What Does Good Look Like?

After publishing The Positive Deviant, the question I’ve been asked most often is “What exactly are we aiming for?”
To try and answer that question, I’m writing (with your help!) an online sequel. Please read the pages below (they are in consecutive order, so Page 1 was written first) to see where I’m up to so far. Comments, contributions and suggestions are very much welcome – please get in contact with me if you’re keen to add your thoughts.
The only ground rules are that comments must embellish or make things clearer and easier to understand. If you think something is wrong – then please say what is right – in as few words as possible!

Know where you are going before you set off!kurt-marti

‘Where would we get to
if everyone said
where would we get to
and no one went
to have a look
where we’d get to
if we went’
– Kurt Marti


I was over 30 when I realized most people do not think in outcomes. Whether getting through the day with two children or writing a Green Party Manifesto (sometimes both), I always had in my mind what a good outcome would be. Around that I organized myself and others.

My experience since has only confirmed my worry that under 20% of people think easily in outcomes first, strategies for getting there second, next steps third. The huge number of courses on strategy in business schools support the thesis that most people think the other way round and need help to do otherwise.

If you want proof, try the EU Referendum. The LEAVE campaigners had no plan for what to do if they won the vote. Not even, it seems, some priority next steps.

Same goes for sustainability. I have been campaigning on this for nearly 50 years now, and in that time no major negative trend has been slowed, never mind halted and reversed. Why this should be is important to understand. On the one hand it is a good example of where ideology has trumped experts at every turn. Our economy only thrives if more people consume more stuff, so all efforts go into keeping that ideology in place. Regardless of the evidence that the price of keeping it on the road is severe degradation of the natural world and of people, their communities and what matters most to them business as usual prevails.

So much more to say here, but the other reason common sense has not prevailed in face of the evidence, is that sustainability campaigners struggle to tell an attractive story about what it would be like to live a sustainable way of life. By and large the sustainability song we sing is a dirge about how bad things are – loss of forests, plastic choked seas, changing climate, inequality of all sorts of opportunity and thwarted hopes for so many people. We update the litany from time to time with the latest scientific evidence. My fear is that we become the only species to minutely monitored its own extinction!

Why is it so hard to sing the positive song of how good things could be if we chose a more sustainable way of going about our lives? It is not as if some have not tried – visions and blueprints are to be found. But why do they not satisfy more than a small number of readers and users? Heavy on jargon? Long on quibble-sparking detail and short on overarching logic? Not invented here? Just too long?

Probably a mixture of all of these. Which is why, to stick with the song metaphor, I shall try to lay down a base rhythm around which lots of positive tunes can be improvised. The steady beat is what keeps us all together heading in the right direction, while leaving you free to sing variations that resonate with you and those around you, wherever you may be.

The beat is about where we are going. The variations are about the many ways people can get there from where they are now.

The Bare Necessities of a Sustainable Way of life.

Have you seen the Disney film of the Jungle Book? In the story, Balu the bear sings about the bare necessities for a happy life in the jungle – fruit, honey, ants, water and a good back scratch – and how they are all nearer to hand than you think.

Coincidentally, I think there are five Bare Necessities for a Sustainable Way of life. Like a really good piece of music they provide the essential beat that makes sense of everything else. If, as Kurt Marti suggests we should, we were go to look at where we would get to if we wanted sustainability to be a way of life, then this is what I think we would find:

  1. We judge success by how good we feel good about
    • ourselves
    • our relationships
    • the place where we live
  2. We enjoy a sense of purpose, meaning and order in our lives.
  3. The logic of fewer-people-consuming-less-stuff shapes our economy.
  4. Our livelihoods are secured through building stocks of Natural, Human and Social Capital.
  5. Technologies and finance systems are in service to the above.

To be continued …