Sustainable Business and Global Innovation Networks

Have you ever noticed how world of business increasingly depends on concepts such as Business Clustering (geographically grouped businesses that work together to provide functions that one business alone can’t) as well as the growth of Global Innovation Networks (GIN – businesses that connect together globally to provide innovative products more efficiently by utilizing the local strengths and unique competative qualities of each country and market). Both trends continue in spite of the fact that, particularly from a GIN perspective and especially in weak economies, there is a continuous outcry to stop outsourcing and create jobs locally.

Have you ever noticed how much the structure of Business Clustering and Global Innovation Networks resemble the formation of neural nets in the brain? Just as there is a certain randomness in the brain’s learning process where dendrites create random spikes to other neural paths, some of which survive and other of which don’t, businesses create collaborative ventures and, likewise, some of these serve the needs of the market and others don’t. Just as the brain has compartmentalized functions and specific neurons that play different roles in the functioning of the brain, businesses have specific roles which they play and each cluster serves a different market segment.

So what does this similarity teach business leaders about the creation of Sustainable Businesses?

While the brain expands by developing random connections, only those connections which are meaningful create lasting neural paths, lasting capacity and long term memory. The others are swept away over time. In addition, the sustainability of a circuit in the brain is related to repeation through some type of learning function, although the mechanisms of such loops are still the object of considerable research.

The question is, what aspects of this knowledge can we apply to create lasting businesses, developing collaborative connections, and acheiving sustainability from the perspective of the triple bottom line (people, planet, profit)?

In neural research, it has been identified that visualization strengthens neural nets in the same way that experience does. The difference is that experience is real and visualization is only real if it leads to a real result. An athlete visualizing must base their visualization on real experience. The sooner we are able to test a concept and experience the real results of an idea, the more quickly we are able to form neural nets that are lasting. Similarly in business, grand schemes and designs and even M&A activities which lead to the wrong results and wrong business collaborations ultimately fail, no matter how much we visualize them as succeeding.

Testing results early in business depends on using processes that are designed specifically for creating early and continuous value while incorporating a learning function as found in methodolgies such as OpenAgile. As one of the early Champions of OpenAgile and other earlier cyclic methodologies which combine the steps of planning and action with reflection and learning, it is easy to see the benefits to client organizations. Such processes focus on learning from early successes thereby strengthening real connections, building lasting capacity, and dispersing those activities and “Visions” which have little value.

In addition, while it wasn’t possible in the past for the business world to have an integrated view of the world, it is now. We are still early in the process of understanding our global connectedness and the negative impact that unsustainable processes have. While some business leaders are still in the very natural stage of denial or blaming, ultimately the world will impose itself and acceptance will be inevitable.

As we are in the process of developing a worldview (a global vision) which requires businesses and the society as a whole to be sustainable and which imposes principles of sustainable development, and as we hold that vision in mind, what does it tell us about the long term success of our own businesses and what does it suggest about Business Clusters and Global Innovation Networks that will achieve that vision?

For certain, at least part of the vision is a Global Innovation Network that sees every country as it’s market and the strengths of each nation as clusters. They are all part of that network and each of it’s members contribute their unique culture and values to the global wisdom which eventually results from such connections. The strength of such a network is in findng the unique capabilities and contributions that each country will bring. Only when each part of the world is fully functioning will the network achieve it’s fullest success.

What does this mean for your business? Only you know that for certain, but if you can’t visualize how your business fits into a sustainable future global network, you may wish to start thinking of new opportunities. No doubt this does not rule out local business. Each business plays a unique part and a vital role in the health of the overall network. And just as some neurons are connected only to those immediately surrounding them, and other cells and organs play other specific supporting functions, many businesses will provide for the health of the local clusters without much interplay on the grander scheme. But denying the need for these connections makes no sense. Outsourcing will happen and will only strengthen where it makes sense in serving human needs and the common good.

On the other  hand, businesses which create a toxic output for which there is no use or value, and which fail to deal with such outcomes in a sustainable way, ultimately don’t fit in a sustainable development scenario. Their days are numbered and the if the exponential rate of technological development is any indicator of human and global development, their end may be sooner than expected.

Forward thinking business leaders who work with their entire supply chain to create 100% sustainable results both from a product dedign and a product development perspective and which serve the betterment of human civilization are likely to be around for a long time. As the number of organizations serving the public good increases (Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken), the collective wisdom of society will increase, and while this may be a generational issue, (i.e. perhaps in this generation behaviors of endless consumption may persist) our children are learning about sustainability and it’s implications very earl. They are becoming more conscious of social ethics at a younger age and, no doubt, in spite of their natural inclinations to go through challenging phases of self-indulgence (e.g. how many kids don’t have cell phones and computers?) still, they are learning at an earlier age the meaning of sustainable development and what it means to their future. Without a doubt, this will have an impact on their collective buying patterns as they grow older. Business leaders that overlook the implications of this transformative change are destined to drive themselves or their companies to extinction.

And perhaps what’s even more important is that the leaders of companies who, not only adjust their production and products to meet the criteria of sustainable development but also, meaningfully adjust their marketing message to increase the educational value of their message helping buyers to understand the human and global value of their products and the importance of sustainable efforts, will greatly widen the gap between them and archaic competitors who fail to heed the warning signs.

What advise do we take from this as business leaders? Image that future which will serve humanity in a way that is 100% sustainable, tell the world how you plan to get there, and actively work towards that end as quickly as possible. The more quickly you are able to make this transition, the more prepared you will be for future business.

All the best,

Garth Schmalenberg

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