How to Find Collective Meaning in Nature’s Signals

When pursuing organizational change in a world of divisiveness, one way to gain traction is to embrace collective meaning.

At our latest gathering of the Regenerative Leadership Community, we explored collective meaning through an exercise called “Signals and Sense Making.” In small groups, we identified signals we are noticing in the external environment, asked ourselves if our actions align with these signals, and then came together to share our conversations with the larger group.

One example of a signal we discussed was “quiet quitting,” the trend of disengaging from work without outright resigning. One way to make sense of this signal is to see it as a result of disconnectedness in the relationship between employee and employer. When an employee doesn’t feel valued at work, and this feeling merges with other societal tensions that make us feel separate, they feel no reason to stick around.

Kathy Allen brought our attention to the signal of widespread changes in weather patterns that affect communities and local infrastructure. By designing its infrastructure to withstand extreme weather events, Babcock Ranch in Florida was able to overcome Hurricane Ian with virtually no disruptions. Community members embraced their interconnectedness with each other and with the environment to build resiliency.

Another example of a signal is the fact that Northern Red Oak trees are dying off in the northeastern United States. In response to this, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission partnered with the American Chestnut Foundation to introduce American chestnuts back into their native range and to help regenerate the Northern Red Oak. This project is an example of recognizing and aligning with environmental patterns rather than resisting them. 

It can be tempting to assign signals with labels of “positive” or “negative.” Rather than labeling, we can think of these signals simply as aspects of nature, each connected to one another and important in their own ways.

Collective meaning is based in a sense of interconnectedness, which is modeled for us by the natural world each day. Small changes in the environment can cause ripple effects across entire ecosystems. To survive natural disasters and other environmental changes due to global warming, nature adapts based on the needs of the system as a whole; Some pine species have adapted to include pine seeds that regenerate under the intense heat of a wildfire, making it possible to retain a stable ecosystem despite destructive events. 

What signals have you noticed in the world recently? To join our future discussions on topics around living systems and regenerative leadership, learn more at and follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter

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