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Thinking a natural world Into Being

A group email on how to connect the mind’s concept language with nature’s process language, earning one “KaShu!” from Alanna.


To get things to connect it really does help to first see how they are disconnected.   People put no particular value on where their money comes from or goes to, for example.  As that is a major pathway for our own accumulative effects on our world, nature cares about that a great deal!   People also quite ignore small % changes over time, even though they naturally result in exceeding large scales, complexities and rates of change, inevitably pushing the limits of stability for whatever physical system is doing it.   People just tend to see no association between accumulative causes and their dramatic effects, though.    I indicates “something funny going on”.

So to get a reliable grasp on how different a conceptual world is from the natural world, you need personal examples of where you notice “something really missing”  to go back to it again and again to reground your own thinking on the disconnect between thought and nature.    What I go to are times and places when I could observe growth producing lasting change, making it obvious it’s not in my head but happening where I’m seeing it happen.   There are any number of different kinds of “pregnancies” where bursts of growth large and small develop in isolation. Continue reading Thinking a natural world Into Being

connecting social language to nature’s process language

Helene and Steven had raised the need to include finance in the narrative of “the commons” and Myra had said about my reply “Jessie, This is your clearest writing by far on the new financial commons. ”  … so I hope it’s of use here.   (The discussion was part of a follow-up to a CAUN Commons Action for the UN conference call with Barrett Brown, on the different kinds of “thought leaders” he had identified setting the course for the sustainabilty movement, using social science methods, reflected in his Fall 2012 article in Kosmos. fyi)


Learning to speak nature's language


I. On Feb 4 2013 Jessie responded

Helene & Steven,

Great to have someone bring up the need to work on having a new financial commons.  We need to map out how to transform finance, so that it acts to care for the earth as its main objective rather than to squeeze it dry as fast as it can, as at present.    So we’d need to understand things that people already do that contributes to steering finance in one direction or the other, kind of unusual territory for social organizers…

So what we need to do is get our social language to somehow recognize nature’s process language.

Continue reading connecting social language to nature’s process language

Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships

There are a great variety of reasons to organize people

Sometimes it’s to discover something or to accomplish something
Sometimes it’s to connect people who share their views
Sometimes for people who share a common world from different views…
(but have remarkably different talents and views)

If you know of good examples or methods not mentioned here,
please post comments

It’s Collaborative Work between groups of stakeholders that often “don’t speak the same language”.  It takes art, patience and a sound method to get them to immerse themselves in the environment of the problem or opportunity that they need each other to respond to as partners.

They find there’s more to the reality than they thought, and to each other. Continue reading Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships

Telling the whole stories of how things change

A crowd sourcing proposal.   Suggested to WNYC as a new form of news coverage


From a natural history view, how the US news media reports on what’s happening of public importance is, well, entertainment news, that misses most of what’s actually happening and how it’s connected.  Even Public Radio mostly giving us six shows a day of talk about all the same things that “everyone” is talking about.  It tracks how the discussion is changing, but misses almost entirely how the world itself keeps complexly and dramatically changing by itself.

Germination and Nurture
Telling the Whole Story

Continue reading Telling the whole stories of how things change

Natural Whole Systems Thinking – philosophy & method on STW

To open a LinkedIn community discussion in “Systems Thinking World”, on the “whole systems approach” and scientific method I use, for discovering and understanding natural systems, I offered the following lead-in

Related theory pages:  1 Natural Pattern Languages,  2 ‘Big Data’ and the right to human understanding,  3 Global accounting of responsibilities for economic impacts,  4 Missing Principles of Ecological Thinking – in plans for the Earth,  5 Steering for the organizational Lagrange Point,  6 “The next big challenge” a biomimicry for a self-regulating financial commons,  7 General intro: Natural Systems & Synapse9,  8 Archive of early data analysis studies.  9 & other theory posts


Could we study systems that invent their own theories?

We might study anything identifiable, and growth curves in time­-series data seem associated with some kind of growing system, developing from scratch. The usual difficulty discovering what’s going on inside them may be strong evidence that they’re organized and changing internally, not visible to or determined by their environments. If such individual systems exist, would they also have locations, external bounds of some kind, a beginning in time and an end?




#1Jessie Henshaw • There are a few problems I’m trying to raise with this. One is the scientific difficulty of studying things you can point to, but can’t actually define. Science does better with “data” and numerical relationships, studying that as a ‘map’ for a more complex ‘territory’. Organizational change within individual natural systems isn’t readily mapped by “data”, though.

Is that one of the reasons there appear to be so many kinds of individual events and natural systems that display periods of essentially explosive creative organizational development, from storms to personal relationships, to social movements, disease outbreaks and swarms of new technologies, but science seems not to have yet identified that as a field of study?

12 days ago

#2 • Fabian Szulanski • What about agent based modeling? Would that be a point of departure for helping understand? Then some emergence, bifurcation and disorder could eventually appear.

12 days ago

#3 • Jessie Henshaw • @Fabian ­Well, that would be studying models for mathematical rules, not natural systems, wouldn’t it? To study natural physical systems, as if they were ABM’s, is more like what I’m suggesting.

Say you assume the natural world is like the big amazing computer the physicists postulate it actually is. Well then, we’re looking right at nature’s ABM without realizing it, and just need to discover it’s way of inventing things. We don’t have access to a “de­compiler” of nature’s source code, though, do we? What we see are systems that evolve new organization by changing everywhere at once, somehow. It makes it appear that nature is doing fresh programming, on many levels at once, with nearly every process and event she creates. Continue reading Natural Whole Systems Thinking – philosophy & method on STW

News of the Commons

The BIG news is that the commons got a lot of fresh attention in the 2012 RioDialogues, from the UN Commons Action Group site and its Facebook page, supporting proposals that Helene Finidori (1) and I submitted (2,3) for:

“New institutions.. for commons-based economic models”

a common trust and place to enjoy being at home

Helene’s proposal (1) won the voting for the“Sustainable Development as an Answer to the Economic and Financial Crises” topic in the RioDialogues vote, and good recognition!

The idea is to NOT use development, as the solution to the world economic crisis, but to create new institutions allowing develoment efforts to work together, to serve the whole.  It would create a sustainable world using “commons-based economic models”. The idea originates from the examples advocated by the Nobel laureate, Elinor Ostrum, as the collaborative framework that competitive interests need so the whole can thrive.

Helene’s proposal is found on the next page, or by following the links (1).  Her new (Aug 2012) collected thinking on it is in,


applying her insights gleaned from the further Systems Thinking World discussions on the UN Call for Action, she started, and her original proposal also came from.

– 1) Sustainable development requires new institutions … to adopt commons-based economic models, originally posted to the 2012 RioDialogues

– 2) Biomimicry for a self-regulating financial commons

– 3) Budgeting for “the commons” needs business “ecobalance” sheets

Helene currently lives in Barcelona. She devotes herself to “Connecting people & ideas across cultures, disciplines & sectors to shape a better future…”. Links to her other writing and visions for the commons are:  In my dreams… the Living WE… accelerating emergence… and  The Commons at the Core of our Next Economic Models?

Continue reading News of the Commons

Budgeting for “the commons” needs business “eco-balance” sheets


A comprehensive method guiding investors
to compete for profiting the commons

It would not just count profits but also liabilities, in financial terms, using monetized business ESG balance sheets (eco-balance sheets), in combination with normal financial balance sheets.

Then everyone will see the real societal financial costs of making money today, that present or even past investors might well be held responsible for.


The full application of this principle is “A World SDG“, to provide TRUE MEASURES of sustainability for business, consumer and policy choices, and applying the basic science research for ‘Scope 4’ accounting and the 2011 Systems Energy Assessment (SEA) paper It is still “new science” though, and so demands fresh questions too.  It takes investigating the actual organization of the working systems of our world, looking for regular patters of in the system as a whole, what causes them and how they are change, more than theory.  It’s surprising both how little we notice going on around us, and how much we see but don’t notice what is implies.   A workshop method for opening people’s eyes to what’s really happening all around them can be found in the 3Step Method of Learning to Work with Nature. 

The original version of this proposal was submitted to the Rio+20 Dialogues for comment and voting as: Budgeting for “the commons” needs business “ecobalance” sheets, to compare environmental liabilities and benefits”. See “News of the Commons” for introductions to the vision and the systems thinking needed for a commons based approach to sustainability.  It’s part of my “reality math” series.

It’s proposed as part of the foundation of collaborative free market institutions needed for the health of the competitive free markets, as an element of Helene Finidori’s “Commons-Sense” and the “commons based economic models” she proposed.  Their intent is to solve the global economic crisis by making the commons work for the whole, as a replacement for the paradigm of “prosperity” with ever expanding development.

The proposal would accelerate how the business community is responding to their environmental liabilities. They’re hiring teams of sustainabilty experts, using comprehensive sustainabilty reporting (CSR) to track Environmental, Sustainability and Governance (ESG) factors, following both private and public standards, such as for the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). The reason business has a new interest in environmental liabilities is that they are driving corporate assessed values, as economic liabilities.

To protect natural resources local stakeholders would still need a say in the use of local resources.   To protect global resources for the future an equitable way to restrain growing economic demand is needed.   World standards for Comprehensive Sustainability Reporting (CSR) wold accurately assess the impacts of business products.  Then Economic Liability Assessments (ELA) of their economic costs to our future, would allow the world to act as a resource commons.   It would provide equitable market constraints on high impacts would, to suppress demand, and fund investment in alternatives.   ELA reports would be the basis of the “Eco-balance sheets” called for below, to be reported in business annual reports and factored into Pigovian taxes/tariffs on their products and services.

The basic scientific methods of doing accurate CSR and ELA assessments are what are discussed below.    The current statistical methods of environmental and economic accounting contain a major systematic inaccuracy. Simply said the error is in relying on tracing individual records rather than assessing whole system requirements,

an inaccuracy caused by not asking who sliced up the pie, to check the accuracy of trying to trace all the crumbs.

a scientific method difference
between economic accounting and systems accounting

Slices of a business energy pie mostly go uncounted when relying on traceable records, leaving out all the energy demands of business services.


Our Economic Liabilities for Environmental Damage
are direct costs of prior profits for business
that went unaccounted for.

New systems physics (3) would now allow the development of model “eco-balance sheets” to be placed along side normal “financial balance sheets” in annual business reports.   That would provide a clear and quicker way than others for using market forces to correct our systemic problem of unaccountable impacts on our future.

Businesses have long accumulated unaccountable impacts by investing in growing irreversible exploitation, and now accelerating depletion, of what once seemed limitless capacities of people and the earth.   It’s enormously costly for our future.

Investors and business managers can make better investing decisions if ESG measures capture the whole impact.

Those investment strategies incurred very costly economic damage to our future economy, that the businesses that created them were not charged for.   For estimating environmental impact costs like that there are various methods, and some major recent innovations. Continue reading Budgeting for “the commons” needs business “eco-balance” sheets

“The next big challenge” a biomimicry for a self-regulating financial commons

Using a new paradigm of biomimicry
to create a global self-regulating financial commons.

This proposal was submitted to the Rio+20 Dialogues for comment and voting. See “News of the Commons” for introductions to the vision and the systems thinking needed. It’s part of the foundation of collaborative free markets needed for the health of the competitive free markets, as an element of Helene Finidori’s “Commons-Sense“.  In this case to recognize that the profitability of the whole is threatened by a continued common investment strategy for growth, and needs a way to change to a common investment strategy for well being.

It works for us

Nature systems initially develop using a “bootstrap” mechanism, growth, that continually expands their control of their environment.  For any system’s own internal as well as external needs that self-investment strategy needs to become responsive instead ever more controlling to survive.

See UN Proposal to guide the UN SDG’s by this principle for OWG 7 & 8
Early version: Jan 2014 –
A World SDG- and way to thoughtfully manage global systems
This and the earlier versions contain a lot of good thinking…
the Most polished final version is a Feb 2014 proposal to the UN:  
A World SDG



A new economic paradigm: The next big challenge

The proposal is followed by a discussion of some of the systems thinking
on “the commons” that developed with a group of contributors to a Systems Thinking World discussion group. It is intended as a sample of the kind of “commons based economic models”proposed in the 2012 RioDialogues, by Helene’s Finidori, to solve the global economic crisis by making the commons work for the whole, as a replacement for the paradigm of “prosperity” with ever expanding development. Below is the original article (with references) for the UNCSD Rio+20 Outreach Forum Continue reading “The next big challenge” a biomimicry for a self-regulating financial commons

Adopt natural system principles to keep economies profitable at their limits

The collection of “Hacks” for the Long Term Capitalism Challenge offered byHarvard Business Review, McKinsey and MIX, for the M-Prize for Management Innovation now has this proposal from me…

Please leave comments for reviewers on The official competition entry at the MIX site (here too is fine for conversation).  If you request information I’ll respond as I did for Bill Rees, and post it if it’s OK with you.

It’s a nice new version of the long series of proposals for using natural economies as models for better ways to organize ours, a kind of systems biomimicry.

General References: (added proposal references at the end)

  1. For closely related world system biomimicry see “News of the Commons
  2. To introduce systems ecology “Self-organization as “niche making
  3. I got very good detailed questions on the MIX proposal from Bill Rees, and posted my responses as Questions from Bill Rees.
  4. For an introduction to the physics and general systems theory of natural open systems, see Natural Systems Thinking


The Summary

A good goal for growth would be to end at a stable peak of vitality providing a sound capital endowment for life on earth.  That would be better than ending at a peak of exhaustion, like other “tower of Babel” societies of the past such as Rome and the Mayans.

It can also be thought of as a change of “ism’s”.

It would also represent a change in form for our economic system, while still being the very same economy with the same people and rights, and reliance on creative innovation funded by investors.   By giving profits an end purpose, of caring for things rather than just for multiplying profits, it woud give the whole economy a very different purpose.    So, it can also be thought of as a change of “ism’s”. Continue reading Adopt natural system principles to keep economies profitable at their limits

What’s good for Conservation?

There have been three posts on Dot Earth on a strategic change taken by some leading conservation advocates, led by Peter Kareiva, chief scientist of the Nature Conservancy. His view presented in Peter Kareiva, an Inconvenient Environmentalist is that environmental conservation is meeting less success due to “doom and gloom” advocacy, that turns business and the public off, and it would be more productive to work cooperatively with business.

That view is criticized by others in Critic of Conservation Efforts Gets Critiqued April 10, 2012 and then defended by Kareiva in “Another Round…Conservation on a Human-Shaped Planet” (April 11, 2012). My short comment (below) seems to clarify the real issue, and got six “thumbs up” to date.


Just ignoring the deep conflict between conservation and business purposes, because it’s good for the business of conservation, doesn’t make the problem go away.

It’s very curious.  This is Kareiva’s second round of explaining his approach to being more cooperative with business.  I understand a lot of why that is good for conservation, as a business itself.  He still leaves out the big contradiction of that for the environment, though.

Businesses around the world are indeed now trying to learn how to avoid environmental liabilities of all kinds.  They’re now hiring teams of in-house consultants to guide their sustainability policies and practices to do that. Their purpose has not changed yet, however.  Their purpose is to sustain their growing rates of profit, not the earth.  Their impact reductions inherently involve only slowing the rate of accelerating increase in using resources and the environment.

Maximum rates of growing profits simply never come from reducing or even stabilizing business impacts.   I do actually applaud his engagement with business but it needs to be a far more open and honest effort to educate, still.  Nothing has really changed.  Just ignoring the deep conflict between conservation and business purposes, because it’s good for the business of conservation, doesn’t make the problem go away.

  • Jessie Henshaw
  • way uptown