The Radical Redesigning of Business for Resilience
Can business be a force for good, restoring society and the environment, providing solutions that genuinely help rather than hurt?
Ought business to be striving for more than just limiting its harm?
I think we intuitively know it can, yet it requires courage to break rank from the mainstream approach to business.
The prevailing business paradigm of maximization, monoculture, self-interest and short-termism is weakening its own resilience, in turn sowing the seeds of its own demise. Our prevalent business concepts, values, perceptions and practices are being disrupted and systemically challenged. This ‘perfect storm’ of crises provides the perfect situation for individuals and organisations to retrench (clinging fearfully to outdated mindsets) or transform (embracing new ways of operating). For those able to adapt in these volatile times, they face nothing less than a shift to a new business paradigm; a way forward that seeks to enhance life on Earth rather than destroy it.
Like the ancient Chinese Proverb:
In times of great winds, some build bunkers others build windmills.
Our prevailing reductionist approach to science, technology and business has encouraged us to see ourselves as separate from nature, and to view the world around us as something to be analysed and over-exploited for our own wants and needs, with scant regard for the consequences. Here lies insight into the root cause of our problems facing us today in business and beyond. The sobering fact of the matter is that our current business approach (and its immense power to fuel problems as well as implement solutions) is neither balanced nor life-encompassing; it is reductionist and anthropocentric in its belief and behaviour. This separated thinking and reductionist view of the world has encouraged an alienation from nature over recent years, leaving us unbalanced in our understanding of the real world – the world not just of stock market trends and commodity prices, but also of soil and sea, of cycles and seasons, and of ecosystems and environments.
As Ray Anderson, former Chairman and CEO of Interface, observed:
We have been, and still are, in the grips of a flawed view of reality – a flawed paradigm, a flawed world view – and it pervades our culture putting us on biological collision course with collapse. It is the paradigm that is reflected in our culture’s infatuation with stuff and our willful ignorance of nature.
Our prevailing view of nature as a battleground of competing species, each fighting to survive, is a narrow view of a more complex picture. When Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species, the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ was quickly co-opted and distorted by powerful elites to promote the idea that only the biggest, strongest, and most powerful can survive.
In reality, what Darwin found and described in his findings was that those organisms with the greatest ability to adapt to their local environment – the ‘fittest’ in the sense of the best fit – would survive when and where others would fail. He found that sensing, responding, adapting, and aligning with and within the local ecosystem were key to survival. Recent scientific discoveries, coupled with advances in systems thinking and quantum theory, continue to build on these findings, and uncover a more complex and complete view of nature, the workings of the universe, and the evolution of life.
Over the last 3.8 billion years, nature has survived and flourished through times of radical change by dynamically networking and collaborating among species and throughout ecosystems. Diversity, flexibility and collaboration, we find, is core to the interwoven evolutionary journey of life – the driving forces that provide resilience and regeneration within species and ecosystems.
In the words of the business pioneers Michael Braungart and William McDonough:
Popular wisdom holds that the fittest survive, the strongest, leanest, largest, perhaps meanest – whatever beats the competition.
But in healthy, thriving natural systems it is actually the ‘fitting-est’ who thrive. Fitting-est implies an energetic and material engagement with place, and an interdependent relationship to it.
So how does business go about shifting from a prevalent mind-set of reductionism and short term profit maximisation that views the world as a collection of things to be consumed (nature’s capital) to a world-view that has an energetic and material engagement with place and an interdependent relationship with life which is symbiotic not carcinogenic?
In short, how does the prevalent approach of business (and for that matter human society) break its devastating illusion of being a part from nature to realising in reality that we are a part of nature, even with our specialities? This is the sixty-billion dollar question (not whether the USA defaults on its ever-spiralling debt mountain, which is just one of many symptoms we now experience as a result of failing to address the root cause of our social, economic and environmental crises: our carcinogenic relationship with life on Earth).
This question of the moment can be answered through 3 R’s – Re-design, Re-connect, Re-kindle:
1) Re-designing – new ways of operating and innovating beyond ‘less bad’ into ‘doing good’ (shifting from the take/make/waste economic paradigm to a regenerative approach that heals society and the web of life rather that destroying life in the name of short-term gain). An example here is the Kingfisher Group aiming to be a ‘net positive’ force for good in the world.
2) Re-connecting – reconciling our human relationship with life/nature and our own authentic human nature (re-establishing our vital bond with ourselves, our neighbours and the web of life within which we are a part of through education, authentic leadership and eco-psychology). An example here is the co-founder of Natura, Pedro Passo, who instills a business culture that understands our interrelatedness with nature and community.
3) Re-kindling wisdom – working with the grain of nature and operating within the rules of life on Earth (enabling businesses and societies not merely to ‘sustain’ but to thrive in the years ahead by practicing wise approaches to life that draw on, for instance: symbiosis, ecological thinking, permaculture, systems-thinking and systems-being, business inspired by nature, presencing & indigenous wisdom). An example here would be Weleda with its bio-dynamic philosophy and its holistic approach to all aspects of its business.
In these challenging (yet pivotal) times for business and humanity, we must realise that to become truly sustainable, human and business life has to become scientifically inspired, emotionally connected and spiritually entwined with nature and Gaia. Nature and business (as with nature and humanity) must be symbiotic and operate in mutualism for there to be anything resembling a suc-cessful outcome. The sooner business realises the opportunities that come with being connected to and inspired by nature, the better for humanity and the interconnected fabric of life.
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