Author Archives: osprinkel

The power of making in helping us to think differently

Nike have a new initiative – ‘Nike Makers’.  Nike never beat about the bush.  Or think small. “We’re here to unveil a new age of design. One that is about making better things and making things better.”

The starting point is materials. They are releasing the API for the Nike Sustainable Materials Index so that makers of code can create apps which will let makers of things design using more sustainable materials.

The video to introduce the initiative is classic Nike too. I quote some excerpts here, but it is 1 minute 32 seconds that goes by very quickly, so take a look.

“Make no mistake.

We hate sustainability.

We hate that people don’t even want to hear the word anymore.

We hate that it has become a management decision that is passed down like a pair of second-hand shoes.

We’re over it.

We’re here to unveil a new age of design.

It’s about making better things and making things better.

….

One that gives the power back to makers of things, not makers of decisions.”

And so it continues. The words resonate with me in so ways. I love the line: “We hate that it (sustainability) has become a management decision that is passed down like a pair of second-hand shoes”. It sums up how sustainability is managed in many companies, and how it is received by the people that it is passed down to, rather than it being something that is driven by the people who ‘make things’, those people who get their hands dirty everyday.

The emphasis on the makers of things led me to think back to an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum last year – “The Power of Making”. The exhibition was a powerful celebration of the skill of craftspeople. The essays in the catalogue confirm the wisdom of Nike’s approach – and reinforces the idea that power is truly in the hands of makers. I say hands deliberately, as one of the re-occurring themes in the essays is about how by making things, you open yourself up to think differently. As Martina Margetts says, “Making is…a process whereby mind, body and imagination are integrated in the practice of thought through action”.

Dan Lepard, a baker, said the same thing at a talk that I went to: that using your hands open up different parts of the brain. This is so true. And this is why, when I run workshops, I find that even if participants have a simple activity to do, such as cutting and sticking pictures from a magazine to make a collage, it opens up minds to think in a different way than that if they had just been asked to write words on a flipchart.

We all need to find ways of bringing more making, and less thinking, into our work lives – and, paradoxically, we’ll find that it opens up the new ways of thinking that we are searching for – in order to make things better.

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What is a sustainable brand?

My first post on this site looked at the definition of sustainability. The definition that I put forward was:

“Sustainability is a balance between the financial, human, and environmental. It is about living your values and acting with integrity, responsibility and generosity. It is about being in a community of discussion, dialogue and action – because no person or company is an island and everything is interconnected.”

Yet this blog is about sustainable brands, and so I have been thinking about what the definition of a sustainable brand might be. The answer that I have arrived at is as follows, and builds on my definition of sustainability:

A sustainable brand is one that has a meaning or purpose that goes beyond making money, instead seeking to increase the wellbeing of humanity and all life on our planet. It sees people as creativists, not consumers. And it understands the lifecycle and environmental impact of all its activities, so that it can seek to continuously innovate and reduce its impact to a minimum.

In summary, the three main elements are: purpose, people as creativists, and taking action on lifecycle impacts. Or to reduce even further: creating + connecting + acting. I will take a brief look at each of these three elements in turn:

1) Purpose

Santiago Gowland, VP of Brand Development and Global Corporate Responsibility at Unilever wrote “A lack of alignment around purpose slowly erodes attempts to be proactive toward any solution.” And we need companies that are creating solutions. There is increasing acknowledgement that just making money, to the exclusion of all other aims, is no longer good enough. Here is Umair Haque on the subject in an extract from his Harvard Review blog:

“The untapped capacity to create significance (and all the stuff that follows on from it — higher purpose, a sense of meaning, animating passion, intrinsic motivation) has never been more important: I’d gently suggest it’s the wellspring of 21st century advantage. As I’ve discussed at length both here and in my book, The New Capitalist Manifesto, the real roots of this crisis are that 20th century institutions, whether banks, governments, or corporations, are becoming more and more useless to people, communities, and society. They’re extracting wealth from them, instead of creating enduring, authentic value for them.”

A sustainable brand will be focusing on how to create enduring, authentic value – for the long-term and for all people.

2) People as creativists, not consumers
A sustainable brand is one that is forming a new type of relationship with its stakeholders: its employees, its customers, the communities in which it operates. The old model was one based of passivity: employees did what they were told within the framework of the company hierarchy; customers bought what the advertising suggested that they buy; communities got a hand-out if they were lucky.

In the past year and a half, I have been developing my thinking around my Creativist Manifesto. The manifesto states that the biggest choice that we have to make in society today is to be a creativist or a consumer. A consumer is passive and motivated by extrinsic values, and this is damaging to individuals, to society and to the planet. A creativist, in contrast, is active in creating their own identity and motivated by intrinsic values.

Companies, in different ways, are beginning to recognise the shift from consumers to creativists. For example, Skanska, the construction Group, in an article about the future of energy, talks about ‘prosumers’. It gives the example of a housing development in Heritage Springs, California, which claims to be the largest solar-powered community in the US. When the system produces more electricity than the homes are producing, households are given a credit back to their electricity bill. In this way each household becomes an ‘energy farmer’.

“This development revitalizes the term “prosumer,” coined by futurologist Alvin Toffler, who in the 1980s defined the prosumer as someone who blurs the distinction between a consumer and a producer. Energy Farmers are prosumers of the 21st century – urban citizens that are stakeholders in a local energy community. Systems like that of Heritage Springs build an intrinsic understanding of electricity by directly involving, engaging and empowering citizens in the abstract concept that is electricity use.”

The meaning of ‘prosumer’ is itself now not distinct, sometimes meaning ‘professional consumer’, and in my view ‘creativist’ is a more accurate term to use here – households which are not just consuming electricity, but actively creating it. Whichever term you choose to use, the principal is the same, and the concept will become more widespread across different sectors. It is the companies who both recognise and encourage the shift from consumers to creativists who will be leaders on the road to sustainability.

And in order to respond to, and be ahead of, the constantly changing world that we live in, companies need their employees to be creativists, not consumers – not passively along for the ride and their monthly paycheck, but creativists, bringing their creativity, their passions, their ideas to work.

3) Taking action on lifecycle
Companies such as InterfaceFLOR and Unilever are recognising that lifecycle analysis is essential to understanding the impacts of a company’s products, and therefore being able to identify where innovation is required in order to reduce impacts. It is this rigour and understanding which will provide companies with a solid base to innovate from, and allow them to take a real leadership position. For the best intentions and the best connections amount to nothing without taking action.

What is your view? What makes a sustainable brand? Please share your thoughts and examples.

What will 9 billion sustainable lifestyles look like in 2050?

In 2050, there are going to be 9 billion people on the planet, according to current projections. And the choice that we have is what we kind of sustainability we want because as Dr Alan Knight has said ‘sustainability is inevitable… unsustainability is unsustainable’.

What is your vision for 9 billion sustainable lifestyles in 2050? Who needs to be leading this vision – and action towards this defining this vision? What would be your 10 focus points for a sustainable lifestyle?

Read the full post at:

http://www.sustainabilityforum.com/blog/what-will-9-billion-sustainable-lifestyles-look-2050

What does sustainability do?

There is the noun ‘sustainability’. There is the adjective ‘sustainable’. But what does sustainability actually do? What is the verb, the action word? Sustain doesn’t quite cut it. So much that is written about sustainability is, as a friend of mine would say, ‘blah blah’, and one of the main reasons is that it is packed with abstract nouns, and short on doing words.

Read the rest of this article at http://www.sustainabilityforum.com/blog/what-does-sustainability-do

Questions, values, stories

Questions, stories, values

The questions that we ask determine the stories that we create, tell and live. The stories that we share reveal our underlying values. Our values, in turn, shape the questions that we ask.

It is now frequently being said that we need to look again at the questions that we are asking, create new stories and get back in touch with the values that matter to us. In order to do this, we need to learn to ask the big questions, which will unlock the powerful stories, and enable us to share a common ground of values.

If we use this model, the effect that this will have in our communities where we live or work is:

  • to engage people in conversation, through the questions that are asked, and the questions that these questions provoke
  • to unlock motivation to act through the sharing of powerful stories
  • to generate ongoing action based on a collective sharing and understanding of values.

These are the activities that we need to be engaged in if we are going to meet the challenges that we currently face, such as ensuring that every business, organisation and community is in carbon descent in the next 700 days. Below, I will explore each of these three areas, their inter-connection and how they are key to driving action.

Questions

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes”. (Albert Einstein).

Einstein knew a thing or two about solving problems. Yet asking penetrating questions is frequently overlooked in the rush to get to answers – even if the answer won’t be clear because the question is not clear.

In their paper, ‘The Art of Powerful Questions’, Eric E. Vogt, Juanita Brown and David Isaacs give examples of powerful questions, and the key outcomes that resulted from those questions. Watson and Crick asked the question ‘What might DNA look like in 3D form?’. The outcome was the discovery of the double helix. Ray Kroc asked ‘Where can I get a good hamburger on the road?’. The outcome was the creation of McDonalds. Powerful questions are the drivers of innovation.

We need to become skilled in asking these powerful questions if we are going to make the shift that is required in the way that we live and the way that we do business. Marilee Goldberg in her book, ‘The Art of the Question’ said ‘A paradigm shift occurs when a question is asked inside the current paradigm that can only be answered from outside it’. Dr Alan Knight, founder of Singleplanetliving.com and a member of the Sustainable Development Commission, spoke at the Goodenough College Challenge of Sustainability conference on June 13th 2009. He said that the question that was going to be asked at the Copenhagen conference in December was ‘How can we reduce our carbon impact by 80% by 2050?’ However, simply doing less of what we are currently doing is not going to achieve the levels of carbon reduction that are required. He therefore posed a new question, ‘What do we want 9 billion sustainable lifestyles to look like in 2050?’ There is currently no vision for what 9 billion sustainable lifestyles will look like. Surely, if you are embarking on a strategy, you would have a vision of what you are setting out to achieve? How can we undertake a mission of this size, without having a vision? The major piece of the jigsaw is missing.

The nature of the question determines the level of engagement as well. What story would you prefer to hear – or tell – or act on: the story of how to reduce carbon use by 80%, or the story of 9 billion sustainable lifestyles? What appeals to the imagination about either of those questions? The story of 9 billion sustainable lifestyles grabs my interest because of the human aspect.

Stories

Do you know what the secret to the Obama campaign was? Stories. And it wasn’t the Obama story parroted by people up and down the country. It was individuals telling their own story and answering two questions: ‘Why are you here?’ (taking part in the Obama campaign). And ‘what matters to you?’ Obama Camp trained the volunteers who mobilized the volunteers at grassroots level. The first thing that volunteers learned how to do was to tell their own story in two minutes. If they could tell their own stories powerfully, about what had moved them to become part of the campaign, then they in turn could motivate and inspire others to get involved.

If powerful questions are under-utilised, then stories are absent too. We need to begin sharing our stories with each other as a way of explaining why issues are important to us, and setting the context for the action that we are taking, if we are going to inspire others to do the same. To be reminded of the power of story in action, watch Obama’s speech to the Democratic National Convention in 2004 – he seamlessly links personal story, with wider values, with the challenges faced by the country, with the urgency of a call to action. Marshall Ganz was one of the architects behind the 2008 Obama campaign, and you can hear him talk about the principles behind the campaign and the importance of stories in this video.

Values

The third component of the circle is values. Marshall Ganz has written:

“The irony is that access to our moral sources is exactly what we need to create the possibility of winning. One of the key lessons of the social movements of the past — of the left and of the right – is that their power grew out of the moral energy of their people (not just their organizers), their readiness to take risk, and their resourcefulness – all of which was rooted in turn, not in “self-interest” in any obvious sense, but in the values at stake.” (Read full article here.)

If we share stories about why we are taking action, then we are at the same time sharing the values which are driving our action. A shared sense of values is more likely to result in ongoing action, as the values provide a deep-seated foundation. As we go through the cycle of questions, stories, values, the questions will begin to change and become more powerful as we reconnect with our values and what is important to us. And our actions will grow in power too.

What are you doing for the next 700 days?

 

Crow tipi, Hay-on-Wye

Crow tipi, Hay-on-Wye

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Hay Festival at the end of May. Known originally for being a literature festival, it has broadened into a wider festival of ideas. And, for the second year, the Festival welcomed Hay on Earth. Hay on Earth is an innovative type of conference, bringing experts and stakeholders from a diverse range of organisations together and using systems approaches to create practical plans and projects to tackle climate change, carbon reduction and the need to build security of food supply.

Andy Middleton of TYF/EcoSapiens who ran the conference emphasised the importance of asking powerful questions – a subject that I will return to in a later post. Andy effectively focused our attention on the task at hand by pointing out that every business, organisation and community in the UK needs to be in carbon descent by 2012. That equates to about 700 working days away. And there is no plan. 

So my question is – ‘What are you doing for the next 700 days?’ A washing line hung at the back of the stage, with markers from now to 2012, provided an effective, mind-focusing backdrop, as we worked on generating ideas on how we could effectively engage communities in action. And at the end of the two days that I attended, we hung our ‘to dos’ on the washing line. Ideas ranged from allotment projects to ‘community chests’ to fund social enterprises to hubs to facilitate connections.

One of the key themes that emerged for me that was that in order to effectively engage communities, there needs to be a sense of community built on shared values in the first place. Again, I will return to this theme. One project that is in place already is Green Valleys, which aims to enable community groups across Wales to reduce their carbon emissions and generate electricity and revenue from hydro power, one of the most abundant natural resources. Here’s to many more innovative projects such as this in the next 700 days.

Reskilling for sustainability

I am now writing a weekly blog on the relaunched SustainabilityForum.

My first post is on the reskilling that is required for sustainability – and identifies listening as a key skill that we need to develop.

Read the full blog post here: http://www.sustainabilityforum.com/blog/reskilling-sustainability

I will, of course, continue blogging on a weekly basis on this site too.