A Crash Test For Dummies

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Art has to move you and design does not, unless it’s a good design for a bus.
David Hockney

I love books. Real books. But I was going to start this piece with a bit of a rant about the millions of trees that die needlessly in the production of the dozens of management books pumped out every year. However, I just read an article from the Natural Resources Defence Council about the sourcing of raw materials for computers, tablets, eBooks and the like. And that did my blood pressure no good at all. For example, the enormous quantities of water (up to 500 gallons per second) needed in Chile’s Atacama desert for the mining of the highly conductive copper used for semiconductors, circuit boards and wiring requires desalination. This is a costly and energy-intensive source of water as the mines are 100s of miles from the sea. Copper mining is also infamous for the sulphuric acid produced when its solid waste tailings are exposed to air and water. Combined with metals such as lead, arsenic, and cadmium, tailings are highly toxic to plants, wildlife and people alike.

Our destructive relationship with the natural world may seem an odd starting point for a post on a blog about the world of work, but so much of what is said and written about saving the planet is really about saving the planet for us rather than from us. We want to preserve a world we recognise. In business, as leaders, we are often concerned with enacting change for its own sake and we advertise for recruitment with phrases like “not afraid to challenge the status quo”, without any real sense of what that might look like. We mistake a sense of calm for status quo.

We accept the chaos of the markets and incomprehensible financial instruments as the norm. From the corridors of power to the board rooms of business, we reduce people, human beings, to economic assets. The way we feel about the natural world is conditioned by the gradual erosion of our sense of humanity. Innovation and creativity are, rightly I believe, talked about as being vital to successful, sustainable, growing, learning, people-centred organisations but we bounce from managerial fad to technological bandwagon to changing leadership mores without discernment. Change for it’s own sake.

It’s a little bit like the film “Speed”. Business leaders are stuck on the bus. They don’t dare let the speed drop. They’re obsessed with not crashing the bus. They’ll smash things out of the way to keep the bus moving. They stay on the bus. Experts hover overhead in helicopters offering advice on how to keep the bus on track. They throw every resource at it. At the end of “Speed” the bus crashes in to a plane and blows up. Keanu and Sandra have a happy ending.

In business, we stay on the bus to see what happens after the crash.

Intuitively we know we should get off the bus. Our current approach is to use our creativity and innovation to keeping the bus moving. The more I hear about the way organisations are deploying creative minds the more I despair. Right now, the biggest disruption would be to deploy some good old fashioned common sense, pull the bus over to the side of the road and take a long hard look at ourselves.

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2 comments

  1. To your point about reducing human beings to economic assets. The phrase human resources sums this up. We have named our function to support this approach.

    1. Thanks for commenting Gemma. You are absolutely right and unfortunately so much else in the language of business reinforces a general dehumanising of the workforce.

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