At Be Courageous, we always advise clients to solve the present from the future – To boldly step into the future, in all its manifestations and possibilities, and from that vantage point, work backwards to identify the first steps they need to take today to work towards their part of that future.
Two future trends
Two critical trends are changing the realities of the future.
- The driving forward of exponential technologies, like AIs, digital biology, space exploration, exponential communication, all becoming cheaper and more powerful at an accelerating rate.
- The Earth reaching its carrying capacity in terms of clean water, clean air and biodiversity – i.e. hitting planetary boundaries.
The greatest challenge and opportunity of the 2020s then becomes:
- How to adapt a $90 trillion global economy for a world with clean air, fresh water, & thriving with a diversity of plants & animals, AND with economic prosperity and opportunity for all 8.5 billion humans (2030)?
Shifting mental models
What we’re seeing, which is very positive, is that the mental model of where business lies in the world is shifting. ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) reporting is opening minds to a different way of looking at the world.
As we reach planetary boundaries and the cracks start to appear, new thinking is unavoidable.
Looking at the system differently is a critical shift for a thriving tomorrow. The figure below shows this changing perspective (adapted from a model presented by Future Fit Business), from the old to new mental models.
We think that Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, summed up the need to see this new perspective perfectly when he said (in this case referring to carbon):
“There is no company whose business model won’t be profoundly affected by the transition to a net zero economy… we are asking companies to disclose a plan for how their business model will be compatible with a net zero economy.”
– Larry Fink, CEO BlackRock
It is a perspective that recognizes that businesses are embedded in planetary realities.
We’re also seeing markets emerge for what were once economic realities that only lurked in the shadows, where the true price of burning fossil fuels and the true cost of using up and polluting the world’s freshwater lived in the vision of the blind eye. The increase in carbon pricing initiatives from 2010 to 2021 is a sign of the emergence of these emerging realities. These “new” prices and markets are a part of any future that can be reasonably expected.
What does this shift mean for business strategies?
If, as a company, you’re going through your strategy processes, and you’re not including these inevitabilities into your strategy as part of your core strategy, then you are planning for tomorrow, based on yesterday; in this highly changing world, that is a recipe for irrelevance at best.
A business model that assumes water is free, carbon is free, and biodiversity loss is irrelevant is a business model that won’t work in the future.
What is your EarthShot?
An extremely positive consequence of these markets’ emergence is that there is rising economic support and justification in setting environmental goals that do not drop into the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) periphery, but are part of the critical operations of the business.
There is alignment between what the earth needs and how companies thrive in the very near future. It enables companies to set business-based EarthShots!
Over the last few years, we’ve heard much of “MoonShots,” which are modern manifestations of Jim Collins and Jerry Porras’s Big Hairy Audacious Goals.1 – Both were inspired by NASA’s mission to the moon in the 1960s, and articulated by President J.F. Kennedy that the US “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
Today, the planet we need to reach is Earth!
So, as a business, when you start to build your strategy work and come to your mission moment – sometimes called Vision, BHAG, Winning Aspiration2 – ask yourself…
Are we looking at our future from the right mental model of the greater future? I.e. a future where your business is integrated into society and the environment?
There are mounting costs in ignoring this reality.
The richer you make the outer circles (society and environment), the richer the world your company can grow in, and the brighter the future of your organization. The idea is that through EarthShots, you’re creating a world in which you can thrive.
It’s similar to the thinking that Henry Ford brought in paying his employees a wage that enabled them to buy the cars they were building, thereby creating a market.
Where to begin with your EarthShot?
Start with the place that is an obvious fit with your organization.
Look at the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals () and ask which ones are a natural fit for your organization. By solving these, you not only do good for the world, but you build a stronger future for your organization.
For example, inspiration from the SDGs:
- If you’re a heavy carbon emitter, set a bold, courageous mission like reversing your carbon footprint (like Microsoft is), and encourage others to join your Earth Mission. (From SDGs 7 & 13)
- If you‘re a heavy consumer of water, set a bold mission for preservation of freshwater. – (SDGs 6 & 14)
Just like the original Moonshot, which was put on the front burner for geopolitical reasons rather than scientific curiosity, your EarthShot can be designed to create stability for your organization, while contributing to a greater future for all.
Stretch and think bigger
We highly encourage that when you reach an EarthShot Goal that serves your company, step up to a higher altitude, one that is a vision beyond the direct impact on your company. One that requires greater external cooperation and pulls others into the orbit of your bold, courageous thinking. At this level, your thinking will cascade into others’ mindsets
Two critical things will happen:
- A greater overall impact will be achieved.
- Quite possibly, how much of it you need to do will begin to drop.
That is the power of Bold, Shared, Courageous Earthshots!
Dealing with multiple, competing priorities
Bold earthshots can be a little hard to swallow in organizations with multiple competing priorities. So, inspired by Antifragile3 thinking, we adopt a parallel process asking our clients to look at the future from a “Fortify the Core” and “Stretch Goal” perspective – with the greater EarthShot goal sitting inside the Stretch goal.
This separation enables the necessary business of the future to be done (strengthen the core of your business), while at the same time inspiring a true EarthShot level of aspiration and action.
The time is now
The clock is ticking on us all, including on the viability of our business models.
We have a choice to create the world we want to live into. The forces of positive change are getting cheaper and more available than ever before. We can set Earthshots that enable us to:
- Adapt a $90 trillion global economy for a world with clean air, fresh water, thriving with a diversity of plants & animals, AND with economic prosperity and opportunity for all 8.5 billion humans (2030).
Think big, think differently, be inclusive, be bold, Be Courageous!
Create the world you want to live into.
2 Playing to Win, How Strategy Really Works, by A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin
3 Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, by Nassim Nicholas Nicholas Taleb