The right mindset for business development in the Anthropocene

In Prosperous Planet’s first white paper we talked about the Anthropocene, concluding that running a successful business will, from now on, require a fundamentally new set of strategies because of the globalized, hyper-connected, and rapidly changing reality of the world today.

In our second white paper, we elaborated why these strategies must focus on sustainability, but in an entirely new way. In short, explaining why we need to move away from sustainability approaches that focus on regulatory compliance and reporting, towards more strategic and innovative ones. And why the real business case for sustainability lies beyond break-even, i.e when companies start contributing real solutions to the global grand challenges that we face today, rather than stopping their efforts at just reducing their negative impact and making the world a bit “less bad”.

In this paper, we will talk about the mindset that companies need to have in order to realize this potential. At Prosperous Planet we have developed the Delta model to help companies navigate beyond break-even sustainability and drive revenues in the Anthropocene. The model consists of a theoretical framework and an innovation process. The focus here is on the framework, which brings together three guiding perspectives. Together, these provide the mindset needed for successful business development in the Anthropocene.

Complexity, learning & duality

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The first guiding perspective is complex systems thinking, and the importance of seeing both the company and the rest of the world through this lens. This kind of systemic perspective is crucial to get a good enough understanding of the wicked sustainability challenges that characterize the Anthropocene to be able to develop any kind of relevant solutions to these. Without a systemic approach, we will fail to see how the challenges we face are interconnected (e.g. how climate change and poverty may have mutual feedback effects), we might not detect their cascading effects across societal sectors (that ecosystem degradation may lead to pandemics that may collapse our economy), and therefore we might fool ourselves into thinking about solutions that will be too reductionist to have any real effect.

The second guiding perspective of the Delta framework is about learning-by-doing, the necessity of which is a direct consequence of the complexity of the Anthropocene. In a complex and rapidly changing world, where we by definition always will have incomplete knowledge about the problems that we try to address, and where solving one problem often creates a new one, business development must be focused on collaborative learning, testing, and prototyping of potential solutions. We must acknowledge that we simply don’t know what “the answer” is when we start the process and that the solutions that we develop will only ever be partial and likely also temporal, as the problem will change over time. While many perceive this kind of learning-based approach to business management as too costly or taking too much time, it is actually the only truly efficient way of navigating a rapidly changing context.

The third guiding perspective of Delta framework is about duality. It acknowledges the fact that achieving lasting change in a company requires a dual focus: on the process related as well as the content-related aspects of the change journey. That is, in order to navigate towards a business model beyond break-even sustainability, the process through which people become involved, participate, knowledge is generated, decisions are made, is critical. As is the understanding of the sustainability challenges at hand and knowledge of solutions with potential impact. Striking this balance and maintaining a dual focus, on a process that allows people to grow as individuals and develop together as a group while at the same time ensuring a sophisticated understanding of the challenges and opportunities of sustainable development in the Anthropocene, is a prerequisite for success on this journey.

Together, the complex systems lens, the learning-by-doing approach, and the emphasis on duality make for a unique and powerful entry-point to business transformation in the Anthropocene, enabling companies to reach beyond break-even sustainability.

In the next paper in this series, we will detail the innovation process we have designed to this end.

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