We are in a situation where those who are paying attention are terrified and those who are not are resistant to change and even in denial about what the future holds. As humans it is very hard to see something that is not within your experience. That is why they say, “You can only teach what people already know.” That does not mean that what cannot be seen is not real, only that the framework for seeing and understanding the new and extraordinary has not yet been built.

When a young child is found wandering in the street, we yank it out of the street, we don’t engage on a program to teach it about cars and the effect of an impact. You can’t do this with adults, especially adults who think: they already know what they need to know; that they are right; that they are too embarrassed to admit that they don’t know. Add to that the timetable for change that the planet has versus the timetable it takes to educate learning phobic adults, and you have some understanding of the issues we face.

I’m part of the ‘yes we can’ crowd and I’ve spent years learning the subtleties of natural systems, so I have some grasp on the crisis we are facing, enough to be very daunted by the task at hand. I vacillate between committed enthusiasm and dejected despair. The task of rebalancing the planets natural systems so that we can return to the regular and comfortable environment we have lived in for the past 65,000 years, appears to be impossible now. It still appears that we may have the ability to slow down the shift and re-balance those systems at a slightly higher temperature range than we have experienced in the past. This is a hope and desire, I’m not sure exactly how real it is, but assuming that we can do that, the implications for the rest of the life on this planet is not at all clear.

Most life forms (us included) live within a fairly narrow temperature range. We are already seeing the migration of birds and animals and in a few cases plants toward the cooler regions of the globe. There are now robins in the arctic. The Eskimos do not have a name for the bird. We may be looking at a decimation of life at the equator as life pushes toward the polar-regions. The impacts on farming and our ability to produce enough food are at particular risk. What to do?

As Dylan Thomas said, I do not expect to ‘go gently into that good night’ but to rage, rage on. It is to that end that I write this book.

Systems thinking is the ability to see patterns, the dynamics formed by the interaction of wholes with each other. We are trained to see only parts and pieces of things. We see ourselves as separate and distinct objects with little or no connection to anything else. Yet we claim to be ‘all one’ and we claim to be a part of a species (humanity) that appear to have some similarities between all of the various objects we call human. We float in and out of wholes and parts when we think about people, or the environment, but for the most part it is pieces we pay attention to. This is very misleading. Because we do not see connections, dynamics or patterns, we are often surprised by our experiences. There is no place where that is truer than in the realm of ethics and values.

What I see most needed at this time in our existence is a love of Life. We are so caught up in fear, or in trying to ‘get it right’ or in ‘success’ that we have forgotten the why. Why are we here? Why do we even care about anything? It seems to me that everything is screaming for love. Everything is seeking love, but we are looking in all the wrong places.

When I look at how we have managed to understand ethics and morality, most of our approaches have been anchored in fear. Fear of others, fear of doing the wrong thing, fear of punishment, fear of appearing silly or unimportant or…. You cannot be in fear and still love Life. In fear you rationalize behavior under the pretext of becoming ‘safe.’ Love is letting go of fear. Christ very famously said, “You can’t serve two masters” and that is true. We cannot serve the ‘master’ of fear and still serve the ‘master’ of love. The only ethic that serves love of Life is the same ethic that nature uses to develop more and more complex life. It is an ethic that makes more important the relationships between life forms, than the life of the individual life forms themselves. The health of the whole is more important than any small part or piece. It is through the health of the whole that the pieces and parts find their health and well-being.


number-of-major-wild-fires-by-continent-and-decade-since-_951Seeing values as systems is an unusual approach to ethics. This piece is the introduction to my new book, the Evolution of Values. If exploring ethics and values form this fresh and provocative pain of view interests you, then join me. If you would like to help me write by offering feedback as I write, then join me. If you are interested in reading this book as it takes shape and form, being among the very first to engage with these ideas, then join me!   Sign up here and let’s get started!


In our rush to ‘rethink’ our world we must not forget to think! Robert Reich is making several insightful statements about where we are going and where we may end up if we don’t think ahead. Entrepreneurs and young folks, in general, don’t think about being sick, old, or at the effect of a shifting economy – mostly because it is outside of their experience. The trouble is that all of these will be in their experience, at some time in the future, but if accommodations are not made now they won’t be available then.

The ‘sharing economy’ was construed to create work, which it does. But the deeper ramifications have not been thought through. The rise of both Uber and Airnib have made it clear that there is a dark side to some of these new business models. Designed for young singles or retired folks they are huge traps for anyone trying to create a life! By removing all the support frameworks, as Reich points out, they undermine the very life’s they are purporting to support. We are growing without building the infrastructure that will support that growth over the long-term. This leads to collapse and is unsustainable!

We need to rethink growth, in any case. The issue is NOT about getting bigger, but about getting better, and a large part of better is the creation and maintenance of a sustainable foundation and infrastructure. Innovation is GREAT, but let’s not let greed interfere or undermine our ability to create the world we to live in!

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I’ve been spending some time recently, ruminating on control. This is a subject I’ve been engaged with since 1995, when I developed my Control, Power, and Strategy workshop. Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve our problems at the same level of consciousness that created them.” And there is no area where that is more true than control.

Control is a relic of past times. Of a time when fear reigned and the only antidote appeared to be control. We, as a species, felt at the mercy of the weather, of animals and even other people, so taking control seemed like the most natural thing to do. Ah, but what, exactly, did we control? Certainly not the weather and only occasionally were we able to control animals or other people, yet the myth of control persists. In fact we have spent the past many hundreds of years working diligently to control nature and other people. We have failed miserably at both.

Measuring Our Success

We have succeeded at changing some of our experience with nature by damming rivers, cultivating crops, and building better houses, but the myth of control has really been about protection, we really haven’t changed Mother Nature. Have we had a better experience in controlling other people? We have learned how to make people obedient, at least for a time, through fear. The ‘might makes right’ approach has been applied to everyone from our children to people of other races and other lands. We have threatened, beaten, and incarcerated millions of people and achieved some temporary respite from their threatening behavior, but it just doesn’t seem to last. It appears we’ve protected ourselves, but not really made any real changes in people’s beliefs, desires, or even long-term behavior.

From a systems thinking point of view, control is always imposed from outside the system. It is done to – someone or some thing. That is why it is never permanent or ultimately very satisfactory. It offers temporary relief and protection from uncomfortable situations, but the consequences can be unpredictable (climate change), even horrific (political uprisings), and unwanted (death of salmon because of warm water or blocked spawning grounds or ruptured personal relationships).

We are not skilled in making the changes we seek. Our need for comfort has resulted in our habitual stepping out of the system to act on it, which makes immediate relief possible, but often adversely impacts long-term success. Control often looks like punishment, instead of a request for consideration or help.

Control, Culture and Values

It is interesting to look at how control manifests in the three value systems: protection, effectiveness and sustainability. In the Protective Value Set™, the point of view is one of ‘us versus them’ so control is exercised on ‘us’ (loyalty, obedience, vengeance) so we can depend upon each other as we try and protect ourselves from ‘them.’ In the Effective Value Set™ control is exerted toward clear communication (not using force, contracts, honesty) so that the responsibility for success is shared. In the Sustainable Values Set® control is focused on relationship (right relationship, all actions create the conditions that support life, keeping the integrity of the whole). The locus of control shifts from me to us to we. With each iteration we become more integral to the system and more aware of our impact upon it.

The same progression holds true when you look at corporate culture. The Three cultures: Command and Control, Collaborative, and Co-Creative shift in a similar way from ‘me’ (my way), to ‘us’, but the Co-Creative culture can get high-jacked back into ‘me’ if there is not a shared purpose that underscores the ‘we’. The three Value Sets support the various cultures, but the Sustainable Values Set® offers the vision that ensure the Co-Creative culture moves into ’we’. This is one of the strategic strengths of becoming a zero waste and rigorous company. The need for every to participate is also why the need to control processes shifts from controlling people to people engaging in self-discipline.

Is Self-Discipline the Answer?

Discipline is how conscious parts of the system maintain control from within the system. Discipline is expressed in each of the three cultures and value systems a bit differently: in the Protective Value Set™ and the Command and Control culture people discipline themselves because of their commitment and loyalty to the leader; in the Effective Value Set™ and the Collaborative culture it is the desire to maintain productive relationships that provides the desire for self-discipline; where in the Co-Creative culture and the Sustainable Value Set® it is the commitment to something greater that makes self-discipline seem worthwhile.

The need for protection is inherently separated from the system, but the desire to co-create is inherently an inside the system position. Changing the system to meet our individual needs is inherently temporary, time consuming and expensive. Co-creating using the dynamics inherent in the system, is more likely permanent, becomes part of our lifestyle or time is not an issue, and is even more economical in the long-run, yet it appears slower to start and feels like a distraction from the immediate release sought from the presenting irritation. Like any journey we have to learn to raise our sights from the excitement of the journey to a focus on long-term success if we want to avoid the unintended consequences inherent in a short-term point of view.

When we control ourselves – our own emotions, thoughts and actions, instead of trying to control the ‘other’ the whole world changes from one of danger to one of interest, from one of protection to one of learning and from a place where we are victims to a place where we are co-creators of the future. Which place would you prefer to live in?



dreamstime_angry bossI’ve only recently moved to Spokane and I love it. What I love most is that Spokane is steeped in relationships. SO many people have lived here their whole life and their parents and grandparents as well. Because that is true, folks assume that everyone has been here their whole life. This has two unintended consequences; folks explain and locate things by where businesses and landmarks used to be, and they feel comfortable talking to you anywhere and at any time, on the bus or in any line. On the bus people often comment on other people’s conversations and I’ve been helped many times by someone who overheard my conversation and contributed.

As a neighborhood council member I’m seeing some of this breakdown in the neighborhoods as so many of Spokane’s homes are now rentals. This means that new people move in all the time, so long-time residents sort of withdraw and stick to themselves. Absentee landlords rent to anyone and the ‘point the finger’ relationship between landlords and tenants leads to a downward spiral of poorly maintained homes. Rising crime rates can result from these kinds of situations and all of this seems to justify ‘righteous’ anger and a ‘they are doing it to us again’ attitude.

The other force that I see working against a culture of basic friendliness is a national cultural change that is impacting all of us. One of the ‘gifts’ of the Republican party has been a public permission to hate. Their language and rhetoric over the past few years has made it permissible to show public disrespect for anyone (including the President of the United States) that they don’t like. It has fostered people like Donald Trump, who actually garners greater public approval by his public bashing of immigrants and even public figures (John McCain) he doesn’t like. For now many people have been outraged by these statements, but once statements like these become the ‘new norm’ Trump will be joined by many more and the tone of public discourse will hit a new low.

This culture has prompted some Republicans to bring in heads of state from other countries to undermine Presidential policies. This kind of behavior would have been seen as traitorous in times past, but it has raised barely a hiccup in the media. Where is public outcry? Perhaps the culture of disrespect is further along than even I imagined.

I see this culture of hate as one of the most pressing issues we face. Not only does it make public discourse problematic, it fosters a disrespect of law and due process that is very damaging to the roots of our democracy. What is most insidious about it is that once these new ‘norms’ get established, everyone contributes to that ‘normalizing’ process. Every time a public figure acts or speaks with anger and hatred, those ‘norms’ get reinforced. Every time a public figure disrespects another public figure, the need to respect each other becomes undermined.

As I observe public meetings and news events, I have seen people exhibit behavior that does not seem to be in alignment with what I perceive as a democratic value system. It doesn’t matter if the subject is one that supports the sick and needy if the discussion and presentation of it is filled with anger, name calling and recriminations, that anger shuts down discourse and the mistreatment of fellow participants undermines respect and by extension all participants.

I don’t believe that anyone intends these consequences, however each of us, in our own way, either works to create a culture where open and free discussion is safe and valued or not. Our actions in every meeting we are in and in every public forum we participate in can reinforces this negative kind of culture or dampen it. My hope is that by bringing this to your attention you will see the importance of reinforcing respect and fostering unfearful and free discussion – I believe that our democracy depends on this! You, dear reader, have the unique opportunity of becoming a public leader in reaffirming these two basic values: free and open discourse and mutual respect, if you have the courage to apologize publically when your own habits get in the way.

Changing habits is hard work! Doing so publically requires immense courage. This is how leaders change culture and help others gain an awareness of their own lapses in behavior. This is how great leaders give others the courage to make their own changes in habit. I fervently hope you are up to the challenge.

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dreamstime_Nature_In_HandsI went to see Spy with a friend the other day. This is not a movie I’d have chosen and truthfully, I knew very little about it, but I loved it! It was funny and clever and it was a very nice model of pushing women forward. The language, however, was full of F bombs. Now that sort of fit the content, but both my friend and I felt the need to comment on the rather excessive use of that word. I, for one, have always wondered why an act that gives such pleasure would be used to show such disrespect.

Impact of Language

Sharon Ellison, in her book Taking the War Out Of Our Words: The art of powerful non-defensive communication gives example after example of how we seek to hide and ‘protect’ ourselves through our choice of words. She demonstrates how our choices of words (tone and body language too) can cause lasting harm, prevent us from achieving what we say we want, and put us on a path of no return as we engage in power struggles instead of co-creation. Words matter!

So many young people use ‘bad’ words to make a statement about their ‘freedom’ and ‘adulthood’. They use the constant stream of epithets to declare that they are big, bad and powerful, at a time when all of those things are up for grabs. I remember doing just that at a certain time in my life. I stopped because I didn’t want people to think of me the same way as I thought about people who used foul language. I also sensed the weakness inherent in using language to demonstrate power when real confidence was lacking. After all, if I was really big, bad and powerful why would I need to use slang and cursing to prove it?

Language Impact Relationships

Martin Buber in his book, I and Thou held a rich discussion on the damage of using ‘it’. He described how distancing that word is in relationships. The word ‘it’ objectifies the world and makes everything an ‘other,’ an other that is less than, one that can be/should be ‘managed.’ Robin Wall Kimmerer of the Anishinaabe tribe makes that same point in a more lyrical and heartfelt way in her article, Alternative Grammar: A new language of kinship in the 2015 spring issue of Yes! Her solution, however, is one I find thrilling and very clever. There is no word for the ‘other’ that is relationship-based, in the English language. We need another word to replace ‘it,’ she writes. Her choice is ‘ki’ to refer to living things. Her example, “Oh, that beautiful tree, ki is giving us sap again this spring.”  Makes me feel warm and close to the tree. For me the difference is profound – and that’s the point!

Language Impacts Climate Change

We ask ourselves what we can do to end global warming and climate change, but language is not the first place we look. Yet we will not make this shift without changing our relationship to the natural world and a good first place to start would be language. I challenge you to take this up in your own life. Replace ‘it’ with ‘ki’ – the plural is ‘kin,’ her example, “Look kin are flying south for the winter, come back soon.” (nice or what?) in your own speech. By doing this you will do a number of things. You will become a warrior for the Earth as you risk the taunting of your friends; you will engage yourself in your own reframing and in a rebuilding of your own awareness of your relationship with life; you will become a bright light – showing the way into the future; and, you will become a model for the kind of deep and lasting change we need to make – as a people – to ensure that we can live on this dear Earth for generations to come.

If you find this small task too daunting, then ask yourself how likely is it others will make the changes you see they need to make? Look into your own commitment and see what it lacks to make the difference that needs to be made. Listen to your own rationalizations about how this is ‘not important,’ too small to make and ‘real’ difference, or what other ‘reason’ you give yourself to not take this very small step.

Climate change requires behavior change, but we won’t change our behavior if WE don’t change our behavior. We gripe about changing light bulbs, about using alternative – anything, and we have ‘real’ and easy excuses about why our actions won’t make an impact, so we can justify our own reluctance to change. At the same time we desperately hope that someone else will make those changes, that someone else will do what must be done, that someone else will save us.

Change your language and change your relationship with all the other beings on the planet. If we can change that, then changing our actions will be a piece of cake. We will find it offensive to do harm to what we love. We will find it outrageous to kill a tree to make a parking lot. We will reduce our own water use so that fish and wildlife may live, as see that action as an obvious one. The first value of the sustainable Values Set is: All actions create the conditions that support Life. Our language should reflect that!

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On Amazon – Culture Values & Unintended Consequences: A Workbook

Knowing what to do and knowing why are two very different things. With ethics, for most of human existence, we have been focusing on the what. Ethics has become a rulebook, often codified into laws that have attempted to provide us with all of the ‘right’ things to do and the consequences for the ‘wrong’ things. Has that approach worked? Certainly the Ten Commandments are part of that approach, and we seem to have some difficulty dealing effectively with only ten rules let alone the myriads of rules we currently live under.

Conflating ethics with rules and laws with ethical behavior leaves much to be desired. Not only is it not possible to codify all behavior (the army has tried), who has time to read them and that doesn’t help in the throes of a crisis or in the heat of decision-making. Simply put the what doesn’t tell us why so that we can act coherently in new and unusual situations. Why do we want to be ‘good’ as an inherent part of our nature? No child is born wanting to be ‘bad,’ bad is a strategy.

If humans are an integral and inherent part of nature, then, perhaps, the answer can be found there. Is nature inherently ‘good?’ Janine Benyus of biomimicry fame stated that in nature all actions create the conditions that support Life. This, for me, is a very clear, and even easy to apply what. It seats us into the natural web of life and provides us with a clear mission and direction for how we contribute to the health of the planet. What could be more ethical than that? This value is one of the key values in the Sustainable Values Set®, and a useful way to think about creating culture. It doesn’t address the deeper why, however.

Closely allied with ethics is integrity. When I look up integrity I get: truthfulness, honor, veracity, reliability, uprightness. Veracity means; reality, actuality, authenticity, genuineness, trueness. When I ask students about integrity they usually settle on reliability. This has always bothered me, because Hitler was reliable, but we would not call him ethical and would be hard put to say he had integrity, so there seems to be more to the word than just being reliable.

Veracity comes closer to the deeper meaning of integrity, I think. What makes something have trueness or reality? Why is being authentic important? The answers to these questions can be found, I believe, in nature. In nature, what is true and authentic supports the integrity of the entire system. Nature is NOT about parts and pieces, the world in which humans seem to live so comfortably. Nature is about the larger system, always. It is by keeping that healthy, intact, working well that all of the ‘parts’ (us included) can function well. Health is intrinsic to nature. Sickness happens only when the system is out of wack. The natural state of Life, is health.

Look at your company culture. Would you say it is healthy? Is it vibrant and robust? It is creative and responsive, resilient in the face of challenges? Can you name the people in your organization that you would say have integrity? Who holds the entire organization as the focus for decision-making? Who can extend that concern into the community and the environment? Who is responsible for your organizations integrity? How does your organization contribute to the health and integrity of your community, of the planet?

I’m going to challenge you again. Send me examples of thorny ethical questions and let’s see if looking at the health and integrity of the larger system offers up solutions. I will share your questions and my thoughts on solutions I future articles, so send them in!

Walking your talk is not easy – that’s why working with a coach/mentor is helpful! Check out my Coaching with Kathryn website, and let’s talk!