Creating A Sustainable Future – Begin With Forgetting
The words of the wise men below suggest that creating a sustainable future will be possible only if we update and reset our mental maps. But why is it so important for business leaders to have an accurate mental map of their terrain?
“… Begin[s] not with inventing, but with forgetting. You must let go of what you’ve learned ….
– Govindarajan & Trimble in Reverse Innovation, 2012
“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking we used when we created them.”
Futurist Peter Schwartz illustrates the importance of an accurate mental map with a story about explorers who believed that California was an island. They arrived with disassembled boats that they loaded onto the backs of donkeys before trekking inland. While adding greatly to the baggage and difficulty of their mountainous journey, the boats were considered essential because the explorers expected to reach water on the other side of the “island” of California.
So it is today. Managers arrive with mental maps that mislead and handicap them in facing the challenges of the 21st century green economy. Outdated assumptions no longer map on to the current business landscape. The mismatch between mental map and the terrain it purports to represent is apparent in familiar complaints: “I was never interested in sustainability, and didn’t see the connection to business. “Environmental stewardship costs too much” (money, jobs, and competitiveness). “Regulations will put us out of business.”
Once a mental map is established, changing it is neither straightforward nor easy. “Confirming perception” allows us to see only evidence that supports already established beliefs. Traditional viewpoints are thus “over learned”. Well-worn perspectives become assumptions about the world that are taken for granted, and we no longer realize how they are influencing our decisions.
Updating a mental map requires us, first, to raise awareness of the assumptions we use to filter information. When we start from “where we are”, we create capacity to absorb new perspectives. New ideas can first be tethered to the old, then the old can be forgotten.
Participants may enter sustainable business training with a “mindset gap:” thinking green and competitive a radical idea. The examples, exercises and discussion of the training serve to hold up a mirror so that thoughtful people can see the assumptions they harbor unaware and quickly recognize where the mindset does not map onto the current business landscape.
Participants’ learning diaries contain bold illustrations of their conversion from traditional to modern, 21st century perspectives. The most frequent comment of participants who go through this training is “You opened my eyes to new business opportunities.”