15 ways to know whether your initiative is generative
“Generative initiative” is a North Star distinction. We are aiming high to help ensure that we break free of our traditional boxes—that we break out of our problem-solving mindset and move into new creation space. Like the North Star, the “criteria” listed below point us in a new direction.
- Are the ripples constructive? Do they enhance the well being of those affected, especially those who have little or no voice?
- Do the ripples enliven and bring forth vitality and creativity?
- Does the initiative grow a capacity for self-regulation and self-improvement in those who are affected?
- Is there an increased distribution of information, resources, competency, responsibility and accountability?
- Do people become more in control of their work, their lives and their destinies?
- Do the ripples grow as they move through time and space? Are they self-propelling? Do they generate or attract the sustenance needed to continue and to grow?
- Are the unique gifts and contributions of individuals appreciated and unleashed?
- Do the ripples spawn multiplying benefits?
- Does the quality of relationships of those affected improve and keep improving?
- Does the initiative help grow a capacity for collective learning and change?
- Is collective competency increased in irreversible ways?
- Are the ripples a joy to experience? Do they invite spontaneous participation?
- Are the ripples experienced by the rest of Nature as respectful of her well-being?
- Is collective consciousness enhanced? Are more people more aware of their choices, and of the consequences of their choices?
- Is the true ROI outrageously high?
Four examples of champions exploring potential generative initiatives
- A division manager institutes bi-weekly “Let’s Talk” brown-bag lunches, each one focused on a different stakeholder group, e.g., direct reports, different groups of indirect reports, peer group, internal/external customers. She wants to discover what’s needed to better support them, to listen and to learn, without blame or judgment—so that she might better serve them.
- A director of training and development, awakened to the potential of communities of practice decides that the organization’s current emphasis on formal training is a limited and limiting developmental strategy. He commits to developing a compelling strategy to nurture and grow purposeful communities of practice throughout the organization as a means to radically accelerate knowledge-sharing and relationship-building at very low cost.
- A CEO, gifted with a blinding flash of insight, realizes that people really are the organization’s most important asset. She sees that her organization’s long term sustainability is dependent on their becoming masterful at growing the organization’s capacity to learn and change. She invests resources wisely to begin evolving this meta-level competency as a core strategic business imperative.
- An author and evolutionary activist, Duane Elgin, sees that the purpose of most all philanthropy is some form of:
- Amelioration — to lessen suffering within existing systems
- Adaptation — to become better adjusted to current systems
- Restoration — to return things to their “original” condition
All three of these purposes ignore the role of existing systems as the source of today’s global “adversity trends.” Elgin has been nurturing a community of committed leaders that are pioneering transformational philanthropy, promoting philanthropic initiatives where systems are changed in ways that are generative and irreversible.
A proposed “patron saint” of generative initiatives
John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, is my nomination for having provided a wonderful generative initiatives model. His inspiring life story offers us a wonderful example of how one man’s discovery of his “true work” is still producing ripples experienced in orchards that stretch across our country, as well as in the hearts and minds of children everywhere.
Apply the “15 ways…” criteria, above, to Johnny Appleseed’s story and you will appreciate the appropriateness of this nomination.
Why does The Infinite Games focus on generative initiatives?
Underlying the concept of generative initiatives is the belief in the existence of an incredibly powerful, largely untapped creation force that’s a part of who we are as humans.
“Has it not occurred to you that the intelligence that knows how to encapsulate the genetic information of the body in a single cell must be around somewhere…” —from Ken Carey’s The Third Millennium
This creation force manifests itself throughout all of nature and has supported the countless mind-blowing evolutionary shifts experienced during our planet’s 4.54 billion-year history.
Many of these extraordinary acts of creation have been triggered by crises. Today our world is experiencing a crisis of unprecedented significance for all who call this planet home. We are at a choice point.
Do we become champions for reversing the trajectory of our planet’s adversity trends, or do we believe it’s someone else’s job?
Our focus on generative initiatives is based on the deep conviction that we can do it and that now is the time.
The key will be to tap into the same source that has produced all the other just-in-time miracles producing so much beauty and majesty throughout our planet. We need to look to nature for guidance and support. We need to master the art of co-creative collaboration. We need to transcend the problem-centric mechanistic world-view that is so endemic to organizing forms throughout our planet.
Our focus on generative initiatives is designed to challenge us to escape from the limitations of our traditional models and to catch the opportunity wave that happens to be accompanying today’s many life-destroying global crises. Bucky Fuller, in Critical Path nailed it:
You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
By focusing on identifying, describing, appreciating, promoting, supporting and connecting emerging generative initiatives we intend to accelerate their propagation. We see these initiatives as diverse “species” populating an emerging socio-economic “rainforest.” Just as Nature’s rainforests are continually evolving, nurturing ever-expanding communities of diverse species, so can we humans become full participants in this infinite game.
Our challenge and privilege as a species is to achieve that same level of design excellence in our organizing forms. Our focus on generative initiatives is a first step.
If generative initiatives are so generative, why aren’t they everywhere?
As is so cleverly described in Nori Huddle’s Imaginal Cell Story, the immune systems of our organizing forms tend to reject that which is unlike itself. So, even though generative initiatives are, by definition, enormously attractive and “profitable,” and are springing up at an ever-increasing rate, they are still scattered, mostly isolated from each other, and largely flying under the radar of mass media.
How do generative initiatives relate to the triple bottom line?
The so-called triple bottom line—people, planet and profits—calls attention to the need of business leadership to hold itself accountable for the consequences of their actions in all three of these interdependent domains.
Generative initiatives go beyond being concerned with all three measures. They also challenge leaders and practitioners to discover the synergy, the ultra-high true ROI inherent in successfully mastering all three of these challenge areas.
Are “ultra-high true ROIs” really achievable? Sounds like hype.
I’m from Missouri, literally and figuratively. It’s taken many years of exploration to come to my current level of conviction about what’s possible. Ultra-high true ROI is not only achievable, I believe it should be used as the design target for all social system change initiatives.
Traditional organization designs, measures of success, language, mental models, patterns of behaviour, and the like can create a very subtle but highly effective “psychic prison” for members. This is especially true if fear is present in the system. Such systems seem perfectly designed to stifle innovation, mutual support and a sense of community. Traditional approaches to organizational change too often tend to exacerbate fears implicit in hierarchical control, to stir up much resistance, and to incur great psychic costs.
We tend to forget that when not in the grips of fear, people love to grow, to develop and to have an identity, to belong, to contribute and to make a lasting difference. We forget that everyone has a special gift and purpose and wants to find a way to realize his or her potential.
Organizational change that honours and respects the individual, gradually tearing down the walls of our psychic prisons, can unleash tremendous potential in individuals, teams and the organization as a whole.
The “ultra-high” claim is appropriate for at least two reasons:
- Our “base case” is ultra low. Most of our programmatic approaches to change usually result in mediocre financial ROIs and often negative true ROIs.
- The true effectiveness of most of our organizations is so far below the standards achieved throughout the rest of nature that an order of magnitude improvement over today’s norms should always be the design target.
What’s the rub? What are the costs of championing generative initiatives?
As an organizational leader or change champion, you will need to invest time and creativity to grow an initiative that’s truly generative. It’s much more like planting trees than fixing some mechanical problem. It takes intentionality, planning, energy, care and nurturance, especially in the early stages, as well as careful pruning thereafter.
Champions of generative initiatives will be challenged:
- To be the change they want to make in the world (Gandhi)
- To embody that which they want to enable (Vivian Wright)
- To dive deeply into the work of self-mastery (Countless Sages)