses aim for. What business seeks only to sustain itself? No, businesses want to thrive! Even nonprofits want to thrive. I believe thrivability is a compelling business objective where sustainability may not be.

Thrivability speaks to the yearning to both make profit in order to perpetuate an organization (and its members/employees) as well as function in productive symbiosis with its environment. Far too many organizations are currently parasitic in their approach to our culture–and it is killing off the host–our culture and our world.

How do  we help organizations develop symbiotic relationships with their environment and allies? How do we help them perceive, understand, and benefit from the flow of the ecosystems in which they live and can thrive?

A core question that comes to mind revolves around businesses meeting the “needs” of clients. Where has artificial need been created? What are real and enduring needs? What will the needs be in the future as we shift into thrivable systems?

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Language/mind games or something deeper?

One dimension that I am not concrete about is whether using thrivability rather than sustainability really is the same thing with a different name….or is it more than that? My sense is that it is more than sustainability, but I am, for the most part, making this up as we go along. And I do feel like the name emerged, for me, from a dissatisfaction with the language and its impact on the mind when using the term sustainability. The frame is lacking to me. It implies we are at a negative state and need to reach neutral.

Some that I have discussed that with say “pshaw” to me. They say that it is my own limitations that I place on the term sustainability. The movement is fully open to humans thriving. And in some way I agree. I think most of the sustainability field is open to and hopes for a thriving world. Some are quite cynical (or well versed depending on your point of view) about our ability to become sustainable much less thrivable. I hear that. I feel the frustration. I am frustrated at our lack of progress and the pressure of time.

From a mind game perspective I am choosing the word thrivability because it is like wanting an A in a class instead of a C. Because it sounds less like a world not teetering on the edge of doom but flourishing and vibrant.

But I also wonder if there is something deeper than that. Is that mind-game criticism only coming at it from a superficial level? Is thrivability about something more vast than sustainability? Let’s try an exercise, for fun. Which of the following select words or phrases would you put within the domain of sustainability:

  • zero emissions
  • organic farming
  • social justice
  • green architecture
  • conservation practices
  • personal growth
  • animal protection
  • economic justice
  • leadership development

Which ones do you think we need for a thrivable world?

Are they the same? Are they different? How and why?

Sneak peek: In the next post, I will talk about the value of the term even at the mind-game level.

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Approaches to thrivability

There are many angles that people use to approach thrivability.

  • Knowledge distribution and media. Coop America, Grist, The Daily Green, Hooze,
  • Networking and online community approach. Wiser Earth, worldchanging, etc nextbillion, nabuur, razoo, gaia with zaadz, dreamfish, and many others.
  • Cooperative communities and co-ops. Twin Oaks, Walnut Street Coop, Stone Soup, etc.
  • Networks/communities combined with profitable products and services. Green Home, OsoEco.
  • Profitable product or service angle.
    • Sewer treatment, clean energy, food production, clothing and home goods for example.
    • Environmental consulting, coaching, conflict resolution, mediation, process arts.
  • Nonprofit perspective., Ashoka, Acumen Fund, Echoing Green, Untld, and literally thousands of nonprofits/nongovernmental orgs around the world as might be found on the Wiser Earth listings.
  • Foundations. Rudolf Steiner Foundation, Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, Open Society Institute, Annie E. Casey Foundation etc.

This list is an initial catch of the spectrum and does not assume that these organizations or communities are consistently thrivable or even focused on thrivability.

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Resources on thrivability

In my research through the last few years, I have come across some references to thrivability that I want to collect here and share with you.

Thrivability Institute 🙂

Interesting paper on the future with a thrivable attitude (pdf)
by Peter Ellyard, Chairman, Preferred Future Insititute and Sustainable Prosperity Foundation

and his paper Planning for Thrival and Thrivability in a Planetist 21st Century includes much of the material from the shorter paper linked above.

He begins with:

During the last few years I have commenced using the ‘thrival’ in my work with clients. You won’t find this word in any dictionary, and some of my colleagues who are linguistically precise do not approve my using it. However I use the word to make a particular point. We have a word survival to describe an aspirational goal but not ‘thrival’. The lack of such a word says a lot about the lack of loftiness of the aspirations of English speaking people. I also use the word ‘thrivability’. These words sum up the journey we need to make to transform ourselves for success in a globalising world , to aspire to thrive and to grow the ability to thrive.

See also, on page 51:

A sustainable society is one which is prosperous in four different ways these are

  • ecological prosperity;
  • economic prosperity ;
  • social prosperity;
  • cultural prosperity.

I believe we need not a triple bottom line but a quadruple: one which measures levels of poverty/prosperity in all four forms.

Page 55-56 offers:

The journey to an ecologically sustainable or ‘green’ future is a journey of
imagination, design and innovation. A ‘green’ future will be created by concentrating on, and promoting innovations in, two broad areas:

  • ‘green’ ways—the values, ethics, beliefs, paradigms, behavioural patterns, customer preferences, and professional ethics and practices needed for an ecologically sustainable society;
  • ‘green’ ware—the designs, products, services and technologies which will be needed to realise an ecologically sustainable society.

Concurrent with the promotion of ‘green’ ways and ‘green’ ware is the

implementation of policies for:

  • the creation of ‘green’ markets in order to provide a domestic demand for green’ ware which would then be exported to a world which is demanding it. Any country that wishes to show leadership in the development of ‘green’ ways and ‘green’ ware will need to ‘green’ its markets ahead of the rest of the world in order to provide a domestic market to nurture the development of these innovations.
  • establishing new industries and enterprises to provide both the ‘green’ ways and ‘green’ ware needed to realise a sustainable society.

Imaginify has been collecting resources on thrivability, see here:

Fast Company post on blacks moving to being “thrival” and a related blog post.

Thrivability and waste

have links for me? Know of other orgs or folks talking about flourishing or using similar terms that I should be aware of? Please inform me!

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Initial Scan of the field

Well talking about thrivability crosses many domains. Just about anything dealt with on worldchanging might be considered within the realm of thrivability. While this list includes domains that can contribute to thrivability, let me make clear that not everything within any of these areas is immediately portable to the effort for thrivability. I am merely building a list of where thrivable practices, ideas, and efforts MAY come from. Some domains port to thrivability better than others. So here is an initial scan of the areas that can be considered to contribute to thivability:

  • green living–from direct environmental concerns like dead zones in the sea to the organic food movement and also including clean energy
  • social justice–from fair trade movement to ending global poverty, anything related to economic uplift of the bottom half as well as equal treatment for all people (and not just class, consider too the aligned issues around race, sex, religion etc)
  • socially responsible investing–keeping money out of the hands of warmongers or in the hands of environmental orgs etc. SRI is a wide ranging approach to money management. Beware that it is not necessarily thrivable–filtering investments on values allows for filtering for regressive political and religious stances as well.
  • commons–sharing is less expensive (financial and via resources) than hording so many efforts to create and maintain commons can be thrivable. Police, Fire, Parks and other public services or offerings as well as intellectual commons.
  • others? Surely there are more! Tell me what you would include!

So if thrivability covers so many domains, what is it that qualifies something to be thrivable? I have two answers to that. One is about a way of being. Is the something uplifting, honoring people and planet, encouraging oneness, equality, diversity, and held in a space of positivity? Two is about metrics. Is the something carbon neutral or positive or other measurements for sustainability/thrivability, and does it measure out to a world of possibility or does it consume and restrict in a way that promotes scarcity?

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Taking a look around

I talk about field building. It isn’t a popular concept. It is mostly done by foundations, although businesses to strive to build fields that create markets for their products and services. But if you really want to change the world, looking at it, from my perspective anyway, requires one to see the interplay of different fields in the world, assess the gaps, and foster the growth of new fields that fit your strategic direction. So, if thrivability is my mission, what are my strategies? And where is thrivability as a field?

Let’s look at the second question first, because my strategy is going to be the application of my unique abilities and capacity to the gaps I note in the field. Here are the elements of a field:

  • Identity
  • knowledge base
  • workforce and leadership
  • standard practice
  • practice setting
  • information exchange
  • infrastructure for collaboration
  • resources
  • critical mass of support
  • advocates and system support
  • systemic support

See my card on Elements of a Field.

Where is thrivability with these elements? Off to do a snapshot. I assume that will take some significant time to capture, which I will document here.

So let me give you a sneak peak at my approach from there. Once I understand where the field is, I will be looking at what I can do to help it flourish. The next three to six months will involve an indexing of the network, the knowledge the network holds, the fields on which this one relies, the key and emerging players, the tools the field can use, the energy level of particular practices and efforts, etc.

Then, later in 08, I will look for leverage points, tipping points if you will, for making an impact on the field. I will rely on meta strategies learned from network analysis, complex adaptive systems, persuasion, messaging, etc.

Then I will strive to find my fit. What will my strategies be? What are my specific tangible goals? What do I see as trends, and what can I do to anticipate and make use of them? How will I support myself while being consistent with my work on thrivability?

Please join me, teach me, share with me, change with me.

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