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= Concept and book, by Jean Russell




Thrivability is the Life-intrinsic developmental potential for our self actualizing evolutionary growth. Thrivability as a developmental potential unfolds through an ecosystemic evolutionary learning process. Through this process we develop the future creative capabilities, awareness, and love to enact and embody the actualization of the thrivability potentials within the worlds and systems of which we form part. Embodied, these potentialities become possibilities for further growth and development in a way that is Life generative and creates conditions for each of us, and Life as a whole, to thrive.

~ Anneloes Smitsman, Ph.D.c. (2019). Into the Heart of Systems Change. [1]


Thrivability is a concept that builds on and furthers that of sustainability by embracing and fostering the human capacity to lead a flourishing, joyful, loving life in co-emergence with one’s living environment. As such, it cultivates a sense of awe, of the sacred, of the celebration of life as integral to all processes of development. Dynamics that promote life affirming, future creating and opportunity increasing pathways of human expression in syntony with Earth and all of life can be said to be thrivable.

~ Alexander Laszlo, Ph.D, (2019). Syntony Sense: Evolutionary Intuition for World Changers. [2]


"Thrivability is our path out of unsustainable practices toward a world where all people have a high quality of life, a voice, and a nurturing earth supporting them. Using whole systems approach, it demands that we evolve our way of being together, of collaborating, so that our collective wisdom and action bring forth a flourishing world and thriving life."

3. Jean Russell:

"Thrivability transcends survival modes, sustainability, and resilience. Thrivability embraces flow as the sources of life and joy and meaning, adds to the flow and rides the waves, instead of trying to nullify the effects. Each layer includes and also transcends the previous layer, expanding both interconnections as well as expanding system awareness as each layer hits limits and discovers that more forces are at work than can be explained within their purview. Also, this is not a progression, where you need to move through one before beginning another. You can have aspects of yourself or your organization in multiple places in the chart and movement within the chart can be from any one area to any other. It is not a spectrum of progression. It is a spectrum of viewpoint." (


By Gary Horvitz:

"Does the term thriving actually mean anything? Or is it a merely artificial distinction? As Peter Block has said, all transformation is linguistic. What does the word thrive convey that the word sustainable does not?

I would suggest four principles of Thriving:

1. Thriving is the spiritual dimension of sustainability. What sustainability is to a material economy, thriving is to the spiritual economy. We intuitively know that it is not enough to birth a new world that provides the necessities of life without acknowledging and attending to the spiritual implications for each person in their own lives. To the extent that sustainability is about economics, then thriving is about each of us embodying (living our true nature) that new economy: becoming that new economy expresses not only our love of each other but manifests Love as the primary principle of being alive.

2. Thriving is the fire of spirit and the air of open heart-space.Sustainability evokes the esthetics of earth and water. Thriving is about the inception and integration of a divine fire that infuses all our actions with open-hearted possibility.

3. Thriving is the precarious edge of balance.If sustainability invokes balance, thriving challenges us as chaos challenges predictability, birthing an order where emergent complexity demands continuous innovation. Here, at an evolutionary edge, consciousness speaks nature into being, becoming the locus of adaptation and experimentation, the trial and error of organic vitality.

4. Thriving is the mythic dimension of sustainability, the meta-narrative of possibility. It is a reference to the continuous, spontaneous process of creating, modifying and re-forming the open architecture of diversity; where distributed networks of freely accessible information and self-organizing governance activate the free-flow of resources to meet real needs.

In his book, Sacred Economics, Charles Eisenstein refers to thriving as a human birthright, a natural and inevitable symbiotic expression of a healthy ecosystem. The full implication of a healthy earth is the healthy human being. However, the Separate Self is bringing us to the precipice of annihilation. At the root of the consuming fire enveloping all systems of earth is this myth of separation and the acquisitive drive that springs from it. The drive to accumulate, to “possess” the illusory objects of imagined wealth, drawing unto ourselves all the things that reinforce our personal conception of a unique “self,” is leaving us bereft of humanity and community. Despite the ubiquity of messages that reinforce Separation, its rationale is fracturing and its flaws are becoming ever more apparent." (


Jean Russell

Interview in Worldchanging:

Jon Lebkowsky: Let's start with the definition of thrivability I found at, that it's "our path out of unsustainable practices toward a world where all people have a high quality of life, a voice, and a nurturing earth supporting them. Using whole systems approach, it demands that we evolve our way of being together, of collaborating, so that our collective wisdom and action bring forth a flourishing world and thriving life." What's the origin of this definition, and what led you to start thinking about "thrivability" vs sustainability?

Jean Russell: At a Recent Changes Camp in Portland Oregon in 2006 I had a powerful two-hour conversation with Jair. I have not stayed connected to him, but in that conversation he mentioned the word thrivability. And it took hold of me for several reasons. Jair and I share a connection to Tom Munnecke, and I had been engaged in conversations with Tom on the community. Tom wrote about solution-focus, positive deviance and other ideas that informed my concepts of thrivability. So I chewed and chewed on the idea, starting a blog to track my explorations.

This definition of thrivability evolved from that blog. Because this was so alive for me, I would talk with people about it wherever I went. And so I really feel that the idea is less mine and more the ideas of people who have shared with me. It is also strongly informed by the three years of conversations on I came to the space as a writer focused on philanthropy, but while there I learned about such a wide variety of elements of social benefit work. I let my curiosity lead me, and the great wisdom of many there guide me. So, for me, thrivability is the umbella that holds all of these efforts -- it speaks to the unified whole of our efforts and the world those efforts aspires to.

I have puzzled over the connection between sustainability and thrivability. When I started the thrivability blog, I wondered if it was simply a language shift or if there was something deeper. Thanks to the network of people involved in the conversation, I feel clearer now than I did in '07. If we drew a Venn diagram of the two, there is significant overlap. A lot of the work done under the umbrella of sustainability totally fits the concept of thrivability too. It is less that the actions are significantly different as much as the approach and aspiration is different. The language of sustainability is about neutralizing. Thrivability is about succeeding.

An example can help. If we ask, when building a home, "what isn't sustainable here?" then we get a list of what we could do to make the house sustainable: maybe it says something about the materials we use and how the energy flows. If we are innovative, it also includes water flows and a green roof. If we ask instead, "what would make this home thrivable?" I want thrivable materials and thrivable energy. But I also want thrivable design -- how do the living creatures of the home move through it? And while putting in a green roof, did we make it something that can be a garden? Did we consider the interior lighting of the house -- not only for heating and cooling, but also for seasonal affective disorder? How does the house play together in the ecology of the neighborhood? Who works to build it? Are their lives more thrivable for having created the house? What else is an input/output or otherwise impacted by this house -- and how can that be thrivable? Do you see how the shift from problem-focus to solution-focus includes the strategies employed in addressing the problem but also goes further?

JL: I understand the difference between the two, but it seems to me that you could have a 'thrivability' that isn't sustainable, or that diminishes the sustainability of related or dependent systems. Would it make more sense to talk about "sustainable thrivability"?

JR: I think Arthur Brock points to the answer quite well. He recently wrote:

- 'Thrivability builds on itself. It is a cycle of actions which reinvest energy for future use and stretch resources further. It transcends sustainability by creating an upward spiral of greater possibilities and increasing energy. Each cycle builds the foundation for new things to be accomplished.

Thrivability emerges from the persistent intention to create more value than you consume. When practiced over time this builds a world of ever increasing possibilities.

Thrivability already includes what is meant by sustainability. And it goes beyond it. To say sustainable thrivability in some way limits it, in fact. Think of life forming on Earth -- to sustain single celled organisms is one thing -- to transcend that and create multi-cellular organisms in another. The earth has conspired for life to thrive, creating upward spirals, building resources, and evolving greater complexity.'

It was Arthur who first pointed out to me that the last few hundred years of consuming resources might have been just what the earth required for us to transcend this way and move to the next form of interaction, the next level of complexity." (

Lonny Grafman

Lonny Grafman is the president of the Appropedia Foundation.

Interview by Todd Hoskins:

" I think that sustainability has a common connotation, especially in poor communities, that we are sustaining the status quo. Or at the maximum trying to be zero impact – minimizing our footprint. I see thrivability as engendering a sense that we are trying to go past minimizing our impact, instead aiming for a positive impact. Sustainability is about conserving resources and thrivability is about savoring them.

Todd: How does “savoring” fit into thrivability?

Lonny: Conserving is about limiting the use of our resources because it is the right thing to do. Savoring is about really enjoying the use of our resources, because it is, well, enjoyable. Access to dependable energy, clean water, healthy food, fun and connected transportation, etc… is incredible. We should all be so lucky to have it. And by lucky, I mean work hard to secure it.

Todd: What reasons do you have to be optimistic about our future? Why should we be positive?

Lonny: Every day I am surrounded by people making their world better for themselves and their descendants… striving to be better neighbors and ancestors while enjoying an improved quality of life. So it is easy for me to be optimistic because of the nature of my work. Be what you want - positive, negative or otherwise – but be part of a set of solutions." L


Thrivability as a Critique of Sustainability

By Gary Horvitz:

"I’ve encountered a lot of talk about thriving lately. Everywhere I turn I am hearing that word: movies, meetings, online and personal conversation. It used to be that sustainable was sufficient. That word has now become inadequate. Now we need something more.

Maybe “sustainable” has been used so much it’s missing the clearly principled clarity it once had. With all the machinations of the billion dollar public relations campaigns bent on greening corporate images, we can hardly rest on any laurels for having changed the conversation. We realize that we must again distinguish authentic dialogue from the merely commercially opportunistic.

There is something missing from the conventional use of the term sustainable that does not quite articulate the full flavor of what we imagine is the coming world. The world we truly want is something more like sustainability on steroids; not merely providing basic necessities or doing so without degrading the life support system, but a world in which all people are living at an enhanced level of quality that can only emerge when we live in a generous environment of open possibility.

In the heart of the spreading references to thriving is also the ratcheting up of urgency that we feel in our bones and brains about the coming transition that will be necessary and the obstacles we see in the way. We want passion. We want to be touched by passion, moved by it. We want to feel that passion within our lives as a searing fire that will sustain us and burn through the old as we surf –and birth--the transformation into whatever is to come.

But let’s back up for a moment.

A simple operational definition of sustainability is that living systems are maintained in a way that meets human needs and doesn’t borrow or, shall we say, steal from the future to do that. Without even checking any “official” definition, I would say, simplistically perhaps, that sustainability is a condition that uses no more resources than can be fully regenerated in the harmonic course of natural process.

This definition would apply regardless of the resource under consideration, material or otherwise. Sustainability is the maintenance of a dynamic equilibrium, a systemic motility embodying a capacity to respond fully to natural forces, to interpret environmental inputs and modify behaviors appropriately to maintain systemic viability. Lots of attributes of sustainability have been devised and articulated. And surely it means different things to different people. There are the more popular, and also misunderstood, but easily explained practical economic attributes such as zero-growth. The dominant human social and economic paradigm of endless growth in a field of limited resources is clearly not sustainable. And, as many believe, humans are on the verge of determining whether we are even capable of interpreting and responding appropriately to clear data that demands we modify our behavior to secure our own future viability.

To be bluntly specific, three features of the current paradigm(capitalism, patriarchy and empire) are unsustainable. The extractive industrial growth imperative that regards the earth as both a limitless storehouse of resources as well as a waste dump; the dominance of the masculine principle in our social design, economic modeling, learning communities and political discourse; and the economic and political game of dominance driven by scarcity and fear, have already conspired to bring many species to extinction and are now conspiring to bring the human species itself to a critical decision point.

Then there are the less widely understood social, political, and spiritual implications of sustainability. Regardless of the domain, however, at its heart, the term sustainable refers to a biological, energetic and social vitality, a structure/process that is perpetually and self-consciously adaptable enough to address emerging needs, is alive! It is dynamic. It changes easily and continuously.

In fact, the more deeply we dive into the philosophical core of the word, the more we realize that a critical principle determining our human aliveness, individually and collectively, is whether we can overcome the myth of separation that lies at the heart of our current economic structure. How do live as fully connected beings? And what kind of an economy grows out of living the true nature of our connection to each other and the earth?

Many are addressing this question now and have articulated behaviors that together unleash a living transformational process. We are on the cusp of creating an evolutionary culture in which we arrive at a new clarity about how ego—in the form of the money–based economy-- operates to keep us separate from each other, feeding intra-personal dysfunction (our bottomless desire for “more”), inter-personal dysfunction (“more for you is less for me”) and social and economic dysfunction (acting out of fear and scarcity to destroy the Commons of the earth).

Yet also, the term sustainable has been appropriated, co-opted, modified, turned inside-out, contorted to within an inch of its life by the very forces in the culture that have brought us to this precipice. Shell Oil promotes itself as a “leader in green technologies.” (

More Information

  • is a solution-focused, collective space for learning, connecting, and evolving thrivable awareness and possibility.

The Book

* Book: Thrivability. Breaking Through to a World that Works. By Jean M. Russell. Triarchy Press, 2013




Jean Russell's inspiring and visionary new book begins:

"Something about thriving speaks to our inner sense of harmony, abundance, greatness, generativity, aliveness, vitality, well being, and right-placement. What would our lives and the sum of our society be like if we said they were thriving? I want that. Intensely. Coming across this word was like finding the name of my homeland. The one name that captures all the things I want for myself, my family, my community, the organizations I work with, and the world as a whole."

The book sets out to challenge the ‘breakdown thinking’ [conThink] that focuses only on defensive reactions to the economic, social, political, and environmental crises and catastrophes we face.

In its place she proposes ‘breakthrough thinking’ [altThink]: an approach that recognizes the gritty reality but enables us to envision and co-create a world of wellbeing and health.

Part I - Perceiving - looks at the stories we tell about our world and our limited ways of perceiving it. It shows how we can look at the bigger picture, recognise our blinkers/blinders and introduces the key ideas of systems and complexity thinking in this area.

Part II - Understanding - outlines new tools for understanding ourselves and the social and data revolutions we are part of. It looks in particular at behavioural economics, human irrationality, leadership, organisational and social structures and data metrics.

Part III - Doing - sets out ways we can take action together to create the world of the possible, a thriving world, a world that works. This section focuses on creativity, game dynamics (how to gamify the tasks we need to accomplish as individuals and as a society) and the Action Spectrum - a way of understanding how we can most effectively make interventions in any situation.

The book is peppered with references, practical questions and exercises to bring thriving to your organization and way of life." (


Jean Russell:

Something about thriving speaks to our inner sense of harmony, abundance, greatness, generativity, aliveness, vitality, wellbeing, and rightplacement.

What would our lives and our society be like if we were able to say they were thriving? I want to be able to say that we are thriving.

Intensely. Coming across this word was like finding the name of my homeland. The word captures all the things I want for myself, my family, my community, the organizations I work with, and the world as a whole.

People often ask me to define thrivability. Beyond defining it as ‘the ability to thrive,’ I struggle, as the word captures and conveys so much.

Each definition seems an oversimplification. But here, in this book, I have attempted to distill the 20 years of exploration and passionate curiosity that led me first to see and then champion the idea and the reality of thrivability.

Along the way, I shall describe many, major and converging shifts in many different fields – shifts that combine to make a thriving world a practical possibility. Taken together, these shifts weave a larger story of our passage from one era to another – an evolutionary phase change that we are in the midst of.

‘Thrive’ is rooted in the word ‘thrift’ but loosens it, letting go of the tightness and withholding, keeping prudence, and bursting forth with added abundance and generosity. It is that shift from the austere world of thrift to one of thriving that I am going to explore in this book.

Thrivability is not static. It is dynamic and in motion.

From the conclusion

We need to be all those things, because there are massive challenges at hand. All around us there are signs of crisis, collapse, and breakdown.

And at the same time we are also seeing significant and far reaching breakthroughs. We are learning more about who we are and how our minds work which, in turn, enables us to develop better systems better suited to our needs and capabilities. Yes, we are irrational and we can be greedy. We are also wired to be altruistic, our brains are rewarded for caring, sharing, and helping. We have many forms of intelligence and plasticity in our neural pathways. We can and do learn and evolve.

We are also coming together into a social evolution far beyond any social evolution we have experienced in human history. While we are not in control of that evolution, we are consciously and deliberately contributing to it as we develop new technologies, new social systems, new ways of working together, more effective group processes, and more effective collaborations. We have developed leaderless networks – and are beginning to generate self-awareness within these network organisms. Our businesses are learning how to interoperate as they enter the Social Era (the right antidote to the downsizing they are condemned to as they pass their peak rates of growth). What better way to maintain a sizeable footprint in the world than by including what is outside the organization in what the organization does?

We have developed better ways of seeing ourselves through data collection, formatting, and visualization. It improves our efficiency and makes us smarter about what actions to take as individuals and as collectives.

We can also increasingly act on the values we hold as we can see more clearly what aligns with them. We can see more of what works and we can do more of it.

While these are significant breakthroughs, the world seems to be changing faster than ever. And with more things and information and people being connected, the unpredictability of the complex, adaptive and sometimes even chaotic systems that we are a part of still has us confused and anxious.

To navigate all this uncertainty with agility, we need to know what kind of system we are working within so we can select suitable actions and know what to expect from them.

We also need to continue improving our ability to be creative and to innovate. We can’t control creativity, but we can create the conditions where creativity can show up. Humans don’t perform creativity the way they perform mechanical tasks. We need different incentive systems for these different types of tasks. So game design, applying insights from neuroscience and behavioral economics, can motivate people (you and me) to move in desirable directions together.

Still, there is this huge challenge of uncertainty. Even with small iterations, bold moves, and collective intelligence, the challenges we face are monstrous.

I believe the only way we will make it through these changes is by believing that we will. As Jessica Hagy puts it: “If we don’t know that greatness is possible, we won’t bother attempting it.”

I hope this book has helped you see that greatness might be possible for us. Significant work is being done – and much has been done already – that provides the crucial breakthroughs for a world that works differently than it has in the past. A world that works better because we all participate in it.

I dare myself every day to help co-create a thrivable world. I dare you to join me. Dare greatly. Dare to create, innovate, and change. Dare to create more than we consume, because generating value thrills us. Dare to live into a vision of a world that works for you, your loved ones, your community, your organization, and our society. I dare you."