Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

Are We Making A Difference When We Buy Sustainable Products?

Friday, January 15th, 2010

In an interview with KUOW’s Ross Reynolds, Temple University history professor and author Bryant Simon raised an interesting question for those of us engaged with the marketing implications of a commitment to sustainability. Simon has recently authored a book titled “Everything but the Coffee,” a book about the impact of Starbucks on culture and society.

In the interview Simon said that buying a cup of coffee whose brand values include fostering a sense of community (the idea of Starbucks’ locations as a social hub or “third place”) does not mean you will actually experience community. This, no doubt, depends on how one defines community. Simon’s definition, as expressed in the interview,  includes democratic debate and dissent. Fostering civic dialogue is not a core element of the Starbuck’s store experience so for Simon it’s not creating “real” community. For many of Starbucks’ customers, however, community may be like the old TV show “Cheers,” a place where “everybody knows your name.” Being a “regular” at a particular Starbucks (or any other coffee place), where the baristas know your favorite order can lead to this type of community feeling.

As he concludes the interview, Simon raises an important issue for those of us bringing the values of sustainability into brands and marketing strategies. He says that the values to which brands try to appeal may not be values that can be realized through how we spend our money. My paraphrase of his statement from the interview is that it’s good news if people really want the values that Starbucks promotes, because the brand promotes positive social and environment change. He says, however, if we think we are creating those changes simply by buying Starbucks coffee, we’ve missed the point.

“If we judge our desires by what we buy from Starbucks – if we want a greener planet, if we want more connections, if we want social justice around the world – (these) are values that could build a more democratic order. The problem is we’re not going to get them through buying,” is my rough transcription of his comments.

Purchase decisions alone are not enough to effect the cultural and political change that we need to address society’s most pressing environmental and social needs. However, purchase decisions are not irrelevant. Does buying a sustainable product relinquish us from the responsibility to be citizens who vote and take part in civic dialogue? No. But every purchase decision is a tiny vote for the things we think are important, and a way to support those companies who are sincere in their intent to create meaningful change through their work.

Listen to the archived interview here. Reynolds interview with Simon starts at minute 34 in the Real Audio file. I’d like to know what you think.

GUEST ARTICLE: The Esthetic of Sustainability

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

A report on Peter Senge’s message concerning the role of the arts, artists and the creative orientation in creating a good life

By Gigi Yellen

Conventions are like massages: they feel great, while somebody skilled goes to work on you, but you have to follow up with your own work, or the energizing effects soon wear off. So here’s hoping that there’s good work getting underway now by the recently-energized eleven hundred plus conventioneers who came to Seattle for the Americans for the Arts convention in June.

Funny name, “Americans for the Arts.” Sounds a little contrarian, if you think about it, as though you had to put it on a placard and carry it in a street demonstration  to counter, say, “Americans against the arts.” Well, nobody’s going to carry that sign, but clearly, in the struggle about how to spend America’s money, the arts need every supporter they can get.

Or do they? What exactly ARE “the arts”? Ironically, the keynote speaker for the Seattle convention challenged this gathering of arts managers and executive directors to imagine their work in terms of not “the arts” but “the creative orientation.”

Yes, it’s not just a product that you can play at a concert or display at a museum or a bus stop; not just the created thing that matters, but the manner of thinking that brings it about, that lives—or should live—within people who declare themselves to be “for the arts.”

This keynote speaker was Dr. Peter Senge. He’s not an arts administrator. He’s an organization analyzer. Understanding change is what he is all about, from his post as senior lecturer at MIT, to the Society for Organizational Learning, which he founded.

Have you read The Fifth Discipline: the Art and Practice of the Learning Organization? Or his more recent The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations are Working together to create a sustainable world?  That’s him.

Here in Seattle, Dr. Senge challenged those who fund and manage artists and their work to be aware of the wider world situation. “We—meaning human beings—don’t have much of a future if we keep living the way we’re living,” he said.

He was on here his way back from China, where he was studying a society that’s poised to develop, either in a way that will pour more fuel on the fire of a planet-threatening way of life, or that will help begin the process of healing the earth. And that process would be based on the kind of thinking that doesn’t even have a word for “the arts.”

Memorizing one’s values through chant or dance or visual patterns is the original, ancient human creative orientation.  Comfortably settled in our western-civilization chairs, we at the convention center needed reminding that native cultures don’t have words for “art.” Or “nature” for that matter. And did Peter Senge remind us.

To a roomful of people who spend their days answering questions like “how can we fund this art?” and “how can we afford art when we have people who need food and housing?” he threw down a challenge: stop. Stop participating in a thought process that brings about those survival–of-the-creative-questions in the first place.
The challenge is to start thinking about what it is we’re trying to create.

In front of a convention whose theme was “Arts in Sustainable Communities,” Peter Senge crumpled up the word “sustainable” and threw it in the garbage can—ok, the recycle bin—The clean and quotable way he said it was,” Sustainable is not much of an aspiration!”  Is your mission just to keep your organization alive?
“In some ways,” said the change expert, “climate change is a kind of gift.” “The problem is not climate change but how we live.” Here’s his question for us lovers of the esthetic: What is the esthetic of sustainability?

How should we live that esthetic? The answer is not in the appreciation of the products of creativity, but in the attitude that brings about those products. That attitude is none other than…play. Peter Senge calls it “the creative orientation.”
Like the artists for whom these Americans for the Arts campaign, we are, in this historic time, being called on to live in the question “what are we trying to create?”

“Maybe we’re at the end of the period of marginalization,” said the keynote speaker. “The end of objectifying of that thing we call “the arts.”

So here’s what I conclude: as we support and enjoy the work of people who refine their skills at making what we call art — we can recognize that the reason we support them is because we all need this support. It’s the little human child in each of us that recognizes what they do as what we know we need: not desperate problem-solving but simply play. The way humans work things out before we learn about problems and work.

Children play. And parents, wise parents, encourage that play, guided by a mission statement that asks the question “what are we trying to create?” and answers it simply: It’s — a good life.

If we arts-lovers ask ourselves “How did this mission guide our actions today?” every day, we’re on our way. We have not just had our energies massaged by convention talk about Renewable Resources, but we’ve gone to work on creating, renewing and sustaining a good life.

You can check out the whole report on the Seattle convention of Americans for the Arts at their website  Seattle looked good, with awards to a number of local artists, and a moving tribute to ArtsFund’s founder, the late Peter Donnelly, whose presence was not only missed there but continues to be missed here at king fm.


KING FM‘s weeknight host since 2004, Gigi Yellen represents a barrier-breaking generation of women: one of America’s first female classical music announcers, she has introduced listeners to great music at stations in New York, Houston, and Washington, DC, at Seattle’s KUOW, and at National Public Radio. This essay was originally broadcast on KING FM’s Arts Channel.

Strategic Planning: Creating Success and Meaning

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Periods of economic uncertainty and transition place greater demands on organizations to engage in adaptive change processes. As a result, the idea of “what really works” in strategic planning has changed dramatically in the last 15 years.

Added to this are increased employee expectations for engagement, collaboration, and the opportunity to create positive social and environmental outcomes through their work.

  • What really works in strategic planning?
  • What must clients do to ensure a high quality process and outcome?
  • How do we build progressive values for success and meaning into both the strategic planning process itself and the resulting strategic plan?

What Really Works In Strategic Planning?

Following we provide insights about what works in strategic planning, followed by some of the reasons traditional planning may have failed in that regard.

When the strategy is clear to everyone. Strategy needs to be simple enough for anyone in the company to understand.

  • Avoid top-down approaches. Many organizations suffer from planning that goes on at the most senior level of the organization and doesn’t integrate wisdom from “the front lines.” Top-down planning also suffers as a result of a lack of understanding and buy-in. The most effective approach is one that combines top-down and bottom up approaches.
  • Numbers aren’t the whole story. Strategies that are about hitting particular financial targets alone aren’t really strategies. Financial targets are goals that we want the strategies to deliver.  A strategy is the mobilization of company-wide efforts needed to create the desired outcomes. Financial targets are the “what.” Strategies are the “how.”
  • Create shared language. The language of the executive office is often financial, but that doesn’t “translate” very well in other parts of the organization. Using planning tools that create shared language in all departments and levels of the organization helps make the strategy clear.

The strategy is resilient. One common critique of strategic plans is that they are obsolete as soon as they are written. Resilient strategies are based on organizational strengths and assets that have long-term strategic potential.

  • Avoid strategies that are “borrowed” from other companies. Some companies try to copy what they see working for their competitors or peers in their industry.  While great ideas can often be picked up from others, successful strategy is based on the unique assets and strengths of each organization.
  • Base strategic plans on long-term opportunities, not short-term trends. A very common practice in organizations is to mistake tactical strategies for strategic planning. A short-term market opportunity then replaces organizational mission and strategy. Without balancing short-term and long-term, the organization short-changes itself on profitability and risks creating a culture driven from one crisis to another.

The strategy is fully implemented. Many organizations create reasonable strategies that are not fully implemented. When this happens, one of the following may be occurring.

  • Invite people into agreement with the strategy. If the strategy process has not sufficiently included key perspectives in its development, the outcome will likely have opponents. Strategy processes that integrate differing views ultimately create stronger outcomes.
  • Translate the strategy to day to day work. For many, the intuitive process of figuring out what strategy means for their work is fun and challenging. For others, it’s asking them to do the impossible.  Creating measurable action steps, and in some cases, metrics and financial targets, is a critical step in strategy implementation.
  • Role model at the executive level and follow through. In order to give the strategy a chance, there has to be managerial commitment and follow-through. If the strategy was developed without their buy-in or if the strategy is not robust enough, managers will become fearful that it doesn’t address the reality of today’s challenges. If they face resistance because key perspectives weren’t addressed in planning, they may lose the will to enforce it. If no one seems to get the strategy, they may become frustrated and conclude the strategy “doesn’t work.”

The Client’s Role in Getting a Good Outcome?

Robust strategies that help organizations become more successful and profitable require quality input from the client.  Clients need to consider carefully if they can make these commitments in order to get a better outcome from a planning effort:

  • Will you commit a reasonable amount of time? Although many processes take too much time and cost too much, it is also true that you can’t craft a robust, fully articulated organizational strategy and action plan in a weekend retreat with a SWAT analysis and a brainstorming session.  A reasonable amount of time for strategy development is 6 to 9 months. This time frame allows for comprehensive organizational and competitive analysis, as well as client research. During that time, the strategy process should not bring day to day activity to a halt. Rather, the process should feed new information into daily operations on an ongoing basis.
  • Will you create opportunities for participation at all levels of the organization? Finding appropriate ways to tap the genius of the entire organization are essential to crafting practical, doable strategies and engaging the entire organization it their implementation.  Strategy design isn’t necessarily a consensus process, but there must be broad input and dialogue. Some of the best strategies and innovations are “stumbled upon” in the initial stages of planning. They sometimes are small, unnoticed or under-valued aspects of the organization that only emerge with broad participation.
  • Will you ask clients or customers what they really want? Committing the time and money to conduct client research is essential to strategy design. The primary sources of break-through innovations and thinking are efforts that solve clients’ problems in new and unique ways.  WE all have our own standards of what quality or good work means. It’s important that we not mistake that for what customers or clients truly value. One of the key elements to sound strategy is focusing on what creates perceived value for clients. The only way to find out what creates perceived value for clients is by asking them. Without research, strategy making devolves into guesswork.

Creating Both Success and Meaning Through Strategy

“A path without heart is never enjoyable. You have to work hard even to take it. On the other hand, a path with heart is easy; it does not make you work at liking it.”
-    Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan

Employee loyalty and enthusiasm are two of the greatest strategic assets of any organization. We tap the potential of these assets when organizations serve a purpose that creates meaning for their work.

Organizations can create meaningful engagement in the ways they conduct strategic planning exercises, as well as in how they incorporate values and mission in the resulting plans.

Strategic planning processes can create anxiety and uncertainty, over and above that generated by the changing dynamics that make the planning process necessary. The following elements can help organizations bring out the best in their people as they go about strategic planning processes.

  • Collaborative Engagement – Creating opportunities for engagement, dialogue and input from all levels of the organization is essential to creating understanding of and support for strategic plans. It is also the primary way to tap the genius within the organization to find its own solutions.  While we do not conduct planning from a consensus model, we do design ways to get engagement and information efficiently and in ways that make participants feel heard and valued.
  • Build On What’s Already Working – Focusing the organization on what’s working creates hope and a foundation upon which to build new strengths. What do clients or customers already really appreciate and want from the organization? What’s the opportunity to leverage existing strengths and capacities for further growth? What are the “stumble upon” initiatives that are working that can be amplified?

Additionally, strategic planning offers an opportunity for organizations to step back and integrate social and environmental values and opportunities into the core business. In 2008, almost 60% of companies surveyed by McKinsey and Company reported that they were integrating environmental and social missions into their core strategy to a greater degree than they were five years prior. Although cost savings and new marketing opportunities motivate some of these initiatives, such practices also attract top talent. “Recruitment and retention consultancies like Kenexa, Hewitt Associates, Robert Half, and Towers Perrin have published figures demonstrating a link between environmentally friendly workplaces and engaged employees,” writes Andree Iffrig, author of Find Your Voice at Work: The Power of Storytelling in the Workplace (Limegrass 2007). Environmental and social values pave the path with heart that employees want to walk.