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Tags: Thrivability, sustainability, business, society, organizations, leadership
Breaking Through to a World that Works
Jean M. Russell
Conclusion and Acknowledgements
There are two ways to be successful, if I can be so dualistic at this point.
The first is to try to outmaneuver everyone else in our herd as we compete
to reach the same finishing line – shoving each other aside as we, like
lemmings, fall off the proverbial cliff of possibility. The second is to devise
a new game that we can play together, with others – a game with a shared
goal and a game that we can all win. This second approach asks us to be
wildly creative, bold, daring, courageous, adventurous, vulnerable, anxious,
and honest with ourselves.
We need to be all those things, because there are massive challenges
at hand. All around us there are signs of crisis, collapse, and breakdown.
And at the same time we are also seeing significant and far reaching
breakthroughs. We are learning more about who we are and how our minds
work which, in turn, enables us to develop better systems better suited to
our needs and capabilities. Yes, we are irrational and we can be greedy. We
are also wired to be altruistic, our brains are rewarded for caring, sharing,
and helping. We have many forms of intelligence and plasticity in our neural
pathways. We can and do learn and evolve.
We are also coming together into a social evolution far beyond any
social evolution we have experienced in human history. While we are not in
control of that evolution, we are consciously and deliberately contributing
to it as we develop new technologies, new social systems, new ways of
working together, more effective group processes, and more effective
collaborations. We have developed leaderless networks – and are beginning
to generate self-awareness within these network organisms. Our businesses
are learning how to interoperate as they enter the Social Era (the right
antidote to the downsizing they are condemned to as they pass their peak
rates of growth). What better way to maintain a sizeable footprint in
the world than by including what is outside the organization in what the
We have developed better ways of seeing ourselves through data
collection, formatting, and visualization. It improves our efficiency and
makes us smarter about what actions to take as individuals and as collectives.
We can also increasingly act on the values we hold as we can see more
clearly what aligns with them. We can see more of what works and we can
do more of it.
While these are significant breakthroughs, the world seems to be changing
faster than ever. And with more things and information and people being
connected, the unpredictability of the complex, adaptive and sometimes
even chaotic systems that we are a part of still has us confused and anxious.
To navigate all this uncertainty with agility, we need to know what kind of
system we are working within so we can select suitable actions and know
what to expect from them.
We also need to continue improving our ability to be creative and to
innovate. We can’t control creativity, but we can create the conditions
where creativity can show up. Humans don’t perform creativity the way
they perform mechanical tasks. We need different incentive systems for
these different types of tasks. So game design, applying insights from
neuroscience and behavioral economics, can motivate people (you and me)
to move in desirable directions together.
Still, there is this huge challenge of uncertainty. Even with small
iterations, bold moves, and collective intelligence, the challenges we face are
I believe the only way we will make it through these changes is by
believing that we will. As Jessica Hagy puts it: “If we don’t know that
greatness is possible, we won’t bother attempting it.”
I hope this book has helped you see that greatness might be possible for
us. Significant work is being done – and much has been done already – that
provides the crucial breakthroughs for a world that works differently than it
has in the past. A world that works better because we all participate in it.
I dare myself every day to help co-create a thrivable world. I dare you to
join me. Dare greatly. Dare to create, innovate, and change. Dare to create
more than we consume, because generating value thrills us. Dare to live into
a vision of a world that works for you, your loved ones, your community,
your organization, and our society. I dare you.
Reflecting on the book, I recognize that at the heart of thrivability is
gratitude. Not only that. Gratitude is not only at the heart, it is the heart of
I want to invite us all to step into gratitude. From a place of gratitude
we can acknowledge the gifts the past offers us. From a place of gratitude,
we can move beyond systems that were well designed with the best of
our abilities and intentions at the time. From a place of gratitude we
can generate new (or evolve newer) systems that better serve our more
discerning goals. From a place of gratitude we can adjust our goals based
on the feedback we have received on how well our earlier versions served
humanity and the (eco)systems we depend on. At the heart of thriving is
gratitude to one another for the gifts we bring to the table. Gratitude for the
technology that allows us to better understand ourselves and our universe.
And gratitude for becoming conscious, albeit irrational, creatures who can
play games that delight us. The heart and the soul of thrivability is gratitude.
A thriving life stems from gratitude. A thriving organization expresses
gratitude. A thriving society and culture breathes gratitude. Yes, I mean that
in an airy spiritual way. And yes I mean it in a technical, psychological-wiring
way. And finally, I mean it in a practitioner’s sense of being witness to, and
practicing, gratitude deeply. So, let’s be grateful and…
I met with a man that friends and I have affectionately called the Merlin
of our age. He doesn’t look like Merlin though. Rather, he looks the part
of a well educated Englishman you might find at the University Club
or walking out of a business meeting in the financial district. I sat in his
Manhattan apartment, drinking coffee with him during an intense two hour
conversation. I knew he was over 80 at that time, because I heard he went
to burning man – as his friends suggested – for his 80th birthday. At the
end of our wide-ranging conversation, he said, “you should write this as a
book.” So I did. I outlined this book, based on that conversation, as soon as
I got back to my friend’s place in South Brooklyn. Two months later, I had 3
Okay, maybe not everyone would actually work for two years on a
project of this scope after a single conversation in New York. But I am
pretty sure several books each year give credit to Napier for nudging them
into existence. He is the kind of quiet magical ‘leader’ that makes things
happen in the world without most people even knowing his name. To me,
he exemplifies thrivability. He lives in an ongoing state of committed deep
curiosity. He plants seeds where he sees sparks of life emerging. He nurtures
what takes hold and begins to unfold. He is immensely generative. I hope I
can be like Napier someday. And I hope he was right that this book might
plant a seed for you and for us.
I want to thank very deeply and humbly my editor, Andrew Carey. He
played with me through all the twists and turns of transforming a rough
draft of a book into this finished version. He says I made the gem in my
mouth. I say he polished it just so. Having worked as an editor, I know just
how much the editor does to transform a work into a final product – it is
the labor that makes rock into sparkling jewelry delightful to behold.
Much gratitude to the friends who listened and loved me warmly during
my breakdowns and breakthroughs in writing this book: Deanna Zandt,
Christina Jordan, Kaliya Hamlin, Travis Wellman, Jana Inuit, Manar Hussain,
Herman Wagter, Christelle Van Ham, Mushin Schilling, Cameron Burgess,
Kimberly Olson, Tracy Gary, and Steve Crandall. I can’t possibly list
everyone who helped, nudged, prodded, encouraged, and sympathized. It
took a network. A big one. Thank you all.
With gratitude to my champions and donors for making the dedication
to do this work possible and cheered me on: Herman Wagter, John Hagel,
Manar Hussain, Lewis Hoffman, Deanna Zandt, Gerard Senehi, Drake
Zimmerman, Amir Baghdadi, Monica Zaucha, Imaginify, Christopher
Douglas, Kurt Opprecht, and Todd Hoskins. And most of all to my sister
Joan and her husband Jim Jones for giving me shelter for four months of
Thank you to early readers who helped guide and shape the early drafts:
Danielle Lanyard, Bernd Nurnberger, Deanna Zandt, Christine Egger,
Napier Collyns, Nilofer Merchant, Evonne Heyning, Bo McFarland, Jay
Ogilvy, Steve Kammen, Hava Gurevich, Irma Wilson, Nathaniel James,
Donnie Maclurcan, and John Hagel (who reordered it).
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