By Sarah Spencer
My name is Sarah Spencer and I’m the founder of Think like a Tree (for individuals) and Think like a Forest (for businesses and organisations). We offer training, coaching and consultancy on how to live and work in regenerative, nature-inspired ways. This year we were shortlisted for the International Lush Spring Prize for our regenerative training.
I came to do this work thanks to Permaculture (I hold a Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design) and through realising that only a fundamental shift in our collective mindset will lead to the successful future that our planet deserves. I’d love to share with you a personal story about regenerative ways of thinking, and how this could also transform the success of any business or organisation you are associated with.
My story starts at St Brides, my 9 acre smallholding in rural Derbyshire. It’s a paradise that my family has created on our own doorstep, that is teeming with life, biodiversity and abundance. However, it wasn’t always like that. When we bought the smallholding 20 years ago, the land was essentially an overgrazed horse field.
Over the next few years we planted it up with woodlands, orchards, vegetable beds, a forest garden and flower borders. We dug ponds and streams and created wildflower meadows. With the help of a team of volunteers ,we planted 1500 trees on the site, including many native species, as part of the new National Forest.
I always had wildlife benefits in mind, but as the plants and trees grew I found myself entering into various ‘battles’ that many gardeners find familiar - slugs, squirrels, moles, weeds, pigeons, caterpillars, and all manner of critters that seemed intent on destroying my hard work. When time was at a premium, I also hired a gardener to go into battle with me, digging out weeds and keeping things in an ‘acceptable’ state.
But going into battle, in a place where you have invested your heart and your purpose, is exhausting and demoralising, and it left me feeling like a failure. I felt burnt out and like a fraud. I was supposed to be running a demonstration site for others and I couldn’t even keep on top of the weeds! A whole series of other gardeners I knew also quit because the struggle seemed overwhelming to them too.
Then I read a truly inspiring book called ‘Wilding’ by Isabella Tree. It focused on the transformation of a large estate in Sussex, UK from an intensive agriculture to a natural, rewilded state. A place where nature’s potential was allowed to blossom, and the unexpected and magical happened, like the return of nightingales, turtle doves, barbastelle bats and water violets. I had a lightning bolt moment about my own land - I had been focusing on the problems when I should have been focusing on the solution, which was the potential that was waiting to emerge from within our beautiful location.
So I started working with the land, not against it, stopped cutting plants in autumn, and let different species pop up where the conditions were right for them. And, most importantly, I changed my mindset. I stopped using battle metaphors when thinking or talking about our beautiful smallholding.The new language to replace the old, was of potential, of life, of abundance, diversity, complexity, creativity, adaptability and resilience.
- I took as my new vision to ‘create life and create conditions conducive for life to thrive’.
- I left space for nature and that’s when the magic started to happen!
- I designed the space, using permaculture design tools and principles, but I could never have imagined the beauty and abundance that was waiting to emerge when I let go of trying to feel in control (because whether we like it or not, in our complex world, control is just an illusion).
This has been a huge win for nature - buzzards, birds, bees, badgers and butterflies, and many other species not beginning with B, (like owls and wildflowers), have blossomed because of this new approach.
But it’s also been a huge win for me - no more burnout, no feelings of overwhelm or failure, a more balanced and healthy life, with plenty of time to enjoy the life and beauty that has emerged. Recently a leader brought her team for a regenerative business experience day and described our forest garden (and nature in general) as a beautiful mess! She was so right! She found inspiration in the complexity of nature, just as I have done.
So if all this has left you wondering 'BUT Sarah what has this to do with my business or organisation?'. I’m here to welcome you into a new space of seeing the potential waiting to emerge within your organisation. I invite you to stop focusing on solving problems, such as staff dissatisfaction, financial issues, worries about the future, paperwork and your own overwhelm, and start to looking at what they are telling you about new, regenerative ways that could emerge if you change the way you think and act around them. You may recognise aspects of your organisation in my over-managed smallholding of the past. You may have team members with untapped potential (who are often simply ‘in the wrong place’) and leaders who are stressed and overwhelmed (often struggling with lack of support or hidden imposter syndrome).
The alternative, with a regenerative mindset, and Think like a Forest frameworks and principles, is to transform your organisation into a place of abundance. One that is more productive, with happier, healthy teams and leaders. All whilst increasing yields (productivity) and creating more resilient income.
Through following regenerative, living-systems approaches, all of this happens in a way that feels natural, balanced and exciting. And all because we stop seeing problems, and start to look for the magic that is hidden in plain sight, waiting to come to life! Join me and experienced coach and therapist JK McQuinn as we take you and your team on a journey to discover your regenerative potential.
If you would like to explore the regenerative potential in your organisation then here are a few things you can do:
Via the Quiz you’ll discover your current organisational mindset and access FREE resources and activities for your regenerative leadership/business journey.
Your weekly newsletter packed with inspiration, tools and resources to help you grow your impact business or organisation in a regenerative way, inspired by living-systems success.
- Think like a Forest regenerative organisation FUNDAMENTALS (for leaders, team-members, changemakers and entrepreneurs)
- Think like a Forest regenerative organisation ADVENTURE (for whole teams/whole organisations) Online or hybrid programme
- Think like a Forest one-day EXPERIENCES (either attend on your own or as a team) In-person days in south Derbyshire or a woodland venue to suit your team.
All of the Think like a Forest programmes are facilitated by myself and JK McQuinn.