The Change Equation

I worked for a Change Implementation firm for 17 years. Organizations often know what they need to change or achieve to succeed. They may have tried, either on their own, or with help from consulting firms to get the changes or improvements implemented with limited to no success. Because change is hard. Human beings don’t want to change. They resist it, and probably with good reason because way back when, in our caveman days, the known and understood was ‘safe’. It was how we survived. ‘Don’t eat the strange berries’, ‘Don’t wander out into the unknown wilderness’, ‘Stay inside with everyone else next to the warm fire’, etc.

To get one human to change their behavior (think losing 10 lbs or kicking a toxic habit like nicotine, alcohol or drugs) is very difficult. It takes diligence by that individual and maybe some support from family, friends and professionals. Trying to change thousands of humans at the same time in one organization requires tremendous commitment, dedication and focus by the leadership of that organization. Individuals don’t naturally want to go out on a limb and do anything against the culture of an organization. That would have spelled certain death to our ancestors if ‘kicked out of the tribe’. To change the consumption habits of 195 countries and 8 billion people around the world? Seems damn near impossible. Why even try? Because we must. Because it is the only way to ensure a livable planet for our grandchildren.

One of the ‘mental models’ we used with leaders to help them understand how to manage change successfully is The Change Equation, (Beckhard and Harris, 1987):

The idea is that you should expect resistance to change (R) and the levers that you can pull to ensure that you overcome this inevitable resistance are Dissatisfaction (D), Vision (V) and (knowledge of) First Steps (F)

Dissatisfaction (D)

All change begins with dissatisfaction with the current state and a recognition that the pain of not changing will be greater than the temporary pain and uncertainty of the change. Leaders cannot assume that everyone in their organization understands why the current state is ‘bad’ and must change.

When we think about Climate Change and global warming there is a whole lot of dissatisfaction. Environmentalists and scientists have been dissatisfied for decades warning of eco-system collapse. Our children who will inherit a plundered planet know they are being given a lousy deal. The poor who see millions of tonnes of food wasted daily while millions go hungry around the world can see the injustice of our current food production system.

But there is still not enough dissatisfaction where it matters; with the upper and middle class. We want to ‘have our cake and eat it too’. We want to jump in our comfortable, climate controlled car that sits idle in our driveways an average of 95% of the time whenever we want. We want to have the convenience of take out because we are just ‘too tired’ to cook. And besides, we think, it can’t really be that harmful, right? We believe lies (like, ‘recycling is effective’) because we don’t want to believe the immensely inconvenient and shameful truth.

Who is definitely not feeling any dissatisfaction with the status quo are the leaders and investors of energy companies making trillions of dollars pulling fossil fuels out of the earth. There is zero incentive for them to be dissatisfied.

Vision (V)

There must be a compelling vision that everyone in the organization understands of what we are trying to achieve. Everyone needs to be able to internalize that vision on a personal level and believe that it will be better for them. i.e. “What do we need to or want to create and achieve – together?”

I can imagine what the future could look like. It is better than what we have now. We have shared, convenient transport and other services run on clean energy. Packaging (when we use it) is reused leaving no footprint on the earth. We have no landfills! We wouldn’t need them because there is no waste from the production of goods and services. We do not waste food, and no one goes hungry. Manufacturers actually generate more wealth because they do not throw away valuable resources in production. Imagine that.

But what happens to the energy company employee who is a supervisor on an offshore oil and gas platform? He’s been there for twenty years and it’s (currently) all he knows how to do. He’s very good at it by the way and takes great pride in his work. What is he doing in my future? How does he transition? Too many people, in too many current jobs in our economy, cannot envision how they would fit into that future. We must address the very real and valid fears that people have for their livelihoods. It cannot be ignored.

Knowledge of First Steps (F)

Vision without action is nothing more than a ‘pie in the sky’ great idea without a roadmap. People need to know how to start.

The good news is that we know what we need to do. We have many pilot Circular Economy initiatives. Companies are doing great work around the world producing clean energy, bio-benign packaging and farming regeneratively. But they struggle to be competitive because the regulatory and financial structures of our existing economy still favor destruction of our natural world over preservation.

What is obvious is that this will not be successful without bringing the energy companies along. Energy companies are not doing nearly enough. They need to have net zero goals and commitments to align with the Paris agreement. They need to transition their businesses away from fossil fuels. And preferably before governments force them to with mandates.

This will probably need to come down to a public/private partnership. ‘Energy’ producers will have to actually live up to their new branding and diversify how they invest in new energy production. They will need to set a date (let’s say 2030) to stop taking fossil fuels out of the ground and make a genuine (not a PR) effort to retrain their employees to understand their place and be successful in a new energy generation reality. Plastic packaging producers, as downstream recipients of fossil fuels, will need to be ready with alternative bio-benign materials or, preferably, reuse models for packaging by that date.

Governments, in partnership, need to negotiate subsidies and support for the changes, and be ready to impose hefty taxes on the use of fossil fuels at some agreed to deadline date so that alternative energy and alternative packaging becomes cost-competitive. There is nothing that focuses an individual, an organization or a country like a deadline.

This may seem radical. It is bold and scary, but we have done bold and scary things before. We have sent humans into space strapped into rockets, basically riding on bombs. We did it because someone set a deadline. We can do this and the only way to do it successfully is to bring everyone along.

Cognitive Dissonance

There is societal pressure to always be or seem, busy. We put value on doing things but, I wonder, might not doing things generate more long term value for our planet? I’ve spent my whole life doing a whole lot of things. I’ve been fortunate to benefit financially from travelling around the world doing lots of things. Has the earth benefited from me doing all those things? Other than financially, to a certain extent, will my children and their children and great grandchildren ultimately benefit from me having done all those things?

The many occasions, for example, when I sat at my desk in my corporate job eating a ‘working lunch’ out of a single use plastic disposable tray. What is the (very) long-term cost benefit analysis on that activity? Do the people who travel to work on a bus, who, by existing societal norms, are ‘less successful’ in life ultimately provide more long-term value to the earth and its’ future inhabitants? They use the finite resources that go into transportation: the metal, the carbon emissions etc. much more efficiently than those of us in private cars. All the (probably unnecessary) cosmetic renovations of bathrooms and kitchens we did over ten years ago? We generated a whole lot of waste mindlessly that I didn’t think about then.

I have the privilege to sit quietly and reflect on this now in my nice comfortable home because of how busy I was in my younger years, when I ignored these important questions. Cognitive dissonance. Isn’t that a conundrum?

We have known (deep down in our core even if we willfully ignore it) for some time that the power source that all of humanity’s comfort has been built on is killing our planet. And that our production methods and materials are polluting our waterways and killing all the wildlife. We know that can only end badly. We have the knowledge, the technology and the tools to make better choices that will allow us to keep everything we have now. But the fortunes of entire families, companies and countries rely on the status quo.

The GDP of my native Trinidad and Tobago relies 45% on the energy sector and boasts one of the largest natural gas processing plants in the Western Hemisphere. Many people I love are dependent on revenue from oil and gas exploitation. What happens to them if the world shifts to renewable energy? My husband’s (and therefore my family’s) livelihood and that of many of my friends is based on the recreational travel industry, more specifically cruises. More family and friends work in the airline industry. Right now, in our current ‘business as usual’ paradigm those industries are great polluters.

These truths are immensely inconvenient. It’s easier to believe it’s not true but the change is already happening. Permafrost is already thawing in Siberia and it may already be too late. We can face up to it and try to reverse course, or we can continue mindlessly with our wasteful ways. I would like to believe that Trinidad and other national and corporate oil producers and nation states can see what is coming and are starting to pivot to other industries, but reporting indicates that is not the case. There is much talk of sustainability, and ‘green washing’, but the results of studies of our behavior especially over the last few years, proves otherwise. We are underestimating how damaging our business-as-usual scenario is now that we are so many more people.

As the most recent Circularity Gap Report highlights, “Material Extraction and Use are climbing year on year. In only 50 years, global use of materials has nearly quadrupled—outpacing population growth. In 1972, as the Club of Rome’s report Limits to Growth was published, the world consumed 28.6 billion tonnes. By 2000, this had gone up to 54.9 billion tonnes and as of 2019, it surpassed 100 billion tonnes.” There are estimates that we now have more ‘stuff’ on earth than biomass, i.e. more man-made materials than all ‘life’.

Nobody wants to sit at home and do less. No one wants to go back to the middle ages when only kings and feudal lords enjoyed as luxuries the everyday comforts we all take for granted today; running hot water; climate-controlled ‘chariots’ to wisk us about; ‘servants’ (like washing machines). But we have to fundamentally change our economy. If we change our economy we can still keep everything we need, and create a more just world for everyone. One in which we do not waste millions of tonnes of food while millions go hungry.

And if we continue to ignore these inconvenient truths? If we continue to push them way down deep inside, if we continue to keep ourselves ‘busy’ everyday without really thinking through the consequences of our ‘business’? Well then we will surely be swamped by the oncoming tsunami, probably literally, at sea level, in South Florida, and not one of us will be able to honestly say ‘we never saw it coming’.

Beach Clean Up

First time today doing an organized beach clean up. I think beach cleanups are inefficient. We should not be creating these types of packaging materials in the first place. We should not be relying on private citizens, and especially not volunteering teenagers, to clean up the poor packaging choices of manufacturers.

Plastic packaging is not ‘cheap’. It may be that manufacturers currently do not pay the full cost of it, but society has to pay. We pay the municipal sanitation workers and the state park rangers who spend their time cleaning up this stuff with actual money. On top of that I used almost 1/8 a tank of gas to get to the beach and back. It’s not ideal to fill up (plastic) trash bags with the trash collected at the state park and use state park and municipal services ($) to haul it to a landfill either. Sending stuff to a landfill and thinking that’s the end of it is not responsible. Disposal is hardly ‘free’, either in real money or in transportation emissions. And then of course there is the unimaginable cost of the destruction of our oceans.

All of this I already knew before we showed up. What I was not prepared for was the plastic fragments. Most is already too small for well-meaning teenagers to notice and pick up. I am sure there are particles mixed into the sand already too small for anyone to see or collect. We are never going to be able to get all of this out of the ocean. Not even to make a nice 4Ocean bracelet.

Manufacturers should be responsible for making better packaging choices and for collecting and disposing of all their packaging in a biobenign way. There are already some packaging manufacturers like BioPak in Australia working on this.

“Each year, at least 8 million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean — which is equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute. If no action is taken, this is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050. Estimates suggest that plastic packaging represents the major share of this leakage. The best research currently available estimates that there are over 150 million tonnes of plastics in the ocean today. In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (by weight).”

Ellen MacArthur Foundation, The New Plastics Economy 2016

The Contest

I was honored to receive an ‘honorable mention’ for ‘meaningful message’ in Susanna Leonard Hill’s 2021 fun Holiday Writing Contest (about a Holiday Contest). The talent of my fellow writers in the community in breathtaking.

By Amanda Sherlock

Word Count: 240
It’s holiday time again.

My friends at school are excited.

“I’ve asked for a remote-control car,” Matt says.

“I’m getting a Disney Cruise. My parents are trying to hide it, but I’ve figured it out,” Jennifer says.

“That’s so cool. I want Road Slayers 2000 for my PS5,” Fred says. “What are you getting Jake?”

I don’t know what I’ll get.

My mom lost her job this year, so we don’t have much money right now.

I don’t want to ask for things I know we can’t afford.

I know my mom will try to get them.

On Christmas Day, I sit with my large family and eat all my favorite foods.

I feel a warm glow in my tummy.

After lunch, I play football in the street with my brothers and cousins.

We laugh and tumble in the wet grass.

The sun sets and we move back inside and gather around the best desserts and ice cream.

When her song comes on, I ask my Nana to dance.

She smiles and wobbles up out her chair to stand facing me with glassy eyes.

Nana’s grip is surprisingly strong as she clutches me to her musty warm chest.

We soar around our small living room with my huge family all around us loudly singing and cheering.

I glance at my mom, who is smiling at me through her tears, swaying slowly to the song.

That’s when I know I’ve won.

Writing a book is like raising a child

I’ve been thinking that writing a book, particularly one with many thousands of words, is like giving birth and raising a child.

First, you have to rip that baby out of you with many hours of sweat and tears. Then, the hard work begins. You have to guide that baby, as unique and beautiful and precious as they are on their own, into the grown human you know they can become.

And just as in real life, a village will raise your child. It includes your critique group. You know they are raising this child with you. You will need critiques from editors, both paid, and unpaid via rejections. Just as your human children learn and grow from their mistakes, so too will your book baby. You will require the encouragement and support of your real family while you juggle raising this child to adulthood.

You will probably never be paid much money for raising this child. In fact, you may have to pay out cash to join SCBWI, attend workshops, and pay for professional critiques.

But hopefully, at the end of it all, you can confidently say that you are proud of what you created. That you did everything you could, and your ‘child’ is going to make the world a better place.

We write because we have no choice: the stories must be told.

Fall Frenzy Writing Contest Submission

Photo Credit: Halloween, Danielle Rae

Peter Pumpkin

By: Amanda Sherlock

Word Count = 198

“We have this same decoration again?”
I kick the stand.
“Stop it Henry. You know how hard I worked to refurbish Peter Pumpkin.”
“But look at Matt’s new decorations.”
Mom glances at our neighbor’s driveway. The corners of her lips turn down.
“Come on inside. It’s time for dinner.”
“That’s enough.”

I shove my mashed potatoes around my plate with my fork.
“Mom, if it’s the money, I’ll use my pocket money to buy new decorations. Don’t worry.”
“It’s not the money son.”
“Then what?”
Mom stares at me for a long moment, her chin resting on her hands.
“I’ll make you a deal. This will be the last year we use Peter Pumpkin.”
“Yes. The catch is you come with me on a field trip the day after Halloween.”

On Halloween night, my candy haul is gigantic. I have fun with my friends and forget all about Peter Pumpkin.

“Ready?” Mom asks, shaking me awake.
“For what?”
“Our field trip.”

Mom pulls Peter out and rests him in the car.
We drive to the neighborhood dumpster. It’s overflowing with decorations, including Matt’s.
“Go ahead, throw him in,” Mom nods encouragingly.
Clutching Peter, I hesitate.

My Wishcycling Conundrum

Like many people, I try. I try to recycle. I don’t want to throw things in a landfill so I place everything that is allowed in my single stream recycling bin once every two weeks. Recently I found out that only 14% of our trash is recycled in my county and that we have a terrible ‘wishcycling’ and cart contamination problem.

Every day we collect items from businesses that are sold in containers that are ‘not allowed’ in our single stream recycling. Here are just a few containers we picked up in the last month.

What am I supposed to do with these items? I just wish these products were packaged in different materials in the first place. There is much more that we could do to encourage businesses to choose better packaging.