Data point! Recently announced, the global wildlife population has declined by roughly 50% over the last 50 years. Frogs, fish, falcons, forests…Half! Just 50 years! That is a sobering data point. Like some sort of evil version of Moore’s law working in reverse…“Nomore’s Law”? It yields twice as many people and half as much of everything else. But let us appreciate the simplicity of those numbers. They deliver simplicity & clarity in an otherwise complex and confused world.
Clearly human activity is creating change, some good and some bad but most scary is the TBD (to be determined) stuff we haven’t even considered. Some impacts will slide slowly, relentlessly into place. But others may just snap. It’s one thing to hike back up a hill you’ve just skied down. You learn to appreciate the long hike back. It’s a difficult trek to the high place you once were, but you can do it. It’s quite another thing to ski off a cliff. Climbing back up may simply not be possible plus you may be dead or at least badly broken. No one really knows if our climate change journey will feature a few cliffs.
Assuming the best case “hike back up the long hill” metaphor works, what will it actually mean to FIX global climate change? I mean completely fix it once and for all. Today, we are continuing to put more and more CO2 into the atmosphere with each passing year. I have yet to hear any idea how many years before we are projected to turn that corner and begin to decrease the CO2 tonnage we add each year to the growing glut. And how many years after that until our total yearly planetary impact is carbon neutral? And finally, how many years after ceasing to dig the hole even deeper will it take to clean up the trillions of tons of carbon suspended in the atmosphere so that we might bring CO2 back to pre-industrial levels? In the bigger picture, THAT is the true finish line…Earth Day for real.
One might logically think that we could collectively imagine what this means to our future (Vision) and objectively agree that the current situation is untenable (Reality) and must be fixed. But we can’t. Isn’t that odd? Unfortunately our American (Vision /Courage) culture has a glaring weakness. It has a large blind spot when it comes to the leadership dimensions of Reality & Ethics. It’s a big problem. I would go even further to say that it is THE PROBLEM of our age! We are by and large, oblivious to reality. And without a shared understanding of the realities of climate change – costs in dollars, lives, species lost, etc. – we are unlikely to move forward to work together for a solution.
The key words here are “shared” & “together”. Do you like these words? Some people don’t, they really don’t. They may pay it lip service but many Americans are dedicated individualists. We’ve been taught to be self sufficient, to fight & compete to win, and to expect to keep our winnings, including our winning opinion, regardless of overall accuracy. We own our individual opinions and we must defend them from “the others” who would co-opt us into consensus for they are evil “group thinkers” who will destroy our individuality and steal our freedom to be different. This fear is tragic.
Every tragic hero has their tragic flaw. And more often than not that tragic flaw can be found dead center on the flip side of their greatest strength. For us Americans, our natural strength is our Vision & Courage! We are innovators, rule breakers, and risk takers. Our historical perspective comes from rebellion & revolution. We are rugged individualists who like cowboys & rock stars. From NFL Football to Venture Capital Unicorns, we love to take a big, new and different direction to deal with whatever challenges confront us. Americans will take a huge risk, fail spectacularly, and make our money back on the movie rights. We have NASA, Hollywood and lots of money, what else could we possibly need? And that cultural aptitude has served us well…up to now.
So what has changed so dramatically in the last 50 years? How is it that today, what was once our greatest leadership strength, is now our tragic flaw? What has changed is our world. In 1965 our world was still a very new & open place. Our nation was one of many separate and distant countries; some of which were our sworn enemies. Modern jet travel and telecommunications were just beginning to connect our various cultures. There were many areas of our planet, still largely unexplored, where you could truly get lost. And there was still plenty room to grow, so many resources to be exploited and technologies to be harnessed for that growth. Our competitive spirit, innovative culture and America vs. the world perspective served us well, very well. But things were beginning to change…
Earthrise is a photograph of the Earth taken by astronaut William Anders in 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission. In one fell swoop of a camera shutter our world view was shifted, our perspective lifted and the big bad world, out there, all of a sudden seemed very small, very precious and very fragile. Moreover, WE were in that picture. All of us! There were no “others”, only us, sharing a single small planet. Some people have called that picture, Earthrise, “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.” For the first time we could see, simply and clearly, the Reality that all of us lived together on that single blue oasis in a vast cold black desert of space.
And today, that is our current reality. Do you still see it? That iconic image has faded from our mind and, as might have been expected of American culture, we have struggled to maintain that Ethic of shared destiny, achievement and togetherness. I would argue that is because our strategy has failed to change with the times and that our blindness to Reality and reluctance to accept the Ethics of our connectedness.
That singular image clearly & simply illustrates how the game has changed, dramatically. And if we fail to update our strategy, that great cultural strength from our past will become the tragic flaw in our future. Today, like no other time in history, we must learn the counter cultural values of shared understanding, broad consensus and working together. There is no other place to go. Unless we update our thinking & learn to work together, the next 50 years of our journey will be a rough one.
So what is your personal world view? Do you see the world as yourself vs. others? Does your organisation? Or do you see us all on the same team, working together despite our differences. The answer to that question is crucial to how you perceive life and experience others. At the macro level of organizations, the old outdated competitive “us against them” world view is the single most significant stumbling block to progress. Just ask Microsoft…but more on that in another post!
The good news from this picture is that huge opportunities exist in the journey to that real Earth Day. Technologies will be discovered, industries will be born, new companies will be created and fortunes will be made by the companies that can understand and ride this new market wave of ETHICS (think connection, the internet, working together) & REALITY (think climate change, security/transparency, big & important data). Companies that are able to bridge these perceptual gaps will be well positioned to ride this wave. And companies that invest in the leadership education to build that capacity will be at the forefront of a great opportunity.
So let’s save the planet…and make a fortune. Somebody’s got to do it.