I am like a child again, sitting with all I don’t know. I am part of a group that has followed a scientific researcher to his research site, a stream tucked away in a mountain, accessible via a bumpy rugged drive. To say he comes to this spot often is an understatement. In fact he spends days on end, pain painstakingly sampling the stream in hopes of capturing little bits of stream life that he can haul back to the lab for analysis, offering a single data entry into a multi-year study.
With enough data, over time, years even, conclusions can be made. When he asks us “Is the stream gathering water and moving it or do streams change it ?” we all look puzzled. Patient, he asks again in other words “Is the stream like a pipe or is something else happening ?” I sit with the simplicity of the question. Of course something is happening with the streams and it dawns on me that without specific data of exactly what, it is difficult to change the course of human development and action around streams. It begins to sink in how this work is a labor of love. I begin to see this young scientist and all his dedication with new eyes.
We are at a training that brings together social innovators and ecosystem scientists to co-learn about participatory leadership and co-creation processes, and along the way, each other. It takes place at the most appropriate venue, the Biology Research Station of the University of Montreal in Canada, currently directed by Roxane Maranger, an aquatic ecosystem ecologist, and one of our “hosts”. Created in the 1960’s, the research station serves as a baseline, as a pristine data point, since the rest of the lands nearby have given way to human development. We have to remind ourselves that though it feels like a retreat centre due to the abundance of nature, in fact the mission of this place is research. Our training event is appropriately called There’s no planet B.
The young scientist, who goes by the name of Charles, taught me a new term that day : “ecosystem services”. While “natural resources” are things, ecosystem services weave in layers of complexity with all the interdependences within an ecosystem. We can begin to link how a network of healthy streams contribute to oxygenated water running into our rivers and seas. Charles has the weight of the dead zone in the gulf of Mexico on his shoulders and the possibility that here in Quebec, Canada we could have one too if we are not careful.* He knows all too well that when nature is deprived on doing her thing, removing nitrates in this case, disastrous effects can happen hundreds of kilometres away. Simply put, ecosystem services are benefits humans gain from nature, such as absorbing pollutants we put into the ecosystem, for free. With an ecosystem service lens we can look at a stream or a forest or a lake with all that it may offer as a service, nearby and far away. Some other ecosystem services include: climate regulation, flood control, air purification. Ecosystem science helps us to understand the ecosystem services that are invisible to the eye. That is why it is a labour of love and so essential to understand if we are to live sustainably.
Where was ecosystem science making a difference? I wanted a tangible example where ecosystem science had been heeded by decision makers. I asked three scientists and each one gave me the same answer: the water treatment plant of New York City. It is a fascinating and powerful example.
In the 1990s New York City was at a turning point with its drinking water and needed to build a new water treatment plant to filter its water supply. The foreseen budget was 8–12 billion dollars plus 300 million dollars annual maintenance fees for the new plant. But another option was possible that was hugely cheaper. Rather than building a water treatment plant, New York could simply ensure the quality of water in the streams and rivers of its watershed in the Catskill Mountains and in so doing avoid the need to filter water all together.*** This meant buying up natural lands and protecting them from development, funding septic system upgrades and infrastructure repairs in the watershed communities and offering financial incentives for farmers to shift to non polluting agricultural practices.
This is what they did, adopting in 1997 the New York City Watershed Memorandum of Agreement. The ecosystem service strategy cost only 300 million dollars, saving the city billions of dollars and protecting an essential ecoservice now and into the future. Every day 1.2 billion gallons of water travels, mostly via gravity, from the Catskills providing 90% of New York’s drinking water. The bonus in the process is the Catskill Mountains watershed not only provides clean and affordable water that doesn’t require major treatment, but also the beauty of the region is protected.
This example shows that major multi-sector collaboration, ecosystem science and good will can help us find a way to work with nature to provide one of the cleanest drinking waters in the world. I learn that Roxanne and Charles are working on our own mini NYC with a local municipality and I am keen to collaborate.****
As I learn to truly face the physical limitations of the planet, the research of scientists like Charles gives me hope. I begin to see potential. At the same time, my work in co-creation, co-design, collaborative partnerships and platforms, seems more important than ever before. It’s going to take some serious conversation, collaboration and partnering to able to develop creative, smart solutions that can carry us into our future.
As we were leaving the site, Charles had us stop for a moment and look out at the view. “What’s that ecosystem service there?” he asked, giving us a moment. As I tried to come up with a smart scientific answer, Charles, gently smiling, states, “Beauty and calming”, that is another ecosystem service.
*Roxane offers further science on this point: Human activities, such as extensive farming, have loaded excess nutrients to the Gulf coast through the streams that feed the Mississippi River, which has resulted in excessive plant growth, its decay, and subsequent oxygen loss in coastal waters that deprive fish and other species of their habit. This oxygen loss, or hypoxia, is an important threat to many coastal ecosystems all over the world
** Charles Charrier-Tremblay has two co-advisors Roxane Maranger and Jean-François Lapierre
***Roxane offers some scientific nuance: All drinking water that comes from surface water needs to be treated at some level, even if it is really clean. The difference is the degree of treatment which is what made this decision so incredibly brilliant!
****Roxane is creating a Lab, called RéseauLab, which mixes ecoservice science with codesign methods to work with stakeholders for social-ecological innovation. It is currently being tested in a relationship with a local municipality to protect their ground and surface water. Working closely with stakeholders, research from graduate students provides both the understanding of the threats as well as the solutions as to which areas need more protection in order to maintain water quality into the future.
The historic 1997 New York City Watershed Memorandum of Agreement
A 2011 article in State of the Planet, Earth Institute, Columbia University providing and update on all 3 NYC watersheds: Maintaining the Superiority of NYC’s Drinking Water
Recent 2018 article in New York Times providing an update on further efforts to protect New York’s watersheds that supply unfiltered water: A Billion Dollar Investment in New York’s Water
Information on the University of Montreal Biology Field Station (in French)
Announcement: We will be organizing another social innovator-scientist gathering at the Field station outside Montreal in July 2019. Stay tuned!
Curiosity and excitement about horizontal organizations coexist with concerns and cynicism. Most of today’s work force is disengaged and the current ways of working won’t be able to take us into our future. Even if we know all this, we still struggle to figure out what to do come Monday morning.
For over 10 years I have been using our company, Percolab, as a lab of how an organization can function. With clients, colleagues and international friends, we try things out and sense make, in a never ending learning process. In 2016 I began offering workshops on the topic: Demystifying Self-Management. They helped people connect with the notion and explore some basic elements. In 2017, at SXSW in the USA, with Edwin Jansen, we gave a panel on Growing a Company without Bosses. It was a provocation and we were stunned by the response.
Weeks later I signed a book contract with my favorite publisher, Berrett-Koehler: Going Horizontal: Creating a Non-hierarchical Organization, One Practice at a Time. It is a practical book. It builds on the fabulous work in the field of new ways of working, such as Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations. Going Horizontal is all about the practice. It offers seven domains of practice to help anchor new habits and mindset as they develop. But Going Horizontal is more than a book, it is also a community and a series of practical trainings.
Who shows up at a Going Horizontal training?
In Antwerp, Belgium, six countries were in the room. Some people had specific questions while others wanted to make sense of their own experimentations. In Quebec City, Canada, workers from a pulp and paper factory joined Lawyers without Borders, an IT professional (recovering from a less than satisfactory foray into self-management), and consultants and students. Going Horizontal connects across domains and job titles.
A deep dive in Spain
The next stop is in Spain the 11-14th October, 2018 for a four day residential training in a castle in the middle of a 200 hectare forest outside of Barcelona. Beyond the enchanting venue, will be a unique learning experience. This training is offered by a powerful international team:
The day to day challenges of participants will be the basis of the program. The seven domains of practice of the Going Horizontal framework will help to grow our strengths and overcome our blind spots. Together we are exploring the new rich and yet unexplored territory of all that Going Horizontal can be. Via each training the community grows as participants can become champions of horizontal practices in their local context.
If this speaks to you, please join us in Spain! If you know someone who should be there, please let them know.
Either way you can pre-order the book Going Horizontal now via Amazon.
If you would like to collaborate to offer a Going Horizontal training or virtual book club in your area, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
These are the Percolab’s principles of ways of working that we apply at Percolab right here, right now. We think everyone should work like this.
Principle #1 — OPEN
Keeping secrets slows things down, being open speeds things up.
Opaque and secretive ways invite in scheming, homogeneity and insular thinking. Openness invites inclusion, co-learning and integrity.
Principle #2 — ENLIVENING
Forget systems that are mechanistic, everything we do is alive.
Directive, plan and control work can drag on and produce flat results. When work integrates our autonomy, spirit and creativity it can be full of ease with kick ass results.
Principle #3 — CO-CREATIVE
Individual genius is overrated, the future is created together.
When leaders try to figure out for others it breeds apprehension and singular thinking.
Co-creation builds attuned pathways with legitimacy and collective energy and wisdom.
Principle #4 — HUMAN
Work doesn’t just solve problems, it develops human beings.
Treating human beings in extractive ways generates disengagement and suffering. When we trust and work consciously we grow and develop into more reflexive and capable humans.
Principle #5 INSIGHTFUL
Knowledge doesn’t come from one source, it comes from all around.
Siloed and linear approaches are unable to deal with complexity. Tapping into the myriad and multi-dimensional ways of listening leads to insightful breakthroughs.
If you don’t know about Connectle yet, you should! It is an ecosystem for change-agents to explore and implement new ways of working.
They host international live streamed conversations on the future of work and share the videos thereafter. Percolab was recently invited to join a conversation on the hot topic of Continuous Learning.
Social Entrepreneur Phoebe Tickell hosted the conversation with Samantha Slade (Percolab) Harold Jarche (JarcheConsulting) Susan Basterfield (Enspiral) and Sabrina Bouraoui (Shades of Gray).
Thanks to Mara Tolja for making it all happen and the great videos.
Join in the upcoming live streamed conversations and check out the entire video collection: Connectle
Growing up, noone remembers the first time they drew. We were given crayons, pencils, pens, paper and encouraged to draw. From simple marks on the paper, to representations of our home, our family, our world we saw. We were encouraged and supported to make more.
We learnt from it, we better understood our world through it, we got feedback from each stroke, each picture, each adult (or sometimes) children who saw it. It shaped our understanding and learning. Helped us see our place, that of others and to break things down into simple component parts.
We were liberated, free, without guilt or questioning our abilities. It didn’t matter what we drew, it helped, aided us in our understanding. It wasn’t art, it was what it was. Adults encouraged us, proud in the development they saw. We were given different tools, found new ways of marking the paper, paint, different pens and colors. We explored the mixing of colors, we reflected the world and chose colors that supported the understanding to us what it was, green for trees, blue for sky. We drew to tell stories, we brought life to the pictures, they served a bigger intention than just doodling. But then we stopped, we wrote, we clicked. Drawing became the tool of creatives: artists; designers; architects etc.
But, what happens when we draw like a child in our adult world?
What happens when we draw our system, map out the elements, their relationship to each other. What happens when we listen to a group and visualise the connections, provide feedback to groups through visual scribing? Or when we use visual metaphors and visualise frameworks to better our collective understanding?
Welcome to the world of Visual Thinking.