Three Take-Aways from 2019

New Year’s Eve is just two weeks away! Time seems to fly now, more than ever before. This may not be such a good thing, but at least there’s an explanation for it. Many of us consider being busy a status symbol, and just as many of us are simply addicted to busyness. While this may be a reality for many of us, it is not necessarily healthy – for us as people, or for the whole of the Earth system.

To be an effective practitioner of business, and a flourishing human being – for that matter – we need to make time for mindfulness.

As we enter into the last weeks of 2019 and close-out the first two decades of the 21st century, we thought it would be good to spend time in mindful reflection. As we did, we came away with three important things we learned over the past year.


Think in Systems

This lesson seems to echo time and time again: We need to think in systems. While systems thinking goes back many years ago (it actually started in the 15th century with the notion of infinity and the numerical concept of “0”) its ascendency to importance began in the 1950s and was accelerated in the 1970s with the publication of Limits to Growth. Systems thinking is the antithesis of linear thinking, which leads to poorly thought-out ideas such as, “businesses exist to maximize shareholder value.” Systems thinking is how we got to the triple bottom line approach of people, planet, and profit.

Thinking in systems reflects an appreciation for the complexity of the Earth system and humanity’s role in it. As the environment is increasingly threatened, and as political unrest grows at home and overseas, it’s important not to lose sight of how these movements fit within the context of the Earth system itself. The question becomes, what sort of future will we have?

Our future must harmonize with the Earth system. This means the ways in which we practice business must be radically transformed. A sustainable future will be one wherein people are employed in meaningful work that is done in a way that minimizes and – as much as possible – eliminates negative environmental impacts. Thinking in systems, specifically triple bottom line systems, is critical to achieving this future.


The Answers Are Local

Carbon dioxide emission from the burning of fossil fuels is the “taproot” of global climate change. If we do not radically cut CO2 emissions, we have no chance of avoiding cataclysmic changes to the Earth system. These changes portend a nearly unimaginable future, one wherein human dislocation and unrest will make today’s agitation look like a walk in the park.

We need to become “hyper-local” in our behavior, which means we need to locally source the materials, products, and services necessary for survival. The days of cotton T-shirts imported from overseas and then shot into the stands at a sporting event, only to be thrown in the garbage a few hours later, are over.

We need to stop overlooking the talent and human potential of our community. Detroit and Southeast Michigan has a population of 4.7M. It’s interesting that the population of the US at its founding was 2.5M. What history considers the greatest experiment in democratic self-governance was born of a population of 2.5M people, think what we ought to be able to do with a population nearly twice that number. The talent and creativeness we need to find a better way to live is right here in our midst, and for too long, we’ve overlooked it.


Hope May Not be a Strategy – It’s a Necessity

What exactly is “hope”? There are probably as many definitions for the word hope as there are people. The notion of “confident expectation” is what we mean here.

We’ve been blessed to meet many great people in Detroit and across the state. These folks are doing some amazing things to advance triple bottom line business. They are the leaders of this nascent and undefined movement. Their tangible efforts – their “making the path as they walk” – is what leads to hope. Because they are our neighbors, we’ve connected with them at a much deeper level than what happens through an electronic medium.

The Detroit and Southeast Michigan region is less than harmonious and perfect in its sense of community. Are there shadows of our past that need to be shown the light of day and healed? Absolutely! Yet, the only way we’ll get there is by having meaningful conversations with our neighbors – the folks from all walks of life who make-up this region. The antithesis of impersonal, virtual communication is what happens when we come together in loving, respectful dialogue, face to face.

We hear quite a bit about Detroit’s “comeback.” What a lot of us know is that Detroit never left, or quit, so there is no comeback. What’s different is a sense of hope that we will overcome the differences between us together as a community. We confidently expect the future to be sustainable and filled with human flourishing – in every dimension.

Thinking in systems, focusing on our local community, and remembering to stay hopeful are the three lessons we’ll take with us into the next year. We trust, during this holiday season, that you and your loved ones will enter into mindful presence with each other and come away with confident expectations for the new year.

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