Designing a Regenerative Future

Todd Holcomb

Todd Holcomb

Zeynep Falay von Flittner

Zeynep Falay von Flittner

6 mins

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What we design, designs us.

Joined by Todd Holcomb, founder of Becoming Human, and Zeynep Falay von Flittner, founder of Falay Transition Design, we gathered for our fourth Creative Sparks event to discuss stagnating belief systems, the possibilities of regenerative design, and our need for holistic solutions that are inspired by the nature that surrounds us.

Our mission with Creative Sparks is to bring together creative leaders shaping the world to ignite discussions on how creativity and design can lead to positive change.

What is the regenerative business model?

The core goal of the regenerative business model is to proactively create a positive impact for our planet and communities, rather than merely mitigating environmental damage. Regenerative businesses focus on the restoration and renewal of natural resources and ecosystems, developing more equitable and inclusive economic systems for their direct community as well as the larger systems they are connected to. By emphasizing holistic ecological and social systems, regenerative companies create a more resilient and prosperous future for our earth and our economies. 

Both of our speakers, Todd and Zeynep, are actively engaged in creating a regenerative future through their businesses, simultaneously educating others in the process. Through their conversation, we were challenged to examine our perspectives, discover the thought patterns that are limiting our potential, then actively walk the path towards regeneration.

“If our belief system doesn't match what's possible in the world…then we're not going to act in a way that gets us towards that possibility.” — Todd Holcomb

Our Belief Systems Hold Us Back

Dreaming starts with seeing

Our belief systems define how we move in the world. Building a new way of thinking begins with understanding the belief systems that we subconsciously function in. Todd shared that “these beliefs are just…constructs about how [we] view the world and how [we] think the world works.”

Often these constructs are the unobserved masters of our design decisions. Whether as small as our opinions about the ideal coffee or as complex as the global economy, when our preconceived ideas are unacknowledged and unintentional, they stifle our creativity, productivity, and ability to ignite impactful change. If we want to create a sustainable future, we must first reflect on our past ways of thinking and doing, before removing those limiting beliefs, and then incorporating new perspectives that can move us forward. 

We only see a slice of reality

“When people are holding a certain belief about something, it's very strongly held,” Todd continued, “and it really limits the way in which we think about or interact with other people and ideas.” We often live within a tiny “slice of reality,” defining our understanding of the world through this miniscule lens, without pausing to question where this perspective came from or what impact it may have on our success.

Transformation comes from shifting beliefs

If our goal as creatives is to truly ignite impactful change in the world, we have to start by expanding past our stagnant ideas. “The only way for transformation is to shift beliefs,” Todd continued. “Without a possibility mindset about the future, it's hard to change the future.” If we choose to pause and break apart our preexisting notions about reality, we start to see the possibilities that surround us; only then are we able to view design complexities from a larger variety of angles, envisioning new possible solutions.

“The word ‘fear’ comes up so often when we think about transformation,” Luisa Covaria, our host added. The act of transitioning past our old belief systems into an opening perspective is innately vulnerable, yet only with this vulnerability comes the type of new perspectives that create change. 

The system we live in is not a ‘given’

When we think about the possibilities for a regenerative future in business, it is easy to limit ourselves within the belief systems that we are used to. Our ‘normal’ feels natural and unarguable to us. One of our Neolians, Chris Grantham, reflected that “the economy we have is very much designed and that design has very many consequences in every aspect of our lives.” 

Every possibility we experience was either created by us or by those who came before us. This is both good news and bad news. On the one hand, “the system we live in is not a given,” Luisa shared, yet because of this, the opportunities for active change and awareness lie solely within our responsibility.

What we design, designs us

Since transformation only comes through our ability to adopt new perspectives, we must be both mindful and active in our pursuit of effective regenerative systems. As another Neolian, Anna Bertmal, reminded us in the Zoom chat, “what we design, designs us back.” If we want to keep moving further towards regeneration, we have to make continual, intentional shifts towards regenerative practices.

Zeynep calls this process “transition design,” the idea that “we can intentionally speed and catalyze transitions toward more sustainable futures.” By understanding the root causes of our current systems, we become more free to “imagine radically different features” and as we imagine, we create space for possibility, “building transitional pathways [to] connect this system to that desirable future.” 

What actions can we take towards a regenerative future?

While striving to create systems that are regenerative, we can actively take small transitional steps towards sustainability. During our conversation, we talked about three ways we can get inspired while designing regenerative systems: Natural ecology, a holistic approach to design, and storytelling.

Natural Ecologies 

Both Todd and Zeynep believe regenerative design can be inspired through natural ecology. Todd shared that he is always “looking at natural ecosystems as a way to inspire” both him and his clients towards “circular design.” He reflected that “ecologies are resilient and adaptable…and have extraordinary energy flows and efficiencies. There is very little energy wasted because of the way the ecology works together.” How might this efficiency inspire our own approaches to design?

Holistic Design

For Zeynep, her appreciation for natural ecologies inspire her to pursue a holistic design approach. As she “looks at the ecosystem and symbiotic relationships in nature…everybody has something different to give and take.” This mutuality incorporates each aspect of our individual selves, enabling our strengths to balance one another without wasted energy. As Zeynep shared, “We are not machines, we are humans,” and we need to become “more in tune with our nature” in order to work and design sustainably.

Adding to Zeynep’s crucial point about our humanness, Chris shared a poignant question:

Should we be thinking of design more as an act of wild gardening rather than an act of making a machine?
— Chris Grantham

Rather than focusing merely on profit or efficiency, Chris pushed us to redefine our value system towards a holistically regenerative approach—what he calls “multi-capital.” This wild garden of possibility allows us to care deeply for every aspect of our design system, intentionally cultivating new belief systems that will serve us more. In order to create a truly regenerative design system, we have to be intentional in every aspect of our production.

Storytelling

Our old belief systems come from the stories we tell ourselves. By pursuing the stories of others as well as sharing our own, we have the chance to expand our limited perspectives, actively and intentionally creating the regenerative future that we are seeking. 

Another Neolian, Andre Sanchez Montoya, spoke up, sharing that storytelling can “get into the hearts and minds of the decision makers…to start shifting these systems towards more regenerative” approaches to business. He challenged us to “give a look, a feel, and a smell to this regenerative future” through storytelling. Todd agreed, adding that we can change the belief systems we have been living in by receiving and sharing our stories of successful regenerative work. 

Stories are one of the most powerful ways we share ourselves and our discoveries. By using this tool, we can collectively build a sustainable future that is down-to-earth and authentically impactful.

Through Creative Sparks: A Regenerative Future, we gathered together in intentionality, actively seeking tools we can use to instigate positive change. With our creative leaders, Todd and Zeynep, Luisa our host, and the Neolians who shared, we uncovered a transitional process towards regenerative ecosystems, discussed how to incorporate holistic design within our businesses, and reflected on the importance of storytelling to inspire one another.

If you want to learn more about the active work that Todd and Zeynep are doing to design a regenerative future—the success stories of businesses creating impactful change—you can check out their websites here:

Todd Holcomb, founder of Becoming Human

Zeynep Falay von Flittner, founder of Falay Transition Design

Are you inspired to incite active positive change in our world? Join Neol’s creative community to build connections, create real impact, and design systems that make our world a better place to be!

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