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The Launch of Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter

by Simon Robinson

Simon RobinsonThis month sees the launch of our new book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, published by Floris Books in the UK. The book is co-written by my wife Maria who I met at Schumacher College in 2010 while studying Holistic Science. Maria, who is Brazilian and an economist, came in February 2010 for the three-week short course The Economics of Happiness.

After graduating from Schumacher College, I moved to Brazil to be with Maria. Maria is the Director of Education at the independent consultancy Symnetics. She has many years of experience in both business and education, and is one of the country’s leading experts in the Balanced Scorecard Methodology. In 2011 she took over the role of education at Symnetics, where she develops business courses for executives in strategy and change management.

Maria also took over responsibility for running the Strategy Execution Summit, the largest summit of its kind in Latin America, and in 2011 invited Satish to be the keynote speaker. We talked a lot with Satish while he was in Brazil about our work in implementing the ideas and philosophy of Schumacher College in Brazil, and how this could be done through many different channels and in many different ways.

Because of my corporate experience in user experience design, business development and internet start-ups I was invited to become an international lecturer at Sustentare Business School, in Joinville, where I developed a new foundational module for MBA students on Complexity. The name ‘Sustentare’ was chosen by the founder, Wilmar Cidral, to reflect the importance of teaching both ecology and economics, and who wanted therefore to create a business school with this ethos as its foundation.

An early insight I had when developing the course was the power of the combination of Henri Bortoft’s dynamic concept of wholeness in systems and Stephan Harding’s articulation of what he calls Jung’s mandala – the four ways of knowing which are thinking, feeling, sensing and intuition. These form the central plank of the first module of Holistic Science. I realised that if I could empower students with the ability to see in new ways, they would be able to develop both mindfulness and sensemaking skills, allowing them to make more informed decisions in complex situations.

Maria also attended these classes to help facilitate during the many exercises and dialogue sessions with students and also to provide her perspective on what these teachings and insights meant in practical terms, relating them to strategy and change management. She also introduced many of these teachings into the business courses she was running for managers and executives.

Maria and I noticed that there was a gap in the business book market, and that often sustainability professionals were not managing to communicate their important messages to the business community, especially C-suite executives (CEOs, CFOs, CTOs, COOs etc). There was also no single textbook we could recommend to our students at Sustentare which covered all of what we were teaching, and so we had the idea to write a book called Holonomics, the word of which can be thought of as the combination of ‘economics’ and ‘wholeness’.

This name naturally led to us coining the term ‘holonomic thinking’. In the last few years ‘design thinking’ has really caught on as a concept in the business world, but ‘holonomic thinking’ is a much deeper way of experiencing wholeness not only in nature, but also in business, where the movement in thinking can apply to innovation, organisational design, branding, communications, human resources and strategy to name just a few disciplines.

We are delighted that Holonomics is being published by Floris Books. Christopher Moore, the editor at Floris Books came to know me through my writings about Henri and Schumacher College on my blog Christopher invited me to write a testimony for Henri’s book Taking Appearance Seriously, and so naturally he understood exactly what Maria and I were trying to achieve through Holonomics.

Christopher provided us with continual editorial guidance as we wrote Holonomics, and as it took shape we decided to structure it into three parts – The Dynamics of Seeing, The Dynamics of Nature and The Dynamics of Business. This is both a reflection of the way in which Holistic Science itself is structured, and the way in which my module at Sustentare is structured, first exploring mental models, then systems models, and then finally new business models, especially those which have been inspired by the complex and dynamic structures found in nature.
Both Maria and I have a deep interest in the theme of Education and Human Values, and this is one of the key foundations of The Dynamics of Business in Holonomics, since for us it is clear that without this foundation, no organisation or person can be truly sustainable.

We have been delighted with the reception from the wider business community to our work, with both of us being invited to speak about holonomic thinking at a number of conferences in Brazil, including the Sustainable Foods Summit which took place this March in São Paulo where I spoke about the need to shift from economic brand value to holonomic brand value. Harvard Business Review in Brazil are also publishing a nine-page in-depth exploration of holonomic thinking in their April edition, a huge endorsement from the most important business publication in the world.

We are also grateful for support we received from the Schumacher community during the writing of Holonomics, and for the wonderful testimonies we received. In an early review of Holonomics, Fritjof Capra wrote that “The authors of this remarkable book have distilled the essence of the ideas and values taught at Schumacher College, a unique transformative learning centre based on systemic thinking and grounded in deep ecology, and they show how these teachings can be applied with many case studies of enlightened businesses. Holonomics is a powerful antidote to the fragmentation and materialistic orientation of today’s dominant culture.”

We are especially grateful to Satish who has written the foreword, describing Holonomics as ‘a manifesto for mindful living’. In his foreword he writes that “The days of compartmentalisation are passing. We are at the dawn of a new age where we must look for unity in diversity, the big picture in small parts, macrocosm in microcosm, large vision in little details and holonomics in economics. We can enter this new age of wholeness by the act of deep seeing, by expanding our consciousness, and by transforming our perceptions. This book is a handy tool to accomplish such metamorphosis, a manual to move from a linear model to a cyclical system of business.”

Henri passed away in December 2012, and so sadly we never had the opportunity to show him our book, which is dedicated to his memory. What both Maria and I do hope is that _Holonomics can provide people around the world with a deep dive into holistic science and the philosophy and teachings at Schumacher College. We also hope it will help inspire past, present and future students with ideas and insights as to how these teachings can be put into practice in both progressive businesses and those businesses and organisations which may not yet fully appreciate the need for transition and transformation.

Ultimately, in Holonomics we are asking the reader to undertake a restructuring of their consciousness in order for them to be able to see a complex system whole. Our aim is to help the reader to be able to see both the intrinsic as well as extrinsic dimensions of complex systems, a new understanding of systems which they can then put into practice in their workplaces. Once a person is able to see authentic wholes and the processes, dynamics and meaning of living systems, they reach a deeper understanding of the world, one in which economics is no longer seen as separate from ecology. It is a new world of holonomics – business where people and planet matter.

Find out more about Simon Robinson here

Click here to purchase a copy of Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter