Publishing a book in a year

Publishing a book in a year: November

Hi, my name is James and I am a regenerative practitioner.

You may think this is an odd way to start the 11th blog post on writing a book on regenerative design, and you would be right. But this statement marks a watershed moment for me personally.

Back in May I wrote a post about how writing a book on regenerative design was like writing a book on riding a bike, where I can’t currently ride a bike because I felt like I was sharing my own journey into the subject. The idea was simple – I am not a regenerative practitioner, yet, but this is what I have learnt. These are the experiments I have tried. I even included the same thought at the very start of the first draft of my book that I am writing with Oli. The opening page of the book includes a picture of me lying on the ground, wrapped around a bike.

James falling off Oliver’s bike, with requires improvement written in large print across the bottom.

So what caused this change?

Well I think there are three major moments that have led to this change of heart.

The first is receiving comments from multiple people on the first draft. They made it very clearer that we know more about the subject we are writing about than we say. That the “we are learning with you” narrative, far from being helpful, undermines some of the content, which is true. But this alone wasn’t enough.

The second event was my inaugural lecture, which I gave back in October. This gave me a chance to reflect on the first 44 years of life (more than half of which have involved being an engineer).

The final moment was reading the recent book Material Reform: Building for a Post-Carbon Future by Material Cultures. As this book reflected on the use of materials, namely Timber, Earth, Stone and Straw it made me realise that these are the very same materials I have been designing with, and more importantly teaching others to design with, for over a decade. Just last week an ex-student reached out asking for the rammed earth notes I produced. She is working on design guidance for her company, the same company that I worked at 12 years ago, and where I started to draw together the notes. A lovely moment of things coming full circle.

Material Reform: Building for a Post-Carbon Future by Material Cultures front cover.

So I realised, on reflection, that I have been operating in a regenerative way for a while now.

But I also wondered, how did this happen? How is it that having initially thought of myself as a novice, a non-bike rider as it were, that suddenly I discover myself not just able to ride, but an expert. It seems odd to me. I guess two things were at work.

The first is the old impostor syndrome. It is much easier to put yourself in the novice saddle than the expert one. As a novice, mistakes can be excused, and you can take people with you on the journey. As an expert, mistakes undermine your expertise, and it is harder to bring people with you, especially if you make mistakes (which I am sure we will).

The second, I think, relates to the idea of communities of practice. Regenerative design, like all schools of thought, has a set language, a set of behaviours, a code (woe betide mis-use of the word regenerative for example). It is only recently I have joined this community. I have previously been working outside of this community, using the same tools and approaches (with others) but with different language (especially language). My learning has been informal, practice driven and reflective, rather than from accessing others knowledge. I suspect many of us, as we discover the topic (whether through Oli and my book or someone else’s) will come to the same realisation. That they are already doing this.

So I am now embracing my regenerative practitioner label. It will change the tone of the book. I will present it not as a novice, finding my way, but as an expert, giving a route to others. I hope it will make the book better, less apologetic, more achievable (often I currently say “this is hard” or “we don’t know what this looks like”, phrases that can scare others off) and ultimately we hope it will lead to change in the way structural engineers approach their designs.

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