This blog is a work-in-progress, sparked by ongoing conversations with serious, concerned, committed citizens who want REAL climate action.
Again and again some key "everybody knows" assumptions come up - assumptions that (from my point of view) are as limiting as "the earth is the centre of the universe".
I see the world from the factory floor and the warehouse - not from the supermarket aisle. My view is the result of 30 years of problem solving in the world of industry.
While I was studying my first degree I had a summer job in a metalware factory - as a production line worker - making refrigerator shelves and electric hotplate elements.
A few years later I ended up back in manufacturing - as an analyst programmer for a pharmaceutical company making headache tablets and acne creams. Next move to a software house working with companies making everything from icecream to power tools.
You have a very different view of the world from the average consumer AND the average politician - especially when your job is to analyse systems.
First, you see the massive amounts of resources used to design, produce, ship, store and deliver the products and services we use every day.
Then you see the massive amounts of "waste" happening throughout the system - human effort, materials waste, energy waste.
And you see the massive disconnects and tensions between the human system elements, including conflicting goals between:
And you also get to see the massive energy that human systems expend to maintain their status quo.
(Try putting a computer on the desk of an inventory clerk who's spent 30 years using paper systems, or getting an accountant to write off the value of 10-year-old spare parts for a de-comissioned printing press.)
What I saw was:
So when you get hooked on "this environment thing" you don't think like a "normal"environmentalist.
Firstly, when you realise that the antiquated, 1-way supply chain that delivers our products and services actually delivers 99% resource waste, you stop believing that "the thing we need is for consumers to use less" or that "the thing we need is for governments to make better policy".
Whether it's 5 tonnes of mis-printed confectionery wrappers dumped to landfill at a packaging factory or the massive heat shimmer coming off the production line at a tomato cannery, you see the overwhelming reality of resource consumption.
When you understand the real creative thinking and problem solving power of the engineers that design and build the products and services you use every day, you stop believing that "the thing we need is government policy change".
When you look at the amazing ability of human entrepreneurs of the last three centuries to build everything from affordable motor cars, open source 3D printing to crowd-funded community energy coops, you stop believing "the solutions we need have to come from the top down".
If would be nice if humans were a rational, sensible, pragmatic species. It would be nice if we were in control of our thinking and our actions.
But we evolved as tribal hunter gatherers who succeeded by ganging together to share resources. Our focus was on surviving for the short term future, keeping the group together to enable that survival and conserving the scarce resources we managed to accumulate.
As we've come to understand ourselves better in recent decades, neuroscientists, psychologists, linguists, philosophers and even marketers have started to catalogue how our perceptions and behaviours have limited our results.
These are some of the ongoing human inconveniences I'm exploring. They're the ones that seem to blind good people to greater levels of opportunity and influence.
If you'd like to add to them, let me know.
After years of watching the creative ways that the human systems around me resisted (and sometimes accepted) innovation, I started studying it.
What I found was a growing knowledge base that rivals the "hard" technology revolution we see around us - the one that is re-inventing products, services and systems that we use every day.
Now we can access another powerful revolution - a revolution in understanding and working with human systems to deliver a whole new level of adaptation.
This revolution can give "citizen innovators" better tools for delivering substantive innovation DESPITE the self-conserving tendencies of the human systems we call "business" and "the economy".
“While we were finishing the book [Drawdown] I spoke with three of the best-known international climate change experts—professors and authors who have been leading this field for the past 25-30 years. I asked them to write down their top-5 solutions for global warming. It took them a long time.
Moreover: They were all wrong.
Their top solutions are not the top solutions according to the data of the leading institutions as we have researched those.
Here’s my point: We are 40 years into global warming. It is the most serious problem humanity has ever faced. We have created it and the authorities in the field cannot name the top-5 solutions. That’s an astonishing anthropological fact. There is no plan…” (emphasis added)Paul Hawken in The Optimist Daily, 2018
Most problem experts on global warming are academics and scientists. - meteorologists, climatologists, botanists, hydrologists and the like. They know a lot about their chosen field and the politics within their academic silos - but how much do they know about the worlds of business, including manufacturing and distribution?
The multiple planetary boundaries we're challenging all have their roots in the 1-way mine/make/use/dump design thinking that industry inherited from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Academics and scientists often operate in very traditional organisations and specific silos. So they can sometimes have suprisingly mainstream "solutions" ideas collect from what "everybody knows" - thinking like:
So it's not surprising that they would automatically look to "the authorities" for action.
"We've got to get the people to tell the government to tell business that its alright to take action"Famous environmental campaigner
Unfortunately, human perception automatically designates the focus of a message as the causal factor.
If "everyone knows" that the environment is a government responsibility, then many of our more traditionally-minded experts are all to likely to act from that mindset.
So what happens when you tell the average consumer or business person about the environment and the need for government action? They worry - and then get on with doing business as usual.
Who changes industrial design? Who delivers economic innovation at scale? Who designs, constructs and delivers the vast majority of the products and services we use every day?
Look at the smartphone in your pocket or bag and think about its history? Whose idea was it? Who paid the engineers who built the factories that manufacture them at scale?
To reverse the harm we've caused, we need to get our best and brightest business innovators scaling the design solutions of the last 40 years into practical, regenerative solutions. We need to accelerate smarter, more efficient, more profitable models like Circular Economy and Biomimcry and turn them into globally scaled industrial practices.
Government policy change isn't the only - or best - option for accelerating an industrial revolution.
I absolutely agree that governments can - when they choose - create supportive environments for sustainability innovation. I absolutely agree that government policies can be counter-productive (at least).
I know from 20 years of my own observation that there are many, many, many national, state, regional and local governments doing amazing things - and they have been doing them for decades.
Still, the most powerful, immediate leverage point for reversing global warming probably ISN'T voting for a government to make policy changes.
Vote, lobby AND go industrial...
One of the world's most sustainable businesses is Interface, and their approach has consistently been to "do well BY doing good". They take a strategic, longer term view - but they're about "good for the environment, good for the community AND good for our bottom line".
They have proven that strategic sustainability - like quality and safety in previous decades - is an innovation driver that offers trillions of dollars in business opportunity.
The Interface journey started when a series of events put sustainability front and centre in their CEO's head.
Most of us, most of the time operate on "rules of thumb" - mental shortcuts that simplify complex decision-making processes.
These shortcuts are necessary in daily living because our brains have a limited energy supply and rational thinking is a high-energy, time-consuming process.
The brain runs on about 40 watts of power (a lightbulb!)Greg Berns, Iconoclast
The idea that human beings take all relevant information into account all the time - making their decisions thoughtfully and rationally - is a piece of 20th century marketing fiction.
Over millennia, the human brain has evolved to rely on quick decision-making tools in a fast-moving and uncertain world and in many contexts those heuristics lead us to make better decisions than exact calculations would do.Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics
But our heuristics aren't ALWAYS helpful - and they can often get a) dated OR b) over-ridden by our unconscious biases.
Combine this limited energy supply with millenia of evolution as tribal hunter-gatherers - being hunted ourselves by bigger, more dangerous predators - and it's not surprising that we act first, automatically avoid "risk"- and think later.
Part of our biological inheritance is a pre-disposition towards anxiety and risk aversion - because those of us who worried that the rustle in the long grass was a sabertooth tiger lived longer.
So, by default, we worry far more about what we could lose today than what we might enjoy or suffer tomorrow. Our decision-making is NOT always logical - just count the smokers gathered outside any hospital.
Future existential threat does NOT change human behaviour!Paul Hawken, founder of Project Drawdown
There are 6 social heuristics that influence our behaviour, according to psychologist and bestselling author Robert Cialdini. They happen automatically and can strongly influence
(See an introductory video on Cialdini's influencing principles here)
Any time we face a complex problem, our response is heavily influenced by what's happened in the lead up to our response.
This is another piece of wisdom from Robert Cialdini, explained in his recent book Pre-suasion.
Extensive research has demonstrated that the "frame" that you create before you put your case, request or offer is probably MORE important than what you actually pitch. (Video summary here.)
Pre-suasion provides a wealth of insight. One that's particularly useful is:
What's focal is perceived as causal.Robert Cialdini, Pre-suasion
If every message you're presented with on global warming bemoans the lack of government action then guess what? Despite the evidence of:
The chances are you're never going to think through issues like:
Framing is powerful - and can be compellingly mis-directing. (If you don't know about it, you're probably being trapped by it.)
That's the current human operating system.
It's probably less than ideal for our complex, post-industrial operating environment.
We probably don't have time to do some miracle upgrade.
AND we want a better future - a cleaner, smarter, fairer safer future.
How could you capitalise on what we now know about human neuroeconomics, heuristics, framing and cognition?
How could you work smarter in reversing the urgent environmental and social issues that degenerative 20th century systems have created?
Firstly, how will you apply this awareness to check whether your own heuristics are working for you?
If you want climate action, a regenerative "Doughnut" economy and fairer society then what are you prepared to learn to do differently?
What could you apply from what we know about perception and influencing to get more action with less effort, frustration and despair?
(Is it ethical? Ethics is about HOW you do what you do and HOW you align your actions with your values. Any powerful tool can be used or abused. What you can be absolutely sure of is that you're surrounded by human beings - who operate heuristically. So someone's heuristics - intentional or not - are always at play.)
This ABC Hot Mess Podcast on Human Frailties is an interesting discussion with an Australian perspective.
Andrew O’Keeffe’s book Hardwired Humans could be an useful introduction to help you think about human wiring in the corporate world.
George Marshall's climate-specific book Don't Even Think About It is issue-specific analysis of why engaging on global warming is such a challenge.
I keep a list of some of the other tools, insights and understandings I find powerful here.
Human systems are actively self-conserving - so changing the fundamental design thinking behind them can take a revolution.
That's where we're most likely heading, led by the likes of Germany and China - towards a Third Industrial Revolution.
You wouldn't think it to look at the latest sexy, leading-edge technology products - but the design thinking underlying the systems s that deliver our smartphones and EVs is still largely stuck in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Today's supply chains are still largely 1-way mine-make-use-dump based on extracting natural resources and exploiting human systems. They've left us with challenges from ozone depletion to species loss.
Jeremy Rifkin's take on this is fascinating:
“How do you grow ... when your businesses are plugged into a second industrial revolution infrastructure of centralised telecommunication, fossil fuel, nuclear power, internal-combustion transportation for roads, rail, water and air transport, and we know that the productivity in that infrastructure peaked, and all the major industrial countries over the last 10 to 15 years?”https://www.businessinsider.com.au/jeremy-rifkin-interview-2017-6
Rifkin proposes than a Third Industrial Revolution is on its way - one where we’re moving toward a planetary digital interconnected platform. He sees three global "internets" developing and converging: the communications internet, an expanding distributed "energy "internet", and a "mobility internet of Electric and Autonomous Vehicles.
At it's best, we could be heading for a complete transformation of our economic models - one where everyone connected could potentially engage in social entrepreneurial networks to form a global economy.
But the problems with revolutions tends to be that they sneak up on the majority of us. The existing status quo with its existing power structures fights for survival, and lots of assets, businesses, careers and individuals get stranded when the dam breaks and the flood arrives.
Economist Kate Raworth's Doughnut Economics provides a great visual explanation of smarter economics, where the economy is more accurately sited as a circular system supplied by both the communities and the ecosystems it inhabits.