Innovation lessons from the Responsibility Revolution

28 Apr 2010|Kelli Peterson

Jeffrey Hollender is the co-founder of Seventh Generation eco-friendly household cleaning products and author of the recently published The Responsibility Revolution. Last night he spoke at an event in San Francisco sponsored by REDF about his current work and passion for creating systemic change to pave the way for a more sustainable economy and community.

Working at an innovation and design firm, it struck me that his core belief system is in radical alignment with our use of design-thinking to change the way companies tackle their own business problems – by looking at the relationships between entities instead of just the entities as sole operating machines. He spoke of the need to break free from compartmentalization and move towards systems thinking. With a winner take all mentality, as a society we do not fundamentally operate with the outcomes of our interdependencies in mind, we operate on unit-driven bottom line thinking. Business challenges often manifest themselves similarly. We look for single root answers instead of looking at an eco-system of relationships and outcomes.

His belief systems also included some basics that could be built into our design objectives. For example, do more good than less bad. While a seemingly value-based altruistic statement, is this concept really out of the question? If our collective global economic goal is to do more good than less bad, why is this not a goal of product development? Why is this not a consideration in organizational or product design teams. At a conference I attended last year on sustainability, we heard from chemists within R&D groups who commented that rarely could they not make something “better”, simply they weren’t requested to make something that had sustainable goals in mind. The implications for better business design are obvious.

And finally Jeffrey noted the need for real leadership, or rather humble leadership. Suggesting that we need to unleash the power of people’s potential by breaking bad habits and encouraging a higher consciousness, he offered that the goal to become better people or foster employee development had implications for better business. By re-looking at our habits and practices, he suggested that we can tackle problems of morale that undermine culture and hinder true productivity. And he cited an example of fundamental communication mechanism flipped on its head to support a new mentality which has proved an incredible management tool.

Linden Labs, creator of the online community Second Life, created an application that company employees use to send praise email. The emails copy every company employee and the net result is that every employee has begun to better understand just what types of herculean efforts are required at every level in the company to keep the business running. Not to mention the innate human desire for praise and acknowledgement of self-worth which naturally translates to increased productivity and the bottom line benefits that come with a company literally working towards a common goal – inspired by unity and self worth.

Jeffrey’s vision of a responsibility revolution is important as we use design-thinking to derive new products and practices that can move businesses into a collectively more sustainable future.

prev next