Just as the green wave of spring rises from the warmer parts of the planet to the north, a global realization is spreading: we can no longer continue as before.
The global economy is going through the most “bizarre” period it has ever experienced in human history. Governments are dealing with the global challenges that have arisen over the last few decades with varying degrees of success, or failure, depending on which perspective you choose.
On the one hand, we have the economic and political systems that govern us, and on the other, billions of people: us. More and more people are starting to think, individually and collectively, about this turning point that our civilization is facing. The question I am asking here is: how can we contribute to a rapid and beneficial transition? I will define below what is meant by beneficial.
Any catastrophic event, be it environmental, war, economic, etc., is a game-changer. I’m sure you can think of several such game-changers, including how the dinosaurs disappeared from the face of the planet. In recent history, the main difference between Covid-19 (rest assured, I will only mention the term exceptionally) and other events is that the only truly global disasters were financial. The other events: wars, terrorist attacks or natural disasters were geographically delimited even if their effects were perceived globally.
What defines a “game-changer” is that there is a “before” and an “after”. The “before” is now. We will come back to this in the next chapter. We have a system that can no longer cope with the demands of the moment. We shall see how and why it cannot solve the problems that arise, be it individually, collectively, or on a global scale.
The ‘after’ is also now. There is a multitude of initiatives, most often unknown to the majority, which are ‘flourishing’ throughout the world and responding to the demands of the moment. We don’t see them, or hardly ever, but they are becoming more and more numerous. We will see how they are born and the problems they have to face to prosper.
These problems are numerous because, just as water does not mix with oil, the system in place is not “equipped” to support and integrate them. Sometimes, even if these initiatives are beneficial, they go against the system’s interests still in place. Let’s look at this shift from different perspectives.
On a personal level, more and more of us are experiencing the incoherence of a system built on its own inertia and heading for the wall. A growing number of people perceives the imperative need for change. It is no longer a mental observation; it is an imposed truth.
This experience, this transformation will have to be expressed, verbalized. We are sentient beings, and what is not expressed is imprinted. Consequently, either we take our place or run the risk of embarking on a silent race to… nowhere.
From this awareness, something extraordinary will emerge: the opportunity for a future not based on fear, want and devastation, but on a society in harmony with the environment. That awareness will have to be shared, not just the fears and constraints. On an individual level, people will have to share their experience. We will see how this sharing can take place and what possibilities it will lead to.
Of course, there are opponents. These people are usually in denial and are mainly trying to turn their backs on their own fears. They are not ready to face reality. They will seek to immerse themselves in a flurry of activity to dilute these fears. Do not fall into this trap.
Organization: making sense
We also need to discuss why we do what we do, both at the teams’ level and the different layers of the organization with which we interact. That will lead to a fresh look at what needs to be done and how to do it. These are deep conversations that require good listening skills, and they will take time.
Be prepared to discover multiple reasons for seeing things differently. That requires a different way of approaching the problems we face. It requires developing a way of thinking that is free of the ‘bad habits’ that the existing system has developed over the last decades, especially in communication.
From a collective and organizational perspective, this is an opportunity. Beyond the reason why we do our work, we must look for sensemaking. What is meaningful and what is not, or no longer? If you want to be part of this game-changer, remember that continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result is a definition of insanity.
On a collective level, asking meaningful questions and receiving meaningful answers is an excellent opportunity to create new perspectives and new realities. There are many questions, and you will naturally know which ones to ask. Don’t give up on these questions until you have meaningful answers. Bureaucracy, destructive routines, bad behaviour and dysfunctional management, will be endangered and will fight back by all means. Don’t give up.
Planet: ending the nonsense
The final level of perspective is the planet. Until a few decades ago, this level was not even taken into account. It was outside our realm of perception. It is now evident that the planet is “part of the game”.
Once again, to talk about saving our future on the planet and do nothing to stop its destruction is absurd. We must stop this nonsense, and, as we will see throughout the following chapters, we are now in a position to do so. It starts at the individual level by putting forward your perspective and asking meaningful questions.
Think about your work, what you do. Is it good for you? I know people who have a horrible working life but enjoy a comfortable salary, so they stick to their job. Does that make sense? Everyone will have a different answer.
Has the delayed gratification muscle we were rightly made to exercise since childhood developed beyond healthy limits to the point where the fears it engenders prevents us from living in the moment? It is helpful to think about our future and the future of our loved ones, but if this is at the expense of spending precious time with those we love, we must ask ourselves whether it is really worth it. Life is now.
Then comes the question of submission. To what and to whom do you submit? It is easy to submit to an idea, a belief system or an external authority, and that often makes sense. But what happens when that submission passes its sell-by date or turns into slavery? It is also easy to overstep the mark because the crossing is usually unnoticed.
This book is entirely based on the systems and complexity approach. In systems thinking, the metaphor of the frog in the kettle is used to describe destructive patterns of behaviour. Amphibians are cold-blooded animals, and the story goes that if you put a frog in a pan and heat the water, the frog will be cooked before it knows it. Where do you stand in relation to internal and external authority? Where do you stand in regards to limits?
Consider what the organization you work for does. We have just covered what is good for you, but you also need to consider the sensemaking, the purpose of your organization. Is it only about the money? If so, there is a problem. In “only for money”, the critical word is “only” because, as we will discuss in more detail, “only” money will not solve anything, quite the opposite.
Is your organization aware of the different ecosystems it interacts with? Ecosystem means the physical environment and the human environment: employees, customers, users, and other stakeholders. The value is in the ecosystems, not in what they “make” and we will discuss this in the chapter on value. Now is the time to have these conversations. They will only happen if you initiate them.
If you look closely, you will see that some organizations are there simply because they can but are not adding value in terms of ecosystems and contribute to their destruction more often than not. These organizations simply fit into a box that they could fit into. They have seized an opportunity without worrying about the effects.
This type of occupation has lost all meaning and ends up having negative consequences on multiple levels. We have known since Darwin and Wallace that species that cannot adapt to their environment eventually become extinct. Our operating environment is changing rapidly, and many organizations will not be able to survive. That is good news because more meaningful ones will replace them.
Is what your organization does and why it does it good for the planet? This question has now become essential. It has become impossible to justify contributing to an organization that is not aligned with preserving our global environment.
But let’s face it, this is the twenty-first century, and we are coming out of multiple decades of burning all kinds of resources as if there will always be any. Look at what is out there and consider the trends that you can participate in. Your perspective matters.
We now have a measurement tool. What you do must be:
– Good for you
– Good for your organization
– And good for the planet.
Each of these points must be aligned with the other two. All boxes must be ticked, and none can be left blank. No excuse, be it business continuity, compliance, “that’s the way we’ve always done it”, or “we don’t have time for that” is acceptable.
The alignment between these three points is the measure of shared sensemaking. Again, from now on, everything we participate in must be good for us, good for our organization and good for the planet.
I wish you great adventures as you change the world by reading the following chapters.
To go further:
– On “the frog in the kettle”: hoping no one has had the bad idea to try it in real life (it is a thought experiment, not a cooking exercise), it is what is called a systemic archetype. Archetypes are a description of the predictable way in which a system evolves towards its self-destruction. We will come back to this in another chapter.
– The notion of “good for me, good for my organization and good for the planet” is an adaptation of the triple bottom line concept. That is an accounting system that considers the social, economic and environmental aspects of an activity. In the chapter on value, we will see value that the thinking that governs modern accounting stems from when the extraction of the planet’s resources was a performance indicator.