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.
With trips to Silicon Valley and other parts of there emerging X-scape, 2016 was the year when our Project Breakthrough initiative with the UN Global Compact really got into its stride. A set of video interviews with some of the people we most admire in this space can be found on Medium.
A delightful visit to see the Elkingtons of Little Rissington on 3-4 December, dropping in to seer the Palmers of Icomb at the same time. Then off to Paris for several days via the Eurostar for a meeting of the EcoVadis Scientific Committee: fascinating. But Paris wreathed in pollution, with alternate number plates banned for the day.
Otherwise the past couple of weeks have been a bit of a blizzard, with a torrent of meetings, flurries of Skype calls, various planning sessions for 2017, the landing by Volans of a very major and wonderful project for next year, the spinning out of a fair few blogs, and a progressive working through of a series of books.
They have included Robert Harris’s Conclave (with a wonderful sting in its tail) and now Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life & Others, which in clues the Story of Your Life story that seeded the new film Arrival, which we saw and I immensely liked last week.
The assault on truth, facts and data continues, with major implications for the sustainable development movement – which marks its 30th anniversary (at least as measured by the publication of 1987’s Brundtland Com mission Report, Our Common Future) in 2017.
Here are my early thoughts on the need to drain a very different swamp, the dark side of the Internet and World Wide Web, which has soured the political process with its supturations of fake news and general vindictiveness.
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.