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Three Steps To Managing Transformative Sustainability Journeys
March 21, 2012
A transformative journey for sustainable change is a multi-stakeholder and inter-disciplinary process grounded in a whole systems approach. It encourages us to move beyond reacting to events or addressing symptoms and instead focusing on uncovering the deeper patterns that are keeping our systems stuck. I’d like to suggest that such a creative process has three main phases.
In her invitational piece to SB 2012 Conference: The Sustainability Revolution – A Revolution of Interconnections, Sustainable Brands founder KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyiniarz states: “The fact is, our 20th century siloed way of thinking about and doing business optimizes well for efficiency, but doesn’t give us insight into the full impact of our activities, nor support our ability to redesign old systems which no longer serve us. We believe that to have a productive conversation about the needs and corresponding opportunities of our time requires a shift in the way we see, and work to solve the challenges we face --and that navigating this shift offers enormous opportunity to those who stand willing to tackle the challenge successfully.” I could not agree more!
I believe the challenges sustainable brands face today is adaptive: they requires us to undergo a transformative journey that helps us shift the way we see so that we can reframe our current reality and create a field for new opportunities to emerge. The question is: how can we successfully travel this path of change and increase the chances for innovative breakthroughs while minimizing the always-present risks of breakdowns and system disintegration?
Luckily for us, for millennia living systems have successfully demonstrated tremendous creativity and a persistent capacity for transformation, with increased resilience as the outcome. Through an iterative process of creative destruction, deep learning and emergence that occurs far from dynamic equilibrium, living systems show us how to use free energy and entropy to re-create – or re-invent – ourselves, developing new organizational structures of increased coherence, order and wholeness.
What does this all means for us, Sustainable Brands’ change agents, as we strive to revolutionize our social, environmental and economic systems and institutions to create a more sustainable and resilient society and world for future generations? A transformative journey is one of learning and creativity: the very processes through which we feel alive and thrive. Sadly, it often seems as if we have lost those unique skills that are inherent to our human condition. For the sake of efficiency and unhealthy growth, we have ignored nurturing them over time. But it’s never too late, should we have the will and persistence to learn! Will and persistence: isn’t it what you are teaching your kids when they don’t seem so eager to go to school?
A transformative generative journey for sustainable change is a multi-stakeholder and inter-disciplinary process grounded in a whole systems approach. It encourages us to move beyond reacting to events or addressing problem symptoms and instead focusing on uncovering the deeper patterns that are keeping our systems stuck. I’d like to suggest that such a creative process has three main phases. In the first phase, stakeholders sense the context and observe what is happening in their environment, using story-telling and a process of inquiry to uncover assumptions and presuppositions of which they were previously unaware. This increases the level of awareness of the drivers for past decisions and actions and of the influence these decisions and actions have on the present situation. This initial phase prepares participants to enter the second phase – the creative phase – with an open mind and a desire to learn. This is where playfulness and the spirit of a child are our most important allies because it is when we have abandoned the idea that we know the answer that, in fact, insights and new possibilities emerge. The third and final phase is generative and focuses on co-creatively prototyping, designing, testing, and calibrating new solutions and systems structures that are more sustainable over the long haul.
A process of change must be carefully designed at its outset in order to maximize the chances for emergent creativity and innovation. Here are a few criteria that I believe are key to the success of any transformative journey:
- A sense of urgency and a common purpose: this is important to bring all the necessary stakeholders at the table and keep them there throughout the transformative process;
- Sufficient diversity between participants to generate the necessary creative abrasion between ideas and perspectives;
- Access to ‘fresh’ information to provide new insights and allow participants to start seeing the challenge with new ‘eyes’;
- Effective collaborative skills and capacity;
- Agreed-upon rules of behavior and decision-making process to avoid deadlock;
- Ways to manage anxiety — a by-product of any change process — at productive levels;
- Distributed leadership to facilitate communication and address any issues that may arise.
As we engage in a transformative generative process of change, our learning and creative capacity increases over time and we become better equipped to embrace future change process in an on-going evolutionary learning journey: the journey of life!