Welcome to Thrivable



Thrivability: Breaking Through to a World that Works

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Breathing in Gratitude


Breathing in Gratitude

Liz Strauss, Founder of SOBCon & Author of Successful-Blog - Chicago, IL USA

When I was a child, I thought that gratitude was held inside the words "thank you."

They were two words packed with incredible meaning.  As a shy child, I struggled to find the voice that carried my depth of feeling. I worried that people might not feel the heart behind my words.  My gratitude sometimes seemed too huge, too hard to express, with people until long after I could have said something.

That was childhood thinking. Children experience a world in which they are the main story.

When I became an adult, I learned two more words -- inspire and aspire. One means to breathe; the other means to breathe toward. I began to realize a life is inspiration, breathing, and dreams are breathing toward what life could be.

Now I think gratitude is better held inside the word "gratis" -- given freely in appreciation. I breathe in and breathe toward the incredible meaning packed in the experience of a world filled with so much more than me. And I hope my voice will carry and express the depth of my feeling that is the joy of a life fueled by gratitude.

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Build Capacity in Dependencies


Build Capacity in Dependencies

Beth Kanter, Beth’s Blog - San Francisco, CA, USA


You help build capacity in dependencies by listening, synthesizing, and feeding back to your audience.  Through this, you are uplifted, and they too are uplifted. By synthesizing the wisdom you pick up from the people who interact with you on Twitter or elsewhere on the social web, and feeding it back to the whole, you help all the people you are connected to.  Yes, it can involve introducing them to each other.  Yes, it requires listening (it's a core competency of network weaving).  And the synthesizing and feedback part is crucial too.

What you need is a listening post.  I set up my listening post 5 years ago to scan for people, trends, and ideas related to social media and nonprofits.  Listening and engaging with people has been critical to any success I’ve achieved as a social media practitioner – whether I’m blogging (http://beth.typepad.com) or fundraising for Cambodian children (http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/feb2009/id2009029_776708.htm).  

A Simple Definition: Listening
Listening is knowing what is being said about your organization, field, or issue area.  Listening online uses monitoring and tracking tools to identify conversations that are taking place on the social web.  It is a prelude to engaging with your audience.  At its most basic, listening is simply naturalistic research, although more like a focus group or observation than a survey.  The value of listening comes from making sense of the data and using it to inform your social media strategy and response.          

Understanding the Value of Listening and Engaging
The value of listening is more than “free market research,” although listening through social media channels is priceless because you can hear what people are saying in their natural environment.  beth.typepad.com/beths_blog/2009/01/nonprofit-examples-of-how-listening-returns-valuable-insights-and-impact-.html">Listening is typically used by nonprofits to help improve programs and identify misconceptions.

Finally, it isn’t a matter of just collecting data, someone will need to transform it from a river of seeming noise into useful insights – and this takes a particular skill: pattern analysis.  And then you need to share it back out with your network.  This builds their capacity, which returns to you in a feedback cycle of helping and sharing.

Far more important than our choice of tools for the listening task, are your listening literacy skills. These include composing and refining keywords, pattern analysis, and synthesis of findings. There’s also a fourth skill: Effectively engaging.  Listening is not just quietly observing, sooner or later you need to interact with people and build relationships.  Working out when and how to respond is an important technique that needs to be mastered.

  • How will you engage once you find people talking about your issues or concepts?
  • Using your listening, how can you help those who are helping you?



Collaborate with All Stakeholders


Collaborate with All Stakeholders

Christina Jordan, Evolutionize It - Brussels, Belgium

I love to imagine what could happen when organizations engaged in global development, the donors who fund them and the communities they aim to serve would engage in open collaborative discussion about programs, projects and desired outcomes.

  • Organizations would minimize conflict between what their donors think they want to pay for and what their beneficiaries and staff really understand about the kind of work that's most needed to effectively redress some of our world's most unbalancing imbalances; 
  • Donors - who have, most often, lived a completely different global community reality than those whom they aim to help - would broaden their own insight into the complex issues they hope to impact, and learn to better invest in addressing root challenges with informed, passion-based creativity and intellect;
  • Beneficiary communities would begin to feel like they actually matter as partners in a shared desire to help our world thrive, instead of as numbers reported to donors that justify long-entrenched, dependency-based global power relationships (arguably, one of our world's most unbalancing imbalances today lies - and lies to us - in the very fact that the world does not yet hear the unfiltered voice of those whom global development efforts aim to serve);  

With openly communicative relationships between all of those who aim to play a part in achieving balance and well-being in our global communities, positive change would become a living, breathing, undeniable human story. It would be a story with more creative minds writing the twists to it's plot, more hearts exerting love on the rendition of it, and more souls believing through seeing that change really is happening in our world - one lost voice heard, one friendship forged, and one micro-success celebrated together at a time.

More faith in our world's thrivability will unlock every door to achieving a thriving world: open communication channels between all stakeholders in global development efforts, large and small, would give us that. Today, every organization has unprecedented tools available to make that level of inclusive stakeholder collaboration possible (opt-in-evitable, even). How long will it be before we begin demanding it as a new norm?  

I love to imagine what could happen...

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Contribute to the Commons


Contribute to the Commons

Ruth Ann Harnisch, Harnisch Foundation - New York, NY, USA

When I arrived in Beijing in the early 1990s, the air was visible.  People routinely wore surgical masks on the street.  In that smog, I realized that boundaries between nations, and indeed between people, are illusory and ultimately unenforceable.  The boundaries of nations had no impact on the movement of air, and China’s pollutants could not be confined to the nation that produced them.

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Whether we acknowledge it or not, the world is “The Commons.”  Our actions and our ideas cannot be bound by so-called borders, and each of us constantly contributes to the commons.  The question is not, “Will you contribute to the commons?”  The question is, “What are we contributing to the commons, and is our contribution what we intended?”

What can we intentionally, purposefully, and consciously contribute to the commons for the good of all?  What do we contribute to the commons that creates pain for others and does not advance civilization?

  • Ideas – Are you selfish with your ideas, always trying to corner a market and make a profit, or do you freely share? Check out creativecommons.org and see how others are dealing with this challenge.
  • Waste – Are you careful with your resources?  Do you buy more than you need?  Do you buy more than you use? Do you hoard your surplus? Or do you share creatively, freecycle, couchsurf, potlatch?
  • Money – Your checkbook and your credit card statements tell the story of your life.  What do they say about your contribution to the commons?  Are you putting your money where your values are?
  • Service – What can you do to assist others?  Do you give more than you take?
  • Attitude – Do you contribute negativity to the commons, or are you a positive force?  Your attitude is contagious and affects many others.  Are you contributing to a climate of respect for all?  Do you treat others with the dignity that is their birthright, or do you contribute to a climate of disrespect?  What effect does your hatred for another have on the commons?  How does your love make a difference?  Are you contributing small and large acts of kindness and generosity of spirit, or are you contributing to the overall rudeness and depersonalization of daily life?
  • Integrity – Are you contributing to the commons by telling the truth, accepting responsibility for yourself and your actions, keeping your promises, and doing the right thing, or are you contributing to the sense that nobody can be trusted?

Each of us is an inevitable contributor to and recipient from the commons.  Each of us is invested with the power to make a difference in the commons with our every thought, every action, every omission. 

What are you contributing to the commons?


Create Appropriate Containers


Create Appropriate Containers

Kaliya Hamlin, IdentityWoman - Berkeley, CA, USA


In the process of creating a thrivable world we live, work, and celebrate together.   We create containers in time and space within which to do these activities together.


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Conscious thought in creating containers for the task at hand can enhance their effectiveness.  The container of shared space is more then just the physical or online context.  It begins when you start imagining bringing people together — these initial thoughts begin the container-creation process.  It is a holistic practice involving many dimensions of human gathering.  Here are a few different ways to think about creating appropriate containers:
On the space plane — Use the appropriately sized space. Holding a dinner party for 12 people in a hall that seats 150 people isn’t an appropriate container.  Nor is 150 people in a 12 person conference room.
Online — Use an appropriate tool as a container. If you want to collaboratively edit documents online then an appropriate container is a wiki or google wave.  An exploratory discussion fits best in a blog with comments or an IRC chat.
In the time plane —  We need to consider time when creating a container for people to work together.  Do we need a day or an hour to accomplish our goals?  Is the length of time that people speak to a whole room balanced with enough time for those gathered to connect amongst themselves?  How much time do you have to introduce people. If you have 60 people and you give them each a minute, it takes 1 hour. Is it appropriate to take up that much time?
In the physical plane - Does the layout of the space and the seating available match the purpose of the gathering? Is it welcoming and comfortable?
On the human to human agreement plane — create shared agreements and norms for the space you are in together. Is the conversation confidential? Is it Chatham House Rules (quotable but not attributable)?
Creating an appropriate container for a gathering can be grounded in the practice of a facilitator who is an anchor for the group.
You can read more about containers at the Group Pattern Language Project http://grouppatternlanguage.org/wagn/Creating_a_Container


Create the Future


Create the Future

Hildy Gottlieb, "The Pollyanna Principles: Reinventing 'Nonprofit Organizations' to Create the Future of Our World"


You and I are creating the future right now, whether we do so consciously or not.
We can create that future by seeking to end what is heart-breakingly wrong with the present — ending poverty, ending sickness, ending war.
Or we can seek to create what is joyfully right for our future, solving our problems along the way.
Creating a peaceful, healthy, humane world for our grandkids and their grandkids is not a Pollyanna pipe dream.  It is instead the very real path humankind has been moving along for thousands of years, made all the more visible in our own lifetimes.
200 years ago, citizens of the slave-trading-nation that was the United States of America would have declared it impossible for a black man to be president.
100 years ago, citizens of the world would have declared it impossible to put a man on the moon.
How easy it is in hindsight to trace the path from
          “impossible dream
                      through “problems to be solved
                                      to “reality simply taken for granted.”
Imagine if those paths had been walked with clearer intent!  Imagine that intent informs the path we will begin walking now!
We have all the tools we need to build that path.  They are the same tools we use to get the airport in time for a flight, or to ensure dinner is ready when our guests arrive.  Working backwards from those events, we think nothing of creating a path that will lead to the future.
That same reverse engineering of cause-and-effect steps is waiting for us to use it for this far greater purpose.
You and I are creating the future right now.  The choice, then, is ours.
Will we continue to take steps to sustain our planet as it is, one by one eliminating what is wrong?  Or will we tether our steps to a future that will allow our heirs to thrive?
If we aim at thriving,
              and create a path to thriving,
                            we will thrive
                                          because every step we take
                                                        is creating the future
                                                                             right now.


Fostering Serendipity


Fostering Serendipity

Steve Crandall, physicist - New Jersey, USA


On a brilliant Winter day the thought occurred that I should be able to make fire from ice.  Simple — fashion a lens from ice and use it to ignite some dry kindling.  Three lines of calculations said it should work; but having something on paper and watching smoke rise from kindling are two different things.

You need very clear ice.  I used a bucket to collect snow melt the day before. The night was cold enough to freeze it nicely and clearly. About half the ice was very clear and the rest cloudy.  I only had a piece of metal to use as a chisel and a little hand saw.  Several hours of play convinced me that a convex lens was too difficult to make, and hot chocolate is really excellent.  

I took a walk and talked to a friend, telling her what I was doing and my difficulties.  She does not have a physics or engineering background, but she knows me well enough to play along.  Soon the conversation turned to the heaviness of the snow and how it was perfect for snowballs.


I could make a spherical lens.  I carved a small cylinder and then worked on making it into a rough sphere.  Then I polished it like I was making a snowball.  My gloves were just abrasive enough to do a really nice job.  Once I knew what to do, I could make beautifully smooth ice sphere is under ten minutes.  I held it over the kindling and adjusted its distance until the sunlight was brilliantly focused into a tiny spot — this was an excellent lens.  

After thirty seconds there was a bit of discoloration — another twenty seconds and the first whiff of smoke appeared.  Patience and a few minutes was sufficient to generate enough heat that a small fire began to thrive.

Of course I had to announce this to my friend.   As she walked along a street in San Francisco, she thought for awhile and then asked:  "is this why plants burn if you water them on a sunny day? Could the tiny dew drops be acting like lenses?"


Serendipity is everywhere.  The tools are curiosity,  an open mind, and like-minded, but diverse collaborators.  Know when to focus and concentrate, so you can devote yourself to the task.  Learn how to play and enjoy what you are doing.  As you play, realize the little failures you have are not failures but useful bits of information.  Use that information to inform your play.  Know when to listen to others who are different from you.  Celebrate their differences.  Learn how to play with them.  And share your discoveries with those who are the same and different, as there may be new directions that you haven't considered.


Give Graciously


Give Graciously

Phil Cubeta, Gifthub.org - Philadelphia, PA, USA


What are the gifts you have received?

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What investments were made by others in you as a child, student, or member of a club, school, or religious congregation?

What flows through you that you did not create, like genes, blood, breath, like language, phrases from old books, gestures from those you admired now dead?

What will you live; what will you give?

What will die with you and what will live on?

We thrive in community with others, or we live and die impoverished and alone.


Go out on a Limb


Go out on a Limb

Jheri - København, Danmark


I love trees. To me this means being under as well as in them.  Up in them! I love to climb trees.

Proper people don't climb them I'm told, but these people don't know the beauty of branches and leaves all around you and the peace that can exist even in a big city. People told me girls aren't supposed to do unladylike things, but it is something I've done since I was a little. Tell the right girl she shouldn't be in a tree and you find a women in one. This is a girl who ignores convention and thrives.

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People may tell you to stay out of them, but trees are for almost  everyone with a bit of adventure in them.  Boys, girls, men, women and people who act their shoe size. ;-)
If you decide to try, please be careful and make sure you are  and the tree are both in good shape. Find a strong tree. Find one with large branches that can support your weight. I hang from the branches and see how they bend. Try some stretching first and loosen yourself up. Use a knot, hole or branch for a foothold, reach up and grab a branch and make believe you are an animal.  I'm pretty tall and that gives me good reach.  If you are a  kid or a smaller adult, you  have advantages too as you can move around in tighter areas better.  Some trees fit better than others, so do some scouting and find yours.

I usually wear gloves, thick jeans and a thick long sleeved shirt to prevent cuts.  Some people use ropes and go way up, but I just like to get into a place there there are leaves everywhere. When someone gives me a strange look, I look straight into their eyes and tell them I study trees.  This is true - I really am studying the trees!

A few trees have nice places that cradle you and allow you to sit.  There are several very nice ones that I climb and love so much I consider friends.  

I have learned nature exists all around us and that it is beautiful.  I have learned I can be away from people and closer to nature for awhile and focus on important thoughts.  I have learned I can take someone into the tree with me and watch with delight as they discover and grow along with me.  I have made other people smile  

Jheri says go climb a tree!  It is better than television and will connect you with nature even if you live in a city.  You can take a good book and spend hours up there.  The leaves blow around you, the limbs gently sway, squirrels do squirrel things, and sometimes birds fly by you.  The smell and feeling takes you from your worries and makes you realize what beauty is.  You are instantly a child with all of that imagination and wonder.  You are a scientist discovering new and wonderful things.  
I have gone up with a proper checkered tablecloth, silverware and candles for a formal dinner with a friend.  I have sat through warm rainstorms shielded mostly from the rain pounding down making a noise even I can hear.  There is a different world that is so close and it is only a short climb away.  

This perspective can inform your life if you just listen. To thrive you need a variety of perspectives. This is mine that partners with nature.


photo courtesy of Jheri


Make Sharing Agreements


Make Sharing Agreements

Bruce Campbell, Campbell Law Group - Boulder, CO, USA
Kendall Theissen, Transideation - Denver, CO, USA


If for-profit corporations working in market-based systems can positively impact intractable social problems, can legal agreements among collaborators perform a useful function – and even a thrivable one?  Consider agreements between collaborators—let’s call them “sharing agreements.”  So, what is in these agreements and how do they come into being?  The specific content and path will vary, but here are some general principles:


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As with anything, the energy you put into your agreements will determine what you get out of them.  If you view them as an opportunity to deepen and secure a relationship, you will likely end up with a different outcome than if you view them as a hassle or an obstacle.  And if you view the developmental process for your sharing agreement as an opportunity for relationship building, you may find that you will end up with both a more effective agreement and a stronger partnership.


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Make the Invisible Visible


Make the Invisible Visible - View full width

Arthur Brock - Denver, CO, USA


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InvisibleVisible PDF

This may be my favorite page....so far.....

  --evonne @amoration (Not signed in).....Mon May 17 08:37:21 -0700 2010


Model Nature


Model Nature

Chazz Levi, The Corcoran Group - NYC,NY, USA


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Black tar spread onto earth

Tires rolling over


A new growth pushes through

Nothing teaches thrivabilty better than mother nature it serves as a model for everything we do.

Even our language uses metaphors from nature to express discipline and success.

When you look at a tree it will tell you a story — it might be about renewal, or ancient history but it will always be about growth.

It is human nature that makes us want to thrive in our environments. Whether we plant the seed for an idea or a seed for our sustenance we must tend and cultivate our goals in order for them to thrive.

And we must also pay attention to how mother nature reacts to our footprints if we want to continue to exist.


Photo courtesy of Jean Russell. The Highline in NYC - an elevated train converted into a park.


Open Space for Many Voices


Open Space for Many Voices

Christine Egger and Peter Deitz, Social Actions - NY, USA

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Stay process-centric

Remain comfortably incomplete, a work in progress.   Ask for the voice to participate, rather than for a particular
message or tune.  Use more verbs than nouns in your invitation, more questions than statements.

Think fractal-ly

Think about points of engagement at every scale of your organization or project or idea.  From one person to one million, create an on-ramp for each level of scale at which your opportunity-for-participation operates.

Articulate empathetically

Being really clear about the opportunities you’re creating is only half the picture.  The other half is being clear in a
way that reflects how well you understand the perspective, the desires, of the one is invited.

Empathize.  Articulate.  Invite.


Push Power to the Edges


Push Power to the Edges

David P. Reed, creator of Reed’s Law - Cambridge, MA, USA


For an organism or ecosystem to thrive, strength and power are not enough.  Adaptation and evolution seem to be far more important processes that confer huge advantages on systems, whether living or not.

Adaptation and evolution in the face of unpredictable change, uncertainty, and other sorts of shocks to the system are so important that mankind and its societies ought to be studying how to implement them.  However, too often we view evolvability and adaptability of systems as processes to be analyzed, rather than properties to be synthesized and maximized.

What makes a system like the Internet so adaptable and evolvable?  That it has adapted and evolved is unquestionable – today's Internet looks entirely different than the Internet we conceived and designed, starting with Taylor and Licklider's paper “The Computer as a Communications Device” in the mid-1960's; yet in a very real sense it is the same system, much evolved.

A primary reason is that at every point in its evolution, power was pushed to the edges.  Rather than a centralized control hierarchy, the Internet is a voluntary assembly of parts.  Some of the parts evolve using markets to allocate resources, other parts adapt using culture and social connections to direct attention to changed conditions and coordinating ad hoc or persistent responses.  It has evolved sophisticated signaling and sensing mechanisms that are dispersed among its parts.

Mammals thrive as individuals because of their immune system.  The power in the immune system is inherently decentralized.  As we continue to study the immune response at all scales, we see evolution and adaptation processes at all scales, but what is constant is that the power to respond is organized at the edges, with little or no center, and certainly no central control mechanism gives them their resilience.

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Similarly, we wonder at the adaptability of a rather simple organism – the slime mold Dictyostelium discoideum – that thrives, depending on its environment, as a collection of single amoeba-like cells, a multi-celled mobile slug, and a plant-like stalk that disperses spores on the wind.  Our bias towards seeing power as a centralized phenomenon led scientists to believe that certain mold cells must be the “leaders” coordinating these actions, until Evelyn Fox Keller demonstrated that any cells can begin the processes that lead to transformation of shape and function, depending on conditions.

Again we see that “power at the edges” promotes surprising adaptability and evolvability, conferring a resilience upon the system.

What's wrong with centralized power, though? It's certainly easier to comprehend the workings of a society or a system by studying a central controller, ignoring the vast web of parts that it controls.  But we make a mistake by confusing comprehension with effectiveness.  The problem with centralized power is that it weakens the system, as a bottleneck and an easy target.

Thrivability requires understanding how to decentralize power in systems, a process that need not diminish power – when coordination and power move to the edge, they are amplified.


Sharing Stories


Share Stories

Jeannie Yandel, A Guide to Visitors - Seattle, WA, USA


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We've all heard that we're natural storytellers.  It's how we've passed on histories and lessons and warnings through the ages — via fables, myths, narrative.  

But our connection to story becomes a need to talk — a need to be heard.  

So the greatest gift you can give someone else is, hear them.  Listen.  Let them talk.  

You probably already have plenty of outlets in your life wherein you can talk about yourself; can you say the same — with certainty — about everyone else you talk with?  

Ask questions, and listen to the answers.  

Let the people you meet tell you their stories.  

Imagine what you might learn, and be able to pass on, because you gave someone the gift of your receptive, curious silence.


Weave Networks


Weave Networks

June Holley, NetworkWeaving.com - Athens, OH, USA


It was a blue-sky October afternoon in 1995, and Bill – network weaver extraordinaire – was standing on the loading deck of the newly completed Kitchen Incubator where start-up entrepreneurs came to make their specialty food products.  Craig, from Frog Ranch Salsa, was loading cases of his award-winning product into his truck and grousing about the high cost of jars.
Right then, another truck pulled up to the dock, and Betty – one of the owners of another salsa producer – hopped out and started unloading cases of empty jars that would be filled later that day.  Bill immediately introduced Craig to Betty, encouraging them to compare notes about the quality of tomatoes that season and local bands that were playing in town that weekend.

Network Weavers are continually making connections between people – but they are always connecting strategically.  They point out commonalities that create a foundation for mutual benefit. They also help people figure out if they have the kind of personal and emotional connection that will enable them to do things together.

The two were now laughing and joking, so Bill introduced an opportunity.  They both used the same jar for their salsa.  Couldn’t they order jars together and significantly lower the price?  Craig and Betty both thought this idea had some real potential, so Bill helped them figure out how it might work.

Network Weavers help people self-organize.  They start with twosies – fairly simple activities that benefit both individuals.  They coach rather than run the show.  As a result, the two individuals are more thrivable: together they have freed up more money for their businesses and they now have a set of collaboration skills that can be used in many other situations.

The first order worked out without a hitch.  The next time Bill saw Betty, he suggested that they might want to include several other businesses who used the same size jars in the next order so they could lower the price even more.  Soon the joint orders filled an 18-wheeler and the cost of the jars was one third the cost they had paid when they ordered singly.  Now they got it: they could come up with all kinds of ways that they could improve their business and the community, find others to join them and make something happen.  In the next few years, the people involved in the jar orders became Network Weavers themselves and, with many others, organized two different festivals, a regional brand, a loan fund, a food policy council, an innovation fund and many more collaborations.

Through modeling and coaching, Network Weaving encourages people to act their way into a new way of being.  Network Weaving increases thrivability both for individuals and their communities as people gain the framework, skills and processes they need to co-create wonderful communities.


Thrivability: A Collaborative Sketch

a collection of over 60 essays and images crafting a topography for thriving

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Thrivability: A Collaborative Sketch




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