This dialogue with Lourenço, exploring conscious innovation, follows on from a recent guest article by him – Less Mind, More Heart. Lourenço is the co-founder of Mandalah, a Brazilian innovation consultancy with offices in Brazil, Mexico, USA, Germany and Japan, focused on helping organizations bridge profit with purpose. In 2012, Lourenço was included in Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business.
Lourenço: It’s hard to imagine, but as recently as 20 years ago, systemic approaches to sustainability were all but unheard of, and the idea had barely surfaced in the corporate world. Only two decades later, both citizens and businesses are actively involved in trying to build—or rather, rebuild—a more sustainable world.
Simon: Absolutely. If I look at my own experience in the mobile phone industry, there was simply no talk about sustainability in the 90s. But now not only do we have companies like Nokia receiving recognition for their work in developing sustainable technologies, there are other new initiatives such as FairPhone and PhoneBloks which are really catching people’s imagination with what is possible.
Lourenço: The question is, where do we go from here? I believe it’s time for a shift in mental models—a shift to a model that emphasises sustainable, globally conscious decisions—a model on which Mandalah’s work is based. This model focuses on enabling organisations to see sustainability as more than one of many corporate objectives. It should also be the natural consequence of a series of factors: a sense of ethics and coherence, a solid and positive organisational culture, innovative and integrative practices, and, most important, a sense of purpose beyond profit.
Simon: The same is true for “innovation”. Companies have both innovation and sustainability departments, but now the work is to shift the notion out across whole organisations. Keeping these two areas only in single departments is a bit like saying management should just be done in HR.
I do though see a real desire to change in many organisations, and so we are now moving from implementing ever more complex management methodologies, to implementing profound learning journeys.
Lourenço: It is no longer enough to rely on one social responsibility department to “compensate” for the negative impacts of a company’s business activities—a problem that is compounded by the fact that these departments are often poorly integrated in the company’s decision-making structures. In short, sustainability should cease being simply a cause, a pillar, an attribute, a flag, or a department. Sustainability should instead become an organic part of all businesses.
Some companies are already undergoing this paradigm shift—a shift that can only materialise when a company’s employees, and corporate leaders especially, believe that people and the planet are worth more than profit. Patagonia, for instance, took the world by surprise when it told its customers to “buy less.” This is the kind of thinking that has informed what we at Mandalah think of as “conscious innovation.” By qualifying innovation as “conscious,” we consider only those initiatives that improve people’s lives to be innovative.
It is not logical for an organisation to grow and profit at someone, or something else’s, expense. We can all evolve together: a company can improve its processes, expand its business, while doing so in a way that is compatible with the real needs of people. The beneficiaries should, in turn, feel happier, more engaged, and more connected. It’s the concept of shared value: everyone is a winner, both in terms of the market and in terms of life.
Simon: I really like Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi’s definition of “growth” in their new book The Systems View of Life. We need to move to a model of consumption where growth is not mainly waste, but where growth is defined as “that which enhances life”. This means that we have to understand this new concept of qualitative growth, which is growth which enhances life.
Lourenço: Since Mandalah began its operations in 2006, our consultancy projects have all focused on conscious innovation. We helped Nike develop a vision for its brand in anticipation of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, both in Rio de Janeiro. We engaged with individuals from the world of culture, with the residents of the favelas, with the residents of the city, and we discovered that Rio is pulsing with an integrative energy: its various “tribes” are opening themselves to each other.
On this basis, and using sport as a catalyst for further social transformation, Nike has positioned its brand through initiatives that influence and improve the lives of Rio’s residents. Examples abound: Nike has sponsored the transformation of the urban park Aterro do Flamengo into a football training ground for the city’s youth, the renovation of the skating ramps in the Arcos da Lapa, and community football championships such as the Favelas Cup.
Simon: I really like the work you have been doing at Mandalah in this area. I myself have been developing the notion of holonomic brand values, and this takes into account the brand and its meaning in the whole context. Just as organisations can be seen as living systems, so can a brand, but it’s meaning can no longer be 100% controlled by the owners of the brand. This is a scary proposition for brand owners, but I see there being a huge shift towards living co-created brands, genuinely co-created, and thus being fat more meaningful for those who interact with them.
Lourenço: In my view, the key to innovation is seeing the forest for the trees—the entire picture—and understanding the ripple effect that an organisation’s activities have on the most diverse spheres of life, with people at the centre. This is Mandalah’s invitation to a better future.
Simon: That’s great. Seeing is everything, and it is why I say that “to really see well is an act of humility”. When we move out of our ego and into ecological awareness, we really begin to see the world in a new light, where people and planet matter.