Being sick can be a great source of inspiration. For me, I was recovering recently from Lyme disease and while couch-bound I decided to finish a series I had started, Our Planet (Netflix), an incredible, technology-enabled deep dive (literally) into our natural world.
Just consider what went into Our Planet: four years in the making, covering 50 countries, more than 3,500 days to film with over 600 crew members. They used the latest in 4K camera technology, drones, divers and motion-detecting cameras. It's pretty jaw-dropping stuff. I said "Wow!" so often then starting to just expect the elegance and uniqueness of every shot. It's really incredible stuff.
It also struck me..."every business person and student needs to watch this."
From a business perspective, you can think of Our Planet as an unprecedented look at our massive holding company, Earth Inc. The late Gaylord Nelson famously stated that "all business is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment." So it would wise for every CEO and business student to know (1) how does our planetary holding company function and (2) how is it doing?
Five key takeaways Our Planet can teach us:
Interdependence - everything is connected to everything else; the coral needs a certain ph range and the fish needs the coral and the people need the fish. You change one thing in the system and you change everything. No one really gets away with anything. We've taken the world and divided it up into different disciplines and sub-disciplines and forgot to put it back together again. In many ways, that is the work of sustainability: to reassemble the world. And this is only possible if we understand interdependence.
Our Planet doesn't have a doomsday message but it also treats us like adults and doesn't sugar coat the truth. It presents a kind of informed and active hope, emboldened by the beauty of what we have and tempered with the immensity of the challenge.
Balance. Ecologists call it a "dynamic equilibrium", the state of constant balance and imbalance within the natural world. Understanding this balance and our place within it is fundamental. The coastal seas can be in balance because the sea otter eats the anemones which would otherwise consume all of the sea kelp. The atmosphere is in good shape when concentrations of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen are in balance. Diversity of ecosystems, species and genes create balance and resilience.
What critical ecological balances does your business rely on? Our customers? How much are you working to understand these critical balances? How we are changing and influencing those balances?
Restoration and recovery - Nature is paradoxically both fragile and indestructible--or as Nassim Nicholas Taleb might call it, antifragile. “Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.” (Taleb, 2012). The film closes with the surprising flourishing of life at Chernobyl and we can see the resurgence of forests right where I live in Central and western Pennsylvania whose forests had been entirely fed to the iron ore furnaces of the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The film is an elegant gut punch that shows how much we have lost. But it also shows how systems and species (and the people whose lives and livelihood depend on them) can bounce back. The right policies make a difference. International agreements work. Citizen action can affect change. Corporate strategies can restore the world.
Source: "The Tech Behind Our Planet"
Learning from nature. When people retire, smart businesses have processes in place for “knowledge management”—to keep the precious institutional, technical, and social knowledge and networks this person represents. What is our “knowledge management” process for keeping what is lost when species and ecosystems are “retired” and lost? Nature is a billions years of research and development solving every problem with elegant trial and error.
Nature is not zero waste, but works in robust cycles of nutrient flows as excess and debris from one organism or system feeds another. We do well to learn from this experience. The coral reefs and boreal forests and wetlands can teach business people a lot. Like a super employee, we just can’t let them retire just yet. We must find ways of "ecological knowledge management" by protecting and restoring these systems on which all life and economics depends.
When people retire, smart businesses have processes in place for “knowledge management”—to keep the precious institutional, technical, and social knowledge and networks this person represents. What is our “knowledge management” process for keeping what is lost when species and ecosystems are “retired” and lost?
Hope while staring down the truth. Our Planet is 90% beautiful and 10% tragic. Our Planet doesn't have a doomsday message but it also treats us like adults and doesn't sugar coat the truth. It presents a kind of informed and active hope, emboldened by the beauty of what we have and tempered with the immensity of the challenge.
Staring down difficulty should familiar territory for today's executives who are beset by constant internal and external challenges from talent management to shareholders to competitors to the shifting international trade landscape.
Jack Welch says that leaders face the truth as it is, not as they wish it was. Similarly, Sargent Shriver, the founder of the Peace Corps, famously had a sign above his office that said "Bring me bad news. Good news weakens me." And the famous stock market savant Ray Dalio in his book Principles talks at great length about the importance of being radically truthful and transparent.
If there was a time for the leadership quality to stand and face the radical truth, it is now. As you watch, you may want to look away at times. I challenge you to stand your ground. I invite you to face the truth, to stare it down. "Don't punk out and quit," as social entrepreneur Leilah Janah says.
A successful alum of our business school recently said to me, "these are human issues not political ones." That's a good reminder as you watch Our Planet: the elegance of our world, its destruction and redemption is a human story and endeavor.
Our Planet lays out a beautiful story with stunning images of species and places we won't see any other way. It is a celebration of the life and diversity on this unique planet, of what we have to gain and what we have to lose.