Two Loops

A phrase in music begins in an upbeat that turns into a downbeat and then there is a pause and the next phrase begins in a downbeat that turns into an upbeat.                                                               Miha Pogacnik

More than a decade ago, at an Arts and Business gathering hosted by Pioneers of Change and The Berkana Institute and the new Art of Hosting Network, Miha drew two curves or loops as he said these words. And “Two Loops” was born with the realization that this isn’t just music — this is how life works as well. ” Two Loops” has traveled the world since then, used by many people in many different ways.  It’s been presented and archived on YouTube, it has been used as context for many generative conversations.

There’s a normal curve that life follows. Things get better and better, there are some bumps along the way, they peak, they fall apart. Sometimes it’s a long curve, sometimes a short one. Nothing lasts forever. Conditions change.

Many see the first loop being a description of the movement of our current paradigm. Back at the beginning of the 1990s, many thought we just needed to keep on doing what we were doing and everything would get better. Over the past two decades, however, we have begun to see the decline of many of the systems built on the idea of infinite growth. When the bubble burst back in the mid-nineties, it was just a temporary setback. Surely we could get back on track. But as the new century was born, more people started wondering if economic prosperity really was the key to happiness.

First LoopThere began to be a sense of things falling apart and not working: pressures caused by an aging population, many of whom no longer lived with extended families; cracks showing in the public school system; economic stagnation; more and more pressures on the health care system; a general sense of malaise. Many people thought we should follow the red arrow – push to get back to the old normal. Not everyone thought that was right, however. In many circles, language like old paradigm and new paradigm started to be used.

Over time with successive economic crashes, natural disasters disasters, and systems collapse, the green arrow became more visible. What if our work is to stabilize existing systems, and let the parts of them that no longer serve us fall away? What it we’re not trying to return to the old normal, but trying to create a new one? What if we were beginning to let go of the old paradigm and creating a new age?

People started stepping off the line of the old paradigm. They were starting new things in many colors, leaving cities for rural areas, starting schools that operated with different principles and values, experimenting with alternative energy, and local food systems:

People Start New Things

Most of what they were stepping into was chaotic and complex. There were no rules or guidebooks. They had to start. They had to do what they could see and learn as fast as they could. For a time, everyone was working separately. But over time, people began to connect with each other. They began to form networks.

These initial networks were important. People just started sharing with each other. They worked in many different colors or themes, and they had a lot to share. Often it was just talking with each other about what they were doing and about the changes that were happening inside of themselves. This kind of initial connection is essential. It helps us remember that we are not alone.

People started seeing more and more, however, that networking alone isn’t enough. But what else is needed? The people who are working on the same themes started to reach out to each other, connecting within communities and between communities, the beginning stages of forming communities of practice. The idea of communities of practice has been around for several decades. People engaged with the same issues or themes begin to connect with each other to share experience and create new learning.

Connections become more refined. People start to seek out those engaged in similar work. Learning starts to deepen. Local change begins to open the way for broader social transformation. Bringing practitioners together to learn from each other’s experience in order to create something new actually makes communities better. As many of these communities of practice – formal and informal – are organized they may transform the whole region.

Together, they will begin to create a new paradigm – a new normal for how to live well together:


Some people say can this actually happen? Yes, it can. It takes time. It is a long road. But we can create ways of living in a new paradigm. For example, back in the 70s in the US some people started “going back to the land.” They went to grow their own food and, like most innovators and entrepreneurs, at first most of them failed. Some got discouraged and quit. Others kept learning. Back in 1974, Wendell Berry said it was not only possible, but necessary to find more ways of producing food locally. His remarks led to the formation of Tilth, an early community of practitioners committed to local food production. People both practice and started talking about what else was needed now. Eventually, among other things, they started working with people in urban areas to create Farmer’s Markets.

Now, almost 40 years after this local foods movement began, most supermarkets have local foods sections. Costco has a reputation for selling local foods whenever possible. People buy local foods now because it just makes sense to them. Part of what’s happened is that it became possible for people who knew nothing about local foods to easily buy them. They didn’t go through any sort of systemic analysis of the benefits of eating local food – it just made sense. New choices had been illuminated, building a bridge so people could easily cross to the new.

Of course, life doesn’t work like this simple diagram. But perhaps there are some clues here:

1.  There are three separate, connected, vital domains of work:

    • Some people stabilize things in the old paradigm while letting go of that which is no longer needed.
    • Other people create new possibilities.
    • Some build bridges which illuminate the new.

2.  Much of what we do doesn’t work! Things keep falling apart – in all three of these domins. We have to persevere, taking one step at a time.

3.  The Communities of Practice pictured in the diagram for creating the new are needed all over the place – people in the old paradigm need to be learning with each other, people building bridges need to learn with each other.

4.  Likewise, there’s bridge building – inviting others to try something new – is going on all over.

5.  Finally, it is helpful to keep the whole model, the whole system in heartmind. Many different people, doing the work they are called to do, offering their gifts and insights is what sets the stage for transformation.

This map does not explain everything. It is a simple way of thinking about the different kinds of action required for social transformation. It is a useful way for us to figure out where our own work resides. The Berkana Institute, called this the “Two Loops” and people keep finding it a helpful way to think about their own work, right now.

Where are you working now on these two loops? How do you need the people working in other parts of this map? How can we support each other?

Just remember right now  all over the world, we are living in this messy middle where old things are falling apart and new things are not working. We keep trying things. We keep learning. We have to not get distracted into trying to clean up the messiness – that’s an impossible task. The ground is pulled out from under us on a regular basis. But we follow that braided strand of intention and surrender and keep finding our way forward – with each other.

Two Loops can be used as a basic framing with many groups.  You can ll lay the two loops and the bridge out on the floor with rope, then ask people to go stand on the loops where there work is.  Then the conversation begins.  First turning to a couple of people nearby and sharing about each other’s work.  Then a conversation about why it is essential that people are working on different parts of the loops.

  • The people who are working in the old paradigm are holding a safety net under all of us. We may not like our health system or our educational system or our energy system or our food system — but we’re glad it is there.  It gives space for something else to be in development.
  • The people who are prototyping and developing new systems are pointing the way to the future.  They intend to make sure we have new alternatives.
  • The people building bridges are pointing out that new alternatives already exist and it is time to cross over — there actually is a place to land.


Two Loops talk by Deborah Frieze, former Co-President of Berkana Institute.