Whether Carol Sanford is writing a book, scripting for a podcast, or facilitating an educational workshop, all of her work is based on encouraging us all to ask, “How did “xyz” come to be the way it is?”. A question originally asked to her by her grandfather, she finds that question to be instrumental  in addressing the forces behind some of the world’s biggest problems, from slavery to climate change. By understanding how these came about, the underlying opportunities can be viewed from a systematic perspective, addressing the essence. This is how she approaches her work with executive leaders, who she works with to help create what she calls “The Regenerative Business”. By using this paradigm, she helps to develop the human potential in any organization, resulting in business evolution, growth that replaces past choices. So what is “The Regenerative Business”? Read on to find out:

What are traditional leadership best practices, and why aren’t they working/What are traditional leaders doing wrong? 

Well, I wouldn’t call it wrong, just undeveloped. In any organization, there is an opportunity that is being missed: the humans working there have a huge potential that is not being nurtured. They work from a behavioral paradigm (manipulate, reward, etc.) instead of understanding that they can be nourished and grown. They are seeing humans as machines or rats in a maze, when the biggest potential is the human capacity to address ecological and social questions.

Everything that is alive is dynamic and ever-changing. If you think of every individual, each has an essence, and we don’t want to flatten it. When you don’t design your working system to enhance life and regeneration—human beings don’t become creative or innovative for the business!

I once worked with Chad Holiday from DuPont, and he went from a mind that was much more machine based (ie. assembly line) to having being able to co-found the UN global compact! This is the full human capacity.

What does The Regenerative Business mean, and how and why does it create better results? 

Regeneration only happens in living systems. You have to see the business as a dynamic, living entity. I’ve used this framework for 40-45 years. The Regenerative Paradigm Has 7 principles:


1.) Engaging: Engaging w/ something as a whole (not segmenting, or dissecting). The Regenerative Business sees the organization as a whole, not as pods. So when a consumer of a business is working with it, it doesn’t see the sales person as a separate entity of a company.

2.) Potential: If it’s not alive, it has no potential. So we must work with every human’s  living entity as potential.

3.) Essence: Each individual and living being has unique characteristics. Nature does not duplicate. You ask, what is unique about them? If you made them generic, they are not alive. Imagine what it does for customers- organizations that I’ve worked with is doubled or tripled their margins. We don’t worked with generic commodities. That is a powerful change in a business.

4.) Development: I’m a developmental educator. I help to reveal what is at the heart/core of something, and bring into existence. We can develop all human beings. If you work on developing people, they will become smarter and more intelligent. They will activate from purposeful agency where they work. But these days, we recruit talent rather than build them.

5.) Nestedness: When you have the wrong paradigm, you don’t see that life exists in nests. For example, I am embedded in a family. A family is in a neighborhood, in a community, in a region, on a planet. Etc. The planet happens to me, everything I do happens to the planet. If you can’t see that we are all nested, then businesses are limited because they are thinking of things as flat (products, packaging, marketing, etc.).

6.) Nodal: In acupuncture, they intervene in strategic places where they can build an energy field that brings about change in the human body. If we take the same approach in business, we can figure out paths to new potential by figuring out where to best place is to intervene that will generate the type of change to help release blockages and redirect energy. If I am going to work regeneratively, I don’t work from a list. I work from asking, where would I intervene, to have systemic effect? As an example, we all know that if we work with women, then we nourish the entire community- kids stay in school, etc.

7.) Fields: When we walk into a room, we can often tell immediately what kind of energy is present. You have to get the right atmosphere, right field, in an event—so in this case, we have to build the kind of matrix where everyone can think well and make a difference.

All of these move everyone into being alive- they don’t look at their boss and ask what they can do for them, but instead, they ask how they can be of service to stakeholders. When they feel connected to that, it will change not only the financial wins of an organization, but the society and Earth as well.

Case Study: You’ve worked with one of our members, Jeffrey Hollender. Can you share how you helped Jeffrey and Seventh Generation through your program and expertise? 

We looked at the essence of the company based on Jeffrey’s way of engaging. Essence became our foundation, and  we used it to design everything in the company.

For example, One of the most important things for him was that people were in integrity between their words and deeds. If that’s the essence, then how would that look like culturally? We changed rituals. Instead of having people call others out, how can we get folks to reflect on themselves, and reflect on their principles and living from them? We had monthly education sessions where we taught this and business education to  teams. WE ask them how their actions are aligned with their highest values and SVG’s Essence. How does this show up in your daily work? Everyone did their own reflection.

Another value Jeffrey had was transparency. Jeffrey has TMI. But it was so deeply ingrained in him it became embedded as a cultural norm and a way of working. When they did their first ever sustainability report, one of their products had turned into formaldehyde. And they put that immediately into the report, even though they had to rewrite the whole thing the night before. That’s a culture that pervaded. Strong culture that did that.

Culture emerges out of finding the Essence of the business. You want to work from there. When you work from there, you are building the culture as you work.

What inspires you most about being a part of SVC? 

At any SVC event, I always meet an extraordinary human being. There, I can guarantee that I can meet at least 5 people who will profoundly affect my life. I am likely to hear about a way someone is taking something on a different level, doing it a different way, but they are still small, and not showing up in the mainstream media. And yet, they have such profound ideas. In my work, I like to engage as a strategist with people. And here, I am able to get new ideas from the process of dissecting other people’s ideas. I feel at home.

Join leaders like Carol in our Membership Circle and hear her speak at our annual conference this November 13-15 in Berkeley CA, as we convene to “Welcome the Next Economy”.

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