Sustainability has become one of those buzzwords that I hear flying around my client and community circles. People want to create sustainability in everything from agriculture to business to endowment funds. I’ve heard others discussing the desire to “leave a legacy” for future generations. All of these are well-meaning intentions, but what is hidden beneath the buzzword?
Creating sustainability often means putting a system structure into place that is designed to produce the most benefit in the present while maintaining those benefits in the future. I do not deny that we need systems that function efficiently and effectively in the present, but is the ultimate goal to maintain them for the future?
Another word comes to mind: chronic. This word is usually used in association with a disease or other undesirable condition that has to be managed. C.S. Holling said, “Placing a system in a straitjacket of constancy can cause fragility to evolve.” In other words, if we carefully maintain a system, we run the risk of eventually creating weakness that leads to a chronic condition. Chronic conditions take much more time in management, and, after a period of time – perhaps a few years or even as long as a generation – can lead to the death of the system.
So should the idea of sustainability be abandoned? The answer isn’t to be found in keeping our organizations and ourselves in chaos. Instead, I invite you to consider expanding the goals of sustainability from only maintaining a static, stable operating environment to include building a resilient space.
Lest you think I’m piling buzzword on buzzword, I’m defining resilience as creating a bounded space where the system can function effectively and efficiently and have elastic in its boundary. That elastic allows the system to learn, change, and grow in new directions in response to changing conditions around it, while offering a measure of protection. It is both stable and ever changing. If we are going to “leave a legacy,” our organizations must embrace the paradox of sustaining change.
Prairie Sunset with Hedge Row
I’ve written before about design thinking as an evidence-based process. Now comes a new post by Tim Brown of IDEO with links to downloadable books and resources from OpenIDEO. These resources demonstrate the IDEO method of design thinking. The method integrates ideas generated through a wide variety of networks, created through disciplined collaboration, allowing concepts to emerge and leading to actionable outcomes.
If you’re looking for ways of engaging emergence, I recommend discovering these free resources.
To challenge your thinking about emergence, read Tim Brown’s ideas and questions about “emergent characteristics” of successful regions that generate “relevant innovations”.
Check out Deborah King’s post today on play. She offers a detailed review of the book, Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. She reflects:
We all realize the world is a much more complex place than it used to be. Solving the problems our businesses are facing requires viewing the problem through different filters, and being open and innovative to try things we haven’t tried before. Research indicates that play can be the key to improving our abilities to work collaboratively in a process of fact-finding, brainstorming, and innovating solutions.
Exploring the idea of “play” in the workplace can help us create the future.
I was not surprised when I heard a nearby 12-year-old complain, “I’m bored.” But I was taken aback when a recent college graduate told me, “I’m bored with my work.” She was working in her field of choice, about a year into an entry-level job. She said that she didn’t mind doing the routine work, but she wanted to be challenged, to have opportunities to try new things, meet new people, and grow. I connected her comments with the frustrations that multiple Millennials have expressed about their workplaces. And, the frustration extends beyond the Millennials as seen in a 2010 survey that shows only 45% of the workforce is satisfied with their job.
While I understand that every workplace has certain tasks that must be routinely completed, I am thinking about what it means to create a playful workplace. This would be a workplace that moves beyond employee engagement to serious play. What do kids do when they’re the opposite of bored? They’re playing, which results in having fun! In my neighborhood, they go outdoors and ride bikes on the trail, build forts in the woods, get together to eat pizza and play video games, or just hang out eating cookies and drinking soda pop on the back porch. A more defined view of play sees these activities as exploring, creating, relating, generating, and reflecting. When these activities are happening, I never hear, “I’m bored.”
The challenge for our organizations is to embrace those who say, “I’m bored.” It is time to stop saying, “I don’t have time to deal with this – just get on with it.” It is time to expand our thinking – to engage in serious play. I don’t know that there is a road map for serious play in organizations, but I do know that the beginning is taking time to relate to everyone and set an intention to listen and hear new ideas, create space to imagine new things, and find ways to adventure into new territory. I believe it’s time to stop changing incrementally and be willing to experiment with new ideas and fail and try again.
In the end it’s not about creating the next best piece of technology or the nifty new software app or the perfect organization chart. In the end it’s being willing to get down on the rug and build a new Lego truck that can fly to the moon today, then take it apart and use the Lego blocks to build a whale that walks on land tomorrow. In the end, it’s about the journey and the people with whom we choose to ride the trail. Just maybe, we’ll all be less bored as we discover and create the way to the future together.