Networks to the Rescue: It’s Not Too Late to Protect the Earth’s Future

Networks to the Rescue: It’s Not Too Late to Protect the Earth’s Future

Apr 23, 2024

A KOAN Case Study on the Changemaking Power of Connection

This article includes excerpts from the KOAN method: Breakthrough Leadership for a Divided World, the recently released book by Integrated Work owner and CEO Jennifer Lyn Simpson.

As we recognize Earth Month and celebrate our planet that provides for all of us, we also must acknowledge how our actions  – as individuals, communities, and nations – are placing its future at risk. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless in the face of the climate crisis, but each of us can take action, speak up for change, and connect with others to spark innovative solutions that help protect the Earth.

The real magic of possibility begins to happen when we create networks of relationship. As artificial silos begin to fall, we remember that we’re not in “it” alone, and we begin to discover all manner of new, creative ideas and solutions. On the one hand, cultivating networks is well-served by having tended to the other KOAN elements. Relationships flourish inside containers of care where transparency and trust are the norm and where we cultivate presence instead of getting caught up in stories. One might argue that this is really an outgrowth of all the others. On the other hand, if we wait until we’ve gotten all of those other bits “just right” to relate to networks as the source of innovation and co-creation, we’re still operating from a top-down, do-it-yourself mindset.

A network mindset is really the cornerstone of the KOAN method. If we want to get to the finish line first or find ourselves at the top of a hierarchical heap (until we get toppled), there are other approaches that will get us there faster. For problems that require collective problem-solving or that will benefit from a broader set of viewpoints, though, remembering our connectedness makes it easier to be kind, open, and adaptive. When we begin with empathy, give and receive openly, and cultivate resilience and agility, we realize that we don’t do anything in isolation. We think of ourselves less as an entity (company, organization, team, community) and more as embedded in networks of mutuality.

The Carbon Almanac Project: Filling the Niche Between the Cutting Edge and Apathy

Seth Godin has been an author and blogger for decades, with hundreds of thousands of social media followers and subscribers to his daily newsletter, “Seth’s Blog.” In October 2021, Seth put out a call for readers who might be interested in working on a project idea he had to pull “together a worldwide team of people who are interested in volunteering to contribute to the new Carbon Almanac.” He told his mailing list (a network whose trust and respect he’d cultivated over decades) that this would be a “zero-profit venture, a group effort designed to create a print and digital document that fills the vital niche between the cutting edge and apathy.” At the time, 40 people from 20 countries that he’d hand-picked to seed the community were already at work on early pieces of the project. Anyone interested in the effort could fill out a form and Seth would connect with them.

I raised my hand because that’s what I do and because this seemed like a way to contribute to a cause I already cared about, to connect with people from all over the world who cared about it too, and to work together in a way that seemed sure to push the envelope on co-creative collaboration. I filled out the form, saying I was in, and, if selected, that I’d bring members of my team along, too—believing we would all have something to contribute and a whole lot to learn.

A month later, I was excited to see the subject line: “Joining the Carbon Almanac Project” in my inbox. The invitation to join read, in part:

More than 500 submissions from 25 countries. An author from the Middle East, a scientist from Nigeria, a TV journalist from New York … the one thing you all have in common is a desire to make an impact on a challenge faced by all of us.

It wasn’t easy to narrow down the list by more than 90%, but there you go.

I’d love to have you join us. We’ve been busy building the Almanac in smaller groups so that we won’t overwhelm everyone with too many folks joining in at once, but we’re ready for you now, and we need your help.

Over the next several months, more than 300 of us from 41 countries researched, curated, compiled, drafted, edited, fact-checked, illustrated, and assembled The Carbon Almanac, which became a bestseller in its genre even before it launched and earned the 2022 award for Most Insightful Data Book. Once the book was assembled, we opened up the network again and have since drawn in thousands of people from more than a hundred countries, organizing ourselves around a core belief that “it’s not too late” to address climate change if we lean into facts, connection, and action.

All of this was accomplished without any single official leader. Each of us stepped forward in different ways, as we were able, with the talents we could bring to bear on a joint challenge. A FastCompany article summarized the leadership like this: “Decisions and choices are made, but communication hinges on encouragement, trust, and mutual respect. It allows the group to be nimble — if something doesn’t work, the group can adapt quickly and move to the next thing.” Networks are fundamentally better at solving system-scale problems than individuals or organizations that see themselves as more discrete or isolated.

The Value of Collaborating in Networks to Create Innovative Solutions

During our KOAN Conversation last fall on the value of collaborating in networks, Seth highlighted the unique nature of the Carbon Almanac and how it helps individuals see the collective role they can play by tapping into networks to rethink systems and processes. “What we actually get to do is change the system. Part of the magic of [the KOAN method] is it’s a systems book,” Seth said. “It’s about how do we create a system where we can be generative and healing?”

Finding power in collaboration with others is especially important when our current social and environmental challenges are revealing the limitations of current systems and processes. As the global community becomes more connected through technology, we’re more likely to encounter people with lifestyles and beliefs that differ from our own, Seth said. “We bump into people who are different than us, and we try to create communities that aren’t homogenous,” he said. 

It is the power of networks like the Carbon Almanac and the ability to leverage differences in service of the common good that makes them effective. “Systems change isn’t simply you deciding to compost,” Seth said. “What really matters is that you’re organizing composting for your village. … If we really care about where things are going, we have to change the system.”

Discover more about the power of networks to leverage differences in service of the common good in Jen’s book, the KOAN method: Breakthrough Leadership for a Divided World, and these related articles: