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Ecoliteracy:  Changing the Paradoxical Nature of Organization Development

Today’s practice of organization development embodies paradox. While we improve life in and enrich organizations, we often impoverish the greater web of life, degrading the larger system. To resolve this

paradox, it is imperative that we re-evaluate the ways industrial civilization impacts the Earth and all living systems. As OD consultants, we can move to new practices in shaping organizational life, ones that draw from models in the natural world. Right now, we have an historical opportunity to develop the tools, understanding, and awareness we need to accomplish this Great Work.

This half-day workshop will:

Use experiential learning and interactive technology to explore the relationship between the work of OD professionals, our current industrial economic system, and our impact on the planet.

Foster personal and professional ecoliteracy development and applications.

Evoke strategic dialogue on the vital role of OD professionals in creating a sustainable future.

OD professionals may be the best-positioned group of people to create new systems of work, production, and commerce.

We are change agents brought in to alter how systems work. We are a network of “outsiders” with sufficient access and privileged perspective to the vital workings of the complex systems currently dominating an unsustainable civilization. The Great Work of OD in this century is to apply our considerable knowledge and skills to the task of facilitating the next revolution — a transformation to a sustainable economy.

In this workshop we travel through four realms of inquiry. In the first, we explore the relationships between natural systems and the organizational systems familiar to OD professionals. In the second, we investigate the links between technological connectivity and the impact of our lives and work on the living world. In the third, we learn to find and create the tools we will need to sustain a new relationship with living global systems. In the fourth, we ask the questions of personal and professional commitment: What is your vision? What actions will you take?

At the end of this journey, you will possess the awareness, confidence, and skills to begin the Great Work.

Where do we work? Expanding our vision of the system.

Traditionally, the OD profession has been oriented to changing the “whole system” — that is, to improving

the way an organization operates internally and in relation to its stakeholders and market. We work to understand and influence the interrelationships of various systems and processes in order to bring about significant and lasting change. Is our view of the “whole system” large enough?

In the first phase of this workshop, we deepen our understanding of whole systems and interconnectedness through group play, participating in a dynamic living system for a visceral learning experience. Here we actively embody the concepts of complex systems and networked relationships.

Do the means justify the end? Exploring the paradox of connectivity.

Modern technologies are increasing our capacity to connect with each other. In living networks, increasing interconnectivity is a healthy evolutionary and developmental process. However, the technological means by which we are increasing our connectivity have environmental and social consequences we rarely


Here we engage participants in a case study of a common consumer business device that awakens us to our personal and professional ecological footprint. We use state-of-the-art interactive technology to explore our understanding of the impacts of our technological approach to connectivity.

Next, we directly engage the paradox of interconnectedness – the blessings and burdens of our highly connected, high-tech world. Central to this is an interactive learning exercise, based on the work of Joanna Macy and her associates, in which we explore perspectives of usually forgotten stakeholders in the culture of production.

How do we resolve the paradoxes? Dialogue and tool-building.

As William McDonough and Michael Braungart have noted, “The tree is not an isolated entity cut off from the systems around it: it is inextricably and productively engaged with them.” We, too, are engaged as vital stakeholders in organizational activities. We can help organizations consider the larger ecosystems in which our work is embedded. But how can we be effective, unless we learn to better understand and appreciate the living systems that surround and support us?

Can the whole biosphere be your true client — the one organization you are always working to develop?

What are the broader implications of our current industrial economy and of the role of OD? How does our emerging understanding of our interconnectedness inform our work? Can we use the tools of connectivity and the unique distribution of OD professionals to change the nature of business and its impact on the whole living system?

Nature has demonstrated that it is possible to create products and services that are economically viable, socially responsible, and environmentally friendly. Increasing ecoliteracy deepens our awareness of natural systems and allows us to change the nature of OD. What other tools and information do we need to

become literate in the language of life?

We assess the group’s present degree of ecoliteracy through the use of interactive technology. Experiential exercises evoke what you would like to learn about ecoliteracy as you develop an action plan for your personal and professional life.

We investigate ways to ask strategic questions of natural systems. We explore successful examples and alternative approaches for growing healthy, positive systems based on the abundance of models in the natural world.

The very nature of OD will change as we shift our perspective to a broader and more inclusive role as change agents. We investigate how to integrate our roles as individuals (consumers) and as OD professionals (designers of interventions). We discuss how transforming fundamental business models can give your clients a sustainable competitive advantage.


Vision and action: Creating the world we want to live and work in.

As the workshop concludes, we begin to redefine success for our clients and ourselves. We co-create a list of strategic questions, that is, the troubling — even taboo — questions that must be raised if we are to

facilitate the emergence of sustainable organizations. In small group dialogue we investigate points of

leverage and intervention for OD professionals, challenging you to envision yourself as a more effective change agent.

The session ends with an invitation to make a public commitment to action followed by a closing ceremony.

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