Designing Regeneratively 

Designing Regeneratively 

Part 1 - The Regenerative Mindset

In gardening we understand that the game is to create conditions conducive to life, we bring a regenerative mindset. Unfortunately in business this is not how we’ve been taught to think even though business directly impacts the conditions for life. Gardening is a great metaphor for regenerative innovation and design. Gardeners combine knowledge of the processes for life and how to create the conditions for it, with a felt connection to the natural world. The regenerative mindset (foundational to regenerative design) requires something similar - a combination of knowledge/thinking and feeling. The acquisition of knowledge is perhaps a more familiar task for the designer than activating feelings, but both are important. The thinking part shouldn’t come first in the process or in isolation of the feeling part. Thinking without feeling in this case is to lose the sense of purpose so important to regenerative design. It would be putting the cart before the horse. 

So what kind of feeling are we trying to create for ourselves as regenerative designers and how do we activate it? Well going back to the notion of what makes a gardener, we are trying to activate what comes from a felt connection to the natural world. Being in nature opens up our thought processes and can produce a sense of wonderment, joy, soulfulness and inspiration which is great for our creativity and design ethos. A connection to the natural world often also gives us a sense of being connected to something bigger than ourselves. This notion of diminishing the ego and decentering ourselves in the way we look out into the world is important here as it helps us to lift our thinking to system level consciousness and the idea of shared value as opposed to the traditionally taught instincts in business to dominate, control and capture. Research by the University of Chicago showed that being in nature or even viewing natural scenes activated parts of the brain associated with empathy and love. Research participants reported feeling more connected to the wider world and even more connected to their fellow humans. During our design sprints we often spend some time getting inspired in the natural world and by the natural world. To supplement that you can also try reading poems about nature. This has been proven to stimulate the same part of the brain that drives feelings of empathy, the anterior insular cortex. Thankfully at Regenovate, we are part of a much wider movement that is highlighting the importance of this ‘inner’ work in order to develop ‘outer’ societal impacts. Perhaps the most high profile initiative bubbling up to the global consciousness is the Inner Development Goal movement, which is developing the inner ‘transformational skills’ required to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals. 

The thinking or knowledge aspects of the regenerative mindset can also be directly inspired by the natural world, which is the ultimate regenerative system. By studying the natural world we can deduce it’s strategies for regeneration and understand better how to work with and not against this regenerative system. If we look at forests we see the ultimate circular economy, with circular and regenerating flows of materials, data, energy. Think of all the cycles and processes that sustain life and create system value that you might want to incorporate in your venture designs. As well as having knowledge of regenerative system attributes, a regenerative mindset also means being able to think relationally about your organisation as an individual node within a system, a bit like a tree’s relationship to a forest. For example, you might focus on the availability of the materials you produce for other usage systems and networks (consider access, type and design choices), your adaptability as a producer to adjacencies and the symbiotic partnerships you could build around these adjacencies.

So to summarise, the first step in regenerative design is the regenerative mindset. The gardening metaphor or perhaps more accurately the gardening mindset is a great parallel in the sense that the gardener’s emotional drive and knowledge allows him/her to create the conditions for life to thrive by unleashing processes through which the garden grows and thrives. In seeking to develop and activate a new mindset as designers, we are recognising that to design regeneratively we need to consciously step away from our long established intuitions in the mechanistic world of the traditional corporate mindset and into an appreciation of systems that feed whilst feeding from our planetary and human resources.