Third Alternative - skills for negotiation and communication

Regenerative business: sustainability’s Third Alternative

Stephen Covey’s new book “The 3rd Alternative” showed up in my library this week.  My first encounter with Mr. Covey was in “7 Habits of Highly Effective People ” and his distinction between “urgent” and “important” tasks has been a key time management tool for me for ever since.Third Alternative book

To me, “The Third Alternative” is what Regenerative Business is all about – looking beyond our traditional view points and dilemmas to discover creative new win/win/win solutions.  So it’s exciting to see Covey’s 4 Steps to Synergy laid out, diving deeper into three of the original  7 Habits to explore:

  • Think Win/Win
  • Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood; and
  • Synergize

It’s asking the questions “what’s the real job to be done?” and “what are the innovative systems that will get it done?” and – most importantly –“what is a solution that would delight EVERYONE?”

Synergy is when we find solutions that are win/win solutions – we let go of two-alternative dilemmas that keep us stuck and look for ways for everyone to win.   In terms of synergistic sustainability solutions, we’re looking for solutions that allow eco-systems to thrive, businesses to prosper and communities to live well.  To find these solutions we need to think differently.

4 Steps to Synergy

  1. Show willingness to explore for  an unknown, win/win “3rd alternative”
  2. Define what success would look like for everyone.
  3. Brainstorm lots of ideas from lots of different groups – play, get visual, re-invent conventional wisdom.
  4. Arrive at Synergy – identify your “3rd alternative” from the excitement and inspiration it brings.

Are we willing to go for a solution that is better than any of us have come up with yet?

Environmental campaigners want business to stop harming the environment so that we can continue to enjoy living in our current eco-system.   But many haven’t moved beyond shouting “don’t do it THAT way!”

Business managers want to keep making money so they can pay their mortgages, pay their employees, provide products and services to their customers,  provide a return to their stakeholders and enjoy being successful.

Regenerative business is about inventing new solutions that aren’t based on scarcity, but new ways to “do” abundance.   It proposes that we  give up the fight between “tree-hugging greenies” and “greedy capitalists” and get on with designing a 21st century economy that works for communities, eco-systems and individuals.

What are the characteristics of a solution that would delight everyone?

Leave “how” aside for now – WHAT do we want?   Let’s describe what success would look like.  How would we know that we’re all happy?

How can  we develop profitable business models that deliver valuable services and are actively good for the eco-systems and the communities that make it possible for them to exist?

Create 3rd Alternatives

It’s brainstorming time.  Suspend all judgement, turn your thinking upside down, draw pictures, create models, combine ideas from all sorts of disciplines.  Here are some of the winning ideas that have been developed so far:

  • Copy designs from natural systems – borrow what Nature has spent millions of years developing.
  • Develop closed material loops where finite resources are re-cycled indefinitely.
  • Design totally safe materials and products.
  • Turn “consumption” on its head by acknowledging that every product is actually a service – provide value THROUGH things, not just things.
  • Design products for absolute safety, acknowledging that all poisons gradually disperse and contaminate.
  • Develop smart , small, local solutions to replace monolithic, high-overhead infrastructure.
  • Set big, hairy, audacious goals for resource usage to provoke creative thinking.

Turn your best solutions into actions

This process has been going on since (at least) the 1990s –  there are lots of great examples of regenerative entrepreneurs doing good business while “climbing Mount Sustainability”.   They don’t make the mainstream media most of the time, but once you start looking you’ll be amazed at what you find – many of them have been making 50%-80% impact reductions while developing new products, new services and new markets.

And the managers that have done it as an integral part of their business process also report great energy and creativity is released.  Many comment that “once people understand the opportunities, you just have to stand back and get out of their way”.

The REAL challenge

The real challenge of synergy is to give up the blame game and LISTEN.  To “be the change you want to see in the world” starts with knowing yourself.  To be able to know that there is a difference between “me” and “my cause”, and to be able to say:

  • I know my own motives;
  • I know my own uncertainties;
  • I understand my own biases and cultural programming;
  • I have examined my own assumptions for inaccuracy and incompleteness;
  • I am ready for an authentic conversation…

From this position we can listen to others as individual humans with their own talents, passions and strengths – we can listen with respect and with the goal of achieving understanding and learning enough to genuinely explore for a Third Alternative.

So if you’re looking for creative new ways to “do” sustainability, here’s a process to explore.   It’s the ultimate in small, smart, local solutions, because it proposes that you go inside organisations to explore for 3rd Alternatives.

You may need some basic regenerative business education, some improved communication and influencing skills, or some training in how to really listen effectively.

What you’ll need most is to be willing to give up the blame game and connect authentically with other human beings.  If you can’t get past “greedy, selfish, irrational, idealistic, ignorant” labels, then you can expect to fight very hard and not get listened to very often.

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