"If you're in a bad situation, don't worry, it'll change. If you're in a good situation, don't worry, it'll change."
-- John A. Simone Jr.
Imagine you’re looking at a gauge. The left half of the gauge has black hash marks with numbers that go from “-10″ to “0″ at the top. The background color on this half is red. The right half of the gauge has numbers that start from “0″ at the top of the gauge and go to “+10″ on the lower right. Let’s say the background color for the right half is green.
The goal is simple. As much as possible, keep the needle in the green. Keep things positive.
In Cradle to Cradle Will McDonough writes that eco-efficiency (aiming for “-2 instead of, say, “-8″) really isn’t an option. It’s like being the frog in the pot of boiling water. The water warms slowly. The frog sits comfortably. By the time the water is too hot, it’s too late to jump out. We’re already half cooked. We’ve boiled ourselves to death slowly.
“Life creates the conditions conducive to life” – Janine Benyus. This is true except for when we’re in the red, the negative half of the gauge. When we’re in the red, we’re burning through resources, devouring capital, depleting our savings. When we’re in the red we’re actually creating conditions that make life hard. We’re degrading the systems that support life, that support us. We’re creating our own Hell, cycles of suffering and destruction. From a mindset of scarcity (use what I can, when I can, to maximize my short-term benefit) we create scarcity.
The other half of the gauge is abundance. When the needle is in the green we, ourselves, businesses, communities, cities, nations and the economies that support us are creating conditions conducive to life. We’re strengthening the systems that support life. Well-being emerges from well-being. We’re creating and sustaining life-generating, life-giving cycles. From a mindset of abundance (use what I can to create long-term prosperity for myself by sustaining and enhancing that which supports and sustains me) we create abundance.
The goal is simple. Keep things positive. Making the changes in the ways we think, see, and act in our lives, communities and our work are difficult, daunting. Sustainability is something we do together. Abundance is something we create together.
Red or green? You make the call.
As I talk with prospective members of Abound about their businesses, the business of sustainability and the challenges of being a leader in sustainable business, one of the recurring themes we encounter is that of value.
This theme of value was echoed at the Triple Bottom Line Investment (TBLI) conference I attended in Tokyo. A number of speakers admitted and were confounded by the fact that, from a conventional assessment paradigm, sustainable businesses were often not the best choice for ROI.
A recent conversation with Stephen Aiguier from Green Hammer, a sustainable building company in Oregon, led us to the under-developed notion of relational capital. As it is currently understood relational capital is a subset of the valuation of “intangibles”. This begs the question of what is “tangible?”
Well, assets are tangible but what is their value? The value of assets depends on their valuation-a process of assigning an amount to them. This amount is a shared understanding, an agreement.
Traditionally, a business has been valued by it’s bottom line and top line performance. Cash flow is also a popular indicator. For a publicly traded business this becomes a much more complex process as all sorts of arcane formulae are applied to a business to describe its value to various stakeholders. The business has different values depending on the interests of the stakeholders. Again, we are looking at shared understanding, agreement.
We need to expand our shared understanding and agreement around this concept of value. Legally businesses are people. Actually businesses are complex open systems subtracting and adding value in the markets, communities and environments in which they operate. Both spiders and web, they weave and are nodes in a Value Web. The more resilient the web, the more value it provides. The more skillful the spider, the more resilient the web, the stronger the nodes.
The value of business is its capacity to sustain that which sustains the business-the Value Web. This is relational. In these relationships is the real value of sustainable businesses. Skillful engagement with the Value Web is the pathway to abundance. Abundance is a healthy, highly resilient Value Web.
What is the value of your business?
Time. We are very time sensitive these days. Blogs need updating. Twitter demands tweets. Our Facebook and other social networking clans compel us to post, respond, upload. We are deeply and diversely connected.
Last night, talking with friends, we talked about relationships, disciplines and discipline. We talked about exciting, inspiring vertical spikes and the lonely disorienting vistas of plateaus-the long, seemingly endless flat land of practice. George Leonard writes eloquently about this in Mastery.
Relationships and connection need time. They take commitment, practice. Discipline. They also need flexibility, variation, and forgiveness. Last night we also talked about over-commitment where single-mindedness takes over and all of our energy pours into one place.
Over-commitment, over-concentration leads to illness. Illness takes time, steals and hordes time, saps and pools energy. Illness disconnects us from that which sustains. That which sustains are the diverse and myriad relationships, the abundance around and within us.
As we commit, as we practice, as we deepen our capacity to live and contribute, we also must allow our selves distance from our disciplines without disconnection. Forgive the necessary wandering, exploration and reflection that emerges from wide open spaces. Walk the fine line between distance, reflection and neglect.
Vertical growth and Big Change is exciting, addictive in the disorienting rush and clarity it brings. It is also rare, fleeting. Most of our time is spent on the plateaus, gazing out at the horizons surrounding us. This is where our communities-virtual and visceral-and the web of relationships within them sustain us. This is where discipline serves us.
Update the blogs, tweet away, maintain and strengthen those Facebook connections. Call friends. Get together, break bread, grill salmon, let the kids run wild in the houseyardneighborhoodpark. Get back on the mat and do some aikido. Renew commitments.
Every once in a while it is OK to step away. Take a breath and slide off line. Tenkan-take a different perspective. Plateaus are truly vast. Exploring the territory within and around us takes practice, discipline. It needs time.
When you come back you’ve got stories to tell, maybe a little wisdom to pass around the fire with the wine. Your communities are curious. Your people want to know where you’ve been. Your children want to play. You are home.