22 October 2021

Regenerative capitalism – here we go!

I first read about the term ‘regenerative capitalism’ in the book Green Swans by John Elkington, and it immediately captured my imagination.

If you go looking for a simple definition of regenerative capitalism, you can find this one, which I rather like:

Quite simply, regenerative capitalism is seeing the forest where capitalism sees only individual, profitable trees.

Capitalism has been a phenomenal movement, just out of kilter over the past 40 years or so. We currently have operating some of the most successful companies the world has seen, but they are the most harmful to society at the same time. Think Facebook and Amazon, for example.

The journey begins
We’ve been a BCorp for 4 years, and now Collective Intelligence is taking it up a notch and heading down our own path to embracing regenerative capitalism, and it’s exciting! This journey was kick-started with a well-directed, framed-up question from the super-smart Maria King:

“What could be created if you shed the old paradigm of treating Collective Intelligence as a traditional business, and took on regenerative practices, like you have with your farm?”

That question disturbed my sleep for some 6 weeks, as my subconscious grappled with Maria’s challenge (which was issued as part of our Impact Team intervention in March 2021).

The first glimmer of understanding for me came with the realisation that we could use Aotearoa’s temperate rainforest as a model to design our whole ecosystem – our Collective Intelligence community – as well as our business model.

These past few months we have been working through what our collective vision could be, with our Advisory Board collating information and feedback sought from our facilitators, members and alumni. Meanwhile I had been on my own vision journey, going back to Maria for clarification and guidance.

A few weeks back our whole Board came together to share what each process had crystalised, and this is what it looked like, as we realised that we had all reached the same vision.

Our board enjoying the vision-setting process

This photo captures the sheer energy and joy of that moment (thanks to Bettina Anderson clicking the camera).

I’m not going to share our vision with you just yet, as we are crafting the next pieces, and this blog is not about the vision, it’s about our journey of discovery that we are in the middle of right now.

Building a regenerative business
What’s so profound is that the parallels are becoming clearer for me, between a regenerative soil for example, and a regenerative business. A regenerative soil, because of its porosity, absorbs, and holds more water. As a result, it does not flood like traditionally farmed soils do. It is also able to support a greater diversity of species both under and above ground. It doesn’t need artificial/chemical fertilisers or sprays. In essence, it takes less dollars / hectare to run, and produces higher nutrient-dense foods.

As a regenerative capitalist company, Collective Intelligence is now heading down a similar path, which is feeling familiar, messy, and fun – sometimes. However, as I write this I just want to take back control of this vision process and just tell everyone to ‘crack-on’ and do it my way – okay! Instead, under the regenerative model I know I need to be patient and let the nodules develop and connect to form the foundation that we will grow from.

Here are some of the parallels I have noticed so far with our company’s journey and the regenerative soil I am nurturing in the paddocks in my own block:

  • As a business, we are becoming way more porous. There is more opportunity for people we know and trust to participate in growing our ecosystem, and this is happening organically and spontaneously. I’m really encouraged to see this, as it allows me to move away from controlling the business. Our ecosystem will be way more robust and expansive as a result.
  • I’m also noticing how harsh some of our old models of thinking and communicating have been. Subtle things like job descriptions are gone for us for example. We are more and more focussed on looking at our work as a biological system, where everything is intertwined, like how the mycelium in the soil connect.

Preparing for growth
Right now, we are focussing on building our base before we go out to our community at large. We need to prepare for the growth that will come from this new paradigm, and be clear on the new messaging, and direction.

We have come up with a safe word for use in the office as we venture into the unknown and get a little wobbly… which goes like this: “I’m STUCK!!!”. It’s been a really useful stopgap, for when we hear this cry we gather as a team and focus on the blockage together. Often, we find it centres around our old thinking butting up against the new paradigm. This happened just an hour ago here in the office!

The key learning here for me is that you need a bloody good culture, and people able to disagree with each other openly and happily, to work out a way forward. Thankfully we have that!

I’m going to be writing regularly about this evolution of ours as a way of recording our learnings.

Ian Harvey (Harv)


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