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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.

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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!

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Control

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?


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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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As an author I’m learning that there is way more to publishing a book if you want it to make an impact. I’ve been attending a month long training for authors on what you next after you’re published called Build a Business with Your Book.

I was inspired by Lynn Kippel’s presentation and interview where she stimulated me to take the next step. All of you will be invited to the up coming free webinar called, We’re Not In Kansas Anymore!: 4 strategies for the spiritually fluent leader, so keep a look out for the invitation. The webinar is based on the leadership chapter in the book I published in October of last year called, What’s It Mean – Shifting To Green? This webinar is also an introduction to the five -week online course called: Leadership as a Spiritual Challenge. I’m quite excited about this course as I believe that the spiritual aspect of leadership is rather hidden perhaps as a legacy from our belief in the separation between church and state. The class will deepen and make practical the four strategies outlined in the free webinar.

For me the whole issue of our climate/planetary crisis is fundamentally a crisis of values. I also believe that we won’t solve this threat without reassessing our ethics and values. In my humble opinion this is a spiritual crisis and an incredible opportunity to begin to align your values with your actions. That we haven’t done this (as a species) is why we are in this crisis, I believe.

The big question is how do we act from our spiritual beliefs in the world of business, what does being spiritually fluent mean? Some may even question if that is a viable business reason for doing so. Many business people actually fear that being ethical will limit their chances of making money. I hear the same fear when I talk to people about acting as if nature was important they also seem to feel that doing so will limit what they can do in their business. We will tackle these kinds of issues in both the free webinar and the online course.

Spirituality is practical! This is the foundational learning I hope everyone will have. It offers such a clear way of interfacing with everyday business issues that success can be startling. Acting from a place of nurturing and caring is not only empowering (for you and others), it also brings innovation into the workplace in very profound ways.

Understanding the gigantic impact leadership can have on an organizations success and how needed this shift is to successfully implement sustainability is eye opening. The four leverage points we will explore in both the free webinar and the five-week online course will bring a lot of ah ha’s to participants! Both of these are experiential, so people who register for either will receive a workbook and will be expected to apply what they are learning to their work situations. These are not your typical online webinars!

I’m so grateful for Lynn’s presence in this course! Her way of presenting the material set me on fire and now I’m very excited to get my online course out there. It also offered another gift to me. I got to look at my book with new eyes and see the richness of material that is in there! I’m looking forward to sharing the message from the book in this new, deeper format!


 

Kathryn Alexander, MA   is an author, speaker, and coach, and creator of Learning Parties™, she is an expert in ethics, systems thinking and change, she combines scientific insight, and spiritual sensibility as coach and mentor, working with values-based executives and business owners.

If you are interested you can click here to download a free check list to compare your own company with others and see how you measure up on the journey through the three stages of sustainability.

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The news that we will surpass 4 degrees in global temperature is dire news. How do you feel with a 4 degree temperature, that’s 102 degrees? Life cannot sustain that. We ALL live in a fairly narrow temperature band.

As critical as removing carbon is, there is more than one way to skin a cat…the use of biochar is very promising! This is an example of reframing problem from energy to carbon reduction. Understanding the depth and breadth of the change we need to make is critical.

Sustainability is a journey, with three stages. The first is the wise use of resources, the second is thinking systemically and achieving zero waste. The third is when business practices actually are regenerative and refresh the Earth. This year I started a research project seeking companies that have made it to the third stage of sustainability.

The good news is that I’ve found about a dozen, so far. They are in all industries, but what they all have in common is that they have made nature a partner in their business. They are constantly asking “what would nature do” and tweaking their business practices to replicate her actions.

The Permaculture Credit Union lends money for impact, not profit. They make loans only if the impact is large. Impact trumps yield and this strategy has allowed them to grow and profit without the reliance on fees that the rest of the financial world seems to deem necessary.

Regenesis Group is a land development company that helps develop site and even regional development plans that are designed to allow nature to successfully evolve in concert with human habitation. By integrating watershed and land formation into the desired use they ensure the long-term success of the project and the long-term health of the ecosystem.

Reflective Images is a jewelry company that uses free trade gold and gem stones. Over the years they have developed an international network of indigenous people who harvest gold and gems without harming the Earth. This benefits not only the environment, but makes a reasonable living possible for thousands of people who are normally shut out of the profits in the jewelry industry, creating a win-win-win situation.

These examples are important, because in so much of what we do in sustainability today, the Earth as no voice. We work hard to reduce our impact, but we have yet to really grapple with what it will take to partner with nature to create a healthy planet. We still justify pollution, the destruction of pristine forests and salmon spawning grounds instead of investing the same amount of time and money in seeking true alternatives.

In each of the examples above the potential for industry transformation is apparent. By using the needs of nature as the discipline for rethinking how they do business, each business has the potential to become a market leader. However, with the exception of the Permaculture Credit Union, all appreciate that small is better. The Credit Union is being pushed to grow because the demand outstrips their ability to grow within the legal constraints they are bound by the FDIC.

If we really follow the path of sustainability to its logical conclusion, we will remake the face of business on this planet. Zero waste, alone, practiced with the understanding that everything we don’t use must become food for something else, is a game changer. We saw that in the story of Interface Carpets. Money is made, cost is reduced, new products, processes and tools all increase the profit margins of those companies willing to go the extra mile. These companies are unique because they are not agricultural of tightly tied to agricultural practices. They are important because they prove that any company in any industry has the potential to make breakthroughs in their sustainable business practices.

So, exactly how do you begin to listen to nature? You can hire someone who is versed in permaculture design principles to help you think like nature. You can use the Sustainable Values Set® to ask the right questions, and you can work to develop a culture that is committed strategically, engaged and empowered. This is not a task that rests with one person or one department. Without the commitment and engagement of the entire organization, the many opportunities for change will be overlooked.

Ford Motor Company, at their River Rouge plant has a green roof, planted with living things and a parking lot with permeable asphalt. This a baby step in working with nature instead of blocking her, but we can  and must do better. Ford saves money in heating and cooling and in their waste water bill, so even these small steps carry a significant financial payback. These are long-term fixes with long-term benefits – start NOW.

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The current crop of sustainability oriented companies are reducing resource use, and that will give us time, but we need to rethink how we interact with nature to prevent a reoccurrence of the situation we now face. These companies are leading the way!

These are the real rock stars of business, even if you’ve never heard of them and they aren’t gigantic in size, and perhaps that’s part of the point. What makes them rock stars is their ability to be true to themselves and express themselves through the music of their business. The people I’m interviewing are exactly like this. Rock stars know they have achieved something when their audience responds. These business people look for their response in the responses from their employees, the community and the Earth.

These business people have listened to their own internal voices and they are creating businesses that bring Life, Life to their employees, Life to their communities and Life to our beautiful planet! There are a few famous companies, Interface Carpets, Inc., now Interface Global, Inc., is a shining example, but in my research I’m finding small firms that are not ‘famous’ but who are making a profound difference through their work. More importantly, they are proving that you don’t need vast resources to rethink your business, you just need clarity and commitment.

There is no one industry; I’ve talked to a financial institution, land developer, jeweler, hotel, high-tech contracting firm, architecture consulting firm, an educator, a spiritual development program, a legal firm and an entrepreneur incubator firm so far. People with this vision and commitment are everywhere! They act as beacons so others can see what is possible.

The role of the entrepreneur has been cast as a path to wealth, and that may be. The more important role, however, is as a creator of our culture and community. We are struggling to redefine success and the role of money in all aspects of our lives. Social entrepreneurs have started this process by seeing business as a means to solving many of our most pressing problems. Regenerative businesses go farther in that the how of business is as important as the what.

What other models do we look to to shape our own decisions about our own life? We have come to believe that being good – respecting ourselves and others, almost ensures struggle and diminished ‘success.’ Some business people are afraid to explore ethics because they fear it will limit their choices and make them uncompetitive!

In this time of change, how shall we live? We need to understand our relationship to nature in a new way, but what does that look like? What will we ‘lose,’ what will we have, if we do things differently? These heroes prove that we lose nothing and gain everything that’s important as we rethink this most basic relationship. Our very survival has always been rooted in nature, we have forgotten this and we tremble when we remember.

We have come to the point where we are willing to sacrifice our children’s health and future for high school football success. The culture of just keeping going, no matter what the cost, said by Frank Deford about the culture in football, is equally true for business. The cost matters and much of our ‘success’ is not worth it! Cost and pain are both indicators, nature’s way of saying, “no.” We have gotten very good at stretching our limits, at refusing to recognize we need to go slow and become more thoughtful. It has become ‘wimpish’ to take care of yourself. A ‘real man’ self-destructs…for what?

These rebels are disproving so many of these myths. Banks and credit unions are now proclaiming they can’t make money without fees. This is a race to the bottom with banks betting their futures on the inability of their customers to meet their rules. Caught in an unexamined system they collude with a struggling industry to siphon from the poorest, thus weakening the system. Instead of building capacity they are undermining the entire systems financial health. We need models to disprove these kinds of illusions!

The Permaculture Credit Union is doing just that. Functioning from ‘enoughness’ and focusing on impact, not profit, they are able to grow faster than the system will allow. They make their money from loans, as all banks used to do. They pay a bit less interest on deposits and get a bit more from loans, but they don’t engage in out bidding other banks, so they don’t need to create another revenue stream to subsidize the losses in these areas as other financial institutions are having to do.

To learn more about these rebels and to learn how you can join them, invite me to speak,  request coaching, take a webinar or subscribe to a course. I believe that there is a tsunami of smaller businesses that are playing by a brand new rule book. They are not about sacrificing, they don’t sacrifice themselves as leaders, they don’t sacrifice their employees, their communities or the Earth, but they do make ‘enough’ money, they do exceptional work, and they have lives they can proud of. They are doing business by celebrating the joy of Life – not sacrificing it!

Check out our website: Ethical Impact L3C

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