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

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

Strategy Think Tank May 14 and 30

Can co-creation help to improving the process of strategy formulations? 

Thanks to sootspace.blogspot.co.uk for capturing the opposite of what we are hoping for!

Are you a senior manager in a large or medium sized European business? 

Do you ever wonder how good your company is at developing its business strategy? Or if some  co-creation might improve your strategy?

Join this senior managers online brainstorm in association with Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management to share insights and ideas on the hows and whys of  strategy creation. What are the elements to be taken into account? Which approaches work? What is essential?

The discussion is part of a research project initiated by a Koen Tackx, a PhD student at Solvay under the direction of Professor Paul Verdin (Chair in Strategy and Organization). It will run on an innovative on-line brainstorm platform:  written and anonymous. You can expect an active and intense debate where you contribute your ideas, share your experience, hear from others and react to their opinions. All you need to participate is an internet connection.

What’s in it for you?

  • You will get an overview of the opinions and best practices from other strategy managers, which you’ll be able to discuss immediately
  • You will get to know a new online discussion platform which you’ll probably want to use yourself in the future
  • You will have access to the conclusions of the discussions and of the overall research in a free webinar and via a presentation which we will forward to you

What’s your investment?

Half a minute to register and one hour of your time to take part in the debate at the date which suits you better.

Just select the date which suits you best and click on one of the links below – the organisers will send you confirmation with instructions on how to join on the day

  • Tues May 14  (4:30 to 5:30pm London time) or 
  • Thurs May 30 (between 11:30am to 12:30pm London time)
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