Three very different worldviews: naturalism, humanism and rationalism…
-Naturalism: Living systems are circular whereas industrial-age systems are linear. Why create inefficient systems that primarily produce waste?
-Humanism: Passion, curiosity and trust are the driving elements of the New Economy, messy though they may be.
-Rationalism: The predominant imperative for companies to make money in the most efficient way possible.
Only by embracing all three can we begin to understand what sustainability actually means, says Peter Senge in a typically thought-provoking MIT Sloan Management Review article that he (and former Volvo and IKEA senior executive Goran Carstedt) wrote in 2001 titled Innovating our Way to the Next Industrial Revolution (PDF file). In it he puts forward a very sensible extension of his systems thinking and organizational learning arguments: the New Economy warrants — and rewards — a more balanced and environmentally sensitive approach to production and human resource management.
Ecoefficiency gains are laudable but dangerously incomplete, say the authors, as is any strategy that fails to consider how the economic system affects the larger ecological and social systems within which it resides. Only a more integrated view will enable companies to innovate for long-term profitability and sustainability. Industrial-age systems follow a linear flow of extract, produce, sell, use, discard: the “take-make-waste” approach to economic growth. A systemic approach would reduce all sources of waste: from production, use and disposal.
How can managers adapt? In stark contrast to industrial-age, command-and-control management methods are the three core competencies that learning organizations must master to profit from sustainability. First, they must encourage systemic thinking so that they can sense the emerging future. Second, they must convene strategic conversations with investors, customers, suppliers and even competitors to build the trust needed to change outmoded mental models about what business success is. Finally, they must take the lead in reshaping economic, political and societal forces that stymie change. True learning organizations stand out by championing business models that foster sustainable growth.