Welcome to Radical Disruption

A column to set the table

At the heart of our thinking, what powers everything we do for you, is the exciting combination of climate science and behavior science, which in turn informs the combination of stakeholder communications and organizational culture at the core of our Deep Adaptability model.

Animating our thinking is the expectation that our clients will be the world's most adaptive companies, the brands that make it through, led by the world's most clear-minded, courageous women and men.

Inspiring our thinking is the vision that in the midst of this mess and moved by their example, we will embrace a real hope fit for the times, not the false hope that we can still solve the crisis, and come together as never before to face whatever the climate throws at us, including — especially! — within companies.

Welcome to COMMON Future. (To accompany this column, check out the Deep Adaptability deck here.)

First, the climate science

It is captured by the graphs below. If you're like most managers and you follow facts and data, you're well advised to follow these facts and data, because the latest Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS) study July 2020 left zero doubt. When combined with numerous other studies, the only conclusion to draw is that the world will overshoot the feared 1.5°C temperature rise as early as this decade and toy with 5°C before century's end. Even if the world were still able to alter the timing, or if we get lucky and Mother Nature cuts us some slack, this is now the high-probability scenario we face, what we call the Radical Disruption of the 1.5-to-5°C Economy.

The future, that is, will be dramatically different from the past we know and the present we master. But it's the future we will actually have, and therefore the one your company must immediately plan for and adapt to.

Everything on the sustainability front you and we are pursuing to keep this from happening? It remains indispensable, but the purpose now is to stay within 5°C. So to a large extent, sustainability and adaptability go hand in hand. It's not either-or; it's both-and. Completely symbiotic. Your challenge is to extend your sustainability by incorporating adaptability.

As to your 1.5-to-5°C life and business? That's where you and all your stakeholders need to be all in on adaptation, because it's gonna get nasty, and to win you need everyone on board.

We have the detail and would love to share it with you on just how nasty and on the nuances of the science. Alex shared some in this early August post. The good news is that you, your brand, can make it through, but only if you ADAPT.

To that end, the critical distinction to understand is between First Wave and Next Wave adaptation. First Wave is below 1.5°C, or now through late this decade, circa 2030. There is a mature field of adaptation professionals and risk-modeling firms to help you weather that level of higher intensity, higher frequency extreme-climate events. The global TCFD framework helps immensely, as well. We partner with the American Society of Adaptation Professionals (ASAP) to assemble the right team should you need one, and we're in the process of launching the Adaptation ESG movement to persuade more of you to join TCFD.

Our own edge in that space is people, specifically org culture and the communications you need to align and engage every one of your internal and external stakeholders. More on that offering here. What is stand-out in our approach is what our tag line says: co-creating hope for the post-1.5°C future we have in common. Our focus today, during the First Wave, is to help you get ready for the long haul, because that's where your people are going and surely where you want your business to go.

It is a critical differentiator vs. most adaptation groups in the marketplace. Consider these three gaps:

  • The risk models they use do not fully capture the tipping points driving extreme events, nor the higher-temperature scenarios and radical disruption you will face in the 1.5-to-5°C Economy.
  • As a result, consultants tend to stay strictly within First Wave possibilities, where you risk falling short of the robust adaptability you will need in the Next Wave, the one thing you do not want to do!
  • Also as a result, they generally stay at a core-team and senior-management level and fail to execute the degree of enterprise-wide full-engagement communications and culture you need to make all your stakeholders part of the project.

The behavior science

Which brings us to the second science that makes our Deep Adaptability model uniquely powerful: behavior change. When confronted with a scenario or threat that seems too daunting and complex (Ambiguity Bias), our natural instinct is to stay within, or not stray too far from, the comfortable and familiar (Status Quo Bias). We also tend to follow what everyone else is doing (Bandwagon Effect) and assume with irrational hope that "it won't happen to me" and that  "things will work out in the end" (Optimism Bias).

These ingrained human biases can literally kill your business, whether they are allowed to carry the day among your leaders or, worse, among the rest of your stakeholders. Because they keep you and them from doing what you must, individually and collaboratively, to plan and adapt thoroughly and on time.

The thing to grasp, worth repeating, is that the future will be dramatically different from the past we know and the present we master. The Next Wave, that is, is no joke. The 1.5-to-5°C Economy will, in fact, lead to a worse collapse than we're seeing with COVID, because climate events will compound and worsen continually through century's end as that temperature curve in the graph rises. You and every stakeholder must keep that curve in mind at all times. We won't have breaks between events to recover and restore normalcy, and your response must be such as to develop a different skill set, which McKinsey alludes to in this analysis.

"Our approach to the hardest problems—and the anxiety those problems create—is fundamentally misdirected. We typically fall back on our standard operating procedures...respond to uncertainty with analysis...look for leaders who know the way and offer some assurance of predictability. We should [instead] broaden our range of interventions by breaking familiar patterns and using a new approach that expands our options."

Easier said than done. Yes. True. But the alternative is to perish. So you have no choice if you want to be one of the brands left standing, and standing tall. And what is that new and truly different skill set and approach? From the perspective of stakeholder management, aligned with the latest behavior science, it has three parts.

First, redirect your and your stakeholders' behavior biases. The biases will be there. It's our nature. Your job is to channel them in another direction. Clear the Ambiguity by painting a Future Picture in your/their thinking that allows everyone to truly see where we're going. Nurture a new sense of Optimism with a Hope Taxonomy built for the future we will actually have. Create the Bandwagon and movement within the company that your people will jump on and follow enthusiastically. And more. That is precisely what our five-point org culture and communications suite, called FIVE TASKS, is designed to do.

The second part is a mix of three old ones: agility, initiative and fearlessness. Talk about breaking free of familiar patterns! You know all too well the disruption created by today's far more numerous foreign competitors (thanks to globalization) and the dizzying pace of new technologies. Your business model may have adjusted to this constant change and threat environment, maybe even profiting from it.

Perhaps you think climate disruption is comparable. But it is not. It's not even the same conversation. The net of those disruptions (competition and tech) is growth, and your job is to ride it. Climate's net effect is downward. As temperatures rise on that upward curve, economic activity takes an ever-worsening dive, not to recover until temperatures return to normal — sometime next century.

Whatever your take on this outcome, your job is to ride this, as well. And you can. But as McKinsey suggests, only if you reset your expectations to manage the always unpredictable and unknown, as opposed to the predictable and known we all love to manage. Ingrained, instinctive agility must become a given. Your mind must be completely open to whatever comes, your company (people and systems) ready to pivot and move. We call it the Resilient Mindset.

Your COVID response has given you a taste of what extended, systemic, global disaster management looks like. But this is only a taste. As temperatures climb the curve, events will multiply, cascade, compound and become even more devastating. Our job at COMMON Future is to help you institutionalize the best possible approach.

First, redirect the biases. Then, ingrain the mindset. And then, the third part. This dramatically new future must be invented by someone. Maybe including you. So far, sustainability innovation has offered a glimpse into how exciting and game-changing this can be. As we extend that to adaptability innovation for the Next Wave...wow! Just imagine the possibilities. Part of our job is to help you identify the opportunities, but more so to create the culture where you and your own people become climate-literate enough and inventive enough to lead the world.

The companies best suited for this kind of visionary Deep Adaptability leadership? YOU, the world's sustainability leaders. If you're part of the world's $35 trillion ESG investment market, even more so. Years of trying to solve climate change have given you the staff, DNA, strategic alignment, and vision to now simply add Deep Adaptability to your toolkit and get ready for what's coming.

That's why you are our starting point, because you're ready to go and can accelerate the adaptation scale needed across the rest of society everywhere on the planet. That happens to be the grand social mission that stems from this thinking. For society to adapt, companies must adapt — one of the three pillars, along with governments and families. And when companies adapt, each one carries the potential of becoming Cypriana, the name we have given to a place ruled not just by planning, effectiveness and a bias-free mindset, but by solidarity, community and humanity. As Alex wrote in this recent column:

"This is not a geographical or location place. It’s a living place. Come up with your own name and script, and make this, too, a central part of your adaptation plan, so that as your company tackles the inherent systemic fragility of the global economy, your people discover the strength inherent in their nature as communal beings and make the company far stronger and more resilient as a result."

So, would you like to become one of the most adaptive companies, if not the most, in all the world?