Building Sustainable Legacies


The Emperor’s Clothes

When I first heard about the fairy tale of the Emperor’s clothes, I always thought that it would take just one sufficiently innocent and courageous person to point her finger at the emperor and everybody else would automatically fall out of the magic spell that had previously had let them see an altered reality. But, today’s reality is proving me wrong. Today, we are living in this weird situation where about half of the people realize that the emperor is wearing no clothes and is pointing more or less discretely to the naked leader. The other half of the people, however, see the emperor in all of his magnificent beauty of glimmering, luscious and richly decorated clothes. They are blind-sided by the appearance of wealth and the impression of power this creates. They feel the power and they either feel frightened or encouraged by what it may bring to them. If it is not question of how many people see the emperor without clothes, then what are relevant triggers or levers that might open the eyes of those who still see him in his magic dress?

When we talk about change, we remain interestingly speculative with regards to interdependencies, causes, consequences and what are precursors, pre-conditions, enablers and levers of change. Kathy Miller has provided an enlightening response to my blog suggesting that people rather than organizations are the shapers of organizational culture. She points out – correctly so in my opinion – that culture is also shaped by the structure, size, leadership and governance of an organization. These are clearly organizational elements rather than people elements. I would like to further expand that trajectory of thought by investigating what other elements influence organizational and more particularly systemic change beyond the people and organizational related factors.

We have previously established that a variety of aspects that can be summed up as people related factors of change strongly define and influence a culture. We have also established that there are a number of organizational related aspects that impact and shape culture. In the context of the subject of climate change, Andy Hoffmann has investigated why pointing out facts has at best no impact at opening the eyes of those that deny a reality that quasi an entire community of scientists have confirmed. He concludes his assessment with the observation that arguing with facts simply results in the other side generating other (alternative?) facts that further prove the opposite point of view and thus further entrench the already existing difference. If not facts, then what?

Research suggests that in order to even get a chance at changing somebody else’s mind, we need to empathically and authentically connect with that other person. From person to person, not from role to role. And this is where things fall apart. We don’t want to personally engage, there is an inner discomfort, a resistance that creeps up and that communication shuts down. I have extensive personal experience in this and I often self-observe what happens to me when I am confronted with an opinion, a feedback or comment that goes against what I believe in. There is a physical shift inside of me, that turn my receptors from open to close, my smile from broad to narrow, and my heart from trusting to a stand-by mode. Sometimes I manage to turn the switch back on “open”. When I do, it is because I manage to re-establish first my own heart connection to my inner values and purpose, maybe to my soul, and then from that space, to re-establish a connection to the best in the other person that I had previously seen. A colleague of mine describes this as “veils” that are lifted off again that had prevented a clear vision. I pretend that most of us who have self-observed such events will be able to describe some change in our physiological disposition that can serve as a signal and hence potentially allow a reversal of the process. This however, does not work well when I enter a discussion being convinced that the other person holds a “wrong” own perspective that I happen to disagree with or question in terms of honesty of interest and intent. And this is where things get sticky.

If such mastery is required at the personal level to attempt to generate change at the systemic level, we are in for a tough ride. I am struck by the parallel to the current reality across the Atlantic. There are impressive public attempts (including from the New York Times) to influence the personal moral obligation of a high ranking US prosecutor to demand an independent investigation of the Russian intervention in the US election process which is required in order to implement the checks and balances that are in theory well in place from a governance perspective but that don’t get the traction they should. Is it possible that when organizational elements fail to generate the framework for change, that we are thrown back to the individual courage, morals and ultimately mastery which are comprised in the people dimension? If mass protests don’t work, and structural frameworks can be circumvented or be neutralized or ignored, then how are we ever going to point out what one child pointed out so naively in the fairy tale of the emperor’s clothes? Or might it be the simple accumulation of individual, structural and mass pressures that little by little fill the famous barrel until one last drop makes it overflow and thus creates the change. And it mattered very little what that last drop actually was, as long as the drips kept coming. If that were true, then a possible conclusion might ultimately be a very encouraging one. Namely, that irrespective of the immediate or estimated impact of any individual action, new policy or public engagement, what is important is to do what is right  every singly moment a day. Right from an interconnected perspective that embraces values at the individual level, interests at the organizational level and a sense of common well-being and safety at the societal, global level.

Author: Katrin Muff, PhD

Active in thought leadership, consulting & applied research in sustainability & responsibility, and directing the DAS & DBA programs

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Is there really a business case for sustainability?

Thanks to a comprehensive, aggregate study completed by the Natural Capital folks, we have now a clear and solid answer: YES. If you need convincing or would like to see some evidence, click here to download their report for free. Happy reading!

 


There is hope – alternatives to cloning Paul Polman!

I am not the only one to have suggested that if we want to save the (corporate) world, we have no choice but to clone Paul Polman. As a matter of fact, this is one of the comments Kate Robertson (Co-founder of One Young World), who received a Dr. Honoris Causa from BSL along with Paul, made to Paul and me on Saturday. The idea of cloning Paul Polman has two elements:

  • First, it is a great compliment to Paul who has in the past 4 years risen to be recognized as the most admired “poster boy” of corporate sustainability – a direct result of his relentless drive in not only transforming Unilever but also be co-initiating a long list of coalitions both in front and behind the scenes in a great many domains that were traditionally considered beyond reach for a CEO.
  • And second, it expresses a certain frustration if not desperation of many observers that there are not many in these influential positions who define their responsibility in such a way that what they do truly serve society and the planet while – of course – ensuring the continued success of the organization they are leading.

BSL Swiss Sustainability Hub Forum

Reflecting back on our big BSL day last Saturday, 20th September, I cannot but help realize that our two big events converged into something bigger. Paul Polman was a part of both events in a significant way – maybe this was part of the magic (more here):

  • The Swiss Sustainability Hub: the kick-off session to set up a Coalition to bring Switzerland to assume a leading role in the sustainability movement (short for: all people living well and within the limits of the planet)
  • The annual BSL Graduation with more than 500 participants from more than 40 countries

Mark Drewell, outgoing CEO of GRLI and one of our BSL Academic Advisory Board members, shared his impression of the event as follows: “the change of energy from previous years was palpable. You have now accomplished the shift at BSL – the community is really there and there is a powerful sense that there is not only willingness and desire to contribute to this new world we need, but also competencies, determination and real action.

And indeed, as I observed our graduates receive their diplomas, proudly spending a moment with their classmates and continuing the bond they started to build during their studies, I sense more determination, clarity, courage and passion to find a way to contribute to this world than I have ever picked up before (and it is not that we have lacked high-spirited students in previous years!). Bruno Oberli, the Director of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) commented on it during the Swiss Sustainability Hub panel discussion. We had our audience vote on who should drive the launch of the Swiss Sustainability Hub, government or business, and just about everybody broke the voting rule by holding up both options. Bruno laughed and said: “If you are able to shift beyond either/or to a new paradigm of both/and that easily, then we really don’t have anything to worry about as you understand the key element of what we need in future: a pragmatically new way of considering our options!”

A big part of this sense was also how smoothly and collaboratively our BSL team worked for, during and after this big event. Despite perfect preparations, events like this always require many miracles behind the scene dealing with changes, emergencies, adapting what was planned to the emergent reality. There is nobody I would like to rather work with than the BSL team consisting of Aurea, David, Denitsa, Katarzyna, Mary, Massimo, Olivier, Teresa and Yasmina. If everybody assumes their place and space with the same sense of service, dedication, passion for the common good and spirit of collaboration as our team, then maybe there are alternatives to cloning Paul Polman.

If the BSL team and our graduates have this sense of purpose, then we know that it is possible to create environments that stimulate such alignment of purpose, competency and cooperation. We all know that there are many many teams and individuals who are truly connected to an inner sense of purpose in many places around the world. And maybe rather than waiting for cloning technology to get up to speed, we  simply need to trust in the human capacity and in the emerging leadership that is happening across so many organizations at so many levels. What we can do in the meantime is getting better in building the right environments and capacities to speed this up. Educational institutions are an obvious starting place AND any other organization that has people showing up for work. This reminds me of what Mischa Liatowitsch, who graduated on Saturday from our MBA program, said during his studies (see short 1 minute video here).


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Deep “new” change vs. changing the titans – a comment on George Monbiot opinion on Unilever

Let me be honest – I love Monbiot’s columns: they are sharp, edgy, provocative and to the point. They challenge present thinking and strive for more. I also think that Unilever is one of the way to few examples of a multinational working honestly on making the world a better place. I think we should clone Paul Polman – he is that good! So Monbiot’s critic on Unilever certainly got my attention – if you haven’t read it, here it is: http://www.monbiot.com/2014/04/08/loved-to-death/. As usual a real Monbiot piece of work. And I think he makes the point well in many ways of challenging Unilever for not yet having managed to be as coherent as they probably wish across all brands and divisions. I can think of a bunch of examples that would greatly support Monbiot’s case. Yet, I also think that Unilever more than any other similarly large multinational has initiated significant change both inside their organization and in their markets including consumers and investors. But, or better, and, there are still dark and blind spots. Look at Nestle and you see more dark than bright spots, despite their Creating Shared Value (CSV) claim – what they do with their water strategy and what they claim outrages me! It is tough for a large multinational to change course – maybe impossible. Just a few degrees of change, however, brings significant leverage and change due to the sheer size and relative impact of such large organizations.

Of course a few degrees is totally insufficient – we need radical, deep change. And we need it now. But, much like in any other industry or field of practice – business schools included – such radical and deep change does not happen in the established, large organizations with the famous brand names. Transformational change happens in the fringes, with small, relatively unknown players who have little to lose and much to gain. Such organizations are still lean, agile, fast and thus innovative. Like sailing boats compared to streamliners! I am in favor of supporting those streamliners who dare to embrace change, even if its just a few degrees and I am willing to celebrate those who are ahead of the pack and are undertaking radical big change that from the outlet looks impossible, yet inspires others to follow (and Paul Polman at Unilever is leading such radical big change). I believe we should focus our criticism on those who are fast asleep and have not yet woken up to the new realities of a resource-constrained, climate-changed world. Our criticism should tear them out of their sleep and their comfort zone, shake them up and get them to sit up straight and think – fast. Our students have created a consumer opinion poll to show companies in the food sector what consumers think of their sustainability initiatives – vote here to express your opinion, share the link and we will ensure the world hears about the results!

Monbiot talks about a critical issue: the lack of healthy food. Lets take a look at it. Indeed, since food has become a processed and heavily industrialized item, “healthy food” has become an oxymoron. To get the nutritious value an apple had in the 1950s, we would today need to eat 25 apples we buy in our supermarkets – “an apple a day” won’t keep the doctor away anymore! Sugar, salt and fat are our top 3 societal enemies that are and will be costing us not only unimaginably big health bills but are also ruining us as healthy, capable and caring human beings. Just take the combination of stress and sugar – it will turn anybody in a monster, unable to breathe, care and slow down. I recently wrote about this in the Transatlantic Blog. The pharmaceutical industry must love all of this, the number of emerging new conical deceases  are sky-rocketing, assuring life-long medical dependencies and revenues. Read what Michael Moss (salt, sugar, fat) has to say about it! I believe that the single biggest opportunity for food companies today is to turn their practices upside-down and to step back from feeding the world junk. To remove all the unhealthy, addictive ingredients and to serve us healthy, nurtious food that supports our well-being, happiness and health. There is chocolate without added sugar (thanks to Villars in Switzerland, a hugely innovative, small chocolate producer at the fringes!). It is possible! It is also unacceptable – I agree with Monbiot – that food companies including Unilever boycott and prevent proper “traffic-light” labelling of our enemies sugar, fat and salt. They managed to prevent a law to pass in Switzerland and I am sure in many other countries – scandalous! It feels like back in the days when tobacco companies tried to manipulate research that proved that smoking was bad. Unilevers of this world: embrace the challenge and return healthy food to us with your great distribution and brand power that you have. You can not only save the world, but build the foundation of a society that can start to heal itself and become well again. BSL is a place to help make it possible: we are a platform where engaged citizens work on burning societal issues. Our food-waste collaboratory on May 6th is such an example: we are committed to reduce consumer food-waste by 50% by 2018. What could you do in your space and what are you going to do to make a difference?

 


The Landfill Orchestra

Here is an invitation to dive into the amazing story of a slum that is built on a landfill and has started to build musical instruments out of trash. You’ll be transformed when you hear the sound of the recycled cello built frim an oil trum and when you see violins that looks unlike anything you have ever imagined yet sound like heaven.

A short film of hope that points out that we should throw neither things nor people away and that miracles are possible when we make the best out of both! Enjoy!


Give your 67 minutes on Mandela Day

Here is a message I received from The B Team and would like to share with all of you. Let’s celebrate the Nelson Mandela International Day together, wherever you are right now!

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July 18 is known around the globe as Mandela Day – a celebration of the wonderful Nelson Mandela, his tireless struggle for human dignity and his lifelong commitment to pursue the greater good. His compassion, moral courage and vision of selfless leadership have been an inspiration to so many of us.

As people everywhere keep Madiba in their thoughts and prayers these days, The B Team, alongside Virgin Unite, is supporting the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in South Africa to honour his extraordinary life and values.

The premise of Mandela Day is a simple one: each and every one of us has the ability to make a positive impact in the lives of others. It doesn’t take much to make every day a Mandela Day: if we were all to give just 67 minutes, one minute for every year of Madiba’s fight for human rights and social justice, we can make a huge difference.

I for my part, will spend 67 minutes on July 18th mentoring a group of young entrepreneurs. But there is so much that we all can do. Visit www.mandeladay.com for further inspiration. You can make your pledge to give your 67 minutes at http://www.pledge4mandeladay.org/.

Of course there are other ways in which you can help. If you wish to make a donation from anywhere in the world, to honour Nelson Mandela’s legacy, please visit: www.virginmoneygiving.com/nelsonmandela.

Alternatively, from UK mobiles, you can also text MANDELA to 70107 to make a £5 donation. If you are in the US, text MANDELA to 20222 and $10 will be added to your mobile phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance.

All funds donated via text messaging, and all funds collected by Virgin Unite through the website will go directly to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory. Inaugurated by Nelson Mandela in 2004, the Centre focuses on three areas of work: the Life and Time of Nelson Mandela, Dialogue for Social Justice and Nelson Mandela International Day. For more information, please visit www.nelsonmandela.org.

Join The B Team and Virgin Unite to support the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in honouring this exceptional leader, elder and wonderful human being. Make sure to give your 67 minutes on Mandela Day, or make a donation today.

Enkosi kakhulu! Baie Dankie! Thank you!

Richard Branson
Co-Chair, The B Team


Designing a university for the new millennium

Here is an inspiring model of desining a university for the new millennium.

The model described here has no silos (i.e. no departments), a circular building,  no faculty ranks, same teaching load for all, no lecturing or professing – only tutoring, classrooms built for roundtable discussions, curriculum setup to promote trans-disciplinary, question-driven and experiential learning etc. etc.

 

Following 35 years on the faculty of Columbia University in New York, more than half of that time as Chair of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Dr. Helfand developed a deep understanding of the problems of traditional universities. Seizing an opportunity to redesign higher education from scratch, he has served as a Founding Tutor and, since 2008, as President and Vice Chancellor of Quest University Canada. He is also President of the American Astronomical Society, the professional society for astronomers, astrophysicists, planetary scientists and solar physicists in North America.