New problems require new thinking

To get different results you need to behave differently. To achieve that you need to plan differently. And to plan differently from your competitors you need to think differently from them.

The focus of this blog is mostly around examples of thinking differently about various situations.

For example, in 1854, a major new outbreak of cholera struck Soho in London. With cesspools overflowing the decision had been taken to dump raw sewage straight into the Thames, but at the time nobody saw this as a problem because nobody thought that cholera had anything to do with polluted drinking water. They knew (or thought they knew) that just as with malaria, cholera was caused by bad air.

But one person, John Snow, mapped the cholera cases and removed the handle from one particular water pump, proving that polluted water was the problem. This not only solved the short term problem, but also enabled cities to grow much larger over time, through the use of piped water and sanitation.

Einstein told us that it is impossible to solve problems with the same level of thinking that created them. Gregory Bateson said that most of the problems we face are the result of a difference between the way we think the world works and the way it actually works.

In these blog posts you will find examples of thinking differently about a variety of situations. These may not immediately address the situations you are facing today, but they give examples of how different thinking leads to different, often simpler, understanding, and hence simpler clearer plans for action and results.

Finn Jackson thinks differently and brings a new perspective to the situation, which can help you get the results you want.

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Creating infinite growth on a finite planet

The lessons of Inner Leadership are an essential step to delivering sustainable leadership. They bring stability, focus, alignment, and competitive advantage.

This is the last in a series of eight articles explaining why and how.

We started our search for sustainable leadership as a way to understand more deeply what it takes to build a sustainable brand. What we quickly found is that sustainable leadership brings the potential to make existing models of leadership “obsolete” by creating organisations that grow stronger with every challenge they face.

The subsequent articles led us through the steps needed to achieve this. They showed how sustainable leadership uses vision, values, and purpose to inspire people to move through the three stages of transition. We learned how to create an inspiring vision, how to find more opportunities in a crisis, and how to select the one that is best for us. Finally, we saw that implementation is more likely to succeed when we learn to make clearer sense of a changing world and connect more deeply with who we are and what matters most to us.

Together, these steps define the seven competencies of sustainable leadership.

Placed in reverse order, they also describe a process for achieving sustainable leadership:

  1. Centre and ground: connect deeply with who you are and what matters most to you
  2. Check for mistaken assumptions, spot emerging patterns
  3. Find more opportunities in the situation you face
  4. Choose the one that suits you best
  5. Check how it aligns with your purpose and values
  6. Articulate your chosen way forward as an inspiring vision-story
  7. Use vision, values, and purpose to speed the transitions as you move forward

Any individual who applies this framework will connect more deeply with what matters most to them, find more ways to apply that in the situations they face, and increase their ability to get the outcomes they want. As they do this they will learn more about themselves and become more able to put that into practice: they will self-actualise.

Any organisation that applies this framework will become more stable and directed. When issues arise it will know which ones to ignore and which to pay attention to. For the issues that matter, it will find a wider range of solutions and put them into practice more quickly and inspiringly. Such organisations will use change to become stronger. In a VUCA time of constant change this brings sustainable competitive advantage.


Generative Enterprise, Generative Economy

Combined, such people and organisations become a new kind of enterprise, aligned around their shared purpose and values:

  • The people provide the energy and enthusiasm for getting things done. This brings higher quality, shorter timeframes, lower costs, plus greater resilience and adaptability. As Gallup has shown, “a highly engaged work-force means the difference between a company that outperforms its competitors [by 147%!] and one that fails to grow.”
  • The organisation provides an inspiring and supportive environment. This not only gives people more enthusiasm for tackling the issues that arise but also enables them to do so in ways that challenge, stretch, and develop them. The more that people then discover and develop their own unique talents (self-actualise), the more they will develop and deliver unique products and services for the organisation. This is why companies like Google create “an environment where people can flourish and grow,” then commercialise the best of whatever emerges.

Together, organisation and people become ‘generative’: they each help the other to grow.

Together, they become a kind of mechanism for putting their shared values and purpose into practice in a VUCA world.

Together, they generate stability, enthusiasm, and growth.

And what happens next, as Paul Polman of Unilever has described, is that others feel attracted to join in and contribute. In this way the generative attitude of a single sustainable leader becomes manifested into the culture of an organisation, then outwards into a generative business ecosystem of suppliers, customers, and investors that each help the others to grow.


Sustainable Leadership Revisited

Let’s return to the map of sustainable leadership we started from and understand it more clearly.

This map lays out the activities that have been described as “sustainability.” It shows that sustainability is not an activity but an attitude of mind: of how to carry out the activities any business needs to perform.

In the bottom left corner, that attitude is about complying with the minimum requirements set by others. This is extractive leadership.

Towards the centre of the chart, sustainability is about optimising the value, cost, and risk of our own organisation by aligning more collaboratively with our externalities. This is where many of us are now.

And towards the top right of the chart we are seeing an emerging approach: one that is about recognising ourselves as part of something bigger (purpose), then working to adapt our behaviour in ways that improve the performance of that whole (ecosystem). This is generative, sustainable leadership.


Infinite Growth on a Finite Planet

Humanity faces a choice. At the end of each year we can either have a little less of the key resources that matter or a little more.

Having less at the end of each year is the extractive model of leadership we have followed for thousands of years. When humanity was small and the Earth’s resources seemed infinite this made sense. But we are now using the resources of 1.6 Earths per year: we are shrinking the carrying capacity of our spaceship and we need to change our habit.

Strategically, the only alternative is to generate a little more of the resources that matter. This might seem impossible but that is only because we have not yet learned how to do it. We need to become generative, to generate more. There is no alternative.

Unilever and others are already showing us how to do this. By adopting a different attitude (an attitude we call “sustainability”) and using it to inspire new solutions, they are already building generative organisations and generative business ecosystems, where each part grows the others. This can bring us infinite growth on a finite planet: not necessarily infinite in terms of quantity, but definitely infinite in terms of quality, variety, and value.

The aim of this series of articles has been to make this process explicit and accelerate it.

We can create an abundant, generative world by creating abundant, generative organisations. And we can create abundant, generative organisations by creating abundant, generative leaders.

The seven steps of sustainable leadership outlined above are a way to achieve this. They are a framework (with tools) for enabling any of us to connect more deeply with what matters most to us, find more ways to apply that better, and in so doing develop ourselves, our organisations, and the world.

Originally published by Sustainable Brands.

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Keeping your head in a crisis

The lessons of Inner Leadership are an essential step to delivering sustainable leadership. They bring stability, focus, alignment, and competitive advantage.

This is the seventh in a series of eight articles explaining why and how.

Our search for sustainable leadership has shown us how to find the opportunities in a crisis and turn the best of them into an inspiring vision.

To help ensure successful implementation of that vision, sustainable leaders add two final abilities to their skill set.


Make Clear Sense of the Situation

As we work to implement our chosen way forward, difficulties are bound to arise. A world that no longer works the way it used to makes it easy for us to misinterpret what these events might mean. It also makes it difficult to spot the new solutions that might be emerging.

Sustainable leaders work hard to enhance their abilities to do both these things (to spot mistaken assumptions and to ‘think outside the box’ to find new solutions) because they know that both will dramatically increase their chances of getting the results they want.

For example, it used to be normal business practice to register patents as a way to prevent others from copying your business but in 2014 Tesla realised this assumption was holding it back. The company opened up its battery patents to competitors and advanced it strategic goals.

It used to be normal business practice for hotel and taxi companies to own or lease buildings and vehicles. Letting go of this assumption enabled Airbnb and Uber to develop radically new business models and transform their industries.

Altogether, there are eight common types of mistaken assumption we can easily make, especially in a time of change. By learning to spot them, sustainable leaders empower themselves to find other, more realistic interpretations, reallocate resources, and increase their likelihood of getting the results they want.

Sustainable leaders also know that in a time of change new opportunities will be emerging. To our conscious minds, habituated to the ways the world used to work, these new paths will be invisible or might even seem ‘wrong’. But our unconscious intuitive minds will be spotting these new patterns as they emerge.

We’ve all watched sportspeople in a split second leap and dive to put the ball exactly where they wanted it to go. We’ve all experienced a solution suddenly popping into our heads out of nowhere or unexpectedly remembered something critically important that we thought we had forgotten. At these moments it is not our rational, thinking minds that bring us the answers but our unconscious intuition. Sustainable leaders develop structured ways of accessing this intuition at will.

Learning to spot mistaken assumptions and connect reliably with their intuition enables sustainable leaders to make better sense of a changing world and to find their best ways forward.


Centre, Ground, and Deepen Our Connection with Ourselves

A changing world brings us more issues to deal with and a greater sense of urgency for doing so.

Faced with these multiple competing priorities, sustainable leaders develop one final skill: the ability to remain centred and grounded at all times.

At one level this can involve simple techniques for releasing stress, anchoring desired states, or maintaining the mindfulness that has become so popular in recent years.

But the ultimate way of remaining steadfast in the face of multiple conflicting priorities is to connect deeply with the priorities that matter most to you: to who you are and what you care about. Then you quickly know which issues to ignore, which to pay attention to, and what outcomes to create.

Sustainable leaders set aside time daily, weekly, and monthly to review and connect with their personal priorities. They use three types of activity: exercise, creativity, and meditation.

“Exercise,” says John Ratey, psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, “is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning. Even 10 minutes of activity changes your brain.” Richard Branson, for example, says he gets four additional hours of productivity each day from a variety of workouts that include swimming, rock climbing, running, weightlifting, and yoga.

Science has shown that meditation also physically changes our brains, generating higher capacities for concentration and managing our emotions. Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple, was well known for practicing Zen Buddhism. “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice,” he said. Meditation connected him with that inner voice. Ariana Huffington calls her early-morning yoga and meditation sessions ‘joy triggers’. Walt Freese, former CEO of Ben & Jerry’s and now the Sterling-Rice Group, starts and finishes each day with 15 minutes of meditation, exercises for at least an hour three days a week, and at weekends goes hiking, climbing, or skiing.

Finally, in a world where everything is changing, the ability to innovate is an increasingly important part of every leader’s toolset. Innovation is applied creativity, so participating in the arts — either by being creative yourself or by engaging with the creativity of others — is a powerful way to recharge your batteries, connect with what inspires you, and strengthen your creative muscle, your ability to innovate.

Time spent in nature enhances all three.

Like a tree putting down deeper roots, the self-connection developed by whatever combination of these three activities is right for you will not only keep you stable when storms are raging but will also enable you to spread your leadership ‘branches’ out into larger challenges and roles when times are calm.

Switching the metaphor, Abraham Lincoln famously said, “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my ax.” Meditation, exercise, and creativity sharpen that axe. They bring a clarity and focus that enables us to deal with our workload more efficiently and effectively.

For sustainable leaders, connecting deeply with who we are and what matters most to us lays the foundation for everything else that follows.


Next Steps

Our search for sustainable leadership has led us on a journey. That journey started with the possibility of designing a new approach for leadership that makes existing leadership models obsolete and has ended with the need to connect deeply with who we truly are.

The final article will review all these steps and examine their implications.

Originally published by Sustainable Brands.

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Choosing the best way forward

The lessons of Inner Leadership are an essential step to delivering sustainable leadership. They bring stability, focus, alignment, and competitive advantage.

This is the sixth in a series of eight articles explaining why and how.

Our search for sustainable leadership has shown how vision, values, and purpose enable us not only to cope with change but to use change to become stronger. In a world of constant change this brings sustainable competitive advantage.

To achieve this we need to create an inspiring vision. That vision will be stronger if we first widen our options by looking for the opportunities that exist inside any crisis.

The previous article showed how to find those opportunities. This article discusses how to choose between them.


Find What You Love

Having identified more options for moving forward, a churning world makes it more difficult to choose which one to implement: when the future is unpredictable how can we know which way forward will turn out best?

Steve Jobs had a simple answer to this question. He was an imperfect human being like the rest of us but he achieved more in his short life than many of us do. Describing what enabled him to recover and find new direction after being fired by the very company he had founded, he said,

“You’ve got to find what you love… If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

In a time of change this makes sense. Love is what will bring the inspiration to keep us going when difficulties arise — and keep our employees, customers, and investors going too.

But love can be difficult to convert into a business plan. And what if we haven’t found what we love yet? Are there other approaches we can apply?



Benchmarking is the process of looking for existing best practices in other industries, then adapting them to meet our own needs. The best practice example for achieving results in highly unpredictable circumstances must surely be elite army units. Special forces operating behind enemy lines have different objectives from you and me but they know how to accomplish specific, measurable goals in highly uncertain, even hostile environments.

They achieve their goals, despite those difficulties, by defining two things:

  • First, as well as knowing their primary objective (to capture the target, gather intelligence, or whatever) they also make sure that every team member understands the wider purpose of the mission: the role it plays as part of the larger campaign. Then, when things turn out differently from expected, they can easily adapt to carry out other, independent actions that support the same aims.
  • Second, each unit is given rules of engagement. These define what actions (such as returning fire) are appropriate and inappropriate under different circumstances. This keeps the unit focused on its highest priorities, maximizing the chances of success.

By defining these two simple principles of conduct — purpose and rules of engagement — elite army units are able to go into highly unpredictable, even hostile environments and adapt to changing circumstances in ways that maximize their potential to achieve the outcomes they seek.

As we move forward to accomplish our objectives in a changing world we, too, face unpredictable circumstances. The equivalents of purpose and rules of engagement for us are our purpose and values: these define the underlying intent behind what we are doing and the way we choose to act in the world. And, unlike the army units, we get to choose them for ourselves:

  • To find your values, think back to times when you have felt most alive, in flow, operating at the maximum of your potential, ‘doing what you are here to do’. Ask yourself what values you were upholding in those moments. These are your core values.
  • To find your purpose, identify your two best qualities and how you love applying them. Then define what an ideal world looks like to you. Your purpose is to create whatever an ideal world looks like to you, by applying your two best qualities in the ways you most love.

When we define our purpose and values in these ways we are effectively defining “what we love, and making it actionable.

Then when we work in organisations that align with our purpose and values we feel “alive, in flow, applying our best qualities in the ways we most love to build what our ideal world looks like.” No wonder Gallup repeatedly finds that companies with highly engaged workforces significantly outperform their peers. No wonder Google provides “an environment where people can flourish and grow,” then commercializes the best of whatever emerges.

People who work in organisations that align with their purpose and values are not just building the organisation, they are building themselves: fulfilling their deepest psychological drives, realizing their full potential, self-actualizing. And when people and organisation work together in this way they become a mechanism for bringing their shared purpose and values alive in the world.


Making Your Choice 

We now know how to decide which direction to move forward in: choose the option that aligns best with your purpose and values, given the conditions you face. Choose what you love.

In other words, like a sailor on the sea, if the weather is calm and the wind set fair, choose the course that leads most directly towards the purpose or port that you are aiming for. But if the wind is against you then tack and jibe across it until the wind changes. Your short term direction might appear disjointed but your long term destination (purpose) remains unchanged.

This approach combines focus, determination, and adaptability. In an uncertain world it gives you the best chance of achieving the outcomes that matter most. And it reinforces your values and purpose by example, attracting more people who share those values and purpose, and creating an organisation that uses change to become stronger.


Next Steps 

Our search for sustainable leadership has now uncovered five steps towards making existing models of leadership “obsolete.”

All that is left is to make sure that we can implement our chosen way forward.

The next article will describe two more skills or abilities for achieving this. A final article will then review what we have learned about sustainable leadership and examine its implications.

Originally published by Sustainable Brands.

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Developing an opportunity mindset

The lessons of Inner Leadership are an essential step to delivering sustainable leadership. They bring stability, focus, alignment, and competitive advantage.

This is the fifth in a series of eight articles explaining why and how.

Our search for sustainable leadership has shown how defining vision, values, and purpose helps organizations to adapt seamlessly to change. This brings competitive advantage that grows stronger with each challenge, built on courage, enthusiasm, and the passion of the human spirit.

But before we can define an inspiring vision, we first need to choose a way forward. We will do that better if we first identify a range of options.

This article describes how sustainable leaders are able to identify more opportunities to move forward during times of change. (The next will describe how they choose between them.)


Change Brings Challenge, and Opportunity 

A time of radical change brings challenges for organizations. This increases the pressure for new solutions but also makes implementation more difficult. A time of radical change also makes our standard approaches to problem solving and opportunity discovery less useful.

But a time of change will also bring new opportunities. Often these are hidden inside what at first sight look like problems.

When Alexander Fleming discovered one of his experiments had failed (growing mold instead of bacteria) he could have thrown it away or made sure it was cleaned properly next time. Instead he looked closer, discovered penicillin, and saved millions of lives.

When bullet train engineers, digging a tunnel through a mountain in Japan, faced a problem with flooding they could simply have pumped the water away or sealed the tunnel. Instead they bottled the mineral water, sold it, and built a $50m brand.

When Georges de Mestral returned from a walk to find his clothes and his dog covered with burrs he didn’t just remove them, he looked closely at how they attached themselves, then invented Velcro®.

And when Travis Kalanick and a friend couldn’t get a cab in Paris one day they didn’t just complain about it, they founded Uber. The rest, as we know, is history.

We’ve all faced similar problems but not created similar outcomes. The question is, what was it about these particular situations that led to these innovations?

The situations were all different. But the people all shared one thing in common: an attitude that led them to look for the opportunities inside the problems they faced.

This is the attitude that defines leadership. Like any attitude it can be learned.

We will never know exactly what happened in the cases outlined above, but it must surely have been one of three things:

  • Chance, Synchronicity, or Serendipity
    Travis Kalanick might have given up all hope of ever getting a cab when suddenly he noticed his friend using a smartphone to order something online.
  • Intuition
    James Cameron had the ideas for Terminator and Avatar during a dream. The inventor of the sewing machine solved the problem of how to make the needle work in the same way. Perhaps intuition played a role in these examples.
  • Actively Treating the Problem as an Opportunity
    If we reframe and generalize a situation we can ask where or for whom it might be an opportunity. Instead of thinking “My experiment has failed!” Alexander Fleming might have said, “Something prevented the bacteria from growing.” Then, “Who would find it useful to have ‘something that prevents bacteria from growing’?”

We can all train ourselves to develop these perspectives. We can take five minutes at the end of each day to remember the things that have gone well. We can get into the habit of praising or thanking others. We can use various techniques to connect more deeply with our intuition. And instead of simply reacting to a situation we can pause and ask ourselves what it would have taken to prevent the situation from arising in the first place or what opportunity it might present for us, or others, to develop new leadership skills.

Altogether there are ten different types of opportunity we can look for and several tools or techniques we can use to find them. They don’t guarantee that we will find a world-changing transformation in every crisis we face. But the more we develop these skills the more options we will uncover and the more likely we will become to make the best of whatever situations arise.

Whichever way forward we eventually choose, engaging an attitude that approaches problems as if they contain opportunities brings us five important side benefits:

  1. Enthusiasm, Morale:
    Looking for opportunities rather than problems is more enjoyable to be around.
  2. Understanding:
    Searching for opportunities forces us to understand more deeply what is really going on. This deeper understanding will be useful no matter what direction we choose.
  3. Impact, Durability:
    When John Cleese was writing sketches with the Monty Python team his colleagues would often stop when they got to the first punchline. Cleese would keep working until he found the second, third, or fifth level of comedy. Looking for the opportunities beyond the quick fix will bring outcomes that are more remarkable, last longer, or work at a deeper level than your competitors.
  4. Control:
    By choosing to look for opportunities you put yourself back in control. Whichever direction you eventually move forward in, you do so from a deeper knowledge that it is the best alternative for you. This brings more confidence, focus, and momentum to your implementation.
  5. Antifragility:
    By combining all these points, choosing to look for the opportunities in a situation makes you more certain of your priorities and more able to put them into practice: it makes you more antifragile.

In a time of change, when all ways forward will be difficult and unpredictable, success depends less on the particular path you choose and more on the levels of inspiration you are able to generate (in customers, employees, and investors) to sustain that direction over time. Having an attitude to look for the opportunities hidden in a crisis makes you more likely to find that inspiration.

Sustainable leadership takes this attitude, grows it, then wraps it into a framework and tools that convert it into antifragile competitive advantage.

Our next step towards achieving this is to choose between the opportunities we identify. This is the topic of the next article.

Originally published by Sustainable Brands.

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Creating inspiration

The lessons of Inner Leadership are an essential step to delivering sustainable leadership. They bring stability, focus, alignment, and competitive advantage.

This is the fourth in a series of eight articles explaining why and how.

Our search for sustainable leadership has shown us how to create organizations that use change to become stronger by using values and purpose to facilitate the transitions that arise during change.

To accelerate the first stage of these transitions, Separation, we need to build an inspiring vision of the future we want to create. This article describes how.


Vision Matters — It Makes Us Feel Alive

“If you are working on something exciting that you really care about,” Steve Jobs said, “you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.”

“If you want to build a ship,” poet and pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

In a time of rapid change, your ability to create an inspiring vision enables you to meet any challenge.

It transforms your results three times over:

  • First, in times of change, people are likely to be experiencing uncertainty, confusion, and loss. Getting them to switch to your proposed way of doing things means overcoming their inertia, doubt, and even fear. The best way to do this is by inspiring them.
  • Once people have joined your project or initiative, difficulties are bound to arise. The more inspiration you have created with your vision, the more people will be able to work around those difficulties without needing further input from you. The more inspiration customers, employees, and investors gain from participating in your project, the more committed they will be to continue engaging with it, no matter what happens. A 2016 survey of tech companies showed that employees at Tesla and SpaceX had the most stressful and the lowest paying jobs, but also the most meaningful and inspiring. The meaning and inspiration they felt outweighed the stress and lower pay.
  • Third, the inspiration felt by your team will show up in the results you produce together over time. Research by Gallup found that companies with highly engaged workforces “outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share… A highly engaged work-force,” Gallup says, “means the difference between a company that outperforms its competitors and one that fails to grow.”

Creating inspiration will spur people to join your project, motivate them to stick with it, and generate higher levels of contribution. It is also more enjoyable to be around.

So how can we create this inspiration?


Seven Building Blocks

We can describe your chosen way forward in an inspiring, visionary way by using seven building blocks.

The first three blocks describe three elements that research has shown are essential to achieving successful strategic change:

  • clear definition of the problem
  • clear definition of the future you want to create
  • clearly defined first steps to get there – not the entire journey, just the first steps

These building blocks will then have more power if you communicate them in ways that resonate with your audience, so the fourth building block is to create that meaning for your audience, both rationally and emotionally.

The fifth block is to describe the underlying values, principles, or ideals that your vision upholds.

The sixth is to ask people to make a choice: will they support your project?

And finally, you will achieve all this best when you speak it in your own authentic voice. This is the seventh building block.

The seven ingredients for creating an inspiring vision are:

  1. clear definition of the problem
  2. clear definition of the future you want to create
  3. clear first steps
  4. together with the higher principles or values that your vision supports
  5. delivered authentically by you
  6. in language that is meaningful for your audience
  7. in a way that spurs your audience to decide whether or not to join you

Individually, these blocks can be boring, dull, and lifeless. The best way to make them inspiring is to turn them into a story.


A Vision-Story

Human beings are hard-wired for stories. We connect with them, engage with them, and remember them in ways that simply don’t happen when we receive the same information in other forms.

Princeton neuroscientist Uri Hasson has found that, “Story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.” Screenwriting guru Robert McKee explains, “When an idea wraps itself around an emotional charge… a story well told gives you the very thing you cannot get from life: meaningful emotional experience.”

A story can deliver a vision so meaningful and inspiring that your audience not only understands the vision but internalises it as their own.

As a simple example, let’s invent one deliberately bland sentence for each of the seven blocks, then combine them into a story:

“We are facing a difficult situation, unlike anything we have experienced before. But we come from a long line of people who have faced difficult situations and overcome them. We can’t stay as we are, or go back to where we were: we have to move forward. And if we move in the direction I am suggesting then we have the opportunity to build something very special. It will uphold the very principles we stand for. We have all the tools and resources we need to begin. The only question is, are you willing to step up and play your part for those who will come after?”

Each building block alone is a single, unexciting ingredient. But, like your mother’s cooking or the recipe for gunpowder, combined in the right order and proportions they can become a whole that is more powerful than its parts.

Story is the best way to combine facts and emotion so that you and others want to make your chosen way forward happen. Sustainable leadership uses this ‘vision-story’, together with purpose and values, to build organisations that use change to become stronger

But before we can create an inspiring vision we first need to choose a direction to move forward in: the future we want to create. And before we can do that, we need to know what our options are.

The next article looks at how to identify more opportunities in a time of change.

Originally published by Sustainable Brands.

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Managing emotional transitions

The lessons of Inner Leadership are an essential step to delivering sustainable leadership. They bring stability, focus, alignment, and competitive advantage.

This is the third in a series of eight articles explaining why and how.

The first step in our search for sustainable leadership has shown how purpose and values can make us more able to handle change. Managed correctly, this generates a form of competitive advantage that grows stronger with each challenge we face, making other leadership models “obsolete.”

This article looks in more detail at how we can achieve this.


Transitions Matter More than Changes

We are living through a time of rapid change. Changes in technology, the economy, politics, and society are forcing every organisation to adapt. Each change brings with it psychological and emotional transitions. Some of these are large, others small. All will be important.

For example, following a reorganization John and his team found themselves with new roles and reporting lines. The changes involved were relatively straightforward: John and his team could quickly adapt to the new location, tasks, and technologies they were being asked to take on. But what mattered more to them (and affected their morale and productivity) were the unspoken impacts on their identities. Would their new role still be as important to the strategy of the firm? Would they lose their relationships with key decision-makers? What would be the impact on their status in the industry?

It wasn’t the changes that would determine the success or failure of the reorganization but the way these personal transitions were handled.

Changes happen in the outer world. They involve new roles, tasks, and reporting lines. Transitions happen in our inner worlds. They are about who we are, our identities.

Changes are visible. Transitions are invisible. Changes involve places, transactions, and things. Transitions are about meanings, relationships, and stories. Changes can happen quickly. Transitions can take time for people to work through. Changes are predictable, transitions are not. This is why change guru William Bridges says, “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.”

Managing these transitions forms Step 4 of the process by which change happens in organisations (see diagram). It is the step we collectively pay least attention to. But it is also the step that, if managed well, closes the loop of organisational change, making leaders and their organisations more able to address the next issue that arises, and so building antifragile competitive advantage.

To understand how we can achieve this, and why purpose and values play such an important role, let’s look in more detail at what it takes to manage the psychological and emotional transitions that accompany any change (Step 4 in the diagram).

The first person to write about these transitions was Arnold van Gennep. In the early 1900s he studied the rites of passage associated with the major life transitions of death, marriage, and the shift from childhood into adulthood. What he discovered was that we never go straight from ‘State A’ into ‘State B’. There is always a third, intermediate, or transitional stage where we are no longer in the old identity but not yet fully in the new one either. This is the chrysalis stage between the caterpillar and the butterfly.

Getting married provides a good example. Usually this begins with a period of engagement. Here we announce that a change is going to happen and start to come to terms with the idea that we will take on a new identity. This stage is called Separation. In the second, Threshold, stage the wedding itself takes place. Here we cross the threshold and officially become ‘married’: our old life is over but our new identity has not yet formed. Then, during the third stage, we start to discover and integrate what being married is really about. This is Consolidation: the honeymoon period and beyond.

These same three phases exist whenever we start a new role or implement change in an organisation. We separate from the way things used to be, cross the threshold to start building the new approach, then gradually consolidate this new way of being and doing.

The key success factors for the first phase, Separation, are to let go of the past and turn to face the future. This involves accepting that the past has gone, recognizing the resources and learning it has brought us, and deciding to use the future to rebuild what matters most. Ritualistic actions can help us let go of the past. The key to turning to face the future is to create an inspiring vision.

In the second, Threshold, stage people face uncertainty. Here we have let go of the way the world used to be but have not yet built the way it is going to be. Values give us a way to step into that uncertainty, by controlling the only thing we can control: ourselves. By defining our values we give ourselves guidelines and permission to choose quickly how we respond to any situation. This puts us back in control and immediately brings the culture of our future vision alive.

Finally, during Consolidation, the priority is to align and integrate the different elements of our future organisation. Here momentum, coherence, and communication matter. Defining purpose delivers all three: it provides urgency, alignment, and a way to resolve competing priorities. Defining purpose enables different parts of our organisation to make rapid, independent decisions and also remain aligned with a common, shared direction.

We now understand why values and purpose are so important: in a churning world they bring the stability and direction that enable people to step enthusiastically into the uncertainty of the Threshold phase and to achieve Consolidation. An inspiring vision does the same for Separation.

By empowering their organisations to quickly manage all three stages of transition, sustainable leaders enable them to adapt seamlessly to change. This builds the “better system” Buckminster Fuller talked about: a new kind of organisation that not only survives change but uses change to become stronger, the ultimate ‘sustainability’.

We will return to purpose and values in the sixth article of this series. For now, the next step in our quest to find the building blocks of sustainable leadership is to understand how to achieve Separation. For this we need to understand how to create an inspiring vision.

Originally published by Sustainable Brands.

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Building antifragile competitive advantage

The lessons of Inner Leadership are an essential step to delivering sustainable leadership. They bring stability, focus, alignment, and competitive advantage.

This is the second in a series of eight articles explaining why and how.

We start our search for sustainable leadership with a quote from Buckminster Fuller. He said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

This rule has applied to all successful innovations, from the bronze age that replaced the stone age, to the industrial revolution, electricity, and smartphones. The reasons all these innovations succeeded is because they made what existed before obsolete.

This means the first goal of sustainable leadership must be to “make existing models of leadership obsolete.” The way we do that is by introducing a style of leadership that creates significant competitive advantage.

This article describes the central core of sustainable leadership: a way to bring your organisation a form of competitive advantage that grows stronger with every challenge you face.


From ‘Coping with Change’ to ‘Thriving Because of Change’

We are living through a time of radical change. The management jargon calls it a VUCA world: volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. I call it simply The Churning.

No matter what you call it, the fact is that in this churning world any organisation that cannot cope with change will fail. And organisations that cope better with change will have competitive advantage: over time they will become more successful, and more sustainable.

This means the first task of sustainable leadership is to teach us not only how to survive change but to use change to become stronger.

To see how we can accomplish this, let’s look at the way change happens in organisations. Then let’s look at how to make it happen better.


How Change Happens in Organisations

Change in most organisations follows a sequence three steps. These begin when someone notices a potential issue (or opportunity) and raises this to the organisation.

If the organisation agrees the issue is important it then makes plans to address the matter. This is Step 2.

Step 3 is execution: the organisation implements its change plan.

These three steps define most organisational change programs:

But there is also a fourth step. What happens next is that each person affected by the change goes through a psychological and emotional transition. Some of these will be large, others small but, for better or worse, these experiences then reshape the world views of each affected person. Either they confirm more deeply what the person already knew or they teach that person something different. This is Step 4.

And the next time these people find themselves in a situation where change might be needed (back to Step 1 again) they will use these new world views, and their learning from what happened last time, to decide how they will respond: whether or not they will speak up and how they will do so (Arrow 5).

Charting this process, from planning to execution, from individual to organisation, and back again, gives us a picture I call the ‘Cycle of Leadership’. This is how change happens in organisations:


Making Change Happen Better

If we want to improve our organisation’s ability to handle change there are just two ways to do so: either we can improve the way we carry out each step or (better) we can close the loop.

To understand this, imagine an organisation that says one thing but does another. Perhaps it says it encourages risk-taking but actually only rewards people who meet their financial targets. Such an organisation might move successfully through the first three stages of change but it will fail at the fourth and fifth to close the loop. Instead, people will learn from experience not to believe what they are told. This will make them less willing and able to address new issues (Steps 1 and 2) and more resistant to future changes (Steps 3 and 4). Over time the organisation’s ability to respond to change will degrade.

But imagine instead an organisation that shows consistency in what it says and does: an organisation that defines a set of (say) purpose and values, then actively applies them in its day-to-day operations and decision-making. Such an organisation closes the loop. What happens next is a kind of magic.

An organisation that lives in line with its stated purpose and values teaches its people by example. When new issues arise, this deeper understanding helps people know more clearly which issues matter and which do not (Step 1). Their added clarity and confidence then helps people to create new plans (Step 2), implement them (Step 3), and handle their transitions (Step 4). In other words, by defining a set of purpose and values and putting them at the heart of its operations and decision-making, the organisation increases its ability to change. This brings competitive advantage.

And there is more. At the end of each cycle, the organisation gets to review and update its purpose and values so that when the next challenge arises the organisation becomes even more able to identify the issue and address it.

In this way, by switching from linear to circular management, both the organisation and its people become able not only to survive crises and change but to actually become stronger because of crises and change. They become what Nicholas Nassim Taleb calls ‘antifragile’.

Things that break under pressure we call ‘fragile’. Things that do not break under pressure we call ‘strong’, ‘robust’, or ‘resilient’. And things, people, and systems that actually become stronger when placed under pressure, Taleb calls ‘antifragile’.

This ability to use stress to become stronger is the foundation of ‘sustainability’ for any organisation. It is the first step towards creating Buckminster Fuller’s “new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

This is why purpose and values matter: not because of any moral high ground but because in times of change they bring stability and direction. By defining and then acting in line with their purpose and values, leaders and their organisations become more able to handle change. This brings competitive advantage that becomes stronger with each challenge they face. And it is the first building block of sustainable leadership.

We will return to purpose and values in the sixth article of this series. But for now our next step is to understand more clearly how to make Arrow 5 happen. For that we need to look more closely at Step 4, managing transitions. This is the focus of the next article.

Originally published by Sustainable Brands.

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In search of sustainable leadership – a series

The lessons of Inner Leadership are an essential step to delivering sustainable leadership. They bring stability, focus, alignment, and competitive advantage.

This series of eight articles explains why and how.

Building a sustainable brand or enterprise can involve many things, ranging from sustainable energy to sustainable supply chains, sustainable packaging, manufacturing, food, electronics, transport, marketing, buildings, textiles, and so on. None of these is important to everyone but all are important to someone. Building a sustainable brand is about identifying the strategic and tactical priorities facing your business today and addressing them using the more sustainable alternatives that are currently emerging into the marketplace.

But is there something missing? Is there something deeper we have forgotten or perhaps not yet seen? Is it enough simply to adopt new technologies and techniques but keep on leading in the same old ways? Or is there a new paradigm for leadership — ‘Sustainable Leadership’ if you will — that is also part of achieving a sustainable brand and can provide us with a shortcut?

This series of articles argues that there is such an emerging style of sustainable leadership and that it offers not only sustainability, but also personal growth, antifragile competitive advantage, and a hyper-sustainable, generative world.


Mapping Sustainability Leadership

Before we can define what sustainable leadership might look like, we need first to understand the ways in which sustainability is already impacting business performance. People use the word ‘sustainability’ to describe a wide range of activities. To understand sustainable leadership let’s first unravel these different elements, then look for the common thread that runs between them.

To do this, we can group together the initiatives most commonly described as ‘sustainability’ into eight themes or categories:

  1. Compliance:
    For some people, sustainability is about complying with legislation or reporting requirements. Usually these are defined by government but some lenders also offer lower interest rates in return for greater reporting transparency around certain issues. Complying with either set of requirements has been called ‘sustainability’.
  2. Efficiency/Cost Reduction:
    Other sustainability initiatives focus on reducing the use of resources such as energy and water, increasing efficiency and cutting costs.
  3. Risk Management:
    One reason resources become more expensive is that they are in short supply. Initiatives to reduce costs can therefore expand to include ensuring continuity of supply. Here, sustainability becomes about managing operational risk. It can also be about managing financial and reputational risk.
  4. People — “Our Greatest Resource”:
    One key resource for many organisations is their people. Sustainability initiatives often improve employee motivation and morale, leading to better hiring and retention rates (reducing HR costs and risk), higher productivity, and greater customer focus.
  5. Extended Supply Chains, Agility, and Learning:
    Not all employees and resources are controlled directly by the firm. When sustainability initiatives extend into management of suppliers and supply chains the outcomes can include reduced cost, risk, and the creation of more integrated approaches. At large scale, these initiatives can also be about increasing organisational agility and learning.
  6. Lifecycle Analysis, New Product Development:
    When sustainability initiatives look downstream, rather than up the value chain, the focus shifts to lifecycle analysis, new product development or innovation, biomimicry, and the ‘race for patents’. Now the focus is on adding value not cost, differentiating the business.
  7. Visionary Leadership:
    For some leaders, sustainability is about pursuing a vision that considers future generations and the environment. Such approaches might include new strategies, business models, or measurement and reward systems. Adding a sustainability perspective to the already-difficult operational and strategic challenges of running a business makes the task more demanding. But managers who are able to rise to these challenges increase the ‘bench strength’ of the organisation’s leadership team.
  8. Transformed Communications/Relationships:
    Sustainability can also be about improving communications, through initiatives such as transparency, governance, ethics, community involvement, and community economic development. In these cases, the focus is no longer on communications for compliance’s sake but to develop deeper relationships with certain stakeholder groups, and so build more robust business models.

These eight types of activity are all very different but all have been called ‘sustainability’. To see how they are connected, we need to map them together. The following diagram provides such a map. It is built around two criteria: focus and scope.

The left side of the picture defines the focus of each activity: on compliance, cost, value, or the identity of the business. The bottom edge shows how the scope of each activity ranges from a single department, to a business unit, supply chain, or the wider business ecosystem of which the business is part.



The resulting map is broad brush but it clearly shows us three things.

First, these apparently very different activities form part of a larger continuum. Sustainability is not defined by any single activity or type of activity. It is an attitude of mind: of how to go about doing the same tasks that any business needs to do. And like any attitude it develops over time. It is a process of becoming. Different activities become appropriate at different stages of development.

Second, we see that broader sustainability programs, such as ‘Circular Economy’, are about delivering a combination of the eight underlying types. The map can help bring clarity and focus to these initiatives.

And third, the overall trend of sustainable leadership runs from ‘doing what others tell us’, through optimizing the cost, risk, and value of our own organisation, towards understanding our role as a part of something bigger and working to optimize that whole. This is more difficult than simply ‘doing what we are told’. But leaders and organisations who achieve it are more capable than those who do not. This is the direction in which the emerging edge of sustainable leadership is pulling us.

This series of eight articles will explore in more detail what this emerging sustainable leadership looks like and where it might take us. It starts by showing how we can use it to bring our organisations antifragile competitive advantage. It then shows how to build such an organisation, first in broad brush and then specific detail. Finally, we will see how sustainable leadership starts within each of us and has the potential to create a hyper-sustainable, generative world.

Originally published by Sustainable Brands.

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On Trump


1) How we got here:
The polls always showed that Trump would beat Clinton and lose to Sanders. The DNC chose to win the wrong battle.

2) Where we go next:
Trump’s only consistency is to say whatever the voters want to hear next. He can say “A is best” on Monday and “A is worst” on Tuesday and his supporters will cheer him both times.
There is little point trying to predict what he will do once he is president. There will be no consistent plan, unless he becomes a mouthpiece/figurehead for others. Only time will tell.
His track record in business is to lose in negotiations.

3) What to do about it:
Centre and ground. Know what is most important to you and how you are going to get it. Realise that if Clinton were president you would still have faced challenges. With Trump they will be different challenges. Given his inconsistency, volatility, there are also likely to be more challenges. But that doesn’t change what you want, it only changes how you get there.

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Costs of Brexit vs Costs of EU Membership

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 08.39.34

On Friday, the pound fell by 1.57% on fears of Brexit.

In dollar terms, our GDP is now 1.57% smaller than it otherwise would have been.

The total cost of being in the EU is less than 1% of GDP.

In other words, in dollar terms, just talking about leaving the EU has already cost us more in GDP, in a single day, than the entire year’s cost of membership of the EU.

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