If you’re thick into the world of sustainability or sustainable design, I’m guessing at some point you’ve hit the metaphorical brick wall erected by conventional thinking.
Perhaps you’ve designed a beautiful sustainable innovation inspired by nature that outperforms anything out there. Perhaps you’ve made compelling arguments for doing well by doing good. Perhaps you’ve done a resilience audit and figured out how your company can avoid some of the impacts of climate change. You’ve worked hard and driven ahead with enthusiasm and conviction, and then… you hit that brick wall.
Why? Because conventional businesses are designed to resist change and protect against disturbance — including your radical ideas and innovations. Forwarding something radical in a conventional culture using conventional models and tools and thinking is an almost impossible task.
If you are incredibly savvy, incredibly patient, or incredibly lucky you may find success forwarding sustainability using conventional thinking and tools (see Jay Harman’s book The Shark’s Paintbrush for inspiring examples), but most of us are not that savvy, that patient, or that lucky.
What is the alternative?
Nature follows continuous cycles of growth, disturbance, release, reorganization, and regrowth (read about Panarchy). When ecosystems experience disturbance, they release locked-up resources that are then re-organized as new growth in a healthy process of renewal that builds resilience.
Overly-managed ecosystems, like some forests of the American West, have been protected from disturbance and from renewal. Over time they have become brittle (the opposite of resilient) and highly sensitive to disturbance — and highly vulnerable to devastating forest fires.
Conventional businesses that resist change and protect themselves against disturbance — including your sustainable (radical) ideas and innovations — also can’t renew and becoming brittle. Like the overly-managed forests, they face devastation in the face of disturbance.
What do you do if you are locked in a conventional business or organization and are frustrated by hitting the brick wall?
One answer is to quit and find a company that embraces new ideas and change, one that builds resilience by leveraging sustainability. Another is to ride it out while the company fails and wait to be released to regroup, reorganize, and renew.
The third is to educate, empower, and equip yourself to design for resilience.
You can learn how to use the concepts and models and tools of Nature to create and leverage cracks in the wall, to go around or over or under the wall, or to become the lichen that slowly breaks down the lifeless wall to create opportunities for new ideas. You can use the rubble and resources from that wall to build the foundation of an entirely new resilient and sustainable business ecosystem.
If you’re interesting in educating, empowering, and equipping yourself to transform brick walls into the foundations for entirely new business ecosystems, explore our fully online MA in Sustainable Design program!
If you just want to take a peek, check out our free “mini-courses”.