Crew Commentary

Learning from the Natural World – Cyclic, Interdependent and Networked

Jodi Smits Anderson


Jodi Smits Anderson is making sure that sustainability is truly understood and used as a tool for greater achievement in projects, planning and living. She is an architect, LEED AP BD+C, AIA member, and has served in many leadership roles with the USGBC in local and national committees. She is working with NESEA on planning education for their Building Energy 2017 conference in Boston, and will be speaking at the International Living Futures unconference in May in Seattle. She has been a guest instructor at Cornell, NYU and RPI, and has spoken several times at Greenbuild. Jodi is an insightful, compassionate Crew Member and one we read all the time. You can find/reach/follow/read her here www.2bgreener.com


Man tends to specialize and to solve problems in a linear, hierarchical, siloed fashion. If we are able to look at the problems and opportunities we face with an understanding of the overlapping cycles of influence, and the benefits that transcend a top-down illustration, we can work toward solutions that create no new problems.


I have done a lot of work and reading about cyclic systems, communication, circles of influences, and the inter-relation of man and nature (and I hate that phrase because we are nature – might as well say “trees and nature” as if THEY are separate). I find the hierarchical systems to be wasteful and particularly poor for communications, and I see repeatedly that top-down management and trickle-down economics are faulty in execution and results. For example, despite our belief that man is the top of the food chain and the evolutionary “ladder”, we must accept that evolution occurs still and we must acknowledge that we are eaten by crows, crabs, worms and bacteria (despite our feeble attempts to stop this). Even our food pyramid has been turned on its head recently.


I heard E.O. Wilson speak at Greenbuild several years ago, and found his explanation that biologists and architects and engineers and inventors should be working together to be a revelation. Of course we should be learning about the uncountable years of nature’s experiences to inform our inventions and our architecture! He made the case that ants have a larger bio-mass on this planet than human beings do, yet ants manage to live and prosper while improving the natural systems they interact with. This speaks to the radical notion that if we do things right, we can prosper without killing off the resources and systems we need to live.


What if greater involvement, investment, inclusion helps to create and solidify those ever layering circles of influence, bringing greater prosperity to all involved? We have seen this truth:


  • In community involvement. Each effort in volunteering, or each investment in community clean-up crosses our fabricated separations and helps us to make friends, learn more about the workings of our neighborhoods, and improves our security. And inclusion brings inclusion.
  • In investing. When we diversify our holdings, and pay attention, we have, typically, safer earning potential, more spheres of influence and again, a more flexible and secure financial base, helping us to spend with more confidence. Investment in local, small, diverse companies brings benefits at the local level, and helps with economic resiliency.
  • In government. When we spend on well-run social support programs including health care and education, we are investing in a stable present and future for a greater number of our citizens. This means they can spend their efforts on earning, living, learning, creating, and supporting their own possibly extended families. People can be less concerned about their personal well-being, and they can weather periodic health and earning issues with more security meaning they can focus out and interact with and help their neighbors. A secure life allows for creativity and compassion.
  • In businesses. B-corps and other socially savvy businesses are choosing to change the hierarchical structure of Principle or Founder, CEO and VP and layers of top-down influences. Some of the most successful businesses are employee-owned, with decisions shared or created in systems of dynamic governance or other sociocratic approaches. Success of the whole means success for the individuals, and vice versa which fosters a “stake in the game”. The career becomes a calling; the job becomes a passion.

Sociocracy is a system of governance using consent decision-making and an organizational structure based on cybernetic principles (a system with closed feedback mechanisms).


The biggest change over the next decade or more must entail a growth in understanding this cyclic nature of all things, and the benefit in dispelling our top-down thought process and hierarchical structures. Invariably, if we treat each issue as having a linear path, with a start and finish and inputs that have no effect or burden/benefit from the outputs, we will fail to improve our current situation in business, in product development, in architecture, and in social structure.