Getting fit for the future

A half day conference offered a wealth of sustainability thinking, including a quick demonstration of how saying “no but” de-energises, and how the alternative “yes and” quickly leads to a plethora of possibilities, says Kate Kearins.

Some people you can rely on to run a good show. BusinessLAB director Simon Harvey is one of them. He has a good mind and a good heart. I don’t know him well, so I base my judgements on a very limited sample of interactions. But I’m a qualitative researcher for whom small samples are okay if they provide compelling insights. Simon provides those.

The good show I am referring to is the Fit for the Future Conference. Simon is parsimonious in his use of people’s time with a once-a-year event that runs from noon to 5pm. Even busy people can fit that in and derive considerable value hearing from a great line-up of speakers.

My daughter thought I’d had a rush of blood to the head and signed up for a five-hour exercise class. The array of ideas and interactions at Fit for the Future surely does exercise the mind (dare I say it, better than some academic conferences do).

Sustainability specialists, generalists, and the welcome sceptic or two -– there we were. Local food systems entrepreneur, Ooooby’s Pete Russell located humanity in an autumnal phase where we are realising that some of the systems we have come to rely on are not quite what we thought. The GFC showed us that. Industrial food worries prompt people to consider other alternatives. Some businesses are already trying to set up systems that they hope will pull us back from the brink of collapse.

Local sustainability strategist, Clare Feeney, reminded us of all the excuses we hear about not doing sustainability. Belgian Cyriel Kortleven, creativity trainer and now speaker, called them ‘idea killers’. Particularly telling was a quick demonstration of how saying ‘No but’ de-energises, and how the alternative ‘Yes and’ quickly leads to a plethora of possibilities.

Then add in his idea that you take from those perhaps outrageous possibilities something that you might implement in nano form. Hey presto your organisation has moved. Cyriel is already connecting with several New Zealand firms – so watch out.

AUT Professor Marjo Lips-Wiersma reminded us of the dance sustainability professionals need to do taking people with them. We need people able to look towards a better future but not get stuck with those excuses or idea killers. The importance of looking after oneself in the process of looking after the world, the organisation, the family, the cat … did not escape me.

For anyone who wanted real business examples there were plenty. Quant jocks would have liked Canadian Bob Willard’s talk on science-based sustainability metrics. Others perhaps thrilled to Alexa Forbes collaborative approach to transport problems in the Queenstown Lakes District. Or Amanda Sturgeon’s photos of high performance buildings around the globe designed with a love for life. Space and lungs to breathe.

Plenty for all, pulled together by Simon in an intelligent and provocative way. Participants should have left feeling like there was stuff they could immediately draw on and useful reframing that might take longer to practise and perfect. If it sounds good to you, put Fit for the Future on your radar for next March. M

Kate Kearins is Professor of Management at Auckland University of Technology. 

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