Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

Consulting & Facilitation

Whole-Systems Thinking for Organizations and Communities

PathTree’s methodology can be deployed in any area of business, civic, government or personal management and strategy. Some specific deliverables include:

Strategy PlanningEconomic DevelopmentPreparing Communities for Climate Change

Preparing Businesses for Energy ShocksPreparing Businesses for the “Next Economy”

Strategy-in-Action / Strategy Planning

PathTree takes a holistic approach to strategy development. Our first step is to gain a deep, whole-systems understanding of conditions, both immediate and emergent, as well as the capabilities represented by the range of stakeholders. We then collaboratively develop a Strategy-In-Action that enables the system to achieve adaptation and resilience. Our methodology is based on intensive, face-to-face engagement among stakeholders, who not only provide critical feedback and input, but who learn things about themselves and their organizations that they never knew before. This awareness will provide a window onto new opportunities and ensure that the shock of change, which is normal to all systems, won’t derail the forward progress of the enterprise.

What emerges from this process is a dynamic, living process – a Strategy-in-Action – that will help guide that growth in the years ahead. Best of all, in two or five years there will be no need for another strategic plan that corrects for the failed goals, mistaken assumptions and limited vision of the preceding one. Instead, there will be an ongoing Strategy-In-Action as fresh as your latest conditions assessment and catalytic action.

Our relationship with the international Resilient Futures Network provides access to a global network of experts in a variety of fields. More importantly, it offers PathTree clients an understanding of current and emerging conditions at the global scale, and how those conditions impact our local community.

Econogenesis“™ / Economic Development

Econogenesis™ is a place-centered approach to the regeneration of local economies that is firmly rooted in whole-systems thinking. We believe that the key is gaining a deep understanding of the unique flows and confluences that mark a given place. Anything that mimics fluid dynamics can be said to “flow,” of course. Data moves in a flow from node to hub to node. When joined to other flows, data becomes information, knowledge, even wisdom. Money flows from many different sources, joining with other flows to become productive capital. Energies of all kinds can be said to flow, from electric power to creativity. Commerce has a flow, discernable in the movement of goods and services. Even crowds of people move in a flow, both on foot and in vehicles.

A living community is confluent. It is a place that flows. More precisely, it is where multiple flows converge to create a dynamic, creative, prosperous, attractive, and sustainable place. It is our contention that economic development and planning are not about designing end-states. Planning is not a utopian enterprise. The job of public servants is more plumbing than prophecy: understand the flows that make up a particular place, and work to optimize their creative and complimentary convergence, especially at the town, village, and neighborhood levels.

In practice, Econogenesis™ begins with a deep exploration of the historical, cultural, political, social, economic, environmental/geologic, and demographic roots of a community. This investigation is followed by a dialogue conducted among representatives from the broadest possible range of community stakeholders. Based on this research, a comprehensive schematic of the physical, human, commercial, intellectual, and spiritual flows and confluences that mark the community is created. This, in turn, yields specific proposals for local business creation (including organization, siting, staffing, funding, sourcing and support), a strategy-in-action for optimizing the system, and a methodology for ongoing monitoring and adjustment.

Unlike typical, developer-driven ‘economic development,’ which often results in the unintended destruction of a community’s traditional economic base, and unlike even many alternative approaches which involve the imposition of development templates or one-size-fits-all industries, Econogenesis™ is unique to a given place and people. It tends toward whole-place solutions, not temporary fixes. Because it is rooted in a deep understanding of particular conditions and capabilities, is it both resilient and sustainable. Finally, Econogenesis™ privileges a human-scaled and person-focused business culture because it is oriented to the common good.  Click here to read an article on the principles of Econogenesis

Preparing Communities for Climate Change

Whatever its origin, global climate change is a reality that presents a significant threat to human civil, built, economic, political and social systems. Over the next decades, changes in weather patterns, water resources, sea level, biodiversity, atmospheric chemistry, and land productivity will severely test the resilience of local communities. This challenge will be particularly acute in the coastal cities and towns of New England, where a way of life has been shaped for centuries by relatively stable sea levels, ocean temperatures, storm frequency, aquatic species migration, and food production. The good news is that if we view these communities as the complex adaptive systems that they are, we can moderate the future effects of climate change. But people are the key, because people do the thinking.  We need to think differently about what communities are, what climate change will mean for communities, and how we will respond to the challenge.

PathTree’s approach to resilience assessment, training in whole-systems thinking, and sustainability planning is ideally suited to this endeavor. Our “Resilience Audit” maps the key strengths and vulnerabilities of a community, along with the opportunities and/or threats they represent. The “Resilience Incubator” is an intensive immersion in whole-systems thinking for key stakeholders and leaders. The Incubator is tailored to consideration of the specific strengths and vulnerabilities arising from climate change. The “Resilience Laboratory” extends the process through the inclusion of key representatives from virtually every segment of the community, including civil, commercial, cultural, religious, social and political. In the “Resilience Clinic, we return to our work with key stakeholders and leaders. We pull together everything we’ve learned, including the perspectives of the community, to develop a strategy-in-action that will engender and inform dynamic, catalytic projects aimed at moderating the long-term effects of climate change on the community.

Preparing Businesses for Energy Shocks

The era of cheap energy is rapidly coming to a close. Since the drilling of the Drake Well near Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859, easily accessible and abundant crude oil has powered the development of industrial civilization, including revolutions in transportation, heating and air conditioning, pharmaceuticals, materials science, and food production. But there is convincing evidence that during the past decade the world passed the “peak” of global oil production, which means that the remaining accessible reserves amount to less than half of what was in the ground 150 years ago. If true, the remaining oil will require greater inputs of energy to obtain and will be of a lower quality. At the same time, demand for oil across the developing world is exploding, particularly in China and India. Reduced production and rising demand is a prescription for soaring prices and even shortages in the near future. Add to that the fact that the largest oil-producing states are located in regions susceptible to war and terrorism, and the near-term global energy future is perilous indeed.

The question is: What will all this mean for your business? Higher direct energy costs, especially for transportation and heating fuels. Higher costs for finished and raw materials, including limited availability of some items. Higher food costs across the board, due to both higher production and delivery costs. Sluggish economic ”growth,” especially in key industrial sectors. And less spending power for your customers.  The stakes are stark: Businesses that don’t take steps now to build energy resilience into their strategy and operations will be swamped by the tsunami of energy costs now bearing down on the developed world. PathTree can help your business overcome the coming energy shocks by mapping your direct and indirect dependence on oil and developing a strategy-in-action for reducing that dependence. You will gain a whole-systems understanding of your market, supply chains, technology, training, finances, location, and people. Best of all, you’ll learn to adapt to the rapidly changing energy situation and thereby lessen the impact of shocks and create opportunities for your business.

Preparing Businesses for the “Next Economy”

Here’s the “good” news about the economy: There will be no recovery (if by that term one means a return to the status quo ante). Why is that the “good” news? Because the “Last Economy,” from which we are now emerging, was unsustainable and illusory, based on an ideology of unlimited growth and credit, unregulated markets, and dirt-cheap energy. Here is the “even better” news:  The “Next Economy” will be sustainable, conscious of limits, and honest. It will be a ‘steady state’ economy, based on real value, productivity, and ‘smart growth.’ And now, the “bad” news:  The transition from “Last” to “Next” will be painful. During the Transition Economy, expect persistent unemployment, negative or flat growth, energy price shocks, and possible government default.

Systemic shocks reveal vulnerabilities even as they present opportunities. In the Transition Economy, your goal shouldn’t just be survival, but resilience, which we define as “the ability to adapt to changing conditions in a flow, and prosper.” The key to resilience is seeing your business as a complex adaptive system, operating at scale, and organically connected to other systems. PathTree helps you achieve that perspective by conducting a whole-systems assessment of your company’s vulnerabilities in the Transition Economy, and a strategy-in-action for positioning your firm to take advantage of opportunities emerging from the Next Economy.

Whole-Systems Thinking for Individuals

PathTree sprang from the notion that if individuals adopt and practice the principles of whole-systems thinking in their own lives, the world will be a better place. To that end, we offer the following products and services, tailored for adults:

Personal Coaching

Practitioners of whole-systems thinking who desire an in-depth, personal immersion in the framework are able to work directly with a mentor who can guide them in understanding and using whole-systems thinking. These are typically half-hour and hourly one-on-one sessions conducted face-to-face or through webcam and/or teleconference. All personal coaching sessions are conducted in the strictest confidence. To inquire about personal coaching, contact Mark Gordon at mgordon@pathtree.com

On-Site Seminars & Workshops

Achieving Personal Resilience Through Whole-Systems Thinking: This 6-week course will cover the basic architecture of the whole-systems thinking framework, from understanding systems and scales, to assessing conditions, mapping networks and capabilities, and building life-capital. To help us organize an Achieving Personal Resilience seminar in your area, contact Mark Gordon at mgordon@pathtree.com

Leadership for Whole-Systems Thinking Workshop: These two-and-a-half day “boot camps” for advanced practitioners will review and expand on all of the introductory material and continue into advanced topics like states, shocks, a deeper look at complex adaptive systems, and application of whole-systems principles to problems at the Us/Them scale. To help us organize a Leadership for Whole-Systems Thinking Workshop in your area, contact Mark Gordon at mgordon@pathtree.com