Where Are Your Sustainability Blind Spots?
Enjoy this article written by Jennifer Woofter that was featured on the 2Degrees website in 2013: The journey towards sustainability is a marathon--a race of a thousand steps. And whether you are on the first step or somewhere in the middle (since no one is close to the end, right?), it's likely that you have made some assumptions, used estimates, or put aside things that aren't working. That's not a bad thing -- in fact, to effectively move forward to attain such an ambitious goal you must deal with complexity and uncertainty. Otherwise, you will face "analysis paralysis". However, the risk of taking that approach is that by simplifying, focusing, and systematizing your sustainability efforts, you can inadvertently create blind spots--weaknesses that you don't know are there. Blind spots are a particularly challenging problem because it isn't easy to fix something if you don't even know that it's broken. John Dame and Jeffrey Gedmin offer Three Tips for Overcoming Your Blind Spots in Harvard Business Review. We've pulled their best quotes (in italics, below) and then added our own thoughts about how to apply their advice to sustainability practitioners.
Use a Devil's Advocate to Fight Confirmation BiasConfirmation bias is a well-documented tendency for people to draw conclusions and interpret events in a way that conforms to previously held beliefs--leading to poorly reasoned decision-making based on incomplete information and judgments. (Wikipedia has a great write-up on the phenomenon here.) "When you have a theory about someone or something, test it. When you smell a contradiction – a thorny issue, an inconsistency or problem – go after it. Like the orchestral conductor, isolate it, drill deeper. When someone says – or you yourself intuit – 'that’s just an exception,' be sure it’s just that. Thoroughly examine the claim." Whether you are predisposed to believe that the CFO will never get on board with your sustainability plan, or that your fellow employees care deeply about sustainability, it's essential that you incorporate a way to test those assumptions before investing too much time and resources into a plan of action. Regularly sit down with executives to better understand their priorities and pressures. Survey employees to determine which sustainability issues are most important to them, and how they rank in comparison to other workplace concerns. Test your beliefs and predispositions. And then test some more. "Dealing with confirmation bias is about reining in your impulses and challenging your own assumptions. It’s difficult to stick to it day in and out. That’s why it’s important to have in your circle of advisers a brainy, tough-as-nails devil’s advocate who – perhaps annoyingly, but valuably – checks you constantly." If your team is big enough, incorporate a devil's advocate. If it's just you, set aside time in your schedule (or in your process) to wear the devil's advocate hat yourself. Ask questions like:
- What are we missing?
- What could go wrong?
- What alternate approaches can we take?
- What are the unintended consequences that might pop up?