Will anyone join your revolution?
Article by Wayne Visser
Margaret Mead once said, ‘The only person who likes change is a wet baby’, to which Hunter Lovins added ‘and the baby squalls all the way through the process.’ So change is never easy, especially on the big issues of sustainability. In thinking about this, I have found Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher’s Formula for Change rather useful: D x V x F > R. This means that three factors must be present for meaningful organisational change to take place. These factors are:
D = Dissatisfaction with how things are now;
V = Vision of what is possible; and
F = First, concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision.
If the product of these three factors is greater than R (Resistance), then change is possible. I have seen sustainability change efforts fail for all four reasons. Deep-seated resistance often exists because the benefits of the status quo to those in power are considerable. Sustainability initiatives, especially if they are integrated into the core business, are often seen as extra burden. For instance, an operations manager of a plant really doesn’t want the extra hassle of collecting emissions data for a sustainability report, or subjecting his staff and facilities to an audit.
Most often, I think, the dissatisfaction that we may feel with the state of the world or the company’s actions really isn’t widely shared enough. Jonathon Porritt, author of Capitalism as if the World Matters, after many years in the sustainability game (he started the UK’s Green Party and chaired the government’s Sustainable Development Commission among other things), told me: ‘Looking at people all over the world today, rich and poor world, they are not remotely close to a state of mind that would call for anything revolutionary. There’s no vast upheaval of people across the world saying, “This system is completely and utterly flawed and must be overturned and we must move towards a different system.” There isn’t even that, let alone an identification of what the other system would look like.’
Likewise, on creating a compelling vision, Porritt concludes that ‘we have not collectively articulated what this better world looks like – the areas in which it would offer such fantastic improvements in terms of people’s quality of life, the opportunities they would have, a chance to live in totally different ways to the way we live now. We haven’t done that. Collectively we’ve not made the alternative to this paradigm, this paradigm in progress, work emotionally and physically, in terms of economic excitement. We’ve just not done it.’ Taking first steps is something companies are generally much better at, especially picking the so-called ‘low hanging fruit’. But the reason these steps so often don’t get beyond the pilot or peripheral stage is because the other two factors – dissatisfaction and vision – are not strong enough.
Another way to think of change in a structured way is Peter Senge’s concept of the learning organisation, popularised in his book, The Fifth Discipline. He described the five interrelated disciplines as follows: ‘Systems thinking [the fifth discipline] needs the disciplines of building shared vision, mental models, and personal mastery to realise its potential.
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Cite this article
Visser, W. (2013) Will Anyone Join Your Revolution? Eurocharity Yearbook 2012/2013.