8 Ways to Bring Creativity to Sustainability
Oh, look, it’s Earth Day! And it was Earth Week just last week when I was bemoaning this rash of me-too, unoriginal thinking. Don’t worry, I’m not going to rant about this again, but meeting the sustainability challenge is going to require more than the bog standard range of ‘solutions’ – awareness days, protests, posters, switch it off stickers, ISO14001 etc, etc.
To reduce the sheer bandwidth of information that floods our senses, we restrict our worldview to a certain frame and block out what doesn’t fit in that frame. So us sustainability practitioners tend to see the world from a “Save the World!” point of view where “doing something, anything, for Earth Day” is more important than doing something effective.
The problem here is that the people whose attitudes and behaviour we need to change are looking at the world through a quite different frame. This is the whole point of my Green Jujitsu idea – that us practitioners need to take a look at the world through those other people’s frame(s) and develop engagement techniques to suit.
Another problem with our mindset frames is that they restrict us creatively. We tend to focus on those things which are urgent, easy to understand, close to us physically and/or which we are familiar with. So how do we expand our frames to see breakthrough solutions?
Here are some guidelines I use:
1. Don’t go down the mumbo-jumbo route. In my opinion much of the ‘mindfulness’ movement is inward looking whereas solutions are largely found outside our experience. And you’ll put off cynics like me, so put away the crystals and the prayer wheels;
2. Don’t be a doom-monger. If you want to get people creative, telling them the world is about to end will make many think “what’s the point?” Get excited about sustainability and others will too!
3. Likewise, go easy on the green jargon. I try to introduce ideas such as the circular economy, product service systems and industrial symbiosis as work progresses rather than trying to get everyone up to speed before starting.
4. Read outside your discipline. If you look on my bookshelf, many of the books which have influenced me most are not ‘green’ books but those that tackle broader issues like change (Switch, Nudge), communications (Lend Me Your Ears, Visual Meetings) and management (Good to Great, In Search of Excellence, The Fifth Discipline). There are big themes in many of these books which apply to sustainability as much as any other aspect of life.
5. Draw. When I get people to plot out their business processes graphically, it always has some interesting results. It also gets the problem down on to one large sheet of paper which makes it more manageable.
6. Use the Toddler Test aka The 5 Whys to get to real reasons: We need this piece of kit. Why? To dry the materials. Why? Because we added water to make them flow. Why? To shift them from that side of the factory to this one. Why? Errr…
7. Ramp up the challenge. Even in my short workshops, I try to get each team to rotate around the issues under discussion and instead of starting from scratch on each one, challenge them to build on the ideas of the teams that have gone before. The good ideas often come in the last iteration when all the obvious ones have been identified.
8. Ditch Powerpoint. Presentations kill creativity. I recently did a Powerpoint-free workshop but two thirds of the way through had to cede the floor to a guest speaker who fired up the projector. You could feel the enthusiasm drain out of the room like air escaping from a punctured lilo.
I hope these 8 points give you plenty of food for thought – as I’ve said the need for creativity is just as strong amongst practitioners and facilitators as it is amongst our clients and colleagues. Keep trying stuff and keep what works for you.