Book Review: Thrivability

Thrivability by Jean M. Russell is a book which ”pulls us to work (and play) together in ways generate new possibilities.” Thrivability is ”the ability for you and me to thrive, for what is around us to thrive, and for thriving to be the sum of all we do” (p. 2). Thrivability emerges from ”holding the persistent intention to be generative” (p. 2). Overtime this ”builds a world of every-increasing possibilities” (p. 2).

Perceiving, Understanding, and Doing
The book is divided into three parts: (1) Perceiving is the key to effective navigation (pp. 13–72); (2) Understanding how to make thriving a practical reality (pp. 73–132); and (3) Doing, taking action together for a more thrivable world (pp. 133–168). Footnotes and endnotes have been added to the book’s webpage:

Stories impact action
Jean M. Russell’s intent is not to convince the reader ”that a different world is arriving,” but ”to cast doubt on the current story, ripping an opening in it big enough to cast doubt on the current story” (p. 26). Stories connect us, ”to each other, to ideas,” and ”to action” (p. 39). We can ”shift the frame” we have, adjusting ”the context of the story” (p. 51). A thriving world comes from ”practiced ability to step into others’ perspectives” (p. 51). ”The perspectives we hold and the stories that we tell have the greatest impact on what we take action on” (p. 69). We update our stories and ”evolve our understanding of the world together” (p. 71). To uncover the story of thriving, Russell digs into ”what we know about being human, our social world, and the data we gather about ourselves” (p. 74).

Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose
We are ”meaning-making beings” (p. 91). And we are ”not only greedy” but also ”compassionate” (p. 91). Understanding ourselves as ”empathic and connected beings in search of meaning and purpose, energized by mastery and autonomy, enables us to create the world around us in new ways” (p. 91). ”Command and control made sense in a world where people where … thought of as machines” (p. 98). Networks transform the ”leadership and organizational structure” (p.98). Early seeds to this thinking are ”to be found in the work of people like Robert Greenleaf … and, later, Peter Block” (p. 99). The degree to which people give over their minds to work … strongly correlates to their relationship with the people they work with” (p. 100).

Leaderless Organizations
The ”seemingly leaderless organization — or organism — is a form of leadership that many people don’t perceive at all” (p. 100). While a person may seem to be ”the temporary head” of an activity, removing him or her has ”little impact on the organism as a whole” (p. 100). ”It’s not that people have stopped leading activities” (p. 100). Instead, ”the leading is temporary” (p. 100). It isn’t about ”managing a process” but ”the seed that creates coherence for collective action: an idea” (p. 100). Leaderless organizations ”seem less visible because they lack a figurehead,” but they are ”much more resilient” (p. 101). ”Anyone involved has the power to step forward and lead.” New ”leadership strategies” help bringing out ”better cooperation, better results, greater productivity, enduring connection and commitment to each other, enduring visions, more organic organisms/organizations, and … more satisfied people” (p. 101). Organizations that ”encourage us to excel, … allow us to direct ourselves in our work and inspire us with a sense of purpose come closer to the triumvirate of human motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose” (p. 101).  ”This triumvirate tends to be very alive and flourishing when we see a leaderless network organism in action” (p. 101).

When a clear purpose is coupled with shared power, people can self-organize to reach the goal.” —Nilofer Merchant

Governance and Communication
Clearly, ”communication modes change and there is a domino effect on relationships” when ”networks are formed” (p. 104). ”A thriving world emerges” when ”rigid organizational structures” are transformed to ”organic networks” where people seek ”purpose, autonomy, and mastery” (p. 104). A thriving network acts ”like a slime mold,” which can exist both as a single and collective organism (p. 105). As the ”slime mold encounters changes in the environment, it shifts form” (p. 105). ”Thriving networks also demonstrate this agile ability to shape shift depending on their context” (p. 105). ”People volunteer their minds to tasks that serve their personal purpose,” and ”contribute their effort, led by an compelling idea” (p. 118). The shifts in ”governance and communication” will ”impact most people and businesses around the world for a long time to come” (p. 118).

Conditions for Creativity
Thriving relies on ”generativity and the ability to create what is needed when it is needed” (p. 135).  There are ”conditions that positively correlate to creativity” (p. 135). ”Conditions. Not a formula.” The conditions are: (1) Serendipity, ”the chance connection of the previously unconnected” (p. 136); (2) Play, ”play with possibility and with your collaborators” (p. 136); (3) Randomness, ”cultivate randomness … it helps trigger serendipity, if we allow it” (p. 138); (4) Paradox, ”consider how to fold opposites into one another” (p. 139); (5) Trust and Safety, ”feel free to embrace play” (p. 139); (6) Deep Curiosity, ”it is what feeds us in a space of profound un-knowing — the vast reals of unmapped possibility” (p. 140). The ”best questions lead not to answers but to more and better questions” (p. 140). ”Thrivability is about life giving rise to more life” (p. 141).

Spectrum of Actions
Jean M. Russell is a pragmatic, action-oriented person. She wants to know and understand things that matter. And things matter to Jean when they have some use. This led her to develop the ”Action Spectrum” model (p. 155). This framework ”emerged from conversations with Herman Wagter” (p. 155). Actions depend on whether the portion of the system can be controlled, guided, or nurtured (p. 158). The framework consists of general principles, metrics, benefits, and risks (pp. 161–163). ”Taking wise action … requires us to understand what we can control and what we can’t” (p. 166).  And ”just because we can’t control for outcomes” it ”doesn’t mean we can’t take action” (p. 166). We can still ”guide, influence, nurture, and encourage” (p. 166) — thrivability!

Related post:
Book Review: The Age of Thrivability


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