Shifting mindsets

When we talk about the transition towards a circular economy, we quite often hear the term mindset. We need to shift our mindsets, away from monetary and materialistic growth and towards material and product loops where there are no waste and emissions.

There is another mindset shift much needed, but not often mentioned: the shift from thinking in terms of “us” and “them”. On the one hand, we have the GDP rich countries, and on the other hand you have the GDP poorer countries. As money means power in today’s way of measuring wealth, it also means that the GDP rich have more say in the world – an imbalance that has frequently been pointed out, yet an imbalance that keeps growing.

If we are to succeed in building up a global circular economy, it will require getting rid of these imbalances. As the brilliant Donella H. Meadows (systems thinking and known for “The Limits to Growth” in 1972) pointed out, many of our global problems, such as poverty is a system problem.  One we can only overcome, according to Meadows, when we start seeing the system as the source of the problems. Our current (linear) system seems to make the undesirable imbalance bigger over time.

If a new (circular) system is to be successful, balance between continents, countries and people should be considered at an early stage. Say now.

Balance beyond GDP

To do this, we need to shift our mindsets from the superiority of the GDP rich and use a larger basket of indicators than GDP, one where we all contribute with the diverse richness that exists. There’s plenty of work being done in this field, from happiness indexes to doughnut economics – the Wellbeing Economy Alliance has put together a nice overview of all the different initiatives, summarizing the common features: “Aspects like health, education, household work, volunteering, social relationships, climate change, air quality, crime and biodiversity are nearly always included in Beyond-GDP alternatives.

Looking at these indicators from the perspective of performance across the globe, it becomes clear that many countries scoring relatively poor in terms of GDP, will have a strong performance when it comes to indicators such as biodiversity, social relationships and climate change. If these aspects, and there are more to think of, such as natural resources (while often explored by others), are taken fully into account while paying less attention to the very limited measurement GDP, we will get a much more balanced view of the world.

Learning from each other

Taking it one step further, we need to shift our mindsets enough to not only recognize “them” as equal partners in the equation, but to actually open up to the idea of “us” learning from “them” (and here the “us” refers explicitly to GDP rich countries). Think about it, initiatives such as a sharing economy or keeping products in use longer are much more prevalent in GDP countries where communities play a stronger role than in GDP rich countries. While transferring one community in terms of how it works as a system from one part of the world to another part of the world will not be possible, there are undoubtedly many aspects within existing communities that we can learn from when setting up circular business models.

All we need to do is recognize that these examples are out there and keep an open mind. And start looking at and treating all people as equals. Different, but equal.

In  SCUPER, the Straight Circles Universal PERspectives learning from what’s out there is called “mimicry”: learning from nature (biomimicry) or as described in this text, from other cultures.

Time to think about time

Time…you either have too much of it or too little. Or, as social media posts will tell you, it’s not that you don’t have time, it’s about your priorities. Much as I have thoughts about these aspects too, and absolutely find we tend to glorify being busy and work above the rest of our lives to ridiculous proportions, what I want to share here is the value of time as a variable in an equation.

Only time will tell…

Our world consists of interconnected systems. Some are systems in nature, eco-systems, with plants relying on the sun and rain to do their thing and feed both the soil and animals around, who in turn also feed others and everyone and everything at the end of their existence still contribute to the system by adding whatever nutrients are left. Something like that.

Some systems are made by humans, and many are interactions between nature and human activity. Whatever changes are brought to a system – be that by adding something or taking something out – will have an initial effect by the actual change. “Adding pesticides” will have the effect of protecting the intended crops from harmful insects for instance. But the real change at a system level can only be seen after a longer period of time. And this is the tricky, and also scary, part. Perhaps the pesticides did not only kill off the intended insects, but also the pollinators who consequently could not do their job, leading to plants not being able to reproduce, which in turn lead to a decrease in whichever species was next in line to profit from the plants…

To sum up: Interfering with a system is a huge thing, visible only after a longer period of time, and must therefore be done carefully (if at all).

Time perspectives in our daily lives

In our daily lives, we are surrounded by things which will not perform well if we add a time perspective to them by thinking about the following questions:

  • How long did it take for the material(s) to be created?
  • How long will the product be in use?
  • How long will any potential left-over remain as waste?

For most foodstuff, these questions will be okay to answer (at least if we exclude the impact on the systems affected). You grow a crop, eat it and then whatever is left can be composted. Back to nature.

For many other products, the factor of some sort of plastic will enter the picture. Because plastic can be found in more products that we would like. In clothes (actually in more fabrics than not). In electric appliances. In toys. In kitchenware. In…well, just look around you, in so many of our daily products. And plastic will never score well when put into a time perspective.

  • Most plastic is made from fossil fuels, and as we know fossil fuels took millions of years to form.
  • The use will vary from handed down from one generation to another, in the best of cases maybe two or three generations, to emptying a plastic bottle of water in a few minutes only.
  • The plastic will remain waste for some 500 years.

Time itself a priority?

Returning to the social media wisdom shared in the introduction: it’s not that you don’t have time, it’s about priorities. Perhaps it’s time to make time itself a priority?

SCUPER, the Straight Circles Universal PERspectives, introducers time as one of the perspectives to consider.

For more mindopeners and perspectives, follow us on Instagram.

What do we really need?

What do we really need?

Did you ever think about how part of the solutions we come up with to our daily (or more serious) problems are based on what we already know? Say we need light to read, we automatically head for a shop to buy a light bulb. Or say we need for people to get smoothly from A to B, there is a tendency to add asphalt to the infrastructure. Encouraging cars which we then buy.

But what do we really need? In order to find the most appropriate solutions, rather than building on the existing ones, we first need to get the question right. We need light, not light bulbs (they will do the job of course, but there may be other ways that work as well). And we need for people to be able to connect from A to B, not by default to be able to go by car. As a matter of fact, cars stay parked 95% of the time. And building more roads, adding asphalt to the landscape, has not proven to be the solution to traffic jams, rather an encouragement to use more cars, adding to the already busy roads which then once again become insufficient.

The interesting part in focusing on the actual needs, on “getting the question right” as I tend to think of it, is that the answer you come up with may be totally unexpected. In the best case, you may even find that the answer you are looking for excludes the most obvious solution altogether.

Some inspiring examples:

In the case of lighting, Philips is a well-known example when it comes to offering not the product (light bulbs), but the service (light). A business model referred to as Product as a Service (PaaS). Needless to say the emphasis then no longer lies on selling as many products as possible, but rather the opposite: achieving the same level of light with as little input as possible. Also over time, meaning products are made to last rather than to be replaced, as Philips remains the owner. PaaS is increasingly gaining in popularity, by the way, so while writing about Philips here, you can look up several other examples.

When it comes to transport and cars there are several initiatives popping up, from sharing to renting. You can pay per use if you live in a city with a subscription service and cars parked in specific places, or you can rent from private people increasing their car’s hours on the road by renting it out.

The favourite: No product!

These examples show an interesting and important development as we do need to change our consumption patterns, we all know that. But to me, the most interesting solutions in “getting the question right” and identifying the real need, is that of skipping the product altogether.

If we add this to the question of connecting people from A to B, transport may be left out of the equation if we instead have them connect online (I know, it’s not the same, but just think about all the online work we’ve done in the past year. A lot is possible). And many cities provide bikes as options for getting around – no car at all but still does the job! And great to combine with public transport.

And returning to the question of light, perhaps this can be taken further than PaaS? Indeed, during day light, what if we could make the most use of the natural light already available? This is what sun tunnels do, they literally let daylight inside by channeling it through a tube, enhancing it through reflection and bringing it to any dark corner of the house you choose. Talk about letting the sunshine in 😉

In a next step, perhaps we can manage to save the sun’s light for darker hours. After all, the sun produces more than enough energy for everyone on our planet: enough for a whole year every hour! Just up to us to figure out how to best make use of it…

And one more example where a product is no longer needed. You know those fresh herbs you can buy in a pot in supermarkets? Last time I picked one up, I thought something had gone wrong in the production process as the pot was missing. Only it was not a mistake: the pot had been taken out of the equation. And it worked, so one more example of how we can do without a product that has always been there out of habit, rather than out of necessity.

Who’s up for the challenge to come up with more products we can get rid of?

For more inspiration: follow us on Instagram.

Our brilliant brain and its user manual

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

Our brain is brilliant. Looking around, there are traces of human brilliance everywhere. We travel in space, cure illnesses, develop ever further-reaching artificial intelligence, create more complex and impressive constructions…the list could easily go on.

There is no doubt that for us humans, our brain is  our greatest asset. And there is no doubt that our brain is, indeed, brilliant. But as with all working things, there are certain aspects which are good to know when relying on them for certain tasks.

Our brain doesn’t come with a user manual, but perhaps it should. Or we should all at least get to know how it works, it should be considered general knowledge really, before we rely on it for instance to solve problems. Or for it to come up with new things, innovations.  Or simply to do what we do most with our brain: think.

The peculiarities of the human brain

First of all, the human brain is lazy. Yes, indeed, lazy. Always looking for the easiest way out, the path with the least resistance. To play it safe. “Safe” in this case being what we know.

How does it work? Well, basically, our brain is like an advanced computer (don’t worry, this will not lead to a discussion on artificial intelligence beating us at our own game), in that it recognizes a situation based on a cluster memory of similar, previous experiences. This can be useful of course, think about identifying danger for instance. However, categorizing everything we experience based on past experiences, also means we automatically take the road the most travelled, and the chance to take the road less travelled by becomes an option that requires an active approach (this was also true in Robert Frost’s famous poem, I think).

Why does this matter? The most important reason here, is that our brain actually holds us back. Whenever we want to try something new, go for our dreams, live life to the max or at least according to our own wishes, anything new becomes something our brains will push back with resistance. The kind of resistance that finds excuses not to do something new. Not to dare to live your dreams. Not to try something exiting you’ve wanted to do but…well, never gotten passed the resistance to actually do. This can have a huge impact on how we live our lives, which is why it is important to at least know our brains will try to do this to our wildest ideas. At least then we can push back and take action!

The second important consequence of our brains choosing the easy way, is based on the fact that our brains get stuck in their own paths. You know, the road the most travelled by. And this road may not be the one needed for the situation at hand. It may have worked well in the past, in fact, it may not even have worked all the well in the past, but simply based on the fact that it is a path we know, we will still consider it a safe choice. According to our brilliant but less than perfect brains.

Yes, but… 

Have you ever been in a brainstorm situation and contributed with a wild, totally out-of-the box idea, only to be met by a comment starting with the words “Yes, but…”? I bet however the sentence was completed, it somehow bore proof of past experience, current definitions or beliefs, showing your wild idea was never going to work. Dismissed before it ever saw the light of day.

Not getting stuck in the old ways is massively important when it comes to moving away from the current economic system we have created. Humans are leaving a footprint larger than the planet behind, but the only living memories in our brain, are the ones of paths that were used when creating the problem we must now get out of.

Time to open up our minds

Time to actively start open up our minds! To break out of the pathways our minds would love to stick to if left to their own efficiency, and to create new pathways and open up to new thinking. Take a step back to see the whole picture, look at things from new and perhaps unexpected angles, learn from nature, learn from each other, turn the sequence in the process around…in brief, take our brilliant brain  to a new level of brilliance!

In our work, this is what we aim to do with SCUPER, the Straight Circles Universal PERspectives. And with our mind openers on Instagram. You are welcome to learn more and also to contribute if you like – get in touch!