Designing Regenerative Cultures:A pilgrim’s inquiry to help us come back home
A book as rich as Rings written to help us prevent a world like Flies
When I was about 10 years old, an enlightened teacher by the name of Mrs Hamilton gave me two books to read. One was Lord of The Flies. I read it once. I absorbed the message about the potential for the human species to step away from the path of decency and humanity and never picked it up again. The other was J.R. Tolken’s Lord of the Rings.
As I dived into the world of Middle Earth, absorbed the struggles of the fellowship, held my breath at the end of every chapter with either hope or despair, I became gripped by this imaginary world and the power of storytelling. Its rich tapestry of detailed description has never grown tired. Every visit I would discover new elements to the story I might have missed or glossed over on the previous read. Even though I know every word of the book almost by heart, it remains a ‘go-to’ read and is a battered and dog-eared friend from many, many re-reads.
Daniel’s book Designing Regenerative Cultures is another such friend. It is already battered and creased from regular visits to its pages. An equally rich tapestry as Tolkein’s but a tapestry of the knowledge, ideas, methods, understanding needed to shift our world from its current degenerative paradigm to a more regenerative one where we humans live in balance with nature and through the perspective of one single whole integrated planetary ecosystem. It is planetary in scope and gigantic in its ambition for our species.
It is in many ways the antidote to the end result in the first book, Lord of the Flies. Humanity stands at a crossroads today. If we do not come back to ourselves and reverse the narratives of separation — us from our inherently good nature, and us from nature itself — we are on a rocky road towards eventual collapse of our ecosystems and our societies — just like the band of boys in Flies. It lays out a pathway of inquiry that has the potential to help us build a regenerative economy out of the ashes of our current degenerative one.
An expert weaver of knowledge, Daniel brings together some of the most cogent thinking of our time about how to redesign systems that rebuild our lost resilience and resources. This is the work of years of study of many other equally insightful theorists and practitioners which combine in Daniel’s own unique insights. Dig into one chapter and you will find the perfect intervention to help you share a more regenerative way of designing innovation. Open the next and you will find provoking questions that are as yet without answer, but which stimulate the reader’s curiosity and creativity. It’s a way of living through some of the most important questions we should all be asking ourselves today.
Designing Regenerative Cultures is a book for those who have somehow been prompted to ask the question: is there a better way? It is for those who are ready to think, learn and act. What I love most about this book is that it doesn’t just address the technical process of changing systems like many sustainability or management tomes. Nor like many books on developmental psychology, does it seek to focus solely on the human element of change. It just paints a vision of what is possible if we take inspiration for the oldest system on the planet — life itself — through a process of inquiry in which the reader can then find their own way forward.
Daniel’s grasp of complexity and his academic approach — which combines with an almost lyrical sense somewhere between the wisdom of the true idealist and the poetry of the Renaissance - might not always be the easiest to digest if you are new to regenerative culture. Keep at it when your eyebrows raise or your eyes cross at something that is at first hard to understand. It will reward you. It made my grey cells crispy around the edges at times, but I learned and gained important knowledge.
Sometimes, in my rush to gobble up all the knowledge that is in the book, I bypassed the ‘stop and think here’ points that are available to you in the form of a sudden series of questions. But that is one of the delights that brings you back. Just like Tolkein. What did I miss? Did I have an opportunity for learning and reflection here that I could go back to? What did he say about transformative innovation? Was there something about education systems or agricultural policy or the richness of the commons that could inform my meeting today or my conversation next week…..
Because it is written as a series of inquiries, you can also dip into one chapter without needing to have read the preceding chapters. It is just like the world it represents — non-linear, interconnected and complex. In a way the book format doesn’t do it justice. I would love to see it in an online format with millions on interconnected mychorrizal threads — that I could dive into and just journey through them all. Perhaps one day the likes of Kumu will allow us to do just that. I would be delighted if I could stick on a virtual reality helmet and ‘see’ my way through its tunnels and caves.
There are few books from which you gain new perspectives. Designing Regenerative Cultures came into my life at just the right time when I was deepening my own inquiry into strategies for change that might help transform the world of business. If it hadn’t been for this book my own path might have continued to be resolutely corporate. If it hadn’t been for this book I might have found ideas like bioregionalism for societal transformation much later than I did. It has helped me expand my horizons, improve my practice, and helped me experiment in areas of local/regional regenerative design I would never have thought possible. When I get stuck it is one of the handy resources in which I know I will find an idea.
I first bought this book on Kindle. Kindle doesn’t do justice to all the beautiful illustrations that accompany Daniel’s writing. This is a book to hold in your hand, to park on your desk or bedside table where it’s always handy. If you have any interest at all in design, systems thinking, nature, how we could intentionally and meaningful go about changing the shape of our degenerative economies into regenerative, life-giving instead of life-depleting, economies — this is a must read and a go-to resource. I give it as a precious gift to friends, family and clients alike.
If we are to avert the collapse of our planetary ecosystem and the social upheaval that will follow, we need books like Designing Regenerative Cultures to both inform and inspire us.
Designing Regenerative Cultures is published by Triarchy Press, and is available at all good bookstores (and Amazon).