Over the coming days, weeks and months we will grow tired of the phrases “the new normal”, “the recovery phase” and “not wasting the opportunity created by a crisis” but that shouldn’t stop us thinking about what difference we want to achieve because of this interruption.
As we have seen pollution levels drop and clear sky emerge across the world, then it is not surprising that many are calling for a green and sustainable approach to be taken. Many people have seen a glimpse of a future possibility by being forced to do something differently. It is often only when we’re forced to experience the alternative we see the benefits for us.
A 2015 study found that the London Tube Strike in 2014 enabled a sizeable group of people to find are a more efficient way to get to work.
Surprisingly, the result of the strike was not doom and gloom but a net economic benefit. From a personal perspective, having taken a job that required regular travel by train to London, I realised that train travel had a lot of benefits and it became a more viable option for us as a family.
The suggestion by Rory Sutherland that car drivers should pay more to tax their vehicle but be given three train tickets in return uses this same thinking.
For anyone who has sought to bring about change, either in their own lives or as part of an organisational transformation will know that it takes effort to make it stick. Not only are we faced with the danger of relaxing our lockdown too quickly that the benefits of sacrifice are lost, but that unless we’re intentional, it will be too easy to revert to our default behaviour in our own approaches to life and work.
Much of my work has focused around digital transformation – this is broad and varied but one of the consistent things is getting people to think and behave differently because of the impact of technology and the opportunities it creates. This kind of change needs to be sustainable – both in the sense that it will take time and you need to keep at it, but also that change should be a positive impact, enhancing and contributing to the environment not taking away from it.
As we move towards the period of recovery, no matter how much that may just be clinging to a hope that things will get better, there is good reason to put sustainability at the heart of it. A sustainable recovery will consider the economic, societal and environmental aspects together. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking this is the job of government to sort out, but ultimately it is about personal choice and personal responsibility.
Across those three pillars – economy, society and environment – have choices that we can make.
We shouldn’t need elected leaders to tell us what is good for the country any more than we need consultants to tell us how to change our businesses for the better.
Originally, I was planning to write my manifesto for a sustainable recovery, but that feels slightly arrogant and not overly helpful. Each of us will be faced with unique choices and need to work through these things ourselves. Rather, here are some pointers of things that may help your thinking about your own contribution to the future:
- Outline what you want to achieve. If you aim for nothing, you’ll hit every time.
- Be specific about the future state that you want to see. Describe it and be specific. Use measures if that helps, but avoid being vague or using words open to interpretation. Focus on things in your control and you can directly influence rather than the grand ambition to achieve world peace, no matter how important that may be.
- Share it with those you think will contribute to that future, who will be impacted by it and who will benefit from it. Accountability is a key part of bringing about change. Research shows you’re more likely to stick at something if you’re accountable to someone.
Finally, here are some pointers to things that you may want to consider:
- Think about what matters to you and how you value it.
- Make intentional decisions. Deciding what you will do is just as important as deciding what you will not do. Remember, you may do something that others may think goes against your goal and that’s because life is messy. If that’s the case, make it an understandable decision.
- Focus on the things you have a personal choice and responsibility for.
Having set this out then there is one other component that I would urge you to include and that is building in a sustained approach to learning. Shifting from knowing everything to learning more is a key mindset change. We cannot know the future but we can anticipate what is happening and look to develop our skills such that we’re better placed to respond.
Finishing as I started.
Don’t let a good crisis go to waste.
But don’t expect others to bring about the change you want to see without you starting first.