Business educator Carol Sanford speaks about subjects including her latest book, "The Regenerative Business," at CityCoHo on July 24. (Sam Newhouse)

As a business educator, Carol Sanford, author of "The Regenerative Business," has helped businesses and corporations post gains in profitability of more than 30 percent.

She works on building critical thinking skills and personal development, and using “living-system” thinking to reconceptualize how businesss are run and see their own roles. But that does not make her a sustainability advocate or environmentalist.

“I don’t have a problem with sustainability, it’s just a different thing than regeneration,” Sanford said during a discussion hosted at the CityCoHo coworking business on July 24. “It’s all based on doing less harm. ... and you can never get to zero harm.”

Other positive sounding ideas, like “doing good,” also can fall woefully short of the mark, Sanford said.

 

Understanding the “regenerative” lens is easier said than done, but during her talk Sanford explained how viewing everything, including businesses, as “living systems,” and looking for the “essence” of employees, customers and products can help business leaders find innovative, disruptive new ways to succeed.

Book cover of The Regenerative Business by Carol Sanford.

“Regeneration is based on everything is unique, it cannot be certified, it cannot be written into standards, into procedures,” Sanford said. 

Sanford’s methods have proven successful for corporations ranging from major names like Google, Intel, Procter & Gamble and DuPont to plant-based cleaning product company Seventh Generation and Numi Tea.

Working with Colgate-Palmolive in Europe, the Carol Sanford Institute reported huge success — 20 percent reductions in operating costs, systemwide productivity improvement of 45 percent and top line growth, including market share growth up to 50 percent in some cases.

The Regenerative Business Approach

All this success is based on working with a regenerative approach, which engages in Living-Systems processes and moves away from standard business approaches that Sanford said are based on archaic structures.

“We have hierarchies, and we can’t even conceive how to make a business work without the hierarchy,” Sanford said, criticizing companies that treat people like machines, while attempting to use incentives and performance reviews to achieve their goals.

“Reviews are toxic when they are other people’s opinions of you and what you should do, because they work against personal agency,” she said. “It turns out 90 percent of feedback that is given to people is a projection.” 

As she put it, the regenerative view, and the developmental view for individuals, can apply not just to businesses, but to human communities and societies as well, she said.

“The developmental view believes each of us was born uniquely. We have an essence,” she told attendees. “We never spend any time understanding your essence and your essence and your essence and yours. You are treated as though you are a generic human being like all other humans.” 

“This way of working with human beings changes what they can do in the world.” 

To learn more, visit CarolSanford.com

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