2213 days until 2030 -
 Regeneration starts now.

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.

An environmental perspective from the factory floor

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.

What do you see differently inside the supply chain?

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:

  • Production and sales
  • Engineering and safety
  • Inventory and accounting

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:

  1. The massive social and environmental impact of that intricate, complex set of global material and energy flows called "the supply chain".
  2. The massive challenge of delivering business innovation inside human systems biologically wired to preserve and protect the status quo.
    (The human race is seriously weird.)

So when you get hooked on "this environment thing" you don't think like a "normal"environmentalist.

How do I think differently from traditional 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".

Our innovation delivery challenge is inconveniently human

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.

Inconveniences I have known...

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.

There's a whole other knowledge revolution happening

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".

Deer are hunted by lions and wolves. Great white sharks hunt tuna and seals - and in turn are hunted by killer whales.

Over the millenia, humans have learned to form packs and defeat external predators. We no longer (mostly) fear rhinos, tigers or wolves.

There are still predators we need to be wary of - and learn to deal with. They are the psychopaths, sociopaths and Machiavellis of our own species.

"We have met the enemy and he is us"

Walt Kelly (Pogo)

Machiavelli - a name associated with manipulation mastery - wrote The Prince in the 15th century German writer and politican Ludwig von Rochauhe coined the term "realpolitik " in the 19th century.

Centuries earlier, The Art of War was published, a military text with a focus on:

how to outsmart one's opponent without actually having to engage in physical battle.


The Dark Triad

Today, Machiavellism has been identified as one of the "dark triad" of personality traits along side psychopathy and narcissim. The "dark triad" concept originated in 2002 and in 2013 further work began to better understand the patterns behind inter-personal harm.

These are three key sub-clinical personality traits that are involved in anti-social behaviour.

All three are socially malevolent, with tendencies towards being emotionally cold, duplicitous and aggressive. All of them are callous and manipulative and don't care about a) the "truth" or b) "other people" and there is a lot of overlap between them.

However understanding their patterns and distinctions is useful.

Psychopathy adds impulsivity and a tendency towards anti-social, reckless behaviour to the basic traits of callousness and duplicity. It is thought to have an inherited genetic component.

Narcissism has the additional aspects of entitlement and grandiosity, with a tendency to over confidence.

Machiavellianism is a habit of manipulation, a cynical world view, a lack of trust and willingness to exploit others to achieve personal goals at all costs. It's more pragmatic, strategic and rationalised pattern than psychopathy.

Machiavellians can control their impulses to do harm. They are flexible, adaptable and work strategically to get what they want.

The three traits overlap - but are distinct.

Machiavellism is the most prevalent pattern in the general population, though not in its extreme form (1-3%). However, at sub-clinical levels estimates are than something under 10% of the population has these tendencies (which is a disturbingly high number).

"A narcissist will insult you, a psychopath will hit you, a Machiavellian will invade you."

Dr Daniel Jones

Machiavellism is thought to develop through life experiences. As a learned pattern, it can can create a cynical, duplicitous environment where more individuals become Machiavellis. Work is ongoing towards understanding how to reverse Machiavellian patterns.

In the meantime - if you want to increase your success as a sustainability change agent - it's worth studying how Machiavellianism works - that way you will:

  • Have a better chance of spotting them
  • Being inoculated against their tactics.

Machiavellianism is a survival trait

It would be really easy to externalise and start labelling and blaming individuals - but part of the human race's ability to develop comes because of them.

They are immune to "everybody knows" and "doing the right thing". So "six drops of the essence of Machiavelli" probably contributed to developments from cosmology (when the Catholic Church was burning astronomers for blasphemy) to personal computers (the world will never need more than 12 computers - IBM).

It's also worth remembering that humans are social chameleons - with brains hard-wired to blend into whatever environment we enter - from the kindergarten playground to back room party politics.

Human systems are naturally self-conserving UNTIL something better comes along

So if our objective is to create "an economy that is regenerative and restorative - by design" then it's probably going to be useful to:

  • Acknowledge that the status quo is entrenched - and will naturally have a sub-population of Machiavellian types who will fight to the death to stay at the top.
  • Develop our own capabilities to recognise Machiavellian behaviours (including in ourselves).
  • Study the strategies and tactics developed over centuries to build our skills to "win the war with fewer battles".
  • Construct offers that will attract Machiavellian types - offers too good to refuse. (You might get a whole lot more done if your offer helps them meet their objectives.)

Sources and resources

Radio National's program All in the Mind discussed this human reality in a program called Machiavellianism, and the 'dark triad' of personality in June 2020 and prompted my further exploration and this article.

It included reference to science communication website on Machiavellian personality traits.

And for a more humourous twist:

"A bad system will beat a good person every time."

W. Edwards Deming, pioneer of continuous improvement

One of the reasons that our Inconvenient Species is so slow to respond to global warming has to do with the power of the systems we live and work within.

20th century thinking about human behaviour considered individuals as rational, consistent and relatively unchanging.

21st century thinking acknowledges that - overall - humans are heavily social creatures evolved to operate in groups.

Most of us, most of the time want to look good and not look bad - because we experience rejection in the pain centres of our brains.

(Myers-Briggs suggests at least 75% and Diffusion of Innovation suggests 85%)

This isn't just a hypothesis - it has been backed up by substantial and substantive neuropsychology research.

It also isn't "conniving" or "cowardly" - the physiology of our perception in group situations is neurologically wired to peer behaviour.

Outside of the research lab, this need further backed up by investigations into institutional abuse of children, the disabled and the elderly.

As Kate Raworth wrote recently in The Doughnut Economy, humans are more like octopus, with their behaviours and opinions changing to match their social settings.

It's not the WHOLE human race

Thanks to our neurodiversity we have a sprinkling of "under/non/anti social" individuals in our species - enough to see the world differently and design new solutions.

We have always had weirdos exploring "the whichness of the why" - from the flinty innovators who chipped the first stone spearheads to the 19th century's top-hatted balloon pioneers and to the 21st century's first biomimicry practitioners.

But while they can be world-changers, they are in the minority. Most of the people, most of the time, are heavily influenced by their immediate social contexts.

The implications for climate and environmental campaigners

Einstein is said to have defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and expecting different results".

What do you do differently when you know that the majority of the human race meets their social needs FIRST most of the time?

Create a context, not just a message

In updating his initial work on influencing, Cialdini added a 7th principle of persuasion - Unity.

What creates most influence for the most people is being a tribe member.

"Sending out a message" isn't enough.

Be careful about how you use blame and guilt

Overall, blame and guilt do great harm - they create resistance and denial in their targets as well as victim-hood in their user.

All too often, we aim them at the person in front of us - NOT the person in power.

Remeber how, in the early days of COVID-19, retail workers were attacked for situations totally outside their control?

Don't over-focus on "broad agreement"

Use the insights of Diffusion of Innovation - and especially of Crossing The Chasm

Aim to win over a powerful, innovative member of the Early Majority - then let their testimony work for you. A (gradually) increasing number of campaigners know the names "Ray Anderson" and "Interface" - but few have heard of Jim Hartzfeld.

Identify a need that is immediate and pressing. Find the most sustainable solution. Deliver your solution to that niche.

Work on the system, not the behaviours

You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

 - Richard Buckminster Fuller

Start with the hypothesis that "the system is broken". Then you can work to understand and change the system.

Way too many environmental campaigns have been all about symptoms. It's understandable, human - and horrendously incomplete.

Yes, if someone is bleeding to death you apply a tourniquet. But then you look deeper. Bandaging a compound fracture without setting the bones and cleaning the wound is a recipe for gangrene, amputation and death.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it

Skill up in Systems Thinking and Human Behaviour - and apply them to delivering new systems that make the old ones obsolete.

Some starting points that I like are:

  • Stroh's handbook Systems Thinking and Social Change
  • Cialdini's Pre-Suasion on the science of influencing
  • Raworth's Doughnut Economics for a discussion of 21st century system requirements

The real inconvenient truth is...

We're an inconvenient SPECIES!

We're not in an environmental mess because we don't have better, smarter, safer options.

We've been building technology solutions for over a century. Solar panels have been around since the 1880s and EVs were already on the market in the early 1900s.

Powerful systems solutions and smarter implementation practices have been developing for decades - at least since the publication of The Limits to Growth in 1972.

What's really going on?

The underlying reason we're in an environmental mess is that the self-protecting human systems we call “business” and “the economy” have been stuck in 19th century design thinking for way too long. 

The same evolutionary biological forces that make mature forests stable ecosystems also impact human behaviour.

It's time to work WITH that reality...

We don’t have time to upgrade the global human psyche.

And we don't have to.

Instead, if we leverage the leading edge of the expanding “soft tech” revolution, we can make the improvements we need to make with the human race we currently have.

Following quietly behind the Information Revolution is a whole new world of human understanding. Some examples include:

  • Psychology, from "The Diffusion of Innovations" to "The Psychology of Persuasion".
  • Marketing, from "Crossing the Chasm" to "Don't Make Me Think"
  • Neurobiology and Neuroeconomics
  • Social Psychology.

It's easier when you acknowledge ANY reality

When we acknowledge what the human race is (and especially what it ISN'T) - then we can get on with the job, applying the wealth of solutions we already have.

It's time to take a good dose of Radical Acceptance, then get to work applying the best solutions from fields as disparate as Systems Thinking and Generative Innovation.

Within multiple disciplines - old and new - the tools exist that can help us make the human systems changes that will regenerate the ecosystems we need to survive.

And that doesn't just make a better world

You win anyway, regardless of how the future develops.

The skills that will shift us more rapidly to a smarter, safer, fairer Regenerative Economy will also enhance your relationships, your career and your working life.

Because the overall ability to get things done in human groups will help you thrive in any environment - from corporate jungle to rural outpost.

I've been building a library of resources on both Regenerative Business solutions and Innovation Delivery skills for years, and now I'm building this blog - An Inconvenient Species - to explore the human in the global warming equation further.

Follow the journey

If you'd like to be part of making a world where our Inconvenient Species thrives along with the rest of nature, then sign up for updates to get ideas in your inbox.