Cities as Innovation EcoSystems Key to Growing Gaia’s Reflective Capacity

This was the keynote speech delivered by Dr. Marilyn Hamilton at Globe Forum, Dublin
November 17, 2010

Thank you for this invitation to share what I am learning about cities as innovation ecosystems.

James Lovelock – innovator of the Gaia hypothesis – says that humans are Gaia’s most reflective organ. That means that evolution has purpose-built us to grow our reflective capacity – our consciousness. And therefore innovation is a necessity for survival.

According to Lovelock, Gaia will look after her own survival , but we need to take responsibility for our survival as a species. And that means calling forth from exactly the government, student and entrepreneurial organs in this room the commitment to create a legacy that has never before been possible.  Because before now, we have not had more than 50% of humanity living in cities. And cities are really Gaia’s Reflective Organs.  Right now we have the power to align strategies for leaders, organizations and governments to transform entire cities from stagnant backwaters to flowing eco-systems, from  fragmented heaps to flexible wholes, from ordinary settlements to extraordinary habitats ,  from mediocre exurbias to exceptional centres, from resistant holdouts to resilient human hives.

Let me tell you the story of the human hive. I adapted it from the story of the honey bee, told by Howard Bloom — he discovered that the honey bee developed a strategy for individual adaptation, hive innovation and species resilience. 

 Do you know that the Honey Bee (apis mellifera) is 100 million years old?  That is 10 to 100 times the age of our species. The Honey Bee is also the most advanced species of the branch of the Tree of Life called the invertebrates. We are supposed to be the most advanced species  of the branch called the vertebrates. So I with those credentials I wonder if the Honey Bee species has something to teach the human species?

A bee hive has about 50,000 bees in it – about the size of a small city. And since many if not most of you work to performance goals, do you realize that a honey beehive also has a goal? It must produce a certain amount of honey per year in order to survive — about 40 pounds per year.

So a beehive has a clear sustainability objective for the hive, measured in terms of energy production.

How do bees obtain the raw materials to produce honey? They do this by creating 5 roles within the hive – not the usual suspects most of us are familiar with like drones and queens. No, no these roles have much more purpose and innovation to them:

About 90% of the hive are Conformity Enforcers (CE). Their job is to fly to flower patches and harvest as much nectar and pollen as they can. They use the “waggle dance” form of communication to let sister bees know where to find the resources. When 90% of the hive is doing the same dance – it’s like a Rock & Roll rave — the energy produced attracts a lot of attention and reinforces successful finds.

About 5% of the hive are Diversity Generators (DG). Their job is to fly to different flower beds than the Conformity Enforcer’s. As a result their waggle dance contains different information – more like an Irish Jig than Rock & Roll??. When the Conformity Enforcer’s are at peak performance the Diversity Generator’s are not noticed because their communication is drowned out by the Conformity Enforcer “rave”.

However — a small per cent of the hive are Resource Allocators (RA). Their job  is to reward the performance of Conformity Enforcer and Diversity Generator bees. When Conformity Enforcer performance lags (after depleting the resources in one flower patch), Resource Allocator’s withhold rewards until the point that Conformity Enforcer bees are not only de-energized — they become downright depressed. You can imagine them walking around completely bummed out – the party is over – btw, they can measure depression in bees by measuring their pheromones.  Eventually when the Conformity Enforcer’s energy is lowest, they finally take note of the Diversity Generator Irish Jig (communication) and switch their resourcing flights to new locations.

An even smaller per cent of the hive are Inner Judges (IJ). Some say this is even a hive intelligence. The Inner Judge’s work with Resource Allocator’s to assess and reward performance, so that the hive can achieve its sustainability goals.

The fifth role is a whole hive role – it is created through Inter-group Tournaments (IT). This role actually emerges from the competition between hives within the bee’s eco-region; i.e. the territory they share with other hives competing for the same resources.

These five roles create a resilience strategy that depends on performance and innovation to support the hive and the species. But the bees have taken their sustainability strategy beyond the hive to scale at the regional level of resilience.  Because of course as they gather resources for themselves, they pollinate their eco-region, thereby creating energy renewal for next year. This means the bees have developed a double sustainability loop that supports hive survival AND regenerates the energy resources in their eco-region. The Inter-group tournaments operate at the level of species survival – ensuring any hive that gets an edge in the innovation and evolution curve is the one most likely to survive and pass on its learning.

In terms of sustainability, I wonder when homo sapiens sapiens will innovate sustainability strategies that will embrace performance goals and replenish the resources we use to sustain our human hive and thereby add value to the earth? Perhaps it will come from the Globe Sustainable City Award Candidates?

If we are looking for innovation strategies for leaders, organizations and governments to transform entire cites from apathetic to innovative, we do not need to look further than the finalists for the Globe Sustainable City Award. These cities have individually developed frameworks and practical approaches that not only meet the Awards Criteria — but if we applied everything they have innovated in separate cities to one city, we would come close to matching the resilience strategy of the bees. Let me tell you about five candidates who are leading the way.

1. For Diversity Generator’s & Conformity Enforcer’s I offer Curitiba, Brazil. This city demonstrates an ability to develop individual capacity and organizational capital that aligns operations and amplifies innovation. How?  Over the last twenty years it has demonstrated the willingness to  move vision into action – such as their widely copied bus-only corridors public transportation system . Another great example is their biocity initiatives which converts recycling collectors into Ecocitizens as they collect cooking oil, tires and even fallen leaves.

2. For Resource Allocator’s I offer Sydney, Australia. This city has developed Sustainability and Resilience strategies for the whole city. How? It created The Sustainable Sydney 2030 Vision  for a Green, Global, and Connected City. It developed anticipatory and evolutionary optimization by identifying 10 targets and  five big moves embracing the city centre, transportation network, green corridors, community hubs and energy and water infrastructure.

3. For Inner Judge’s & Conformity Enforcer’s I offer Metro Vancouver, Canada This city leverages community engagement and dynamic decision making. How? Through its Sustainable Region Initiative it coalesces authority, power and influence, from through monthly breakfast meetings with citizens across 21 municipalities. They are anchoring three imperatives: regard for both local and global consequences and long-term impacts of decisions; recognizing and reflecting the interconnectedness and interdependence of systems; and being collaborative.

4. For Inner Judge’s I offer Songpa, South Korea . This city demonstrates the necessity of Context mapping that integrates Place, Priorities, People and Planet. How? Songpa decided to bring the environment back into the city by completely removing a major freeway that bisected the city and fully restored the river that now has become the ecological and cultural centre of its urban life. It has no doubt added value to human systems and eco-regional ecology.

5. For Inter-group Tournament’s I offer Murcia, Spain. This city applies navigational dashboards that monitor vital signs of wellbeing across all city systems. How?  It integrates KSF’s across city initiatives and objectives with multiple stakeholders. These measures include everything from reduction of energy consumption to school use of photo-voltaics to citizen awareness, especially immigrants, women, seniors and students.

The competition of the Globe Sustainable City Award is a global Intergroup Tournament that challenges cities to show us how to evolve innovation eco-systems. These cities (and 30 more like them in 2010) have challenged the organizations and leaders in this room – the brightest and most advanced leaders on this planet – to do the same.

What these Integral Cities are proving, is that we can not only capitalize on the innovation eco-systems they are nurturing, but we can become part of a multi-stakeholder meshworking brain-trust . We can get together with the government, organization and student leaders in each and every city where we live, play and work. Together we can create the life conditions for innovation that will become a legacy to future generations like none other ever before. When we co-create habitats for innovation eco-systems in our Human Hives we will very quickly discover that:
• secure supply chains emerge in around Integral Cities
• risk is mitigated through shared values and proximate peers
• we will retain and attract high-performers
• we will create opportunities for sustainable energy efficiencies as we learn how to competitively recycle energy and effort in our eco-region;
• we can redefine value-added profitability not just for our organizations, but for the city, its eco-region and I daresay Gaia herself;
• our actions will inevitably enhance our brand reputations.

When multiple stakeholders act together, we create innovation ecosystems that become self-fulfilling – where we naturally align strategies for leaders, organizations and governments to transform entire cities into living, exceptional, human hives of resilience.

And we are all amazingly well positioned to live the Master Principle I propose in Integral City for the Human Hive: On the highest level that we are able as Gaia’s Reflective Organs, to create a legacy like no other organizations , governments and students have ever been able to do before in history:
To take care of ourselves, To take care of each other, and To take care of this place.

About the Author:

HI I am the Founder of Integral City Meshworks Inc. and Chief Blogger. Working with cities and eco-regions, I ‘meshwork’ or weave people, purpose, priorities, profits, programs and processes to align contexts, grow capacity and develop strategies for sustainability and resilience in the Integral City. You can read more details about me here http://integralcity.com/about/about-the-founder/

3 Comments

  1. […] « Integral City Intelligences for Sustainable City Class Cities as Innovation EcoSystems […]

  2. celestial elf March 18, 2011 at 9:43 am - Reply

    Great post thank you,
    thought you might like my machinima film about the bees and permaculture
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsVL22dIdKw
    blessed bee!
    elf ~

    • marilynhamilton March 18, 2011 at 4:47 pm - Reply

      Thanks for your Bee Myth – provocative ideas. I value the link to permaculture.
      Meshful blessings
      Marilyn

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