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Carol Sanford: Regenerative Life & Regenerative Business

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Nuggets From Carol Sanford's Call

Last Saturday, we had the privilege of hosting Awakin Call with Carol Sanford.

Carol Sanford is a thought leader working with executives to grow and develop their people to be increasingly entrepreneurial, innovative, and responsible. Her most recent book, The Regenerative Life, sets forth that the heroic journey is not an adequate theory of change. Instead, “profound change [can] happen through the almost invisible work of developing the capacity of ordinary people to see things differently." She comes at this non-heroic view via her own life journey to professional success as a changemaker -- from "a broken and abusive family, in a broken place," the granddaughter of a Native American man "who had escaped the brokenness of early twentieth-century reservation life" and the daughter of the Grand Dragon of the Texas KKK.

Below are some of the nuggets from the call:

Opportunity in these times of tumult and uncertainty: I love uncertainty. And I know that every time we want to bring about change, we have to disrupt our certainty and we have it on a massive scale. And I have never had or seen, I think, such an opportunity as we all have now. Why I feel exhilarated is we all get to learn together how it is we create more rapid transformation.

Moving from “why me?” to “why this?” and “why now?”: [During horrific punishments as a child in a difficult home] I began to ask instead of “why me?” -- you know, there was a lot of sense of overwhelm – “why this?”, and that phrase became really important to me for years. and. It probably triggered me on a search ….After that first reflection, “why this?”, I've phrased it sometimes as “why now?” that it happened. It's so hard to describe these things, as you know. It created an opening where I was able to connect.

Trying many different paths:

  • Meditation as supporting internal “field building” capacity: I tried many different paths and all of them enrich me. I have done extensive work with meditation and I've always found that great. But I found eventually that it wasn't connecting me. So what I should be doing with it -- it felt like I was being taught for a long time it was an end in itself. And I now understand that it has some field building capacity and capacity to move me, but there was a point -- now I'm forward a little bit because there were so many different soul searching paths -- when I heard the idea the first time of “change the world.” I now think that's kind of a silly phrase because it has so much anthropocentric “all about me” in it, but I started to ask what in the world does that mean? I mean, how could I? I was 33 years old. …
  • Connecting what happens inside with what happens outside: But I started to make that connection between how I work, how I saw things and what happened out there. And that was such a another huge kernel, and it was a kernel in the sense that it was irritating. You know, you wanted it to be an easy answer and it wasn't.
  • Studying Western and Eastern thought and teachers: And so then I started looking for teachers and I found a school that had pulled together many different threads … in the ancient spiritual teachings. And at that point I began to read everything I could out of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, out of Socrates -- I had studied the pre Socratics when I was at Berkeley and become totally enamored of those who pulled together the inner work and the work that he tried to do as a mathematician and giving people tools and instruments in the world. And I found the work that came through esoteric, Christian Christianity and the church I'd been in -- well, we won't talk about that -- I knew that there had to be something behind it. And so I began to do that kind of searching and that process led me into a community of people who were seeking to do that, which I'm still strongly connected to. And it became a steward for that community being able to grow and evolve.
  • Transliteration of teachings into embodied experience: But the premise behind it is the transliteration because it's not translation, but the taking of the intention -- and I'm open, if somebody has a better word; I'm almost 80 years old and I've tried to figure out a way to describe what I'm doing -- I go immerse myself, not in thinking only thinking is really important, but in the end, experiencing, embodying and reflecting on that embodied experience or what the teaching is.
Work and consciousness: Your work is to get yourself to a state of consciousness. It is not a fertile seed bed if it hasn’t brought you to a state of consciousness -- that is the stage at which a door opens and you can reach up and out, and that which is universally available to all of us can reach down and take our hand (and I always see the Sistine Chapel). Our work is getting us in a state of being that that opening can happen because otherwise we're just mulch -- our body will decay and die with the plants, but we're not of use unless we can do that. And what I mean by consciousness is the ability to be two beings at once, which is to be in the body, be in the mind, be in the emotions, but watch what is going on to be able to make sense of and set aims for myself, for the state I need to be in to do the work I need to do. … My work is to disrupt certainty. That is, in some ways, my core process in life. So you have to have practices that can bring about what you can do, your work to open the door to consciousness so that you can be joined with something that's much bigger than you. And those for me are the spiritual teachings, which I then do the very best I can -- I mean, it's why it's not my work. It is my work to work on me, to be able to take that wisdom and make it relevant right now, not change it in some sense so that you can't feel it.

I love it when people come up to me at some event and heard me speaking and say things like, "Have you read the Bhagavad Gita?" And I can tell that they're feeling it -- it's like one of the ways I'm measured, whether or not I'm making sense to people, because I don't answer them directly. I say, "why do you ask?" And when they say, "well, I read the Bhagavad Gita and there are so many ideas in there that are so important and what you just said felt like it was giving me a way I could work on that. And I was very excited about that." So that's kind of my spiritual path -- is the idea of, and I think this resonates with what ServiceSpace is doing also, is the work of connecting our inner work, the work that we need to do, which has been there for millennia but we have to learn to have it be a part of all the work we do. It's our karma yoga.

Caring as Developing Human Capacity through Self-Reflection: I believe that we're born as human beings incomplete, and I don't mean the incomplete in body; I mean incomplete in soul. It's like we have tons of capacity that's never developed. That is so much our work to do as human beings. And to me, caring is about when I see something that's not working, it's not my job to criticize it. … My work is to go look at how I can help build that capacity for others. Now that probably shows up in every thread of my life, mostly starting with my grandfather, who every time I would be criticized by my father, he would ask me what is behind that, that you feel resonates for you? Can you care enough for your own capability? … And it was all about reflecting on that … The minute people can reflect, they're opening that door to consciousness, right? “Uh, I now see me. I've now got me watching me. It's not like we're two different things, but I have more capacity than just ‘be here.’ I can be here and watch me being here.” And yeah, I learned from my grandfather about growing me by watching me and reflecting on me. And that was the essence of what caring really was. … Caring for someone is not imposing our knowledge and our experience on them, but giving them capability to self discover. … I watched as the adult had to figure out how to do this process of helping a child build capability, this ex gang member, not in a way that they got them a job, which sometimes I did, that was fine, not that they gave them connections (which is what we often think of mentoring), not that they told him their stories. But instead they gave him a way of thinking about something, and worked with him applying, and worked with him discovering, worked with him finding himself. And so the entire world was not mentor or coach. It was resource. And the word resource means to return people to themselves as the source. That process is what caring is.

Inner development and Outer Change in Business: Some of the things I talked about there is external considering -- learning to see my effects in the world. And I do it in that [Regenerative Business] book about learning to see my effects on consumers, people who buy from us. You have to start in some place you can touch, and business is a good place to practice. … I gave some names to a set of worldviews or paradigm that are radically different. And one of those is that you move from an external to an internal development. And that doesn't mean you aren't doing things externally, but when I am working with a corporation or with a group of kids or with the change agents who are in my membership groups, everything starts with two things. The first is grounding in their personal experience.

So if you go listen to my morning meetings (the 27 I did to help people learn how to manage this), you'll notice that every one of them have exercises, which start with saying, “find an experience in your life you'd like to understand better. You'd like to evolve it. You'd like to create doing it a new way. Start with your experience.” Then I give them a framework. and a framework is from Pythagoras, from a variety of people who say, “if you want to disrupt the kind of automatic-ness you've got, you've got to introduce a different way of thinking. So I created this framework and I say, “start with your own personal experience.” I also, at the very beginning, always say, “don't trust me. Absolutely don't trust anything I tell you; don't accept anything I tell you without an embodied reflective experience now -- not bringing forward your old debate subjects on it. Don't accept anything without this idea that I'm offering, but also don't reject anything I'm giving you without a fully experienced, embodied, reflective experience. Now you're ready for us to engage around you doing your own inner work.” So that's the first principle is -- you make sure that it's concrete, specific. Whatever you're going to teach, whatever you're going to introduce, engage people with -- don't do it as an abstraction. You're trying to link the inner with how you engage in the world.

The second idea is that you do it all with a series of exercises, which are all about through something through reflecting, and therefore it stays inner work, but it's always on something real out there. So I don't let anybody join my communities or be in any of my work if they aren't trying to create some specific systems actualization. So you can't join for self actualization, and you can't join if you don't want to do the work on yourself in order to change those other people.

Regeneration is not pushing against something or trying to change it, but rather accepting the living systems view: So I need to tell you about one little phase in my life where when I was at Berkeley, I got arrested. I became a white ally for Black Panthers. I went into the South in Mississippi and, you know, I wasn't very good at any of this. I was young and I'm a bit reckless, I think, but the process of pushing against something usually makes it stronger. I'm working from being blind to the wholeness that exists between me and those people who I want to stand against. So my work is not about trying to change all those people. I don't have any list anywhere of best practices or any guidelines. I don't believe you can certify regeneration because it is based on the idea of everything has an essence. You want to work with that. You want to develop that, and it's coming from the inner towards some thing that you want to build its capability, not change it, not define what it should be, although you may try and give guidelines, but you want that difference in paradigm before you start.

… If you look at how living systems work, every entity, every species, every human/non-human form has a role in life and life is what living systems is about. And life means that things are changing there -- they're on their way to increasingly be able to express their essence… If we can't learn to see that we can't possibly work in playing our role in a life shed.

Read The Overstory, a tremendous novel, which is a Pulitzer Prize winner and Carol believes it should be required reading for everyone.

How she got involved in the regenerative business paradigm and moved from the activist and advocacy model to the education model: I asked, “who has the most impact on what we have going on on the planet with humans and with natural systems?” I wasn't even connected to business. I've never really had a job for very long -- you can tell, I have a lot of opinions and I sometimes could stay with it a while, but not long. But I said, I think I need to go to work with business. Not only that my first entry into business was what I call primary transformed businesses, which means they take the first stuff out of the ground. If you could get those who were mining, who were taking oil, who were taking trees down, that felt to me like the highest -- then I would have called the highest leverage place. I wanted things to be able to move exponentially, not linearly, faster. And it felt like if I went to business -- and then of course I started researching business and found not many people wanted to do what I had in mind, but I was working with this community of folks who don't exist anymore, but I was watching how they were doing it, which was an education model instead of an activist model.

So I went at the same time from trying to change government with an activist model, trying to change racism, trying to change ecological destruction to an education model. So I'm back to caring, and working on capability building. And so that process of starting to work in business meant I had to find people who hired for education. I tried a bunch of stuff, but ultimately I realized that … they can't see something yet. And my job is not to make them wrong, but how do I either write the next book or the next process and extra interaction in a way we can grow, how people can see -- that was a big jump to be able to make that into the path that I am on now. But the biggest jump was finding individual leaders ‘cause it was never a whole company. … And I discovered that I actually knew (and I have some undergraduate degrees in economics and business), so I knew a lot about business, but I could teach them business. I could teach them earnings, margins, and cashflow. I can teach them how evaluating processes they call them, manufacturing work using spiritual principles, but it had to be a leader of some business as a whole. … That process of transforming said, “wait, if that doesn't work, where you go in and you try and give them a program, here's a program to be ecologically sound. Here's a program to work with your people so you have diversity and inclusion. If instead I educated them -- I later began to call it how living systems work -- and said, ‘let's use this to figure out how to make your customers happier, how to make their lives work better.’” And I taught them external considering -- I taught them internal cause control where people can take stewardship and accountability. I taught them personal agency. I thought some strategy. I taught them how to build business models and underneath every piece were all of these principles and my clients begin to make 35 to 65% revenue growth in a year. … And what I was using is a bit of a positive Trojan horse, where I went in the door that they needed, which was to make money and I never judged them….

If you avoid activism, if you avoid advocacy and instead you engage in development -- and In some ways you do have to avoid it because the more you're an activist, the more you generate the restraint and the stronger those people become. And I found that out in trying to stop the war in Vietnam. …Like we create our polarity, we create and we escalate it with our activism. So the big shifts that came was learning to see restraints as sources of opportunity to create caring, which may create a capability and building more whole human beings so they can see their own answers and they could get there on their own path, not my path.

Not meeting people where they are, but slightly ahead: I don't believe we should start with where people are. I believe it's start with people slightly ahead. Oh, where they are so that they can experience the difference, but it's within their experience.

Moving through heartbreak: Do I ever feel sadness? Yes. I feel an emotionality about which is not activating a sense of -- I think Gurjieff called it a higher emotional center, but I fall into a lower emotional center. And if I stay in that, I am denying my role as a human being, which is to transform immediately the mental energy that I have about something into a caring process. So what it means to be in heartbreak is to be stuck in my own, or that of others, is to be stuck in existence. And you know what It's like trying to move a tree or move a house or move a program? If I'm stuck there, I can't help. I have to get into the energies that are work and understand the living system. … My primary role is to transform mental energies and then the energies in the field that things are being worked on in, so that you have a chance of everyone seeing it and understanding what they can do on themselves and how they can work toward system actualization. … They're only [energies] from the moment there and we can transform it, but we have to go to the higher emotional energies and the higher intellectual energies that can design new system. One of the big challenges we have is this getting stuck and working on trying to move existence around. And that is exhausting and not very effective. We can move mental energies.

Need to create a platform/lead with creative constraints: I never go looking for clients. I create platforms where they can find me. ... It's one of the reasons I started writing. When I wrote The Responsible Business, It attracted so many people because that book told stories, of people, leaders who had been different – because remember I'm looking for leaders who are seeking consciousness, not conscious leaders. I am working with leaders who are seeking to increase their capacity for consciousness and for their organization. But they have to find you. I do podcasts. I do articles. I write and publish on Medium. … But there's a second way. You cannot get to me very easily. I make it really difficult to work with me. I put in more restraint than you can possibly imagine -- if you've ever tried to follow me on LinkedIn, you will probably unfollow because the minute you propose to me that you're going to help me get leads, I'm back telling you why leads is a terrible business model, and you shouldn't do that to anybody in the world. So it's very difficult for a person to try and just come to me, I do it 95% buyer invitation from an existing connection. … So lead with restraint. Make sure that you have people understand the depth of what it's about. And our platform is a big part of that.

Lots of gratitude to all the behind-the-scenes volunteers that made this call happen!

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