Organizational Change
Elkington’s Dramatization of ‘The Stretch Agenda’ Aims to Help Execs Move Beyond ‘Change-as-Usual’

We pan in to a generously proportioned boardroom on the 33rd floor of an iconic skyscraper, soaring above London and the River Thames. … This is an Extraordinary Board Meeting.”

So begins the opening scene in The Stretch Agenda, a ‘playper’ released by advisory firm Volans last week. Over three acts, the report enlivens the call for businesses to look beyond incremental change and focus strategy on the system dynamics that impact their longevity.

The plot follows a meeting of C-suite executives from fictional company MN-Co, as they discuss how to prepare for the global challenges that are “pressure cooking” the future: population growth predicted to reach 8 billion people by 2025, failures of global governance, economic disparities, environmental pressures, and geopolitical unrest, to name a few.

The paper is designed to help leaders “move beyond change-as-usual,” writes author and Volans founder, John Elkington.

As the introduction reads: “We must transform capitalism, markets and business to ensure that they are future-fit for the new century. To this end, we must learn how to stretch our thinking, our horizons, our ambitions, ourselves, our teams, our organizations, our economies and ultimately, our civilization. This is a challenge which is very unusual in the history of our species.”

Dialogue among MN-Co executives in The Stretch Agenda is based on conversations that Elkington, a renowned sustainability expert, has observed with increasing frequency in real boardrooms around the world. Surveys show a growing frustration among business leaders with the status quo; the majority don’t think the economy will be able to meet the needs of a growing population within planetary boundaries, while they also believe business is not doing enough to address sustainability challenges.

Companies need to ‘stretch,’ contends Volans — not only their planning horizons, but also their ambitions to generate value from the paradigm shift towards sustainability.

Adoption of a Stretch Agenda will be critical for businesses over the next 10 years, according to The Breakthrough Forecast, a report by Volans also released last week (and included in the fictional briefing documents for MN-Co execs). The report claims “capitalism, markets and business offer our best hope of achieving a sustainable economy by the second half of the 21st century — but for this to happen all three must begin to evolve profoundly by 2025.”

With this notion as its premise, the report suggests “The Breakthrough Decade” (2016-2025) will be the make-or-break period to capture the unprecedented economic opportunities emerging from scientific, technological and business advancements. Among the 14 ‘Breakthrough Sweets Spots’ it identifies for future growth and wealth creation: 3D Printing, Biomimicry, Drones, Electric Vehicles, and the Internet of Things.

This is reformed capitalism for the optimist; The Breakthrough Forecast outlines some encouraging examples of the market ‘waking up’ to sustainability: the sustainability consulting market will expand from $877 million in 2015 to over $1 billlion in 2020; the global installed capacity of renewable energy will more than double from 2012 to 2020; and the global electric vehicle market will be worth a stunning $500 billlion in 2025.

It is also a vision for the bold. Volans describes the Breakthrough Decade not merely as a new Industrial Revolution, but as a new Cambrian Explosion, signaling the beginning “of a massive global radiation of new mindsets, technologies and business models.”

Failure to capture sustainability-oriented market opportunities in the past was largely an issue of optics, says the forecast report. With the Breakthrough Decade upon us, there is now a kaleidoscope of opportunities emerging.

As for how to engage businesses in capturing those opportunities, creative endeavors such as “The Stretch Agenda” provide an appealing starting place. In its final scene, two young MN-Co employees convince the C-suite to invest in exploring a stretch agenda, producing a checklist as a stimulus to examine company goals.

And in the real world, several people have already inquired about staging the play for their teams, according to Elkington’s post on its release.

Volans welcomes feedback on the Breakthrough Forecast. It plans to release further iterations of the report in coming months, including seven more market ‘sweet spots’ by the end of May.

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