#151 Embracing Uncertainty for Understanding Life




Zac: WELCOME back to Business Second Opinion Podcast. we’re so excited to bring you another episode:

We are happy to thank our sponsor for Business Second Opinion. Guayaki. Right now I’ve got a fresh can of enlighten mint sitting cold right next to me and man is it good. Guayaki brews an enlivening beverage from naturally caffeinated and nourishing leaves from a species of holly, you all know as mate. It contains 24 vitamins and minerals, 15 amino acids, and abundant polyphenols. Even the Pasteur Institute and the Paris Scientific Society concluded in 1964 that “it is difficult to find a plant in any area of the world equal to mate in nutritional value” and that yerba mate contains “practically all of the vitamins necessary to sustain life.”

I am Zac Swartout, and always with me is Carol Sanford, our inhouse positive contrarian. Who responds to big and hard questions with a radically different take.

Zac:  In case you haven’t noticed, we are living in pretty crazy and uncertain Times.  So we figured we’d tee that up as our topic for today: how to engage in times of great uncertainty and change. Carol, why are we doing this to ourselves again?

Carol: Because Regeneration, our foundational world view on Business Second Opinion offers some guidelines to generate steadiness in the eye of the storm.

Zac: True, and there is so much advice out there. My inbox in the past two weeks is overflowing with advice, data points, and recommendations for what to do next. Turns out HBR also had a handful of articles that were intended to help people see the opportunities and choices we have. The first article is 3 Ways to Take Action in the Face of Uncertainty. By Jonathan Berman Dec 8, 2016.  It draws on the thinking of a retired United States General and former CIA director David Petraeus. He became well known for his role as senior military leader in Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush and then Obama presidencies. As an aside Mr. Petraeus now leads the KKR global institute as its chairman.

Carol: What did you notice about the nature of advice offered? What questions did it raise for you?

Zac: The 3 main pieces of advice were: learn faster than your opponent, focus guidance on bigger issues, and be ready to exploit surprise gains. As I was reading the details of each of these ideas, they all seem to live at the lowest 2 levels of the 4 paradigms we’ve spoken about before Carol – extract value & arrest disorder. This kingly and hierarchical way of viewing things seemed to me to want me, as a business leader, to train people to be prepared for “handshakes or hand grenades”, believe that the market is full of opponents who I need to beat by making sure my people stop making mistakes faster, and extract as much value as I can from unforeseen surprises. These pieces of advice, probably helpful in battle, left me struggling to see how to do things like build the capabilities of my staff care more deeply for my customers.  What did you see Carol?

Carol: I also felt it was working from too small a paradigm. Like what gets us into the messes we get in. Wars, Economic Collapse, Pandemics. There is a fundamental challenge in that what all the advisors re offering does not consider a Living Systems understanding

Zac: Yea, it’s like we are working from the same paradigm or worldview that got us in a lot of the messes we already find ourselves. Take for example his idea about giving less guidance, and save it for the big issues. On its face this seems like a good idea. But really what’s on offer here is a mandate from up on high for managers to attract the “right people” and train them to make the “right decisions.” Seems to me its a bit of redundant exercise in business to hire people who I want to think like me. How do we ever come up with anything new?

Carol, let’s offer some of what a Regenerative paradigm might add.

Carol: There is the ideas of working with Wholes and not parts. I think there four Wholes here we need to start with. Planet, Society, Bodies and Minds. And ask, “what are the imperatives about how they work that we need to understand and reconcile ourselves to?”

Zac: Whew ok great. I’m already starting to feel less tense. I notice how we tend to fragment how we work on things, even in a crisis. Actually, especially in a crisis. I notice in myself the tendency to react and try to fix single problems to avoid overwhelm. But really that just feels like I’m trying to find control a situation that is fundamentally out of my control.

Carol: Let’s start with Planetary. WE tend to see it as a Rock, third one from the Sun. It is a dead floating rock we live on as it spins is space. But the working of the Solar system and its associate sub systems is core too it be a home for us and Life. Regenerative practice starts with asking, “what are the imperatives of planetary life, specially Earth?”

Zac: You mean like “Act in a way that the effects of your actions are compatible with the permanence of real life on earth?” That means we have to understand what the effects of our actions are on Life.

Carol: But we don’t learn to understand how life works and how our actions are affecting Life. The Natural Step of Sweden started an idea of writing down how planetary systems work by circulating an editable paper among scientist and philosophers. To get a deeper understanding from the exchange.

Zac: The most aspect of that important work was the conversation which built a deeper understanding. But for them, it was put into answers as actions to take. We tend to jump to what humans should do and it is fragmented into steps (it is calls The Natural Step) and separated it from the understanding process of the first work.  So we are advised what to do but from an abstract frame. We need a different process. One where we can be more certain in regard to our actions and what they might produce.

Carol: We can deal with uncertainty because we don’t know why it is happening nor have a way to figure it out.  The second place we don’t have understanding is regarding Social Systems or the working of Society.

Zac: Yeah, that makes we think of the justice system. We think of the bureaucracies involved but rarely do we see it as a larger system as work. Interestingly one of the etymological roots of justice is equitable. Unfortunately, our justice system in the US seems more concerned with arresting disorder than creating an equitable society. It’s like we cannot see nor take into account the effects of the systems we create.

Carol: What are the Social Imperatives if we want societies to work effectively .If we create systems which work against what is imperative, we should not be surprise but we are.

Zac: One imperative is we work to conceive of and design systems that take into account the effects on the whole of society; and we undermine that by fragmenting and categorizing groups of people who we deem less worthy.

Carol: I hope people are beginning to see that not understand the imperative of Wholes to work is what evoke fear in time of uncertainty. We don’t understand how it is structured to work and so we make random choices to see if it will work and debate among our random choices. WE don’t start with the primary conversation and so we don’t have a shared platform to problem solve from, much less design from.

Zac: Think about it that way,  I think a Social imperative in Education in Living Systems Thinking for all planetary citizens. Which is designed and offered not to give answers to the subjects like sustainability or social justice, but to be able to generate our own understanding and how to act.

Carol: The third whole we don’t understand the working of is Bodies. Science has primarily studies life in all forms and bodies in particular as dissectible things that are understood by their parts. Medical schools end up studying and practicing in specialties that cannot understand the Whole at work. And all the sciences are the same way. Some strive for a holistic understanding like ecology. But the infrastructure of our systems like politics and policy, philanthropy and education make it hard to work this way.

Any  imperatives here,  Zac?

Zac: That is a perfect question. And familiar to me from my time in health care. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves: can we see the ecology of the novel coronavirus? This includes bodies which cannot function in poverty and the places people work like the Wet Markets in China because they system gives no account for the forces that drove the farmers and food producers to sell more exotic livestock to begin with in order to survive.

Carol: The fourth arena in which we need imperatives is the Mind. WE can see how much we are biased and drained from efforts good thinking but not understanding the working our own mental processes and how we are not able to use a precious resources in the ways it is possible for use to work it—the Mind. The potential is lost. What are the imperatives here?

Zac: This is one I am pretty familiar with. I think you are saying, “What’s imperative around how I’m working on myself?” So an imperative question here is what’s the work I’m doing in order uplift or upgrade the quality of energy that I am allowing to run my mind? And what’s the work we are doing as a society in order to not allow our minds to fall into a ditch during this time of great change? And right now Carol, I can tell you I’m not doing the best job of this.

Carol: We cannot understand humans role in all the Wholes and how they work. The role of education in all these four arenas that are at work but not understood. To understand and manage our own thinking, state of being  and what we put agency toward.

Zac: Well maybe what I’d say the imperative here is imperturbability in the face of uncertainty. Which really means, can I build the capability to knocked get knocked off center or destabilized so badly that I can’t recover my emotional and mental state, and will.

Carol: Humans as a species’ role is the transforming of mental energies. Exercise. Vital, automatic, sensitive, consciousness (aim).

Zac:. Yes we have to start with us as humans, since we are core to the working , or not working, of all these systems. We don’t know it, can’t see it and therefore can’t do it; so we fall into fear of uncertainty. But there is an alternative.

Carol: So if we use a Regenerative Paradigm we might embrace a crisis or uncertainty to understand the working of Wholes. That is the value of a Regenerative Paradigm. It teaches us how to understand Wholes at work at these nested levels: Planetary, Social, Living bodies (human and non-human), and human minds.

Zac: Crisis is a time when all this becomes more evident. If we can stay conscious.  We can improve or understanding and to making the same errors of ignorance over and over. Until it is all over.

Carol Check the shows notes for details on the articles we are examining with Regenerative paradigm eyes. And much more.


Zac: Carol Sanford Institute has been offering online development for almost a decade so we are pretty good at it. A  set of Live workshops where we bring together a dozen or so individuals or teams, over time to develop their own  regenerative based interpretations of how Living Systems thinking can inform their strategy and leadership, as a Regenerative way to architect a business , organization or a  Life with these ideas.

Carol: We have a new community which I mentioned earlier. The Regenerative Educator Community. For education and development roles for anyone who considers themselves an educator. The community is established to enable members to work with a Developmental Epistemology, that is how they want to educate: Move from expert view to- Experientially, Developmentally, based in 7 First Principles of Regeneration. Check out SEED-communities.com to learn more. Look under Regenerative Life offerings.

And for Women Entrepreneurs  , check out that same link for communities just for you.


Carol: and keep listening to Business Second Opinion for more ideas on working from Regenerative Paradigms and Practices. And Carol’s new book is out The Regenerative Life with an extensive workbook and Book Club materials,  which Carol support with Live online Workshops for Free. More at carolsanford.com.

Zac: Thanks again to our sponsors at Guayaki and your pursuit of Regeneration with high integrity. If you want one of our Get a Second Opinion Mugs, send us your article and  topics on practices in business that needs a second opinion. You can email us at carol@businessSecondOpinion.com or find us on Twitter @biz_second_opinion . If we use it to develop an episode, you get a mug. Also, your ratings and reviews on any platform help people find us and spread the word. Sign up for our newsletter so you get connections to the show notes and much more.

Carol: Thanks to Numi Tea: They sponsor our Business Second Opinion Show Notes and Babson College for sponsoring The Regenerative Business Summit and Prize, annually online and in Boston  Check out the Business Second Opinion website for more info on our podcast . Join Numi Tea  as a Champion of our podcast.



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Business Second Opinion Podcast digs deep to answer questions about business and business practice,  you may not know you need to ask. But we believe you should be asking for the benefit of your understanding and your businesses ethics and practice. In the process of answering them, we give you a second opinion, usually a contrarian opinion, but that is well tested and proven to give the outcomes you really want without the side effects.


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