Sustainability currently ranks as one of the most popular programs
being touted by management consultants, business gurus and MBA educators.
As with so many programs for "business excellence" that
have gained popularity in the past fifty years - including synergy,
strategic cost management, total quality, reengineering, organizational
learning, lean manufacturing, leadership, innovation and more -
sustainability promises great benefits. But just like those past
programs, it does not encourage business leaders to reconsider conventional
thinking about what it means to do business. Consequently, sustainability
programs build on the flawed assumption that economic well-being
depends upon endless growth - a growth that is now occurring at
a suicidal rate.
promises great benefits...[but] it does not encourage business leaders
to reconsider conventional thinking..."
It is a well-known fact that our push for ceaseless economic growth
is creating very adverse conditions for life as humans have always
known it on Earth. Driven for fifty-some years by the imperative
to maximize their owners' financial wealth, businesses relentlessly
produce more and more goods for humans to consume. "Restraint"
and "moderation" are no more words in their lexicon than
is awareness of Earth's inability to sustain this wild production
pace. Addressing the adverse impact of this production on Earth's
system calls for new ways to think about doing business.
Today, the industrial economy uses Earth's resources at rates that
hugely exceed the capacity of Earth to regenerate and restore those
resources. Making this possible is the fact that humans in the past
century began to generate energy from Earth's fixed supply of fossil
fuel at a rate several thousand times the rate at which the Sun
supplies energy to the Earth each day. Over a few billion years,
Earth's life-support systems adapted remarkably well to the Sun's
daily supply of energy. Then, the human economy recently imposed
a wildly extravagant flow of new energy onto those support systems,
significantly dislocating the chemical balance of Earth's atmosphere
and causing increased and intensified human occupation and degradation
of Earth's habitat. In turn, this atmospheric dislocation and habitat
disruption have resulted in long-term climate change and a sharp
rise in extinction of non-human life species.
If, as many experts claim, business activities are primarily responsible
for severely diminishing Earth's resources and throwing the ecosystem
into dangerous imbalance, surely business leaders must revise the
way they think about their mission. However, sustainability programs
do not seem to be altering their basic, conventional assumptions
about the role of business in society. Advocates of sustainability
do propose changing the way businesses design, produce, and sell
the products that most humans consume. These sustainability programs
advocate that businesses promote "eco-efficiency," the
steady pursuit of ways to produce each unit of output with less
energy and less raw material, especially less fossil fuel. Unfortunately,
sustainability programs do not introduce new ways of thinking about
the purpose of business, notably the notion that a business exists
to maximize its owners' financial wealth. Because sustainability
programs do not question conventional thinking, they do not mitigate
the drive to sell more and more. That imperative remains intact,
unchallenged. Consequently, gains in resource efficiency that sustainability
programs achieve are invariably offset by increases in total output.
Eco-efficiency is not sufficient to eliminate the problem that our
industrial growth economy poses for Earth's ecosystem because it
does nothing to question the thinking that originally created the
problem it is trying to solve. New thinking is required that challenges
the accepted idea that economic welfare requires humans to consume
more and businesses to grow year after year after year. Whereas
sustainability programs currently encourage people to improve how
efficiently they perform an activity, they ought to be asking...
to finish article
Dr. Tom Johnson, a Professor of Business Administration
at the Portland State University School of Business Administration,
has authored numerous papers and books including Profit Beyond
Measure and Relevance Lost, and was a featured keynote
speaker and workshop leader at several In2:InThinking Network conferences.
Using Creativity to Outsmart Bureaucracies
Authors: Russell L. Ackoff & Sheldon Rovin
Publisher: Berrett-Kohler Publishers
Length: 175 pages
Russell Ackoff's latest book, Beating
the System, co-written with Sheldon Rovin, is an easy, enjoyable
read. The authors discuss how many mindless, bureaucratic systems
abuse the poor souls who have to interact with them. Ackoff and
Rovin provide real life examples that help readers devise strategies
for overcoming bureaucratic tangles. The book is organized into
three sections. Section one provides a quick overview of systems
basics and discusses methods for stimulating creativity. Section
two offers six fundamental techniques for beating systems. Additionally,
the authors provide several entertaining examples for using each
technique to overcome problems. In the final section the authors
recap the basic rules for overcoming systems and discuss how to
design systems that don't need to be beaten. Stories are also categorized
by system type (e.g. airlines, education, healthcare, etc.) so that
readers can easily locate the corresponding pages when they are
faced with specific problems. The authors' request for readers'
system beating experiences hints at future editions.
Fans of Ackoff and Rovin's previous writings will find this book
fun to read. They will recognize stories from former presentations
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illustrates specific creative system-beating strategies. Beating
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