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Communicating Sustainability. Thinking Tank 21.11.09

There were clearly two camps in November’s Thinking Tank and many statements split the vote.

Some overlap though on the issues and the challenges – and the wordcloud below shows the importance of changing people’s minds through costs / taxation, making sustainability affordable and increasing impact of information via clear labelling.

The following two statements got the highest level of support:

  • Its easier to agree that “something should be done” than on what that something is or who should do it
  • It is a moment for inspiring leadership. If whole countries cannot get their act together then at least transition towns can lead the way. Then counties? States?

Maybe then the issue is not so much to agree on the technicalities (definition, scope etc) but to gather support for the concept. After all many broad ideas such as love, good citizenship, decency are not easily pinned down — but widely accepted and worth pursuing nonetheless.

30% of participants classified themselves as “mostly sustainable” or “activists”. The majority  self-classified as “I try to do my bit”.

Key Issues

Participants identified a set of conditions for effective action on sustainability

1. Clear up the confusion

  • I think the apathy is partly because people are unsure about what they should do
  • labelling that makes impact clear, tax to increase the cost of things that use up resources, and increasing general awareness

2. Improve the offer

  • make sustainable products look and feel like other products, same quality/same price/same comfort
  • Another seems to be to make it easier, more convenient, more fitting into normal life either at no cost or the same cost ( rather than charging extra)

There is recognition by some of this unrealistic position given current economic models. Non-sustainable products are artificially cheap as the true costs are not passed on to the consumer. Therefore penalties may be required to level the playing field.

3. Improve the motivation

  • better to motivate people and reward them for their good behaviour instead of punishing them

Divided opinions

The following comments split the group and may point to potential difficulties for getting sustainability across to the population as a whole.

1. Communicating sustainability

  • Most people just don’t think about tomorrow
  • It’s not that people don’t think about tomorrow, just  that we are busy getting through today
  • It’s just common sense. It’s the non-sustainable approach that has been imposed on us.
  • My kids respond best to the “Hole in the Sky” concept (their language not mine). They can see the sky. A hole would be scary. Easy to say to each other  “don’t do that or you’ll make the hole in the sky bigger”

2. The business of sustainability

  • Sustainability is big business for many, many consultants and advisers
  • Overcomplicated, elitist greenies making it too hard to understand

3. The economics of sustainability

  • At the moment, behaving unsustainably is “free at the point of purchase”. We could change that with a “damage tax”
  • Develop an i-phone app that keeps track of my ecofootprint, rewards me when I reduce it, makes cool suggestions etc

If you would like to see a full list of statements please email me

Why is Sustainability boring? Thinking Tank 22.10.2009

In this lively debate featuring participants from the World Bank, Insead, green organisations and business, joined together to identify their shared views on sustainability. The debate centred around turning sustainability into something for everyone.

The issue is described as boring, complex and confusing rather than inspiring or motivating. There are lots of words around the need for a change of approach.

STAR STATEMENTS

The following two statements got the highest level of support:

  • I think the issue is less that it is “boring” and more that it is “confusing” because it means so many different things to so many different people.
  • The language is all too academic and easy to feel remote from… we need real down to earth stuff that people can get their head around and feel inspired to make the change

Based on this output, we will be building on the last debate in the November Thinking Tank—we hope you can join us to start to work out some ways forward on this challenge.

See the report The Thinking Tank Report Sustainability is Boring

Key Issues
1. Low levels of engagement in the issue across population as a whole

  • It’s not just the perceived sacrifice, or injustice,  – it’s the likelihood that 95% of the rest of the population won’t do it!

2. Too many issues wrapped up under one umbrella making it very difficult to communicate

  • Sustainability is a BIG word and means many different things: environment, social wellbeing, social justice, etc

3. Even if the issues are communicated, the need to make changes, some of them uncomfortable, makes it unlikely

  • It is maybe more difficult then boring.. fundamentally it is about changing way of doing things and that is never easy
  • At an intellectual level we can understand Sustainable Development but at a personal level, if it involves hard choices, it is much more difficult

Next steps
So there was general agreement about the scale of the problem… Now how do we move forward? The most popular suggestion was

  • I’m all for picking a couple of key issues, making it simple, widely understood and causing change (think drink-driving and how that shifted its social acceptability

The Future of the Family. Thinking Tank 10.10.2009

The most supported idea (over 8o%) was that the perfect family would be

  • a family full of support, affection and belief in you

This was despite the fact that half the group agreed that

  • family can be seen as a restriction

Overall, we had two main points of view represented in the debate, those supporting a traditional, strong, nuclear family and those who took a more fluid view.

Threats to families in today’s world

Families are seen as facing some challenges today – from societal changes and other distractions

Family life has changed from a nostalgia of sledging and Sunday tea to a confusing, challenging chaos

  • Anti-social behaviour

Changing state of families

But the changes are not all problematic. The new openness of the idea of family is also seen by many as an opportunity

  • Cultural diversity is a challenge not a threat
  • Monocultures are easier to manage but don’t offer the same opportunities.
  • More varied structures have potential to accommodate a greater number of individual needs

Next steps

Meanwhile, most of us are part of a family, so what should we do for the best? These ideas were supported by the group:

For ourselves:

  • So we’ll go through a messy patch – and then… brave new world
  • Parenting today is more about leadership than dictatorship

Support each other

  • Accepting that being a family doesn’t mean necessarily living under one roof
  • A general broadening of the sense of ‘family’

For the authorities

  • Challenge organisations who still produce forms that are impossible to fill in if you’re not a “proper” family
  • Minister: promote positive family models, based on values and behaviour, not structure
  • More inclusiveness then exclusiveness

Connections

If you have connections with any such group or individuals and could help to set something up then please contact the Thinking Tank to discuss how we could make this happen.

If you have personal concerns on these issues then there are various organizations working positively in this area who may be able to help you.

If you represent such an organization and would like a link from this page, please let us know.

If you would like to see a full list of statements please email me

Unemployment: no more jobs for the boys? Debate 24.09.09

Pause for thought

While it was sympathetic to the challenges of the unemployed, this debate focused much more on the value of unemployment to society and to the individual as a pause for reflection. The most supported statements from the whole debate were:

  • An opportunity to change direction should one wish to.
  • It can be a fantastic moment to rethink your goals and priorities, to make (new) choices
  • We were told twenty years ago about a leisure society yet we still work our socks off…

Compared to other Thinking Tanks, this debate was more reflective, less fast paced. In all however over 100 points of view were proposed by the group, evaluated and ranked.

Personal pain

There was clear acknowledgement of the downsides of unemployment for the individual, particularly in the absence of hope

  • I grew up in a town with mass unemployment (closed steel mill) – the new norm became hanging around feeling hopeless
  • Stress on families

And the detrimental impact on the economy / society:

  • If the unemployment rate is too high, so then, there is a negative economic impact for society
  • Waste of human resources – missing to include these people’s potential

Actions for business leaders

There was a belief that business leaders should be managing for growth and business success and this will in turn maintain employment requirements.

  • There must be very valuable workers in my company, so that, we should redefine new markets. (there are always new opportunities to discover)

Two sides of the coin

On the issue of our role as employers / business leaders, there were clearly two schools of thought. Bipolar Synthetrons (where a statement attracts both significant support and significant opposition) on actions that we can take to address the issues raised by unemployment included:

  • Maintain a relationship with ex employees eg as ad hoc team members while they are looking for next job
  • I can help employees to grow personally while being on the job and by such creating resilience in the face of unemployment.
  • Be aware of the research showing that the hard fast high cutting companies do very much worse after a crisis than the ones that keep some slack, fire in a humane way, let the employees keep in touch with each other, stimulate these contacts, …
  • I can coach people better

This bipolarity was also the case concerning some of the advantages to society of unemployment – maybe reflecting personal experiences.

  • I always learned that a certain degree of unemployment helps the economy to grow, change have a real labour market.. and I do believe that could be a benefit for society if we were all part time unemployed with time to do other important things. now a large group of people work more than 100% neglecting themselves, family and friends, while others do not have any work at all.

The word cloud (below) shows how the content of the debate went—the bigger the word, the more mentions and the higher the support. Most of the larger words are positive and focus on new beginnings. Of course many of the participants are successful in life—maybe due in part to this positive approach.

H1N1: Mountain or Molehill? Health debate 10.09.09

The first surprise in last month’s Thinking Tank was that 80% of you feel that swine flu is “no big deal”. This, despite the fact that 60% had friends and family who had contracted the disease (presumably with no serious consequences).

The discussion took a philosophical turn with much reflection on swine flu:

As a symptom of society

  • Yes, the resilience of the human race is encouraging. We will find new energy solutions, we will cope with changing family structures etc We always have…

As a message to improve the way we run our world

  • that’s a benefit of the whole event, reminds us that we’re all human, all basically in the same boat and should find solutions for all
  • slows down the rat race we are in for a while
  • We can have our mobile phones and home entertainment, but at the end of the day we are still all codependent. So when some thing goes wrong for one group it still affects us

And as a way to identify lifestyle risks

  • When we choose to exploit (pigs, land, food distribution) we don’t get away with it. We may seem to in the short term, but sooner or later it catches up with us. We need to think bigger and wider
  • maybe drives us apart – “I would help you but if I touch you I might get your germs

There was quite some scepticism about the real danger of the disease but an acknowledgement that there were some useful lessons to be learnt

  • pandemics sell papers
  • prepares all systems for a real alert, like a test-case

Some actions

Encourage sustainable farming:

  • give negative tax on organic produce
  • Increase transport costs and incentivise local consumption of local food

Manage the media:

  • Next time: try to control the media hype a bit. Because if people have had this experience twice, they will not believe a warning the third time anymore, and not respond to measurements.

Business as usual or time for a change? Thinking Tank 27.08.2009

Overall the group are aware of the need for a change in style in this Thinking Tank carried out in partnership with Aspire Coaching. The time for rigid leadership styles is over, in our fast changing world, flexibility is key.

  • Someone like Obama is changing what being a leader means

80% of comments about leadership style are about TRANSFORMATIONAL (traditionally female) attributes.
Communicating is the most frequently mentioned behaviour for a leader today while the need for emotional intelligence and empathy are also well recognised. Teamwork is an important aspect of this approach.

  • The key attributes are good communications, clarity of vision and purpose, high emotional intelligence, openness

The group see a growing need for honesty and openness in the way senior management deal with their teams… as well as a demand for a more ethical and sustainable approach to business decisions

The remaining 20% of comments about leadership style are about TRANSACTIONAL (traditionally male) attributes.
Despite the emphasis on transformational attributes there were also several comments about the need to be tough as a leader.

  • Leadership is a tougher job in an uncertain climate and it takes more than a sympathetic ear for staff concerns!

Some comments are about leadership in general – neither transformational nor transactional
Clarity and focus are important for any type of leader and inspiring visionary leaders are valued. Customers are mentioned in the context of the need to understand their needs in order for the business to survive

Lastly, the process of business leaders in a peer group discussion was seen as useful by many participants and there was a desire for ongoing on-line connections

  • We need some radical changes. Business and people need to be led by STRONG leaders with clear vision and the will to tackle the issues

The wordcloud for the whole debate looks like this (the bigger the word, the more it was used / supported). See full report here.results leadership 0908

School’s out for ever. Education Tank 05.08.09

The word cloud for the whole debate looks like this (the bigger the word, the more it was used / supported)

In our debate on education we covered the good and the bad of the current system, the values we felt education should have and the ways forward—advice to the education minister. Participants came from USA, South America and Europe; they were about 50/50 teachers and parents. More than 70% think the current system needs a “radical rethink”

Pros and cons of current system

In the opening poll, more than 70% felt that education needed a radical rethink—not just some improvements.

  • The world has changed dramatically and education is pretty much business as usual. Needs major rethink
  • our entire social model requires revamping to take into consideration things like this system, Synthetron

There was not a high level of agreement on current strengths, though winning benefits were social skills, discipline and ability to analyse. Highest ranking concerns were focus on memory not understanding, under-supported teachers and under-involved parents.

  • Students are taught to learn, not to think!
  • Not enough preparations for the teachers
  • not enough discipline at home

The future we want

When we asked What is education FOR?, the strongest statements were very much about the human beings rather than their academic achievements

  • to produce grownups adapted to reality with values
  • to produce well-balanced adults who are confident in their abilities, aware of their limitations, and have a strong trust engagement with friends and community

The strongest supported statement from the whole debate (over 90% support) was on the values we think the education system should live by

  • A real respect for diversity, and values individual achievements at all levels

Other values that rated highly included ethics, integrity, social responsibility, confidence. Academic achievement was barely mentioned during the debate

Action points and advice to the leaders

  • Set an example … by acting like a responsible professional. Never stop learning.
  • teachers need to get training, coaching and other kinds of help to stay on top and be always prepared to deal with new challenges
  • [parents need] to be active in the school where your children are being taught

15 people took part in the discussion including individuals from USA, South America and Europe. They were three times as active as average Synthetron participants and made and ranked 350 statements and ideas between them. They showed an average level of convergence on key points (26% of the statements made became Synthetrons— including all of the statements quoted here)

Do we have to suffer to be beautiful? Health debate 07.07.09

The conversation was dominated by concerns about body weight—plastic surgery, tattoos, piercing were barely mentioned. There was a spirited defence of heavier bodies by some  and almost universal disapproval of extreme thinness and its promotion.

The beauty industry has more effect on our body image than partner, family and friends, but 40% still feel their own point of view is the most important (all statements quoted here achieved at least 70% support).

The majority of the group felt it was “crucial to act” to address the issue of media pressure on all of us to look a certain way.

  • I like that eg mascara ads now say “with false eyelashes”. Its reassuring. All beauty ads should have to declare their fakeness.

Advantages of more body image interest

The group acknowledged that interest in how we look is not all bad…

  • it is a luxury and a privilege to be living at a time in civilisation when we can afford this indulgence in how we look – not just fighting to survive
  • focus on health and fitness

Disadvantages of more body image interest

But there were many more strongly supported statements concerning the disadvantages which included increased incidence of eating disorders among children, a tendency to be superficial and an

  • emphasis on appearance rather than being

Action points

There were mixed feelings on public education about healthy eating with some wariness of nanny state tendencies. But certainly interest in a more personal approach

  • Important to be with our kids and help them interpret these messages, reminding them they have a choice (and reminding ourselves too!)

Keeping the conversation going and extending to new audiences was seen as important too:

  • make this technology available for kids to have conversations too
  • ..and people working within the various beauty industries might benefit from the opportunity to participate in this kind of conversation

LINKS

Rosa, advocacy group for women and girls

Womankind Worldwide, development agency

Does corruption matter? Thinking Tank 04.06.2009

A lively debate at a time when corruption—particularly among politicians and business leaders—is often in the media. The group debated personal and public corruption, and the difficulty of defining what is acceptable (according to personal circumstances and cultural norms). A key conclusion was the need to instil a clear sense of right and wrong in young people today so they can operate successfully in an environment where corruption is increasingly challenged.

Top Comments (60%+ endorsement)

Personal responsibility was a key theme

  • Don’t tolerate it. Be vocal. Be transparent where you can, and be consistent in saying no
  • The solution starts with us, not with the government
  • It is about personal integrity and doing job you are paid for, otherwise don’t take the job
  • I was encouraged by a supplier to pay in cash to avoid vat – I felt dirty and disappointed in myself for even considering it

And institutional corruption and its underlying causes

  • it is scandalous for politicians to be corrupt
  • there is some intrinsic corruption due to bonuses , share price and personal ambition that makes important business leaders corrupted and take decisions that are not in the interest of stakeholders, but of their own bonuses..
  • government are responsible for putting the framework into place and checking the rule of law is applied

Cultural differences were discussed and the difficulty of standing up to endemic corruption

  • corruption is not just monetary, it can also be about how relate to other people – needs to become more of guiding principle
  • there are a lot of good people including in governments in very corrupt countries who wish the system was different – but they need help as becoming an outcast often means no food on the table
  • there still is very little protection for company “whistleblowers” ; mafia bosses who repent get far better treatment and do not end up be being sacked by their employers !

Suggested personal and public actions to tackle corruption included

  • corruption is most effectively attacked by the individual who suffers it speaking out and exposing individuals by name through the media including the web
  • Transparency is the way forward. Make public everything you do and hear as a public officer. Secrecy is the key foundation of corruption
  • Start from the base, kids need to learn integrity
  • Ensure that score cards or compensations do not corrupt decision makers to neglect important value considerations for stakeholders
  • Get politicians on Thinking Tank sessions
  • Give back the extra change, point out when we’ve been overpaid, don’t lie
  • I’ll talk about this with my kids over dinner – I’m interested to see where their views differ from mine and if any guidance is needed (probably from them to me!)
  • This has been a useful reminder that the NORMAL thing is to say no to corruption. IT’s not weird or unreasonable. Quite the opposite.

New Year New Politics? Thinking Tank 07.01.2009

As Obama steps into his new role, at the Thinking Tank we started the year with an experiment in reaching political decisions without political parties. A number of you proposed motions and we worked together to look at the key pros and cons and reach a decision.

And yes, it worked. Online technology offers different opportunities and we had a thoughtful and constructive debate which led to the following motions (in order with the most strongly supported first) being agreed by the majority.

PROPOSAL: No more party politics. Governments should govern – but guided by constant monitoring of the needs of the people they serve.

  • Even what we are doing now [online brainstorming] is a method that can be used better by politicians – be it already to check alignment
  • It will engage and give some responsibility back: people can then no longer talk about them the government or politicians

PROPOSAL: We cannot afford to economise on innovation

  • Necessity is the mother of invention. we need innovation now to address global warming, food distribution, wars, lonely old people, so many problems still waiting for solutions
  • Innovation creates energy, hope, new opportunities a future.. and this is perspective is what we all need

PROPOSAL: A new global movement should be started based on the principle that each individual is a member of the world constituency.

  • This would help to overcome the “them and us” approach and remind us that we share the planet and all need to cooperate to survive
  • innovation could come from an internationally important project such as power, disease eradication, poverty addressing, etc. But not by individual Govts, as they would tend to be selfish

PROCESS (on-line debating and convergence)

There were also some interesting observations about the process of online brainstorming in order to develop our thinking and reach better conclusions

  • This is a good tool to get quick feedback and input on key choices
  • Even what we are doing now is a method that can be used better by politicians – it’s all ready to check alignment
  • Present-day technology (such as blogs), is a useful tool for ‘direct democracy’

Proposal: start www.ThinkingTank aligning more and more people in this idea

  • The Obama texting captured people’s attention when everyone thought voting was doomed to decline… this could do the same
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