Positive Impact Blog

Thought provoking insights for change makers


Corporate Culture in 2017

As I write this blog, year 2017 is winding down. Throughout the year my blogging partner, Katrin Muff, and I have commented frequently on corporate culture. The media seems to share our interest in this subject. Indeed, references to corporate culture have shown up on the front pages of many reputable newspapers and magazines this past year. I did a cursory web search to gather up a few of these stories.

I don’t claim to have done a scientific study of how often and in what context the media mentioned corporate culture.  Nevertheless, many articles popped up when I entered the search term “corporate culture 2017”. Most pertained to companies’ significant problems attributed to toxic corporate cultures. Of course, the media often showcases the bad news stories. Still, the volume of content was significant enough to warrant my attention.

The Wells Fargo Bank fraud hit the headlines at the end of 2016 and kicked off 2017 with bad news for the company. Several newspapers including the Washington Post and the New York Times reported that Wells Fargo employees had opened millions of phony accounts without their clients’ consent. The articles attributed the malfeasance to a company culture where pressure to meet unrealistic sales goals undermined corporate ethics.

Likewise ride-sharing company Uber made the news repeatedly throughout the year. Referring to the egregious sexist culture, the Washington Post had this to say:

“Corporate culture has long been the sort of squishy management consultant term that’s hard to define, even harder to change, and the recipient of lots of lip service yet little action by chief executives. But however amorphous the phrase may be, its importance was stamped into stark relief this week after a former female Uber engineer made allegations about its sexist, chaotic and aggressive culture.” [1]

United Airlines landed in hot water in April of 2017 when a passenger was forcibly dragged off a plane. The articles attributed the incident to a culture where behavior is scripted and employees have little if any latitude to make decisions.[2]

The last few months of the year brought countless stories of cultures where women were treated as prey. For example, in November of 2017, Fox News set up a Workplace Culture Panel following reports of widespread sexual harassment throughout the company.[3]  And as recently as December, the New York Times published an article on sexual harassment at two Ford Motor plants in Chicago. The headline read as follows: “How Tough is it to Change a Culture of Harassment?  Ask the Women of Ford.” [4]

While I could devote the entire blog to recounting similar stories, I believe that the examples I have offered are sufficient to make the point. Culture counts. No matter how amorphous the concept may seem, those of us who lead companies ignore our organizations’ cultures at our own risk. Consider the degree to which toxic cultures impacted companies and the people in them in 2017. Let us each resolve to assess and address our own organizational cultures in 2018.

Take the first step by looking at your current culture. Ask yourselves questions such as the following:

  • What is the purpose of our company and what do we stand for?
  • How do our corporate values influence our decisions and behaviors?
  • What are the stories that we tell each other about our organization?
  • Who are our admired heroes?
  • Who makes the rules for the organization?
  • What do we reward and what do we punish?
  • How often do we have conversations that consider diverse opinions?
  • To what degree do we value the contributions of everyone in the company?
  • What do we do to show respect for all?
  • How do we ensure that everyone’s focus is on serving our customers?

In addition to answering these questions ourselves, we should pose them to others. In my 30+ years of consulting, I have found that leaders are predictably astonished by how employees’ perceptions of the organization diverge from their own. While some are tempted to explain away the differences, the best leaders value the input. They dig deeper to understand and address the discrepancies.

Leaders create the conditions within which a culture emerges. However, they may not fully understand the possible consequences of the systems that they put in place. Likewise, they may be shielded from what occurs within the organization day to day. Asking the right questions and listening openly to the answers can provide them with the needed data for making appropriate changes to improve the organizational culture.

As I anticipate 2018, I wonder what catastrophes might be prevented in the new year if leaders of every company committed to taking  a close look at their own organizational cultures. Chances are most would find a mix of strengths to reinforce and weaknesses to address. And in some cases, they may find signs of the toxicity that, if not eradicated, could create serious consequences for their people and their companies. Let us all resolve to become proactive this new year in stamping out the unhealthy parts of our cultures while fortifying the strengths.

 

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2017/02/24/why-a-toxic-workplace-is-now-a-much-bigger-liability-for-companies/?utm_term=.c854fdb575d8

[2] http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-toxic-united-wells-20170411-story.html

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/20/business/media/fox-news-sexual-harassment.html

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/12/19/us/ford-chicago-sexual-harassment.html

 

Author: Dr. Kathy Miller Perkins 

Dr. Kathy Miller Perkins is a social psychologist and is the CEO and owner of Miller Consultants , a firm specializing in organizational development, executive coaching and change management. Her work involves helping companies create and sustain organizational cultures that are conducive to executing sustainable strategies. She has worked with companies such as Toyota, IBM, Kindred Health, Brown-Forman, Lexmark, Anthem, Ashland Chemical, the U.S. Military and BC Hydro.


Why We Work

Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” Studs Terkel

How much of your life do you spend at work?  For many of us the answer is shocking.  Working adults residing in the United States spend a third of their time at work, according to recent estimates.  Many of us spend more time at work than in any other endeavor including time with our families and friends. I am not going to debate whether this is the right way to live. However, since many of us will work a large proportion of our adult years, we might reflect on what work means to us.  Are we working only for a paycheck or for something more?

Through my own conversations with working people, I have found that most want to work for companies with a distinct purpose and clear values.  Research that I referenced in my August blog, confirmed that all generations, not just millennials, want to find purpose in their work.

Last month Katrin Muff discussed the importance of connecting our values with our life purpose as it relates to the world outside of ourselves.  Certainly, the workplace is part of that outer world. While our jobs may not suffice to define our total life- purpose, our work and/or our profession are part of our identity.  For example, reflect on how you describe yourself to others.  Chances are if you are a working adult, you include a reference to your profession or what you do for a living.

Since we tend to identify with our work, it is not surprising that most of us want it to be meaningful.

Evidence collected over decades shows a relationship between meaningful work, motivation, engagement and a sense of well-being.  While each of us may have our own definitions of what makes a job meaningful, some common factors are:

  • Person-organization fit
  • Positive and reinforcing personal relationships
  • Opportunities to align with or further one’s values
  • Fulfillment of a social or moral purpose, or broader reason for being. [1]

Year after year we hear that a very large percentage of working adults across the world do not love their jobs and are not engaged with their companies or their work. This disengagement from our work often has a negative impact on our health and well-being.

When we view our work as meaningful, we are also more likely to be motivated to do it well.  In 2015, Alison Alexander conducted research as part of her master’s studies at Northwestern University on how organizations are making work meaningful.  She found a direct connection between the presence of meaning in life and making meaning through work.  She also discovered that organizations with a strong purpose, clear values and commitments to social responsibility provide employees with ways to find meaning through their work.  She concluded that when corporations are committed to serving society, employees can “live their values through their work.”

Last month Katrin Muff argued that each of us must know who we truly are if we are to live an authentic life. I agree, and I believe that that this is also the first step in finding meaningful work or conversely, making work meaningful.  We must be keenly aware of our own values and what we perceive to be our purpose in life before we can expect work to be meaningful. Nancy Collamer, a contributing author to Forbes Magazine, suggests asking yourself questions such as “what five words best describe you”, and “what would you do if you couldn’t fail”.  Regardless of your method of reflection, you must know who you are before finding meaning in your work.

For job seekers, Alexander recommends that you “look under the hood” of the companies you are considering. Determine the degree to which their commitment to social responsibility is embedded throughout the company or isolated to a small group of people in a corporate social responsibility function. Reflect on whether the principles that the companies demonstrate through their words and actions are aligned with your values.  Pursue companies that are committed to the greater good of society.  Ideally, they will have embedded this commitment into all aspects of the company, and every employee will understand the role that they play in contributing to the greater good.

Even if you plan to stay in your current job, most likely you can find ways to make the work more meaningful.  For example, you might seek clarity from your manager about the significance and purpose of your work.  Or if your specific job tasks aren’t fulfilling, you might find others in your workplace who share your interests and values. Perhaps a group of like-minded people can design and carry out on your own time, projects that are fulfilling and contribute to the broader society.  If your company has a Corporate Social Responsibility or Sustainability Department, you might contact them to find out how you can get involved, perhaps as a volunteer.  And if all else fails, start looking for a new job with a purpose-driven company aligned with your own values.

I realize that work will not always be meaningful no matter what we do.  However, despite the role that work plays in our lives, very few of us find all our life-meaning from our jobs or our professions.   In fact it is a bad idea to try to put all our eggs in our professional or work basket. No matter how much meaning we derive from work, we should all seek and find meaning in other parts of our lives as well. We can find meaning from family, spirituality, personal growth, education, community.  The list is very long.  I believe that a sense of well-being, if not happiness, comes from our deepest sense of purpose and our constant pursuit of meaning every day throughout our entire existence.

“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”  Viktor E. Frankl

[1] Cardador, T.M.& Rupp, D.E. (2011) “Organizational Culture, Multiple Needs, and the Meaningfulness of Work,” The Handbook of Organizational Culture and Climate, Chapter 10.

Author: Dr. Kathy Miller Perkins 

Dr. Kathy Miller Perkins is a social psychologist and is the CEO and owner of Miller Consultants , a firm specializing in organizational development, executive coaching and change management. Her work involves helping companies create and sustain organizational cultures that are conducive to executing sustainable strategies. She has worked with companies such as Toyota, IBM, Kindred Health, Brown-Forman, Lexmark, Anthem, Ashland Chemical, the U.S. Military and BC Hydro.


The tricky interconnection of values and purpose

Being values-based implies a connection with oneself, a deep inner knowing. Embracing a purpose requires, so I argue here, a connection with the context in which we live and operate, a deep outer knowing. When these two senses are disconnected, we are in trouble, as individuals, as organizations and as societies at large. When the senses are aligned, thriving individually, as an organization and as a global community means thriving at all of these levels for the benefit and well-being of all.

Brené Brown recently said in an interview with Marie Forleo “our worth and our belonging are not negotiated with other people. We carry those inside of our hearts.” Brené is a widely recognized and respected psychologist in the domains of authenticity and vulnerability. She talks about how an individual can find herself, find her roots and core and how to stand up for herself and what matters to her. In many ways what she talks about has to do with finding one’s own purpose and identity or what she calls knowing who you truly are. To her, the importance of knowing who you are is key in living an authentic life as it ensures that you can always belong to yourself, rather than fitting in with what others might expect.

I can resonate with this and I understand the importance of what she says. How are we supposed to know what is right and what is wrong if we don’t know who we are and what that means in the context of what happens around us? This journey of self-knowing, of self-awareness, is a key component in the journey of being a responsible leader. It may well be the first and most important one, the dimension without which all the rest doesn’t really make sense. It certainly is critical to create role models that can serve others to find the courage to adapt their behavior and attitudes in order to re-connect with who they truly are. Or, as Lena Faraguna claims: “Lighthouses don’t go running all over the island looking for boats to save. They just stand there shining.”

Quote and image by Lena Faraguna

Let me zoom out a bit. How would we translate this self-knowing, this inner self of self-belonging in the context of working with others, of teams, and of organizations? How can a sense of belonging among a group of people, be it a family of a company, be created without negotiating with others? How can a group of individuals that belong first and foremost to themselves ever belong to a greater cause? I am troubled when I imagine how a particularly purpose-oriented company, such as those that Kathy Miller described in her last blog, might do if it decides to “not negotiate with others because its self-worth is inside of its own purpose”. Isn’t that what we are accusing the modern corporation of doing? Of putting its own priorities first and to forget about the rest? Where is the line drawn? If investors and owners are part of the inner core, then profit-maximization sure makes sense. If they are not part of it (and how might they not?), then how can a company protect its interest from investors without negotiating? Tricky.

When adding a further dimension and zooming out to an entire society, what changes in that frame? If a society decides that it needs to first and foremost belong to itself, its citizens, and not negotiate with others, what might that mean? Wouldn’t we be moving very close to the explosive sense that nationalists are expressing when they say “my country first”? And when they start protecting themselves from perceived outside threats, such as immigrants, refugees and trade agreements?

There is something dangerous in all of this. And this might well also be the dangerous in purpose-oriented firms. Purpose, after all, means what? The dictionary says purpose is “the reason for which something is done”. Well, and that is the entire problem. That is not good enough. There are excellent reasons to do something and there are incredibly stupid reasons for doing other things. Let me take the three-step zoom back from society, to the organization to the individual.

A society that defines a purpose, or “raison d’être” as something that is distinctive from what is around it, will in the worst case create harm to other societies and possibly even to itself. Global well-being can only be achieved if a society, a nation, embraces the idea that it is fundamentally and indisputably a part of the larger context in which it operates. And finding a purpose that does not take this into account is potentially harmful, as the Swiss President and many other statesmen have pointed out after President Trump gave his disturbing “America First” speak at the UN SDG forum last week.

Zooming now in to an organization or a team, what does this mean? If an organization chooses a purpose that is purely self-serving and that may seem like the best way to survive and ride the increasingly turbulent waves of change, then this organization is also very likely to harm those around it, and as a result, potentially itself. The metaphor is the cancer cell that builds its growth on eating into the very organism that is providing its living substance until that organism has been emptied out and can no longer sustain the ongoing growth of these cells. That sounds ugly and I apologize. What I mean to say is that a purposeful organization is not good enough, if that purpose does not imply taking into account the well-being of the context in which the organization operates.

Further zooming in and back to the individual, I struggle to see how an individual can and should have a sense of identify to herself that is limited to herself only. It appears limiting and potentially dangerous. As it if was necessary to put up guards against something outside. As if that sense of inner belonging needed protecting. An inward journey of discovery will uncover, I am certain, that there is both nothing and everything that can shake you and me in our core. Nothing in the sense that we are who we are irrespective of what happens outside of us, our sense of self is based on how we see and talk to ourselves. Everything in the sense that we are shaped by the events in our lives and we respond to them, in the full understanding that we have no idea what lies ahead of us.

The Circle Model (Katrin Muff 2016)

Let me attempt to conclude. In order for purpose and values to be aligned, an ongoing journey between the inner and the outer world in which we live is needed, allowing an emergent transformation as we advance. This allows a development of the inner knowing and the values we build on. In addition, purpose will need to be defined not just as the “reason for which something is done” but “the reason for which what is done serves the well-being of the next larger holon” or unit. Arthur Koestler coined the term holon (“whole”) as something that “simultanesouly a whole and a part”. Holacracy, which is founded on the principle of Holons, embraces this nicely as an operating system. A holon is a unit that is contained in another holon and that may (or not) contain other holons. Each sub-ordinate holon by definition must embrace the purpose of the holon of which it is a part and the entire system is guides by an overarching missing that should – and here Holacracy stops – again serve the next larger holon. Imagine if individuals would understand that we are holons, as parts of organizations, which in turn are holons as a part of societies, which in turn form a part of a global community, all while being in and of itself a whole that again contains other smaller holons. This understanding would allow an alignment of purpose and values based on the understanding that we are all a part of another, infinitely interconnected.

Author: Katrin Muff, PhD

Active in thought leadership, consulting & applied research in sustainability & responsibility, and directing the DAS & DBA programs


The Emperor’s Clothes

When I first heard about the fairy tale of the Emperor’s clothes, I always thought that it would take just one sufficiently innocent and courageous person to point her finger at the emperor and everybody else would automatically fall out of the magic spell that had previously had let them see an altered reality. But, today’s reality is proving me wrong. Today, we are living in this weird situation where about half of the people realize that the emperor is wearing no clothes and is pointing more or less discretely to the naked leader. The other half of the people, however, see the emperor in all of his magnificent beauty of glimmering, luscious and richly decorated clothes. They are blind-sided by the appearance of wealth and the impression of power this creates. They feel the power and they either feel frightened or encouraged by what it may bring to them. If it is not question of how many people see the emperor without clothes, then what are relevant triggers or levers that might open the eyes of those who still see him in his magic dress?

When we talk about change, we remain interestingly speculative with regards to interdependencies, causes, consequences and what are precursors, pre-conditions, enablers and levers of change. Kathy Miller has provided an enlightening response to my blog suggesting that people rather than organizations are the shapers of organizational culture. She points out – correctly so in my opinion – that culture is also shaped by the structure, size, leadership and governance of an organization. These are clearly organizational elements rather than people elements. I would like to further expand that trajectory of thought by investigating what other elements influence organizational and more particularly systemic change beyond the people and organizational related factors.

We have previously established that a variety of aspects that can be summed up as people related factors of change strongly define and influence a culture. We have also established that there are a number of organizational related aspects that impact and shape culture. In the context of the subject of climate change, Andy Hoffmann has investigated why pointing out facts has at best no impact at opening the eyes of those that deny a reality that quasi an entire community of scientists have confirmed. He concludes his assessment with the observation that arguing with facts simply results in the other side generating other (alternative?) facts that further prove the opposite point of view and thus further entrench the already existing difference. If not facts, then what?

Research suggests that in order to even get a chance at changing somebody else’s mind, we need to empathically and authentically connect with that other person. From person to person, not from role to role. And this is where things fall apart. We don’t want to personally engage, there is an inner discomfort, a resistance that creeps up and that communication shuts down. I have extensive personal experience in this and I often self-observe what happens to me when I am confronted with an opinion, a feedback or comment that goes against what I believe in. There is a physical shift inside of me, that turn my receptors from open to close, my smile from broad to narrow, and my heart from trusting to a stand-by mode. Sometimes I manage to turn the switch back on “open”. When I do, it is because I manage to re-establish first my own heart connection to my inner values and purpose, maybe to my soul, and then from that space, to re-establish a connection to the best in the other person that I had previously seen. A colleague of mine describes this as “veils” that are lifted off again that had prevented a clear vision. I pretend that most of us who have self-observed such events will be able to describe some change in our physiological disposition that can serve as a signal and hence potentially allow a reversal of the process. This however, does not work well when I enter a discussion being convinced that the other person holds a “wrong” own perspective that I happen to disagree with or question in terms of honesty of interest and intent. And this is where things get sticky.

If such mastery is required at the personal level to attempt to generate change at the systemic level, we are in for a tough ride. I am struck by the parallel to the current reality across the Atlantic. There are impressive public attempts (including from the New York Times) to influence the personal moral obligation of a high ranking US prosecutor to demand an independent investigation of the Russian intervention in the US election process which is required in order to implement the checks and balances that are in theory well in place from a governance perspective but that don’t get the traction they should. Is it possible that when organizational elements fail to generate the framework for change, that we are thrown back to the individual courage, morals and ultimately mastery which are comprised in the people dimension? If mass protests don’t work, and structural frameworks can be circumvented or be neutralized or ignored, then how are we ever going to point out what one child pointed out so naively in the fairy tale of the emperor’s clothes? Or might it be the simple accumulation of individual, structural and mass pressures that little by little fill the famous barrel until one last drop makes it overflow and thus creates the change. And it mattered very little what that last drop actually was, as long as the drips kept coming. If that were true, then a possible conclusion might ultimately be a very encouraging one. Namely, that irrespective of the immediate or estimated impact of any individual action, new policy or public engagement, what is important is to do what is right  every singly moment a day. Right from an interconnected perspective that embraces values at the individual level, interests at the organizational level and a sense of common well-being and safety at the societal, global level.

Author: Katrin Muff, PhD

Active in thought leadership, consulting & applied research in sustainability & responsibility, and directing the DAS & DBA programs


2 Comments

What is the role of business to contribute to a world worth living in?

House of ReligionsToday I spoke at the beautiful House of Religions in Bern, a wonderful open space for dialogue across cultures. Together with an engaged public, we discussed the decoupling of the many corporate responsibility efforts on one side and the pretty poor state of the world on the other side. The Business Sustainability Typology (BST) developed by Thomas Dyllick and me served as welcome framework for the discussion. It allowed to channel and focus the various perspectives and enabled a positive, solution-oriented nature of our discussion. The BST differentiates between three types of business sustainability and challenges organizations to fundamentally rethink their corporate strategy to become “truly sustainable”. This BST 3.0 ideal state invites business to adopt an outside-in perspective and to start by considering burning societal issues and evaluating what relevant resources and competencies they have to help solve these challenges. Or, as Peter Drucker said: “Every single social and global issue of our day is a business opportunity in disguise”.

Much time was spent considering alternatives to address and resolve the European refugees crisis and besides overcoming a defensive fear that is well present, we concluded that most urgently of all, we need a space where stakeholders discuss this problem and explore avenues of solutions. I concluded by referring to the 50+20 vision which out this responsibility squarely into the hands of public universities. With their unique convening power and the right stakeholder engagement facilitation (see the collaboratory solution), universities and also business schools can create the space to ensure that we start the dialogue now about how to integrate large numbers of immigrants into a Europe that has just become a new entity we need to redefine and embrace pro-actively.

On my way home, I have embraced my little part of an action: I will mobilize relevant stakeholders of European business school to issue a Call of Action for b-school to provide immediate and non-bureaucratic scholarships to refugees stranded in Europe, irrespective of their visa situation. And I am considering housing such a student at my place when Business School Lausanne will accept such students as early as next February. Obviously, I feel inspired! Thanks for a great afternoon.

 


Costa Rica is now running completely on renewable energy

Have you heard the news? Costa Rica has managed to shift to 100% renewable energy! And they are not alone – more and more countries are following suit, and I hope you are part of a community and a country that is also moving in this direction. Is there anything you can do to fasten the pace?

My friend Jan Arend, who I stayed with just recently, just took his family and home off the grid – he was so excited to share how much energy he is feeding into the grid and the many places he found he can save energy. Hats off!!

http://qz.com/367985/costa-rica-is-now-running-completely-on-renewable-energy/?utm_source=huffingtonpost.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=pubexchange


It may be shocking but Charisma matters…

In a most relevant and highly enjoyable TEDx Lausanne presentation, University of Lausanne’s John Antonakis presents latest research on how people get elected and how important charisma is to succeed. He doesn’t just let us hang there, he demonstrates a few easy tricks of how to build charisma yourself so that you can do measurably better, irrespective of the fact with how good looks you were born!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEDvD1IICfE&sns=em

John Antonakis


1 Comment

My favorite book this summer!

Among the large pile of books I read through this summer, one stood out and has left a pleasant after-taste: REINVENTING ORGANIZATIONS by Frederic Laloux (Belgium). Frederic has attempted to do mission impossible and has actually come up with something of incredible value. He took the human development perspective and applied it to business. The idea is simple and has been considered for centuries: human beings develop over a life-time and societies develop over centuries into increasingly developed forms and belief systems. Why not organizations as well. Based on much work done by Integral Studies (Ken Wilber et al but also many other developmentalists such as Jean Gebser, Don Beck, Jean Piaget), Frederic developed first a historical overview of the development of organizations and then created a white space of the organization of the future. And here comes the magic – rather than just leaving things there, he went out and found a dozen companies of all sizes and from various industries and developed small case studies to understand how these companies are living already today partially or fully the principles of the organization of the future.

But don’t take my word for it, here is an excellent New York Times review on the book

We are running a Collaboratory event that I will facilitate together with other BSL colleagues featuring Frederic Laloux, Christian Felber and others on November 21-22, 2014 in Vienna in association with LiFT and the Zentrum für Integrale Führung led by Christiane Seuhs-Schoeller. If you are interested to join us, please let me know!

 

 


3 Comments

Kicking off Collaboratories in Asia – Towards “Green Living in Hong Kong”

Riding up the elevator of the brand new building of the Design Faculty at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University sets the stage: 4th floor Collaboratoy, 8th floor Innovation Think Tank. I haven’t seen the use of “Collaboratory” formally used to designate an entire floor of a building! We must be in the right space! Clearly Cees de Bont from the Design Faculty and Alison Llyod from the Business School are not only an experienced but also a very creative and effective team. Everything was set for a memorable first Collaboratory event in Asia!

Cees’ design students have worked over the past weeks to create more than half a dozen of benches made out of recycled or repurposed material. Special acknowledgment goes to Claudius Bensch, Art Director of the project, for developing the original Bench Circle installation concept. As we walked into the space, our jaws dropped at the sight of these benches! True beauty and an astounding variety! Each bench was designed by a known designer and produced by design students. Here is a short time-laps film that shows them at work:

Allison’s business students had masterfully arranged the space into the signature inner circle held by two rows of outer circle chairs. They had helped to mobilize the key stakeholders for the event and ensured that all concerned parties in Hong Kong concerned by “Green Living in Hong Kong” were not only present but had been briefed in great detail on what to expect. An energized group of approx. 50 engaged citizens, representatives of business, consulting, real estate, NGO, social entrepreneurship as well as various relevant faculty members and students was curious to see what would happen next. Everything was set for an intense 3 hours of co-creation!

The first hour served to lay out all the different perspectives on the topic of what Green Living in Hong Kong might mean, why it was possible, impossible, covering current important issues such as air pollution and the impact of the increasing inequality, the high dependency on the “Hong Kong shopping center”, the dramatically negative impact of the recent frugality strategy of the Chinese and the sky-high real estate prices that drove social entrepreneurs out of town. Yet, the fact that 40% of the land was labelled as national parks and only 30% of the surface was actually built, opened up a discussion around the potential of Hong Kong with its 70+ islands, beaches and many hills and hiking trails for every level of difficulty. We heard stories of permaculture, roof-top gardens, and the need to go beyond organic food to radically re-localize food (the footprint of organic food not being sufficient to balance population growth). A young social entrepreneur shared his initiative of in-house gardening and tourist operator a dream around eco-tourism. The elevator was introduced as a highly sustainable solution to save land (vertical city) and elegantly delegating the cost of mobility infrastructure from government to private investors (well, that’s the real-estator’s perspective). The idea that if green choices need to come more attractive (adding a price on unsustainable living), they would take off. The question of how design can help advance green living in HK. The dilemma of the importance of education and the fact that it takes too long to produce results. The businessman’s pragmatic perspective: “how much are we willing to pay to make Green Living a reality?” countered by the psychologist who believes that it is all a question of behavioral change. One sentiment expressed the rather upbeat sense of the discussion best: “If there’s anybody who can do it, it is Hong Kong!”, this despite the fact that a concerned voice reminded us that returning to a simple living also implied consuming less and that companies would need to radically reinvent themselves. A final voice made a historical comparison, reminding us that in 1972 the Hong Kong government campaigned against corruption which was considered mission impossible and today in Hong Kong corruption was largely gone. So why not campaign against unsustainable living? Well…

After a break, we shifted into the visioning phase of the process and went on a journey where we collectively dreamt up a Hong Kong that had realized Green Living. The traditional sharing round among all participants was among the richest I have experienced today: a new vision for Hong Kong came alive! A vision where Hong Kong would adopt Singapore’s positioning as an education hub to become Asia’s Sustainability or Green Living Hub. Conscious of the fact that Hong Kong in many ways plays a role model function for many cities and people of mainland China, the power of such a transformative change was palpable. Descriptions of such a future vision of Hong Kong included clean air and blue skies, a slower pace and fresh vegetables at hand anywhere to eat. Shopping as a way to secure happiness was replaced by more profound offers that would lead to a more sustainable well-being and happiness. People would come to Hong Kong to “slow up”, to recharge, re-energize and to co-create and develop great ideas.

In the final third phase of the Collaboratory, we asked the question: so what can we concretely do in the next 2-3 months to make steps towards this utopian future. To enable this, we transformed the center space into an entrepreneurial brainstorming space: at least 20 ideas were developed and any last signs of Asian shyness disappeared. The spark of a shared and embodied vision had triggered not only enthusiasm but also creativity. I was challenged to summarize and group the many ideas into 8 main prototypes of which each participant would choose one he or she wanted to spend the last hour of the Collaboratory exploring. We initially thought to vote the best 4 of these 8 ideas but there was enough energy for all of them that we split the circle into 8 sub-circles and empowered each group to self-organize and further develop their ideas. After 40 minutes each team was ready with a solid prototype idea and had identified one responsible person among them who was willing to carry-forward the project until Alison and Cees would decide on how to proceed with a next Collaboratory event to further develop if not all, at least some of them.

Here is an overview of all the ideas:

  • Introducing positive discrimination coupled with transparency to enable green organizations to perform better and attract the talent and to individuals to the incentive to change behavior. A radical shift requires radical support including the development of broader well-being measures on the macro and micro economic levels (lead: Shrikant Ramakrishnan, four members)
  • Eco-tourism: slow up in Hong Kong and relax into great ideas! Various steps needed: a) turning the city green (greening the roofs), accessible hiking trails for all levels, transforming hospital into wellness clinics, turning public spaces into oasis, taking the noise out, developing eco-tourism in the islands, etc. (lead: Stella Kwan, four members)
  • Transforming universities into practical learning centers in society, by reducing the current disconnect particularly in CSR, changing the pedagogy to include in-company learning, integrating self-realization as an integral part of learning (lead: Alison Lloyd, nine members)
  • Fostering cross-sectional stakeholder dialogue through collaboratory discussions: not a solution in itself but an enabler to contribute to a new mind frame and to rally for a common vision (lead: Philo Alto, two members)
  • Copy-cating the best green solutions and branding for massive globe scaling, by applying a rigorous process of a) what is the problem), b) who is the leader in the world to solve this, c) how can we adapt to Hong Kong, d) how can we brand to enable scaling, e) how do we commercialize globally – example: Starbucks vertical farming wall (lead: Lydia Guett, six members)
  • Developing a sharing culture towards a new governing model by bringing in relevant ideas to Hong Kong and by working with students as activists and promoting a culture of sharing, e.g. electronics (lead: Ming Ho, three members)
  • Becoming a personal role model first and then contribute to the sharing culture (see 4), supported by government actions such as theme Sundays to re-develop relationships at all levels as they used to be (lead: Match Chen, six members)
  • Developing a new mind frame: business needs new managers and leaders, current people in charge can’t lead the transformation, a higher consciousness is needed, achieving this by a significant focus on personal health for every employee at all levels (top particularly) since a better life will result in a better business as it triggers a shift in focus; also: embracing the consumer-side of the people by initiating new consumer demands which will result in new business opportunities (lead: Eric Chu, 2 members)

Cees and Alison have expressed an interest to integrate the first three into their current project development structures which are available in both Faculties. Furthermore, the PolyU business school has platforms on which other prototypes could be further developed. Both of them will communicate with everybody involved in the Collaboratory shortly to ensure that these prototype will start to be realized where possible and where the teams feel energized to further work on them.

IMG_1975

Walking into the Silverbox Conference room at the ICON hotel in Hong Kong the next day felt VERY similar to walking into the UN RIO+20 PRME Business Education conference back in June 2012 when we launched the 50+20 agenda: 3 benches were lined up as I walked off the elevator towards the registration desk and the back of the room was displaying with 6 more benches. Awesome! It is amazing what kind of difference some real art can make. More on the conference: http://www.bsl-lausanne.ch/news/school-news/events-and-conferences/bsls-dean-gives-keynote-speech-at-conference-on-renewing-business-education-in-asia