No business exists in a vacuum. More so than ever we're affected by – and can affect – global challenges. At our recent Leadership Gathering an expert panel discussed what global challenges like climate and innovation mean for businesses.
They are big questions. But they offer big opportunities to step up and create change. We heard from Lieutenant General Richard Nugee about how he persuaded the Ministry of Defence that they “weren't exempt from the world”. From Managing Director of Innovation at Alder Hey, Claire Liddy on how innovation went from being “something that happened in the batcave underneath the hospital”, to steering the future of healthcare. And from Paul Myers, Managing Director of Farm Urban, on how “Clean, Green Growth” can future proof your business.
It can feel like there's a disconnect between our day to day and global challenges like climate, but as Lt. Gen. Richard Nugee highlighted, there are warnings from history that collective responsibility is key.
He reminded us that at the end of the bronze age, civilisations across the eastern Mediterranean were destroyed by ‘sea people’ who came ashore and caused devastation. But this wasn’t random destruction. It coincided with a volcano in Iceland erupting and where the 7km ash cloud landed it took 20 years for crops to grow again. Experts now think these 'sea people' were migrants looking for somewhere arable to live. People turned them away, so they turned to destruction.
It's a powerful example of the destructive ripple effect of climate change and the importance of tackling challenges that don’t appear to immediately affect us.
The importance of having a future focus was a theme that came through from all the speakers. Illustrated brilliantly by Claire who told us about 3D printing at Alder Hey. When the innovation centre circumnavigated finance to invest a 3D printer, many in the organisation thought it was irrelevant to the work of the hospital. Fast forward 8 years and their 3D printing factory has just transformed a child’s life with the world’s first 3D printed ribcage.
Anticipating future challenges is what Farm Urban are all about and as Paul put it “If you don’t deal with it today, you won’t be able to deal with it tomorrow”. Their innovative vertical farming technology is all about helping people and the world thrive together. He believes providing good food to more people plays a key role in preventing disease. Innovation can enable our approach to health to become less about disease management and more about prevention.
Tackling global challenges like climate and innovation are inextricably linked. But how can businesses respond to them – and take inspiration from change-makers like our panel?
As Claire put it "innovate to survive – or end up like Blockbuster". Innovation can seem like a risk, but you need to have courage of your convictions – even in the face of a doubting Chief Finance Officer.
Lt. Gen. Richard gave the great advice to “go with the grain”. When looking to transform our business, how we frame this to others is key. When he was facing the tough challenge of making the Ministry of Defence more sustainable, he didn’t focus on the impending planetary doom, he focused on the efficiencies and future resilience it would bring.
When it comes to addressing our impact on climate change, the entire panel agreed starting small is a good tactic. B Corp accreditation is the gold standard – and Paul also raised the TOMS Framework as a great way to measure and report your social value – but it’s the little nudges, switching lightbulbs, using local suppliers, that will start to embed a culture of change. From there we can nudge our business towards being more purpose led and take the team on the journey.
Leading a team through periods of change can be tough. But the panel also had some words of leadership wisdom to help. For Claire, good leadership is values based, drawing on your core values to guide your team builds trust and commitment. Lt. Gen. Richard’s door was always open, for him actively listening to his team whenever they needed him was vital, and Paul believes everyone has a unique gift and encourages everyone to bring theirs to work, aligning these with the purpose of the organisation to cultivate connection.
Lots to think about and lots to inspire us to find new and better ways of working to benefit our businesses, our teams, and the planet.