Note: I wrote this piece for Cocoon in November 2019. (http://www.cocoonprojects.com)

The time it takes for change to occur can be quick. The time it takes for the conditions of change to ripen and become ready is a variable. It’s x + 1 minute. You just never know where you are in the timeline of x. Sometimes it’s closer than you think.

Let’s not start at the beginning.

At this point if your organization is at all inclined toward social or ecological responsibility you are already aware of rising levels of cultural and environmental upheaval. I will not use this place to reproduce the digits of destruction of biodiversity, soil degradation, increasing wealth gap, polarizing societies, or rampant political corruption. You know about all of that, and since the speed and direction of change that these numbers take as time goes by is only towards more unthinkable emergencies, I think we can leave it at: This moment is critical.

Right now, in the wealthy parts of the world, there is still some semblance of normalcy. I am speaking about the normalcy of day to day consumerism intertwined with the patterns of domestic life, parenting, athletics, paying taxes, taking holidays and so on. This normalcy is an illusion and it is stolen — but it is a normalcy that offers the fleeting safety within which to reshape the notion of organizational boundaries.

The risk of radical shape-shifting carries the obvious likelihood of becoming obsolete. But not changing shape is also deadly.

There are many more familiar, more gentle, more convincingly possible approaches to what organizations might do to adjust to a changing world, but for now, let’s take this time to work together towards something more courageous.

We are not at the beginning, so we cannot start there anyway. Change has already arrived, it is just unevenly experienced. I am not interested in how to prevent systems crash. There might be a way to postpone it a bit, but most of us here today will be alive to witness the bumps and unravellings of systems change. The complex multiple processes and their tipping points are already well underway. For the sake of this short piece I am going to assume this.

In which case, we are faced with another, perhaps more improvisational opportunity: How to create the alignments that will allow organizations to remain relevant to a world in rapid upheaval?

What would it take to find and fibre the connectivity of vitality across multiple contexts of community, culture, biosphere and family? Could nurturing an interdependency that nets together not only your organization but others in connection to it redefine the notion of success, relevance and ultimately survival?

Benevolence is not really possible in today’s world — let’s not be naïve. Everything we do links us to unthinkable exploitation of mothers, children and fathers, as well as ecological destruction. Beyond making 5% donations to ecological causes, or making minor contributions to myriad causes that are the consequence of business as usual, beyond green-washing and fudging chemical tests, beyond the little voice that whispers “Everyone has to make a buck somehow” — There is a possibility of doing the unprecedented.

Where is the edge of the organization?

Is it the departments, board, finances, employees and customer/client list?

Does it include the community and the biosphere? Is it in the nation, is it the culture?

And to push that question further, where is the edge of the responsibility of the organization?

Is it just to the investors, donors, employees and founders?

Or…Does it extend into the day to day lives of those people who are financially connected to the organization? What were the agricultural conditions in which their breakfasts were cultivated? What about their clothing? How did they get to work? How is their health?

How much exploitation to the environment and other people does each person in your organization contribute to just to survive day to day?

It is fair enough to demand human rights ecological policy regulation, but when the goods produced by those forces of destruction are then imported from nations where the regulation has been formed to continue producing at high cost to the humans and biospheric but low cost financially — how is that really better? / “aren’t you implicit too?”

Drawing the circle of cost

You would not be reading this if you did not care, and my guess is that you are not new to the scene of trying to support business that generates well-being and hope. To do so you have probably already risked positioning and profit by aligning to the best options currently available. Participating in fair trade, organic farming, renewable energies and tending to the well-being of children and so on within a business or organization the circle of cost is drawn around those actions that might be seen as directly connected.

But what if we could take that further? What would it look like to draw that circle of cost wider? What if we made the chain of production non-linear?

Let’s explore the possibility of organizations working together in nets and zig zags and U-turns. Where the employee that contributes to a decentralized organization, is clothed in fabrics that have been produced without extreme poverty, and human rights violations, dyed without toxicity to the soil, and they have eaten breakfast produced by farmers whose children receive education and health care.

At one point in time it was not your responsibility to initiate these relationships into sectors and organizations that, from a compartmentalized worldview, have nothing to do with what you do. But now, in a world that is waking up to the interdependencies that give life, a new landscape of working together is opening. A field of new connections awaits. New friends, partners across communities, together you are forming a net — or maybe a nest, in which the living world might heal and find new ways of living. Not everyone will be able or ready, but if you are reading this, I think you may be.

The ‘organ’ in organization is a contributor to the vitality of the system. In the body the organs are constantly in response, in relationship, in complex processes of interdependence with the other bodily systems; joining emotion, intellect, culture, sleep, microbiome, identity, mental and physical health, and intergenerational continuance on our fair blue planet. It is into all of these processes, as they reach well beyond your offices that we are here to address.

Is it your responsibility? Of course it is.

-Nora Bateson

Written by

Filmmaker, writer, educator, lecturer, President of the International Bateson Institute. Books: Small Arcs of Larger Circles 2016, Warm Data *upcoming 2019

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