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Innovating for Sustainability - A Game of Two Halves?
November 5, 2014
Julian Borra of the Thin Air Factory and Thomas Kolster, author of Goodvertising, provided another immensely entertaining and engaging presentation from SB ’14 London’s main stage in Tuesday’s afternoon brief session. Every footballing cliché in the book was employed to warm up the expectant audience, and we weren’t disappointed.
This sustainability tag-team took us on a journey towards new thought processes in problem-solving. They pointed out that innovation for sustainability is often more about the way the innovation process is approached and managed, rather than the innovation itself. To illustrate this view, the team offered two thought-provoking quotes:
What you cannot measure, you cannot change. - Jochen Zeitz, Keering
I don't think that architecture is only about shelter, is only about a very simple enclosure. It should be able to excite you, to calm you, to make you think. - Zaha Hadid
So in addition to asking, ‘What are the barriers to sustainability innovation?’ Borra and Kolster also asked, ‘What’s the answer? How can we alter our mindsets and adopt alternative ways of working to overcome the barriers preventing us achieving our goals?’
After a four-minute discussion on the subject, thoughts from the crowd included:
- Making Marketing understand the ‘why’
- Understanding your target group
- Better formats of collaboration
- Raising conversations to a senior level
- Making messages more visual and tangible
Warming to the task, Borra then invited us to think differently by introducing the concepts of ‘Punks’ and ‘Wonks’ (I’ll assume we all know ‘Punk’, but for those ‘Wonk-unfamiliar,’ it’s a term for an intellectual expert, a studious or hard-working person.) To further illustrate the point, Borra then flashed a picture of two collaborative but highly contrasting personalities from the music archives – David Bowie and Brian Eno.
On the one hand, Bowie - the dynamic, ad-lib, quirky musical genius; the artist with the ability to reinvent himself every few years. On the other, Eno - the solid, reliable, music scientist; the professional but highly creative producer, guide, background thinker, controller.
Individually, Borra explained, the pair are brilliant in their own ways. But together (when creating what went on to become critically acclaimed and groundbreaking albums), they either clashed horribly when they got it wrong, or combined beautifully when they got it right. When they reached an impasse through creative block, or differences of opinion on how to approach an issue (or maybe just stubbornness), the answer was to take the issues offline, disengage and find an alternative way of the approaching the problem. This didn’t always work, but often did. And when it did, the results were stunning.
Borra then suggested that, by taking a cue from this successful Punk and Wonk collaboration and adopting one of these two different yet equally inspirational behavior types, alternative approaches to sustainability can be revealed. Barriers to innovation can be stripped away. Bleak and obscure dilemmas can be unlocked through strategy re-thinks.
Audience exercises asked everyone to decide whether they were natural Punks or Wonks, and then to adopt the alternative position in their approach. This simple 5-minute exercise proved engaging, thought-provoking, and deceptively effective; it’s about adopting an alternative mindset before developing effective thought processes, and getting comfortable doing it.
Of course, not everyone contributing to the sustainability agenda is either capable or willing to adopt radically alternative thought processes in the quest for successfully developing the innovation we need. But to Borra and Kolster’s main point, innovation for sustainability is a game of two ‘halves.’ There is always another way to approach a problem, and alternative but complementary thinking is often the most effective route to successful solutions.