E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

The Social Enterprise and The Circular Economy

León - Stork's eye view from the churchEarlier on today, and continuing further with yesterday’s blog entry on “The Social Enterprise – Welcome to the Era of Intrapreneurship!” that I shared over here, my good friend, the always insightful Susan Scrupski put together a follow-up article that absolutely pretty much nails it for me on this whole topic of transitioning into “The Social Enterprise” from “Social Business”. Under the rather thought-provoking title of “Zen and the Art of Enterprise Maintenance” Susan herself has set up some homework for all of those folks out there who may be involved with Enterprise 2.0, Social Networking / Computing or Social Business (In my case, Social Enterprise). To name: “We are aiming to change the world of work“. And somehow although plenty of folks out there would see that as a call to (silent) arms I tend to think more along the terms of the Awakening 2.0 that a bunch of us have been waiting for a long while now…

Further down in that article Susan gets to explain, in a rather enlightening and insightful fashion, what she actually means with “We are aiming to change the world of work“, which I guess is probably rather well described under this golden nugget:

To get to the “fix” part of this equation, it’s going to take the smarts and knowhow of everyone who’s focused on the Enterprise. There’s a great thread on G+ from Sameer Patel on the “how.” The lasting value will be to apply the spirit of social revolution in the enterprise to the practical application of social in the enterprise

To then finish it all off with setting up the challenge ahead for all of us:

This is the hard part. Delivering on the promise of social. So consider it a clarion call for all practitioners, consultants, and vendors (big and small): Figure it out. Bring it home for the rest of us and the planet. We’ve done the first hard part which is selling the promise of revolutionary change. And we’ll keep beating that drum, btw. It’s the backbeat to the song we’re singing

Of course, as I finished off reading through her blog post I just couldn’t help thinking about the “Figure it out part of her article and start thinking about potential solutions. And while catching up further with some other interesting reading I just couldn’t help pondering that we may have a holistic solution far too close to each and everyone of us to realise about it, and make it work. It all came clearer to me when I re-discovered a rather inspiring video clip that re-introduces a very innovative and creative concept that I would love to see it being explored by the enterprise world and not just by a few companies: The Circular Economy (Re-Thinking Progress)

In a rather revealing article over at the GuardianRosie Bristow describes quite nicely how the current linear economy hasn’t taken us too far ahead; quite the opposite! It seems that it’s made things a whole lot worse, not just for the business world, but just as much for both our societies and the world we live in:

“The basis for this thinking is that the linear way in which the world economy currently operates fuels a culture of consumption and creates more waste than is sustainable in the long term. In contrast, the living world operates in a circular cycle where the waste of one species provides the food for another and resources flow”

That last sentence is probably as good as it gets and it reflects how, once again, nature may be a whole lot wiser than all of us in managing her own resources to create, cultivate and nurture progress. Her progress: the one that affects us all in our day to day lives. So Rosie keeps wondering whether we could make the switch towards that Circular Economy along these very terms:

“What would a circular economy look like in practice? The video suggests that it’s about redesigning and rethinking products so that after they have been used by humans, their component parts return to manufacturers, with biological elements being used to support agriculture and valuable resource parts such as metals being used in the creation of new products. In this way, today’s goods become tomorrow’s resources, forming a circular cycle”

Not such a bad idea, don’t you think? While musing about Susan’s and Rosie’s articles I just couldn’t help thinking that perhaps what we really need to fully embrace and live the Social Enterprise would come pretty close to this whole concept of the Circular Economy, where we try to mimic what nature has mastered doing over the course of millions of years without facing too much trouble, till we humans started reverting that trend. Perhaps both growth and progress are meant to be that way. Perhaps we should starting shifting gears and introduce that whole concept of leasing / borrowing, instead of owning, which, if you ask me, is pretty close to what we would be doing with that Social Web activity we have all fallen in love with: sharing!

Sharing what we know, our experiences, our skills, our knowhow, our selves, so that others could benefit by reusing it themselves and make it better. Sharing our connections and personal business relationships, so that others would benefit from those new relationships instigated by empowering connectors / hubs. I am not sure what you folks would think about it, but this key trait from the Social Web / Web 2.0 does come pretty close to this whole concept of the circular economy, where progress is being made not so much on how much you grow, but by how much you are capable of reusing and learning along the way to create something better without having to destroy, without remedy, something in between.

It’s probably that openness, transparency, and trusting relationships in the system that surely have made it work for nature all along (Because she always knows what’s best for her and those around her…) and perhaps we need to fully embrace those critical social aspects to “figure it out“, as Susan mentioned. Plenty of food for thought, for sure! And for those folks who may be skeptic about re-thinking new ways to help us progress further into the 21st century, let’s look at what that linear economy has managed to do in the last 3 to 5 years to see, and realise, we are probably not much better off than what we were a few decades ago after all…

Yes, we need a reboot. And pretty desperately. We have been probably needing it for over a decade already, and in times of (financial) crisis (Crisis as in choices / changes), we need now more inspiration than ever to leap forward and provoke that shift towards a Social Enterprise: a sustainable and engaged economy where all factors are looked up equally, including the resources we have got available to us all, so that growth finally makes its move towards progress, respectful and sustainable progress.

And that’s why from here onwards I’ll be making a huge effort, my ¢2, really, to start transitioning myself from that linear economy of consumerism, just for the sake of consuming, into that circular one by applying some smart and educated thinking in what I consume and buy and what I don’t. That basically means I will be looking up to those businesses that would want to start making a difference and change our future and I do seriously hope that my own company will be jumping the shark, too!, as it enters its second century of existence.

But what about yours? Is your business ready to embrace and live the Circular Economy? Do you think it’s worth while trying? Do we have a choice any longer? After all, what would we lose not trying it, right? Probably not much, but a lot to gain, for sure!

Our very own survival as a species.

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  1. Hi Luis, very nice and thoughtful post. Great.
    One little comment, though.
    Nature “always knows what’s best for her and those around her”: it is true. But it applies some rules:

    1. there is no pity for the weak.
    2. it thinks “long term”

    As to #1, I think that humans have (or should have?) some compassion for their brothers and sisters. Medicine is a proof of this “care” we have for our own race.

    As to #2, the current “short term” thinking unfortunately rules. What is important today is what I can gain NOW, because it is NOW that I prosper; we really do not think that others will be after us to clean the dust. And if we think to this, we apply #1, thinking that the strongest will be able to clean that dust.

    Humans in the old times though they were driven by what the nature itself was doing: illnesses, disasters, drought… Nature was divine.
    Then we started to learn that, up to a certain level, we could modify what was happening to us: technology, medicine etc…. Human intelligence and Technology were divine.
    Now we are thinking that THE MARKET is superior and knows what to do and does it for the good of all of us…. Market is divine.

    1. Who could really think that the debt of our western societies could ever be reimbursed?
    2. Who could really think that prosperity can be created by betting on bets that are themselves made on other bets ?

    What you say is true. And it has the merit of proposing a path for starting a change. Making this world more concentrated on people and making people the actors of the change.

    I recently wrote a post that probably goes close to this direction : http://tech.poglianis.net/2011/09/05/can-a-social-business-address-some-shortcomings-from-the-first-web-era/

  2. Hi Luis, on the same line, have you read a M. Porter/M Kramer article on the Jan-Feb 2011 issue of HBR? “Creating Shared Value” has much in common with this whole social businesses/social enterprises thing. Also Don Tapscott’s “Macrowikinomics”. An era of social capitalism? I wouldn’t dare say so, so far, but things are converging: less natural resources, sustainability, financial crisis, social networking crashing tyrannies…

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