Dear Michael

As we rounded off the August Board Meeting, you asked for any further thoughts on what would assist Western Engineering to grow and to contribute to a more sustainable world.

Firstly, I appreciate the opportunity you have afforded me to give voice to what I see as a way forward for humankind, nature and the planet.

Lofty and idealistic as that might sound, what I outline is basic and attainable. It is as relevant to the sustainable growth of Western Engineering, as it is for all people (business, government or NGO’s) looking to create a renewed relationship with the world. A world where Possibility and its offspring – kindness, understanding, wisdom and common sense – govern how we design and live our lives at home, at work and wherever we may roam.

CREATING, APPLYING AND MAINTAINING ‘SUSTAINABLE DESIGN’

‘Sustainable design’ comes from the convergence of ‘doing what works’ with ‘doing what matters’ within the context of what really works and what really matters – kindness, understanding, wisdom and commonsense.

We have discussed this, though I stopped short of linking the specifics necessary for creating ‘sustainable design’ – or, equally, unsustainable design – to our states of mind, a state of either Possibility or impossibility.

This letter addresses the design ingredients for growing sustainable organisations of any size or type, from a couple to a sovereign government.

At the micro level, it addresses what I see as the answer to the ‘sustainable design’ and development of Western Engineering, and the realisation of your vision.

At the macro level, it answers this universal question: in looking to transform our lives, families, communities and organisations, why do we cling to old habits, crumble in the face of old thinking, and keep doing what we have always done in the vain hope for fresh, sustainable outcomes?

As you generalise well, you will move freely within the letter from the micro to macro, from one person to a group of people, from one individual to many, and from the private to the public sector.

EACH OF US IS A PRODUCT OF EVOLUTIONARY DESIGN AND, IN TURN, EACH OF US IS A DESIGNER

Everything we humans do is by design, whether we know it or not.

We design our entire life, from what we eat, to how we spend our time, to what we do to earn income, to with whom we live. The designer in us never stops trying to design.

I know it doesn’t look like that. And I know, for most, our life is created by accidental rather than intentional design. That’s because we don’t see that we are designing our life and relationships moment to moment from our state of mind.

What we design, consciously or unconsciously, is based on ‘what we think works for us’ and ‘what we think matters to us’. Mostly this occurs outside the inner critical context of what really works and what really matters. This phrase will be repeated ad nauseum as it is the crux of what I am trying to convey.

I repeat: whatever we are designing, we bring to bear what we think will work, along with what we think matters.

We want it, whatever it may be, to be a success and to ‘work out’. Doing ‘what works’ matters to us!

As each of us strives to do ‘what we think works’, we also imprint on our design our unique personal and separate reality of ‘what we think matters’. Doing what we think matters works for us.

What we believe ‘works’ and what we believe ‘matters’ are as individual to us as our DNA. For example, a so-called ‘right-wing’ economic rationalist will promote ‘what they think works’; ‘that matters’ to them.

Conversely, a so-called ‘left-wing’ social-justice person has a predisposition towards ideas about ‘what they think matters’; ‘that works’ for them.

And if you look around, seldom does the twain meet.

Both left and right are consumed and dominated by their life story, which is ultimately their ideology – what they think works and what they think matters.

Too often, both are unwilling to listen to the other, consequently unable to see the value in what is being said and done by the other.

Because neither the left nor right paths (both having become fossilised ideologies) ultimately reflect what really works and what really matters, both are unsustainable, and they break down. The empirical evidence of that is hard to dispute.

Each fails to deliver its implicit promise. This failure inevitably occurs as a direct consequence of those ideological models lacking that deeper, sustainable context of Possibility and the kindness, understanding, wisdom and common sense delivered to each design from that realm.

Impossibility has been built into both designs. This fundamental design flaw is then made worse in the application of the respective ideologies by their proponents.

CREATING ‘SUSTAINABLE DESIGN’

Any design created, implemented and operated, other than from our inner context of Possibility and thus what really works and what really matters, is unsustainable. And ever shall it be until we wake up to the missing link – fresh Thought and its offspring – Possibility.

Even though we may create the original design within the life-giving and life-sustaining context of Possibility – love, understanding, wisdom and common sense – any design will fail, either at the point of implementation or later in its operation if those contextual conditions are missing. The context of what really matters and what really works must be present, or failure will occur.

The world is awash with examples of left- and right-wing approaches (and all shades in between) in various stages of breakdown, distinguished only by the ructions they cause and the time each takes to decay.

Capitalism, which some might call a metaphor for doing ‘what works’, is taking longer to fail than Marxism, which some might call a metaphor for doing ‘what matters’.

Some (those who have studied and understand Marxist assertions) may say we have never given pure Marxism a proper chance to succeed. It has been corrupted either in its implementation or its ongoing execution.

Some (who have studied and understand Capitalist philosophy) may similarly claim, neither has true Capitalism. It too has been corrupted in its implementation or ongoing execution.

Again, Michael, without the deeper contextual setting of what really works and what really matters, no economic system or design for governance is sustainable.

Operating from within the world of human conditioning, ‘doing what we think works’ and ‘doing what we think matters’, no matter the form of society (micro as in the case of a business or macro as in the case of a nation state) and their governance; corruption and breakdown of the system will be an inevitably recurring cycle.

What is missing, maybe not in the original designs by the original designers, but certainly in the numerous failed applications and countless failing adaptations, is the context for ‘sustainable design’: Possibility, ‘What really works’ and ‘what really matters’. I repeat, this is the missing link.

‘Sustainable design’ is the context and way forward for achieving sustainable living and working for humanity.

This is the time for Possibility to be understood, experienced and to be the ‘sustainable design’ context for designers, the design implementers, the design maintainers and the design recipients.

Within a context of Possibility, a convergence of ‘what works’ with ‘what matters’ will automatically blend into an amalgam of what really works and really matters.

Seeing Possibility is the context for sustainability of every business, organisation, humanitarian, social, environmental and economic decision and action.

Specifically, the outcomes from that convergence within the realm of Possibility are:

  • kindness (also referred to as ‘love’) is the feeling of and expression of warmth, unconditional respect, goodwill and regard for all others. For example, love or kindness is our natural instinct when we see beyond our need to be right and to make others wrong.
  • understanding is our innate (and badly under-utilised) capacity to explore any subject, question, concern, problem or dispute free of our opinion, belief and judgement, and without being hidebound by our specific knowledge or expertise.
  • wisdom is our capacity to act from a coalescing of insight, perceptiveness, and discernment.
  • common sense (like wisdom) is a coalescing of our inherent natural intelligence, accumulated knowledge and experience of life in general. It can be honed, polished and constantly revitalised from within the realm of Possibility.

Thus, whenever doing what we think works and/or what we think matters from that framework, we really do see ‘what works’ and see ‘what matters’ in any given situation, clear and free from all ideology.

To see afresh is to be free of all dogma, thus free of fear – and the triple offspring of fear: greed, power and control. When functioning externally to the realm of Possibility, these three inevitably come into play and form the context in which we design, implement or operate. That is the underlying cause of why we create unsustainable designs and equally unsustainable design outcomes.

Greed, power and control infect and corrupt Capitalism today. Power, control and greed corrupt Communism and Socialism today.

That is a macro perspective. Let’s look at the micro.

Businesses and organisations governed by a ‘what works’ mindset can, and many do, grow to become big and profitable, often surviving for a long time.

Of these, the majority, with a fixation on doing ‘what works’ and with disregard of doing ‘what matters’, are unwitting contributors to the soaring human and environmental costs and the increasing disillusionment with Capitalism, growing numbers experience.

Similarly, businesses and particularly well-intentioned NGOs with a heartfelt ‘what matters’ mindset, because the leaders don’t understand or reject the world of ‘what works’, generally don’t stay the course as they struggle to deliver on their promises. Too often they can be heard singing ‘Kum ba yah’ as the doors close for the last time.

It is encouraging that there are stand-out beacons of light – NGO’s and businesses like yours, Michael – heading in the direction of ‘sustainable design’, moving in the direction of ‘doing what works’ and ‘doing what matters’ within a context of what really works and what really matters. However, you – and they – are still a minority.

As the mounting social and environmental costs to community become clearer, a growing number of leaders, desperate for answers, are engaging specialists in ‘what matters’. Moreover, from the feedback I’m getting, they are becoming even more desperate and disillusioned since the results from many of these specialists are poor.

So, what are these specialists – in ‘what matters’ – missing?

What do they need to understand that would turn the tide?

What do they need to see?

What do the people they are working for need to see?

WHAT’S STILL MISSING IN OUR SEARCH FOR LEADERSHIP THAT FOSTERS SUSTAINABILITY?

Transformation within an organisation occurs when there is cognisance within the mind of its leaders of what really works and what really matters. It occurs when the leaders see Possibility and can sustain their experience of kindness, understanding, wisdom and common sense.

Only within that context, within that realm of awareness, will transformation of the organisation occur and sustainability is achieved.

That is what the specialists need to understand. Behavioural-change methods (which is what most ‘what matters’ experts utilise) either don’t work at all or if they do work for a while, don’t stick to the ribs of the individuals coached.

The research ‘Simply the Best’ found that the 15 key drivers of ‘simply the best’ organisations are:

  • The quality of working relationships – people relating to each other as friends, colleagues, and co-workers. Supporting each other and helping to get the job done.
  • Workplace leadership – how the immediate supervisor, team leader, manager or co-ordinator presented him or herself. Their focus on leadership and energy, not management and administration.
  • Having a say – participating in decisions that affect the day-to-day business of the workplace.
  • Clear values – the extent to which people could see and understand the overall purpose and individual behaviours expected in the workplace.
  • Being safe – high levels of personal safety, both physical and psychological. Emotional stability and a feeling of being protected by the system.
  • The built environment – a high standard of accommodation and fit-out, with regard to the particular industry type.
  • Recruitment – getting the right people to work in the location is important, and they need to share the same values and approach to work as the rest of the group.
  • Pay and conditions – a place in which the level of income and the basic physical working conditions (hours, access, travel and the like) are met to a reasonable standard. At least to a level that the people who work there see as reasonable.
  • Learning – being able to learn on the job, acquire skills and knowledge from everywhere, and develop a greater understanding of the whole workplace.
  • Passion – the energy and commitment to the workplace, high levels of volunteering, excitement and a sense of wellbeing. Actually wanting to come to work.
  • Having fun – a psychologically secure workplace in which people can relax with each other and enjoy social interaction.
  • Community connections – being part of the local community, feeling as though the workplace is a valuable element of local affairs.
  • Getting feedback – always knowing what people think of each other, their contribution to the success of the place, and their individual performance over time.
  • Autonomy and uniqueness – the capacity of the organisation to tolerate and encourage the sense of difference that excellent workplaces develop. Their sense of being the best at what they do.
  • A sense of ownership and identity – being seen to be different and special through pride in the place of work, knowing the business and controlling the technology.

As heartening as those findings are, the fundamental weakness in this report is: the 15 points listed above are not the drivers of the business as claimed by the report’s authors. Rather they are the effects – the consequences, positive symptoms or inevitable results of the convergence of doing ‘what works’ with ‘what matters’ in the context of what really works and what really matters.

The research reveals how, in our hearts, we want to work and relate. The list reflects Possibility, of the ‘love, understanding, wisdom and common sense’ that exists within you and me.

However, in my experience, even leaders of ‘simply the best’-type organisations often lack a deeper understanding of what constitutes ‘sustainable design’. For example, when threatened by hard financial times, they gravitate, out of fear, to ‘doing what works’ e.g. savage cost-cutting or other drastic measures without exploring all options within the realm of Possibility in addressing the difficulties in which the organisation finds itself.

If financial recovery is achieved as a result of a slash-and-burn policy or some other equally harsh measures, the ‘what works’ proponents use those measures as proof positive that ‘doing what works’ was the right response. They feel justified in abandoning ‘doing what matters’ as being necessary for the circumstances. Potentially, not necessarily, an incorrect analysis!

Similarly, if continuing with ‘doing what matters’ and not addressing ‘what works’, and financial failure occurs, this again is proof positive that doing ‘what matters’ doesn’t work. Again, this is also potentially an incorrect analysis!

The deeper analysis is this: the failure of the organisation occurred when the connection with Possibility – what really works and what really matters – was lost.

That state of affairs would have been spawned from the condition of the organisation’s board and the senior executive group’s thinking over time.

Businesses and organisations do not run into trouble and go broke overnight. It takes time for impossibility thinking to chew up and spit out an organisation’s resources.

The downward spiral would have begun first with the erosion of the collective capacity to create, innovate, overcome obstacles, and then finally the loss of the collective will to solve problems, survive and sustain the organisation.

Once the level dropped below the level of awareness necessary to experience Possibility, it was the beginning of the end. It is what many organisations in the Western world are experiencing right now.

Michael, I am not suggesting that failure will never occur while working within the context of sustainable design. What I am saying is that from the context of ‘sustainable design’, the realm of Possibility, the following are the daily business and organisational practices:

  • threats are anticipated and/or recognised well in advance, and necessary action is taken to avoid or deal with those threats;
  • sustainable business practices are in place throughout the organisation. Such basics as having sustainable levels of debt and ensuring income exceeds expenditure;
  • creativity, innovation and adaptation to changing circumstances are constants;
  • the organisation is in a permanent state of renewal and revitalisation;
  • ‘delivering the promise’ to all stakeholders (internal and external) is the driving force.

In the next part of this letter, Michael, let’s briefly review the four elements of business and organisation to tie doing what really works and what really matters back to Possibility.

THE THREE PRIMARY ‘WHAT WORKS’ ELEMENTS OF BUSINESS AND ORGANISATION

Element One: Skills

  • Skills manifest our ability, training and knowledge. Accounting, welding, selling, human resources, engineering, writing, the practice of medicine, sewing, building, deep-sea diving and coaching – these are all skills. Skills are the crafts we acquire that determine our level of effectiveness in creating, producing and distributing a product or service.

Element Two: Systems

  • Systems underpin the procedures, processes, plans, routines, practices, policies, programs, software and methods within the business. They are the concepts or tools we use to plan, systematise and operate the business. They are created to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

Element Three: Finance

  • Finance takes many forms: buildings, plant, machinery, equipment, locations, hardware, any infrastructure or anything of a tangible nature that is utilised to grow the business. This is the capital we employ to house, fund and support the business and is the tangible environment. Finance provides the capital to fund elements one and two.

Without the above three elements, in place, cultivated and honed, any business or organisation will flounder.

These three elements fall into ‘doing what works’ and yes, they very much ‘matter’ – but without the context of what really works and what really matters, they will not sustain the business. These three elements are too often in place without this contextual understanding and underpinning.

Many of us think that, in and of themselves, those three elements are sufficient – ‘the be all and end all’. Moreover, we may also think that if we get them right, we will have a successful business, organisation or government.

However, they aren’t. Not even close. These three elements are the product of Element Four, the context in which all businesses and organisations function.

Elements one, two and three, while created by Element Four, exist and operate in and are part of the material/conditioned world – a world that today cries out for a sustainable heartland; a heartfelt context in which these elements meet the purpose for which they are created and put in place to serve.

What really works and what really matters is that ‘heartland’, and it exists within the realm of original Thought.

Thought is Element Four and could be described as the operating software for the entire human experience.

ELEMENT FOUR OF BUSINESS AND ORGANISATION – THOUGHT

Element Four: Thought

  • Thought is the source creating every aspect of the human experience – the genesis of humankind’s thinking, feelings, actions and creations – good, bad and indifferent. It is, therefore, by definition, the context in which the business or organisation functions in each moment of its existence. Our deep understanding of this element enables business and organisational people to utilise this life-giving power for rather than against the business – for rather than against themselves – for rather than against humanity – for rather than against the environment.

Thought, in its unformed, elemental, energetic state, is the wellspring of our thinking, creativity, imagination and fresh starts. In its unformed state, that original Thought is the wellspring of Possibility and consequently what really works and what really matters.

Thought, in its formed (and often frozen) state, is our conditioning – our beliefs, opinions, judgements and everything that constitutes what we think we know. It shows up as our ideology, dogmas, all our -isms and what we think is ‘the truth of the matter’, e.g. ‘what we believe works’ and ‘what we believe matters’.

Thought is, as it is for everything we create, the source of the three elements of business and organisations. Thought is the source of ‘what works’ and ‘what matters’.

When transcending or bypassing our conditioned thinking (all our beliefs, opinions and judgements), we enter the realm of original Thought and Possibility. In that state of awareness, we see and experience what really works and what really matters, and as a direct consequence, our businesses and organisations flourish.

CONSCIOUSNESS – AWARENESS – UNDERSTANDING

Our level of awareness (consciousness or understanding of how we create our reality) is what enables us to be awake to our life, to our own thinking and feelings, and to the world at large – to understand that we think and to be aware of what we are thinking in each moment.

Our awareness is at its most acute when seeing life from within the realm of Possibility, where we naturally experience kindness, understanding, wisdom and common sense. It is from this state of consciousness that we see what really works and what really matters.

That awareness manifests as the conscience or heart or culture of the business or organisation – or, if in a less conscious state, the lack thereof in the case of conscience and heart or in the case of culture, a poor one at best.

Thought, in either its fresh or conditioned state, is both the creator, operator, sustainer, and destroyer of every business and organisation.

Thought and its product, our thinking, is the intangible but meta-environment that is at cause. Consequently, Thought and its form, our thinking, is the essence of our success or failure, and of sustainability or unsustainability in businesses and organisations – and all points in between.

HOW IS THOUGHT BOTH THE CREATOR – AND DESTROYER?

Thought (as the moment-to-moment creator of our experience – our thinking, feelings and actions) takes whatever form we create – what we think up in each nanosecond.

When coming fresh from the realm of Possibility, this form can nurture and support the business (doing what ‘really works and really matters’).

When coming from our conditioned mind, our thinking can destroy the organisation. From being lost in the conditioned realm and limited to either doing ‘what works’ or ‘what matters’, we lack that context of Possibility – kindness, understanding, wisdom and common sense.

Together, the quality of our thinking (Thought’s form – either fresh or conditioned) and our level of awareness (being conscious of our state of thinking) create the culture of the business, the cultural norm – positive or negative, life-enhancing or life-diminishing, sustainable or unsustainable.

In understanding the first three elements and how we create each from the fourth, a business or organisational person will be awake to whether or not we are utilising these elements for or against the common good. This level of self-awareness equates to our level of understanding of the way in which we create our experience and live moment-to-moment.

Our level of consciousness (another word for awareness and understanding) determines the way in which we utilise the gift of Thought. It follows then that the quality of our thinking, creative or destructive, good, poor or indifferent, reflects our level of consciousness.

Thought, though little understood, is the single most precious human resource.

Thought alone is the generator of human behaviour that few leaders consciously work with, and then only to a fraction of the incalculable potential that understanding Thought has for humankind.

IN SUMMARY

The habitual poor use of Thought is a terminal disease.

In my own life – personal, familial, in the many businesses, relationships, and organisations that have played a part – when I see with the clarity of fresh Thought:

  • I see what really works;
  • I feel in my heart what really matters (in other words, experience Possibility as the context of my life in the moment);
  • I apply ‘what works’ and ‘what matters’ to each situation and guarantee sustainable results.

On the other hand, when I am lost in my old habitual thinking, I fail to see with clarity and can feel reactive and fearful. If I try to apply ‘what works’ or ‘what matters’ from that state, I do so without wisdom and common sense, without kindness and understanding.

While what I am doing might appear to work or to matter (i.e. economically, socially and environmentally), it will be a shadow of what I am capable of and will break down sooner or later.

In that state, the decisions I have made and the actions I have taken are not sustainable. They have been made from my conditioning, disconnected from Possibility. They have been made from a much lower level of understanding – I’d be simply doing ‘what works’ and ‘what matters’ from my memory – much like a Pavlovian dog. Possibility – doing what really works and what really matters – is missing in action.

A non-business/organisational example: for most parents, their child’s education, religion, social contacts, etc. fall squarely into either or both of the ‘what works’ and ‘what matters’ categories.

They are crucial aspects of raising a child that can divide couples. It is easy to get tangled up in these issues. As parents, when we come to the conversation in a context of what really works and what really matters, there is simplicity, clarity and focus.

In this context, we are helping create ‘sustainable design’ in our family and in our world.

For partners in business, market position, products and pricing, staffing and salaries, client relationships, systems and infrastructure are examples of the ‘what works’ and ‘what matters’ of the enterprise.

Again, it is easy to get bogged down in these essential aspects of business. When we experience all of this from the consciousness of what really works and what really matters, the way forward becomes obvious.

So-called issues are talked about with grace and goodwill. The experience of kindness, understanding, wisdom and common sense pervades the organisation, contributing to a sustainable business, organisation – and planet.

The convergence of doing ‘what works’ and ‘what matters’ in the context of what really works and what really matters provides me, you, and all of humanity with sustainable solutions to every aspect of ‘The Game of Living’. It does so because of the individual being in clear connection with Possibility – what I call, for business and organisational purposes, Element Four.

Warmly … John