Wednesday 5 October 2011

The spirit of the 21st century is partly about laying to rest the ghosts of the 20th century

This article was the first this month of my fortnightly changing what's normal newsletter. You can sign-up for my newsletter here.

I fondly remember childhood conversations with my Grandparents about inventions. There were no cars, telephones or televisions when my Grandparents were children. There were air conditioners, Cornflakes, safety razors, tea bags, and vacuum cleaners!

My Grandparents did not foresee spaceships, computers, cell phones or the Internet.

My Grandparents would not have foreseen the scale of population growth either. When my Grandfathers were entering their teenage years in 1911 there was under 2 billion people on earth. Now just 100 years later there is around 7 billion! 2 billion was sustainable. 7 billion is not, let alone the 10 billion predicted for 2050. Today around a third of the world’s people live in poverty.

We made great and arguably unprecedented progress in the 20th century. So far we have failed to manage the associated risks and in many ways we are like a runaway train running out of track very quickly.

We must change our ways before it is too late.

Sustainability is the greatest challenge facing our world. It is the harvest we must reap.

Sustainability is also your greatest business challenge, indeed profitable sustainability for those of you with profit as one of your goals.

The worldʼs big challenge is your big challenge. What an opportunity!

Sustainability means, to state the obvious, to be able to keep going, to pay your bills, reward your workers, and invest in new products and services or make improvements to your current ones.

However as the President of The World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Bjorn Stigson says, “Business cannot survive in societies that fail.”

The unsustainable practices of certain financial services providers has effectively killed the goose that laid the golden eggs or at very least made laying eggs, for some, impossible in the short to medium term!

I mean no disrespect here to the many thousands of people who have lost their savings, their jobs, their businesses, their homes. What were these providers thinking by taking actions that would destroy their customers/clients? My answer is, they were'nt thinking!

Are you focused on processes or outcomes?

On the 5th of August 2008 I was privileged along with several other international speakers and their life partners to take a private tour of the United Nations headquarters in New York. I was not a fan of this organisation prior, believing that they were a toothless tiger.

As I sat in the Great Hall where world leaders gather and heard and read the stories in other places of the United Nations work, I changed my mind. I came away feeling and thinking they make a difference and without them we may not even be here! Mind you some recent failed meetings by so called world leaders are causing me to re-think!

Realising sustainability was our greatest challenge almost a quarter of a century ago, The United Nations commissioned Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland to define sustainability.

In the 1987 World Commission of Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) Report, sustainability was defined as “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Failure to manage the risks of growth in the 20th century means we have compromised the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, indeed we are struggling ourselves.

Forum for the Futureʼs Jonathon Porritt improved on the definition of sustainability in my view.

“Sustainable development is a dynamic process which enables people to realise their potential and to improve their quality of life in ways which simultaneously protect and enhance the earthʼs life-support systems.”

Both Brundtland and Porritt are talking about a process, whereas sustainability is an outcome.

I suspect you want sustainability as an outcome. What processes are you following to achieve such an outcome?

Failure to manage the risks of growth means the 20th century is hanging around us like a ghost. The spirit of the 21st century is about changing what’s normal.

3 key ways to break free from the status quo and change what’s normal:

1) Decide how much is enough for you

What many CEOs earn is immoral. Bad choice of word is earn!
How much is enough for you?
What are you doing to stop greedy and unethical people from ruining our world?
How are you helping those who don’t have enough to find and grasp opportunity?

2) Close your knowing-doing gap

This is Sparkenation 1 in my changing what’s normal book.
For me the narrower the gap between what we know and what we do, the more fulfilled life we live and the greater influence we assert.

3) Decide the aspects of your life and work that are unsustainable

Stay doing what is sustainable.
Stop doing what isn’t sustainable.
Start today to follow processes that will lead you to sustainable outcomes.

Be the difference you want to see in the world
Leader Changing What's Normal Tribe

Sparkenation: a spark that ignites passion that leads to action that changes what's normal

More sparkenations are here.


Joney!? said...

Do you how any comment in CRS? CRS seems like a wide topic. Many companies seems to choose the areas which they prefer and neglect more complicated parts of their business that requires them to alter their business plan.

Would you say codes of ethics mis important or should business more be built from an ethical foundation?

Ian Berry said...

Do you mean CSR Joney?
CSR or corporate social responsibility when it is integral to how a business operates is a good thing. It has evolved to CR and perhaps will evolve beyond that. I don't think any thinking person any longer doubts the business case for sustainability and a code of ethics and an ethical foundation are a part of this.