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Thrivability: Breaking Through to a World that Works

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Meghana Bhatt, Human Neuroimaging Lab - Houston, TX, USA


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Adaptation is not only the key to survival and the source of much of our creativity.  Adapting often requires us to use tools, objects, and even our brains in new ways.  The most powerful tools are usually the most general.  For example - our hands - while wings and fins evolved from the same basic structure as our hands, they evolved toward specialization while our hands evolved toward generality.  We can use our hands for the most delicate of tasks, as well as those that require force.  Most importantly, this generality gave us our ability to manipulate the world around us in a conscious way.


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We’ve also generalized our mental functions.  Since ancient times people have used “memory palaces” to leverage our amazing spatial processing and navigation skills into a means to remember speeches, epic poetry and oral histories verbatim.  Now, our ability to image the brain has allowed us to study this form of adaptation more thoroughly.  Eleanor Maguire showed that world memory champions use navigation areas like the retrosplenial cortex and hippocampus during memorization.  Studies show that these navigational areas are also active when people imagine the future, while another new study by Knops et al. indicate that we use parietal areas involved in eye movements and spatial coding during mental arithmetic.


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Our ability to generalize and adapt doesn’t stop with our anatomy.  In the last decade we’ve developed more and more general tools.  By generalizing the way we deal with data itself, we can build tools that are capable of manipulating text, images and video, perform sophisticated mathematical analyses, and allow us to communicate with each other.  Applications like Google Trader are allowing people in sub-Saharan Africa to buy and sell goods to each other without using the middle men who have traditionally reaped all the profits from these transactions.  Evolving technologies are helping to vitalize and define new economies in these countries.



Brain: http://www.flickr.com/photos/reighleblanc/3854685038/

Hand: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b5/Hand_1_1.jpg
Phone: http://www.flickr.com/photos/compujeramey/80029334/




Scott Reynolds Nelson, historian, College of William & Mary - Williamsburg, VA, USA

We know about the good times. In upturns, commodities and capital flow freely. Prices increase, people buy second houses, spend beyond their means, take risks. They cultivate wasteful habits, dream about the future. They often do not save.

Times of blockage are periods when everything stops. We call them Depressions, and America has had a lot of them: 1819-21, 1837-8, 1857, 1873-79, 1893-96, and 1929-33. What happens in blockage? People doubt the value of stocks, land values plummet, they hoard gold. Commerce slows to a crawl. They are frightening times of unemployment, shattered state services, weakened institutions and riot. Donations dry up. But times of blockage are also times to rethink, to take some time to ponder, to innovate. It was during the crisis of 1857 that the previously ignored insights of a long-haired mathematician, abolitionist, and utopian socialist named Elizur Wright were finally recognized as critically valuable for economic stability.

In the 1840s and 1850s, Wright had tried to convince the state of Massachusetts that life insurance needed reform. As a mathematician, he had been asked calculate the present value of any given policy based on the premiums paid in, a calculation that British mathematicians had called impossible. He created a rule-of-thumb called “net present value” (NPV) to determine the value of a flow of resources in a single instant (present value) and then to subtract operating costs (net).

But the more Elizur calculated, the more troubled he became. Many companies by his calculations spent so much on advertising that they could never pay off their policies. Others profited by canceling policies for those who missed a single payment. The effect was often to end a policy a year before death, leaving families with nothing. Wright fumed, but in vain. In the go-go 1840s and early 1850s, no one would listen to his criticisms and only a few would accept his principle of valuation. But through the 1850s he returned to the Massachusetts legislature with a blueprint for reform. When the Panic of 1857 hit with the failure of a bank called Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company, Elizur was prepared. This blockage of trade and transport, Wright declared, was a result of distrust. Insurance companies needed reliable accounting practices that would allow Massachusetts to calculate net present value, and internal rate of return. When trust returns, Wright assured them, the blockage will be over.


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Unconvinced but without options, Massachusetts adopted Wright’s blueprint, preventing any company from selling insurance in Massachusetts that did not provide complete financial information. NPV offers transparency of obligations.  The panic was short-lived, and Elizur Wright’s accounting principles became the basis of what we now call Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, adopted by millions of companies, states, and non-governmental organizations throughout the world. MBAs take credit for it, but a long-haired radical gave us cost accrual accounting.

Wright took advantage of blockage to identify its root cause – a distrust of opacity. Increased financial transparency was the solution; trust collapses without it. Blockage can let us make institutions open up and make them thrivable.




Gil Friend, Natural Logic - Berkeley, CA, USA


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Consider the pain of breakdown.
Thwarted, stymied, blocked, diverted.
But what I intended was so important - at least to me.
What stops me is my enemy.

Consider the subjectivity of breakdown.
Unexpected upset, or delight.
A flat tire on the freeway on the way to a date: a disaster
On Highway One at sunset: a gift

Consider the word breakdown.
Broken down.
Break it down.
Take a break. Sit down.

Consider the challenge of breakdown.
Now what?
Push on? Rethink? Change course?
Look deeply? Find a way?

Consider the opportunity of breakdown.
To see what your focus & drive didn't enable you to see.
To recognize your concerns and commitments.
To see a better way to realize them.




Leilani Rashida Henry, Being & Living Enterprises, LTD - Denver, CO, USA


Breakthrough as pdf


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Creative Destruction


Chris Byrne, MBA, ByrneGreen - San Francisco Bay Area, CA, USA


Progress comes from the Latin progressus ‘an advance,’ from the verb progredi, from pro- ‘forward’ + gradi ‘to walk.’
In modern western culture, this “walk forward” may be described as moving from a disparate or unrefined state to one of greater order.  Here the cultural memory develops and is conserved; values and morals are established; institutions are forged; infrastructures are built; fortunes are made; and an inertia of history "progresses” into the future.


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However, progress is the result of a non-linear dance of an adaptive cycle of growth, conservation, release, and reorganization, not the one-way flight of time's arrow.  This nuanced understanding has great implications for the idea of progress and how we hold the role of destruction in the process of creation.

For example: fire is an integral aspect of “unmanaged” ecosystems.  On regular occasion, a fire will burn through a landscape, disrupting niches and upsetting the established order. Indeed, some plants require fire to reproduce.  When this relationship is intact, after a fire, the greater ecosystem is typically preserved, while providing an opportunity for the niches within it to reestablish, either by the same species or a new entrant exploiting the disruptive opportunity.  In this way, the Earth has evolved by dancing with Kali — the goddess of creation and destruction.
In the modern human construct, there seems to be a mortal fear of destruction, or a desire to overcome it, or both.  We avoid Kali. Because of this bias, we struggle to avoid the inevitable, to suppress the fire in both our inhabited landscapes and our social institutions.  In the absence of the “cool” seasonal fire of rebirth, ecosystems become crowded and in danger of a catastrophic generational fire. Likewise, corporations become “too big to fail” for fear of the consequences of what their absence may do to the larger business ecosystem.  But “business as usual” is itself a cultural construct: the idea that you can predict the curves and trends ahead by driving through the view of the rearview mirror.
This destructive force is not necessarily something to be wished for, but inevitably it will come. However, once it arrives — in either the greater society or the personal realm (such as a lost job or ended relationship) — embracing its role in future advancement may be a more fruitful path than denying its potential or resenting its appearance. In this way, we can embrace the creative "re-struction" as a component of developing a more thrivable relationship with each other and with the Earth we call home.




Jon Lebkowsky, Worldchanging - Austin, TX, USA


Buckminster Fuller famously talked about "emerging through emergency," and we certainly have no end of emergency in the 21st Century.  I think of our conversations at Worldchanging.com after the Southeast Asian tsunami, and again after hurricane Katrina. Our first thought was of what might emerge from self-organization in the complex, chaotic wake of profound disaster: innovative new architectures and cultural transformations are at least possible when legacy structures are wiped out.  

Similar thinking around climate change: we have those who deny the problem, and we have those who merely fear it - but we also have those who see the problem of climate change as very real, and as an opportunity to create more sustainable methods for managing (producing + using + conserving) energy.  Given sustainability, what of thrivability? How do we become resilient and prosper in a "post-carbon" world?


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Complex systems and patterns emerge from simple interactions and rules; the future will emerge from patterns of interaction and coevolution according to rules we establish and goals we set now, and will be more or less chaotic based on how coherent and focused we can be. If we lack focused goals, we can expect chaos and entropy as our energies and processes will lack coherent patterns, properties and models for self-organization.  In other words, we can have the future we want, but we have to be clear about what we want - shared goals - and we have to work within well-defined ethical frameworks - rules that bring focus.

In this context, I see a connection between emergence and collaboration. Collaborations are successful when they are structured around common goals and clear communication protocols that are defined up front and refined as we go. Successful action emerges from coherent collaboration.

Thrivability as a goal depends on the emergence of actions, systems, and processes that are driven by goals that we have defined as relevant. This emergence is the product of collaboration around objectives, within a well-defined context for communication, where there is a shared set of ethics, principles, and protocols. If we are to create a thrivability movement, this collaboration is our first step, and it begins here.




Dr. Ashis Brahma, physician, teacher - Kampala, Uganda


Near the diving Mecca Dahab, Red Sea there is a dive called the Wall.   As you drop 36 meters in a crevice you end in school of Glass Fish.  Transparence, even illumination, with a slightly giggling mind.

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In my garden in Kampala, a sunbird is taking nectar from the flowers of the male papaya flowers.  How I wish I had those green metallic wings and dazzling red breast — flapping them hard to impress my female consort.

As the patient peers into my eyes, the nurse translates what this young boy is saying: “Everything will be all right?” All I can muster is, “We try our best.”  Boundaries: death & life always end in the first.
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In Oure Cassoni refugee camp in Chad, everyday towards our departure Mohammed with the big teeth asks me to play football.  Most days, I get some minutes in — exploding joy for me and the boys.

Some days, the awareness of nature and people is lesser than other days.  Time to implore. Those days, moon nor sun, bird, nor kid is seen.  Go on, explore the interior.

Glass fish, sunbird, boy patient, interior, exterior and Mohammed equals “Same same.”

One I see with my Inner Eye guided by the Inner Child; it sees what I cannot when I try looking for it.

The majestic nature of All and the opportunity to be fully part of it. Enjoy it!  Explore it!  Thrive on it!

You are that (Tat tvam asi).


lovely to read, je mutti

  --Anonymous (Not signed in).....Fri Mar 12 11:42:18 -0800 2010




Gibran Rivera, Senior Associate, Interaction Institute for Social Change - Boston, MA, USA


The sages of Kashmir describe the universe as a divine pulsation, Lord Shiva’s dance, a blissful play of consciousness through which the one becomes the many only to become the one again.  God loves to recognize herself.

Last night I was chanting at the meditation center I go to, and I had this deep awareness of my inner stillness.  It was exactly then that the little voice inside my head decided to go off.  I started to really wonder how to stay in touch with that silence even as I go about my day.  I started to worry; I started to wonder; if I could be both still and active, I wondered if I could possibly produce anything without being a complete subject to the ongoing chatter in my mind. 

Wouldn’t silence just make me be still?  Too still?

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This would probably be the best form of integration, more evolutionary than revolutionary.  It would bring these poles together; it would be a simultaneous grounding in that total stillness that always is while also thriving in the forward flow of my evolutionary impulse.

The sages of Kashmir talk about this too.  They speak of Lord Shiva as the primordial stillness, the emptiness that is, before the beginning and after the end, eternal silence, always still.  And they also speak of Shakti, who is his consort, his beloved, and the one who gives rise to all that is – manifestation – she herself is manifestation.  And the whole of this universe is their divine dance. It’s not like there is an empty place and a full place, and they are separate from each other. There is total integration of the two, it’s happening all at once – we are their thrivable act of love.




Ken Homer, Collaborative Conversations - San Rafael, CA, USA


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The first image that springs to mind when contemplating the word “intersection” is a crossroads – a choice point.

There are innumerable crossroads on the journey of thrivability, and we need access to guidance as we travel. We need to know where we are, and how to track our progress. Some ways are newly invented, others quite ancient.

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The Taoists, for example, recognized that where Heaven and Earth intersect, People come into being. They created the image at right as a way to show our profound connection to the Earth and solar system.

When we reach a crossroads, the first inquiry is: Where do you want to go? If you don’t know where you want to go, then any road will get you there. The next inquiry is: In what direction are you facing? Each direction offers intelligence for us as individuals, as people in communities, and about how our work changes the world.

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The East is where we witness the Sun breaking on the horizon. East represents Dawn, Spring, and Birth, the element of fire, the energy of newness.

  • What new thinking will help me to thrive?
  • What new behaviors will create thriving relationships?
  • What new work can I undertake that will support the thriving of Earth’s ecosystems?

In the South the Sun is directly overhead; it’s Noon, Summer and the peak of growth – the element of water, the energy of cyclic flowing.

  • How are my ideas about thriving growing and changing?
  • What in my relationships is growing and thriving?
  • What is thriving in the world as a result of my work?

In the West the Sun has descended and now lies on the horizon about to disappear from sight. It is Dusk,  Autumn, the time of Death and Harvest, the element of Earth, the energy of grounding.

What thoughts, ideas and concepts about thriving do I have that need to be harvested and released?


  • What patterns in my relationships need to be harvested and released?
  • What fruits of my work now need to be digested and allowed to integrate?

In the North the Sun is directly below us, it is Midnight and Winter – the time of Regeneration and the element of Air, the energy of clarifying.

  • What supports my mind in regenerating?
  • What supports my relationships in regenerating?
  • How do I partner with the Earth in regenerating life?

We can also add a vertical axis – yielding the
directions of Above and Below.

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Below is Earth Home, Nature, the only 
known  Life in the Universe, the energy of Life.

  • How do I ground my thinking?
  • What is the ground of my relationships?
  • How is my life supporting All Life?

Above are the Heavens Our connection to The Immensity of The Universe, to All That Is, and to All That Is Unnamable.

  • Who am I?
  • Who are others?
  • What am I to do?
  • How now shall we thrive?





Peter and Trudy Johnson-Lenz - Portland, OR, USA


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Pathfinding PDF




Gerard Senehi, Founding Member, EnlightenNext - New York, NY, USA

Reflection is an essential component of thrivability because in order for things to move towards higher levels of order, beauty, and goodness, consciousness must continue to evolve. Deeper reflection makes conscious evolution possible.  

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Reflection happens on different levels.  At the more surface level, reflection is simply the awareness of one’s experience, one’s thoughts and one’s feelings, not necessarily with any perspective or context.  As reflection deepens with maturity, one gains a psychological understanding of oneself, of one’s thoughts, feelings and inner experience and attains a new degree of freedom of choice.  And as reflection deepens even further, one gains a spiritual understanding of oneself not just of the objects of consciousness but of consciousness itself.  Aware that we are aware in the most profound sense, infuses us with that an even greater degree of freedom.

This spiritual understanding puts our experience and our psychological understanding within a much larger context, connecting us to the fact that we are a part of the evolving cosmos rather than seeing our own experience as existing in isolation and within confined boundaries. When this happens, rather than seeing ourselves as possessors of consciousness, we see that we are channels through which consciousness can reflect upon itself. This insight is explosive and transformative. It gives us an extraordinary and profound understanding, while also giving us a very practical knowledge of ourselves. Psychological conclusions that we often make, then, no longer remain the ultimate conclusions about who we are but can be seen and questioned within a much greater picture in which the evolution of consciousness and culture are part of this extraordinary journey.

So let’s look further into what the evolution of consciousness and the evolution of culture means.  The act of looking at that is also the process of reflection itself.  One way to contemplate the evolution of consciousness is to reflect on both the limitations and the vastness of our own perspective of our sense of who we are.  Consciousness is much more profound than the experience of being a separate individual with clearly defined boundaries, and extends beyond our sense of individuality.  The evolution of consciousness would therefore reflect an increasing expansion, from the individual being aware, to the individual being able to reflect upon him/herself, his/her inner experience. and the greater picture… to the Universe being able to reflect on itself through the individual...  

As consciousness evolves through us, our very real preferences about life and the choices we make shift and there emerge new values, worldviews, preferences and ways of being.
As this happens among different individuals these external changes in values, worldviews, preferences, and ways of being, are a reflection of the evolution of culture – as the interior of the Universe evolves, so does the exterior.  

One of highest acts we can realize as human beings is to reflect on who we are and what that means in terms of how we are…together – an ongoing interplay in the relationship between the evolution of consciousness and the evolution of culture.  

Our interest in deeper reflection is arising out of the self reflective nature of the Universe itself. I ask myself, “How conscious am I?” So WHO is it that is asking the question? It’s me!




Clare Mulvany, One Wild Life - Dublin, Ireland

I’d love to say that my pebble throwing could cause a wave,
whisking up a flattened lake into a storm cloud-
thunder blue, tempestuous, and deeply noted.
But no. There are just ripples. Little ones
like merry-go-rounds
spinning some happy swirls and pretty patterns
on the surface of things.

So instead, I’d love to say that my ripple making could stop walkers on their tracks, stalled with the sight of movement and magic.
But no, they’d only see the ordinary, the everyday.
And even if they took a second glance, the ripples would have tip-toed
out of sight, their memory now enmeshed in what they’d call the lake, the shore, the very definition of their Sunday stroll.

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But who am I to say I’d love these things?
And who am I to question pretty patterns?
Because sometimes we just need to let go,
to release the pebbles with our best shot, our best fling.
And then who knows-
maybe just the surface will be skimmed,
and maybe for just a fleeting second
but for those moments, as the pebbles greet the surface,
sunlight dances, physics and water flow,
and all that was ordinary is suddenly lost to the altogether new.

It will be still again.

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Until, that is, your next throw.
Until, that is, when the very surface is altered,
not with storms or thunder,
but with the repeated act of letting go,
letting your grip on the stones fly to the wind,
letting the pull of gravity make itself known.

And before you know it,
there is a mighty splash.
and again
and again.




John Hagel - San Francisco, CA, USA


Shift PDF


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Mark Grimes, Ned - Portland, OR, USA


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Kevin Doyle Jones, Good Capital, San Francisco, CA, USA

Success is something I enjoy. It does not scare me when I see it coming. I welcome it and have fun with it. I think that is the biggest thing I see as a key factor of success. It is a flow of momentum and energy and resources coming your way that you have to have fun with, let it wash over you and not get attached to it as it goes up and down. Be a happy swimmer in multiple currents, that’s the thing that has helped me succeed a lot of the time. Some people actually take momentum, when it starts to hit, as a problem. Momentum is part of the solution, and it has to be welcomed in incremental stages, with it’s progress announced as if it were a royal procession coming through town.

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Success these days also means thinking about your impact. In my earlier days in business I only worried about three things: more money coming in faster at higher margin. Sometimes I did not want a financially sustainable business, but rather to ride the market's momentum to a timely sale. That was the only other variable I applied when I measured success. Now I think about environmental and social impact first, actually, and use business to get toward those goals. I am also learning to live more easily with philanthropy and realize that giving can be regarded as an input: a reliable resource that can play a part in the success of a social venture.
Creating venues for people to give and invest alongside each other...The planet is in the sort of pickle that it requires assembling all the resources at hand in order to create a thrivable future. So success to me is a broad set of partnerships, from discovery phase to cooperation and then coordination that puts our collective best effort toward the goal of a fecund future that is more than sustainable, more than just a viable baseline, to a future in which we all thrive.




Tracy Gary, Inspired Legacies and Inspired Philanthropy - Houston, TX, and No. CA, USA

“We are all connected, underneath.”

From the poem Islands by Muriel Rukeysar

We dance to connect.  Our hearts soar with purpose.  When purpose and dancing unite, we have magic. 


Years have taught me that truly blissful love, that which is sustainable and infinitely replicable, is the love for ourselves, our families, our communities, and our world.

Nothing gets us there more profoundly than listening.   Once we listen to what’s needed, from within and without, we are transformed.   When we really listen, whatever is old that has protected us, falls away.   We are present with presence.


If we take action, inspired by the critical instinct to be present, to extend, to give, to share, to help, to partner with that magic, then we have what it takes for transformation: for ourselves, our planet, and all people everywhere, to survive, evolve, and thrive.

Half of life is figuring out the right closeness and distance from the people and organizations we love most.  For what is most essential is to keep growing, to be true to ourselves and our highest potential; there-in, can we be free to be the greatest service in the world.     


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What we want is to keep in relationship to our passionate purpose and call, and to LOVE those in the mix who motivate and STUN us and make us R E A C H for all that needs doing.


Recognizing which are our beloved sources of inspiration and partnership, and nurturing those relationships, is the greatest work of being and becoming. Let us then work to transcend our egos, to get to the real stuff of tending well to the birth of this huge shift that is all around and in us.


May we show up fully present for the creative and cultural revolution that is happening right now. But we've got to rest and we've got to move. We've got to mix-up fully to whom we listen and how and with whom we partner.


Do it now. Commit to staying on path to growth. And then, drop down, slowly...then Hula. Keep your eyes and soul on the hearts of others and be healed/be healing.




Thrivability: A Collaborative Sketch

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

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