#153 What Got Us Into This Mess Will Not Get Us Out — Part 2

yellow and blue star fish 


Zac: WELCOME back to Business Second Opinion Podcast. We’re always 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 lemon elation, sitting cold next to me to help carry me through the day. 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. Hey Carol.

Carol: Hi Zac

Zac: So last episode we started tackling a question we get here a lot at Business Second Opinion – “Carol and Zac, what got us into this mess we are in, and how do we get out of it?” Whether that’s COVID-19 or questionable human resource practices – when we look out at the world, we continue to believe that how we think filters, influences, and determines what we can think about. In essence our critical thinking skills, or lack thereof, are how we continue to find ourselves as a society, falling into ditch after ditch. So we presented a framework to help build better thinking capability. 

Carol: I was offering a contrasting framework to the Harvard Business Review author’s idea of what critical thinking is and how it is done. And particularly what capability you are building and using too build when working on critical thinking skills, I point to: my belief that we needed four foundational changes to how we go about understanding our world and how we pursue change. They underlie everything you hear from us here. First, we need to change how we learn and formulate knowledge and share it with others. This is called an epistemology. We have outdated, incomplete and sometimes completely wrong ways of coming to know what we know and share 

Zac: Second, we need to change how we think the world works, which we’ve often heard called a paradigm shift – and not an easy task. This is called a cosmology.

Carol: Today we look at the last two. So, the third foundational change that is needed to have a better idea of how humans work, their psychology and mentation and why they behave the way they do. We need a better framing process than what is considered now to be normal. And what capability it takes to see paradigms and use them as lenses for innovation and systems change. 

Zac: And fourth, that leads us to needing to see the foundation of everything as a capability challenge – in need of a developmental approach. We have a capability crisis that underlies all the other crises. And we need to have a massive, systemic way to shift that!

Carol: So, our work today is to offer the last two windows on the framework for better thinking and acting capability. And why we see the Harvard Business Review author’s advice on the subject and in fact most advice it as not only as incomplete, but not very helpful for when disruption is present, and innovation is called for. 

Zac: Most advice on critical thinking skills treats how thinking works as an inability to see reality as separate subjects. We pull those back as one subject and call it discerning the working of life—or reality.

Carol: The third subject is ontology or the study and understanding of the working of being. What it means to be a being, and in our case, human beings and non-human beings like Earth and life sheds. But let’s start with humans. An ontology will be the source of any theory of change we hold and impose in social systems but mostly our ontology is invisible to us. And needs to become starkly apparent and be examined, which we do a bit of today. 

Zac: Then we are speaking about what is alive. We have science working on that for sure, but it’s usually with fragments and parting things out. Isolation and counting of individual variables. So we need to have an ontology of the living processes of wholes. Particularly in how humans work. 

Carol: Yes, for sure. So let’s look at it regeneratively, through the lens of our Developmental School’s ontology. Practiced for over 70 years, What is the ontology that will get us out of this mess? It is based on the understanding first that humans are incomplete. That is that did not arrive finished and ready to function.

Zac: We all know this at some level because we consider parents and schools the ones who will evolve us to be more fully contributing and functioning beings. But the problem lies in what these institutions assume their aim is. Ultimately they shoot for making their students and children happy and successful. Which doesn’t sound so bad – but on reflection this is a pretty self centered aim. Plus when considering a career, 65% of people cite their goals as being success oriented – becoming rich, famous or powerful. To be fair, they don’t always use those words. But even for parents, those are the three drivers cited in surveys for what career they want the kids to attain. In the end this is pretty limiting. 

Carol: That speaks to the second aspect of an ontology that leads to this way of viewing humans. Human beings are pretty mechanical (asleep) to their potential and therefore daily lives. They follow routines and seek familiarity rather than creativity. That does not have to be the case, but without development it is the norm. 

Zac: Right, it’s like when we assume creativity and critical thinking are rare, and only comes with a few, special people. You hear this often when people are categorized as geniuses or low performers or even less. But that is not true. And it is not necessary. It’s just a latent, undeveloped capability, not an inborn or missing characteristic, played out uniquely for each being. All humans can learn to offer themselves and their mind as an instrument for evolving life capacities. 

Carol: A core tenant of awakening potential in our ontology is that humans, and each whole that is alive, is emerging from an Essence that defines it and seeking to express that. Nature does not repeat. 

Zac: We know this is true at the physical level of DNA. Even each starfish, which seem pretty similar, has its own DNA. But before I mess this up, Carol, is that essence?

Carol: Essence is more like DNA at the level of being. Essence is the basic inner quality of something or someone that gives the thing or person their distinctive and unique character of being. DNA may frame what they look like and physiological work, but it has little to do with character. 

Zac: Most people assume you mean personality? What happens if we put all of our attention there?

Carol: Personality is socially conditioned by our environment and circumstances. It is accidental in some ways. Essence is innate. It is spoken on by many philosophies and spiritual traditions. But our sciences have never studied this. Only nature and nurture which have been at birth and after birth. Not a very definitive study.

Zac: An easy way to see this is in children. Each child is unique. Even twins who share DNA have their own distinct way of being. Unfortunately, humans become conditioned to conform for the most part, not express their Essence. And when they are famous for that unique expression, we claim it is a gift of birth, rather than ‘who they are.’ And that it is possible for all human beings. Essence is a pattern generator of a being and needs to be nurtured. I have to work to remember that Essence fuels me when I am awake. Personality drives me when I’m not.

Carol: We have spoken about Essence extensively in other podcasts, so let’s look at the last aspect of our ontology. Humans can learn to see life at work in themselves and all systems, which is seeing the engine of life and learning to transform themselves and other systems to better support their working. We are taught to know things as parts that make up a whole and not to understand them as working wholes. 

Zac: We love watching shows and listening to podcasts like How Stuff Works, while sites like Coursera offer courses on literally any subject so we can see how that subject works in context. But these offerings fill in the devastating void that should be happening in education. In other words, starting with wholes and how they work! 

Carol: We know it makes kids do better on tests and in life, but we don’t teach that way because we have machine and rats paradigms which drive out ontological processes like education. Systems at work are always easy to understand and engage with rather than parting out whole, like cars in a junkyard, so we think we know them. 

Zac: I experienced this quite often in school. I can remember a moment distinctly in college when I was struggling quite a bit to understand the why of calculus. I kept asking myself but why do we do this this way? Where did these ideas come from? And why does this matter? But that wasn’t the goal of calculus class. While being consumed with that notion my grades started to drop and I became overwhelmed. My teacher at the time was not helping either. So I turned my brain off and just memorized abstract formulas. If the goals of the classes had been different, who knows how far I could have gone with calculus, but that kind of thinking wasn’t rewarded so I abandoned the subject completely. It had no relevance or grounding for me. You know as I’m talking, I realize this is why on the job training is better than classroom training. And why imaging systems at work that surround that job is even more powerful. 

Carol: The current ontology is fractured and misguided, and does not lead us to understand humans. This is core to what got us into this mess—that is attempting to make sense from parts and not the working of wholes. Overall, we need a new ontology based on humans as evolving beings that are yet to be developed (not trained in knowledge and careers only), that must learn how to be awake most of the time, and make studying the working of stuff as core to our parenting and education systems.

Zac: So that leads us to the fourth shift we need to get us out of this mess. Which is to have a belief that all challenges and opportunities are about capability voids. And more than that, we need to use systems thinking as integral to all institutions from parenting, to education, to work life. 

Carol: I call this last window, about ableness voids, having a Developmental Technology for that ongoing capability building. Technology is about having a way to convert science and philosophy into functioning action that brings about change. It has to be developed and is missing in most institutions. They have approaches instead that are more like a set of patchwork quilts without a pattern or quilting group who speaks to one another. Or a guild that reflects on what is produced by its members from a shared intention. 

Zac: I grew up in an oftentimes loud, and overwhelming household. As I got older, yelling and debates became the norm. I always vowed to not treat my kids in my worst moments, how I perceived I was treated. Fast forward to today, and it turns out I don’t wake up everyday as father of the year. But I have built a capability to catch myself as I become agitated and angry. Instead of digging in my heels and arguing until I’m red in the face, I can stop and reconsider a different approach. I don’t always do this, but this capability, when I engage with it, serves me in being a parent, husband, business owner, and son. In the end I realize that all of this is about how I choose to engage rather than being a victim of my upbringing.

Carol: Our School has a deeply sourced and tested technology that has three cornerstones. First, it is sourced from a Philosophy of Capability Development based on caring 

Zac: Right, the idea that we move beyond only “Caring for” others, to “Enabling self-determination.” We have many of our institutions structured now to use compassion for those who have less than we do, but we don’t develop the institutions, the systems that contain them, or the people in them to express their essence and grow the capabilities needed to do so. 

Carol: This aspect of the technology has an articulated set of principles and premises for working from, that can and are to be integrated in all activity. And there is frequently reflection on how well that is happening and examining the framework itself. 

Zac: When I’m working in a framework, I have the simultaneous experience of the me work, a framework working a subject, while I am working on me. It’s very hard to describe but it’s like I can’t see all that I want to see about a particular business opportunity or project unless I’m engaging in this way. So much drops out when I approach something on automatic. The subject, framework, and my thinking all become deadened when I do. I really do, as they say, miss the forest for the trees.

Carol: The second cornerstone is that the School is Founded on Principles of Personal Development and Evolution. Without personal development we can’t be fully human. This cornerstone is about being awake and engaging in completing our potential. 

Zac: Like not get in our own way. To see where our opportunities to grow are. Being a co-founder my business partner and I don’t always see eye to eye. Instead of arguing a perspective on a client or project – I have to watch me engaging with him in order to see another way to approach that situation. Otherwise I can become blinded to bigger, more purposeful opportunities we may both be missing. And as a young company, those ah ha moments are invaluable to how we grow the business for the long haul.

Carol: And the third cornerstone is having a technology that is about expressing ourselves through a Living Systems Theory of Change toward Systems Actualization

Zac: That is what most of our Business Second Opinion podcasts are about. How organizational systems can work when they are working from a developmental technology used to design strategy, leadership and work design. 

Carol: And also societies that are made up of communities that work and the social systems that serve their purpose. If you listen to our podcasts regularly, you can begin to see the patterns of our technology. Or you can join our Change Agent Development community or other communities to get up close and personal.

Zac: And with a bit more reflection you can see it is infused with a particular epistemology, cosmology and ontology which has a coherent and energy transforming effect on the people who use it and those and what they touch. 

Carol: We are taking off for the Summer at Business Second Opinion for new recordings. There will be archived ones showing up. But watch for my new podcast based on my new book, The Regenerative Life: Hear interviews with people involved in the Action Learning and Research project is it based on and continues to be open. Check out carolsanford.com under The Regenerative Life book or the show notes for a link. 

Zac: Carol Sanford Institute has been offering development communities for forty years with online versions for a decade, so we are pretty good at it. What we’re offering is a set of FREE Morning Meetings where we look at how to Transform Uncertainty into Action based on Living Systems Thinking approach, to inform our live in times of crisis, your daily decisions and action, and how you help others. Search on Facebook for The Regenerative Life Communities Group. Join my newsletter at Carol Sanford.com. to get more information on upcoming events.

Carol: We have a new community. The Regenerative Educator Community. For development roles for anyone who considers themselves an educator in institutions, organizations or professions . 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. 

Zac: 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 need 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. 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 business’s 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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  1. #152 What Got Us Into This Mess, Will Not Get Us Out! - Carol Sanford - October 29, 2020

    […] #153 What Got Us Into This Mess Will Not Get Us Out — Part 2 […]

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