Archive for September, 2008

The World as an Organization

In reading the IPCC report on Climate Change mitigation and their other reports, inertia is mentioned repeatedly as part of the cause of our situation and the reason why we won’t be able to reverse it any time soon.

In fact, inertia is part of every human challenge. We are unable to change our own mindset when we are on a different side of an issue and it is only natural that we would come to different conclusions about different issues. We each come from a different background, have different priorities, see different concerns.

In the end, however, we do need to recognize that the world is one place and ultimately with one outcome. The human race will most likely survive all adversities. But what will that survival look like?

Let’s look at one example of why inertia seems to impact our world so significantly.

Just for the purpose of this example, let’s assume that the IPCC is correct and climate change is a very real issue. Since this is an exercise in thinking, emotional reaction and inertia, it is not necessary to debate the issue. But suppose for this example that relatively minor changes in the climate begin to cause massive crop failures and food shortages and we start to realize that massive starvation will happen. We generally don’t think that far down the road because we are busy with the concerns of today and we don’t do much about it because we never anticipate that the people most likely to starve may be us. We have always had an abundance of food in North America and just can’t imagine not having it. And historically, we have always found solutions to the challenges of our world, albeit, not always without suffering and often at the expense of other countries. What if we knew for certain that we would be hungry and that we would see our children starving within ten years? Would we convince ourselves to act differently right now to try to avert the disaster or would we throw up our hands and give up? And if we were unfortuate enough to be born in a country already in need of food, water or shelter, we simply wouldn’t have the energy to do much about our situation. All of our energies would be used on struggling for immediate survival.

So the inertia is this. We who have the ability to do something don’t fully believe we need to do anything and those who are already suffering know that we need to do something but they can’t do anything.

Interestingly enough, there is no guarentee that we will not be impacted by a food shortage or other types of challenge in the future. Most of them we will handle. It’s those challenges that we can’t handle that we must have contingency for.

This year alone we saw minor shifts in “food power”. A simple example: the country of Vietnam which is one of the top rice producing nations, in the face of rising demand on rice, began to temporarily withhold its’ exports. Why? It was a simple reaction to ensure it’s own preservation first and then only after ensuring it’s own food supply it re-opened the exports. It was a measured and reasonable reaction. But what if they had decided not to open their trading again? Or what if their crops had failed. Most of the worlds rice exports are from only a few countries. Now supposing the situation had been even more severe and even more of the rice producing countries had the same reaction of withholding exports. How quickly would the world, including western nations, be facing major rice shortages? True, we wouldn’t likely starve due to a rice shortage. But let’s add to that some other looming economic or ecollogical challenges such as a major crop failure in our part of the world. This year, my wife and I noticed on our daily walks that the local cherry trees didn’t bear any fruits. I don’t know much about cherries so I found this interesting, not threating. But it might be a problem. In the B.C. Okanogan Valley, 25% of the fruit production was destroyed by hail. Other types of challenges can impact us too. What about when the power grid failed a few years back for several days in much of Ontario and across the nothern US states. Gas stations couldn’t pump gas, many people lost the contents of their freezers and food rotted in stores. And that was just a few days. What about the increase in hurricanes in the gulf of Mexico. Recently we’ve all seen more damaging storms. Regardless of whether it is climate change related or not, it does point out that it wouldn’t take that much for our system to start breaking down. And even just due to current economic conditions, at least some North Americans are already having difficulties feeding their families. In some of the eastern Canadian Provinces, rising prices and a weakness in the economy have caused unprecedented food bank demand and lower contribution rates. Malnutrition already exists for many of our northern citizens.

My goal is not to dwell on the negative or predict catastrophic failure. It is to hi-light the potential for these situations to be influenced by our attitudes and approaches to solving them. Inertia is a problem and the type of change we need is a change of heart and action.

Consider this, if we were to reverse the current situation and think of ourselves as the recipients of global aide, how would we feel if the rest of the world failed to recognize our plight and come to our rescue? What if you, as a Canadian or American parent found yourself unable to find work, unable to pay for a home, and unable to feed your family? What if, under the strain of a challenged econonomy, our social system became so depleted that it was unable to help us? Would we hope for the rest of the world to help or would we suffer in silence as so much of the world does now? Would it be acceptable to us in that situation to look back and say that inertia drove us to this situation? We are not suffering severely now but many other countries are. And based on the current notion that inertia has such a great influence, could we expect the world to do very much for us? Not likely.

So my questions are these:

  1. Is there a way for us to create a better system of learning, communicating and sharing that will take us all to action more quickly with less resistance, greater coordination and cooperation, and with less impact from the effects of mental and emotional inertia?
  2. Is there a way we can make “change” a concept that is easy to swallow logically and emotionally and one which enroles our interest and passion to get the job done as quickly as possible?

Traditional change management theories count on creating projects which enrole and involve the ideas of those they may impact. This is a great start. But have you ever noticed what causes major changes in a human being? In each of us, we have a certain way of thinking based on our history and our defence of that historical perspective. As a coach, I’ve witnessed that simply asking someone the right questions will have them completely drop a long held view and consider something new. We all need to learn how to start asking those kinds of questions and this is especially true of our leaders. Here’s an example. I work with people who are in work and family relationships and some have huge challenges. They disagree as a result of their personal views and beliefs and they argue, shout, insist, blame, defend and then learn to shut others out with the inherent belief that if they explain more loudly or just one more time that they will eventually win the day. One question I often ask is “Is this the way you want your relationship to continue?” or “Is this approach working for you?” These are simple questions but they bring up the need to slowly examine our thoughts and beliefs about the outcome and they to begin to re-think their approach. Before the question is asked, there is an assumption that they would eventually prevail. The question makes them realize that this may not be so. 

We need to have a vision of our future that is inclusive. If anyone is left out, there will always be tension and as long as there is tension, there will be major disputes. This is true of any organization. If we think about the global picture and conceive of what is possible for the world, we can also begin to think about how we do our part and work together. We also need to think about how we support those who will be most negatively impacted by changes that are good for the world but which may not be initially positive for them.

Imagine if we could all agree that some great initiative (e.g. establishing peace or reducing climate change) as something so vital to us individually and collectively, that we all want it desparately and we are willing to forgo the inertia associated with taking sides, holding on to old views, insisting on what is best for us personally, or striving for the dominance of our own perspectives. What if we learned to consult frankly, bring positive ideas to the table with a sense of detachment and maturity, and only with the idea of sharing information and adding to the ideas of others? What if we elected government representitives who demonstrated wisdom, worldly experience, enthusiasm for getting things done and a deep respect for others rather than those who represent a particular party or current point of view (inertia)? What if we gave our politicians manditory training on how to consult effectively and insist that they show respect for others rather than rewarding them for making clever remarks to put down the points presented by others? What if we all simply recognized that we are all the benefactors of whatever world we create and start thinking about how to make the entire world better, not just our own peice of the world? And to be fair, there are many people who already have this attitude and who devoted their lives to making the world a better place for everyone. What if we could, through new methods of communication, have everyone moving quickly together toward a common goal?

What if we really did think of the World as an an Organization?

We all understand the principle of inertia in the physical realm. If a large object is in motion, it requires a force to change that motion. We can think of a large ocean liner or train and how difficult they are to stop. This principle appears to apply in the mental and emotional realm as well. People are resistant to change and often change only when forced. However, are the minds and hearts really bound by the principles of inertia or is it simply that we don’t know how to influence others in ways that make change easier? In addition, what if we were able to make changes that allowed us to use inertia to our advantage by getting everyone aligned to the same goals.

The example we can use to look at change is 9 people in a racing canoe. Five people row in one direction and the other four, who are in disagreement, row in the other direction. How long does it take them to row to the other side of the lake? If they were to change direction and still have disagreement, how long would that change take? How much more quickly could they move if they all row together? How much more quickly would they find out if they were heading in the wrong direction simply by going with the majority, finding the wrong side of the lake, taking notes and then heading off in another direction? This example is similar to resisting change. We believe the change is wrong or detrimental to us personally so we do whatever we can to resist it and slow it down. This is usually out of a sense of preservation of our current situation. But what if the boat we are in is sinking and what if only some people in the boat are able to see the leak and yet others are convinced that it is not so they resist rowing to a specific destination? I’m not saying the world is a sinking boat. I’m just saying that maybe it has a few holes and that we will be better off to row together than to row all in different directions. 

In our current method of change, the higher level of power will ultimately prevail. But how much easier would it be if we could devise systems where we all consult about the most desired outcome, devise measures to ensure that we are reaching those outcomes, work along with the majority even when we don’t necessarily agree, adjust the path to help those who are struggling to keep up, and determine whether our actions have resulted in the predicted and most desirable outcomes? If the outcome is not what we anticipated, we at very least have more information to use for the next leg of the trip which will also be much faster.

Let’s tackle a hypothetical problem. Climate Change. There is an endless amount of discussion about it. Who’s right, who’s wrong, and whether it is caused by human activity or not. Even if you are someone who doesn’t agree with the IPCC position, supposing we accept that this is the majority view. If we were to jointly agree that for the next 10 years we have a serious problem to address that will require the cooperation of every country, every person and every company. We would agree to create and support major initiatives to limit carbon output and create green alternatives, stop the debate and simply do it. We could improve measures and models which determine the results of our efforts and keep track of those results. At the end of that period, we could determine the results of those efforts and decide if the world is better off as a whole and better prepared for the future, or not. Even if there were sacrifices of jobs and positions along the way, even if it caused us to pay higher taxes temporarily (especially those of us who could afford to), even if we had limits on certain freedoms, like how much we are able to drive our cars or how much carbon based energy we could use, we would know much more than by using most of our energies to debate the issue. We would know if the world was improving or not and we would have new alternatives. Many of the people who had lost jobs in one segment would have found positions in another. For example, perhaps some would have moved from the oil patch to green energies and some to agriculture. If this approach made a positive difference to climate, we would know. If not, we would also know. We would have gained experience in knowing how to shift resources in a planned, organized and cooperative way. We would have learned how to take care of those who were displaced by the change. The notion of change for the sake of change is not necessarily the right approach but it has the benefit of allowing us to learn how to be more flexible. Even if the science of climate change ultimately turns out to be wrong, we would know much more and likely with relatively little sacrifice and many potential benefits.

If we learn how to function together, to “row in the same direction” so to speak, we can begin to look at the world as one system and one organization working in harmony. And potentially we can do this on a voluntary basis as we each step forward to do our part.

What does this mean on an individual basis? Of course, speak your mind. Vote for those who you trust to think clearly, who are best able to evaluate effectively what’s best for the world, not ignoring local issues but someone who sees local issues within the scope of a bigger world. And when the directions are set, support them whole heartedly. If you see a social ill, use some of your time, energy and wealth to act on behalf of those who aren’t able to act for themselves. View all the people of the world as having equal rights and do what you are capable of doing to help the underprivileged to achieve all that they can. Learn the secrets of respectful, cooperative and detached consultation. And most importantly, learn how to encourage others to do the same.

What does it mean for a country? Look at the UN as an essential forum for discussion in which all countries begin to recognize and address the global challenges, encourage and support the research that will predict future outcomes based on specific initiatives, strive to encourage open dialogue and encourage a system where the majority of nations become educated to vote for those issues that promote the betterment of the world and suggest the removal of UN Vito’s for certain countries. Within the country, spend lots of money on issues that are essential for the longer term health of the planet especially education.

What does it mean for companies? Companies need to see themselves in a broader context especially from an environmental perspective. They can also take initiatives to learn better methods of implementing change, improving leadership, and ensuring their future viability in a rapidly changing world. They can also invest more of their profits in training, R&D and establish colaborative ventures that will help other companies that are supporting similar initiatives. 

What will I do? I will strive through my writing and through my coaching efforts to devise, learn and share ideas that I see which help Organizations to work together more effectively for the benefit of everyone and promote the green concepts in Organizations. I will strive to teach others how to work together in harmony and to spread the message that we can create a better world for everyone.

All the best,
Garth Schmalenberg

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