The need for transformative ideas and experimentation
Science progresses in two fundamental ways. The vast majority of scientific understanding advances incrementally, with new projects building upon the results of previous studies or testing long-standing hypotheses and theories. This progress is evolutionary and extends the life of existing paradigms. The vast majority of research unfolds in this way. Less frequently, dramatic advances can be made through the application of radically different approaches, the positing of new paradigms and ways of thinking. This is revolutionary because it transforms science by overthrowing existing paradigms and paving the way for new and radically different thinking.
Truly revolutionary ideas need nurturing, especially at the early stages. Ground-breaking discoveries are possible. But this kind of transformative thinking is often perceived as high risk and is usually not supported by established systems, institutions and processes, which have the most to lose from the disruption caused by this new transformative thinking.
New and transformative practices, like regeneration, do not sit comfortably within the scope of existing projects, and traditional ways that Terms of Reference and Requests for Proposals are written. They are also stymied within procurement processes where new ideas and transformative approaches are hard to evaluate using existing evaluation criteria. More often than not, proposals with great ideas are thrown out because they don’t conform to old ways of thinking!
In sum, potentially transformative ideas that are not given the opportunity to mature, are proposals that remain unsubmitted, and, ultimately, become missed opportunities.
What are the transformative ideas?
So what are transformative ideas and why are they valuable? Transformative ideas help us move from old paradigms and help us get unstuck. They help us see beyond our blind spots and allow us to imagine a different reality that is not tied to a linear progression of the present.
Dietz and Rogers (2012) found that transformative ideas can be defined or identified by one or more (probably more) of the following characteristics:
Driven by ideas, random discoveries and practice
Disruptive to existing theories or perspectives
Result in radical changes in our understanding of existing concepts
Leads to the creation of a new paradigm or way of seeing
Can redefine the boundaries of what we think we know/don't know
Can be approached from different pathways
Can lead to new techniques or methodologies
Does not fit comfortably into existing funding mechanisms
Is not necessarily a step-by-step linear process
Does not fare well when reviewed by parties invested in the status quo
Initially difficult to interpret
Difficult to recognise its value at the time of creation
Perceived as risky
Often cross-cutting and interdisciplinary
You know it when you see it ( Dietz and Rogers 2012: 24)
Why are we stuck in the status quo?
The call for new thinking and transformation gets stuck in an old worldview where social and economic motives collide. Transformative ideas, those that demand we shift to a new way of thinking and a paradigm shift are considered too risky for the maintenance of the status quo. There are layers of systems, processes and interests that keep the system from risk-taking, even when it means that the health and well-being of our communities and the planet are at risk. Just think about how tourism industrial policy, the distribution or roles and responsibilities, flows of funding, technical tools like destination management plans and strategic management processes together create layer upon layer of "stuff" that locks us into old thinking.
Moreover, it's self-reinforcing. Organisations, through their hiring processes, also tend to appoint people that ‘fit’ into the culture, and over time there is a homogenisation of the workforce.
Thank heavens for the 'diverse ones'
But there is hope. Not everyone thinks the same, has the same risk profile or works towards the same goals. Research suggests that only 10% to 20% of the population is neurodiverse. Engaging alternative thinkers and doers has been proven to be beneficial to organisations wishing to innovate, transform, and transition. Diverse thinkers and do-ers have been shown to bring the following benefits:
Ability to know where they flourish
Ability to think hard, change fast
Diverse thinking and problem solving
Absorbing diverse, disparate and contradictory information
Ability to innovate and think outside the box
Passion for social justice and equity
Challenging old habits
Bringing a sense of purpose
Questioning how things are done
High levels of imagination
Ability to draw connections and think in complexity
Understand multiple perspectives.
Research has shown that these very behaviours run counter to common notions of what makes a good employee, and as a result, neurodiverse people are systematically screened out. Given these challenges, it is not surprising that alternative thinkers and doers are often found in entrepreneurial and activist roles, at the edge, or working alone. Being an outsider allows the individual to see broader systems, connections and opportunities for change.
In a nutshell, diverse thinkers have an important role in paradigm change. This is because diverse thinkers often have the ability to adopt cultural and organisational distance. This outsider perspective allows them to see the effects on the broader systems. Research also suggests that diverse lived experience and educational pathways, personal characteristics, and the ability to tap into integrated intelligence is also associated with diverse thinking styles, This means that there is a rich body of untapped thinking and transformational ideas at the edge that are often systematically excluded.
Most managers and policymakers acknowledge that innovation is good, but the disruption that may go along with innovation is risky and often something to be feared. The challenge then is how to access this incredible pool of energy, talent and understanding in the context of incumbents' established roles in maintaining the status quo. Often it is easier to do nothing, to look away, or to kick the can of risk down the road a little further...
But the future requires us to step up and be courageous...
What is transformative innovation in tourism?
Activating a regenerative approach in tourism requires a mindset shift. Our discussion above lays out the reasons why it is so difficult to give this shift the oxygen it needs. It requires transformative ideas and practices and a new vision that may appear quite radical to a broad range of stakeholders.
This suggests that a mission to activate regenerative approaches to tourism requires diverse knowledge and communities beyond traditional research communities, traditional institutions and organisations. Consultants and businesses that are focused on evolving their off-the-shelf solutions or growing their existing business models are often highly invested in maintaining the status quo.
The transformative journey ahead towards regeneration relies on different kinds of knowledge, ways of being, and acting. It is about thinking and doing in practice. It is based on a vision of change and a mission and a plausible path to get there. It might be a radical path to some, but for the diverse thinkers, the outsiders, and those at the edge, it makes good common sense and there is a plausible, emergent pathway ahead. Due to the very nature of those with diverse thinking and doing styles, these people are key to shifting the dial.
Transformative innovation means that the ideas will have implications at different levels - at the systems level, at the organisational level, and at the individual level. We must be able to believe that institutions and managerial cultures can actually see that change is required, can see the positive value that can be generated (beyond an economic perspective), and take the necessary steps towards that vision of radical regenerative change.
So do we need a community of practice?
By now it's clear that the research shows the alternative thinkers, the doers, the ones that are interested in truly driving the regenerative change, are the outliers in a complex system that is geared toward reinforcing itself. These alternative thinkers are diverse in every respect, and they probably would not want to be anywhere else but at the creative, innovative edge!
In The Tourism Colab, we have become increasingly aware of just how exhausted these heroes are. Those working to transform and activate a regenerative living systems mindset are often working alone, in workplaces that are not aligned with their inner purpose, or where they are unable to leverage their inner wisdom. These environments can be deeply de-energising. They often see a pathway and are prepared to live with the risks of experimenting with new models and approaches. Yet they often find themselves in a constant state of fighting off inappropriate projects from the top; projects that are inconsistent with the authentic value proposition of local businesses, community aspirations, and ecological values.
In many cases, they are also precariat workers, volunteering their time and energies because there is no opportunity to do what they do, deliver an impact and make the contribution they wish to make, and participate in the formal economy.
It won't surprise too many of you that the majority of these change-makers and doers are older women, retired people, or young people who care deeply about climate change, and their local communities. Many are living in regional, rural and remote communities. They see regenerative travel as an important opportunity for a resilient local economy but feel uninspired by the current solutions and practices. These existing solutions run counter to their inner wisdom and lived experience. At the same time, they can imagine and see the steps to creating a new way, if only they were supported and their efforts nourished.
That got us thinking. Why not create communities of practice for all those who seek to connect, share ideas, ask questions, and be supported in their change-making journey? A place where personal development, (post)professional growth, and connection can flourish together.
If you want to go fast, go alone. If your want to go far, go together."
Our call to action
A community of practice is a shared space. It's a welcoming place where a group with common interests can come together, share their experiences, and feel supported. It's a place to learn, network, reflect and innovate together. We are particularly interested in welcoming those from regional, remote, and out-of-the-way places, the edge walkers, the creative thinkers, the place-makers, the experimentalists, and those that nurture and care for our communities and see alternative pathways. You can sign up and be notified of our launch later this month.
Finally, email us if you would like to explore how you or your organisation can support our communities of practice initiative. As a social enterprise, we are dedicated to delivering education, change-making journeys, and supporting local communities and businesses in their regenerative efforts. We do this by pledging our time, providing our expertise, volunteering and mentoring. Your support would help us expand these efforts towards a regenerative future.
Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it's the only thing that ever has.