George: Hello Robin! I’m happy that we have a chance to have this conversation about your work. Especially because in the last years … well I’ve been a great fan of your work and we had a chance to work together as well on certain of your projects. I think this is a great opportunity to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of how your work has evolved and what you have learned during this decades long process. Maybe a good starting point would be to differentiate how your approach might be different from more well-known integral approaches. In which, there is this famous saying that the core issue of what’s going on in the world could be described as a race between consciousness and catastrophe.
Robin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
George: Is that something you would agree with or would you differ on that?
Robin: Well, I would say that that’s always been the case historically, in the sense that in humans and other species as a whole, the evolution of higher and more complex levels of consciousness has always enabled us to escape the limits to growth that we hit in certain niches biologically and ecologically. Whether it was coming out of the Stone Age into the Bronze and Agricultural Ages, and then hitting the limits on the amount of land we had. Or the Industrial Age where we’re now hitting the limits of the planet. The next leap in our evolution, the momentous leap, forecast decades ago by psychologist Clare Graves, is now happening.
The fact is crises accelerate evolution which is why we’re the most conscious and most evolved, if not always the nicest, creature on the planet. We’ve had to live on the edge of every biome we’ve been in. We’ve had to innovate. Right? The thing is though that we don’t have aeons right now to adapt to climate disruption. We don’t have hundreds of thousands, or tens of thousands, or one thousand, or even one hundred years. We only have about a decade now to change how we live dramatically, to redesign global neo-liberal democracy and capitalism. What’s happened is that while global neo-liberal democracy and capitalism were highly successful in increasing our levels of comfort and to some extent security all over the planet, people signed up to it, all over the world. But now it has become highly dysfunctional, even suicidal.
The system we’re in right now is doing exactly what it was designed to do, but there are several design flaws in the system. One of the biggest ones, of course, is that we’ve created a world of rising expectations because we have been able to share some abundance globally in the last sixty years since the second World War. That’s created an insane desire for most humans on the planet to have it all. There are some famous phrases we all know from advertising slogans: You can have it all. You’re worth it. Yeah, buy stuff on Black Friday on Amazon. Get it half price. You’re worth it. Borrow some money now to pay later, because you can have it all, now. The girl, the car, the house, the career, the gadgets- you are so worth it!
We live in a global system today designed so that advertising drives mass consumption, which in turn drives mass production, which is highly efficient. It creates more and more stuff, for less and less. Just look at the amount of stuff coming out of China and Asia at the moment at very low cost and insane prices. The problem is that we’re not factoring in the true cost of that, the environmental and social costs. To say that the race is between consciousness and catastrophe is only true if we had maybe a couple centuries. We don’t. At only one degree of warming we already see huge negative impacts around the world on hundreds of millions of people. What are we going to do by 2030 to ensure that we don’t head into a three to four-degree warming scenario with massive climate disruption?
To answer that question, I’ve been doing the work in the last few decades to see, how do we redesign global neoliberal mono- capitalism and democracy? We are currently suffering from a degenerative and exclusive materialistic, and rather soulless form of capitalism, which only values money. Every measure of success in this current economy is money and it’s contaminated everything. Politics, culture, you name it. The “I’m a celebrity get me out of here” kind of nonsense. The cult of the empty celebrity who is famous for just being a “celebrity” that pollutes our daily news feeds is everywhere, in all media, and is a sad example of just how low the media will go to sell advertising and sell themselves in a hyper-competitive global market for our attention.
So, what are we transitioning to? That’s the big question and how can we do it fast enough? Okay, let’s assume we want the opposite of what we’ve got now. Those deep design flaws in global neo-liberal mono-capitalism and democracy need to be designed out. We want a regenerative, and inclusive, a synergistic, multi capital economy that’s soulful, that offers us meaning, belonging, connection. As Nietzsche said well over a century ago: “God is dead. We’ve killed God.” Fair enough, but what do you put in the place of God? That’s been a challenge for us through a couple of centuries. What we’ve put in the place of God is money and material possessions. That’s a killer because obviously we’re running out of planet. We’re using one point seven planets right now and, we’re going to be at a three planet footprint by 2050 if we carry on as we are.
Okay, the problem is that we’ve … we’ve got a lot of people who are saying consciousness and catastrophe, that’s the race, without putting that into the context of the hard biophysical and cultural realities we are having to transform. Because they believe that the spiritual dimension is the most important, and that by “waking up” and “cleaning up” they will automatically “show up” and make the world a better place- but that is not happening much, and certainly not fast enough.
George: Maybe that’s a good moment to share a little of the first meeting or encounter I had with you, that made me excited about your work. I think it was in 2014 at the first Integral European Conference. You were giving the keynote speech one day where you presented the thriveability framework in front of the Integral crowd. To be honest it was extremely refreshing to me because the last two days before that keynote, we were always talking high and mightily about consciousness, how it evolves, and how evolved we all are here dealing with our shadow, and so on and so forth.
When I listened to your speech for the first time there was this element of reality coming in. You actually had examples of innovations that were making sense on a large scale. Like portable toilets that create electricity out of waste. I felt that this was extremely potent and a perspective that was missing in the Integral crowd. That’s why I got very excited and saw that what your framework had to offer was a unique link between an actionable approach that had a solid background in the business world, and also an approach that was open to, as you say, a soulful redefinition of what value means. How can we all preserve the planet and quality of life in the future? That’s what I find so fascinating about your work.
Because it is so cross silo, it’s really hard to pin it down sometimes, and that’s also why it’s difficult to communicate it for different people. Right? You have gone through quite a journey I think in refining and evolving your approach. I think one of the first iterations of your work could be described as the Renaissance2 movement that you initiated. Well, would you share in a nutshell what that first movement was about?
George: Or what was motivating you at that point? When was it? Maybe to also put it into a timeframe.
Robin: Yes. To start this whole ball rolling, my career as an author began in 2000 when Managing Complexity was published by the Economist magazine, a publication read by the two million people who occupy the key positions of coalesced power, authority, and influence on our planet. My book won a number of awards and was a great success in the business world, and was also read by leaders in government. It was written for business leaders and world leaders- people I’d been working with a for a couple of decades up until the millennium. What I’d been working with them on and getting my doctorate on was basically, how do you transform organizations? How do you create long term success? Not short-term financial return, but strategic success.
George: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Robin: There are simple things about strategic success that are very similar to what we define as strategic value. They are things like a high quality product that lasts. Not a piece of junk that you throw away after a couple months or a few years. It involves having a high market share. In other words, a lot of people thought what you were doing was fantastic and they supported you and they were loyal customers. At that stage customer and employee satisfaction were also becoming very important to business success. These strategic measures were measured using some very heavy-duty databases and statistics that came out of Harvard and General Electric over several decades and formed the raw material for my doctoral thesis at London Business School.
I then went out and I looked at 30 corporations globally over a decade and tested every single metric for corporate success ever invented. And discovered that the ones who were aligned culturally and strategically were more likely to be strategically successful over the longer term. I measured 500 data points over two decades. The research was holistic in an integral sense that the consciousness, thinking, and the mindsets in the organization aligned with the culture of the organization- how they set their priorities and what their priorities were, their value system. In turn, if this aligned with the actual behavior and capabilities that the leaders and the individuals in the corporation, and the way in which they fit in strategically into their business ecosystem and their business models, then they would create longer-term strategic value. If those are all aligned, there was a 0.8 correlation between strategic alignment and strategic success over 10 years, which is extremely high as correlations go. Remember, this was done in the late 80’s and early 90’s when the insanity of “shareholder value” was all the rage, so my findings went strongly against that short-sighted and wrong-headed notion.
That led me to realize, wow … hmm, that’s fascinating. How could that be applied globally? Because after 9/11 I had a certain disruptive moment in my own life, which is all detailed in my book The Trouble with Paradise. Something led me to think, we have to get people to look inside as much as they look outside, because the disconnect in our civilization right now is that this soulless world is being driven by mass consumption, and the pursuit of money, and material possessions, and status. Even in philanthropy actually. It’s a status-driven, celebrity studded industry and sadly not necessarily addressing root causes, but symptoms.
So, the big question is, how do we that? That was the question I started with. I began a personal transformation journey in 2001 that started with deeper explorations into culture, human evolution via appreciative enquiry, integral, spiral dynamics and dozens of other frameworks I had been applying in the previous two decades to my clients. In 2007 I became a non-executive director on the board of a company called Future Considerations, which was one of the leading sustainability consultant agencies in London at the time.
I struck up relationships with the ex-head of sustainability and leadership at Shell, as well as the head of innovation for P&G at this time, debating how we could bring the insights of business innovation and transformation to the work of planetary transformation, together with hundreds of my colleagues from around the world including Silicon Valley and Asia, and my question to them was: “What do we need to do to accelerate this transition away from this degenerative, exclusive, soulless, mono capitalism that we’ve been experiencing into this regenerative, and inclusive, soulful, and multi-capital capitalism that recognizes that environmental, social, and other considerations are as if not more important than profit?”
At the time it seemed clear that if we got business, NGO’s, banks and governments together we could crack this problem.
So, we formed a not-for-profit, for-impact foundation, the Renaissance2 Foundation. At the same time, I completed my second book: “The Great Shift: Catalyzing the Second Renaissance”, which summarizes the whole approach that we took to social innovation to catalyse the great transition needed for us to survive and thrive. The challenge is though, that social innovation is a lot harder than business innovation, or even innovating government process, or departments, or just making things work better in any organisation.
Why? Well because different values systems are at play. At least in the business world you have a coherent set of rules and they’re taught at business schools all over the world. I became a Fellow at London Business School’s Centre for Management Development in 2000. At least you could work with some common material and agree on some things, and drive in the same direction with top executives in major corporates and get things done effectively.
In the last sixty years there has been increasing polarization between the business, environmental and social worlds. This is largely caused by the actions of a few thousand “bad guys”, especially the fossil fuel, agrochemical, forestry and mining industries, along with the recent bad behavior of large banks. Yet there are 500 000 listed companies in the world and hundreds of millions of small businesses that we rely on for the basics of our modern lives, who by and large go about their business in socially acceptable ways.
This polarization is reflected in the tensions between, on the one hand, the World Economic Forum and on the other hand the World Social Forum. WEF seeks to reform capitalism, but is identified with some of the corporations and banks who are part of the problem. WSF is strongly socialist and left wing, and believes capitalism itself is the problem. This centuries old argument between left and right turns out to be largely unproductive, and the cause of much conflict and yoyo politics. As philosopher Slovoj Zizek, himself an ex-communist, says, the left is a kind of crazy that doesn’t work anymore. Equally, neoliberal global capitalism doesn’t work anymore either. We have to have the conversation about what actually DOES work. What could make it work?
In Renaissance2 we began this conversation, hosting a number of major events in Europe and several smaller meetings in the USA and S Africa. We had a few thousand people on our main platform at the time, Ning, just when Facebook was starting up in 2008. There really weren’t many people on Facebook at the time. We successfully cultivated several hundred young leaders staffed by our AIESEC interns, as well as making connections with dozens of world-shifting leaders and organisations around the world.
Here’s the problem with social innovation and entrepreneurship- the funding model. Without really serious funding, it’s very difficult to make something as ambitious as Renaissance2 last. We did an incredible amount over four years but we needed lot more investment beyond that of the founders. We relied on events to keep us going, but events rarely break even. At some point we had to say, “Well, hmm. Why aren’t we getting into the main stream?” Because that is the biggest concern. With all that integral, spiral dynamics, all the other fantastic frameworks, constellation frameworks that are available, why weren’t we getting the coalesced authority, power, and influence in the world to pay attention more than it was? Although we made a positive dent in the world and on the lives of thousands of change agents, the underlying flaws in global neo-liberal mono-capitalism seemed to be getting worse, not better.
That led to me giving a number of speeches that changed our direction. I’ve been giving speeches at conferences and going to and organizing major world-shifting conferences for at least three decades now. My aim at these conferences is to inspire people to act. To take right action, that creates right solutions, to do the right thing. In one of those speeches, I was looking at the equation for sustainability, which basically said, on the left-hand side you have “Human Impact on Earth”, which is to be minimized- in other words, “Impact” was considered to be largely negative. So, Impact was equal to the size of the world population times their standard of living. This numerator was then divided by the technological innovations that can reduce the footprint of those people and their standard of living. There were three problems with that.
Firstly, reducing impact motivates no one. It’s a hair shirt. Who wants to live in sack cloth and ashes to be sustainable? Some people do, but there are very small proportion, maybe five percent of the planet today. The second problem is that you’ve got to tackle the mindsets of the general population and their living conditions. Not everybody can live like a Saudi Arabian or an American, with a 10 or 15 planet footprint. That will kill us for sure. Very fast. The third thing is that technology alone is not going to save us. We have to change human behavior. Then the question comes, how do I change human behavior? What motivates humans to take better care of each other and their world?
To answer that question, you have to go quite deeply into how humans have evolved, what shifts them, what makes them want to change. Someone once joked that the secret of getting people to go to hell is to make them look forward to the trip. Sometimes I think that is the battle the sustainability movement faces, because reducing impact would be “hell” for most people- they are very attached to their creature comforts and their habits and routines. It seems almost everyone on the planet wants a large flat-screen TV, the latest smartphone and sport utility vehicle, and the biggest house or apartment they can afford.
George: So, your plan was to be more influential in the mainstream … and thriveability was more aimed towards the mainstream and the executive level in the business world. That was where you were heading with thriveability, right?
Robin: Yes. The beauty of thriveability was that it builds on already existing initiatives that were getting traction. That are actually live and working today and having a positive impact. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), where roughly eight or nine thousand companies around the planet are reporting using the environmentally and socially derived standards of the GRI. Those are big companies, so they’re probably approaching half of global GDP in terms of their turnover. It includes the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), which was started by Prince Charles, then supported by Michael Bloomberg and other sustainability leaders. And now we also have the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB) that Michael Bloomberg has been backing, and many other worldwide initiatives such as the Sustainable Stock Exchange movement.
We met leaders from all of these organisations and initiatives including the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), who also attended our meetings. We got involved in supporting Reporting 3.0 in 2013, which has now been successful at getting recognition for its blueprints from the IMF, the World Bank, the UN, and dozens of major corporations and NGO’s to back its approach to thriveable transformation, a term I coined as part of the Thriveability Foundation initiatives and the book “A Leader’s Guide to Thriveability”. There’s a journey to thriveability built into the Reporting 3.0 transformation journey. In that sense Thriveability has been a success, even if we didn’t raise the funds we needed to expand and form an international secretariat and scale our activities to the extent we wanted to. There are many other organizations and bio-regions who’ve embedded these ideas in their planning and practices through several masterclasses and dozens of workshops. That’s a result, as they say.
However, this application of thriveability was based on a largely cognitive, highly technical set of concepts. This technical approach is what we focused on to get it into the main stream because that’s what sustainability people do. That’s what accountants, that’s what investors look at? The numbers. We created models and equations and calculus for thriveability. Here’s the challenge at the same time we have to shift the behavior of the average citizen. Thriveability can’t really do that just by addressing corporations and investors. It has to go out to the citizen and to the change agents- it involves a shift in mindset and needs a movement, and a set of models and methods to embed it into the fabric of society.
Since 2012 when I started including Thriveability in my speeches and got a very positive reaction from mainstream leaders, we’ve met wonderful people around the world in hundreds of conferences and meetings with leading world figures in this space. It occurred to me that part of the problem is there’s literally at most a few hundred thousand inspired people doing great stuff and almost no one has heard of what they’re doing. Then the rest of humanity seems completely disempowered, disinterested and unmotivated to change. And what the mainstream corporations and governments are doing is still too slow, too incremental and not disruptive enough.
Then, over the past few years I thought- well, we absolutely have to shift the dynamic. We must address emotion. People’s feelings, emotions, their collective subconscious, the collective shadow we have of thinking we can exploit our planet and other people forever to get what we want. We’re facing another massive leap in human history. We’re at a bifurcation, a tipping point, a phase transition, whatever term you prefer to use. To navigate that momentous leap, new maps are vital, so healing ourselves and healing our planet is a way of new map making.
Now, a map is something that helps you orient yourself to figure out where you are and where you need to go. Where you’d like to go and what route you’re going to take to get there? That is now the key to my work- rewiring our individual and collective minds and hearts through a fusion of thinking, feeling and action embedded in realistic, science based pathways to thriving.
This key to how my work is evolving is not simply philosophical, though the models we use, most often unconsciously, are important. The problem is that most philosophers are brilliant at critiquing the problems, but short on solutions. There’s a lot of great people who can critique the system out there and I know most of them. If not personally, I know them all intimately in terms of their arguments, their logic and some of it’s very good. The challenge is they don’t bring realistic, doable solutions with them. Sure, the world’s screwed, we’ve got to change, but what must be done? What do you and I do differently? Here’s the problem, at the micro level, everybody’s unhappy and even if they want to change they’re not sure how. Then at the macro level, oh my God, we’ve got the climate scientists, and the UN, the media and everybody telling us how screwed we are. Then in the middle, at the meso-level, we have some businesses, investors, industries changing things for the better, but too slowly, though that’s better than nothing.
The thing is, it’s not connected. Now when you use the knowledge we have from complexity science about fractals and the way in which energy bubbles up from the bottom up in a system, and the way in which it can be directed through pathways to shift things higher up in the system. The conceptual frameworks that can work top down with it, to help consolidate and help make that coherent also help. Then, one suddenly arrives at some useful outcomes. Not only that, you find how to connect your motivation, your personal genius into what needs to be done. That’s what my last series of books after The Great Shift book focused on. They really set out the problem and set out what we need to do, in the shape of the pathways to thriving that can get us to where we need to be to survive and thrive.
I decided let’s figure out those pathways in some detail, with all the scientific knowledge we have today on the planet. First, though, I had to lay down some fundamental principles of how one could determine whether a human activity was “thriveable”- in other words, how it enabled our species to survive and thrive within a flourishing natural world. This also had to be done within the context of the scientific and social realities around social floors and environmental ceilings as conceptualized in Kate Raworth’s doughnut model and the work of the GRI, IIRC and SASB. My fifth book, “A Leader’s Guide to Thriveability” laid the foundations for this approach, including an application of integral science and thinking to ensure the model is holistic and leaves nothing out, no more “side-effects”.
Then, after the critical success that book and its approach received from leaders in the field of sustainability, investment and leadership, I decided I needed to dig deeper into the fabric of why synergy in general, physically, chemically, biologically, environmentally and socially, is the key to generating thriveability and regenerating our resources. In particular, the multi-capital model had to be made synergistic, not just additive. This also fits with everything we know from the sciences of chaos, complexity and anti-fragility about how complex evolving systems expand into adjacent possible niches.
So my sixth book, “Synergise!” was born. In particular, I was interested in demonstrating how synergistic “pockets of the future in the present” are emerging every day in the world around us, beneath the radar of the mainstream media and the average citizen. So it’s also a story about what’s going on around the world that gives us hope, that enables us to see how we can turn this around. How we can turn degeneration into regeneration. How we can turn the exclusive worlds of the elite and one percent into a world of inclusiveness, where people feel a part of something bigger than themselves.
After “Synergise!” was published, my seventh book “Making Good Happen- Pathways to a Thriving Future” was the logical next step. Now six pathways can help guide us in our transition. These Six Pathways were presented at the Sustainable Brands conference in Copenhagen in November 2017. It’s a very coherent frame … it simplifies things, and makes it easier for individuals and organisations to get involved.
Then finally, in 2018 I completed my eighth book- “The Momentous Leap”. It’s really quite a combination of science and art in the way I’ve looked at how the human species is facing this momentous leap. This bifurcation point, tipping point, call it what you will. The Momentous Leap gives us grounds for optimism, moving well beyond the consciousness racing catastrophe argument, which remains a highly over simplified framework for people who think that consciousness is almost everything. In other words, in Integral terms, the upper left-hand quadrant is suddenly the dominant feature. It’s my observation that for most people who love or are into Integral, that the upper left-hand quadrant is really where most of them are spending most of their time, and is the primary viewpoint from which they engage with the world.
I’ll give you an example. I first met Ken Wilber in 2001 in his loft in Denver after having read several of his books. I had spent the previous week with Don Beck, and 30 other integralists, a great week all around, doing Spiral Dynamics courses, after having applied the values systems and the change methods in the book Spiral Dynamics since 1996 in my transformation work. At the end of the evening, there was a Q&A session. So, I asked, “Ken, you’ve been invited to the World Economic Forum to speak several times. Bill Clinton and Al Gore like your work. If you went to the World Economic Forum, what would be the top two or three things you would say? What message would you want to give to the world?” I was disappointed with his answer which focused on being mindful moment to moment and conscious and awake. It was a total upper left quadrant answer with a dash of upper right quadrant practice thrown in.
And I guess that is to be expected, because Ken hasn’t been out into the world much- he is a brilliant philosopher who writes and teaches. He hasn’t transformed organizations. His frame of reference is focused on personal development. While the Integral Institute did attempt to expand out into the other quadrants, most of the Integral practitioners I know tended to be sitting in that upper left quadrant most of the time. They’re changing themselves and as they wake up, clean up, grow up and show up many of them are doing some good out there. I know of several Integral initiatives that are now getting some traction such as Ubiquity University but in the grand scheme of things it’s still a drop in the ocean. When I gave that speech four years ago at the Integral European Conference, my aim was to challenge the Integral world to take their Integral practices and capabilities out into the world and help solve its most pressing problems.
I basically said to them (the full recording of the speech is a video at the Project Synergise group on Facebook)- “You’re all very smart people. You’re all very capable. You’re all waking up, growing up, cleaning up, and showing up, but the showing up isn’t making enough of a difference. So how can you be more effective in doing that?” That’s what I’m working on and that’s what I’m trying to help people do.
George: Just to recap, we began by exploring the fact that your work has evolved from being rather cognitive at the stage of thriveability to then being more and more also concerned with the … well, with the usual guy in the street and how he or she can apply your insights in their everyday life. Also, how can you really speak to their emotional state. How does one handle the difficult predicament that we’re in? On the one hand we’re oscillating between this great momentous leap of meaning making by which we see history and development in a much grander scales, which is sometimes amazing and awe inspiring. And yet on the other hand, we also well encounter a tremendous amount of pain in this process of transitioning from one stage of our evolution to the next.
And that pain is sometimes very undifferentiated in how it shows up in our personal psychology- whether it is our personal issues, or whether it is some kind of greater pain that is on a societal level or even on a natural, spiritual level. In order to help us deal with this very confusing stage and the challenging scenarios we face, you’re now offering a series of webinars. Right?
George: That are helping people to empower themselves. Should we speak about those a little bit?
Robin: Yes absolutely- thank you George. When we started our interview today, you were asking me what have I learned in the past several decades in my own work and life? What’s working, what’s not working, and so on. What’s working is that there are a myriad of technical solutions and hundreds of millions of people growing up, showing up, showing up, and waking up. Which is wonderful. Let me not minimize that. That’s very important. 700 million people going through this momentous leap. That shift will take a few decades, but the problem is we don’t have a few decades. Right? Yet there’s a lot of good material we can work with to do what needs to be done in the next decade or so.
The biggest challenge I experience- and I think it’s not just me, it’s Western civilization in general if you like, is this myth of eternal growth and progress. To some extent we’re all unconsciously a part of that. Because for most of us alive today we’ve never missed a meal, yeah? Or if we did it was because we were trying to diet rather than starving from hunger. We’ve seldom had to sleep out in the rain or freeze in the cold in a sleeping bag, lying outside a bank asking for money- but there are three and half thousand people in the UK at the moment doing just that and many, many, many hundreds of thousands more in the United States and other so called civilized rich countries.
We’ve all had a life of abundance. Our expectations of: “It’s gonna get better, things will work out, it’s okay, we just need to keep on going” has to be re-looked at. We have to re-perceive what it means to live a good life. That is very hard because that is unconscious. We hold most of this unconsciously. When we say we’re waking up. What are we waking up to? Maybe we’re waking up to the fact that we’re very far from perfect. We need to improve, we need to develop, we need to grow, we need to do all those things. Especially we need to deal with our shadow.
This, however, is very much done on an individual basis so that the rise of coaching, the rise of training, and the conferences that are all designed to do that have grown out of that, which is a good first step. What’s hardest for people however, is to let go of this deep insecurity they feel amidst a certain level of comfort from modern life and its conveniences and trapping, that we’re going sort this out. That THEY, whoever they are- the government, the big corporations. If we bang on them hard enough, they’ll figure it out and then they’ll be okay. The answer is, it’s not going to be okay. What’s become absolutely clear in the last decade is that unless anti-fragile citizens become the leaders of these movements to wake the rest of the population up, we’re going to end up with what’s happening now.
A new President in Brazil- Bolsenaro- a right wing aspiring military dictator type takes charge of the world’s biggest rainforest and then says- “Down with the rainforests- we’re going to grow food and cattle in there and tar the roads. To hell with indigenous tribes and environmentalists”. And there go the rainforests that supply 15% of the oxygen we breathe. Or head north to President Trump and his cronies greedily reversing environmental protections while blaming immigrants for America’s problems- or President Orban in Hungary, or the Australian leaders greedily pushing coal fired power stations or a million others all around the world. Dictators. Authoritarians promising to rescue John and Jane Doe from their declining standards of living and the fear they feel in the face of a world rapidly coming apart. People with no conscience or shame hastening the end game for 90% of life on earth. This is pure ecocide.
George: And Mexico to some extent, along with the rest.
Robin: Yeah. We can add Brexit in Britain to that sad list of failures. The deeply fearful, angry and insecure have given the power to authoritarians because most of us in the developed world haven’t yet experienced the pain and suffering caused by climate disruption. We’ve watched other experience these effects on our televisions and the Internet – we get all this bad news all the time. So, John and Jane Doe are saying to themselves- “As long as I’m okay and I can see a reasonable chance of me surviving and my family … why should I change dramatically?” The slightly better informed are saying- “I’ll do a bit of light bulb changing and recycling and maybe I’ll buy a hybrid and I’ll feel good about myself. ‘Cause yeah, I believe I’m part of the solution. I’ll even have fewer kids.” Which by the way is the single biggest contribution you can make to avoid destroying the biosphere we need to survive and thrive.
Sadly, on its own this is not enough because we have to embed the change and the transformation in the guts of our global, neo-liberal degenerative eternal growth system. We have to develop a critical, systemic mindfulness, that sees ourselves as a fractal part of a much bigger system. While also seeing how this whole thing networks together and how those pathways to thriving make it possible for us to join together and do something meaningful that empowers us. At the core, though, we have to address the emotional dynamics of how and why people change. We all feel pain as you said. Now it’s undifferentiated. When you feel pain and it’s undifferentiated you just either project it out onto somebody else or you repress it. What we’re doing for a start in our Healing Ourselves, Healing Our Planet webinars is we’re giving a name to that pain. We’re giving a name to the emotions and the feelings and all the concerns and issues that arise as a result of it.
Then we’re aiming that to be connected to concrete things that you can do that can elicit your own genius to make a difference. However big or small, or whatever color it is. It doesn’t matter. That’s what we need. We need everybody to want to do that. The first step is to say, well I admit I’ve got a problem and it’s hurting. I don’t know exactly where, but it kind of feels like anger, fear, overwhelm, anxiety, and so on. Occasionally I feel excited, but not much of the time. In the last two webinars it’s been very powerful to see how that completely transforms the conversation. Because once you get to that authentic level of relating from the gut and from the heart, not just from the head you clear a space in which new things can happen.
George: You made also a poll on the “Healing Ourselves, Healing our Planet” group Facebook page right? Where you asked folks to ask themselves how they relate to the world crisis. You had seven different options there right? That was quite interesting. Like techno optimists and what were the other options again?
Robin: Yes- the options are in the following order, in the order that people responded. The greatest number of responses, over a third, were that people are engaging in spiritual and other practices to help them stay balanced and refreshed in these challenging times. To go back to your comments and my comments on Integral, right? One of the many ways in which you can do that, you can take part in organized ritual activities, whether it’s a church, mosque, ashram, sangha, Integral gathering, spiritual atheist gathering or a synagogue. It doesn’t matter. You take part in a custom or practice that allows you to reflect, consider your own ethics, and learn to breathe more deeply, and be inspired. Look at the spread of mindfulness practices around the world. It’s not surprising- the stress that everyone experiences is massive right now. Just learning to breath in slowly, hold for a few seconds, and breath out slowly helps. Take your time. Think calmly. Don’t let the world get you down, kind of thing.
So that’s one third of responses. Spiritual Practice is the way respondents deal with the stressed-out life conditions we are living in. Now of course that’s not the only response for those people, but that’s the highest ranking. The second highest ranking was the Pragmatic Optimists– their stance is that you have many solutions to limiting climate disruption and you should already be engaging with some of them to help us adapt and thrive. Those are the people who are actually in our orbit. Those are the people going- “I want to get things done. I believe we can fix this”. That’s about 30% of respondents. Next, we have the Green Technocrats. Their stance is- “We have to scale green technology products and services, and large-scale infrastructures, financial and social innovations as fast as possible”. That’s about 20% of respondents.
Then there are the Activists. They engage in major social, economic, and political change to bring about a green inclusive economy and political system. That’s a smaller number, probably about 10%. Then you have some other responses, which I’m sure outside of this group of people I’m connected to would be quite different. For example, Acceptance. Their stance is- “Although I’m generally a good citizen and done my bit to be environmentally friendly, I’m just too small to make change happen. So, like, what’s the point? I’m just going to live out my life as best as I can. I won’t be bad, but there’s not much I can do right?” That’s about five percent.
Then there are the Collapsists, about 5% of respondents. There are several people I know who literally believe the world as we know it is coming to an end. They’re intelligent people and they have their reasons. They believe we’re living in the end times and we must prepare ourselves for civilizational collapse. They’ve gone to live in places like Costa Rica and eco-villages in Findhorn, and Damanhur in Italy, because quite frankly they think our global civilization is about to collapse. Then there’s the smallest group here, which is those who are Struggling, who just say, “Look I’m up to my eyeballs trying to just survive every day and I’m a victim of forces beyond my control. So, what am I supposed to do? I’m doing everything I can, but I don’t have any time or energy left over for this.”
This is of course a sample of my 2 800 friends on Facebook, who are all pretty progressive in their views, and mainly living in developed world life conditions even if they are spread across 150 countries. I’m sure looking at the world as a whole it would be the almost other way around. For the whole world, most people are probably struggling. Their response is more- “Ah. You want to stop me fishing because it’s not good for the ocean. Well I need to fish to feed my family. So, what do I do?” That’s a hard one to answer.
George: Right, and probably these are also the voices within people that are all there and show up differently every day. People are switching, shifting between these voices within them.
Robin: Absolutely. Cycling in between the emotions and the voices, and no wonder we feel confused. Right? No wonder. I mean it’s complex and so my aim in all the work and all these webinars is to cut through that complexity to the simplicity the other side of complexity. There’s no need to reinvent that wheel every time. There’s no need to reinvent frameworks a hundred times. We’ve got the frameworks. We know what the dysfunctional points are. We know what the acupuncture points are to fix those things. Now we got to get on and do that and stop arguing about the details. Let’s get on and make this happen.
George: One of the problems I … well we have often encountered in getting moving things forward is that one is somehow forced to turn whatever you’re doing into a product that can be packaged and then sold. Whereas, what we’re actually going for is a larger process.
Robin: Yes. Look, the unit of change is basically a conversation. What we’re engaging with in these webinars is a model which creates a container for deeper understanding and a conversation. The first half of each webinar is devoted to a model or a framework that enlightens us and gets us to some simplicity on the other side of complexity. As participants go deeper they can relax a bit in their deeper understanding which informs how the bigger picture they are a part of is evolving, and what they can do about it. The other half is the conversation. Then the question is, well how do you relate to that and what can you do about it in your own personal life and in your work?
George: Looking forward, what do you think are the next big steps? What is your vision to take your work forward right now? What is your cutting edge in a way?
Robin: Well that’s a very good question because bottom line I’m interested in what works. I’m not attached to any particular ideology, method, framework, tool set, skill set. What I’m attached to, vary vociferously, is what works. What I know is that the world is so complex and varied that in different bio-cultural regions and places, different things work for different people. My vision would to not only to create some kind of standardized set of models, and frameworks, and tools that everybody can use. Which is I think where we’re going with this, but then to be able to tailor those, adapt them to specific bio-cultural uniqueness. Then when I think about that I think about places like Costa Rica, which is one of the happiest places on the planet with a longer lifespan than some the civilized developed countries because they decided to focus on ecotourism and not cut down their rainforests.
They don’t actually invest in their military- they spend all their money looking after Costa Ricans rather than waging wars. Whereas the other countries that have been invaded by the US and so many times in the CIA and so on, such as Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, are a total disaster because they’ve invested in war, and power, and money, and offshore bank accounts. Just in that little part of Central America you got a litmus test of what’s needed. What’s needed for Costa Rica is not needed for Panama. Right? Then you expand that up to the whole world, well what are you going to do about Bangladesh? Where tens of millions of people will be under water in the next few decades because they all live on the coast and that’s very low lying land.
That’s a very different problem to the problem you have in let’s say Russia where permafrost is melting. On the other hand, there’s more fertile farmland opening up because it’s getting warmer. The weather’s crazier though. Sometimes it freezes, sometimes it’s boiling hot. How’s that going to work longer term? Similarly, for North America and Europe. Europe’s also doing some great stuff leading in the developed world in sustainable models of development. There is President Macron in France- he’s doing a huge amount for the environment with massive plans to reduce the carbon and other impacts of France. Germany to a similar extent.
Or Spain, where renewable energy is huge. Italy not so much. Every place is different, but there are some fundamental principles and that’s what we’ve captured in the models, and the tools, and practices. That enable you to see the commonalities across diverse systems and how we can go about reinventing the good life. Which is essentially what we have to do together on those pathways to thriving.
George: Yeah and I think the general direction of your work as far as I’ve been involved in it is also to inspire millennials and everyone who is just setting out in their journey at this point and enabling them to make life decisions that are in favor of planetary wellbeing. Right? Also providing an education that enables them to have this bigger perspective, which is I think one of the things most lacking today. Young people do have almost an intuitive sense that there needs to be this shift, but they’re lacking actual opportunities for education and also jobs or places where they can build lives that are congruent with these new insights.
Robin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
George: For me your work has been a great help, a great empowerment because it gives you not only the spiritual insights, but also the actual tools and frameworks that make a difference. I’m looking forward to the further development of your work and I hope to continue our collaboration.
Robin: Well George, thank you very much – one of the insights I’m really hoping future generations who are alive now are going to get is that, what one practices at small scale sets the pattern for the whole system. I’ll repeat that. What we do every day at the small scale sets the pattern for the whole system. If you can see your life and your relationships as the first place to practice justice, liberation, and alignment with others on the planet, you’re able to transform yourself and transform the world. It’s completely doable. It’s totally doable.
George: It’s the fact of energy bubbling up that you mentioned when discussing fractals and complexity science.
Robin: Yes, exactly. “We are the world”, or as that famous best-selling single of all time said (which rather dates me), “We are the children”. Right? That’s the future and if we get the younger generations to get this globally there will literally be a peaceful global revolution over the next few decades, which can literally turn this whole situation around very rapidly. It’s totally doable and it will take another two decades for the greedy elites to start dying off in reality and for that next generation to come in to power. They will. They are. It’s happening in every country in the world because the people who created these problems by and large are at an age where death becomes much more likely. As the great philosopher of science Karl Popper might have put it, paradigms shift one death at a time. The demographics are shifting and that’s why I believe in investing in the potential of millennials and younger generations to make this change happen, now.
About the Authors
Robin Wood advises leaders and organisations world-wide on designing and delivering thriveable strategies. Over 4 decades he has worked with hundreds of Global 1000 clients and also created several commercial and socially innovative startups. He advises the Thriveable Investment Fund and focuses on developing leaders and boards capable of delivering thriving futures. He is the author of eight books, dozens of articles, and has won many awards for his writing and speaking.
Georg Boch is passionate about unleashing the power of authentic storytelling for inspiring brands, purposeful organizations and the good of our global village.
With his background in game development, VR-Neurofeedback entrainment, and good old digital transformation management, he loves finding the simplicity on the other side of complexity that speaks to us on a gut level. His consultancy work lives at the intersection of exponential technology, immersive media and conscious leadership purposed towards a more thriveable world our hearts know is possible. In his spare time, you can find him cooking Mexican food, playing with his daughter and hosting Virtual Reality Mindfulness Retreats.