Taking a Leap

Natural Leadership


Do you ever wonder, what if? I love the expression about taking a leap, no, not the “take a flying leap…” but the “leap, and the net will appear” one. Why? Because it is SO incredibly true. Time and time again, I have seen that this is nature’s way. Things work out, they always do (eventually!). Why? I’m not completely sure but possibly because the planet keeps on spinning and, like it or not, we’re simply ephemeral creatures living on Earth for a titch of time when compared with the mountains we climb, the air we breath, the water we drink, and the soil we walk on.

“Leap, and the net will appear.”–John Burroughs

With this realization I feel an enormous sense of relief. What’s the worst that could happen if I take a leap? Maybe I won’t reach my goal. Even so, things carry on. What’s the best that could happen? The experience may change my life in some way, maybe even alter the way I see the world. Maybe other people’s lives will change for the better, or perhaps, maybe the impact to the planet will be taken a little more seriously by a few, even many.

Take a chance. Get out of that comfort zone. Leap, and the net will appear. Thank you, John Burroughs.

My commitment to the 1000 mile bike ride to raise funds for need-based sustainable design scholarships for students of MCAD’s Sustainable Design Online program, feels like taking a leap. Not only because I am a relative newbie to cycling and have never done an overnight solo bike trip. Mostly, much worse actually, is that it means over coming one of my biggest life challenges – asking for help from others. Why this is so hard for me will likely remain a mystery throughout the remainder of my life but it doesn’t make it any less true. I simply do not like asking for help. Yet, this is not only at odds with the goal of raising money (hard to raise money without asking for help!) it is also directly at odds with creating truly sustainable designs, which is what I’m trying to do here. See the pickle?

The Secret to Sustainability

No one can create fully sustainable products, services, or systems single handedly. It simply isn’t possible to create socially-just, environmentally-responsible, and economically-sound work without the help of others – be they experts in another discipline, end-users, or other stakeholders in the process. We need each others help, expertise, feedback, and ideas to go that much further to that sweet spot where “good design” becomes “sustainable design”. Despite the fact that I struggle to ask friends, family, colleagues -really anyone- for help, I have come to learn that only through effective collaborations (which fundamentally requires, err, asking of help) will I be working on something really worthy of investing my sliver of time on Earth, whether it be the design of a course, a program, or a product.

So, I’m taking a leap and I’m conquering my fears. I am asking for your help. Please help me. Help me to help one (or many!) student(s) become truly sustainable designers by supporting my fundraising campaign. Please spread the word about the campaign and donate what you can. I am trusting that the net will appear. Thank you!

Campaign Update:


In the first week of the campaign, 10 amazing people contributed. Thank you: Rebecca (the very first to take a leap), Ricky, Denise, James + Geoff, Kakee, Sherry, Kelsi, and 2 anonymous donors. I really appreciate your support!


Backcountry Boiler: Pittsburgh, PA

Bike Doctor: Missoula, MT

Bike Fixtation: Minneapolis, MN

Good Food Store: Missoula, MT

Hellgate Cyclery: Missoula, MT

Nice Ride: Minneapolis, MN

Cindy Gilbert

Cindy Gilbert is the founding director of MCAD’s Sustainable Design program which is home to the fully online, multidisciplinary MA in Sustainable Design (MASD) that is the first of its kind in the world. In this role, she fosters a culture of awareness and creativity through sustainable, innovative and collaborative design. The MASD program blends theory, practice and leadership into a holistic, hands-on learning experience that culminates in student-driven thesis work that brings novel, sustainability-focused products and services to fruition.

Cindy has taught numerous courses and workshops, around the world and online, in the fields of biology, sustainability and biomimicry. She is founder of a consultancy that specializes in innovative online and sustainability education projects with recent clients that include VentureWell, the Biomimicry Institute, the University of Montana, Canvas.net, GeekPuff, and the Green Building Research Institute. Most recently, she served for nearly four years as the founding director of university education at the Biomimicry Institute where she developed and managed all higher education programs, including the biomimicry professional certification program, annual biomimicry education summits, biomimicry affiliate and fellows programs, and biomimicry design challenges. Cindy is based in Montana.