I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what we need from business leaders. And by business leaders, I mean everyone who is actively making (or influencing) business decisions. We know there are myriad problems that we need to deal with and that we have a limited amount of time with which to right the ship. As such, we have to rethink the way we do business, but I think there’s a growing cabal of folks who can help get us where we need to go. I call them Radical Intrapreneurs.
I know the word “radical” tends to make folks fret, so let’s try to uncoil that reaction with a few definitions.
*“*Whoa Nellie! Children, avert thine eyes!”
Okay, there’s the definition that can make folks a bit queasy. Fair enough. But that’s not the one I intended.
Hopefully that’s a bit more palatable.
Being a Radical Intrapreneur is to accept the helm of change leadership. And not just any kind of change, but the kind of changes that we need to get business to work in a way that benefits the bulk of humanity, while replenishing (instead of destroying) the planet. The 2-by-2 graph above charts the path that I’ve tread, and I think most who are in similar shoes have taken a similar journey.
We start out in the lower-left quadrant with little-to-no knowledge of CSR/sustainability issues. A sort of awakening occurs from there as we become aware of issues caused by extant business practices. Our sense of justice is triggered. We dive in looking to learn more about the problems that exist and what we might we do about it. We move into the advocate phase where we’re often driven more by a sense of injustice than by any specific knowledge. We talk to anyone who will listen about the problems — we might get a little preachy, but we’re trying to fix what’s broken, right? As advocates, we’re good at getting these issues in front of others, but we might not yet have the skills and knowledge necessary for the next phase.
What we need now are two sets of skills: business and sustainability. These two skills were often, until recently, seen as mutually exclusive - pin-striped suits off to one side and dirty hippies to the other; and never the twain should they meet.
But times have changed: Businesses can’t go on externalizing social and environmental ills forever and environmentalists can’t expect businesses to give up the ghost to save the whales. There has to be a middle ground.
Radical Intrapreneurs occupy this middle ground. They work to gain the knowledge necessary to consider triple-bottom-line values and the business acumen necessary to design and implement solutions that optimize performance on a range of factors. It’s not easy; honestly, it tends to be hard as hell. But when you get it right, it’s a thing of beauty. And we have to get it right.
I suppose I’ll be writing a lot on this topic in the coming years. I hope you’ll join me in the conversation. More importantly, if you’re not already there, I hope you’ll join me on this path. All are welcome and in fact quite needed. And if you’re out in front of me, all the better — be sure to light the way. I’ll need all the help I can get.
See you there?
This post first appeared on Linear to Circular on July 10, 2014.