Monday, July 13, 2009

Nature’s 10 Simple Rules: Part 1

I’ve done the helicopter view of Adam Werbach’s book Strategy for Sustainability: A Business Manifesto but now’s the time to dig deeper. Right at the front of Adam’s book (and picked up by Fast Company) is a list of Nature’s 10 Simple Rules for Business Survival. In this list Adam draws from nature a tough bottom line for sustainable business. “Nature is far harsher than the market: If you are not sustainable, you die. No second chances and no bailouts.” I’m not usually a fan of rules but these ten make sense to me. They are big-scale – forest-scale. Ocean-scale. Planet-scale. I’ve jotted down my own thoughts on each one. I’ll share them with you here – five this week and five next.

Nature’s # 1. Diversify across generations. This idea has certainly inspired me to write a number of posts here that I’ve called Stella’s World. Of course they are about my and Ro’s first grandchild but they are also about what change across generations can really mean. How few companies have that aspiration! In principle we all want our businesses to thrive across generations, but how few succeed. Adam tells me that fully one-third of the companies profiled in Jim Collins’ Built to Last as out-performers, are now under-performers. Think Ford and Citibank. They lost the juice of excitement, wonder and delight and got lost in expectations and self-obsession.

Nature’s # 2. Adapt to the changing environment – and specialize. To get to the future first you have to take on what I call the three ‘A’s – Adapt, Adopt and Act. It’s worked for children, for animals – for all living things and never forget that businesses are living things too. People are often held back by the feeling that the challenges we face are so great that they can’t effect any meaningful change. My response? If you can’t change the situation, change yourself. At Saatchi & Saatchi we have a True Blue sustainability program called DOT. Do One Thing. In other words, don’t take on the world; specialize. Sure, some of the things people chose to change are small, but put them together and we’re talking serious action. Action that can build as we get more confident about Adapting, Adopting and Acting.

Nature’s # 3. Celebrate transparency. Every species knows which species will eat it and which will not. I like to see transparency as opportunity rather than threat. Take the emotional transparency of Lovemarks. You can’t hide love – and few of us want to. Check out and see how that community responds to the brands it loves; openly, without hesitation, with pride. When consumers can push a brand like Tropicana to revert to its traditional packaging in just a few months, something’s up. And what’s up is that consumers are in control. They want confidentiality for themselves and transparency from their Lovemarks. No one said it would be easy.

Nature’s # 4. Plan and execute systematically, not compartmentally. Every part of a plant contributes to its growth. Anyone who has been in business understands the damage caused by silo thinking. Community is key. All of us are better than some of us. In Peak Performance we demonstrated the power of inspirational leadership and teams. Groups of like-minded people working together to overcome all odds and achieve impossible goals. At Saatchi & Saatchi we sum this up in our spirit ‘One team, one dream’. And our dream? “To be revered as the hot-house for world-changing ideas that create sustainable growth for our clients.”

Nature’s # 5. Form groups and protect the young. Most animals travel in flocks, gaggles, and prides. Packs offer strength and efficacy. This is a fantastic rule and the best argument ever for playing in teams. Most young people aren’t educated into creativity; they are educated out of it. At Saatchi & Saatchi we give people an elastic-sided sand box, a problem, a deadline, and we get out of their way. To make sure they reach their full potential we have some older folk around to guide, mentor and run protection when it’s needed. Usually it’s not needed because what they want is responsibility, learning, recognition and joy. All that they get.

* Part 2 continued here.