How to be good in today’s world? Be regenerative, especially with people

by | Mar 1, 2022 | Blog | 0 comments

“Adapt Faster” – the theme of the 2022 NeuroLeadership Summit.

Yet several speakers at the Feb. 15-16 virtual conference cautioned about getting addicted to speed.

While acting with urgency is admirable, they noted we also need to acknowledge the volatility that exists in today’s environment. We can make things worse if we don’t take time to slow down. Taking pauses to reflect, reevaluate the situation and our actions, and possibly reorient and readjust is a valuable use of time.

Based on the sessions I watched, my three big ah-ahs from this year’s NeuroLeadership Summit are:

  1. Taking a regenerative, not just sustainable, approach to managing people and systems is good for people, organizations, society, and the planet.
  1. Adopting a 4-day work week can be a win/win for employees and organizations.
  1. Empathy is a must-have, no longer nice-to-have, attribute for work, especially to avoid depleting and even exploiting people.

What does it mean to practice a regenerative approach to managing people? It’s helping people reach their potential so they’re able to leave your organization better than when they arrived.

Here’s how this happens. When you’re thinking and acting short-term, such as working quarter to quarter, it’s easy to deplete and possibly even exploit resources, especially people. For example, consider the priority of hitting quarterly profit goals over protecting the well-being of employees.

You may be able to do this a few quarters without noticing much pushback. However, if you continue your pace of pushing for profits and pushing people, the people will experience exhaustion, stress, and burnout.

Employee also can feel undervalued, especially if they don’t see meaningful signs of relief or investment in them, including their growth and development. No wonder we’re now experiencing The Great Resignation.

For employees to feel better about themselves and work, they need to be able to imagine a better future for themselves, ideally within the organization. When you collaborate with employees to identify a preferred future that works for all, you’re taking a regenerative, not just sustainable, approach to managing people. They’ll feel better about how they’re spending their time, they can feel increased psychological safety, and they’ll see opportunities to grow and development.

Shifting from depletive to regenerative practices aren’t easy for employees or leaders though. For example, Jaimie P. Cloud, the well-regarded American sustainability educator and advocate, explained that it’s much harder for adults than children to learn regenerative practices, especially considering the degree of complexity in our lives.

Adults can become comfortable with the status quo. That makes it harder to change their thinking patterns as well as actions, even when they’re dissatisfied with their current state.

Cloud explained that she’s learned that:

  • Adults don’t want to be told what to think or be told that their worldview is wrong or inaccurate. Those statements threaten an individual’s identity and status. A person may either shut down or protest as well as become more intractable in their position. We see this happening with the polarization on many issues today.
  • Adults want to exercise their autonomy regardless of the situation. They don’t recognize that complex organizations and systems are much more difficult to manage and lead than complicated ones. Complex systems interact in unanticipated ways, making it difficult to anticipate what can happen, such as extreme climate change. It’s also harder to make sense of things because the extreme complexity, moving parts, and interdependencies can overtax our cognitive abilities.
  • When you try to scare adults about impending doom, they get threatened and stop being creative and innovative. Worse, they often can assume that their already limited resources might become even scarcer. So rather than try to practice preservation, they might choose to go down in style, such as dancing on the deck of the Titanic.

What to do instead? Cloud and fellow panelist Bob Johansen of the Institute of the Future advised helping people leave their comfort zones in safe ways so they can start to think differently, especially about being regenerative. Three effective actions include:

  • Introduce people to the concept of a growth mindset and encouraging them to develop a growth mindset, especially around regenerative practices. It’s possible to move along the spectrum of fixed to growth mindset because of the brain’s neuroplasticity.
  • Show people the value of being lifelong learners, including unlearning what is outdated.
  • Use storytelling as a way to grasp more possibilities, challenge their thinking, and look for all the dots that they can connect.

Stories are also an effective way for individuals to learn that healthy complex systems have limits and yet these constraints can actually drive innovation.

For example, remember the origin story of Airbnb? While living in Los Angeles in the 1990’s, I had to postpone or cancel several trips to the San Francisco Bay Area because I couldn’t find a hotel room.

Back then, multiple big events were often taking place simultaneously, and the Bay Area hotels quickly filled up.  The ah-ha for the Airbnb founders was realizing the struggle visitors experienced looking for scarce hotel rooms. The founders responded by setting up an online listing for three air beds for $80 each a night in their San Francisco apartment.

Almost 15 years later, Airbnb is a billion dollar company. And following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Airbnb announced free temporary housing to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees – an admirable humanitarian action in today’s VUCA world.

Being good in a bad world means striving to be regenerative rather than destructive.



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