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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability

The Path To Sustainability Isn’t Comfortable – And That’s A Good Thing

By John Elkington, CSRWire: You know the feeling. The elevator doors are closing behind you – and you are suddenly alone with someone you have long wanted to meet and influence. How to connect? I have often been encouraged to develop a 20-second elevator pitch, but have always refused. My counter-argument is that if busy people insist on getting all their knowledge in 20-second sound-bites, they are unlikely to be open to the sort of deep conversations that the sustainability agenda requires.

But, if pressed, I will say that I am grit in the corporate oyster which, if it doesn’t get spat out immediately, can become the nucleus around which business wisdom can form, like a pearl. One executive described the result as “constructive discomfort.”

Looking back, many senior executives I have worked with have been opened up to a wider world by a personal, painful, unexpected experience. Whether they were hit by activist campaigns, market disruptions or hurricanes, these companies and their leaders were forced to engage a different reality.

Motivating Business Leaders To Go Beyond

All of this ran through my mind as I was waiting to speak at a leadership conference at the Swiss business school, IMD, an event co-hosted by the World Environment Center and the drug giant Novartis. As I listened to executives from companies like Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Chiquita, Danone, Nestle and General Electric, it struck me that the need for epiphanies is now less urgent than it once was. Today a growing number of leaders get to the same point through cold, hard business logic.

Sitting in the comfortable conference center, I kept hearing stories of leaders – and intrapreneurs – who had pushed themselves (and others) beyond their comfort zones. Then, on the train to Geneva airport, I read a Fast Company blog which reminded that we really do need to keep pushing leaders well beyond their comfort zones – and helping them do likewise with those they lead and otherwise engage.

Learning Journeys Spark Creative Solutions

Written by Riley Gibson, CEO of social innovation company Napkin Labs, the blog looks at the key role of discomfort in evolving creative solutions. Gibson defines ‘creativity’ as “the ability to solve problems in an unexpected or surprising way”. Creative solutions, he argues, come when we force our minds out of their comfort zones, challenging our assumptions.

So how do we do this for powerful people? It usually isn’t possible to conjure up a hurricane in an elevator. Instead, some imaginative companies now take senior executives on learning journeys. Done well, experiential learning can have a dramatic impact on the way we see the world.

Alternatively, once in that elevator, don’t do a sales pitch – ask that senior person a question that catches their attention. A question that will unfurl slowly in their brains, like a chrysanthemum in a teapot.

What Greenpeace used to call a ‘mind-bomb’, a simple idea that you hear almost without thinking, but which then opens the windows of your mind to a totally different world. Not a simple task, clearly, but one we must all get much better at.

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Source here, CSRWire

Views: 159

Comment by Aman Singh on March 9, 2012 at 3:53pm

Thanks for sharing our blog Caroline!

Comment by Janet M Morgan on March 11, 2012 at 1:21am

I just love John Elkington's work, thanks for posting Caroline,  more of John's big ideas can be found on the CSRwire Talkback blog: http://www.csrwire.com/blog/bloggers/20-john-elkington/posts

John Elkington is Executive Chairman of Volans, co-founder of SustainAbility, blogs at http://www.johnelkington.com, tweets at @volansjohn and is a member of The Guardian’s Sustainable Business Advisory Panel.

Comment by Caroline Ganun on March 14, 2012 at 3:04pm

Your blog always has fantastic content. Thanks for sharing it.

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