The Idea Gatherer: A Forager Mindset

If you constantly plant the same seeds every year…why would you ever expect a different crop to grow?

For much of our history, we’ve tended to live more of a nomadic, forager existence as people.  What we might now refer to as hunter-gatherers.  We existed in a constant search for plants and animals that would support and sustain our day to day survival.  Or, as The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunter-Gatherers says: “Hunting and gathering was humanity’s first and most successful adaptation, occupying at least ninety-percent of human history.  Until 12,000 years ago, all humans lived this way.”

That is, until we began to create a more agricultural society.  One that allowed us to exist on the crops we grew and the animals we domesticated.  A society that broke down the need for that day to day nomadic, forager existence.  A way of living that allowed us to settle down…ultimately growing villages, towns, and cities.  A much more stable and comfortable way of life.

And while each way of life has a multitude of positives, drawbacks, and hardships.  There are a few reflections from these two ways of living and existing that we can overlay onto the thinking and mindsets that exist in our current institutions and organizations.  Let’s look at a few of those;

  • Hunter and Gatherer Thinking – hunter and gatherer societies were seldom settled.  It required a nomadic existence and a constant search for subsistence if people were to survive.  That way of thinking can serve us well in current organizations and institutions.  We have a tendency to get settled, comfortable, especially as our organizations grow and expand.  When we have to remember that it is necessary for today’s organizations and institutions to be on a constant search for new ways of thinking, new ideas, as well as new ways of being and doing.  Especially, f we are to survive, grow and flourish as organizations and institutions.  If we are ever to become true learning organizations.  This search should serve as an important part of our existence…it should be stamped into our DNA.
  • Agricultural Thinking – too often we can become comfortable and settled in our organizations and institutions…with our thinking, our ideas, and our ways of doing things.  Too often, “that is how we do things around here” creeps in and becomes our mantra.  When that occurs, we begin to plant the same seeds and harvest the same crops year after year.  We tend to become stagnant and stale.  Eventually becoming more and more settled, relying on the same resources year after year.  When that thinking settles in and takes over, we no longer see the need to go out and search for new resources, new ideas, new ways of thinking, doing and being.
  • Forager Mindset – today’s organizations and institutions need to take on a ‘forager mindset’.  A constant search for those new ideas and new ways of thinking that keep our organizations and institutions growing and flourishing.  Which is not to say that we have to abandon ‘agricultural thinking’, but it does require us to search out new seeds, to invest in new crops, and to add new resources that reinvigorate the subsistence provided to the people within our organizations and institutions.  It requires us to engage in a constant search for these things if we are to improve our level of existence.  A ‘forager mindset’ allows us to be a bit more mobile and a bit more agile as organizations and institutions.

The ‘forager mindset’ requires us to be less comfortable, and a bit more unsettled.  It asks us to be a little less settled in our ways of thinking, being and doing.  The ‘forager mindset’ is about the ongoing search for new ideas and learning…daily.  As opposed to the ‘agricultural thinking’ which tends to be more event focused…looking to harvest that one big resource and staying with that for long periods of time.  Much less of a process, much more of an event.

As you reflect upon where your organization and/or institution resides…begin with the thinking and the mindset.  Especially if your intention is to create a true learning culture.

And you have to ask…are you ‘agricultural’ in focusing on the settled, the comfortable, the one-time big resource?

Or are you ‘gatherers and foragers…constantly searching out new learning, new ideas, and new ways of thinking, doing and being?

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