Bill Reed — Image Source

“The deliverable is capability”

A Conversation between Bill Reed and Daniel Christian Wahl

[Thank you to Alexander Evatt for helping with transcription & editing]

Daniel:

It is lovely to talk again because it has been far too long. I think we parted last time in London when you were [on holiday] together with your wife and when I was there for the Lush Spring Prize.

Bill:

Right, that is the last time I saw you, and the last time we talked tough was about I think some potential project in Alberta.

Daniel:

Yeah, I know it is interesting. I am still in contact with the person who contacted me but they lost their bid for the Alberta Olympics. I cannot remember exactly. It is one of those leads that do not go anywhere.

Bill:

Right, yeah there are a lot of them. They circle back though.

Daniel:

You just said things which my work contributes to in some ways to more and more people being interested in regeneration and regenerative practice and lots of people using this term. Personally, I feel like having done the regenerative practitioner training I sort of realized how deep of a practice there was behind working in this way, which I was not even aware of when I was writing my book.

Bill:

By the way Daniel it keeps getting deeper. That is what is powerful about this work, that you cannot possibly know it. It is a continual journey of evolution.

Daniel:

For me, that is the interesting bit. Because, on the one hand, I feel I have been drinking from the same wells and approaching the same way of working. Some of the things, I feel I have heard in a different context — other pathways from other mentors — having, for instance, worked with John Todd and David Orr. But then there is something particularly specific in terms of the frameworks in working within regenerative practice that really invite people to reframe the way they think.

So, the way I simplify it in my mind is, on the one hand, Carol holds the gospel close to her chest type version. While on the other hand, Regenerative Group and Regenerative Institute acknowledge the depth of drawing from Carrol’s work but also acknowledging all the other people in the group having developed this. This is already to some extent the “next way out” from that kind of way of making it more easily digestible to more people. To some extent, I feel I am the next “spring out” of almost sort of pointing at Regenesis Group and say, “here this is where you can go. A lot deeper if you resonate strongly with this call to undo the damage that we have done for far too long”.

I now have a sense that business and large corporations and everyone are jumping in on this. Around about this time in December 2018 when J Walter Thompson put out this report on, Regeneration as the New Sustainability, was a clear signal that something was shifting. I was recently in London invited to speak to people who were business consultants and business leaders around how regenerative economics and mainstream business could somehow connect.

How do you sense we can work with this huge amount of interest that now exists and the fact that there are lots of consultants basically going through their webpages crossing out sustainability with different ideas?

Bill:

It is true, oh my goodness it is a terrible thing!

Daniel:

How do you meet the demand? How do you stay true to the depth of a different type of practice that starts from personal development and now ultimately shift in consciousness?

Bill:

Just what you said there is so key Daniel. It starts from personal development. Actually, it starts from a whole. Because you can start anywhere. When I first started it, if I can speak for myself for a second, the real revelation was, “oh my gosh this is a whole system”. I don’t mean, it is taking the SDGs and putting them in a circle and calling it a whole. That is not a whole. It is a list of points and putting it into a circle. Still a list in a circle. That is ok, but what is really working with a whole mean?

I think the principles that we need to get out there are the following principles. I characterize them in five principles. Carrol characterizes them in seven. It doesn’t really matter as long as you have those core principles there to get people to think about, because you have to hold all seven together, although I prefer five.

The principle are: wholeness, essence, potential, developmental, reciprocity (or field building) and notal. Notal is the one I would actually get rid of, because I don’t think that this essential. It is essential for change but it is not essential for the way a living system works in my opinion.

Daniel:

Maybe if you could speak to each one of them briefly the seventh one will pop back as you do that.

Bill:

The seventh is nestedness.

Daniel:

Yes, for me that is so key. For me scale linking understanding of participation and wholeness was something that I felt was why I resonated so strongly with a lot of the regenerative work. Because I came in from a more complexity angle and a life science view being a biologist I felt that nestedness was key.

Bill:

It is gigantic. Also, I would add another one to this, because for me it is meaningful. When you find you are working with paradox you know you are on the right track. The paradox of nestedness is, as Buch minister Fuller said,

“you have to draw a boundary and then you erase it. Because it is a fragment of your imagination”.

So, you are continually iterating with this living system. Getting back to personal development you can start with the whole and the whole asks you then, how do we work with the whole once we understand that essence?

Because essence is key, for the western mind anyway. So how do you work with that? It means I have to actually have group actualization skills, group development skills and integration skills to be able to do that. In order for me to be effective as a group if I am a jerk, it is not going to work for very well. So, it is just so beautiful that you cannot do this without personal development.

The gigantic problem that I have in my work, my particular consulting work Daniel, is that people hear the word regeneration. I think that this might speak to some of your concerns. Because it is still a concern of mine. That people say “oh this regeneration sounds great”. They are well-meaning but they only want to do sustainability at the best level they can or they want to leave a legacy behind because they have screwed up thing in the past or they believe in systems or something. So, they hire us but it is hiring us to deliver a project. That is an outcome of the process, it is not the reason for the process. It is not the nature of the process. The process is about our evolution and how we evolve with that place in which we are building that project in and how that place and system informs the project. In order to do that we have to change our attitude of who we are. In order to work with the community in a different way, and work with the ecosystem in a different way in order to inform that project. That personal development angel realizing who I am as a fractal will help to realize what the earth is and is to become.

If we don’t leave people with that then it is not going to stay. It is not going to stick. That is the hard part in my particular work though consulting is there is a point within a month or two months of getting into the project where the client says. This is a quote from one client, “ my minister doesn’t get away with saying the shit you say Bill, you are fired”. I have had that happen quite a few times. What is also interesting Daniel, I don’t know if you have heard me say this before, virtually every one of those clients except from one have hired us back within a year. That is powerful. But it takes them a year to process that stuff. Because they are reflecting right. They realize “yeah fire this guy he was a good guy, but he was a jerk to”.

Daniel:

“He wasn’t working fast enough…KPIs, he didn’t get reachable impact in x amount of time. Yeah I know the story”

Bill:

All of that yes. It all goes hand in hand. The KPIs should be there, the whole mechanics functioning needs to be there. But it needs to be accompanied by being and will. This is where Otto Scharmer’s work to is very similar. He’s is Rudolf Strainers, hand heart and mind. At those three dimensions of existence from the Greeks are really what are the derivation of our work and all this kind of charisma out there that needs to happen. So, it is very difficult from a functional world and especially in The United States, which is why The USA is the least successful country in terms of clientele. They only see that world through function and that being in will dimension is almost alien to them.

So how do we introduce this in such a way that they realize they are stepping into a whole different journey? That is the big one.

Daniel:

For me and I am saying this with lots of love for the work and the passion for getting it out there in its depth. Some of the language used initially seems to ask people to almost induct themselves into a certain kind of…

Bill:

Cult!

Daniel:

Well cult or kind of ingroup, where you wonder, for example, essence, define what essence means to you?

Bill:

The core unique attribute of a living entity. Who makes, what makes Daniel Daniel. And then I always tell a story. I say, my wife did not fall in love with me because I have road rage, which I do have a little. But she fell in love with me after all that personality bullshit. There is a core that she fell in live with. That is essence.

Daniel:

That is a wonderful way of saying it.

Bill:

So, our personality is not essence. People confuse that a lot. Personality is a psychosis based on how we were brought up or how we react to things. Personality is necessary but by the time we are five or six years old — and I think we know this intuitively, we put our kids into a governmental education program or different social systems that beats what the genius within every individual and is just berried so that you can fit in. It is not until you are 30 or 40 years old that you start really rediscovering.

You know you used to say “I used to love that…this is what I used to do but my father didn’t let me do it”. And we realize that was bad on him and bad on me. It is time to rebirth that.

Daniel:

Yeah, I know! I think the amount of self-limiting beliefs that we carry from childhood is huge.

Bill:

It is phenomenal, I still have them!

Daniel:

Yes, same here. I think we all do and I think that part of the personal development journey is, one step to become aware of them and takes another ten years to actually do something about it.

Bill:

Absolutely! And that is what makes this work so powerful. Because you are rebirthing. So, it is not generating out there. It is regenerating at all those nested levels right.

Daniel:

This is really interesting because that is another thing that I increasingly get to. When people ask me about what is different. For me, it is the notion that regeneration is also an invitation to meet, break down and collapse the dissolution of patterns that no longer serve. Something that loses its “sting” because you really understand the nested wholeness of life being fundamentally interconnected and really just one process and all boundaries including the one of ego, are just part of that.

Bill:

Yeah. Well, I am you and you are me. This is the journey. This is why this practice is unlearnable. It is a continual evolution of discovery of self and the universe.

Daniel:

I was reminded in terms of your story with one of the clients. With regard to the commonwealth project that Ben is doing such wonderful work, still offering his services.

Bill:

I know Ben has been incredible. Hope something good comes out of that.

Daniel:

Well he explains it to me how he sees it and I see it very differently. At the last meeting I was looking at what had actually moved and weather the potential is somehow affecting the way the development is done in 53 nations around the world, touching 2.4 Billion people. What a great opportunity! Ben told me for him the most important and confirmed outcome from it all is the learning that Freijo Jhost has done in the process of him mentoring her to run the project. And that is wonderful because that also speaks to the levels of work. She already did such wonderful work before she started working with Cloudburst Foundation and Common Earth. And now to have deepened under Ben’s mentoring into this way of working, it is guaranteed that for the rest of her life she will do amazing stuff.

Bill:

See that is the deliverable. The deliverable is capability. Before in my class I was asked: “what is the difference between capacity and capability”?

And I asked them, I said: “did you have the capacity to understand what I was talking about before we started this course”?

No, they did not understand it.

“Now that you have the capacity you have the capability to evolve”.

Something along those lines. The deliverable for a regenerative project is building the capacity and capability of people to co-evolve.

Daniel:

With each other and with place.

Bill:

That is exactly right. That is why I stopped at just coevolve. Because coevolution requires the whole: person to person, person to group and person to nature.

Daniel: That is the other bit with regards to essence. Am I right in seeing what I call biocultural uniqueness of place is very similar to essence of place?

The specific uniqueness of that ecosystem and its history but also the culture and the potential that is held in leading up to a possibility of transformation. Wether that is realized or not.

Bill:

Yeah, I think bio culture is a fine term. I think though it typically gets vandalized.

Daniel:

Earlier in our conversation, you mentioned climate change. Last year seems to have been a year where so many people have woken up to a new urgency around climate change to the point of having a shortcoming of allopathic medicine. We are all fighting as if it is a cancer or whatever you want to call it. We are fighting this anathema of climate change using all these bellicose languages and all that. But we are not really asking what is the cause of the symptom?

Bill:

That is exactly right! I say the same Daniel. I say climate change is a symptom, it is not the issue. The issue is our disconnection. The fragmentation of the world. Even treating climate change as a problem is not going to work. Because we solve climate change, let’s say cold fusion in somehow realizing tomorrow, we are still destroying the planet.

Daniel:

Yeah, for me the good thing with cold fusion is that it has been away for more than 40 years and it is still 40 years away. I always felt, I remember when I was in the centre for early technology in the early 2000, we always talked about how even if we discovered one of those magic bullet technologies. We probably then for sure would destroy the planet. Because we haven’t done the deeper work of understanding the misguidedness that has come from our sense of separation from each other and for the living world. The lack of understanding that everything personal is planetary and everything planetary is personal and that we now need to re-envision ourselves as parts of life as a planetary process. You and I understand this. But if you look at the news in the evening or even just walk down your neighbourhood and see interactions between people and so on. Are you still hopeful that we can make this shift with the urgency of climate change?

Bill:

No, I am not anymore. I used to be. But I was at a party at New Year’s Eve and there were a number of climate-related experts there that wherein from Cambridge. Their attitude was interesting. This one guy Bruce, said, “well it is over…we lost”. I didn’t get into depth with him. His question to me was that, “how do we prepare those who will survive?”

Daniel:

I hear this over and over again. The guy Michael McDonald that works with Ben and Roller and friends in the Common Earth Project. He is a medical doctor who set up the Global Resilience Network. For forty years of his career, he has been in every sort of major outbreak of Ebola or hantavirus you name it. If somewhere in the world due to natural catastrophe or war or where there is the danger of having an epidemic break out, he is the first response team. He shared with me when he was a young man in the late mid-1980s he was part of a US government-sponsored project that pretty much concluded, in a report to the white house, that if we wouldn’t fundamentally change the way of doing things by the way of mid-1990s then somewhere by the 2020s and 2050s 4–5 Billion people would die on planet earth. If you look at the hard science they were right back then, that we haven’ changed anything since then. And we are pretty much on course for something as traumatic as that.

Bill:

Well, look at Australia or California.

Daniel:

But how do we go on?

Bill:

That is the question. And I am working on that and believe me I am spending a lot of time thinking about that. Maybe not effectively but I have actually put a couple of things in motion this week. I also feel we need to get out of talking to the choir Daniel. Which is one reason I don’t spend a whole lot of time on Regenerative Consciousness and stuff. I loved seeing your posts and all that but we all kind of get it. Who is ready to listen who doesn’t?

So, I am spending my time networking with business groups who are interested. There is this one group out of Chicago called Nexus. Founded by a brilliant physicist who may change physics as we know it. And he is also a multi-millionaire and he lives to network and lives to introduce people. So, he finds people who are doing work around sustainability who are kind and loving. That is his criteria. So, through whatever mechanism I have been invited to become part of that group and it is an amazing group of brilliant people. I was asked to prepare and run the next conference with Paul stalls who does something called the Adversity Quotient (AQ). He is a phycologist, neuroscientist and organizational development guy. This is now taught at Harvard and MIT and around the world. Instead of IQ, which doesn’t really indicate much about success. IQ is kind of a bullshit indicator. What he found out was people who handle adversity well are the people who are successful. So, he has developed tests and ways to improve your Adversity Quotion (AQ).

I stopped him and said, wait a minute let me just explain this work that I am hearing from our perspective. I talked about internal and external locus of control, external considering, self-observing and self-remembering. And he said

“Exactly, that is the same stuff”.

What I am captivated about is that there are many businesses out there who are saying, “yes we know it is about our own development”. That is gigantic! So, I flew out to California to meet with him two weeks ago. To see if there was some way that we could fuse into a kind of whole new platform, on what he is doing as an entry point and our work and second and third line of work as well as whole systems work. If we can somehow introduce this in a different way to the world. Instead of hanging the hat on regeneration we hang it on some new fusion, but certainly on the level on Adversity Quotion and come up with something new. I don’t want to collapse within just that domain. So that is something that I am exploring.

The other is that this physicist in Nexus just wrote me an email yesterday and said he feels that the resources that are available in Nexus need to be focuses on regenerative work. So, I wrote back and I said that this is kind of an answer to a prayer and let’s see what we can make out of it.

Daniel:

In October I got contacted by somebody who wanted an hour of my time to just have a Skype conversation and I am sure you have long been in that situation, how do you decide who to say yes to. Also, when do you start charging for your time? I have realized I had a period where I was spending 20–40 hours a month on those kind of exploratory calls anything from helping a guy get clearer on what he was going to do his PHD on to somebody running their entire business idea past me on just wanting to pick my brains on some suggestions on how they could do it differently. Very often I get very friendly while it has been a very useful conversation and I go, “yeah it has been but more for you than for me”. Ultimately, I am now stressed in getting my paid work done.

Bill:

I have wrestled with this for 40 years. I would love to share with my perspective with you and how I handle that.

Daniel:

Let’s get back to the story I was building up towards. In October I got contacted by somebody who initially I was tempted to say no to. Then I had one of the most wonderful conversations I have had all of last year with him connecting in a really deep way, on also very much a personal note. Long story short I was invited to Switzerland to a meeting that was about helping to bring more funding into large ecosystems restoration projects. Which are fundamental community focused and based and are all based on regenerisis language. They brought 24 of us together and slightly more than half of the group were from the funding philanthropy and impact investment world. The smaller half were people like Willem Ferwerda from Commonland or Phillipe Vireija from Renature. All people who had foundations that are doing that kind of work out there. Its people like the Omedajaa network, the E-bay people, IKEA foundation and Algor Investment fund. There are just huge amounts of money wanting to be poured into restoring damaged ecosystems, restoring or regenerating damaged communities. Really the money is there. The issue is, again this comes back to:

How do we keep the depth of the work and put the consciousness and personal shift of re-relating into the center?

Bill:

Just to give you a quick answer, I think it is a branding issue Daniel. I think the principles are very powerful in that regard. I think we just have to keep driving home the principles and then people will ask a question. People don’t learn until they are willing to ask a question. So, our job is to keep pushing stuff out there in a gently destabilizing way. Which is by the way why we use the language we use. So that people are not assuming they understand while you are saying. Because when they assume you understand they don’t need you. If they actually go “well what does that word mean?” or “you are using it in a slightly different sense, how come you said that?” I always try to have a story associated to words so that people can image that in a new way.

Jargon is very important because when it is precise it actually has a unique meaning. That is the mission. So instead of talking about regeneration all the time. We actually have to start defining the boundaries or the principles of regeneration in that context so that people start diving deeper. Like in regenerative consciousness network it would be great to start using those principles and having a deeper debate about that. Because I know that many of the people on that list are at that very sensitive level of understanding the need to be whole and certainly working with nature on its own terms.

What does that require of us and how do we expand that is the question?

Daniel:

What I have noticed with my work in social media whether it is regenerative cultures page or regenerative consciousness group and now we have even started a regenerative action network. It was heartening for me to see some of the comments. Because I realized how many people that were, on the one hand, very interested in all of this but still are really in the habit ofothering’ of just getting triggered by one or two comments that make people classify a person into a box and then respond to that box and basically say “anybody who believes that is not one of mine so I am against them”. So, it is immediately polarizing and so for me, these groups still have a long way to go to open their real embracing, diversity and valuing discourse on how we can live the questions together.

Bill:

Yeah, loving each other to evolve.

Daniel:

That is why I still put a significant amount of time into these groups because I feel we are not necessarily talking to the choir. It is just like people who have kind of begun to walk over a bridge but then they haven’t crossed yet.

Bill:

Yes, I agree with everything you just said and there is something I would like to add to that. Another way to say this is that none of us are members of the choir and that we are all developing. So maybe that is the way to say it. Is that we are all on this developmental ark. We are all friends of the work, is the expression.

Daniel:

That is a lovely expression. For me, I just remembered another thing I wanted to ask you. With a lot of what I learned in the regenerative practitioner there were moments where I felt there was a similarity with some of the work that I have drawn from through the International Futures forum particularly Tony Hatchun and Bill Sharp. Developed the Three Horizons framework and the World System Model. They have now curated a set of what they call generative methodologies and a way of helping people to explore getting closer to what regeneration would mean drawing heavily on particularly Pamela and Ben’s book or the Regenerations book. And they are fully aware of that there is this story that regenisis holds this very long curated process and linearing. I would love to help to make that bridge and I think that Bill would really appreciate if whether it is with you.

Bill:

Well, I would be glad to do that, in fact, there was a guy in Wellington New Zealand, who gave me a great article on the Three Horizons which helped open that up to me. I would love to do that Daniel.

Daniel:

I will send a separate email. What I would love is basically if Bill could spend 30–35 minutes presenting something to you Ben and Pamela and then just get your feedback as honest as it comes. Because he would really appreciate it.

Bill:

You can sign me up for that. I don’t know if Pamela will be game. She is in her own world. But Ben might be really game for it. So, Ben and I would be glad to do that.

Daniel:

I think that there is complementarity. I very strongly remember Pamela and Ben saying to me after the TLP. We really want this work to be in constant development. Because that is in the essence of it, that it is never finished as you just said so wonderfully. I haven’t found my way in how I can contribute to development. Maybe because I still need to do a lot more assimilating and learning of the word.

Bill:

Well again, we are all in that boat. This is a longer conversation, but firstly Daniel I am really interested in Three Horizons and I respect your appreciation of Bills work.

Daniel:

Excellent so I will set that up. One of the absolute highlights of last year both happened at the same event. Meeting Jason Twell was just wonderful. He is such an amazing guy. I just felt really connected with him. I just recently had a call with him before Christmas. At the same meeting which was the commonwealth meeting in London. When you went over to New Zealand Auckland to teach the TLP did you meet a guy called Johnny Freelander?

The magic that you guys started to catalyze in the bay of Auckland and in New Zealand with the highest density of regenerative practitioners in the world and then this wonderful blend between our western verbalization of some deep life principles and patterns that of course the Maoris were holding for thousands of years another way of wording the same thing. Because its essence is true and real.

Bill:

Did I tell you the greatest compliment I ever got? I love this story. So, I facilitated the first Maori and Pākehā, the sustainability planning group in Auckland. In the middle of the session this big Maori guy comes up to me and jabs his finger in my chest and says,

“you believe what we do. How do you convince the white man?”

And I am a pasty past white guy so I thought that was a great complement right.

I said, “listen I am not here to teach you anything, I want to learn from you”.

I asked him, “so where do you start”?

He said, “well we start with the universe”.

I said, “well that is exactly right and how is it working for ya”?

He said, “well it is not”

I said, “good maybe we do have something to share”.

That was the genesis of that work actually.

Daniel:

This guy Jhonny Freelander he is part of that network and as I understood from our conversation has just recently partially inspired by… Do you have to go somewhere?

Bill:

Well yeah, I am actually late for a meeting. Could we reschedule and set up some agenda items. This has actually been really helpful Daniel. Really helped me express. If your game I am game.

Daniel:

Absolutely I would love that. I will send you an email and we will reschedule.

Bill:

I am sorry. Thank you Daniel Love yah bye.

Daniel:

Talk to you soon, bye.

Here is the recording of the conversation:

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Daniel Christian Wahl — Catalyzing transformative innovation in the face of converging crises, advising on regenerative whole systems design, regenerative leadership, and education for regenerative development and bioregional regeneration.

Author of the internationally acclaimed book Designing Regenerative Cultures

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Catalysing transformative innovation, cultural co-creation, whole systems design, and bioregional regeneration. Author of Designing Regenerative Cultures