Survive—or Thrive?

Jeff Vander Clute on reframing sustainability


“I’m only one of 10,000 others riding this wave,” says technology expert Jeff Vander Clute, a North Bay transplant whose linguistic long board is propelled by a new social wave. Conceptual surfers including Vander Clute are asking communities to replace the goal of sustainability with a vision of thriving, a shift from fear-based to creativity-based problem solving.

Vander Clute, 37, is a social-media architect who has determined that communities only existing online are not whole. Seeking the missing piece, he experienced two extremes: Silicon Valley and Whidbey Island, Wash. “When I was in Palo Alto, high school students were throwing themselves in front of trains on a daily basis, and that didn’t feel like community,” said Vander Clute. “But on Whidbey Island, I met inspiring people doing incredible work. My experience of nature and the feeling of kinship drew me into relationships in a community that takes care of itself. Everyone eats, there is very little crime and their food system is beyond organic.”

Inspired by what he’s experienced, Vander Clute is now working in Napa County as part of a privately funded exploration of what thriving might mean to locals. “We want to find what’s working and support that,” explains Vander Clute, “allowing dysfunctional systems to be supplanted with thriving ones over time.”

Vander Clute claims three survival options for our species. The least desirable is that we fail. The better option is that we pass the bar and survive, but the shining option is that we make it by figuring out how to thrive. Along with the “10,000” other social creatives, Vander Clute sees that communities focused on thriving rather than surviving will benefit from an immediate burst of creativity and motivation, because the driving force for change will no longer be fear.

“The synonyms for thriving are few compared to all the words we have for merely sustaining, for treading water or just getting by,” Vander Clute says. “We don’t have as many ways to express thriving.” (So we increase the lexicon while having more fun finding survival solutions—who knew?)

“A lot of this is totally new to me,” Vander Clute confesses. “But the one thing I do know is that nothing new comes from certainty. We need a relationship with uncertainty. To be open and receptive allows for the creativity that will provide the solutions.”

Solutions do include social media; among more than 30 platforms supporting face-to-face community, Vander Clute recommends or