"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.
D is Design as the Place to Begin: Freddie Mercury: ”Is this the world we created? What did we do it for? Our current economy of relentless consumption is a lack of design problem. Nobody in their right mind would design a system that is so consistently wasteful and capable of altering the very atmospheric conditions that allow life to thrive. Yet here we are. So, what can we do? Start by designing your own life. Be your own Lean consultant. Cut waste. Keep what gives life. Life creates the conditions conducive to life. Get to work!
E is for the Edges Where Economy and Ecology Meet: Peter Gabriel: “What ever may come and whatever may go that river’s flowing.” Either now or later the economy we’ve built on air will settle back down to it’s earthly foundations. As consumers I suggest we help it along. Invest in that which enriches your Value Web. Find those opportunities services and things which provide value to you and to the people around you while enriching our cities and communities while enhancing the health of the environment that holds us. We’ve been “conquering” and “subduing” nature for long enough. It’s time to go with the flow…
F is for the Flow of Feedback Beneath our Feet: Mike Patton: “It’s it. What is it?” Call it what we will: Karma. What goes around comes around. We are what we eat. We do as we do. We get what we get. Sometimes you get the bear-sometimes the bear gets you. We do not live, experience, think, intend or act in a vacuum. We are living, open systems. That means we affect and are affected by everything that goes on around us. What we consume consumes us. If we pay attention, the feedback we receive-instant or otherwise-is constant and instructive. What we choose to eat, buy, keep and throw away have very real ramifications in our lives and reverberate throughout the Value Web. As a consumer you can ignore “it” and continue being eroded and washed away in a muddied, waste strewn stream or accept and acknowledge “it” and start taking responsibility for “it.”
Last post on consumerism catalyzed a considerable cavalcade of conversations. So, here are some more mangled musings in alphabetical order on the art of consumption.
A is for Appetite Grown Uncontrol’d: Michael Stipe: “…What we want and what we need has been confused…” Let’s face it. Our current consumer economy depends on us buying, accumulating, consuming and throwing away a staggering amount of stuff we don’t need. This is a recent phenomenon. NOBODY lived like this until post-war, mass production became the norm a scant 60 years ago. For most of our collective history we’ve lived quite differently. How can we rein in our super-sized desire to consume? Where to begin? Become aware of your appetite and what is driving it. What do you want? Need? Crave? Why? Sit with what you learn.
B is for Becoming-Aware of What’s Really Bought & Sold: William Wordsworth: “The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…” Buying stuff is fun. Temporary happiness. Selling stuff creates income. Income is the blood in the body of business, the water in the community well. But, what happens when our blood carries carcinogens or is clogged with cholesterol? What happens when there’s poison in the well? Or, nothing at all? Often it’s not the stuff itself-it’s the stuff in the stuff we’re buying, the stuff that went into the process of making the stuff we’re buying, the place & people affected by the stuff we’re buying and the fundamental finiteness of the stuff we’re buying that counts. Traditionally these concerns were “externalized” which is basically a fancy way to say “ignored.” Not any more. There are an awful lot of us and we are growing. It may not seem to matter for you, “now” but what about the “now” of your children or grandchildren? Feel like gambling with the future of your children? Not me.
C is for Community and the Richness Therein: Chrissie Hynde: “I went back to Ohio, but my city was gone.” There are a slew of good reasons to buy local and they all point to the same thing: community. Consuming locally produced goods and buying from local merchants create a powerful positive value generating loop that supports and sustains a key aspect of what supports and sustains us: Say it with me: “community.” Strong Community also creates alternatives to simple monetary transactions. Consumption is essentially exchange of value and there are many ways to do this, including bartering, the creation of “local currencies”, and sharing the abundance of our collective efforts and wealth (the bounty of backyard and community gardens, extra profit and time, knowledge, experience and expertise, excess production, tools, leftover food). The opposite of investing in the health of community are intriguing phenomena like burning rivers and dancing cats. The choice, as always, is ours.
In a hotel in Osaka, was reading the Daily Yomiuri this morning. In an article about economic recovery the writer reported on the need for American consumers to start…consuming more. Japanese consumers seem to be doing their part. Americans are vexing the stock market, though, with their reticence to spend.
This inspired me to mangle William Carlos Williams:
So much depends on the American consumer / glazed with pain / inside the big box store.
In a recent conversation I was told that indigenous people in South America see consumers caught in a trance of consumption. Like the no-face character in Hayao Miyazaki’s Sen to Chichiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away) consumers seem to be insatiable in their appetite for more-or, at least, we are expected to be.
To be what? The engine and fuel of the global economy that’s what. The global economy needs us to buy more, spend more to support so that it can support us. Talk about dysfunctional co-dependence. Not healthy, not sustainable, not particularly attractive. Unless, you like another Miyazaki image from Spirited Away of Chihiro’s gluttonous parent’s changing into swollen, slobbering pigs as they gorge themselves at a counter heaping with food.
Yet, what is the alternative? If we stop buying all this stuff what are Wal-Mart and their myriad of suppliers going to do? You may think I’m being sarcastic-I’m not. So much does depend on our participation in this game of consumption.
Where to begin?
Be aware of the game you’re playing and the effects it is having on you, your family and the world around you. Next, learn the rules. As you’re putting that into practice let’s come together, convene. It’s time to change the rules.
Let’s stop being consumers of stuff and design a game that allows us to become creators of community, builders of value. Let’s build and design for abundance and not the scarcity and separation that comes with our current addiction to consumption.
You bring the bat. I’ve got the ball.
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.
Check out this article at the Wall Street Journal. I’ve been hearing this a lot lately. Company heads are waiting for governments to give them clear signals on where they should be placing their R&D, development and marketing bets. In essence, they’re asking for regulators and policy makers to tell them the future. It’s a tall order
Still, that is exactly what regulators and policy makers need to be doing. Yet, signals remain mixed. The reason seems to be that our government leaders are looking for signs as well.
Regarding greenhouse gas emissions, the Japanese government, facing a seemingly intractable showdown between business interests (cap GHG emissions at +4% above 1990 levels) and environmentalists (reduce GHG emissions to -25% of 1990 levels) asked the public to help decide. The Japanese public, not surprisingly, chose the middle path option they were offered (-7% from 1990 levels). Let’s remember that under the Kyoto Protocol Japanese GHG emissions rose roughly 6%. Things are not what they seem. Ah, where is the Oracle at Delphi when you need her?
We are at a time where our conventional decision-making capacities are failing. Too many choices, mounting and multiple risks, way too much uncertainty. Business leaders want to move but are looking for direction. Governments wants to act but, they too, are looking for direction. Public opinion is all over the place.
So, what to do? Let’s begin with another question: What sustains? We need to take a look at what holds us together. What supports us? What do we need? What sustains?
We need to look at the Value Web and begin boldly designing from and for abundance. Big business, small business, venture capital, entrepreneurs, NPO’s & NGO’s, school principals, teachers & professors, doctors & nurses, housewives & househusbands, village councils, state, provincial & prefectural assemblies, mayors, city directors, governors, presidents & prime ministers–all of us need to be doing this together. NOW.
Otherwise, we will end up like the three middle school girls’ I remember from my English teaching days in Japan. They were members of the softball team and I was watching their team practice. The coach would line a ball to the shortstop and she would deftly field it and sling it over to first in accordance with her teammates shouts. The girl minding third base did the same. When the coach hit the ball deep to left field, the left fielder chased it down and relayed the ball to the shortstop who then, at the behest of her teammates spun and slung the ball home, to the catcher.
Then, there was this pop fly. A little Texas leaguer that either the girl at third, the shortstop or the left fielder could have called and caught. Instead they all tracked the ball on it’s upward arc and, as it descended, they formed a neat triangle into the middle of which dropped the ball. There was no tried and true response for this situation. The three girls looked at each other. Their teammates stood in confused silence. And, in that moment, nothing happened.
Sound familiar? Who wants the ball?
It’s easy to remember what I do this all for.
Rain dripping spring green leaves, conversations
ripples crossing puddles,
forming streams, rivulets running
down arms, creasing our fingers
We’ll be giving a talk on the connections between social media and sustainability next week. As I was doing some research on the topic I came upon this slightly dated piece over at Max Gladwell.
They make a good point that there is nothing “inherently green about social media.” Indeed. Social media is exactly what it sounds like: means for conveying ideas and information, connecting people and creating and maintaining relationships.
We also need to understand that sustainable sustainability is not “green” either. Or rather, it is “green” but it also red, orange, yellow, blue, turquoise, indigo, violet, etc. Simply, if we want to sustain our selves and the potential in the human endeavor for all sentient beings to prosper, we must go full spectrum.
We live in a value web. We need to manage multiple polarities and find a way to stream value into as many of the nodes of the web as possible. The more we are able to strengthen and enhance the web the more we are able to benefit in return. It is (almost) instant karma.
This is where social media comes in. The potential in social media to deeply interconnect us and provide cross-functional, cross-divisional, cross-industry, cross-sector collaboration is already being realized in technologies like Facebook and Twitter. A recent Business Week article shows how Accenture has developed enterprise versions of these systems as well. WiserEarth, an online community, also has adapted Wiki technology to connect sustainability-oriented groups and individuals.
Social media can accelerate and deepen the connection process. Interconnection is a key success factor for sustainability, and beyond sustainability, abundance. In the end, though, it is not the technology that matters. It is the intent and capacity of the users. Designers can and will design user interfaces that can meet a wide variety of needs. If we want to get the most out of Web 2.0, I believe we first need to design Sustainability 2.0. Sustainability 2.0 is a full-spectrum, value web centered, coherent approach to doing well together.
Let’s see what we can emerge.
P&G and Microsoft have both recently strongly committed themselves to “sustainability.” P&G’s Lafley saying:
P&G’s commitment to sustainability is strategic. It is how our company conducts business. [Specifically]
- Develop and market at least $50 billion in innovative and sustainable products, up from a goal of $20 billion.
- Reduce carbon dioxide emissions, energy consumption, water usage and disposed waste by 20 percent, leading to a 50 percent reduction over the last 10 years.
- Increase use of rail transportation from 10 percent now to 30 percent by 2015.
- Increase the number of children benefiting from P&G’s Safe Drinking Water Program to 300 million, up from the original goal of 250 million.
and Microsoft’s saying:
Recently our CEO, Steve Ballmer, sent out an e-mail to all 90,000 Microsoft employees. He made clear that environmental sustainability is a core value for the company that is embedded in all we do,” Robert Bernard said in an interview with CNET News. He added that Ballmer talked about the topic as a corporate belief, “as opposed to a green campaign or a marketing campaign or a marketing issue.
P&G’s commitment is wide ranging and touches on a number of nodes of the value web, including resources and trade, atmosphere, energy, water, transportation, and family and community. They seem to be systematically working sustainability into their value chain.
Microsoft’s statement, though bold, is a little more confused, referring to “environmental sustainability.” Not quite sure how Microsoft is sustaining the environment. Rather than “environmental sustainability” I would recommend something like “environmental awareness is a core value”.
Sustainability is bigger than you, me, the environment, climate change and renewable energy. It’s what links all of the essential nodes of the value web together.
I applaud both companies for their concern and commitment. However, I believe both have a way to go before they fully embrace and embed sustainability in their organizations. They need to take the lead by leaping from focussing on discrete parts to developing strategies that link these parts holistically to what they do.
Sustainability is about relationships and connections and not disconnected metrics. The sooner we see this the sooner we can start doing to get sustainable results.
Tags: A. J. Lafley, carbon dioxide emissions, climate change, core value, Microsoft, P&G, renewable energy, safe drinking water, Steve Balmer, sustainability, sustainable products, value web, waste reduction
Or, more appropriately, it seems extreme now. The trailer below from The Clean Bin Project site challenges the waste-generating status quo. As it says on their site:
The goal is zero landfill waste. For one year we will not buy any material goods. We will buy only consumables, and everything we buy must come in recyclable or compostable packaging.
In our current economic incarnation waste is a built-in function of consumption. We accept that “taking out the trash” is as much a part of our lives as going to school or going to work.
What if we didn’t?
Using high-tech badges that transmit data on an individual’s gestures, eye movements, voice levels, and even proximity to other people, MIT is parsing the physical traits of leadership. Along with highlighting effective managers, researchers hope the data will help train workers to be more effective at everything from networking to dealing with customers.
Intriguing idea but it seems to me it could easily become one more way to distance our selves from the hard work of becoming our selves. Becoming an effective leader or a manager is about learning how to engage with the people around you. Accreting a few non-verbal tricks is no substitute for developing your own capacity for leadership.
I remember a discussion with one potential coaching client where he told me he wanted me to teach him techniques to “make people like him.” Our relationship ended shortly after I told him there were no techniques for this.
If you want to be a leader you need to spend the time and energy and develop the discipline to become a leader. If you want to engage more fully with people or the world in general you have to deepen your capacity to engage.
There are no shortcuts, secret techniques or weekend courses that are going to do this for you.