In short : sustainability is a trendy idea. It suggests both the idea of continuity in performance and respect for resources. But doesn’t it leads to status-quo, what is dangerous in a world where frequent disruptions is the new normal ? Shouldn’t we act, manage others and oneself focusing more on renewability than sustainability ? Reinvent the means for success continuously instead of refusing to see that the world is changing ?
Even we talking about enterprise and performance, it’s good to add the word “sustainable”. Of course because the word is politically trend and shows the attention paid to the resources at stake, the respect shown for one’s ecosystem and to the future. But not only. That’s also because we are in a fast moving world where disruptions are the new normal and adaptability the only way not each one will result in a crisis so we must not only care about today’s performance but also tomorrow’s.
This apply both to businesses and people : they need means to evolve not to become obsolete in a flash. That’s why learning on the job matters.
But is sustainability the right solutions to our problems. As a matter of fact it comes with two assumptions. The first is that we wan make a situation last. The second is that to do so we need to preserve the resources we use (both material, natural and human). But both these assumptions are mostly wrong.
It’s impossible to make a situation last longer that it should by last by itself, except by locking oneself into denial, built barriers to isolate from the rest of world…and accept the risk the price to pay in the future will be high, the day barriers will collapse under the pressure of reality. Refusing to see the world was changed caused the death of many businesses…and even countries that tried to artificially preserve models that passed away decades ago. Kodak and digital photography, some old mail-order selling giants that did not see the web, Nokia and Rim vs Apple and Google. The list is long.
Then preserving resources is not always (I emphasis the not always) the only way to last. It may be the case in some situations it’s not a given. The answer can also be a new model using resources differently or using other resources. Example : gas vs. electricity, heating oil vs. solar power, and, for an employee, acquiring new skills ans knowledge to replace the ones that made him successful but won’t be relevant anymore in a near future (because if we don’t replace the “knowledge” resource we’ll have to replace the “people” one, what’s much more tragic).
By the way, Steve Denning wrote in Forbes that even sustainable competitive advantage did not exist anymore. You know, the Porter’s one. The one we were taught at school it should be one of the cornerstones of our thinking, something as certain and invariable than “2+2=4″ or the composition of air. Competitive advantage still exists, but it can’t be sustainable anymore.
So, more than sustainability, the stake is in renewability.
Rather than make a competitive advantage last, we’ll need to continuously build new ones. Rather than make performance last, we’ll need to reinvent business and operating models. Rather than catching on the knowledge and skills that made us successful yesterday, develop on our own those that will make us successful tomorrow. Rather than dying with a “start” product, admit that it won’t keep us ahead of the competition more than 2 years.
Performance, skills, employability, competitive advantage etc. will need to be more renewable than sustainable.
Is it only a matter of using new words. Not a all. It’s all about a new way of working and operating. A way that emphasises innovation, creativity, intrapreneurship instead of preserving the existing. A risk-taking (that accepts failure) and change culture instead of a one that focuses on status quo. Businesses that don’t fear to brush aside what made their success yesterday to embrace what will make their future. Businesses that won’t lock themselves into plans and will organize to seize unexpected opportunities (Semco).
Jack Welch said :
“If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, then the end is near.”.
What if what causes such situations was the quest for sustainability instead of renewability ? When one uses all his energy to preserve the existing, is there anything left to build the future ?
Lasting is not a perennial business model. Renewing oneself is.