Shifting from Control to Apprenticeship

I had a great conversation last evening with creativity consultant / Renaissance man Jack Ricchiuto, who asked why the old energy barons – who have considerable money and resources at their disposal – have mostly stayed out of the renewable energy game. Tom Friedman, in “Hot, Flat and Crowded,” made a compelling case for the enormous potential for innovation and profitability of these emerging industries – and a persuasive argument for America to seize competitive advantage on the world stage.

Having thought long about this, I see it as more a question of who-we-are rather than what-we-do. In other words, the stories we tell ourselves about humanity’s purpose and role on this planet. Jack’s insight was this: “Old energy can be dominated and new energy cannot. No one can conquer and control the sun, wind, and waves. If you live by a domination narrative, the old energy of oil and coal serve your story.”

It may be an oversimplification, but sometimes that’s what it takes to rise above the entanglements that keep us stuck in an old exploitative system. I have heard many critiques of renewable energy’s unreliability — wind is intermittent and the sun doesn’t always shine — that make a difficult fit with old energy’s infrastructure. That doesn’t mean renewable is a bad option – it’s simply a different design problem.

Good design always begins with an examination of assumptions and possibilities. What if we challenge the assumption that we are masters of the natural world and instead apprentice ourselves to these great, mysterious forces? Our days of extracting, refining and burning fossil fuels are numbered – and good riddance. Let the downslope of peak oil also be the waning of our determination to dominate.

A new story of apprenticeship opens up an abundance of design possibilities that make a transition from fossils to sun and wind ripe with possibility, innovation and creativity. One man who has apprenticed himself to renewable energy is Craig Shields, author of “Is Renewable Really Doable?” and other books. He is always learning and shares his insights here.

A great image of this is surfing. Surfers master their technique, but would laugh at the sheer absurdity of mastery over the medium. They know that a wave must be met with humility, awe, respect, daring, courage and crazy love. Maybe that’s why so many surfers are spiritual mystics. They get knocked down at least as many times as they ride waves, so they know both sides of it. They can feel the mysterious power that drives a wave, even become one with it momentarily. Guess what? That power is the sun. It can be borrowed and ridden, harnessed, but never controlled.

PS – Check out the addendum to this post – Are you an apprentice or a controller?


  1. I confess you had me at the title, Julie. I love this!

    • I agree totally Hildy…. and lets also flesh this out into full system evolution…..
      so much potential with this as the seed idea…..
      many ideas to work within community residential housing that enhances the young masculine within their power.

      good stuff Julie…… keep it coming.

  2. Julie, “No Fair!” calling me out this way with the surfer pic! 😉 Yes, it is true – this IS “why so many surfers are spiritual mystics.” The same can be said of sailors, windsurfers, mountain climbers, skiers, etc … as we all worship at the alter of Nature’s Ways (one can argue we must in order to survive). The metaphors however are apt and it’s rare to find a real surfer with their ego in what they’re doing. We’re learning, constantly, hoping to harmonize and move in sync with nature’s beauty. ‘not to master it, but to overcome one’s deficits so as to be one-with-the-wave, so to speak. Thank you, for these insights!

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