Help Find the Attractors that Can Build a Better Future

Metanarrative
Synergy is counterintuitive

Simon’s story: Vladimir and I walk into Big Deal 2020’s conference dinner. It is an unlikely collaboration, the bohemian and the real estate tycoon. Regardless, we’ve been working together for a year creating Springlands Life, a housing development with a 70 percent smaller environmental footprint than most suburbs.

We are not going to lead with sustainability at this event—Big Deal’s participants are interested in money! And we will give them that. Springlands Life is cheaper than its competition. Our environmental successes involve less capital and slash the annual running expenses of standard homes. It is luxurious, cost effective, living. It should sell…

Vlad knows this crowd. He is in his element. Big vision, extrovert, great company. Just the sort of person you want to be with at a black tie, silver service formal, thousand people awards evening. Still, I take the offered glass of French champagne, dutch courage.

Vlad goes with beer and sweeps into introductions. We’ve planned this. Tell them what an amazing opportunity Springlands will be. Talk about the easy living, the great price, the big margins. If asked, mention the whole site and that homes use 70 to 90 percent less water, embodied and generated carbon emissions. People’s eyes tend to glaze over at those latter statistics.

Vlad leads. His first words are “were doing all these environmental things. It will cost us to go green. Thats ok were willing to cop that”.

What?

I drop my champagne…

The stories we tell ourselves are very sticky as the experience with Vlad shows.

Springlands is a real story, anonymised here but the statistics and quotes are real. The cultural expectations from our peers, our communities and the society around us, are very strong.  Fiction stronger than facts? Often.

Vlad’s reluctance to shift away from prevailing views shows the power of a story and dominant narratives. Dominant narratives like today’s economic thinking and its attention to financial imperatives above all else. People be damned. Environment be damned. Society be damned. These financial imperatives dominate the news—even in these troubled times of pandemic. The present day, the ways that we think the world works, keep drawing us in regardless of evidence to the contrary.

Modern day culture is strongly attractive—its ideas, norms and memes capture our psyches on a daily basis. Even when evidence shows success sourced from synergy—from delivering simultaneous environmental, social and economic benefits like the Murraylands project—we still fall back to the expected paradigms. We are drawn to trade-off competing interests against each other, environment at the expense of profit, growth versus health.

These money-oriented tradeoffs pose real problems as we face both climate and covid-19 emergencies. Both collaboration and competition deliver results. However, we can’t answer our emergencies through individual success alone.

We know at some gut level that the solutions to these emergencies are inherently collaborative and that they involve human and nature-based values that go way beyond money. Yet, the idea that success comes from beating the competition by making more money, whatever the consequences, still predominates. When success is source by delivering for people, profit, planet and purpose, all at the same time, we tend to downgrade the relevance, the broad applicability, of these examples.

Pulling us forward

What strong attractors might pull us forward, pull us towards the transformational solutions needed for human wellbeing and thriving survival over the long term? The idea of attractors comes from think about the nature of complexity—and our human and ecological systems are complex. The idea is that patterns form around attractors. The right attractors can enable human activities to flourish.

Objectively attractors are the ideas that draw us in and that we constantly refer back to. For example, a move to encompassing the best of our modern day wonders combined with collaborative, caring solutions to the pitfalls, could be a new attractor. We can call this meta-business and meta-modern ways-of-life. This step alleviates oceans of suffering for all sentient beings* with practices outcompeting industrial and information revolution mindsets.

However, that perspective is not really what motivates people (yet). We humans are emotional, connected, entangled, and community-loving beings—which is why the current crisis is so hard for so many.

Consequently, the SDG Narratives working group is exploring tomorrow’s strong attractors through global discussions, action and research. With you, we want to look at what ideas pull a new story forward. Ideas like:

  • a life affirming culture
  • we humans are part of connected living systems
  • reinvigorate, regenerate, restore, renew

And did you notice the trap? We have to go beyond “economics”, the trap that Vlad fell into the opening story. To create a compelling new story, you, we, and I need to look inwardly too at what we feel in our hearts (as well as think in our heads). Such strong attractors could be:

  • bringing beauty back
  • bring life/liveliness in
  • making beauty again
  • energising connectedness
Ongoing

This work is developing. We are looking to help with the personal and societal step changes that are already underway—to gain control of tomorrow’s narrative rather than falling back to the old, tired, and, as we see from the pandemic, failing story that the world is only about money or economies. We see many examples of such shifts in our conversations with statements such as:

  • Dont bring me a problem without a solution.
  • From “balance to synergy” It is not about trading of economy, environment, social, equity, wellbeing, health, etc. against each other, anymore.
  • The New Paradigm—“connected, entangled is so obvious in Coronavirus times”. We have to solve problems together. Individual solutions are inadequate/there are no individual answers.
Action Needed: You Can Help!

Just like Vladimir was drawn back to competing conflicts, to thinking only in financial and economic terms despite the facts, we need to be drawn into the collaborative, synergistic answers to define a flourishing future. Can you help?

Take action! Help us create new “windows” into the future that bring your ideas about what attracts you—and what might attract others—to the fore.

Please submit your actual or metaphorical windows. What is opening or closing for you? Pictures, photos, stories, poems, songs, videos, art, images, and words—ideas, phrases, and comments, will all help.

Submit here >  This same form sends your ideas directly to Simon Divecha and Sandra Waddock.

At the same time, you can join the Transforming Narratives group to hear about the next co-creation webinar. Submit/join here >

Resources

There is much work already on new narratives including science and research. A small selection is in plain English here: Attractors: strangely, we keep getting pulled in.

Businesses breaking our modern day paradigms include Interface and Allbirds.

You will find meta-modern examples throughout popular culture. E.g.:

  • Watch Moonrise Kingdom and marvel at how it honours, sincerely, the ironies that abound in our world today.
  • Or see this example where we are already seeing success only comes from collaboration: Infinity War! Though it’s a bit tongue in cheek, being a superhero is inadequate now. In this universe, superheroes must collaborate to succeed!

Paradigm, step change is constantly occuring throughout human times. For example see Elegant Attraction—emergence from diversity and complexity creating beauty that is more than the sum of the individual parts. Daniel Schmachtenbergers wonderful talk here > explains this phenomena.

Simon Divecha has been addressing climate change and sustainability for three decades. He’s both an award-winning academic, and a highly sought-after international consultant for all things related to climate change, carbon management and sustainability.

Dr. Simon Divecha has been addressing climate and large-scale systems change for three decades. He’s both an award-winning academic, an associate editor for the Action Research Journal, co-founder of (be) Benevolution and a highly sought-after international consultant for all things related to climate change and organisations.

Sandra Waddock is the Galligan Chair of Strategy, Carroll School Scholar of Corporate Responsibility, and Professor of Management at the Carroll School of Management, Boston College. She is Councillor with the Forum’s Transforming Narratives Steward Team.

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