Monthly Archives: January 2014

Can we solve the sustainable prosperity paradox?

n553084054_1498931_518530We’ve arrived at the perfect storm of economic, environmental, social and political challenges aimed squarely at the status quo. Much of the industrial era type work is falling victim to technological unemployment. Add to that the problem that business as usual is usually bankruptcy bound and best practice is often an ecological disaster, what can we do to solve the apparent contradiction that is sustainable prosperity?

A hundred years ago, the 99% were entrepreneurs and it looks like an entrepreneurial revival is the only thing that’s going to make life prosperous again. There is a common misconception that an entrepreneur is a label for somebody who creates new businesses, when really it’s a set of behaviours. Entrepreneurial skills are innate but are industrialised out of people from an early age by top down hierarchical management systems. This process begins in the education system, continues in the workplace and is reinforced by the social, economic and political systems all the way through life.

But entrepreneurial skills can be relearnt or more correctly, unleashed again because those skills are lying dormant everywhere in society, waiting for the right environment to flourish. These skills can be utilised within pre-existing organisations to produce innovative new products, services and businesses or for creating new ventures altogether.

I call the traits of entrepreneurialism the ‘If in doubt…SOAR!’ complex. As Einstein pointed out, you can’t really solve a problem from the same level as the problem was created, so if we’re going to solve the sustainable prosperity paradox, then we’re going to have to rise above our current thinking. Entrepreneurs see something in their environment which they can improve on and get stuck in.

Entrepreneurial thinking can uncover fundamental Solutions which transforms current behaviours. In order to do that it helps to be Open minded so we can gather new information, collaborate and cross fertilise ideas so we can come up with innovative ideas. Adaptable because we may have to experiment with a few different potential solutions before hitting the jackpot. So in order for us to get through the challenging times, we must be Resilient, constantly researching and rebounding from setbacks until we succeed.  But if we’re not mindful of the values behind the behaviours or operate in an environment which promotes scarcity and exclusion; then entrepreneurial behaviour can lead to less than healthy consequences.

Research has linked the behaviours displayed by drug dealers as being similar to entrepreneurs. A former drug dealer whose luck had run out with the authorities, transferred the skills gained from his former career into a software accountancy package which became hugely successful worldwide. But it’s not only the drug dealers of the world who get customers addicted to their wares for the sake of profits.

 

Another example – other than the obvious tobacco barons – is the food industry. They experimented with the addictive qualities of sugar and fats, then loaded up their products with them. To maintain profits they’ve created an obesity epidemic.

CEO’s as a group have indirectly killed more people than all the terrorists in the world ever have and will continue to do so unless there is a transformation in business thinking. Chilling thought isn’t it?

They’re easier to pick on at the moment because they’ve gained so much notoriety, but ‘Banksters’ practically brought the world economy to its knees, by disguising toxic deals, purely for financial gain and presenting it as financial ingenuity. Who says crime doesn’t pay?

Sustainable practices are often side-lined in favour of dodgy, profit – driven, behaviours when greed and materialism are hailed as the highest values. Entrepreneurial skills alone are not enough, for as social psychologist Paul Piff noted on a recent TEDx talk; “As a person’s levels of wealth increase, their feelings of compassion and empathy go down, and their feelings of entitlement, of deservingness, and their ideology of self-interest increases.

Ego is only scared of two things. Not getting what it wants and paradoxically getting what it wants because then it suffers from an instinctive fear of losing ‘it’ again. So when a person or group gains a foothold up the slippery pole of success, they desperately cling to that position, status or situation. They do this by creating delusionary systems, processes and one-sided ideologies to rationalise their behaviour and support their monopoly. Moreover; most successful ‘entrepreneurs’ hailed as heroes whom we’re urged to emulate, stopped being entrepreneurial after their first big break and become institutions so as to protect their wealth.

Big business grabs the biggest slice of the subsidies available, then spends all it’s time working on how to increase profit margin, often at the expense of employees, customers and the planet’s wellbeing. This means 80% of new projects flounder from a lack of resources. The present economic and political systems have got it back to front, barely supporting ‘honest’ entrepreneurial activities any more than they do illegal ones.

It’s believed that people fear change. The truth is that people in business change all the time so they can maintain the perpetual growth fetish. But as Kenneth Boulding observed; “Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad or an economist”. Perpetual growth much like cancer, is impossible to achieve on a finite planet unless we want to destroy the host. But corporate consultants and politicians, even now, still promote the ‘sustained growth’ delusion to secure your money and your vote.

But the truth is we can’t just point a finger at the drug dealers, fat fixers and debt peddlers and tell them they’re wrong.  This behaviour is found in every level and sector of society. It’s easy to criticise, in fact many people have made a career out of doing so, only to fall into the same fur- lined trap. Making a business out of a problem just ensures the perpetuity of the problem.

So what’s happening here?

It appears we need another enlightenment because all the various ideologies and theories are just stepping stones to the reality that there is a Universal Product Cycle, reflected in human evolution and behaviour; and it’s the only game in town. Business leaders borrow ideas from either end of the capitalist- socialist spectrum whenever it suits.

Universal Product CycleFor instance; new businesses have to compete for a place in the universe, we call this capitalism. If they survive the high infant business mortality rate, they become organised. Conforming to the rules of the game but also systemising to make ‘doing’ business simpler as the demands get more complex. We call that kind of behaviour, socialism. Systemising to support the status quo and increase certainty, soon reaps more rewards.

So the bureaucrats begin to take charge and the business gets bigger. Organisations drop innovation in favour of maintenance and ultimate control by a few elites, we call that communism. The leaders derive feelings of security and status by consolidating their position. Ego is driving the whole process and the organisation becomes less effective, systemises to the point of stagnation and in some cases people begin to bend the rules in their favour.

There will however; always be a point of change because that’s what evolution does. Stuff happens; maybe a threshold point of growth is reached or new innovations challenge the status quo.

Another way to look at this is to imagine floating in a boat in a river. The river is fast flowing and exciting. When you’ve been travelling a while, it’s tempting to drift off into an eddy for a break.  So there you are drifting around feeling quite safe and comfortable. It soon becomes boring but you’ve succumb to the feelings of certainty, the river looks a little scary now. So you’ve become trapped comfortably uncomfortable in your comfort zone. Unfortunately for you, over time the river has been slowly meandering in another direction. You’ve not noticed the small changes. Then one night a flood shifts the river’s direction completely and leaves you cut off in little pool. The pool you’re left in soon dries up.

The good times don’t last forever just as they are. We’re good at deluding ourselves into believing that we can hold back evolution at just the right spot that suits us best. We’ve no more control over the economy than we have the weather or evolution. Remember the Dinosaurs?

The best we can hope for is to learn how to get into step with what works best and continually evolve. We’ll be sailing then putting to harbour, but then setting sail again, not getting caught in the ego’s trap of favouring one strategy over the other. We’ve gone and got ourselves stuck on our evolutionary journey. But the truth is that we can easily solve the challenge of sustainable prosperity by relearning what Mother Nature has to teach us and living in flow with some immutable universal principles.

Everything in nature has an optimal size, is mostly fractal in design, diverse, resilient and very efficient if left to its own devices. A rainforest is far more productive than mono-crop ploughed fields. The rain forest achieves more with less. We also know from direct experience that as technology evolves, it also does more with less not through cutbacks, but by becoming more effective. Established organisations however, mostly plough another field or add another blade to a razor and call it innovation. “Like the old Daz… but brighter!?”

All life cycles have a start and end point which include a series of transformations in between, either towards the complex or back to the basic. You can achieve sustainable success by continuously developing innovative products and services which achieve more with less and letting go of the obsolete. The more business leaders transform their way through the Universal Product Cycle effectively, the quicker we’ll get to both sustainable and ecological prosperity. If the purpose of a business are clarified, i.e. what is it really we want to achieve? Business leaders may begin to realise that perpetual growth may not always be the most effective way to achieve sustainable success.

Of course we need a new breed of entrepreneur which I call ‘Enlightened Entrepreneurial Leaders’ or if we want to be tongue in cheek about it…. ‘Business Buddhas! They are highly connective, collaborative and encourage contribution from everybody. Being enlightened liberates us from egoic fear and delusion; basically it’s seeing reality. It’s understanding that productivity lies within and amongst us. It’s about being able to self-determine your state and maintain focus. It’s a journey of lifelong learning, purpose and compassion for self and others.  Able to walk the fine balance between entrepreneurial innovation, maintaining in the good times, and letting go where appropriate, or as Buddha called it, taking the middle path.

Business Buddhas promote wisdom and wellbeing in the workplace. They see that there is no separation between ecology and business; building diverse, local economies where possible. They see every stake holder relationship as symbiotic, supporting supplier and customer prosperity as if it were their own because they understand the interconnected nature of a sustainable economy. Doing business which unleashes more human potential, prosperity and is good for the planet, is simply doing ‘good business’. This modus operandi should be the aim for all organisations. It will inspire engagement and ownership if the team feel like they are contributing to an ideal, bigger than the company and they will be more able to spot and take advantage of opportunities.

This is how we’ll solve the sustainable prosperity paradox. Although this threatens the status quo, early adopters are already paving the way.  The only limit to sustainable success is the imagination. We need innovation over consolidation, collaboration over competition and we need to escape the myth of perpetual economic growth and replace it with sustainable prosperity. The first step is to teach people how to navigate the Universal Product Cycle more efficiently. Then we need to create systems in which more people are able to contribute; unleashing their purpose, passion and potential so we can co-create a world which is a socially just, environmentally sustaining and a personally fulfilling place to live. It’s radical but achievable and its coming, making business a force for what the term economy originally meant. Concerned with managing the home.