Leigh Baker | December 3, 2012

(Originally published on Balance3 as “Could you help generate the next Ray Anderson?”)

Not that many people know who Ray Anderson was – when he was one of the great  global entrepreneurs, and a world leader in regenerative business. His results were heroic – however there was more to it than a solitary, self-propelled hero myth.  

Ray got inspired because he  had to be inspiring – giving a kick-off speech to his sustainability working party.

There was a process BEHIND Ray Anderson’s “aha” moment on sustainability…

I met Ray through his books and videos, including “Business Lessons of a Radical Industrialist” and “Mid Course Correction”.  In my interpretation, Ray’s experience was:

  • An external prompt – ongoing demand from his customers – to do “more” about sustainability (persistently re-iterated by his then research assistant Jim Hartzfeld).
  • The do-able first step – to form an internal working party (proposed by that research assistant – Jim Hartfeld).
  • A personal challenge to deliver internal inspiration (requested by Jim Hartzfeld to inspire the working party at their kickoff conference).
  • The timely provision of inspiration and insight (the friend who sent him “The Ecology of Commerce”).
  • The realisation that humans CAN destroy eco-systems (in the book “The Ecology of Commerce”).
  • The vision of entrepreneurial possibilities for business (in the book “The Ecology of Commerce”).

In a number of sustainability stories I’ve heard recently, I’ve noticed that this story holds a recurring pattern.  It may happen across more than one person, and it tends to happen at the top of entrepreneurial organisations.  But it’s the same pattern:

  • Customers demanding “do more about the environment“.
  • One or more senior executives really understanding “actually, we CAN wreck our finite ecosystem – and we ARE”.
  • A high-level entrepreneur who loves a challenge.

It’s a repeatable process – and one that you could be able to repeat.

Applying six degrees thinking…

The idea of “six degrees of separation” proposes that  everyone is six or fewer steps away from any other person in the world.  This means that you’re less than six steps away from an entrepreneurial decision-maker who could be inspired.

So let’s plant a seed in your “background processor” – an aspiration or intention for 2013.  (“Your mission, Jim – should you decide to accept it…”)

  • Where could you go to find a powerful entrepreneur to inspire about the opportunity side of sustainability?
  • How are you going to learn enough about what “rings their chimes” to present them the right sort of inspiration?
  • What resources are you going to develop so that you convince them you’re presenting an idea worth listening to?
  • What will you need to understand about the opportunities to be “sell” the opportunity side of sustainability?

You may not be an entrepreneurial leader yourself – but could you be the next Jim Hartzfeld?  Would that be a game worth playing?   Are you up for it?