If Einstein is right and we can’t solve problems with the same level of thinking that created them, then our tentative shuffle forward as a society to answer the clarion call of climate change will never provide us with the chasm leap required to address an overheating world.
We shouldn’t be surprised at the tentative shuffle – we have designed our social mechanisms to maintain the successful status quo. Businesses and governments are set-up to create stability – not to provide the breakthrough thinking required to solve the biggest challenges of our time. But, we can’t wait around for the odd start-up or crazy pioneer to radically reinvent our systems. Technology and Elon Musk will not save us.
We need to break through institutionalised mind-sets and deliver change within the frameworks of our existing social mechanisms. We need to harness the power of the biggest social constructs we have – businesses – to be able to unleash resources, at scale against our societal challenges.
And of course it is in the interest of business. How can these large transactional mechanisms survive in a world of shrinking resource base, dying customers and migrating employees? Climate change is in the words of Stern “the world’s greatest market failure”. Of course, there is also the other side – the carrot if you like – for those who act sooner to create the capabilities, source the technologies and thereby realise the opportunities inherent in the future we are moving towards.
Yet anyone that has ever been on a diet or started a new fitness programme knows that change is really, really hard. And even harder when it’s herding many organisations and individuals towards a new outcome. Here are some thoughts to support business boldness:
- Join forces: More and more coalitions and collaborations exist to support businesses and the systems they operate manage a transition to a low carbon world. Whether it is as specific as refrigerants or materials or generic as a Sustainable Cosmetics Forum, opportunities exist to operate beyond traditional organisational boundaries and work together to make far-reaching changes.
- Set external targets: Nestle (in a rare case of providing exemplary role modelling) links its corporate goals to the SDG’s. Other companies, including Natura and Unilever are looking at the BCorp structure to provide an external framework to guide their business actions. It is of little use to have internal targets in a connected world. The ability of business to thrive is dependent on the health of everything around it.
- Set 100% targets: Ikea shifted the target of 50% FSC certified wood to 100% across all products. This provided such clarity for suppliers that the original goal of 50% was met 2 years early. Each purchase decision made by a large business (or government) sends a long ripple of influence through the world. Use it.
- Leverage innovators within: Within every company there are people already with answers to tomorrow’s problems. These ‘intrapreneurs’ are motivated to align social purpose and organisational goals. By identifying, mobilising and connecting these individuals, pockets of possibility are created that ultimately shift corporate culture towards the new.
- Change the game: In a world of boring, ‘me too’ %-based reduction targets, Interfaces resolution to ‘Reverse Climate Change’ is exactly the bold move required to reframe the game and demonstrate leadership. It ignites employees and customers and sets out new ways of innovating, competing and doing business.
If we started with Einstein – let’s end with Goethe… “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now”.
Nicola’s first role working against climate change required her to come up with ideas for new businesses across all sectors in the Uk that could demonstrate the commercial case for a shift to low-carbon. She is still using commercial innovation to change the world. More at nicolamillson.com