A Better World: Are you Adding or Subtracting?

The topic of sustainability keeps coming around in my reading as of late. I was first introduced to sustainability during my Commerce program at Royal Roads in 2003. Darlene and Garry McCue were our profs and the text we used was their own called “The spiral stair.” The course was very environmentally focused which at the time put me off somewhat as I was not of the same thinking as environmentalists.

Fast forward ten years or so and I was studying Systems Thinking at Boise State University and our text was “Thinking in Systems: A Primer” by Donella Meadows. My studies at BSU literally changed the way I look at the world. Systems Thinking, Human Factors Engineering, Design Thinking, MEGA planning, Behavior Engineering… all these different models , each a new lens through which to examine the world.

Meadows taught me that to understand how systems work you must see the relationship between structures and behaviours. Gilbert’s Behavior Engineering Model (BEM) taught me how to sort between behaviours and the environmental factors (structures) that drive or restrain performance. The view from the BEM is more at the individual level which reminds me of John Maxwell’s “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You.” Maxwell’s 5th law is “The Law of Addition” which states that Leaders add value by serving others.” When explaining this law he challenges the reader:

“If you are a leader, then trust me, you are having either a positive or a negative impact on the people you lead. How can you tell? There is one critical question: Are you making things better for the people who follow you? That’s it. If you cannot answer with an unhesitant yes, and give some evidence that backs it up, then you may very well be a subtractor. Often subtractors don’t realize they are subtracting from others. I would say that 90 percent of all people who subtract from others do so unintentionally. They don’t recognize their negative impact on others. And when a leader is a subtractor and doesn’t change his ways, it’s only a matter of time before his impact on others goes from subtraction to division (p. 51).”

In all my adult years I have worked for some great adders and some real big subtractors. In retrospect, I am pretty sure I have been on both sides of the equation at different times in my life. I am also pretty sure that at the end of the day, my balance sheet will be in “the black” and overall I will have added more than I subtracted. As I get older and wiser, I am looking for more opportunities to add, not only at the individual level, but at all levels.

Kaufman (2011), has challenged us to ask ourselves, if we are not adding value to our shared society, how are we assured that we are not subtracting value? I think about that a lot. As we see above, we can add or subtract value from the societal down to the individual level. Kaufman’s “MEGA” has strong alignment with what I have learned about sustainability, i.e., if the results of our actions increase sustainability we are “adding.”

To put a business spin on the connection between adding value and sustainability, let me share about a coaching session I recently attended. Our coach talked about “Critical Non-Essentials,” (CNE’s) an idea developed by an Australian Dentist Paddi Lund. Lund developed processes that add value for his customers. They weren’t essential to the dental issue being treated but the CNEs differentiated his practice and he became very successful and his practice achieved sustainability!  I just gave my copy of the book to MY dentist. I’m hoping to see an Espresso machine at my next visit (read the book to find out what I mean).

What I am seeing is that when we look for opportunities to add value, or increase sustainability at any level from friends or family, stakeholders, clients or organizationally, there should be a trickle effect that will contribute to the sustainability of society as a whole. Small actions add up.

References

Kaufman, R. (2011) The Manager’s Pocket Guide to Mega Thinking and Planning. HRD Press, Inc. Amherst MA

Maxwell, John C.. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You. Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Meadows, Donella H.. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. Chelsea Green Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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