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Making our way through the Forest: A reflection on co-creating a regenerative offering for businesses and leaders by JK McQuinn

This week has felt a little bit epic! I have found myself taking deep, exhaling breaths as I sit with the medley of feelings I have experienced.

Amongst all the usual wonderful things a week can bring. We “finished” the first cohort of Think Like A Forest Fundamentals: A regenerative business programme.

I deliberately put “finished” in parentheses, because really this it’s just the beginning. (Or somewhere along the way)

My personal beginning, emerging through the forest, goes back a few years now.

When, looking for more ways to embed Nature-Based principles into my coaching practice (alongside my growing skills and awareness in ecopsychology, regenerative approaches and biomimicry) I googled “How can I think like a tree?”

Sarah Spencer’s book “Think Like A Tree” popped up. Something began.

It wasn’t a questions, I’d really over-thought, just a bit of a distracted whim. Ending up gifting me far more answers than I could have imagined.

Once I’d read the book, Sarah and I eventually arranged a call and it was very clear our values aligned and our desire to act purposefully in our work, and life paralleled too.

From our initial conversation I went on to study her programme (Think Like A Tree) and became a facilitator.

Over the next few years I’ve been further enriched (and an active contributor to) the vibrant network of TLAT facilitators that the programme cultivates.

Incorporating principles and practice, from living systems thinking to deepen my mental health work, alongside people and Nature. Adapting Natural Principles into my own style and approach.

It was at the end of a facilitators network meeting one day, that my ears pricked up. As I heard the word “workplaces” – mentioned in the context of a future opportunity or direction of focus.

Working in this space already, [through my team and leadership coaching/facilitation] in my own business Where The Mind Grows I was keen and curious to explore what might be arising?

In collaboration, Sarah and I began weaving and creating a regenerative framework, learned from Nature. One that we felt could really help businesses of various sizes to embody (not just theorise) regenerative being, doing and becoming.

Motivated, amongst other things, by our own acknowledgement of the loneliness and isolation in achieving and maintaining a way forward through the liminal space of ‘now’ and ‘what next?’

We knew these lonely and sometimes overwhelming feelings, of being with complexity, were not isolated to ourselves.

We can’t go it alone’ a driving sentiment, of our work together, deeply connected to our strand of collaboration.

Our intention clear: help others find solutions to the complexity of unlearning and reimaging the future of business, community and well, life too.

A pilot back in 2022 saw 15+ businesses attend an in-person programme at the inspiring Whistlewood Common a regenerative place in itself. Seeing the potential for impact in just two days of Nature immersion and shared learning and exploring. The evolution was shortly followed by a range of “Adventure” programme offerings; (working with individual teams/orgs) to expand opportunity and support culture evolution.

Between us we sensed that our initial form of delivery, wasn’t a fully fledged regenerative pathway. Valuing a slower pace, time and depth for regenerative exploration for all.

I have to be honest, I was a little fretful at first, lifting the programme out of a natural in-person setting and translating it online (through a Mighty Networks hub). Fearful this would cause further disconnection from one of the key facilitators in the programme, Nature.

But as I write this today, I know now there was nothing to fear. As the cohort found their own space and time with Natural places, supported by Nature’s presence in each session through the frameworks and activities too.

This ever evolving vision led Sarah and I to take extensive time out of our individual businesses last year to recreate a new offering that could reach more people.

Taking these hours away from the core of our businesses could of course “risky” to some. Being ‘on purpose’ often calls for courage, I find and I cant remember a moment it felt foolish or wasteful to put energy into the unknown.

So we kept on, keeping on.

Its fair to say alongside creating, design, planning, mapping, and evolving the Think Like A Forest offerings. We both had our fair share of external challenges. (I wondered at times if we’d see our names, in the dictionary if we looked up the definition of resilience.)

Along the way, we’ve had personal relief in the tonic of the programmes frameworks. A compass and anchor for work and life.

Regularly asking ourself curious questions, figuring out and learning to let go of things too. Remembering, everything is connected.

Through these design years I have seen us deepen our own embodiment of regenerative being and doing.

There is no true destination of course.

No straight lines or boxes to tick.

We’ve very much seen (and continue to see) ourselves as part of the collective ecosystem in each phase and facilitation that is brought to life.

The messy middle of regenerative-leadership-and-business-curating, has at times felt like a quagmire of confusion.

Whilst at other times I float gently on the waves of its eb and flow. In awe of its beauty.

In October 2023 we launched the first of our evolved (and somewhat ‘final’ version) of the Think Like A Forest programme.

As a collective cohort, embarked on the experience.

Delving into the rich “radical abundance” of materials and resources Sarah and I had spent -what felt like an endurance and a heart-sake all at once – squirrelling together.

From sole traders to global brands, the diversity of businesses has added to the uniqueness of a collaborative and regenerative space. The diversity enriches the soil and shines a light on each of the complexities we individually face in a modern and over-stretched world.

Alongside the vat of resources, activities and our two frameworks (the strands and six systems dimensions)  we delivered six live sessions with the cohort. Alongside them, to unravel, digest, find peace with their discomfort and nourish each person’s individual exploration through. Together.

No straight lines. Each guiding their own wiggly path to somewhere.

What has stood out for me in the many wonderful insights and reflections, [facilitating this experience with others] is the weighty belief/need the ‘modern day human’ faces in seeking to be “ahead” or “inline” [of education and work competition]. Setting unrealistic expectations, pressure and fear, “shoulds” and “must” of being seen to “achieve”. A burden on mind, body and even self-worth. One that can stifle creativity, individuality and innovation.

Helping people dismantle or shake that burden, has felt powerful & beautiful.

I feel that what we might be doing is inviting people to ‘compassionately rebel’. Gentle, loving and courageous self- activism. Composting beliefs that tame intuition; a love-letter to our future selves.

This experience invites the pioneer within. Many of the group shared with us; how letting go of those internal/external tensions & expectations creates a huge shift in impact.

Inside and out.

So now, as the final sessions together, wrapped up and we heard people’s reflections and insights.

Sitting with a warming sense of hope – for what can be.

The cohort may have finished yet it’s also just begun.

  • Each person with their own messy middle.
  • Each organisation shape shifting.
  • Shedding extractive old paradigms and seeking to shine a light in the places that offer discovery and create conditions conducive to life.
  • Returning to old, new ways of creating and weaving a healthier future for business and ourselves too.
  • Small, Slow and powerful solutions, where change can and does happen in an instant.

Over the next few weeks Sarah and I meet with the rest of the “forest” {cohort1} seeking to deepen our own understanding of each person’s experience. Gathering impact (in full squirrel mode again).

Holding a space in which to help people invite questions like:

  • “what now”
  • “how so”
  • “what is alive for you?”

Questions that ignite opportunity and sow seeds. Accepting feedback just like one of our strands guides us to.

So it’s not the end. Nor the beginning. But somewhere I have learned to sit so fondly in my own regenerative journey.

The delicious complexity of the messy middle.

Being OK with that discomfort. Reminding myself, as we did the cohort multiple times.

“You are exactly where you are”

When we choose to let go of the power and control, we’ve been taught we should seek. I find myself in a place of calm. Accepting we never really know what’s truly beyond, until we get there.

Held and guided by the resilient teacher, Nature.

Connected with heart and gut in a place I call purpose.

That’s a place I hope we keep finding for ourselves, and our future, together.

#RegenerativeLeadership #RegenerativeBusiness #CompassionateLeadership #Future #Climate #BeTheChange #NoStraightLines #MessyMiddle #WorkPlaceCulture


Join us in the Forest

If you would like to be part of our next collective and join Think Like A Forest, Fundamentals. The programme helps you unpack the complexity, feel part of something and can help you transform your impact through regenerative ways of being and doing and emergence.

Fundamentals is a 4 month online journey with experienced facilitators and a support group (and plenty of invitation for nature-connection)

To explore opportunities for sign up and more information follow the link here

For whole team experience explore the Adventure page.

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