Friday, January 4, 2019

Man Got to Sit and Wonder "Why, Why, Why?"

I want to continue where I left off in My Way - Three Stories - Part 3, but so much has happened since then, I hardly know where to start.  I want to write about many new elements in the "small story" (a regenerative theory of business) and some patterns that are emerging among those elements.  I want to write about the "medium story" in which I'm finding ways to critique and refine that way.  But I feel like I should heed my own "Why over How" dictum and first write about what all these elements have to do with sustainability, and before that, let me explain 1) why I'm paying so much attention to sustainability, and 2) why my way focuses primarily on psychological and social elements.

I am not excited about sustainability.

Say what???  That might be surprising, because I sure seem to talk about it a lot.  While I believe the search for sustainable ways to live and do business is essential for our survival, I also believe that what we need more than some silver bullet Sustainable Business Theory of the Future™ is a willingness to challenge even the most deeply entrenched values, beliefs, attitudes, concepts, and other adoptive mental patterns that result in our current unsustainable business practices (aka "business as usual").

In other words, what I'm excited about isn't sustainability; what I'm excited about is learning from our unsustainability, challenging my own adoptive patterns, participating in the creation of the next step, and taking it.  We will find the next step (or we'll perish), but even that won't be the last step.  What excites me is not any single step, but the forward motion, the progress, the adaptation.

Drivers and Constraints

It's easy for us to confuse drivers with constraints.  For example, since the Age of Exploration (and in some cases much longer) we (especially in Eurocentric and derivative cultures) have mistakenly thought profit was a driver for all businesses.  We now consider it the primary - if not sole - indicator of success.  That belies our essential human priorities and our original intent when we invented business.  Profit is a constraint of business, not a driver.  In the long term, a business must profit in order to survive, but profit is not our original reason for inventing business.

In the same way, sustainability is not a driver.  It's not our motivation to live, use resources, or do business.  Sustainability is a constraint that we must meet in the long term in order to survive.

Psychology and Sociology of Sustainability

There's a quote often attributed to Einstein: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them."  I don't think Einstein actually said it that way (or the German equivalent), but that's a very trenchant assertion that applies to sustainability.  In our development of sustainability, I think we have rightly started with problems and the causal behaviors behind them.  What we haven't yet developed to the same degree is an understanding of "the same thinking we used to create them."

Cognitive Behavior Therapy uses a triangle model to demonstrate the way thoughts, emotions, and behavior all interact.  In this school of thought, effective and permanent behavior changes require intentional changes in thinking and attitudes.

For what it's worth, the elements in "my way" arise from a richer psychological model (than the CBT triangle) influenced by structuralist and functionalist psychological schools of thought.  I might take more time to describe that model in future posts, if it seems relevant.

Sociologist Emile Durkheim defined social facts as "... manners of acting, thinking and feeling external to the individual, which are invested with a coercive power by virtue of which they exercise control over him."  I believe this definition aptly describes the manners of acting, thinking and feeling that lead to the problems of unsustainability in our time.  These behaviors, thoughts, and feelings are the rule and not the exception.  They are "external to the individual," so in order to solve the problems, we're going to have to challenge some social facts.  And we're going to have to deconstruct some conventional wisdom.

Governance and Culture

After exploring problems and their behavioral causes, our collective dialog about sustainability used shame and then governance (like environmental laws) to mitigate those sustainability problems.
Unsurprisingly, those who enjoy the greatest financial advantage from business as usual have resisted changes imposed by regulation, and because financial advantage largely coincides with political advantage, their resistance has slowed progress and even spawned counter-movements of social regression and environmental denial.  Because of these political realities, governance-led progress may be both necessary in the short term, and insufficient in the long term.

There is also an increasing trend of approaching sustainability problems via culture as opposed to governance, using subtler and more persuasive manipulation instead of overt force.  For example, ecological economics has had significant success in challenging the social fact that corporate sustainability initiatives reduce profit.  Like other persuasive approaches, it challenges certain destructive social facts, using other, "lesser evil" social facts (e.g. "profit = success") as leverage.  Maybe piecemeal persuasive approaches like this will be sufficient (maybe even necessary) to avert extinction in the coming decades.

Another Way

But whatever approaches we take collectively via governance or culture, we have an opportunity to take yet another approach individually: to use the unsustainability of business as usual as guidance to take a "deeper cut" voluntarily - to discover and challenge both social facts and personal adoptive patterns, and to reclaim the power to treat them consciously.  And I guess that's essentially what "my way" attempts to do.

I feel like I've carried on long enough about the why.  I got kinda wordy in this post, didn't I?  And maybe a little preachy.  I don't feel preachy about what I wrote (just frank), but re-reading it, I can see how it might come across that way.  I think next time, before I get into the new elements I have to add to "my way," I'll talk about the relationship between the psychosocial elements I've listed so far and the current state of the art thinking about sustainability and business.