Monday, May 11, 2020

As We May Feel... As We May Dream... Once More

I believe we live in a time of hyper-normalization.  We all feel something is wrong, and it's getting worse. We all sense our politicians know this.  We all know the politicians have no idea what to do.  And they know we know they don't know what to do. 

And yet, before SARS-CoV-2, we continued as if everything was normal. Though, we felt, we knew, it was not normal, we could not admit this to ourselves, to each other; and neither could our politicians.  Stepping back, looking at our very unusual experience over the past months, can we now voice this sense we already had, that the time pre-SARS-CoV-2 was beyond normal; it was hyper-normal.

In normal times we feel that the world makes sense; our lived experiences are 'ok' (although they may be far from ideal), but in general, we feel our politicians have a vision to make things better (whether or not we personally agree with the vision of the politicians in power).

Before SARS-CoV-2 jumped to the human species, I know I was experiencing every day, unsettled feelings almost constantly as I struggled and mostly failed to make sense of the growing contradictions and paradoxes in our world - for myself and those I love; for my culture, communities, countries, and planet. 

If you think back, to before SAR-CoV-2, just a few short months again, how did you really feel when you replied "I'm OK" to your partners or friends genuinely concerned question: "How are you doing?"

And yet as we felt more and more unsettled, we continued to behave as if everything was normal.

I wonder: was what we were experiencing, what we were feeling, an early sense loss, of grief, as our hearts grappled with the idea that a better future, of the very notion of progress and the promises of the modernist project, was slipping from our future, from our children's future.    And were we, in fact, starting to respond, just like humans always do to any loss?  Would this explain how we were feeling?

Looking back myself I am starting to see that some of us were in denial; they were actively suppressing the feelings of loss - and this is understandable.  Some of us were angry - understandably so.  Some of us were fearful - understandably so.  Some of us were depressed - understandably so. Some of us felt that how we chose to understand the world, and how we chose to act, was part of the unspeakable contradictions and paradoxes - and many of us hoped we wouldn't have to change too much - and this too is an understandably human reaction.  And, unfortunately, some tried to take advantage of these normal emotional responses to our experiences - stoking our understandable fear, anger, depression - to manipulate us, to gain or retain power over us. 

I know I was experiencing a whole mixture of these feelings every day.

And yet I and most of you continued to live our lives, in most respects, as if everything was normal.

A few had started to express our feelings in public.  We started to say "this is not normal", for example, the growing expressions of anger from Extinction Rebellion, Gretta Thurberg / Climate Strike, and more.

And yet, even for those who started to say in public "this is not normal", "the emperor has no clothes", we felt in our hearts the little change that was happening was far from enough.  Worse, we knew no one whose actions might be contributing to the causes of our unsettled experiences and feelings was or would be held accountable for the negative, far from normal, results of globalization, the dot com bubble, 9/11, 7/7, the 2008 financial crisis, the refugee/migrant crisis, the climate crisis and much more. Rather the people that lead us to these very real experiences continued, pretty much, as if all these events were normal and to be expected.

And it had got so bad, we were no longer surprised.  In our hearts, we no longer expected anything to make a difference.  This was now normal.  Indeed for most, taking action, working towards something different, had become abnormal, a truly frightening idea: What if we lose what we have?  What if our actions make it (much) worse?  And, as a result of these understandable fears, we appreciated that our politician's sights were now set so low they only dared focus on managing.  They struggled to prevent things from getting worse because we wanted them to just keep us on our current course.  We told the politicians this what we want, for them to manage and mitigate the risks; this is what we believed was good and right.  Y  And, this comforted us.  It lessened our understandable anxieties.

And, in the main, we continued as if everything was normal.  As if everything could remain normal.

But, eminent physicist Richard Feynman reminds us "reality must take precedence, for nature cannot be fooled".  And SARS-CoV-2 is a reality which is taking precedence.  In the past months, we realized we cannot, and indeed we have not continued as if everything is normal.  Our experience, our feelings, tell us a pandemic is clearly not normal.  And we're all prepared to admit this to ourselves and each other.  Now the extra-ordinary is required.   The extra-ordinary is normal.

So, this leads me to a question: are now we willing to admit to ourselves that almost nothing in the pre-SARS-CoV-2 world was normal either, that it was in fact, hypernormal?

And despite the SARS-CoV-2 death, grief, suffering, and despite our sacrifices, are we now open to imagining something different, something better, for all our futures?

Are we open to hope and possibility?

Are we open to the effort, to the sacrifices to work together to bring a different normal into being?

Do we have the courage to create a new normal?

One that makes sense.  One that we could and would want to celebrate.

And do we have the strength to imagine what that new normal could be? Do we have the resolve to ask ourselves: What do we want the future to feel like, to be like? What could it be? What should it be? What do we believe is our potential - each of us, all of us?  How high should we set our sights?

And how should we begin?   Should we start by agreeing the list the problems we need to fix?    Or should we start, as the UN Secretary-General has requested, with a conversation about "how good could we be?"

For myself, I don't want my highest aspiration, for the highest possibility for those I love, to be to merely survive, or perhaps "just" to languish half-alive, by focusing on fixing the problems of the present.

So I'd like to invite you to reflect...

What if we chose to strive for a new normal that aims high - not utopian - but for a new normal we know in our hearts, is possible, that perhaps we have each glimpsed?   A normal that aims to enable each of us, all of us, to be fully alive, fully human - in all our amazing and wonderful diversities.

What if we aimed for a new normal that strives for caring and being, not wanting and having; that strives for abundant optimism not fearful scarcity; that creates possibilities to feel, moment-to-moment, calm not angry; that places reconciliation, equity, respect, and well-being, for ourselves, each other and our planetary home in our hearts; that recognizes the needs of our Seventh Generation, our grand-childrens’ grand-children?

What would it be like for you, and those you loved, if we chose, as our new normal, every day to be humble stewards of all that is required to enable life’s highest potential: the possibility for humans and all other life to flourish on our shared planet for those seven generations and beyond?

How would you feel if you were a part of defining and working towards realizing such a new normal for yourself, your family, your community, your culture, your place?  How would your children feel about their life's possibilities in such a new normal?  How would you feel about leaving them such a possibility?

Or do we want to return to hypernormality? Do we want to go back to pretending everything is normal, when we feel, when we know, it is not? But yet we can't admit this to ourselves, nor each other, much less take action to return to normality.

I suggest, in these clearly not-normal times, this is a choice in front of all of us.

What do you choose?

What do your deepest held values and beliefs tell you that you should choose - for yourself, those you love (born and unborn), for all of us and all other life?

With inspiration from:
UN@75 - The Global Reflection on What We Want, Initiated on the 75th Aniversary of the UN by Secretary-General António Guterres
The Strongly Sustainable Business Model Group community of practice and research
The First Explorer community of the Flourishing Enterprise Innovation Toolkit
John Ehrenfeld - "Flourishing: a frank conversation about sustainability"
Bruno Latour - "We have never been modern"
Adam Curtis - "Hypernormalization", the documentary
George Case - "Silence Descends"
Jack Layton - The last Canadian politician brave enough to dare to dream a much better normal was possible?
Joanna Macey - "The Work That Reconnects"
John Worden - "Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy Handbook"
Jeff Gibbs - "The Planet of the Humans", the documentary
Vannevar Bush - "As We May Think"
Albert Einstein - "The Real Problem Is in the Hearts of [Humankind]"

Friday, February 6, 2015

Of Flourishing Business Models and Future Fit Business Benchmarks...

Friends - for those who would like a quick refresher on what the heck I'm up to - here it is!

Its all about helping business live up to the vision that a successful business creates tri-profit - financial rewards, social benefits and regenerates the environment by sustaining "the possibility for human and other life to flourish on this planet forever" - an idea first put forward by MIT Scholar John Ehrenfeld (summarized here). Yes, not a small un-audacious goal!

The why and how of this audacious goal is a big topic in its own right and I have a keynote talk (first delivered in December 2014 at Plymouth University) which discussed the goal in more detail.  I'll be presenting this talk twice at the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto in March (details of this event and then video of that talk and slides forth are coming).
To contribute to realizing this vision in Jan 2012 I helped to co-found the Strongly Sustainable Business Model Group (SSBMG) hosted by the Ontario College of Art and Design University's Strategic Innovation Lab (or OCADU sLab for short)! .  This is now a 340+ strong global community of professionals and academics on Linkedin ( We have another 200+ followers of the Strongly Sustainable Business Models page on Facebook   The project has a very basic home page,  tweets @StronglySustain,  has a YouTube channel,  posts at, and maintains a wiki

My specific project - the Flourishing Business Innovation Toolkit - is one of a number of initiatives being undertaken by members of the SSBMG.

The Flourishing Business Canvas collaborative visual design tool is a key part of our Toolkit.  The canvas is featured in recent workshops we started delivering last fall in Toronto, Cleveland, Hamburg and Plymouth - see my tweets @aupward for photos of the canvas "in action" with workshop participants. 

The new canvas is a significant improvement over the groundbreaking Business Model Canvas featured in the million selling crowed funded book Business Model Generation (a number of members of the SSBMG were funders of this important project!) . A ~3 min audio/visual intro to the Flourishing Business Canvas can be found at:  More details about the canvas can be found in the learning map for the SSBMG

Creation of this new tool was initiated back in 2010 by me at York University - Faculty of Environmental Studies and Schulich Centre of Excellence in Responsible Business within the Business School (Full thesis can be download All this was part of my graduate studies into Business Model Design and Sustainability.  You can read more about the research on my company website (In case you're wondering the company was named, with a nod to questions of inter-generational sustainability, after my paternal and maternal grandfathers - Edward and James respectively).

The new canvas is being further developed and brought to market by a global team of 12 - all members of the SSBMG (for the team's pictures and roles on the project see this slide ; the rest of this presentation is an update on the project and next steps)

The project has its own basic, but soon to be improved, website and tweets @FlourishingBiz. A facebook page is forth coming - updates are currently posted to the SSBMG facebook page

As befits a flourishing business project - the project's own strategy, business models (developed with the canvas of course) and detailed plans are all transparently available in public on this groups wiki - The terminology on the wiki is a little out of date and things are a little disorganized - this is because the team has been focused on the twin "funding challenge" and "gaining experience" hurdles common to most entrepreneurial efforts

I'm also working on another project of the SSBMG, with Dr. Bob Willard (a globally recognized expert in the business case for sustainability who is also working on the Flourishing Business Canvas), the good folks at The Natural Step Canada and the 3D Investment Foundation in the UK (Geoff Kendall and Martin Rich) on another highly related project - the Future Fit Business Benchmark (intro video here: This project is asking the question: How would we know a truly sustainable, aka a flourishing or strongly sustainable, business if we saw one!

Hopefully the following slide illustrates the symbiotic relationship between the Future Fit Business Benchmark and the Flourishing Business Canvas:

I think that about says it all... oh and as you can see from others posts to facebook and twitter things are moving forward in a positive way! But, anyone who wants to help the project financially, the project team would love to talk to you.

If you'd like to use the Flourishing Business Canvas you can - for free - just email and put "First Explorer request" in the email.  

If you want to show your support - like our facebook page - or get more involved by joining our LinkedIn group -  In addition to working on these two and other project the SSBMG meets monthly F2F and virtually for interesting presentations and discussions about flourishing, aka strongly sustainable, business. Details when you join the linkedin group.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"Managing without Growth" vs. "The End of Growth"

Earlier in the year I had the chance to listen to former Canadian bank energy economist Jeff Rubin talk about his new book "The End of Growth - but is that all bad?" .  His new book is a follow on from his excellent "Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization".

In his new book Jeff Rubin continues to demonstrate that he has a very good sense of the broader dynamics of the current changes underway in the global economy, including the balance , broadly sharing in the same world-view as Niall Ferguson  (The Ascent of Money) and Ian Morris (Why the West Rules - For Now: The Patterns of History, and What they Reveal About the Future).

Based on his talk at the Toronto Metro Reference Library  (and hence my impression of the new book which I've not yet read) is that Rubin is (one of) the first neo-classical economists who appears to be starting to reach the same conclusions as the "steady-state" ecological economists - i.e. he's starting to sound like he believes in what Ecological Economists call Strong Sustainability*.  BUT his reasons for doing so, i.e. price signals based on supply and demand in the monetary economy are deeply flawed.   

I believe Rubin will eventually start to see the flaws in his thinking.  Hopefully someone will give Jeff a copy of Peter Victor's book excellent "Managing without Growth, or get him to listen to Peter lecture or discuss the important differences in their thinking.
  • Victor, P. A. (2008). Managing without growth : slower by design, not disaster. Cheltenham, UK ; Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar. 

Aside: In the interests of transparency, Prof. Peter Victor was my  Ecological Economics prof at York (ES/ENVS6115) in the winter 2011 (You can read my Term Paper: How Will Firms React to Limits on Bio-Physical Flows - An Exploration of Possibilities).

A summary of Peter's book, that uses systems dynamics models to explore the impact of strongly sustainable macro-economic policy decisions on the Canadian economy, can be viewed in the presentation Peter gave at the 2010 NetImpact conference at SchulichClick here for the slides which accompany this presentation.

Also Peter participated in CBC Radio 1 Ideas debate broadcast (from UofO) "Green Growth or no Growth" can be found here: (it was sponsored by this interesting group: - a video of the debate is available on this page).  

* "Strongly Sustainable" is a term used by Ecological Economists to indicate the impossibility of substituting natural capital with human, manufactured, social or financial capital in time frames which might help mitigate the worst effects of climate change and other anthropomorphic impacts as described by the IPCC and other bio-physical science. This implies the need for organizations to balance the achievement social, environmental and monetary goals.  
  • Neumayer, E. (2010). Weak versus strong sustainability :exploring the limits of two opposing paradigms (3rd ed.). Cheltenham, UK ; Northampton, MA : Edward Elgar

Monday, January 7, 2013

Silence Descends

I was inspired... and wanted to share...

I just finished reading (as my little bit of leisure right now) a short (95 page) sci-fi Novel published in 1997 by Canadian author George Case*: Silence Descends - the end of the information age - 2000-2500.  It is available from the Toronto Public Library (it was just "on the shelf" in my local branch when I stumbled across it).

This book is the first serious attempt I've read that considers what an evolved human species might look like which is not based on ecological modernization theory (i.e. that technology will save us from our messing up the planet and that Ray Kurtweil's singularity is inevitable).
Rather George Case suggests a spiritually oriented alternative "Community of Soul" (significantly) extending some thinking from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

For the story tellers amongst you you might like the focus on how IT intervenes and dumbs down the story telling process!

Below a quote from the last couple of pages... since it contains the lead up to the wonderfully inspiring reflection on our life today in the early 21st century indicating just how much further we can and could go.   This aspirational book suggests that in addition to the well understood spatial exploration (into the wider universe as suggested by the majority of Sci Fi) a perhaps larger (and more realistic) exploration is that of ourselves and our potential individually and more important collectively.  Wow!
At last the wind dies
Now a stillness calms the trees
Now silence descends (Japanese poet and engineer - 1990-2043)
Was Information's regime a dark age? (referring to the early 21st Century)  Not altogether. Over its course the women and men of the planet became far more known to one another than ever before-the phrase "global village" originated then-and far more learned in the symbiotic nature of their relationships. They reached levels of education and mental acuity that were virtually unthinkable to their predecessors. They had all the ingenuity and inspiration that had built up in the thousands of years before them to draw on. And, for good or ill, let them claim one superlative for themselves: never before or since has the human race been as informed as it was throughout their span. The Age of Information is aptly named.

But how slight an honour that now stands! What small triumph merely to be informed, to  tell and be told flimsy little scraps of truth in steady, stuporous gibberish! Dazzled by and dependent upon their inventions, the citizens of Information were blind and deaf to the invisible, wordless realities in their midst. It was not just their amusements that were illusory and escapist-this they admitted to themselves-but so were their solemnities; they were equally trifling, equally marginal to permanent questions of spirit and cosmos. Not a dark age, then, yet dim and lusterless, noisy with echoes of echoes, flickered with shadows of shadows of shadows.

Was it a failure? Time does not judge this way, does not see itself as glibly right or wrong. The Information Age is better described as the gloom before the morning, as a requisite bridge, into a firmer future. Its final centuries give it a taint of doom and error, but we might more charitably regard it as a natural cycle of growth and decay. The worst we could do would be to repeat its mistakes and boast of some lasting perfection, to presume our¬selves and our ways to be the apex of civilization forever-as the people of the Information Age did. They thought they had achieved the crowning destiny of the world, that they had harnessed eternity. They had not. They had only begun to prepare for the coming stillness, and to withdraw themselves into the roaring, receding distance.

Finally this brings to mind the works of (radical?) feminist / LGBT sci fi authors:
  • Nicola Griffith - most specifically Ammonite which is amazing - mixing both typical science fiction space exploration (by women) AND the inner exploration which George Case focuses on (Slow River is good too) and
  • Melissa Scott - most specially Dreaming Metal - also amazing;  the best exploration of the art and culture of a future society (the technology just "happens to be there") that I've read;  Then on top the story explores how that culture deals with the emergence of an AI (badly), created in part by the re-purposing of some technology in the cause of art and performance!
* Check out George Case's Blog here.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Margaret Thatcher famously said “There Is No Alternative” but to maintain the historical approach to generating flourishing via GDP growth (usually via lowering trade barriers to international trade); this perspective is often labelled as “TINA”.  

This idea has always left me feeling uncomfortable (and my recent studies in Ecological Economics, which included a review of the history of the purpose and benefits or trade, have given some of the reasons why - perhaps the subject for another blog post).  

Anyhow, despite Thatcher's assertion an alternative has been proposed “Local Ownership, Import Substitution”.  This includes social as well as economic aspects to creating flourishing; 

This perspective is often labelled as “LOIS”,  and used in sentences such as “The alternative to TINA is LOIS”!

LOIS is based on, among other things, the idea of "local multipliers".

For more see: 
P.S. All this was prompted by my updates to the following Wikipedia pages - which could use some more work...