Monday, June 15, 2009

Stella's world: one Stella at a time

Getting through the current catastrophe is top of mind. To come out the other end stronger than when you went in is the benchmark for all CEOs who intend to be winners in the next upswing. This time, as opposed to other recessions and even the great depression, a new imperative has been added to the mix. Not only do you need to lead your company through these tough times and have it stronger than before, it also needs to be sustainable. I believe that sustainability will decide who goes forward and who stays behind in the next part of this century.

As we all know, sustainability is more than clean water, more than keeping the books in the black, more than protecting and inspiring our cultures, and more than creating a joyful and secure social milieu. It is all of these together. That’s a big task.

In the past, I have suggested that the best way to cut through a big job like this is to take it one small piece at a time. I still believe this. A single person encourages his or her friends, who influence the village, who take it to the country, that sends it global. You know the story. But now I have another thought about how to get this virtuous cycle on track. When I think about a sustainable world, one face always comes to my mind: my granddaughter Stella. It is Stella who will live in the sustainable world we create, or attempt to live in the one that fails.

Sometimes our discussions about sustainability get very dry and rational. We may be talking about the future of the world but you’d never know it as you’re buried by metrics, tables, comparisons, and endless percentages. Where’s the urgency, the passion, the purpose? That’s what Stella, and the idea of Stella, gives me. And I like to have this reminder in a physical form that I can see and touch.

Like most proud grandparents, I have a photograph of Stella with me at all times. I have started to use her photo as a talisman in every decision I make. The question I ask myself is: “If we do this, will it help make Stella’s world a better, more joyful, happier place to live in?” Nothing concentrates the mind more powerfully than the future of someone you love. We all know how mothers fight for their children when danger is at hand. Well, danger is close, too close for comfort.

I believe that everyone of us who makes decisions (and that means all of us in ways big and small) that will have an effect on tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, or any of the days that follow that, should choose their own talisman: their own photograph of their own ‘Stella’. Your ‘Stella’ may be your kid brother, your daughter, a neighbor, or you may have the good fortune for your ‘Stella’ to be a grandchild. Try it. You don’t have to bring the photo out at a meeting but it can soon become second nature to have Stella help with your decisions.

Sometimes like all kids, she’ll be a distraction. Sometimes she’ll say just enough for you to do something. Sometimes she will help you break through to a fantastic revelation with sheer bloody brilliance. Making the world a better place for one person at a time. Now that’s what I call a Stella idea.