Leaders can drive sustainability by focusing on the long-term impact of their actions, according to Johann Olav Koss. And Johann would know — he founded and built the sustainable global non-profit organization Right To Play over the past 20 years.
'As problem solvers, you need those conversations to be fueled by conflicting, competing, and complementary perspectives.'
In this episode
The quality of life for future generations and our planet depends on societies taking real action towards securing sustainable futures. While this reality is broadly recognized around the world, our modern economy is embedded with mechanisms that incentivize individuals and organizations to myopically focus on the next quarter’s results, rather than looking 20 years ahead. According to Johann, this is a big mistake, since he has quantifiable evidence proving that sustainable organizations are the future.
Sustainability principles for long-term growth
The sustainability agenda has entered the perspectives, preferences, and behaviors of consumers and employees across the globe, and companies need to adjust accordingly. 'Regulations, environment, and people are driving behavior and supply and demand structures are driven by people’s interests,' Johann explains. 'If people no longer follow expected behavior, supply and demand will need to adjust over time.'
While the emerging sustainability agenda already reflects a trend in behavioral change, supply, and demand, the global pandemic has greatly accelerated organizational changes, government regulations, and consumer behavior. However, according to Johann, companies need to take a thorough look at the backbone of their organization, to consider whether it can carry a sustainable organization into the future — regardless of what trends or drastic changes might come.
'Companies today need to have a number of core principles when it comes to sustainability. You won’t know what has to happen to find solutions today, but the principles will help you find solutions over time.'
Johann encourages organizations to design principles inspired by the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will provide a solid platform that will endure disruptions and continue to be effective as the landscape of their industries and markets evolves. These principles need to tackle sustainability in a way that has universal relevance to the company. They should address people, planet, and profit on multiple levels.
Problem solvers vs. product sellers
A critical component of building a sustainable business is your narrative, and Johann claims that businesses should be trying to solve a problem, not sell a product. The very notion of 'selling a product' over problem-solving lies at the heart of many unsustainable businesses — chasing short-term gains and disregarding long-term impact. Solving problems is deeply dependent on diverse viewpoints, and Johann invites us to celebrate the friction we encounter along the way.
As such, exploring the tensions and nurturing forums of discussions and conflicting perspectives is an essential starting point, according to Johann: 'When you lack diversity, you lose the opposite view. You might even lose the tension you need to innovate. Tension creates innovation. It’s when you work with a high level of friction that change happens.'
Johann describes friction as natural and beneficial to the development of a business. He points out the struggle many people experience with staying in that tension for long enough to reap the creative, social, and financial benefits that come with it. Many give up too soon and retract to the comfort of predictable tasks and homogenous teams.
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