My latest blog for GreenBiz imagines the day when nano-drones come for my job as Chief Pollinator. But still a long way from being the hottest issue sizzling around my brainpan.
Yesterday, having seen the film Hidden Figures (staggeringly good, profoundly moving) at the Olympic Cinema in Barnes, we wandered across to Barnes Books, where I bought a copy of Lincoln In The Bardo. Anything to distract me from the continuing antics of the weasel in the White House.
Like January, February zoomed past, with a huge amount of work cranking through the Volans realm – all in the context of the rise of new forms of populism, covered in our latest Volans Salon, held on 31 January. Martin Wright, formerly of Forum for the Future, co-hosted an evening with some 25 people from the wider London ecosystem.
On 2 February Gaia, Paul, Hania, Jake and I celebrated Elaine’s 70th birthday at Brasserie Zédel: a wonderful evening. And a very welcome distraction from the continuing saga of the kitchen floor, where first hot water pipes have forces us to have the floor taken up. Over a month now of being reduced to a concrete floor.
Other highlights of the month included: chairing a Crowd event on our ‘Social X‘ agenda on the 6th; a lunch with Nicolai Tangen of AKO Capital on the 7th, followed by the launch event for the Science Museum’s Robots exhibition; attending the IntelligenceSquared/Nature Conservancy event called ‘Nature, Our Best Climate Technology‘ on the 9th;
On the 10th we drove across to Little Rissington to see the Hill House ecosystem, then back to a blizzard of events. These included meetings with people like Interface VP Erin Meezan, chairing a session at a WWF event on the Government’s Industrial Strategy in the ICAEW Great Hall on the 21st, followed by an Ecosequestration Trust Board meeting across at Imperial College; a Chilean day on the 23rd, with a visit from Angelica Cortes, followed by lunch with Maria Jesús Nilo at the British Museum Great Court restaurant; then Richard Roberts and I did a 2-hour Leaders’ Quest session for senior Cemex executives at the Building Centre on the 24th; and I was back in the ICAEW Great Hall on 1 March to chair another session, this time for the UKSSD (UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development) annual conference.
And then we’re in March already, with a Hüman After All party on the evening of the 2nd and a fascinating lunch at the Gilbert Scott restaurant in the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel with Patrick Thomas of Covestro.
Brought my bike and bunch of pictures back home from the office in a taxi on the 3rd. End of an era with the bike, but after six serious accidents since 1974 it’s probably time to hang up my helmet, at least for central London cycling.
This jumble of images gives some sense of the blur that has been our January to date. The first one I took as I walked to a lunch with Iqbal Wahhab and Charmian Love on 4 January, at the restaurant he co-founded, Roast. Really great food and ambience. And he gave me a copy of his beautifully produced book, Charity Sucks.
I had almost gone to Covent Garden, seeing that the restaurant was in The Floral Hall – not realising that the old Floral Hall had been moved from Covent Garden (where I had been left unconscious by an Indonesian driver back in 1975 as I cycled to get papers from King’s College, ahead of a flight to Cairo), stored in a Welsh cavern, then bought for £1 and installed here in Borough Market.
So, slightly weirdly, I was sitting on the other side of the facade in front of which I nearly departed this life 40 years ago, but now on the other side of the Thames.
On 9 January, I took Molly March (who I grew up with in Cyprus in the 1950s) to lunch at the Great Court Restaurant in the British Museum, followed by a dinner that same evening hosted by Ambassador David lane, who now runs the Annenberg Trust at Sunnylands.
The second image was taken unsteadily from the apartment window of Lorraine Smith’s home in Manhattan, during a party she and her husband Christopher kindly hosted for me – with some fascinating people.
She and I had been in Washington, DC, where Volans co-hosted an event on 11 January with the World Resources Institute (WRI and the UN Global Compact (UNGC) on how to push towards breakthrough outcomes (our focus with the UNGC) in tomorrow’s markets (WRI’s focus) in the era of President Trump. Will post more details once the summary is cleared by the participants, but very timely and productive.
The event coincided with the Senate’s grilling of former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice for Secretary of State.
We then went by Amtrak to NYC, to see a range of people, including the UNGC, Citi (whose tower block is the blazing lump seen across the river from Lorraine’s window), the Harvard Business Review and Pearson. The next image is from the plane window as we came in to land at Heathrow. There was snow outside and DC and now snow here, too.
The next five images are from Düsseldorf, where we spent several days (in my case, 17-19 January) with Covestro – with teams converging from Futerra, the Future Fit Foundation, Innovation Arts, SystemIQ and Volans. Focus was on carbon productivity, and the spirit is captured in the final image of the sequence of five.
On the last day, I had been meant to travel to Davos for a dinner co-hosted by the World Economic Forum and the UN Global Compact. Them thank god, Klaus Schwab said he didn’t want me there, so I could spend some sensible time with people doing things rather than simply talking about them : )
Then this week, Sam and I spent a couple of days in Lausanne, with a somewhat controversial company that is planning a major transformation. Fascinating, but the ethical dilemmas had me in a spin at one point.
Then the final image shows Tim Peake speaking at the Science Museum, at the launch event for a new exhibition featuring the Soyuz spacecraft he used to travel to the International Space Station. Went with Richard Johnson.
Volans is really building momentum now, which is immensely exciting, though it’s taxing at times, for all of us. Am on statins now, too, which I hadn’t expected. But always ready to experiment …
Keep thinking I should get back on my bike, which has stood forlornly in the office since my sixth accident, in Oxford Street, a couple of years ago – and which left me with a damaged elbow that took fully a year to heal properly. It’s some sort of toss-up between exercise and extinction, it seems.
The “Doomsday Clock“, which has hovered ticking over my entire life, moving to 3 minutes to midnight in 1949, the year I was born, because of the advent of there Cold War, has now moved closer to midnight. Two and a half minutes, to be precise. I sense both the squeeze and the opportunity.
My answers to this question, and those of some way more interesting folk as relayed to GreenBiz, can be found here. Then there are our answers to two other questions: (1) Which technologies promise to make a positive impact in 2017? And then (2) we imagine it’s 2030 and say which technologies we think will have made the biggest difference.
New Year’s Day 2016 – and this morning I finished Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel The Man in the High Castle, a TV version of which is currently being streamed on Amazon Prime, though I haven’t seen it.
Having read a number of other science fiction books in the past few weeks (among them Ted Chiang’s Arrival collection of short stories and T.C Boyle’s The Terranauts), I struggled to get into this one – but then something clicked.
Critically, on page 209, I came across Dick’s reference to the I Ching‘s Hexagram 43, representing “Break-Through”. Have always had an eye for symbolism, with my 2014 book The Zeronauts built around the Chinese ideogram ling, standing for zero:
And way back in the mid-1990s, when I was evolving and promoting the Triple Bottom Line, I used the I Ching trigram shown below, Qián (The Creative/Heaven), often interpreted as representing Earth on the bottom line, Humanity in the middle and Heaven on top.
With the Triple Bottom Line, now the core agenda of the burgeoning B Corporation movement, I ran a version of the trigram as Environment, Economy, Society – or, more colloquially, People, Planet and Profit/Prosperity.
For many years thereafter, SustainAbility used the logo I had co-evolved with our designer, Rupert Bassett, involving a trigram offset by a spiral, presenting sustainability as an ongoing tension between balance and evolution.
With Hexagram 43 playing such a pivotal role in The Man in the High Castle, and the interpretation (see below) aligning so powerfully with what we do at Volans, I thought I would look it up – and was stunned to find that the I Ching‘s representation of “Break-Through” (in their hyphenated rendering of the word) is distilled in the following hexagram:
I have sometimes been asked how our post-2012 “Breakthrough” agenda links to the Triple Bottom Line. Well, here is an age-old visualisation. And here are some of the lines that caught my attention as I read page 209 of Philip Dick’s novel:
BREAK-THROUGH. One must resolutely make the matter known
At the court of the king.
It must be announced truthfully. Danger.
It is necessary to notify one’s own city.
It does not further to resort to arms.
It furthers one to undertake something.
We have long seen it as our mission to present the system change agenda in the top echelons of business, in what we call the “Global C-Suite”, the boardrooms and C-suites of the world’s 1,000 most influential (but not necessarily the biggest) businesses.
At times, we have been described as “speaking truth to power”. And we know it is a high risk process: Danger indeed.
I see “one’s own city” as referring to what we have come to call the “Sustainability Industry,” the solutions-oriented economic sector that has grown up in the 30 years since the publication of the Brundtland Commission’s 1987 report Our Common Future.
Our latest report, Breakthrough Business Models: Exponentially More Social, Lean, Integrated and Circular is in part directed to the Sustainability Industry, in effect our own city.
In terms of the “resort to arms,” according to the interpretation of Hexagram 43, we have long aimed to operate as critical friends of business, serving a “grit in the corporate oyster” – but in the process retaining the freedom to move between and connect with different worlds, realities and agendas.
Dick’s novel within a novel, story within a story, is The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. It depicts an alternate universe in which the Axis powers win the Second World War, rather than losing – with the result that much of the United States is occupied by Germany and Japan. The alternate reality, however, is not ours, with Churchill staying on after the war and Britain eventually taking over from the USA as superpower. Few things could seem further fetched as 2016 draws to a close.
Whichever realities spool out from this point, the ability to move between different interpretations will remain crucial. To do so effectively, we are advised by the I Ching, one must know oneself – and work hard to ensure that one’s own house (or enterprise) is in order.
That is a continuing task for 2017. And so it is to “undertake something.” Hexagram 42 is about resolution and decision. And that’s how this point in time now feels. Which is probably why page 209 resonated so strongly with this reader. And now I hear the shutters of the new year creaking open, with fireworks bursting in the distance.
I began this blog with an entry reporting on a visit to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, on 30 September 2003. The blog element of the website has gone through several iterations since, with older material still available on this site.
Like so many things in my life, blog entries blur the boundaries between the personal and the professional. As explained on the Home Page, the website and the blog are part platform for ongoing projects, part autobiography, and part accountability mechanism.
In this new iteration of the site, the ‘Comments’ function has been reanimated. Please do make use of it.