Early Visions | Community of Allies | Ecosystems, Entrepreneurs and Evolution - A 30,000-Foot View

Riff #2:
Ecosystems, Entrepreneurs and Evolution—
A 30,000-Foot View

Silicon Valley more jungle-like than Boston's Route 128?

It's common to refer to the world of business or politics as a jungle, conjuring up images of bloody tooth and claw. The reality of our natural jungles is infinitely more intricate, elegant and generative than is conjured up by tooth and claw imagery. Tachi Kiuchi and Bill Shireman, in, What We Learned in the Rainforest, offer this description:

Rainforest species are not solitary organisms fighting myriad others to be the last to survive in a hostile environment. They all depend on each other to collectively build an ecosystem, each defining an exclusive niche vital to and dependent on the other niches that border and overlap it.

...the most valuable resources of the rainforest [are] not the trees or other physical resources, but the relationships, the complex array of [symbiotic] designs [among the species.] Each of the millions of species is different form every other; each fill a particular niche more perfectly than others in its locale. Species' niche efficiency is a source of net gain in the forest, its source of "profit."

AnnaLee Saxenian's, Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128, doesn't use the rainforest metaphor. However, her wonderfully detailed picture of the Silicon Valley "ecosystem," nicely underscores Kiuchi and Shireman's premise that business has much to learn from nature. Below are a few tidbits from Saxenian's wonderfully researched story:

A few quotes from Regional Advantage
From the Preface, p vi, referring to Route 128:
Regional Advantage concludes that nothing less than an opening of the boundaries among technology businesses and between these firms and surrounding financial, educational, and public sector institutions will enable the region to compete effectively with Silicon Valley.

Also from the Preface, p viii:
In Silicon Valley a myriad of forums bring together individuals from different firms and industries, from public and private sectors, and from financial, educational, and training institutions. These gatherings, both formal and informal, enable individuals—often determined competitors—to discuss common problems, debate solutions, and define the shared identities that enable an industrial community to transcend the interest of independent firms. Only such an industrial community can create and recreate regional advantage in today's competitive global economy.

From the Prologue, p xi:
There's a velocity of information here in the Valley that is very high... much higher than it is in most other areas of the country. This means that relationships are easier to develop here than in the East. Unless you've actually worked in it, you don't really recognize how very different the Silicon Valley infrastructure is.

From the Introduction, p 2:
Silicon Valley has a regional network-based industrial system that promotes collective learning and flexible adjustment among specialist producers of a complex of related technologies. The region's dense social networks and open labor markets encourage experimentation and entrepreneurship. Companies compete intensely while at the same time learning form one another about changing markets and technologies through informal communication and collaborative practices; and loosely linked team structures encourage horizontal communication among firm divisions and with outside suppliers and customers. The functional boundaries within firms are porous in a network system, as are the boundaries between firms themselves and between firms and local institutions such as trade associations and universities.

Meanwhile, back in Kiuchi and Shireman's Rainforest, p 8-11:
...as a forest ecosystem grows more complex, it becomes divided into myriad niches, as species "get out of one another's way" and find sources of support they are most adept at tapping. This cooperation is not conscious, as human cooperation sometimes is; it is a consequence of specialization and interdependency. As they specialize, living things find it to their advantage to cooperate. Whether they like it or not the parts come together, in cooperation, as wholes.

Ecosystems are not isolated entities with impenetrable borders. Every ecosystem is nested within, borders on, or overlaps with other systems.

A verge is a rich mixture of ecosystems that happens where two distinct forms meet with each other and begin to intermix. Verges are places of conflict, but also of positive change. They bring together diverse systems and set the stage either for their integration or for their destruction.

Our economy, too, is on a verge. We are living between two great eras of civilization, between two ecological seasons.

Silicon Valley accelerated our evolution into the Information Age

The evolution of this planet has a 4,540 million-year history, give or take a few 100 million years. We humans have been around only about a million years. We're newcomers. However, compared with biological evolution, the evolution of our social forms has been relatively rapid. And, the rate of this evolution has been accelerating.

Of strategic significance to us, as wannabe "evolutionaries," is the reality that each of the four great ages of humanity has been ushered in by entrepreneurs.

entrepreneur — Webster: 1. a person who organizes and manages an enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.

enterprise — Webster: 1. a project undertaken, especially one that is important or difficult or requires boldness or energy... 4. boldness or readiness in undertaking; adventurous spirit or ingenuity.

It's important to note that Silicon Valley's capacity to accelerate our evolution into the Information Age was due, in no small part, to its ability to grow a rainforest-like regional infrastructure and culture. Each of the myriad species that make up a rainforest has been pioneered by enterprising niche-seeking prototypes. Silicon Valley somehow provided the culture, context and infrastructure that supported the merging of two great entrepreneurial domains:

The high-synergy zone shared by these two great entrepreneurial domains consisted of a rich web of boundary-crossing relationships. It was these relationships, and the countless alliances that they spawned, that produced the ever-expanding and ever-evolving array of technological and business model innovations that accelerated our global movement into the Information Age.

Spaceship Earth at a choice point!

Our accelerating developmental progress as a species has had some serious unanticipated side effects. Our definition of success in the "developed" world has focused on the accumulation of financial/material wealth and power, with no accountability for, and little consciousness of, the true cumulative costs of all of our progress. The true costs of our "progress," if you open yourself to taking them in, are very sobering.

Duane Elgin, in his splendid book, Promise Ahead, headlines a few of the scarier adversity trends:
  • Global climate change
  • World population growth
  • Mass extinction of species
  • Depletion of natural resources
  • Poverty and diminished opportunity
Duane emphasizes that as these trends continue, they become increasingly interactive, exponentially amplifying each other's impact. We have a global snowballing effect that's already well underway. Promise Ahead was published in 2000. Today we would add more "adversity trends" to his list.

We are at a choice point unlike any other in our history as a species. Never before have we had both a) the collective capacity to plunge humanity into a tailspin of ever-increasing social and environmental toxicity, and also b) the opportunity to evolve our selves and our organizing systems to unimagined new levels of health and wholeness. We have this choice, but today's window of opportunity to choose is closing fast.

We are the species that has been gifted with freedom and the capacities to consciously co-evolve — to shape our destiny. Path A and Path B mark the boundaries of our playing field as humans:

A. We can collectively choose to keep on keeping on, clinging to our beliefs in separateness, privilege and the sanctity of consumption, trusting that some force outside of our selves will save us from our collective addictions. Each passing day on this trajectory reduces our options — digs a deeper hole into hopelessness for this planet's children. It's a downward spiral toward increasing toxicity in all our relationships and in our environment. Path A is a commitment to staying the course, continuing to collude in the disastrously finite games that have unconsciously been designed into most of our systems of organization and governance. Path A is a de facto commitment to sustaining a culture of denial, ignorance and fear.

B. We can choose to take responsibility for our selves, for our future, and for the larger whole. We can choose to partner with the rest of nature and learn from her. We can choose a path toward wholeness, toward the same elegance of design and creative collaboration that has been demonstrated throughout all aspects of life

Path A is the "easy" choice. We don't have to change any of our patterns. It's our default option. It's the only choice addicts feel they have.

Path B is an extraordinarily challenging choice. It takes great courage and commitment to take a stand for the well being of the larger whole, and then to set out to learn how to act strategically from that stand.

We're at a critical juncture as a species. Do we declare our powerlessness to change our trajectory as a species, or do we take personal responsibility for our future? Do we helplessly watch the accelerating adversity trends? Or do we choose to put a new kind of snowballing process in motion?

Our world is yearning for us to outgrow adolescence.

I like Duane Elgin's practice of inquiring into where we feel humanity is on its developmental journey. What stage of maturity have we achieved as a species?

Infant > Toddler > Child > Adolescent >
Young Adult > Mature Adult > Wise Elder

The average response Duane gets is "Adolescent." That feels pretty much on target to me.

If we had a way of giving a collective voice to all of life on this planet; if we were somehow able to sense the collective plea of the impoverished, the exploited, the hungry children, populations caught in a spiral of hopelessness; if the endangered species could speak to us — what would they be saying?

If these voiceless ones could see the whole picture, and were given voice, this might be their plea to us:

Wake up and grow up! You've reached an age where it's time for you to take responsibility for your choices, and for the consequences of your choices. It's way past time to shift your focus from your collective addictions and toys to the well being of your extended family. The games you're playing are really screwing us over. You also happen to be fouling your nest. Know that we're all part of the same family. We're all in this together. If we're not sustainable, you're not sustainable. If we're hurting, you're hurting—whether you let yourself see and feel it, or not.

And you know what? We can do more than you can imagine to help change our collective course. We see and feel much that is invisible to you. We yearn for you to reinvent your games so that they include us. We want to play too. We will bring wholeness, beauty and truth to your games.

Those without voice would be asking us to show leadership in moving from adolescence to adulthood. They would ask us to transform our games of business education, health care and governance in ways that have infinitely more potential for our children's children—and for us. They would be asking us to accelerate our rate of conscious systemic evolution.

Adults are distinguished from adolescents by their consciousness of the needs of others — by their willingness and capacity to be held accountable for addressing those needs.

Fortunately, this adulthood stage of humanity's evolution has already begun to emerge. You won't find much media coverage. (Media has always done a better job of covering revolution than evolution.) But it's happening! And the Information Age is providing us the breakthrough in connectivity that opens the door to our next great age as humans.

We've chosen "Age of Conscious Evolution" as a working label for this emerging age.

Moving into adulthood will become an exciting period for us as a species. It's a time of awakening to our true purpose and potential. It's a time when we begin consciously to grow our collective intelligence, to take responsibility for our choices and the consequences of our choices — in all sectors and at all levels of system.

Entrepreneurs to the rescue?

Each new age of humanity has brought us —
  • New language, new beliefs and new technological capacities.
  • New challenges — and incredible new opportunities.
  • New organizing forms—new kinds of relationships and agreements with each other, with our work, and with the rest of nature.
Look back at our world before the dawning of the Information Age—back to the 1950s—and then fast-forward to today. We've seen dramatic changes in each of the above evolutionary dimensions.

The changes implicit in the unfolding of the Age of Conscious Evolution—our movement from adolescence to adulthood as a species—will be even more profound.

Silicon Valley created the container that brought together two distinct domains of entrepreneurial energy. It was the merging of these two energy fields in a way that supported boundary-crossing collaboration that made Silicon Valley what it is and enabled it to accelerate our movement into the Information Age. The ever-expanding synergies among business and technology entrepreneurs have since resulted in a firestorm of cultural change throughout our planet.

To accelerate our evolution into the Age of Conscious Evolution will involve enlivening and/or transforming at least eight "entrepreneurial domains."

Four of these domains are organization-centric, i.e., they are dominated by an entangled maze of established organizations. They constitute our collective caterpillar, the stuff out of which a collective butterfly can emerge.
  • Business
  • Education
  • Governance
  • Health Care
The organizations making up these domains are, with rare exceptions, badly designed for today's world. Two potentially fatal design flaws seem pervasive:
  1. A narrow, myopic definition of success, e.g., maximizing the accumulation of material wealth and/or staying in power,
  2. A lack of capacity to consciously evolve — to reinvent themselves in ways that better serve all stakeholders.
Our ability to shift from Path A to Path B is dependent our collective ability to transform organizations in today's organization-centric domains.
  • The Bad News: Because of the two design flaws and the level of inter-domain entanglement, it's very unlikely that existing domain leadership will take the lead in reinventing itself. The existing "immune systems" are almost magical in their capacity to reinforce each other in resisting change.
  • The Good News: There are countless infinite players scattered throughout these organizations who are eager to transcend the toxicity that is so common in our systems, and ready to move to new levels of true effectiveness. They need help to pull this off. It'll primarily come from four development-centric domains — from fellow "entrepreneurs for wholeness."
We've seen that the alchemy of mixing business and technological entrepreneurs in synergy-promoting ways has produced untold quantities of gold. However, to accelerate our movement into the Age of Conscious Evolution will involve a more inclusive alchemy. Entrepreneurs of wholeness from all domains will need to emerge and learn to collaborate within and across domain boundaries.

The four key development-centric domains are at different stages of evolution:
  1. The technological domain has taken off like a rocket and is accelerating the evolution of all domains. Entrepreneurs from this domain, in concert with entrepreneurs from the four organization- centric domains are providing us the infrastructure of connectivity so essential to our movement toward wholeness. However, technology is only one developmental variable in the evolutionary equation.
  2. Although the environmental domain is much less developed than the technological domain, environmental entrepreneurs have been initiating pioneering businesses for decades. Initially they showed up as problem- solving product/service providers, focused on helping industry comply with specific environmental regulations. However, in the last two decades purposeful, passionate pioneers have been inventing ways to co-create with nature that are opening up vast new entrepreneurial territories, (See example below)
  3. Social entrepreneurs have been described as "practical visionaries who possess qualities traditionally associated with leading business entrepreneurs — vision, innovation, determination and long-term commitment — but are committed to systemic social change in their field." That's part of the story. There's an even larger story emerging: When business discovers that doing good is essential to ensure doing well, our global trajectory will begin to shift. As Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) morphs into Corporate Social Opportunity (CSO), we will know the infinite games are under way in the domain
  4. Pioneering transformational entrepreneurs will transform the field of organizational learning, design and change. This field, which has generated revenues of as much as $100 billion in annual revenues worldwide, has largely limited their offerings to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of finite games. Transformational entrepreneurs (both internal and external providers) who focus on spawning and growing generative initiatives, especially in the rich soil of the verges lying at the intersections of these various entrepreneurial domains, can open up the domain of organization design, learning and change in the same way the inventors of transistors opened up the domain of technology.
Historically, these last three "entrepreneurs" mostly focused on solving very specific problems. With a few notable exceptions, they have only recently begun to be embraced as incredibly open-ended sources of business opportunity.

The magic of the Age of Conscious Evolution will not fully blossom until we discover and unfold the inevitable synergies that lie at the various intersections among all eight domains. These six added domains bring incredible potential for multiplying our capacity to generate new true wealth. By defining success in terms of true wealth generated, and by tapping into the spiraling, snowballing synergies that lie at these intersections, we will greatly accelerate the unfolding of the Age of Conscious Evolution.

Example: The paragraphs below, excerpted from an article by Gil Friend posted in Natural Logic's "The New Bottom Line," entitled "More on the Cost of Green: Why Green Building is Good Business," illustrates emerging synergy lying in the intersection of the Environmental, Technological and Business domains:

The fact is that a key part of the green building revolution now underway has been the revolution in economics. Two years ago, a LEED "Gold" building might have cost 20% more on a first cost basis. (Still a good deal, given that reduced operating costs would typically provide a 10-20% per year return on investment (ROI) on that incremental investment.) Today, with several years of learning curve behind them, practitioners are finding a different story.

An analysis of 33 buildings conducted for the State of California by Greg Kats of Capital E found a range of zero to two percent incremental first cost, and handsome ROI from lower operating costs, but — and this is key — essentially no correlation between greenness and cost. The most significant correlates, in our experience, are whether greening — and stakeholder inclusion — are integrated into the project from the very beginning, or whether they're added in (or slapped on) later.

Although there's a learning curve associated with tapping into the potential synergies that will emerge as we bridge among these eight entrepreneurial domains, the global potential of the Age of Conscious Evolution to generate true wealth (including financial well-being) has no upper limit. As we learn to master our role as designers of infinite games, the real fun begins.

Just as caterpillars can't imagine themselves as butterflies,
we have trouble imagining the multiplying benefits implicit in cross-pollination
within and across domain boundaries.
We have trouble imagining infinite games
where everyone gets to play,
to contribute, and to thrive.

Nature on this planet has been evolving for over 4 billion years.
We humans are a work in progress.
Our metamorphosis to our next stage of development is dependent on our ability
to bridge among all of our domains
with the same elegance, effectiveness and efficiency
that we find throughout the rest of nature.

The greater San Francisco Bay Area can accelerate our evolution into the Age of Conscious Evolution.

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, so it takes a region to accelerate our rate of evolution. The region should be large enough, complex enough, and include enough diversity and challenge to command the attention and respect of other regions. Insofar as is feasible, the boundaries should be drawn to include whole communities and natural ecosystems, e.g., watersheds.

We predict and intend that the greater San Francisco Bay Area will serve as a pioneering region exploring for pathways into the Age of Conscious Evolution. We believe that this region includes more than enough consciousness, capabilities, commitment, courage, caring, confidence and potential for connectivity to support its playing a pioneering role. There is more than enough money and other resources available in this region to support such an endeavor. That the greater Bay Area includes Silicon Valley is a confidence-inspiring blessing — and no coincidence.

How will the Bay Area grow the capacity to accelerate its rate of evolution? How will it develop the context, infrastructure, relationships, integrative mechanisms, initiatives, forums, the collective intelligence and wisdom to play this pioneering role for our planet?

For these questions, we'll need another riff, and even more metaphors. Read on.