von Michael v. Kutzschenbach

The past century has witnessed unprecedented economic growth and human prosperity. At the same time, most mindful people today recognize that the world faces many serious challenges. Among the most pressing are increasing population growth and the effect that this has on the planet when combined with the forces of the consumer society. Together these threaten to exceed the planetary limitations for supplying the (limited) resources needed to fuel the economy and to overwhelm the ability of the natural world to accept the byproducts of economic activity. Despite society’s technological prowess and the enormous increases in global economic wealth, the threats to economic, social, and ecological systems seem insurmountable. One important contributor to this state of affairs is that we seek individual technological solutions to problems that are largely concerned with social issues and values.

Historically, there have been many changes in how people perceive the world, what they value, and how business firms organize and operate. The Renaissance and the Enlightenment represented a shift from reliance on superstition, folklore and religious dogma to scientific methods of creating and gaining knowledge. Dramatic advances in technology, new sources of energy and the rise of mass consumerism triggered the Industrial Revolution. Sustainability is the next shift, this time brought on by the successes of the previous transformations on a planet with limited resources.

The critical question, “What is needed to help society and businesses to truly embrace ecological and social responsibility,” has a simple answer.

Albert Einstein succinctly stated the key to the solution as, “we cannot solve the problems with the same kind of thinking that created them.” However, the implementation of the answer is difficult. The key to a successful transformation lies in moving away from the reductionist mind-set that characterized the Industrial Revolution to a way of thinking and engagement that is “transdisciplinary.” Transdisciplinarity is different from multi – and inter-disciplinarity. Disciplinarity refers to the specialization of academic disciplines. Multi- and inter-disciplinarity maintain the primacy of the individual disciplines while interacting with others. Transdisciplinarity can be seen as an emergent property of a well-coordinated interdisciplinary inquiry process.

The basic idea is bringing together people with different background so that they have different perspectives while trying to solve the specific challenge in a holistic way. The new ideas and insights generated through a true dialogue, while accepting conflicting perspectives and searching for mutual beneficial solutions, contribute to an enlarged and enriched perspective on the challenge, as well as making it easier to take responsibility and to start going.

We must move beyond reliance on technological quick fixes and turn our attention to the fundamental issues. This is accomplished by adopting a transformational mode of thinking that supports innovation and invention. These approaches require business leaders with different mindsets and capabilities and who are willing to operate in a more volatile and complex environment. There are no blueprints for how to create shared value or roadmaps on how to navigate our way towards a flourishing world. In seeking new alternatives, we believe the following issue engagement process is needed:

  1. Humble Inquiry: See the problem from the others’ perspective. Really try to understand the needs and concerns of the other party.
  2. Reflection: Identify one’s own key issues and concerns.
  3. Advocacy: Determine the basis of what would constitute an acceptable solution.
  4. Synthesis: Develop and identify possible new options and alternatives to achieve those results
  5. Collaboration to create trans-disciplinary teams to jointly execute (1) through (4).

Unlike the typical problem-analysis-solution orientation of today’s business managers, successful engagement with the challenges of sustainability will also require a sea change in managerial thinking. Management’s new requirement will be to adopt a process and learning orientation to their work, supported by systems thinking.

Indeed an amazing journey requiring mindfulness, compassion, vision, leadership and courage, but for sure a journey that’s worth any effort.

Enjoy your reading and, as always, I am looking forward to receiving your feedback.

This post was originally published on www.radius-1.com/transition-towards-a-flourishing-society