I recently had a life change. After twenty plus years roaming the world as co-founder and CEO of an analytics software business for the extractives industry, I had the opportunity to do something different. So, what to do for the remainder of my career? And more importantly why?
The Why was fairly easy. Like many people, I’m genuinely worried about the future for our species on this planet. As an engineer, I look at all of the exponential graphs (see the Great Acceleration) and see trouble ahead. Maybe not for me, but definitely for my kid’s kids. If we had control over our economic and political systems then perhaps it might be possible to engineer a soft-landing and bend all of those scarily arching curves to a nice horizontal, sustainable asymptote. But the political shocks of 2016 surely provide the evidence that we shouldn’t look to politicians for long term solutions. And the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 has already demonstrated that our economic system lacks the ability to self-regulate. We may go down in history as very intelligent lemmings running at full speed for the cliff. Maybe business is part of the answer. Can the machine that causes many of the problems be modified to help provide the solutions? I don’t have the answers but I do have the calling.
So, my personal leadership challenge is: how can I make a difference for the sustainability movement?
My background is technology and data, specifically supply chain analytics, and I’ve previously worked with many of the top mining, oil & gas and utilities organisations. These are heavy industries with a heavy footprint so which provides a good starting point. I’m interested in how they can use data to understand their impact on society and the environment and make more sustainable decisions. An obvious area to consider is procurement. These companies spend billions of dollars each year, but how often do they consider the sustainability outcomes of their purchasing decisions? If they could easily visualise and understand the impact would they make different decisions? And if more sustainable options were bought to their attention, at the moment that those spending choices were made, would procurement professionals take some of those opportunities to do good on behalf of their organisation?
To test this thesis, I’ve decided to launch a start-up. PlanetPulse – a corporate FitBit for the Planet – is the working name (until I get a better one!) and I hope to use my Masters dissertation for the Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership course as a vehicle to research the market opportunity. Too many start-ups launch with an idea looking for a problem, so I’m keen to use the academic rigor that comes with a research dissertation to avoid that mistake. I’m also keen to use the lean start-up methodology to develop a minimum viable product, take it to customers and get their feedback. I expect that this will result in a number of iterations and that the original thesis will not survive contact with reality, but I’m hopeful that the process will lead me to something that is both viable and can make a difference. A “pivot” as all the cool start-up kids call it.
My second decision (and this was a hard-one for me!) is to make it a not-for-profit venture. The very idea offends all of my entrepreneurial instincts, but there are a number of compelling advantages. Firstly, it is a lot easier to engage with potential customers and partners if they know you don’t have a profit motive. Secondly, as a strategy to disrupt the big players it works well. After all, it’s hard to compete with an organisation that doesn’t care about making money! But most importantly, it keeps me true to why I’m doing this. With making money off the table, it’s possible to focus 100% on a worthwhile mission and align all decision-making towards this goal.
So, I guess I have a purpose, an idea and the beginnings of a plan. What I really need now are some fellow team members. Could be part time, could be full-time. For a long time or a short time. To participate or collaborate. I’m looking for people with the right skills, you have heard the sustainability calling, and are looking to make a contribution…and also have a lot of fun along the way.
I’ll use this blog to chart the journey for PlanetPulse, but if you happen to know anyone who might be interested in helping – please point them my way!