One of my resolutions for 2012 is to write more: op-eds and short pieces, to develop and refine my public voice. A good place to start is with what I’ve already written.
Last fall, for the WEF/YGL annual summit in Dalian, we were asked “What is your definition of ‘quality growth’? How should quality growth happen?”
Below is my response. I hope these principles guide my life and the world around us in increasingly tangible ways.
Yin-Yang Leadership & Quality Growth
Borrowing from Asian philosophy, I’d like to apply the principles of yin and yang to questions about “quality growth” and its lessons for leaders in the 21st century. Historically yang energy has been associated with male, active, targeted and outward energy, while yin is affiliated with feminine, receptive, earth-based and holistic approaches to the world.
For an entity to be whole, it needs to have yin and yang in balance. An entity can be as small as an individual or as large as the universe, or anything in between: a company, a family, a nation-state. When an entity’s yin and yang are harmonized, effective and sustainable solutions can result.
We have been in a yin-yang imbalance for the past several decades, if not centuries. We have taken a primarily yang approach to growth during this time. One result of this is that many of our favored measures of so-called success in the modern world – stock valuations, GDP growth, and some very blunt statistics of “progress” – are inconsistent with, and ignore essential characteristics of, today’s reality. This has led not only to unsustainable practices, but also to futile attempts to control or manage situations that really are emergent: complex, multi-dimensional, multi-stakeholder, and which do not lend themselves to traditional, hierarchical, command-and-control solutions.
Within this landscape, we are in the early stages of a great rebalancing which reflects a big turn in human history and – if all goes well – bodes well for higher-quality growth prospects. It began in recent years with terminology like “triple-bottom line” (referring to financial + social + environmental) returns, nascent metrics for “social performance,” and growth of sustainability strategies in both public and private sector discourse. However, we must go beyond these efforts and focus on the integration of yin and yang leadership styles. Some of the fundamentally important new forces and values that are showing up as part of this rebalancing – such as joy, fun, love and play – are qualitative, high-quality, and bursting with yin.
The definition of “quality growth” necessarily depends on how one defines not only quality (which I would argue is part of the yin-yang balancing act), but also growth. Is growth measured by quantitative outputs, qualitative factors, or some combination? For example, is the production of a certain number of bushels of wheat – a static, external benchmark – or building the capacity of a community to feed itself locally and live more healthfully a better indicator of growth? It is a combination that is rooted, first and foremost, in local needs and local wisdom. By focusing on increasing the capacity and skills of people globally to do good things with each other and for their communities – thereby improving their own quality of life according to their own measures of growth – we spur sustainable growth from within which subsequently can serve as a building block for larger ecosystems.
“Quality growth” can manifest itself and should happen in many ways. We’re talking about an essential shift in how business is done, results are measured and objectives are prioritized – which means changes to business form.
For example, new business models based on sharing (rather than individual purchase requirements) are likely to flourish; these are typically less resource-intensive on a per capita basis and encourage deeper relationship-building among the parties to the shared transaction. New business entities that permit, account for and encourage qualitative contributions to shareholder value (such as the Flexible Purpose Corporation in California) are also on the rise in many places. Alongside external mechanisms to facilitate quality growth, companies should proactively pursue internal policies towards these ends, such as focusing on longer-term sustainability goals rather than short-term financial returns. I look forward to the day when ten-year forecasts and results are given greater weight than quarterly earnings in the global marketplace.
In the long run, the most successful entities will reflect integrated yin and yang leadership styles. This means integration of great analytics and logical rigor (yang) with perceptive intuition, compassion, mindfulness of relationships, and an emphasis on happiness and subjective well-being (yin). One or the other is not enough; both are required for true quality growth.