Sustainable Enterprise

Like most SLA members who have a master’s degree, I figure I’ve got enough of a formal education, and I’ve taught, served as a guest-lecturer, and presented regularly over the past few years. But, because sustainability is so pertinent to everything we do now, I felt a need to be a part of the solution. So, I found myself in the role of student again, and it was exhilirating.

I am surprisingly pleased with myself for completing my Sustainable Enterprise Certificate  from Willamette University this spring. The class was an eye-opener, as I thought content would focus on how to interpret some esoteric sustainability index. Instead we looked at system dynamics, leverage points, biomimicry, and the nature of social collaboration—really big ideas—that can produce shifts in people’s thinking about “what is sustainable?” The class literally changed my mind.

Leverage Points

One of the big “aha’s” for me was an article on “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System” by Donella Meadows which opens with:

Folks who do systems analysis have a great belief in “leverage points.” These are places within a complex system (a corporation, an economy, a living body, a city, an ecosystem) where a small shift in one thing can produce big shifts in everything.

It’s a great concept, with a surprising history. If you think about it, isn’t a leverage point kind of the same thing as a magic spell or a secret passage way? Only instead of the missing ingredient for a powerful incantation, these leverage points offer access to positive change.

The highest leverage points change the goals, mindsets, and paradigms of a system to enable a new vision. The lowest leverage points deal with subsidies and buffers, but they rarely change the underlying behavior.

For example, we learned that when you want to facilitate change, look for the places where you can intervene in a system and foresee that your intervention will not only have a ripple effect, the change will be in the right direction. Leverage points can be counterintuitive, so use caution.

Info Pros

As an information professional who researches, organizes and disseminates information, I was not surprised to see that the structure of information flows, that is, who does and does not have access to information, is a fairly high leverage point. As they say, “knowledge is power,” so adding information to a system can be a powerful intervention. 

How do you use leverage points to change a system at the highest levels? Meadows advocates that you follow this advice:         

You keep pointing out the anomalies and failures in the old paradigm, you keep speaking louder and with assurance from the new one, you insert people with the new paradigm in places of public visibility and power. You don’t waste time with reactionaries; rather you work with active change agents and with the vast middle ground of people who are open-minded.

In our class, we learned how these tools could lead to a more sustainable economic, social and environmental system. But in the back of my mind, I kept coming back to the goals of SLA, and my new role as president-elect. What kind of leverage points could we uncover to facilitate a new, FUTURE READY state? What other sustainability lessons could I apply to move us toward being essential in the new knowledge economy? 

I’ll be mulling this over for the next few weeks as I completely internalize my new sustainability certificate. I hope you have some answers, too.

Bill Gates on energy: Innovating to zero!

If you had billions of dollars at your disposal, what is the one thing that you would wish for? At the TED Conference this year, Bill Gates unveiled his wish for Zero CO2 Emissions. It has GOT to be your wish, too!

Bill Gates states that innovation, the pace of innovation, market incentives, basic research and regulatory support will reduce the cost of energy and CO2 emissions. Its a complex issue and there’s a lot at stake. But, we are starting to see a tipping point.

We Want to Find Connections

One of the highlights of the January 2010 SLA Leadership meeting in St. Louis was James Kane’s   presentation on loyalty. Kane is the author of The Loyalty Switch and Virtually Loyal. His research is on the science of loyalty. (Did you know there was such a thing? I didn’t.)

He started off his presentation by showing a few slides (okay, actually quite a few slides) about himself, his house, where he’s lived, where he went to school, what brands he likes and buys, and what brands he does not like. The New York Yankees and US Airways both fall in the latter category.

He did this in order to make the point that we want to find connections in our lives. We want to have a community where we can share things. When we establish connections, life is better. We are stronger when we share. On a primitive level, Kane said that connections support our survival. Toward that end, we are always looking for people we can trust, who are looking out for our best interest.

The way Kane explained it, loyalty is an emotion that comes from relationships. There are four relationship levels: 

  • Antagonistic—these relationships occur when you dislike something, and act on that dislike.
  • Transactional —you pay something of value and get something in return. It’s a business relationship – it’s not personal.
  • Predisposed—where people have positive feedback, but were leaning in that direction already.
  • Loyal—loyal relationships contain very strong bonds. This is action-oriented behavior, and occurs in about 20% of your customers.

In the science of loyalty, there are actually several different components. To describe them in more detail, I’m going to continue talking about the allegiance of fans to their sports teams. Earlier, Kane mentioned his strong dislike for the New York Yankees baseball team. Detractors describe the Yankees as condescending, conceited, and overpaid. On the flip side, Yankees fans use words like classy, consistent, clutch, and in 2009, championship. The Yankees have been described as one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world not because they look great in pinstripes, but because of fan loyalty.

See if you recognize yourself and how you feel about your favorite sports team in these attributes.  

Component Explanation
Trust This component is made up of character, consistency, competency, and capacity. Is your team trustworthy? Kane puts this attribute first because trust is baseline; that is, you HAVE to have it in order to build loyalty, but, interestingly, clients don’t give you credit for having it. Sports fans buy tickets because we trust our team to try hard and give a good effort. When teams are just going through the motions, they break these bonds of loyalty, and that bond is hard to rebuild.
Competency It’s hard to be loyal to losers, but it happens when your team is truly trying to win. The Chicago Cubs haven’t won the World Series in a century, but hope springs eternal. They bring in new managers, draft new talent, and clearly keep trying, and that’s enough to maintain the loyalty of the fans.  
Capacity You need to have the ability to handle relationships in a meaningful way. If we had 50,000 fans, what infrastructure would we need to support them? 
Belonging This is about shared contribution, for example: “I’m a Raiders fan.”  If you wear the team’s logo on your hats, shirts, and socks, mount posters in the basement, and participate in forums and blogs, you increase the sense of belonging. Some people are just natural “joiners,” who think “these are my people” when they are with other fans.
Purpose Sports franchises have a singular purpose – to win. But nobody can win them all, so there is an ebb and flow in a team’s fortunes. Yet for fans, whose loyalty hinges on a shared vision, as long as the team is true to its purpose, the loyalty will continue.
Recognition I am a unique person, not a barcode, and I need you to provide me with unique services based on my preferences. Teams, like any other business, have to recognize that their income depends on fan loyalty, and they have to provide a variety of venues for fans to embrace their team.
Insights When you collect data on your client and use it to take a burden from them, you engender loyalty. Your insights and understanding about what keeps the client up at night should allow you the ability to proactively do something to solve their problems.

Kane’s points about loyalty are very germane to how we craft and deliver information services. Loyalty is NOT talking about ourselves. Repeat: Loyalty is NOT built by talking about how great we are.

Loyalty is about shared identity, and making your identity mesh with your customer’s perceptions. To demonstrate this point for the SLA Leadership Summit, Kane did something very clever. He showed a video which included a little something from the blogs or Facebook accounts of about a dozen people in the room. For example, from my blog, he said I liked movies with sub-titles. And an interesting thing happend: when he showed familiarity with a few people in the room, other people in the room felt included as well!

Kane’s message hit home for me on a personal level. My Aunt Carmen, who passed away two years ago, was a devoted fan of the Portland Trailblazers. The team won the world championship in the late 1970s, but in 1990s, they were mocked as the “Jailblazers”. Through it all, Aunt Carmen stayed loyal and never gave up on them. She embodied every part of what Kane was talking about; she was completely loyal.

How do you demonstrate loyalty? What team are you loyal to, and why?

Get Yourself Into the Race

 re·sil·ience

Pronunciation: \ri-ˈzil-yən(t)s\

Function: noun

Date: 1824

1 : the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress
2 : an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change

In anticipation of a presentation I will be giving, I talked with Kim Dority about the essential ingredients for a successful information professional. Without hesitation, she said “resilience.”

I nodded to myself and added it to my PowerPoint presentation. But since then, I’ve been thinking: what does resilience really mean? It could mean that, like a punching clown, when you get knocked down, you have the wherewithal to get back up again. Certainly, this is a good trait as it takes character to “get back in the race”, but when you are down, you know there’s got to be a better way. 

Last week I heard a sustainable energy engineer talk about “building resilience into a system.” He was saying that rather than optimizing a system, you could increase strength and increase the possibility of success through building alternative pathways. Alternative pathways to success –now that is very relevant to the information professional right now. 

So, I asked Kim for a little more insight on her version of resilience, and here’s her take on it: 

“The ability to “get back up” is a part of the definition of resiliency, and especially speaks to issues of character and determination and confidence. But I also think that an ability and willingness to learn from our experiences, good and bad, is what turns the “getting back up” into making forward progress toward wisdom, and greater success, however one defines it.”

 Resiliency to Kim means:

  • Ability to get back up when life knocks you for a face-plant
  • Ability to accept setbacks as a natural and welcome part of growth, rather than as a sign of failure – it means you’ve got the courage to try new things, which is requisite to achieving anything in your life
  • Ability to move beyond comfort zones in order to respond to new opportunities
  • Ability to manage our usual reaction to change – i.e., fear or defensiveness – and instead embrace the adventure
  • Ability to see obstacles as momentary delays, for which you will seek alternative solutions. The engineer’s “alternative pathways,” are an on-target analogy

Kim continued with a good metaphor: body surfing, which has passive and active components. “I liken resiliency to body surfing, where your goal is to use the energy of the wave to achieve your goal. Everything I need to know I learned bodysurfing in Southern California… 

  • Anticipate
  • Position for opportunity
  • Paddle like crazy
  • Enjoy the ride, but know it will end
  • Don’t take the sand in your suit personally
  • Know that a new wave is always on the way

 That’s kind of how I think about resiliency! I think its critical issue for information pros!”

Bright Spots

Great article about shifting your frame of reference.

Switch: Don’t Solve Problems–Copy Success  By Chip and Dan Heath,  From FastCompany February 1, 2010

Find a bright spot and clone it. That’s the first step to fixing everything from addiction to corporate malaise to malnutrition. A problem may look hopelessly complex. But there’s a game plan that can yield movement on even the toughest issues. And it starts with locating a bright spot — a ray of hope.

What Might Be

Earlier this week I attended a presentation by Roger Martin, the author of The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage. There is a great article about the book in Businessweek as it was one of their top recommentations for 2009.

The event was held at the new, and very cosmopolitan Ziba Design building on Ninth and Northrop in Portland. The crowd was large, hip, and enthusiastic.

As his thesis, Martin poses this question: “Why aren’t companies more innovative, especially since innovation is such a competitive advantage?” He investigated the obvious answers–that  companies like what they already have or that they don’t have the resources–and he found they were not true. Companies really do want to be innovative.

So, what is impeding innovation? From his research, Martin concludes that it’s the subtle ways that people think that block changes in process and structure that lead to innovation.

Martin then outlined three ways that people think. The first is analytical thinking which looks at data from the past to predict the future. Its goal is a reliable outcome, but the limitation is that when you are looking to innovate you cannot use inductive or deductive reasoning to prove something new. In fact, Martin goes so far as to say “prove it” is the enemy of innovation.

Another way that people think is intuitive thinking, which has the goal of creating “what might be.” Its purpose is to know without explicit reasoning. This method of thinking has 100% validity, he said, because it lacks parameters.

The combination of both approaches is called abductive thinking, and its purpose is to integrate the past and future, and to combine reliability and validity. The intersection of analytical and intuitive thinking is where innovation occurs.

He argued that corporate life is dominated by analytical thinking, and that it has been pushed so far that it is counterproductive. He gave suggestions for intuitive thinkers to understand and empathize with analytical thinkers. He also challenged analytical thinkers to share reasoning and data, but not conclusions with intuitive thinkers.

If you change structure and process, then culture shifts occur. Cultural shifts lead to innovation.

As SLA looks to become Future Ready and posits “what might be,” we need use analytical and intuitive thinking to engender new processes and structures to support our members.

What’s your dominant way of thinking? Analytical, intuitive or abductive?