Thinking Big

Written by: Terry Link

Primary Source: Possibilitator


If your life’s work can be accomplished in your lifetime, you’re not thinking big enough.
(Wes Jackson)
This quote from a recent white paper by Barrett Brown, The Future of Leadership for Conscious Capitalism, resonated deeply as I read it yesterday. Perhaps as a result of my own formal retirement from the pursuit of paychecks last week it seemed relevant to all that I have worked on to date that has not been completed. Or maybe it is simply that so many of the un-sustainabilities before us are so strongly entrenched, it seems like progress is woefully inadequate. War, violence, bullying, conspicuous consumption, narcissism, greed, etc. seem to dominate the news, while simultaneously the mass media advertises the glory sides of the same coin – victory, patriotism, decisiveness, wealth.
The paper referenced emphasizes the role of vertical learning –
 While vertical learning focuses on the how, traditional learning – or horizontal learning – targets what a leader knows (p.4).
If you want some fresh ideas into leadership you may wish to read Brown’s take on this. If however you are interested in whether leaders (in this case CEOs) are compensated appropriately for their merit (either on the how or the what) they know, then the analysis published recently by economist Jared Bernstein might be eye opening.
As I step away from the paycheck chasing treadmill, I more clearly recognize how that pursuit of income, no matter how well intended, so distorts what is really important to us. I have been fortunate to fairly closely align what I value as important and useful work with a livable income. One that has allowed me to exit from the treadmill at this stage of the game.  But I have no doubt that as fortunate as I have been, there would have been many things I did or didn’t do that would have changed save for concerns about the personal economic insecurity that might have followed if I had always chosen the fork in the road that called most deeply to me.
This notion of mine has recently been ratified by the reported changes in work made by those who finally have access to health care for themselves and family – many have reduced the number of hours they work. The Affordable Care Act haters jumped on that news and tried to twist it into the soundbite that the  ACA cost jobs. But just think of all the folks who would cease to do the work they are currently paid for, if they actually had a deeper sense of security form themselves and their families. Think of all the people freed up to work for less but doing what they believe is valuable, fun, uplifting. If you are having trouble visualizing this, just think of all the people who volunteer, totally without payment to do important work today. Our society would break down without them. There would be no food banks for the hungry. Hospice would shrivel up. Animal shelters would close.
Another quote from the same paper shares another big idea.
You have capacities within you that are phenomenal, 
if you only knew how to release them.
(David Bohm, quantum physicist)
Perhaps as Jackson and Bohm hint, we’re simply not thinking big enough. Perhaps unshackling us from the constant search for more economic and social security might allow us to release those phenomenal capacities Bohm believes are locked inside.
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Terry Link
Terry Link is a retired MSU librarian, former founding director of the MSU Office of Campus Sustainability, and co-founder and former chair of the American Library Association’s Task Force on the Environment. He recently served as associate editor for the two-volume encyclopedia, Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices(Gale/Cengage 2014). He has also served as executive director of a regional food bank and as a county commissioner. Currently he is president of Starting Now, LLC, a sustainability consulting firm, a Senior Fellow for the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development and serves on numerous non-profit organization boards.
Terry Link

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