Carol Sanford returns to explore self-determining pathways to evolving our role in life, work and planetary systems

Tim Collings
24 min readAug 28, 2023

This is a transcript of the conversation with Carol Sanford broadcast on Better World Leaders podcast.

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Tim Collings — Carol Sanford welcome back most warmly to the Better World Leaders podcast.

Carol Sanford — Thanks Tim for having me back, I guess I didn’t misbehave too much the last time.

Tim Collings — Ha ha, no, no, absolutely not. It was a wonderful conversation I was very glad we could share. We’ve had many incredible discussions in Community of course. I have been really joyfully looking forward to this shared dialogue.

So today we’re just going to dive straight into Carol’s currently latest work — No More Gold Stars. There was a previous conversation about what is now the previous book, I think it’s safe to say, Indirect Work. If you haven’t listened to that one, I highly recommend you either go do so right now or do immediately after this. But today we will talk about No More Gold Stars.

So Carol, why do we need to talk about No More Gold Stars?

Carol Sanford — So Tim I’ve been working on this book in my head and in my life for 60 years. I had been a graduate a doctoral student in psychology and so was heavily exposed to and I judged by Behaviourism, as I was in high school and I’d tell both of these stories in the book and how they altered the trajectory of my life. So I wanted to play out the flaws or errors. And the thinking of behaviour and how has been pervasive in disrupting families, education, businesses, military, — everywhere with this false, error ridden idea. The predominant one is that humans have no way in our life. They can’t see themselves. They can’t manage themselves. So what can happen is that they have to be managed and conditioned by others outside of them. The belief of behaviourism is that all life is conditioned. There’s no initiative, no agency, no self-direction. So before I died, which is getting closer, I wanted to make sure this book was out and had the research on.

The history of behaviours got to it what it was as influence education, parenting, running a business altering the detriment of human capacity being able to contribute. So it’s about that and what’s the alternative. What did we throw aside when we took on behaviorism and what would do we need to reengage with and how that would look in our contrast with Behaviorism so that’s why I wrote it.

Tim Collings — Yeah, yeah, and I’m so delighted that you did. It’s not by any means the easiest of material to engage with, not because it’s kind confounding but it’s quite confronting. For somebody who is old enough to have a span of life to reflect on and sort of source from just so many instances of where this has showed up in my life. There were some that compare with the examples that you know you share, particularly around testing and you know the sort of the bucket that you were put in you know, sort of early in life. I too was put in that that bucket. One particularly uncaring teacher, I think I was probably about 9, possibly 10, told my Mum that I needed to go to a special school because I was yeah useless to society and couldn’t do anything merely because I was trying to cut paper with my left hand.

Carol Sanford- Yeah, yeah, that’ do it! You know Tom Peters, who wrote a great testimonial to this book and he wrote ‘In Search of Excellence’ and it’s in one of the top 25 but top 5 books of all time. Tom said this book stood him on his head and made him realize everything he’d been doing was undermining society, and I don’t think it was that bad, but it has had that effect on many people that they’ve adopted rewards for condition feedback. Ah, all the counterep to condition of the people including their children and we’re feeling really disrupted by the history and how we we got to that idea and how you got to. They get though you had nothing to offer. That’s not uncommon. So I’m hoping you’re so young at their time to change that with you and your kids.

Tim Collings — Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Well I’ll definitely take that as a optimistic view on how young I am. Relative yes to you, but I don’t feel it in my body right now having played fütsal last night and rock climbed on the weekend. But anyway, Um, well rock I’m rock climb I’m trying to keep up with a 9 year old who perhaps is not the wisest of attempts. I think I mean there’s a lot in the book, I don’t want to you know, sort of um yeah, attempt to yeah, just sort of explore it. The invitation of course very strongly is for people to engage with the work directly. I think what will be wonderful for us to do is let’s speak to the alternative. What was cast aside what we can now reconnect with, rediscover, reengage to use your word. So, you outline a combination of disciplines and practices. So let’s spend some time as much time as we have together today. Um, exploring wherever our curiosity and energy goes in this regard.

Carol Sanford — Um, let’s start with saying the whole book had kind of overviews about reclaiming our our capability and capacity to think for ourselves. We have been so long that we can’t see ourselves they even when they talk to people about how the companies I’ve worked with, which are will over 100 in many industries, that people have become self-managing without any feedback or without any anybody guiding or managing them because. We have connected them to how they’re all mind work, and how they work and how humans together work and the companies can learn now, and the people in them to think for themselves examine ideas. And how we built on authority ideas experts.

So I have people say to me, but I would have never known him why if somebody hadn’t told me I said neither would have or it’s not true because huge pretending of feedback and outside. Forces based on the idea that you know better than people know for themselves and it’s not true. Ah what people then studies turn out showing this’s what it’s called projection. They usually belongs to the other people and what they are not seeing in themselves, that’s the overall premise and then you said ‘I certainly without think mental discipline’ – if you want to rebuild your capacity to think for yourself that you have to start with. You want to, you want to take one how that make sense.

Alright so the biggest challenge is we have become very self-centered how far our differential in that we’re trying to get other people to tell us about how to and become what Abraham Maslow tried to sell was self-actualising. In other words I need figure out who you are what you can become, how you can accomplish be successful in the world. And be orientated toward your own self-actualising, that in itself has created a a barrier, some sort restraint at least, to being able to see beyond ourselves, and to learn how to see ourselves more. Completely on our own working it all became actualising outside, and so coming back and be able to move from what I call self-actualizing to system-actualizing where you see yourself in a system.

If we constantly look outside of ourselves in a Authority sense. We wait for someone to tell us so we can actualise ourselves. We have a very limited view if on the other hand we learn to read. And connect to a system that I actualize. For example, a community. Each community on our lovely planet planet an essence. And then what it is. What’s you need and to it and that I can learn to be seen by anyone. It’s not a branding of humanity we’re revealing. So if you go to Paris, years ago called the city of light. Because of lovely light fell on the rivers and the sunset and the mountains made it quite radiant. When people learn to see that they could have a connection to something real beyond themselves. And see themselves nest so they’re moving from their cell a life doing something from myself and being able to contribute to a city so it is true for children. Each has an essence and if we raise them to be only self-actualising. They kept their focus there it can’t include a way the system like to see how the world works how they work and so that’s a person thing we have to return to.

Tim Collings — That is, and has been I think, the greatest revelation in my lived experience of seeing that need explicitly. Think it’s something that I’ve always felt and again this is something that was a really clear. You know, sort of thread a for me when I was reflecting on the experience that I had working through the book that I had this just again and again and again this sort of revelation of ‘oh this makes sense and I’ve always felt this way and this is why I’ve riled against things’ or I’ve pushed back on the expert whoever that well-intentioned person in my life might have been that this is in all of us. It is innate and it is this rediscovery process. But when you have a framework that makes it explicit and and kind of gives you the ground and the activation. Then it all becomes so much more, I almost want to say tenable which feels like a completely inadequate term. But it gives you something that you can work from and see all of the conditioning that is making that working from field to begin with unfamiliar and uncomfortable because we’re all swimming in the same water.

Carol Sanford — Ah, ah, it’s true. We are not, we don’t have systems which teaches how we build in a nested whole which is another idea that one of those 6 principles is. Learn to think our life is filled with value adding processes. No value added, because as extractive, by putting some get somebody back, but part of shifting the focus to the system actualising is a learning to start. With the way, Indigenous people I grew up with, my Mohawk grandfather, and he was always taking me walking along trails and rivers and creeks. We didn’t have mountain much, canyons yes, and what he would do is point out. Ah. How things were working how rivers worked with banks with animals. And with farms biology, how the hydrological syndome work with the deological and the biological and learning. To start with that whole and see how every aspect of it was adding something to the working of the whole. But in our education system, we tend to follow the idea of fragmentation.

People say if it’s too complicated to break it down towards parts, like a frog could it pin it to a board, put labels on his legs and hind legs and head and we no longer can see a hole and when in school everything we’re taught is by dividing subjects, unless you went to a special school and then you learned that quantum way of thinking went that if you move 1 thing something else. Not directly can you move and. There was a one hundred twenty years ago that Einstein another were helping his heart to start to see this point of view and Indigenous view where we didn’t have parts of pieces and we added them together. We had wholes that were at work and evaluating process.

Let me you the example how that plays out in real life. I made sure my kids went to a school where they had value creating process as a way of learning. They had gardens which served a restaurant in the city, and the restaurants gave money and donated to the schools, but kids learned to see how plants grow and not just a garden but the field in a kind of a permaculture view of how things worked, and when they learned that they were a part of their valueending process even be young. Ah they were likely to build chicken coops. Ah.

And raise handnibals and understand how the entire life of themselves and the animal was a part of that hole that they were in and it was how they learned math and science in history and construction. Ah. And working with the city it permits so we don’t tend to to use education in a war. We shouldn learn to see a hole or learn to see the value writinging process. So that’s a part of that system axiizing then the kids could see i. All the way through to school. They could see ah they were helping assist actually not them get it getting get a’s there were no grade but all of these kids went to prominent colleges and have done well in life. So. That’s the second principle of no more ghost right.

Tim Collings — Yeah I think um, this is this is one of the most powerful conditioning elements that we’re now. Yeah, having to work. Yeah, ah well I do feel like there’s a bit of oppositional effort here working against but ah. Yeah I see this just all the time just over and over and over again. Yeah in in you know the retail experience. Yeah, you go to a supermarket and everything is chopped down into go there for your bread. Go there for your milk. You know you see it in the business world where you’ve got teams within functions within business units. Doing very separate things and then you’re having to work so hard to bring the relatedness back to how they’re contributing to the end customer. Um, yeah, the separatedness of everything has become incredibly pervasive. Um, yeah.

Carol Sanford — Um, yeah, ah, there’s a guy named tpitba who ah was from one of band tonight colleague and he said the biggest mistakeque we’ve made is teaching fragment of which of you. Ah. Where people can’t see you live and ah ah so ah, let me give the third this one which is related to what we’re talking about now. Ah we only need ourselves from being to becoming so most kids are raised. As adultery we pursue a successful happy life and we get to a certain place and we’re condemn that a bitch static I call that a being a life ah where the life we have is all oriented around. Any skills for our own satisfaction and getting a reward for our own effort and so we’re again the self actualizing side. But now we’re looking at how we see us it being ah the ah.

Was this oneign suggestion here as we reclaim the idea of booking on becoming who we are becoming always in the boat of we aren’t there yet and our becoming is about our place in the world and our universal contribution. Or our contribution gives me ah and so we are willing from being pretty static or satisfied Young. We see life as attainment or a success point a platform recognition Fame fortune. And you may not even become a selfish completely world where it’s all based on ah getting to a certain state in our life and everything we do is to achieve that. Um and then of course sometimes we wonder? Well what was all that for our. We can to overcome a becoming view of life where we are becoming more of who our instance is more of what’s possible helping the World. We live in achieve its potential my grandfather used to say as we walk through. Lower woods and into creeks and we took care a lot of pigs and other Animals. He would say what’s our work to do towar all this and he would focus on the outer of course but on the inner and how do you have to change.

Young 1 patting me on the head. Ah, how do you think you need to grow to become what you are called to do what you needed from humans here and so that whole idea going toward becoming a part of a life and living system. Is a very different way than being educated which my father was doing the work on the beach side. You got to make a money man would give power. Ah, he never talked about fame. But this idea.

Ah, we have to the discipline or not to the being of attainment and fix nature but to what we can become based on who we are yeah but what they who you are what difference. Ah, you can make polish for.

Tim Collings — Yeah, this one was really uplifting and alivening. Um, when I was reading this and I think this this this point is the main springboard for me the op that the reflection that I um offered um. For the book around um that this book is an invitation I’m trying to remember exactly what I said this book is an invitation for those who care deeply about their role in the world to evolve and but not sure now if it’s evolving or.

Or go you know going back. But it’s to yeah to really from our own essence you know to use I’m going to say our word because I’m becoming more familiar with its um, meaning um from our own essence to to reconnect to the role of our species on this planet. Um, and this is why this this book is something I will be exact reexamining for a really really really long time.

Carol Sanford — Well and these first 3 disciplines that system actuallyizing becoming and starting from a whole ah evaluating process to all ah device are in Ray Discovery about how we relate in the world. The second 3 are about how we learn to retain relate to ourselves differently ah than we both who being conditioned and of course behaviorism was abuse. Self is producing process. Ah is it oriented as sort ourselves and not the next system we live in. Ah so let’s look a little with a second set. Ah 3 disciplines. Um. Ah, the first thing and I’m looking itself is to redefine what I call performance because um performance has always been in the world I grew up in about being on today doing something getting flame. Ah, and ah defining your performance based on the number of Alal age or some kind of ah development of rewardism for yourself. Ah what we work on.

I think when we get past the behaviors we is. We started looking at how did the people we’re serving perform and so we quit lookinging at our own performance and this is related to people inside company learning to. Ah, commit to something big for their customer their consumer earth and so all the measures become me measuring the difference that my client my business ah serving others can be and. So you move thatstream of where you measure in walberggger measure your own output and return where you measure are there’s a way to do that. We start with going downstream so in Dupont we measured. Not how well the airbag string was how strong it was but how will it perform in the making of an ear bag and the life of people who in the car and needed to be safe and so shifting so we redeffined. For performance in terms of the output and effect of our work is the back insing and that I also call that a move from value extraction to really value adding.

Ah, so that’s the fourth discipline one which is this mind of how well are they doing because of what I provided not how well am I doing.

Tim Collings — Yeah, when I was when I was reflecting on this one. What came up for me with some of my early years in what I considered to actually be 1 of the in it certainly in its. The form in which I experienced it which yes was some time ago but I actually don’t know how much has changed but the recruitment industry right? I consider this to be 1 of the most extractive industries that there is especially of human potential and yeah, like I was like basically reprimanded for. Um, spending too much time with the people that I saw myself as enabling and serving um the candidates not the clients. Um, and. Yeah, these other yeah much more senior much more experienced people were basically very critical of me overinvesting my time in understanding and building relationships with people in order to try to Facilitate. You know their. Development through the means that you have of putting people into to different jobs and not just you know the obvious kind of round peg round hole. Um, and yeah, again, like this was one of those experiences that I reflected on of like this is the application of Behavioralism at an industrial scale in a global industry Just completely reducing people and ignoring essence and and potential and just well you can do that again because that’s an easy way for me to gain a buck by you doing it repeatedly.

Carol Sanford — Yeah, one of the things that most attractive about Behaviorism is the generic competency task so everyone has to achieve the Ta competencies of our company are something and that makes us all alike. And that’s actually our next discipline which is educate to express potential. Ah so in that your case your story. It’s not disade gate but manage and ah support people. Ah. To be able to express their potential and suppose to try make somebody. She said all Square pegs and a round hole. Ah but the way you do that is you don’t work on reinforcing when people are top of their class. Ah. My Grandson was so so embarrassed I treated worked for years with me at Li me ah to be told how I was reading and ranking and on the other hand, my granddaughter was did not want to be in school for. Ah, people judge her because she was being judged by their criteria now by her own in her own essence and our own potential of where she could go and so she told them she then want to see bray in the place and more.

Ah, Grace and they were a bit put off by the she my daughter behind and so they went back to once the entrance of Silvia and banks went back. What’s the essence of backs and or we and we wanted to develop. Our own inner cap and not have others reinforcing us with their steotypes and categories and generic standards. So that’s a pith but also the second internal ah work. Have to do to get with them. Ah the gold star system. We saw them.

Tim Collings — Yeah, yeah, and that again that yeah we have this pervasive competitiveness which is yeah sort of introduced unfortunately really early in life for most people. Um, and again you know you. But certainly in my experience. Yeah, but yeah I never saw the point of this. Yeah, it’s kind of interesting for a little while but um, relatively quickly. It just becomes mundane and um, it’s It’s interesting. How some of yeah life’s. You know, sort of at the time in the moment. Yeah sort of Nillus experiences. Yeah I Think again you you can kind of look at them and go well is that is it different. You know beings in this shared system. Yeah know sort of trying to essentially. Push back against it so I was bullied consistently all the way through school for different reasons but in the latter phase I was bullied because I was a high achiever academically um and it and it was it was bizarre to me because I didn’t I didn’t give a stuff that.

I was a high achiever academically I was just showing up and yeah doing doing what I what well wanted to do quite Frankly, um, but I think yeah it to me, Especially yeah now I have this um you know different capacity to reflect on these experiences. Yeah, these were. Yeah, and I and you know these fellow beings at high school were all in this system where we were being set against each other in this competitive structure. Um with minimal attempt you know for fellowship or kinship or collaboration or any kind of shared Endeavor. Um. And of course what happens is people then start trying to tear each other down in whatever way they can access.

Carol Sanford — Well and now one of the things in short said is categories of higher begin but but poor forwards that which is artificial and based on somebody elses standard ah has nothing to do with the individual if they each engaged. As an essence being with you were lucky that you were working things you wanted to and my kids were a little exemp but it’s important neighborhood to say to them be you or go where you care about you examine what people are doing. Grading by and to become ah really paid attention teacher of each unique essence being including your all. Ah and so the sixth one sixth this one is about by 6 book. Ah it was we call the indirect work and the idea that behaviors did what it said ah is it like pool or barriers to guess it is where you have to decide what kids to know put in the chapter in the book. Set a test and that’s what I believes is because that’s when you’re doing a bigger table you peek of the pocket you won somebody many in you hit theoustic and they are the ball and you try and get them into a pocket.

That’s working directly in the newtonian model where working indirectly. It’s its discipline where you’re building capability inner capability to manage oneself to see one’s out of people to be able to see and build cultures. Our rituals which are growing people and we’ kind developing the capacity for conscious if you work on all that which we do in the companies I worked in for 50 years um you no longer have to tell people do this, you have them serving the outside client or customer making commitments to them to make changes and then growing to people to understand system and themselves and the way things work. And the direct work becomes unnecessary as you’re doing the indirect work of growing people which is why we’d lost in the early nineteen hundreds because that was the same time. The public schools were abandoned and there. They were mandated by great by ah, external reinforcement and punishment. They were managed by standards that someone else had in conditioning and so kids quit learning these disciplines.

That if you grew up on a farm. You probably had to do ah or grew up um in some other country which are where few so let me kind of go back over with the 6 and if you went ah, there’s the inner. Relationship we built ourselves in order to have the discipline to overcome our behavioral condition. We define performance as how ah what we’re servinging performs instead of working on. Ah. Educating people to no subject, educate them to express their essence and their inner potential. Ah and avoid conditioning and stereotyping grading ah and work indoor workfully on their development on the external world. It’s hard thinking about system actualization where then only self- actualizing look in house it I would grandfather said how does this work and what’s your job in it and then begin to think about molife as it not achieving. Becoming ah and finally always starting and work with a whole in a value adding process. So. That’s the 6 ah quick and dirt deal but I should say each of these have 6 practices.

That we ah look at in the book. Ah, and maybe we can look at 1 or 2 of those.

Tim Collings — Yeah I’d love to so the 2 the 2 that are most alive for me would be um, working with holes and working from essence.

Carol Sanford — Okay, ah so we don’t have the book Carson. It’s by the 6 discipline for the practice and we begin to look at how a teacher or a parent engaged with the child using those things but here’s obviously which. When it’s most ah I think maybe we’ll look at the what I call the goal ah which is to build system and intelligence. Ah, and it’s one of your favorite which is to learn to use frameworks. To about consciousness. So let me talk about that one a minute is it something I see in companies all off where they teach models and models are like a model airplane everything and everyone who with it. Is the same bottle we in our school that you know Tim work on dwelling frameworks which are very different than bubbles. There are ways to look at things the uniform question and the questions are different every time and framework is. Like the 6 disciplines I just said make a 6 term scissor and it takes all of them to be whole and so we work with having people learn to reflect so in a a company I work can.

Our companies are part of my communities do a lot of affecting on how much of that weak system. They’re designing reinforcing selfexization and are they really building systems for pay. For reward recognition all those kind of things are they more self-axizing in building their 4 sheet competitive positive or are they really having people learn to see system so we work with the framework. Regularly widget all 3 lines of work where you have me in ah, a family in a community or a worker in a company who’s serving a bucket and customers now when you hold that Framework. It’s very hard to fall back into self-actizinging So The planning the strategy. Ah the we designed all using Framework They evoked that kind of conscious as other six disciplines. We just talked about. So. And I think that teaching evil the difference when the framework does from what I ah is a difference in these stick from what I’m seeing at the left hand side and the right hand side. Ah ah, the Frameworks will be view toward.

The more systemic understanding and the models may be toward repetitive ah kind of genetic ideas. So there’s 1 example of practice. And you’re familiar with that.

Tim Collings — Yeah, and through I mean 3 lines of work I find myself applying very very consistently daily. Ah and it’s I think one of the most beautiful gifts to receive is the capacity to. To be always seeing yourself within whatever you you? then? sort of define as your proximate whole to use some of our language and and then relating to the greater whole as Well. And yes I see this in the family and then in um. Community Whichever ah, part of the community on the particular day. It might be yeah whether it’s me and my son and his soccer team and the soccer club that yeah we get involved with or it’s me and yeah, the um company that I’m now a part of ah and the greater food system that. The company is serving and there’s so many connotations and it’s it’s a framework that I find lands generally yeah, sort of reasonably quickly with people with sufficient sort of Relatedness. You know if they’re if they if they’re. Able to see them and this is why I really enjoy working the food system because we all eat. Yeah it in and we’re all eaten. Yeah yeah.

Carol Sanford — Right? And and we are all eaten. That’s the other half people. Forget we all eaten and so you know we’re doing a summit on November Fourteenth this year on fooding or to earth how it works and. Ah, part of what we’re talking about is how to rethink the fooding system. So I love to touch what you’re doing. Let me give ah 1 more Ah ah before I ran a breath I getting a pretty close from my in here. Um.

Tim collings — Yeah, yeah, yeah, it will be there. Yes, please.

Carol Sanford — We believe in something very different than training or teaching. Ah what other people think are experts primarily and so one of the practices we talk about the book on the bill people the ability to learn from and trust. Their own lived Expanse. So when now we’re offering ideas in our school. Ah, we don’t say here’s the truth. Ah here, go let Prat Do you get it right? we say is an example? Oh sorry. Is any exercise to go do to experiences and play with how it works in your life and learn to reflect and use your own lived experience your own judgment learning impact of how something works from. Doing it in community um learning to rhythm reflect and so overcoming the need to trust others I mean that’s that don’t get a good idea when we work very hard on people not adopting others thinking. Instead examining their own experience in a practice on learning how you can tell what are false ideas. What are aogant thinking when they’re passed over by Authoritarian Experts on New usually. And not examine the book before they’re adopted So one of the things That’s really important overcoming behavior is teaching people to trust their own lived experience and not adopt others I other it is unexamined.

Tim Collings — Yeah, yeah, absolutely and yeah, just to speak for a moment to the very intentional design of the book itself which like inner work. Yeah, it is a process to enable that examination to occur you come out pretty strong, pretty early and say don’t trust this until you’ve tried it and and you experienced it in your own life. Um, which of course is. Significantly different to the many other books that one might choose to pick up which will just say do this because empiricism research I know whatever version of that It is So yeah, it is yeah.

Carol Sanford — And we call those inner beds. So between every chapter is a work It’s only a half a page so but it can take you da if you want everything begin and it ask you you to reflect on how you’re taking it the book. Not what you’d learned. Not I was your notes say but what’s happening to you as you listen? are you adopting I tell students when I teach in university setting. Don’t trust me, don’t ever accept anything I say to you without examining it. And then I do the best thank can to teach them how you can go bying one’s idea and so this book is a practicity what preach the book is about a epistemology how we’ learn how we change and you’re us to. Work in a different way when you read and you see a very profound experience for people if you want to go a look on my website at you’ll see all the reaction. My breers had to Facebook book and most. Ah, pretty disrupting including 1 bond that comes out of a ni date for the community is in this was more like and the way you grow up than what it’s been like to be in the western white man’s review because it really is seeking. To think for yourself.

Tim Collings — Yeah, and that I feel is a really nice place for us to have our own resting for the moment. Um, it has been ah, a profound experience as it always is ah being together with you. It was a profound experience for me. Um, engaging with the book and I have I have begun my reexamination of my self again. Um in rereading it already. So Yeah I’ll say more um in a moment. Ah, for the audience’s benefit about where to go and engage with it. How to get involved I will include a link to the fooding summit which yes, I’ll definitely be attending with our team and the many many ways that people can come and embrace the journey and the work with you. So.

Carol Sanford — Thank you Tim, I love doing this with you always.

Tim Collings — Thank you Carol be well.



Tim Collings

Tim writes about his explorations of living systems in life and work as Founder of 4i & host of the Better World Leaders podcast.