Posted by: chrismaser | September 23, 2009




Chris Maser


FOREWORD: I tend to be a linear thinker, as do many engineers. When I have been involved with systems behavior, and the parts of the system interact as they always do, the conclusions reached are often too vague to implement. Since I’m always trying to solve problems and I am driven to find a solution, I tend to revert to the linear approach. Show me a mountain, and I’ll move it, but don’t make me worry too much about anything more than that.

It is people like me Chris Maser is trying to reach with this book. And there are many of us. We focus on the here and now and the immediate future. But we also frequently wonder, in our quiet moments, where all the things we do are leading us and whether we should choose a more sensible course if we are to act truly responsibly. Lily Tomlin once said, “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” Her observation gives us cause to think about our actions and the impacts they may have in the future. Chris would have us act on those thoughts.

In his many years as a research scientist, Chris has personally witnessed the extensive alteration and degradation of our natural environment through the effects of shortsighted human activity. His experiences in forest, shrub steppe, subarctic, desert, coastal, agricultural, and urban settings have caused him to think deeply about human behavior in relationship to the environment and what this relationship means to future generations.

Currently an author, lecturer, and consultant who facilitates the resolution of environmental disputes and issues surrounding sustainable community development, Chris has focused his observations on the local community, urging us to consciously assume responsibility for that which we can control. He urges us to act at the local level, understanding that widespread individual attention to sustainability can and will improve the quality of life now and enhance what seems to be an increasingly uncertain future for our children and grandchildren. This is important because Chris has concluded over the years that humankind can only avert an increasingly miserable existence and the ultimate demise of society as we know it, and perhaps even the demise of humanity itself, by adhering to a recipe for sustainability that he calls The Prime Directive.

With The Prime Directive in mind, we learn Maser’s approach to the process of creating a shared vision within a community and the essentials of leadership necessary to help ensure the vision is meaningful to a sustainable future. He gives the reader tools that can be used to bring others of diverse backgrounds along the path toward a shared vision based on the notions contained in The Prime Directive, which he tells us up front, based on his research and experience, is the only way he believes we can “fix” the world if we really seek sustainability. And he then gives us tools to help us find solutions to the problems while simultaneously inspiring others to join us.

One of the powerful tools Maser provides for use in the visioning process involves rephrasing negatives into positives. I’ve tried it, and it works. He urges us to concentrate on what we want to happen, not on what we want to prevent from happening.

In my own experience with visioning exercises, they often lead to a statement of vision but no plan to implement the vision. In addition, the time frame for a vision’s fruition is often our life span or less. But if we are to have a good vision of real social-environmental sustainability, we need to understand that we may not experience the benefits of the vision we create. We are but a blip in geologic time, yet we need to create a vision that recognizes our own inability to see the future clearly. It is a sobering thought that we are required to take actions that may never benefit us materially as individuals.

Because cultures, like species, evolve, creating a vision with the intent to consciously and rapidly change a culture can be inherently fruitless. People resist change, even if they understand that it may be good in the long term, in order to pursue temporal pleasures. Even if we are willing to change, often the best we can do is speed up the rate of cultural evolution. A fundamental problem is that by simply existing, we change the rate of evolution exponentially as our human population expands geometrically. There are too many of us now, and we are inherently selfish.

This self-centeredness makes planning a better future, in which we will not personally benefit, difficult in the best of times, even for the sake of our children and grandchildren, and in the bad times, our fear of personal material loss makes such planning seem all but impossible. Nevertheless, Maser asks us to face these issues head on.

For a vision to have any real value, it must be implemented, which requires monitoring to evaluate the behavioral changes that result from implementing the vision. When one observes (monitors) and plans to make adjustments based on those observations (target corrections), the best solutions always provide several preplanned actions (i.e., if A happens, I will do B; and if C happens, I will do D; and so on). Otherwise, we monitor only outcomes and hope that, if they are not desirable, a solution or corrective action can and will be available.

An example might be the assumption that placing fish ladders in dams would sustain salmon migrations and hence perpetuate migrant populations. Over time, however, it has been learned that the reservoirs created by the dams (in addition to a host of other human activities) also impact the survival of salmon. Monitoring a single variable, such as counting salmon, has done nothing to clarify the issue or save the fish, which was the objective of the ladders. And a straightforward solution to the problem of saving the salmon is not now available, which points out that things are much more complex than we are usually able to foresee. Therefore, as Maser discusses, good implementation of a shared vision always incorporates monitoring and ways of responding to uncertain results, which in turn requires leadership.

The best leaders, I believe, not only lead unintentionally, even instinctively, but also inspire others. Merely good leaders can be effective, but they must understand that being successful takes concentrated effort and training. Leaders can be taught, and Maser provides us some valuable lessons in leadership within the context of developing and implementing a shared vision for a community’s sustainable future.

The thoughtful reader of this book will likely conclude that the lifestyle to which we are accustomed needs to change and yet be uncertain how one’s personal actions as an individual can alter our course for the future. Although we may not agree with all of Maser’s Prime Directive, we cannot help but agree with much of it. Having said that, I believe readers will find that understanding both Maser’s approach to visioning and the elements of leadership he identifies are essential to sustainable community development as we approach the 21st century.

Lee Schroeder: Vice President for Finance and Administration at Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon


“Chris Maser’s 25 years as a social scientist made him aware of the connection between environmental degradation and human activity. Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Development is the fourth book of a series about the various facets of sustainable development. The goal of the series is to help readers realize they are responsible for the planet’s sustainable evolution and that they have the moral obligation and duty to preserve options for future generations. In order to do so, communities must take responsibility for their own future and determine a local shared vision of their future to serve as an organizing context to plan their actions. Defining a vision requires inner work to shift from a self-centered to an other-centered attitude, and a successful implementation requires effective leadership. The realization of local communities will ultimately lead to a global society. Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Development emphasizes the importance of balancing the material and spiritual components to link environmental issues to society. The book examines leadership in an original way: it does not propose a model or a method to be an effective leader but insists on the philosophical basis of leadership.

Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Development is well written and accessible to a broad audience. The book is extremely rich in ideas but it is not overwhelming. Abstractions are turned in concrete examples or explained through analogies, thus making the underlying concept clear. The book is very practical and provides concrete tools to bring diverse people together to find new solutions and inspire other people to join them in the process. The author uses his experience as a consultant to give examples of questions to ask or indications as how to deal with children to understand their own values, but he also gives tips on the emotional implications of being a leader and how to overcome some difficulties.”—Aurélie Brunie
, Penn State.

“This is the first review I’ve ever felt compelled to write despite buying over 200 books from Amazon. Chris Maser has a certain style of writing that flows and meanders like a trip down a river revealing splashes of insight both practical and philosophical. Its one of the best books on leadership I’ve ever read and I’ve read the traditional business stuff by the truckload but this is much more thoughtful and yet practical at the same time. It’s a book that makes sense; you don’t have to try to understand it as it evokes a knowing deep within you. He touches on many areas that others have written books on (e.g. reframing negative to positive) but blends the subject in so well to make it accessible without having to read a further 10 books before feeling you can do something with it. A must read for anyone who is interested in leading in any century—a timeless classic. 10 out of 10. I’m so glad I found it.”—Andrew Ramwell, 
Manchester Metropolitan University 
Manchester, UK.

Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Development. 1998. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL. 235 pp.

If you want more information about this book or want to purchase it, visit “BOOKS” on my website.

If you want to contact me, you can visit my website. If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

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