Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Only Love Can Save The World: Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot, a time for breakthroughs

In honor of what would have been my mother's 98th birthday, I published an essay on the HuffPost sharing my memory of how brave she was when I was ten years old. Seeing the movie "Wonder Woman" caused me to remember this very painful - but extraordinary, given what my Mom did - period in my life. And the film helped me finally understand that it was the depth of my Mom's love for my sister and I that caused her to literally risk her life to do what she did.

I have been thinking a lot about the lesson of the film: "Only love can truly save the world". More on that in a moment, but first this...

While writing this essay was a huge breakthrough for me, the miracle that then happened blew me away! Thanks to the power of social media, Gal Gadot saw my essay and liked it so much that on Sept 12th she shared it on Twitter... adding "There truly is a little Wonder in ALL of us!" 💕


This extraordinary act of generosity on Gal's part follows a connection I've felt with her, Wonder Woman, and her film since last year (when I went to both the Wonder Woman at the UN event in celebration of gender equality and R.I. ComicCon... where I actually got to speak briefly with Gal while getting her autograph). It also builds on the relationship I've had with the entertainment world in general since childhood. 

That world has been my ongoing source of hope and inspiration since I first watched reruns of the Adventures of Superman on TV as a child (along with shows like Sky King, Sea Hunt, and Leave It To Beaver) through the original Star Trek (so many important personal values lessons) and Batman (so much joy on display from those wonderful crime fighters) from ages 11-13 to more recent series like Battlestar Galactica (again, many important value lessons). The number of motion pictures that have helped me think about life are too numerous to mention, but I share a special fondness for the first Superman film with Wonder Woman's director, Patty Jenkins. I loved the sincerity and personal integrity of Christopher Reeve's performance that I posted this video so people could study this key character moment (which is also a commentary on our times)...



I have spent more than 25 years working to champion the advanced problem solving methods I first discovered during my career as an engineering program manager.  And while I had some success within such networks as the American Society for Quality, the Association for Quality & Participation, the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, the UN Global Compact, and the 100 Year StarShip project (and even got to experiment with using Star Trek to make organizational strategy development inspirational and fun), my work now has much more heart in it than ever before. I have Wonder Woman (the film) to thank for helping me reach into that forgotten part of myself. And I have Gal Gadot to thank for showing me that my personal story - not just what I've learned from the management gurus I studied with - can make a difference.

At a time when our real world seems headed for an increasingly dangerous, potentially global crisis (not just in how we relate to Mother Earth but in how we relate to Each Other), I have seen many calls for us all to go beyond where we've gone before in our personal efforts to end this crisis and help make the world a better place.

With my newfound awareness of the importance of love in this "getting out of the crisis" equation, I am now working to add that perspective to how people view the innovation-focused, continuous learning and improvement-based philosophies I champion in my writings and talks. There is a "new design for our world" out there waiting to be seen and then implemented. It is a "design" based on a "love of new knowledge", a "love of learning", a "love of asking questions", and a "love of how being human means not being perfect... of loving making mistakes, because they are opportunities to learn and improve". And it is based on a "love of the diverse nature of the human family... a love of the fact that we are NOT all the same... a love of how that means there's a lot to learn from each other's cultures". 

The thinking "science" of such principles as "discontinuous change" (brilliantly presented by Russ Ackoff in his TEDTalk-like presentation) is still critically important...



But I believe now that people will never be comfortable using such thinking "tools" if they still live in a world dominated by fear. Fear leads the masses to follow so-called "strong man" leaders (as Trump claims to be). Love leads us to be open to exploring places we've never been before.... sometimes partnered with people we've never partnered with before.

I believe this new "human social system" design can begin to be marketed and implemented in America first (the land of new beginnings) and spread throughout the world soon afterwards. And I believe the corporate social responsibility movement (AKA the sustainable business community) is the ideal place for this process to begin. I envision a partnership forming that ultimately includes such forward thinking wealthy people as Mike Bloomberg (business), Oprah Winfrey (entertainment), and Bill Gates (philanthropy) ... and mainstream entertainment companies (Disney, Paramount, etc)... but also including entertainment leaders who reach us at a personal level through music, film, sports, and more. Beyonce, Bruce Springfield, Emma Watson, and Tom Hanks are just a few of the names that come to mind.... and the wonderful Gal Gadot! 

As a relatively unknown actor now identified with the values of her Wonder Woman character, Gal now has the potential to be a unique beacon of hope ... an inspirational public voice calling for a future which embodies the broad definition of love I have mentioned above. I believe love of our fellow members of the human family is critical. But I also believe love of the qualities that make us human (curiosity, experimentation, sharing knowledge so as to increase the collective wisdom, etc) is critically important too. And Gal's "brand" has a lot of love in it now, thanks to Wonder Woman! Here's one scene that shows that very well...



I am working to connect with Gal about all this now. (If you believe you can help, please contact me.) And I will be attending the Bloomberg Sustainable Business Summit in NYC October 12-13. Wish me luck finding people there who are willing to push the frontiers of the sustainable business movement!

Here's to a day when everyone discovers (or rediscovers) that "only love can truly save the world"! 💗



Saturday, July 15, 2017

Announcing The Integrity Day Project

On July 12th, I posted a "work in progress" manifesto on IntegrityDay.org, the site for my new project. I invite you to comment on what I've written. I will post again here at Trimtab Management Systems when the manifesto is complete and has been published elsewhere.

July 12th is sustainability pioneer Buckminster Fuller's birthday and is the day I intend to become a global day of celebration for all things related to transitioning humanity from a scarcity-based, win-lose, cut throat competition, constant war-between-different-cultures social system to a social system based on abundance, everyone-can-win, cooperation (where 1+1=3, 4, or more), and peaceful coexistence and sharing of knowledge between different cultures.

The Integrity Day Project will both celebrate those other, related projects and be an educational project itself. Its educational programs will be offered to the public, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and governments.

The quest for global peace and prosperity has a long history. What isn't commonly known is that breakthroughs in the physical and social sciences over the last 50 years has finally made achieving that quest possible. There is much humanity needs to learn (and to unlearn) to do so, and the mission of the Integrity Day Project will be to facilitate the realization by a critical mass of humanity that this is now true.  "Until the people demand it, their leaders can't give it to them" is an expression that comes to mind. The Integrity Day Project will enable its participants to be the leaders who bring about this transformation!


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Steve Brant speaks on World Peace at Rotary International's NYC Club

On April 13, 2017, I had the honor of presenting my work to Rotary International's NYC Club, when I spoke on a Systems Thinking approach to World Peace. 

I want to thank my Rotary sponsor and club board member, Larry Cohen, for making it possible for me to speak at the Rotary Club that's been associated with the UN since the UN was created in 1945.

The main points I made in my 30 minute talk were these:

The world needs a new road map for achieving World Peace, because our current approach - based on mechanical thinking, where fixing broken parts seems to be the way to go - isn't working.

I told why my own life’s story led me at an early age to seek out a better, more peaceful world and led me to begin researching the subject more formally in 1979. 

I explained (with help from a video of Buckminster Fuller) how humanity must break free of the fundamental belief in “scarcity of resources” that is the root cause answer to the question “Why do we fight?”. 

I discussed how Hollywood has an essential role to play in teaching the public (“telling the story”) that scientific advancement now permits humanity to replace scarcity with abundance-based thinking… the kind of macro historic shift explored in historian James Burke’s landmark “The Day the Universe Changed” TV series.

I made the point that this new approach will show the public that sustainable development is about not just healing the relationship between humanity and Mother Earth but healing the relationship between humanity and itself. 


And I ended my talk by referring to Rotary’s “making a difference” theme for 2017-2018, how its history of working to end the threat of polio is analogous to viewing achieving world peace as a global mental “health challenge", and how (in the final film clip I showed) film star Tom Hanks once said that achieving a “power of cooperation” breakthrough - as existed during the Apollo space program - could lead humanity to achieve “the impossible”. 

Here is the video of my talk:






And here are the slides and videos I used:



Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Why Stopping Trump Isn't Enough

This essay was originally published in The Huffington Post on September 26, 2016


 I am writing this to say that -- while the election of Donald Trump would be a disaster for America and the world -- preventing his election is NOT enough.

Yes, America's political system is on fire right now. The truth is going up in smoke. While all politicians have shaded the truth from time to time, just about the only time Donald Trump tells the truth is when he says "My name is Donald Trump." And even then, there's the whole Drumpf-thing.

Legendary journalist Carl Bernstein made this "nonexistent truth" point extraordinarily clear, when he said on Sept 18th on CNN that Trump was getting away with a COVERUP of who he really is... and that the media must stop letting him do this! (Can you spell TrumpGate?)

 

But there's a larger point I want to make. Stopping Trump will put out the fire that a President Trump would consist of. We CANNOT have a President of the United States who is a pathological liar! But there is a much larger, anti-truth fire burning across the American socio-political landscape... one that's been burning for decades, if you believe the research Al Gore did (and I do) when he wrote The Assault On Reason in 2007.

Whether Trump becomes president or not, we run the risk of this larger, anti-truth fire destroying the social fabric of our country. They say that a problem well understood is a problem well on the way to being solved. Well, here's an essay I wrote in 2010, in which I detailed the problem. I called this anti-truth challenge a virus back then, and urged President Obama to be the nation's "truth doctor". Maybe that will happen after he leaves office. Would certainly be a worthwhile thing for a former-president (and Star Trek fan, by the way) to do... because he could not just help people learn the truth about the Assault on Reason... he could help people learn the truth about How Much Better Society Can Actually Be. That's where his love of Star Trek comes into play.

You see, while there is an "assault on reason" in which people like Trump try to convince us that "up is down" (global climate change was made up by the Chinese) and "good is evil" (America's history of welcoming immigrants must stop); there is also a "coverup" (whether intended or accidental) of the truth about how much better our world could be if we fully implemented the improvements possible in society that have been figured out by the world's leading sustainable science experts (such as McDonough - Braungart and Amory Lovins) and the world's leading win-win based conflict resolution and innovation / collaboration experts (such as the Harvard Project on Negotiation and W. Edwards Deming).

What does this have to do with Star Trek? Well -- if you combine the work of McDonough, Braungart, Lovins, Deming and an number of others (especially including Buckminster Fuller, whose pathbreaking work with Gerard Piel, the Founder of Scientific American, pretty much kicked off the sustainable development movement in the 1960s before the term "sustainable development" even existed) -- you get the beginnings of a pretty clear and detailed road map to WORLD PEACE....

... the kind of world peace Star Trek shows us we can have in the future once we all learn to be excited about diversity instead of afraid of it... and once we figure out that it's possible to feed, clothe, house, and educate everyone on Earth (eliminating scarcity, which is the root cause of war).

Here's Buckminster Fuller talking about this option in a video that also shows astronaut Buzz Aldrin playing The World Game, which Bucky developed to help people learn to solve problems based on the assumption of abundance rather than scarcity...

 

This is why I say stopping Trump isn't enough. We've got to get the truth out about (a) the larger anti-truth fire that's been burning a long time and (b) the HUGE TRUTH about how much better our world can be thanks to advances in the (hard) sustainability sciences and the (soft) conflict resolution sciences.

What a wonderful world it could be! And once enough people know just how wonderful.... that critical mass of humanity will demand they be given that world by their leaders!

We have the ability to create a world in which everyone can (as Mr. Spock would say) Live Long And Prosper. Let's put out the fires that are burning. And then lets build a new world!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Oblivion or Utopia: Star Trek and Humanity

Originally published in The Huffington Post on September 8, 2016

Over the years, I have pointed people to a book published in 1955 by Milton Meyer, “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945”, because I feared people in America didn’t realize they were sliding towards the same political cliff. If you want to read more about that book, here’s a good link

But today, it’s not just a political cliff we are sliding towards (as dangerous as that cliff may be). It’s an overall cultural cliff. The social fabric of society is coming apart: Dysfunctional behavior has been treated as “normal” by the entertainment industry for some time (think: Reality TV).

False equivalency reporting has given equal time to climate change deniers and others who live in a fact / science-free world. They are allowed to lie to the American people without anyone pointing out that what they are saying is wrong.

There is a war on science.

There is an assault on reason.

White supremacists are getting interviewed on CNN because they support Donald Trump, as if their viewpoints should be given commentary-free airtime. This is normalizing their beliefs.

The culture of hate is taking over the internet.

This list could be longer, but I trust I’ve made my point.

We are headed for Oblivion. Not just the political but the overall social fabric of society is heading for collapse.

And into the poisonous brew of all-conflict all-the-time comes a new Star Trek series, Star Trek: Discovery.

This is no mere new TV show. This is a critically important cultural development. Here’s why…

The oblivion we are headed for has parallels in the catastrophic situations the crew of the Enterprise faced time and time again. But through the combined bravery and teamwork of that crew - including often remarkable acts of ingenuity by a crew member or the captain himself - they avoided death… and that’s what you and I need to do today! And that’s what I hope Star Trek: Discovery teaches a new generation of viewers (while also reinforcing those lessons in older series fans like me).

There’s a wonderful scene in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan in which we learn how Captain Kirk beat the “no win scenario” of the Kobayashi Maru test while a Starfleet Academy cadet. It’s a test in which all Starfleet cadets normally get to experience the destruction of their ship and the loss of many crewmates because there’s no way to win. But cadet James T. Kirk won.

“I reprogramming the simulation so it was possible to rescue the ship,” Captain Kirk tells Lt. Saavik, whose ship was destroyed when she took the test. “I changed the conditions of the test. I got a commendation for original thinking… I don’t like to lose… I don’t believe in a no-win scenario.”

Here’s the scene, in which Kirk also avoids a real-life no-win scenario…

Captain Kirk doesn’t like to lose. Well, neither do I!

Oblivion can be avoided now… by us… for real… starting right now!

And – in a case of life imitates art – avoiding oblivion today will also require “reprogramming the simulation”… this time of the world in which we live. It will require we consciously, creatively and pro-actively take control of the design of the human social system in which we live!

Yes, this isn’t a simulation we’re dealing with, but it still involves a programming change… a change in the mental programming we all live with every day in our real lives. We must design a better system… a better frame of reference for the world around us… one that enables us to win… one that enables everyone to win.

I’m a civil engineer, project and program manager by training and profession. And believe me when I tell you that the hard science of sustainable development coupled with the soft science of conflict resolution and win-win negotiations can give us the world of our dreams... the world envisioned by Star Trek... global peace and prosperity for all!

The passengers and crew of the “spaceship” in which we are travelling… not of the Enterprise… but this beautiful living Spaceship Earth (so named by the philosopher Buckminster Fuller but also familiar to visitors to Disney World) can all make it! We can beat the no-win scenario we are being fed today!

I know I’m talking about reality not simulation, but the redesign process ahead of us is remarkably similar to that of a computer game… once you realize just how much control we have over the “software” and the “input parameters” of our world. In his landmark TV series “The Day the Universe Changed,” British historian James Burke said “You see what your knowledge tells you you’re seeing. And when that knowledge changes, for you the universe changes.

This new system starts with us… with how we think. And that starts with the information we take in and cycle back out into our world. We have the power to choose what information we take in on any given day and the power to choose what information we send out to our friends and associates. While the mainstream media may think we mostly want to watch shows that portray dysfunctionality and mainstream press may avoid taking sides when it comes to science and moral values, we can choose to take in information from sources that provide information that helps rather than information that makes things worse and to then talk about that better world information.

And as more of us choose to focus on constructive rather than destructive content, the power of the marketplace will take effect. The Roddenberry Foundation – created by Rod Roddenberry, Gene Roddenberry’s son – recently launched its #BoldlyBetter initiative. The Boldly Better hashtag will be used to help people find information about all the positive, constructive things people and organizations are doing.

I will report more on this initiative in the future. I was at a launch event for this initiative last Saturday…
 

Of course, those who make money keeping us thinking about competition, hate, and fear rather than cooperation, love, and respect won’t be happy we have made this personal choice. But this is how capitalism works. Those who know that people will want something new, offer that new product or service in what one globally best selling business strategy book calls a “blue ocean” (one devoid of competition… not colored red from the blood in the water).

But this new system also starts with how we all - as one human family - think. We tend to think about parts of the system in which we live. A lot of people specialize in one thing or another. But being a generalist is very important if you’re going to see how all of the parts of the world currently fit together… and how they need to fit together if the system is to function in a way that enables us all to have peaceful and prosperous lives.

In his book “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth,” Buckminster Fuller said the most general, “big picture” question we need to ask is “Can the basic survival needs of everyone on Earth be met?” “Can we live in a world of abundance rather than scarcity?” He asked this question because if everyone’s basic needs can be met then the root cause of war… the original reason we started to fight many thousands of years ago… the reason we developed a global culture of separate “tribes” in which it’s okay to kill “the others”… goes away.

And the answer he came up with – from scientific investigation with his good friend Gerard Piel (the founder of Scientific American magazine) – was YES!”

The root cause of war is gone… it’s obsolete.

Engineers see problems as design challenges. And when I think about global peace and prosperity, I ask myself “What kind of social system design – one based on abundance rather than scarcity thinking – could we have?” It’s one heck of an innovation question… and one I think it’s time for us to answer.

Fifty years ago, Star Trek gave us a vision of what humanity would be doing once that answer was found. It’s a vision that inspired a lot of people then and one I believe can inspire a lot of people today.

The Guardian published a generally positive story about Star Trek’s vision this past Sunday. However, this article quotes the author Mark A. Altman, who recently wrote The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete Uncensored & Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek, as “(doubting) whether Roddenberry’s vision still appeals today”. They quote Altman as saying
“For a genre in which dystopian futures and space pulp dominate, one has to wonder whether the thoughtful, cerebral, kinder, gentle Star Trekkian ethos still has a chance to engage and excite new viewers – particularly in light of the tepid box-office reception to the most recent Star Trek [film].” “In the age of political polarisation – in which the echo chamber of social media reinforces one’s own stringent (and often strident) beliefs, in which social discourse has given way to online screaming matches, in which no one bothers to even try and accept the reasoned opinions of others – it’s even harder to believe that the Star Trek future, in which the family of man has transcended its petty differences, is viable.”
I think Star Trek's vision definitely does have appeal today, as a visionary pull for those of us who have hope things can get better because of what we have learned from people like Bucky Fuller… but also for those who are attracted to that future enough to go looking for the answer to the question “Can it happen for real?”

I am thrilled CBS is launching a new Star Trek series! And one reason is that Bryan Fuller, its Executive Producer, gets that we're in very challenging times. In fact, at the recent San Diego ComicCon, he called on all Star Trek fans to become more than fans. He called on us to creatively seek ways to bring Gene Roddenberry's vision into reality today...
 

So, we have the creative head of the new series urging Star Trek fans on. And I have to imagine that the show itself will be a big help for that reason. And we have the #BoldlyBetter initiative of the Roddenberry Foundation and the work of lots of other creative optimists out there like me.

 Live Long And Prosper, Star Trek. Happy 50th Birthday!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Saving America From Itself

(Originally published in The Huffington Post on July 12, 2016)

We are living in such tragically hopeless times.  I have watched the PBS Newshour’s weekly wrap up with Mark Shields and David Brooks for years, and I have never seen them look as hopeless as they looked last Friday…   




President Obama may have saved America from macro-economic collapse after he first took office (I was so inspired by his election I went to Washington for the 2009 inaugural events), but he has failed to prevent the further deterioration of America’s culture… a culture reaching a tipping point that could lead to total collapse.  This is a condition some blame on our history of bigotry.  But it is a condition I see in much bigger terms.  This is because while bigotry exists in the minds of some, it does not exist in the minds of all.  What does exist is the perpetuation of one false truth that – if exposed – has the power to transform our society to one based on hope rather than hopelessness… one based on love rather than hate.

Are you ready for a “Matrix” red pill / blue pill moment?  Okay.  Then read on…


“…there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I'm offering is the truth.”  - Morphius





What exists in the minds of all (well, nearly all… and definitely in the minds of those who currently have their hands on the levers and buttons of power in society) is a belief in scarcity… a belief that there’s not enough for everyone… that we live in a Zero Sum society.  “If I am going to have more, then someone is going to have to have less.”  Scarcity of resources is the foundational truth underlying the design not just of America but of our global culture.  We live in a “you or me” world.  And as more people see how the “have’s” are continuing to get more and more at the expense of the “have nots”, anger is building to a boiling point.

Now here’s the red pill moment:

SCARCITY IS A LIE.  There IS enough for everyone.  We have the ability to feed, clothe, house, and educate everyone on Earth.  This technological milestone was first reached in the 1960s.  Buckminster Fuller and his good friend Gerard Piel (the founder of Scientific American) did their best to get the word out.  But it never became “front page news” in their life times.  However, it CAN become front page news starting now!


You and I can declare… to all our family, friends, associates, and the rest… to journalists and other media types… to the celebrities of the world:  “Abundance is the true nature of reality now!... The root cause of war and suffering… the reason why humanity spilt itself into separate tribes countless centuries ago… the fear that for me to have what I need someone must not have what they need… is no longer scientifically true!”

For proof of this new reality, please read “Operating Manual for SpaceshipEarth,” Buckminster Fuller’s pathbreaking book from that 1960s time period.

I will be writing more about this “new truth of abundance” in the days and weeks to come.  But I wanted to start this conversation today, because it is Buckminster Fuller’s birthday.  He was born on July 12, 1895.  I read “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth” in 1979 and met him in 1983 when he came to NYC for what turned out to be his last presentation.  It was called “Integrity Day” and was about the power of human integrity… our ability to tell the truth about the way things are… to change the course of humanity.

So, HAPPY BIRTHDAY BUCKY!  Thank you for being a force for truth in a world still caught up in the “big lie” that there’s not enough for everyone.  Here’s my favorite, short video of Bucky.  (Many videos are out there that are longer, but this one communicates a lot is less than 3 minutes.)




Wednesday, February 24, 2016

What If Macys Created a New 'Miracle on 34th Street'?

We face so many problems these days.  Education. Health Care. Food and water quality. Infrastructure. Money in politics. Global climate change. And more. But there's one problem I believe rises above them all. And that is...

We are still trying to solve ALL of our problems using the same kind of thinking that created them!  Have you heard the expression "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result"? Well, our society is stuck in an "insane" kind of problem solving do-loop. Problems appear, and we use the same old thinking to solve them. They may look like they're gone, but they come back.  And then we do it again. And they come back again. And we do it again. And they come back again. Etc. Pretty insane, right?  I mean, our problems never really go away!

I could give you examples of people who have gotten out of this trap... out of this mental do-loop of ineffective problem solving (think: pioneering inventor-types). But because I also believe "Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he will feed himself the rest of his life.", I am going to briefly explain this new thinking - it's called Systems Thinking - to you instead. And then I will demonstrate its use by solving a problem currently plaguing an industry I love very much: the retail shopping industry. This is the industry my mother worked in after my parents got divorced when I was a kid. And, in a way, it saved both her and my life.

I hope this demonstration makes you want to learn more.  The world desperately needs a critical mass of those who are problem solvers (hint: all of us!) to adopt this new thinking.  Because when that critical mass is reached, society as a whole will take a giant leap forward... to a much happier, healthier, and safer world. Sounds crazy?  Well, trust me. That's different that sounding insane!  Okay! Let's go!

Systems Thinking is very different from the traditional problem solving approach we learn in school. That traditional approach is called "analysis", and - because we are all taught it from day one - society as a whole uses it without question. We break our problems up into their component parts... look for the broken part... and then think fixing that broken part will make everything fine... only to have things stop working all over again. 

We are taught problems are like a car that won't run and that fixing some broken part is all we need to do.  We don't realize that the potholes in the roads (or our bad driving skills... or a medical condition like sleep apnea) will just cause something to break again.  And that's because it's not always the car's fault.  The car is interacting with its environment and with the person who is driving it.  Sure, parts of a car can wear out.  But a car does not exist separate from the rest of reality.  It is part of an "environment-car-driver system". A properly maintained car driven on properly maintained roads by a properly trained and healthy driver will not break (unless it is hit by another less well maintained "car-driver system", of course).

Systems Thinking teaches that the thing that's broken isn't the only thing we need to look at. We must also explore the larger system in which the thing that's broken exists. That's because when something doesn't work it's often a flaw in the design of the larger system that is producing the problem... time and time again. If we don't change the design parameters of the entire system, the problem will just reoccur; because problems are produced by improperly designed systems.  Looking at the design of the larger system so as to uncover the flaws in its design is called Root Cause Analysis.  And redesigning the system is what we do next. We figure out what new, foundational design principles will let the system in question function in a way that never produces those problems again!  Imagine that: a problem-free system!  Well, at least free of the problem that was troubling us.  Sometimes a newly redesigned system creates new problems.  But at least they're new.  Better to do something new than constantly do the same thing over and over, right?

Okay. Enough theory for now. It's time to show this theory in action.  Let's apply Systems Thinking to the retail shopping industry.

To most people (especially in these difficult economic times), shopping is defined as "finding what you want and paying the lowest price for it you can". That's the shopping "car" most of us "drive". And the people who manage the stores where we shop focus on servicing that shopping equation. (For the wealthy, the equation may substitute "exclusive" for "best price".)

But what if those store managers saw their customers as having a larger, more interrelated "life equation"? What if instead of being "shoppers" they were seen as "people"?  What other needs that those "people" have might those store owners seek to satisfy?  Shifting from "shoppers" to "people" is the start of using Systems Thinking.  So is seeing the store as more than a provider of goods or services at the lowest price (or providing the most exclusive goods or services).

This "whole person" approach already exists for individual shopping experiences (like buying coffee from Starbucks, where the atmosphere is as large a part of why people go there as the coffee).  But is that approach in use for a major department store? Or are those stores locked into an ultimately unwinnable fight with online retailers like Amazon over who can give customers the product they want at the lowest cost and fastest delivery time? Amazon is projected to topple Macy's as the USA'snumber one apparel retailer by 2017 "To me, they're all trying to me-too Amazon," noted Nikki Baird, an analyst at RSRResearch. "The younger [the shopper,] the more advantage Amazon seems to have." Same day delivery is now becoming a battleground too.

When customers are only seen as "shoppers," price and delivery speed are Amazon's strengths. What new strategic advantage might Macy's gain if it saw customers as "people"?

For that answer, look at the larger system of the society in which customers live. What do you see?

You see conflict - sometimes very violent conflict.  You see people who have decided that their differences with "others" - be they political, religious, racial or ethnic, gender, or sexual orientation - are increasingly reasons to declare war on those "others".  And you also see a planet under siege by a humanity that is only now (with large pockets of resistance still) coming to terms with the need to partner with - rather than abuse - Mother Nature.  There is a way that Macy's can use this larger reality - seen using Systems Thinking - to its advantage.

You think me insane to suggest this? Remember. Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting something new to happen.  I'm not insane. But I AM crazy. Crazy in the way Apple promoted its products in 1997, with its Think Different campaign:



A very powerful business strategy was championed starting in 2005 when the book "Blue Ocean Strategy" was published. That strategy was innovation-led "discontinuous change" in the products or services companies offer. Blue Ocean Strategy swept the business world (multiple millions published in over 30 languages). And a revised edition was published last year. Positioning your company so it offers customers something they never thought possible - but which they would then run to after learning it was now available - became hot for the obvious reason that having uncontested market space makes you the instant market leader!

Why do I think Macy's should adopt this "discontinuous change"-based strategy?  Why do I think Macy's should start saying to its customers "Shop here for a better world"?  Because Macy's already says that to its employees! People who work for Macy's already work in at least the beginning of that "better world"!

The Macy's Social Responsibility report (which you can read about here and download here) details the extraordinary measures Macy's is taking to create a more equitable, safe, and environmentally sustainable workforce environment and product supply chain.  It also details how these "better world" efforts extend to at least some of the products Macy's offers its customers.

This essay is not the place to detail how Macy's could expand these efforts to create a similarly comprehensive assistance and support effort for its customers. My aim is simply to show that such a breakthrough agenda could result from Macy's using Systems Thinking to see its customers as people rather than just shoppers... and using Systems Thinking to see the leap in marketing and reputation value that would result if what it already does internally were expanded outward.

Macy's is uniquely positioned to act on such a strategic vision too. The theme of its annual Thanksgiving Day Parade could be made to reflect this new strategy. 

And it is where the story of the motion picture "Miracle on 34th Street" took place.  Why does that matter? Well, in that story, the character of Kris Kringle (the store's Santa Claus) is the catalyst for the transformation of how Macy's treats its customers.  Following Mr. Kringle's lead, Macy's employees help customers find the products they want even if Macy's doesn't carry them! The extraordinary amount of good will this kind of service creates more than offsets the sales lost when people buy certain items elsewhere! 

This is "reputation management" taken to the highest level.  And while it only happened in a motion picture, a real world version is absolutely possible. Macy's could leap forward in the retail shopping industry by showing its customers how to join its employees in creating a sustainable future.... One in which not only are products produced in ways that treat Mother Nature with respect but one in which people - no matter what their differences - work together in a spirit of cooperation towards the goal of a more harmonious world... one in which everyone has the opportunity to (borrowing from Star Trek, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year) "live long and prosper".

Welcome to the breakthrough problem solving world of Systems Thinking.  Welcome to a future where people flock to stores like Macy's because they can get something they'll never get from an online store: face-to-face educational experiences regarding how to make the world someday work for everyone. This is what we know Millennials already want where they work.

And a hint of that result regarding Millennial shoppers can even be found in the Myth #3 Social Networks section here...

"The goal should be to create positive buzz, to be talked about by a presence on social media isn't enough--the aspiration should be to become the topic of conversation for all the right reasons."


But honestly, I can only imagine how truly delighted ALL shoppers will be - and how great the impact on the future of brick and motar retail shopping - when that shopping experience becomes part of making the world work better too!

(Originally published in The Huffington Post on February 23, 2016)