Seeing Regeneration

This week I had a telephone meet-and-greet with Christian Shearer and Rusell Wallack of Terra Genesis International. They described their work as social acupuncture that helps people understand and benefit from their connection with the soil and the resulting relationship with our quality of life. They had me at hello. – MA

Seeing Regeneration

Cacao from the Regenerative Agroforestry system of George Fletcher in Caimito Ecuador

This is the story of the birth of a new approach to business and life. This story is born out of concrete experience and passion for life, culture and health. Over the past 8 years we have been enquiring deeply into what the healthiest possible expression of chocolate might be in today’s world. What could the farms look like? What would the chocolate taste like? Pretty quickly it became apparent that this was not just about chocolate, for although chocolate is a sacred food born from a sacred plant, and represents a nearly perfect nexus of commerce, culture, and ecology, this is a story that stretches far beyond chocolate and has begun to help breath life into an entire movement of business, and create a shared way of thinking among a globe-spanning community of peers. We’ve been very lucky to stumble into a community of peers that are deeply talented and committed and form relationships with mentors and leading thinkers. What do we all have in common? A deep commitment to living the inquiry of how to increase the health of the world through our actions, and even thoughts.

What is regeneration?

To talk about regeneration is like trying to tell someone how to ride a bike, or farm. You have to do it to understand, you have to feel it, see it, and learn from it. Regeneration is something that must be explored, experienced and then, ultimately, regenerated by everyone in order to start to take form as a way of thinking and doing business.

This is the kind of question that I often frown at because there is no easy way to answer that question without building a home for the question to live in. Let me explain:

Ecuadorian Andes

Once I was walking in the Ecuadorian Andes, and I came across a small village. At the center of the village was a beautiful tree full of colorful birds singing and chirping. I have always been a plant nerd, and my great love of plants and life lead me to become quite excited to know more about this flowering marvel of a tree. I looked around and saw that there was an old women sitting near the tree on a park bench, so I walked towards her and nodded my head. I asked her in the most old-time polite and as slow as a gringo could manage sort of a way: Good morning grandma, how are you? Would you mind answering a question for me? I wonder if you could perhaps tell me the name of this beautiful tree?

She chuckled at me and said “good morning, where are you coming from?”

I answered and we proceeded to have a long conversation that after an hour or so turned towards the tree. She told me a story about the tree, or rather a story about a story in which the tree was mentioned. She told me a love story in which the tree was the trysting place, the location of love poems and serenades and eventually a marriage. She shared about the food that was eaten under the tree and the names of all the people who attending the wedding. She did not however tell me anything about the name of the tree or directly tell me anything about what the tree meant to her or the village.

I left feeling deeply grateful, slightly bewildered and somewhat frustrated with the whole exchange. My great thirst to know more about this tree was unquenched. This sweet old lady had completely avoided telling me anything of consequence or use about the tree!

I left the village and when I was home I went to the library and got out a copy of an Ecuadorian Botany book and looked up the tree. There I found her. A beautiful tree called the Huila. In that moment I thought I knew. I smiled at the seemingly inconsequential stories told by the old lady, comforted that I had found what I was looking for the name of that beautiful old tree, Mariania huilenses if I remember correctly.

It was not until some years later that I was sitting in a beautiful mud hall listening to a great teacher of life, named Martin Prachtel, that I learned something that I had missed all those years. He told of a similar story in his own life, though there was a key difference. In his story he had stayed in that little village to patiently listen and enquire deeper and deeper. After some time he asked another elder why the women under the tree would not answer any of his questions. The man, a respected and honored member of the village hierarchy, responded: “She is answering your questions! You just don’t have ears to hear it, so she is trying to help you grow ears. You don’t have eyes to see it, so she is trying to grow your eyes.”

Hearing him tell that story sent shivers down my spine. It shattered my assumption that I had figured something out. Figured anything out for that matter. I started to wonder just how many things I had missed in my life because I didn’t have the eyes to see them, the ears to hear them.

Why tell this story in an article about Regeneration?

I think, by and large, those of us who were brought up in the western world, educated to see the world as a machine, using the language of science to dissect life and using the language of business and engineering to harness living systems, have not yet trained their eyes to see regeneration, let alone participate in it consciously.

I am still growing my own eyes and ears, so this will certainly not be an authoritative review of a concept that I have conquered, instead I hope it is a living exploration of a living concept.

The few who are brave enough to not dumb things down are rewarded with the winding road of regeneration

Taking the short road to easy answers doesn’t seem to create the thriving world we want to see. The good news is that although strenuous, learning to see and hear, learning to ask the right questions, is possible. We can grow the ears and eyes we need to see the windy road ahead that is leading us towards regeneration, towards healthy ecosystems, trade relationships, and business models.

Living Systems

Regeneration is the general process of renewal of living systems. The amazing thing, is that by learning from this life renewing process, we can learn to tune our minds, actions, and even business decisions and operations into receivers and transmitters of regeneration.

Regenerative Business

In the case of business, regeneration could be seen as the creation of new business models, structures and relationships that uplift the health of the whole system. However neither newness, nor necessarily improving the system are quite enough to really be termed regenerative. Core to regeneration through unveiling and uplifting the potential of each unique member of the community. This deeper dedication to exploring and uplifting the singular and irreplaceable role of members of a community of businesses, members of a team, or, indeed of industries themselves, is a key aspect of the work that Carol Sanford and The Regenerative Business Alliance (TRBA) has undertaken. Carol’s invaluable work with the support of the growing Regenerative Business community has gifted us with a distilled and highly potent set of first principles of Regeneration that can be applied to business decisions, strategy, operations, design and leadership. Instead of looking at the outcomes of regenerative business or relationships such as the great work of John Fullerton at the Capital Institute, the First Principles of Regeneration as articulated by Carol, and put into practice by (TRBA), focus not on the output of regeneration, but instead on describing the underlying set of laws that seem to govern Regeneration of living systems themselves. That is to say, that these principles serve us in the same way an understanding of the laws of thermodynamics serves an engineer or physicist.

Sustainability thinking versus Regeneration thinking

Some would argue that the difference between sustainability and regeneration lies in the simple shift from a perspective driven by the desire to maintain a stable homeostasis, to design for “net-zero impact” and other such drivers, towards a perspective that actively seeks to improve the system itself not merely by stabilizing, but by increasing health. Of course this is true to an extent. When we are thinking about a sustainability we think about net zero solutions, circular economies and we ask questions that sounds something like:

  • How can we maximize efficiency?
  • How can we minimize harm?
  • How can we create stakeholder buy in for these sustainability goals?

The world of sustainability is driven by best practices, standards, certifications, protocols and success through measurement around questions such as these. This “do less harm” way of approaching things seems doomed to begin just thinking about the current state of events, and the idea of creating a holding pattern where we currently are, without gaining ground or improving anything.

So, shifting to “doing good” is a substantial leap. But does it take us to regeneration? Not quite. Here is why:

A doing good perspective asks a different set of questions meant to improve the system. Questions like:

  • How can we improve worker rights?
  • How can we improve ecosystem health?

Each of these questions presents a seemingly irreconcilable tension. It becomes a fight to do good versus the degenerative system, leading to wins and losses in the board-room, in communities, in our ecosystems.

It becomes:

  • Worker rights versus bottom line
  • Ecosystem health versus bottom line

And the untenable tension never reconciles. Why? Because the doing good mindset misses some core capacity to see the whole and inquire more deeply into what a healthy essential expression of all the stakeholders, including the business, might be. Until the mode of thought, the very approach to thinking shifts from one of being stuck in the currently problems, to one of inquiring into the unique potential that is latent in the system and each of the stakeholders, the conversation, no matter how rich with measurement and metrics, will always be asking and answering the wrong set of questions.

One thing that happened for me as I started to see and think more regeneratively is noticing that best practices are usually putting the cart before the horse. Best practices are most often success stories, and people usually use them as analogies for what can work in another situation. Let’s go further into why that does not usually turn out the way we might like:

Let us grow our eyes to see, let us grow our ears to hear

As Einstein noted: “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”

An aerial shot of our regenerative cacao farming project in Ecuador

Whole Eyes

Being able to see the whole system is really the ableness to discern and understand the relationship between nested systems. From a farmer, to a farm, to a watershed to a bioregion being able to understand where one whole entity or organism (organization) begins and ends, and what environment that whole is nested inside and operating within is key. We can only influence our environment, and of course our environment is part of what supports and defines us. Through seeing, acknowledging and working together with wholes that share our proximate environment we can grow our collective capacity to totally shift and regenerate our large environment. But of course, sight alone cannot allow this to happen, no, indeed we must have our hearing and our taste:

Hearing the Future

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Potential is something like the sound of the future beckoning us. One of the key ways to hear the future, is to not allow
the static of the present to interfere with the clear music coming in over the airwaves. Entrepreneur Elon Musk has an excellent track record of tuning himself to the future and making it a reality, and he articulates well how he peeled back the seemingly irreconcilable problems of energy storages to catalyse a revolution in electric cars and beyond.

Tasting Essence

Growing our eyes to see essence is a challenge. In a world where we are force fed superficial information and where standardization is the norm, seeing the unique irreplaceable and totally singular gift of every single member of a system or community is a very rare art. This art also takes a community. The ableness to inquire into the essential nature of a community member in order to help uplift them is quite a feat. In order to do this a deep interest in the context, history, ecology, and story of a person, place or business is key.

Regenerative Business then, could be defined as the matching of essence of all stakeholders in a stream of value adding in such a way as to grow the capacity of each actor and the health of the system itself. This simple definition generated out of the Regenerative Business Summit in 2016 by Carol Sanford and the team of The Regenerative Business Alliance encapsulates these key senses for seeing, hearing and tasting that are needed to cultivate regeneration through business.

The core pathway towards regeneration from the perspective of thought and then management become:

Essence, Context and Place

One of the First Principles of Regeneration is what Carol often refers to as Singularity. What does a term that is usually used to refer to the coming terminator machine intelligence apocalypse have to do with Regeneration you might ask? For Carol, this term combines the idea of unique, irreplaceable oneness that every being and self contained entity exhibits, with the directive movement of living systems to express that essence by connecting with the other members of the living community. Thinking from this core principles we can see clearly that no venture can achieve regeneration without the processes of essence exploration, expression and matching. Our colleagues at Regenesis have honed the process of honoring and uplifting the essence of a place in order to grow will towards the shared potential and call this process the Story of Place. Regensis has recently published an excellent overview of the steps to shift from sustainability mind to regeneration mind in the context of design and development work called: Regenerative Development and Design

Inquiring deeply into the healthy essence of each member of the system

  • What is the essence of the farmer growing the cacao?
  • Of the rainforest surrounding the farm? Of the community? Bioregion? Of the trader, processor, chocolate maker, of the final customer?

How do we align these stakeholders of a single stream of value adding?

Simultaneously the question of the potential of the system must be held, to start to see connections and catalyze strategies that emerge from that potential and the essence matching that starts to unfold. The key to this regenerative process succeeding is the process of individual organizations/businesses and even farmers engaging to build their own will towards the actualization of healthy potential. Instead of predefined metrics created by a question set born of abstract “do less harm” or even “do good” mind sets, a living and dynamic set of shared goals starts to arise from the large aim of actualizing the healthy potential of the system. Note, this does not happen through or because of any kind of surveying of what people currently think or want in regards to problems they currently face, it happens by shifting all the stakeholders into a place of enquiry around potential.

Regeneration is a process

Regeneration is a living dynamic process. It is an ability more than a practice. This means being able to shift first into a mode of inquiry about the potential, then work to develop all other stakeholders in the value stream to be able to achieve a similar shift.

For a detailed look at Carol’s 7 principles of Regeneration click here. In this blog I have focused most explicitly on Wholeness, Nestedness, Potential, Essence and the Developmental principles. In addition to these five, reciprocity, and nodal awareness have been woven in more implicitly and can be explored in detail in the link above.

This article was published @ Terra Genesis International and re-posted here with the permission of the author. Be sure to tune in for the next in our series on Regeneration, Regenerative Agriculture, Supply and Regenerative Cacao!

Gregory Landua is the Co-Author of Regenerative Enterprise, The Levels of Regenerative Agriculture and the Co-founder and CEO of Terra Genesis International where he works with companies and organizations to integrate the processes born from his work with living systems to help shift industries towards uplifting the health and potential of people, place and planet. When he is not traveling for work he can be found farming cacao on his co-operatively owned farm in Ecuador, Finka Aekolado.

The image in the header is called The Sweetness of This. It’s by Bryce Widom.


  1. A lovely evocation, Gregory. Thanks for posting this, Mitch!

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