A White Paper on Regeneration’s Significance — Part 1: Heeding Einstein’s Admonition

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Einstein gave us what may be the most important caveat for our task of seeking to make the world better, to make the work we do in the world more whole, and the work on development of human beings deeper, faster and more likely to succeed. He wrote his admonition repeatedly and I found it shows up over a dozen times — with few variations in the message. He clearly knew it was one of his most important capabilities and wanted others to be able to engage in the same way he was imploring us to consider. Here are four examples.

  • “To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.”
  • “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
  • “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
  • “We cannot solve our problems with the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

The question is, what is Einstein’s intention here? What does he mean to direct us toward? And, how do we learn to do this? Here is a plausible interpretation and how it relates to our thinking processes, and regenerative thinking specifically.

Taking Thinking, About Thinking, Seriously

We have to begin to understand Einstein’s underlying intention, if we are to begin working with Einstein’s Admonition. Most of his emphasis in the statements is on “thinking”. And then “levels of thinking” and finally, “changing our thinking.” Einstein was, presumably, able to make this shift for himself routinely, that is, change how he was thinking, even though he seems to have been less successful in teaching others what he meant, given that none of his students passed it down. He has no students that reference having received such guidance. This may be because his work was primarily as a research faculty member rather than teaching faculty. Or maybe it was so normal to him, he could not articulate how it worked in his own mental processing.

With all humility in attempting to understand a brilliant mind, I offer some potential ways to consider it and point to the path that we as humans are on now that is likely NOT what he was suggesting. And the folly of that! In fact, it is by understanding the diversion we may be on, that we may find our way back to the proposed Einsteinian appointed path.

We have A Paradigm Problem

It is common to hear the idea that we need a paradigm shift. This usually means something similar to what Einstein is advocating. A paradigm shift, a concept identified by the American physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn, is a fundamental change in the basic concepts and experimental practices of a scientific discipline. Kuhn contrasts paradigm shifts, which characterize a scientific revolution, to the activity of normal science, which he describes as scientific work done within a prevailing framework (or paradigm).

Kuhn presented his notion of a paradigm shift in his influential book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). One summary might be:

Kuhn uses the term “paradigm” in two different meanings. In the first one, “paradigm” designates what the members of a certain community have in common, that is to say, the whole of techniques, objectives and values shared by the members of the community. In the second sense, the paradigm is a single element of a whole, say for instance Newton’s Principia, which, acting as a common model or an example that stands for the explicit rules and thus defines a coherent tradition of investigation. What is made possible thereby constitutes what he calls “normal science”. Or what is accepted in a community of practice.

What is implicitly normal can decide if a certain question will be considered scientific or not. Normal does not mean at all a science guided by a coherent system of rules, on the contrary, the rules are derived from the paradigms, but the paradigms can guide the investigation also in the absence of rules. Kuhn considered the second to be the most new and profound, and most bounding or limiting in terms of developing understanding.

Even though Kuhn restricted the use of the term to the natural sciences, the concept of a paradigm shift has also been used in numerous non-scientific contexts to describe a profound change in a fundamental model or perception of understanding based on a shift in how it is perceived and examined.

Rising Above Paradigm Discernment Difficulties

The irony is that when we are in the situation of trying to think better, we become victims of our own lack of perspective and paradigm. We can see the merits of our own point of view, but we struggle to understand and accept the merits of alternative points of view. The metaphor of point of view is apt: our perspective has collapsed down into a single point usually in the physical world of what we can see and manage.

In the late 1800s, a British philosopher named Edwin Abbott wrote a witty little book named Flatland to illustrate this problem. In it, the residents of a two-dimensional world struggle with how to imagine a world of three dimensions. Their two-dimensional perspective means that they can only see a sphere as a circle. When they visit a one-dimensional world, the problem gets even worse. Residents of a one-dimensional world see everything as points in a string which often become isolated elements or parts. Abbot vividly illustrates the influence of our perspective and thinking patterns on how we perceive reality. More important, he shows that there are different levels of perspective. When we collapse our vision, we become unable to see the full range of possibilities that are lying hidden in plain view. To access these possibilities, we need to become able to explore multiple points of view from a level of perspective that sees their potential relatedness.

Learning to work regeneratively, that is considering the unfolding of life from three to four dimensions, where so much is preexistent in our current point of view (we are at a point or on a line), would allow us to see what is hidden from our flatland view. I am often surprised that Einstein did not cite Abbot when calling out the need for a new level of mind.

In order to have a different mind at work, we have to move the mind to seeing beyond a flat view of approaches to change to seeing it as a dimensional one. And the paradigms are at different levels, not linear as the next anything. How do we do that?

Seeing Paradigms and Their Effects

We often sense the paradigms, even levels of paradigms, that people operate from when we observe their language, stories, or behavior, and we use this information to determine whether or not they are in our tribe. But much more important is to learn to clearly see our own adopted paradigm and the way it continually shapes and limits, or perhaps has the potential to expand, our ways of thinking, relating, and working. To make it easy to grasp how paradigms show up, individually and collectively, I will look at examples from home and work, following a framework that anyone can use to develop a more encompassing perspective on how they are making sense of their immediate world. As a frame of reference for this exploration, I will use human-to-human interactions and the ways we navigate with worldviews and disciplines to make sense of the social world that we inhabit, coupled with a few brief examples of our engagements with the natural world.

Most people work or have worked in places where choices are made about managing people, based on one or another prescribed management system. Each of these management systems is invisibly based in a paradigm included in the framework, and thus each offers varying methods and also very different results measured in different ways. The effects of the systems on work and employee well being are what first become visible, not only to the people being managed and led, but also to the people doing the leading, although they may not at first seem to be in line with the paradigm that sourced the thinking. Some paradigms degrade commitment up and down the business and across the all work systems. Some give extraordinary results to the systems and each person in them. But how can you know in advance what the results will be?

Each of us has unknowingly chosen, by luck of birth and family or education or other experience, a paradigm that shapes our perception and interpretation of the world and affects the choices we make and the understanding that we are able to develop in all of the activities of our lives, from parenting and education to business and governance. At the most fundamental levels, our chosen paradigms control our emotions and appetites and impose lenses between our eyes and the world. They dictate what we are allowed to know, what we accept as worth examining and embracing, where we put our energy and resources, and what we see as possible or plausible. They frame and are in turn framed by the cosmologies of religions and tribes that shape our collective ways of living. They direct how we raise and educate our children and frame how we as leaders engage our workforces and even our customers. Left unexamined, they blind us far more than they inform us.

In part two, we’ll explore the four governing paradigms of modern living and how operating under these paradigms affects outcomes in business and personal life.

About Carol Sanford

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Carol Sanford is a regenerative business educator, the award winning author of The Regenerative Business: Redesign Work, Cultivate Human Potential, Achieve Extraordinary Outcomes, and executive in residence and senior fellow in social innovation at Babson College. She has worked with fortune 500 executives and rock star entrepreneurs for 40 years, helping them to innovate and grow their businesses by growing their people. Learn more about Carol and her work at her website.

Sr Fellow Social Innovation, Babson | Best Selling/Multi-Award Winning Author | Regenerative Paradigm Educator

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