People care about the environment but feel “If I act but everyone else doesn’t, what difference does it make?”
Yet living by your environmental values brings joy, meaning, and purpose.
Leaders help create meaning. Creating it for acting on the environment is my passion.
This podcast is starting that leadership, changing systemic goals and beliefs from growth at any cost to enjoying what we have.
You’ll hear influencers act on their environmental values, struggle, and then say: I wish I had done this earlier. Thank you for getting me to start!
Upcoming guests include
Episode 000: the back story:
046: Systems, values, and learning from the military
Why do people who haven't tried it call not flying impossible, yet it was just as challenging for me and I find it one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Being in a system without realizing it makes it easy to confuse that system's values with your own or with absolute reality. What looks impossible is just impossible within that system.
To change, it's easier to exit the system first so you don't feel constrained by its constraints.
We were born to some strong systems that make not flying look impossible but not flying is simple. You're probably not flying right now.
I present a couple cases---one simple, the other complex and expensive---that illustrate what happens when you're trapped in a system versus when you free yourself from it.
Here are some links about General Paul Van Riper and the Millennium Challenge 2002
Here are some preliminary notes I used for an earlier version of this talk.
Vibrant, colorful, diverse designs
In that world, Froot Loops are the opposite of Count Chocula.
The cereal aisle creates a system based on certain values. Within that system other values make no sense.
Sweet, pleasurable, crispety-cruchity
To suggest to switch to oats—not instant oats whose fiber has been removed, taste augmented with maple and brown sugar or other sweeteners, but oats with fruit on top—makes no sense in the cereal aisle value system.
It tastes bland to someone who normally eats industrial cereals. It lacks crunch. The box isn't bursting with colors. It lacks variety.
The cereal aisle value system, within that system, makes sense. Color means froot. Brown means chocolate. Nutrition labels show nutrition. People probably feel they're eating healthy.
To suggest to put fruit on fruit loops is weird.
Apples and fruit (f r u i t) taste less sweet, less pleasurable, less crispety-crunchety to someone in that system.
Difference between honey crisp and Fuji negligible, meaningless. They're just apples. All fruit is basically the same too.
From a fresh fruit and vegetable, legume, whole grain, system, the cereal aisle is just as weird. The fresh fruit and vegetable system also has its values.
From each system, the other looks insane, untenable.
Tasting fresh after industrial, the food tastes bland. If you just sample it, it's borderline disgusting, like eating sand or cotton.
Exit the industrial system and you'll find huge variety in apples, let alone other fruit.
Fresh isn't bland absolutely, only when you've overloaded your taste buds. They aren't describing something about reality. They're evaluating the fresh system by the industrial system's values.
You may say that if each system works on its own why care which? The industrial one has much stronger flavors. The chip aisle, soda aisle, cookie aisle, ketchup aisle, all restaurants (I've written how all American restaurants with rare exception serve comfort food), attest to that variety.
Only one thing: one system claims healthy on its packaging but isn't. The other actually is healthy. Your life depends on this difference.
To switch from industrial to fresh, you have to exit the system. As long as you stay in the industrial system, trying fresh will disappoint. From my experience, spending enough time in fresh reveals more variety, sweetness, textures, and so on.
Beyond cereal, the whole supermarket with its marketing. Whole Foods and Trader Joe's full of packaging, almost nothing fresh, and so on.
I'm in my third year of not flying. Of all the people I've talked to about acting on their environmental values at most one has considered flying less.
Beyond not considering, they defend flying—the same people who, on any other issue will say, “Oh, you're privileged to have access to fresh,” will fly whenever they feel like it, as best I can tell, willfully ignoring yet more personal values that they jettison in favor of comfort and convenience while trying to silence others for the same behavior.
They view flying like Count Chocula and don't see there is another system, somehow missing that humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years, planes for about a century, and people aren't happier now than ever.
People tell me that not flying would be impossible. Not difficult or challenging but impossible. I would have said the same thing. They point out their family all over the world and job that requires it. I don't know if they're saying they're the special snowflake or that I am, but what they are calling impossible isn't not flying, which they know is possible. A few of those billions who never flew have found ways to be happy.
As with describing fresh as bland, they are saying it's impossible to do in their system. They're confusing that system with absolute reality. They're saying something about the system they're in, as well as their belief that they can't do anything about it, which my experience shows only holds them back from more joy, replacing it with helplessness.
Exit the system that says that flying is necessary and you find it's possible.
As with food, one actually is healthier, pollutes less, causes less craving. You may say, okay, I'm willing to sacrifice my health for pleasure. With 80% of the country overweight and obese and that percentage rising, a majority of Americans, a still growing fraction, are making that choice, increasing not just Americans too.
That's their business. Yours too, if you prefer indulgence over health or consider obese more attractive.
Personally, I had fat on me for most of my life that I thought I couldn't get rid of. I couldn't within that system. Now I can. I find apples more sweet than Ben and Jerry's—more sweetness with less sugar is impossible from industrial system values. I wouldn't have believed it, but I have the ab definition despite eating until full in every meal—that's what eating fiber does—to prove it. I spend less money, less time preparing food, socialize more, and so on.
More delicious, less money, more convenient, more community is all impossible from the industrial system, but it works. It took time to transition, but it works.
The same with flying. You think it's impossible, but when your life equivalent of your taste buds recover from you saturating it, you'll find it possible.
You'll look back on your craving to fly, your dependence, the way you'd look at Froot Loops after you didn't eat industrial food products for a month, only fresh. Something like disgust, confusion.
Which system do you want to support anyway? You can see the system that requires flying and its results: coral reefs dying, mercury in your food, plastic covering your beaches and parks, hazes over the cities you visit. Have you seen pictures of New Delhi and Beijing?
But wait, you object, the modern world really does require that flying. Technology will solve it.
New technology doesn't change the system. It makes it more efficient. Look up Jevon's Paradox or the Rebound Effect to see how increasing efficiency often leads to using more resources, just like expanding roads increases traffic. You may get a short-term reduction, but it increases eventually.
I want to give a clearer case of the disaster that awaits failure to realize you're in a system and believing that system is reality.
Wikipedia: The Millennium Challenge was a major war game exercise conducted by the United States Armed Forces in mid-2002. The exercise, which ran from July 24 to August 15 and cost $250 million, involved both live exercises and computer simulations. MC02 was meant to be a test of future military "transformation"—a transition toward new technologies that enable network-centric warfare and provide more effective command and control of current and future weaponry and tactics. The simulated combatants were the United States, referred to as "Blue", and an unknown adversary in the Middle East, "Red", with many lines of evidence pointing at Iran being the Red side.
Quoting from a review of what happened, focusing on the man who didn't buy into the values of the armed forces.
Paul Van Riper is tall and imposing, He formerly served in the US Marine Corps in Vietnam, and had a long, distinguished career. He ran his soldiers directly, concisely, and confidently. He was strict and fair – a student of war who gave clear ideas about how his men ought to conduct themselves. He was aggressive so all under him obeyed without question; his former soldiers lauded his leadership as natural and effective. In the spring of 2000, senior Pentagon officials approached him, post-retirement. The Pentagon was planning the Millennium Challenge ’02. They asked Van Riper to play a rogue military commander had broken from his government in the Persian Gulf and was threatening to throw the entire region into war. He had a considerable power base and was harboring and sponsoring multiple terrorist organizations, and was strongly anti-American.
On the opening day of the simulation, the Blue Team sent 10,000 troops into the Persian Gulf, parked an aircraft carrier battle group offshore the Red Team’s home country, and demanded surrender – acting with confidence, ostensibly knowing the Red Team’s vulnerabilities and moves. Van Riper did not act as the computers predicted. The Blue Team had destroyed all electronic/fiber-optic communication, assuming that the Red Team would rely on easily intercepted satellite communication. Van Riper instead used messages hidden in prayers and motorcycles. He used WWII-era methodology to circumvent the modern technology that would give away his moves.
On the second day of the game, Van Riper put a fleet of small boats in the Gulf to track the ships of the invading Blue Team navy. Then without warning, he bombarded the navy in an hour-long assault with cruise missiles. In the end, 16 American ships were at the bottom of the Gulf; had this been a real war, 20,000 American servicemen and women would have died without having fired a single shot. Analysts attempted to give different explanations, but none could fathom the fact that the Blue Team suffered a huge loss.
The PBS show Nova interviewed him. I suggest that however different war and nature, what he says about approaching either by relying on technology over strategy applies very similarly to each.
Paul Van Riper: When I look at any of the modern technology—whether it's precision-guided munitions, some of the automated command and control, the use of space, the overhead surveillance systems, and so on—I appreciate that technology. But I try to take a long view. Look back over the course of history. There are many moments that could have been called break points because of technology. People at the time thought the world would be fundamentally different because of that technology. Gunpowder would be an example. Use of gas in World War I. Atomic and nuclear weapons.
In reality, the fundamental nature of war hasn't changed, won't change, and, in fact, can't change. The nature of war was probably best explained and articulated by the Prussian general and theorist Carl von Clausewitz, who wrote the classic On War. In the book, he lays out the nature of war, which is, first of all, fundamentally uncertain. There is no way to predict how any war will turn out. As he said, it has its own dynamics as it unfolds.
We hear many terms, whether it's "transformation," "military technical revolution," "revolution of military affairs," all indicating something revolutionary has happened that's going to change warfare. Nothing has happened that's going to change the fundamental elements of war. The nature of war is immutable, though the character and form will change. The difficulty is that those who put forth this argument believe that something fundamentally has changed, and you can change very quickly without thinking your way through it. They want to apply the technology without the brainpower.
Anyone who understands war would never deny the place of technology. It has a very prominent place, a very important place. The American nation needs to invest all that it can afford in new technologies for the military. It just needs to be very careful that that investment supports an operating idea or concept. It's not technology for technology's sake. Worst of all would be for technology to lead the military instead of the ideas leading the development of the technology.
The first thing you have to understand is how you plan to fight in the future or in a particular engagement, a particular war. And once you understand how you're going to fight, then you bring the technology to it. If you lead with the technology, I think you're bound to make mistakes.
War and the environment are different, but relying on technology over understanding the situation and creating a strategy will lead to failure in both. In both cases people have learned from mistakes and figured out strategies, but in both cases people prefer to rely on strategies that worked before, ignoring how the world has changed, rendering past strategies counterproductive.
There's no excuse for repeating the blue team's failure environmentally.
As Van Riper said:
After Vietnam, the generation I represented went back and said, "What did we do wrong?" Well, there were those who blamed it on things that weren't responsible -- the media, the politicians, the fact we didn't have trained troops. They had a lot of other excuses for what the real problems were. The real problems were we did not have a thorough understanding of war, an intellectual doctrine of foundation for Vietnam.
We could say the same about our understanding of human behavior involving pollution. He also said, and think of the environment as I read it.
sitting now here in 2004, I take great umbrage at what they were doing. Here's a group with no military experience. And then you add on top of that, you actively avoided service in period of war, Vietnam, as the gentlemen are alleged to do? I take great umbrage that they would have anything to say about the military policies of this country.
With the environment, the issue is behavior and we're trying to get leadership from scientists who never led. In his words again
There's an art and science to war. The science is in support of the art. The science gives you the weapons systems; it allows you to have the communications; it allows you to have all the things that support the actual conduct of war. War, as it is fought, is an art. It's not a science. If you try to make it a science, you're bound to be disappointed.
Cultural change is an art, not a science.
I've shared many times my experience with food and how going low-tech has improved my life by my values. If you prefer delicious, cheaper, healthier, more convenient, more social, less pollution, and more fit, you can achieve my results. I'm not special.
Food helped me exit the system I was in that put fat on me, made me ignorant, took my money and time, and so on.
Exiting the system in one place told me I could exit it in others, so I did with flying.
My food became bland until I got into fresh.
Not flying became restrictive. But it's not what you give up, it's what you replace it with. The alternative to flying isn't sitting in your room staring at the wall. It's getting adventure, culture, cuisine, and so on in other ways.
Months ago, as I came to see flying as increasingly obnoxious, I wondered if I would ever see the Eiffel Tower again or taste Thai food in Thailand.
Without flying, you start looking at boats, sailboats in particular, since cruise and cargo ships look like the system I'm finding counterproductive.
Well, this episode is long enough, so I'll talk about how boating has evolved to look as rewarding as fresh in a future episode, but I'll include here that I was out on the water last night and will take my first basic sailing class this weekend and it costs less than any flight taken by anyone who has talked to me about privilege, and they've all flown, polluting and spending more money than people they are saying can't buy fresh.
Stay tuned, because I expect this summer to reveal productive sailing trips that will put your work to shame, that you can do when you choose to stop confusing the values of a system that's killing coral, submerging Florida, and so on with reality.
Anisa is another counterexample to believing that working on the environment distracts from getting ahead.
She rose to become the director of the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council despite being early in her career. Though she was doing fine in architecture, she responded to the call for help people and communities in New Orleans after hurricanes Rita and Katrina.
Doing what people cared about helped others and led her to positions to help more people, leading her to Washington, DC and being named one of the Most Powerful Women in Sustainability.
Still friendly and humble, she shared her environmental values, including where she felt she wasn't living up to them---what many people hide. Then she chose to act on them, recognizing the difficulty.
I see her as a role model for improving one's leadership through self-awareness and action.
Jeff has interviewed authors of leadership books since before I started writing mine. I enjoyed being a guest on his podcast.
This time he's on mine, and it's a landmark event, as the next section describes.
If you're here for leadership, Jeff is a great example of turning an interest into becoming an important person in a field.
If you're here for environmental leadership, listen for Jeff's project---one of the biggest of any guest so far in terms of leading himself and others. I'll let you listen to find out the details, but I'll mention that he takes a leadership role in his community to help people achieve something they all want but no one else has done.
Later episodes will reveal how his project goes, but already you can hear his interest in acting over just waiting.
I note that Jeff has read hundreds of leadership books and spoken to hundreds of leadership authors. My book, Leadership Step by Step, and this podcast are the first that led Jeff to lead---not just to talk, read, or write about leadership but to act.
21 million books sold among 60 titles---including one I remember from my mom's shelf as long as I can remember---a lifetime of research, speaking, and consulting, and more.
Since I don't often get to speak with people who have achieved so much, I was torn between acting like a fan and speaking to him like a regular guy. I hope I balanced them by sharing my One Minute Manager story at the beginning, then talking servant leadership.
Ken just released his latest book, Servant Leadership in Action, compiling lessons from top leadership thinkers and writers. He spoke about the book, the people in it, and their stories. More than one has been on this podcast, so click the link to find which.
Ken shares increasingly valuable wisdom as the podcast goes on, so I recommend listening to the end. There is no substitute for experience (why I teach experientially) and Ken has more than nearly anyone.
This morning I volunteered to pick up trash along the Hudson River.
The experience included baby geese, a crab, lots of plastic and waste, and people not connecting their behavior with all this garbage.
David has helped me many times. I felt honored to host him and, I hope, help start his environmental legacy.
We covered two main things.
First, his new book, Friend of a Friend, on networking. His background as a professor and practitioner means he approaches networking systematically and practically, so beyond learning to network more effectively, you understand networking as a process.
Second, his environmental commitment. I loved his choice for reasons you'll hear when you listen. I believe it will improve his life beyond just living by his environmental values.
David is direct, knowledgeable, experienced, and plain-spoken. Enjoy!
This episode asks some personal questions that are challenging if you haven't thought them through enough to act on them. I think they'll help you live by your values if you do.
Which is easier, for a slave owner to free his or her slaves or for you to stop using disposable water bottles and food packaging, flying around the world, turning down the thermostat and wearing a sweater in the winter, and so on?
If you had slaves, would you free them?
I think most people would say it's a lot easier to avoid plastic than to free slaves, but they would also say they would free their slaves -- at least when no one can check. But they don't act environmentally.
If you believe you would make the difficult choices hypothetically, will you also make the easier choices here and now?Read the transcript.
Vincent shares several stories of Patagonia growing from a few dedicated outdoors people to discovering business growth, the usual ways businesses abandon values besides profit, and their not accepting that abdication of responsibility.
The company grew financially, its employees grew emotionally and socially, and its community grew numerically.
If you think you're alone in wanting to act, Vincent and Patagonia go farther. Vincent shares how the company made difficult decisions to protect the environment, its employees, its suppliers, their employees, and so on---decisions most people think would hurt companies financially---but didn't.
As someone who dislikes many major corporations for what many consider standard business practices, I find in Patagonia and its decision-makers role models we can learn from. Having been there from nearly the start, Vincent gives an inside view.
His personal challenge also differs from many others', but I expect you'll like it. Mechanically simple, I bet he'll find it insidiously difficult and incredibly rewarding.Read the transcript.
RJ and I talk about the early success of LEAD Palestine, the organization he began to teach leadership to youths that most of the world abandoned in Palestine.
Where their environment made it natural to respond with hopelessness and what comes from it---desperation to the point of aspiring to blow oneself up---RJ is bringing social and emotional development to create hope themselves.
They happen to have been born into a world where leadership meant in politics authoritarianism and militarism, which bled into personal relationships. Nobody taught alternatives and those who acted on those models succeeded, however much at others' costs.
RJ is teaching an effective style of leadership built on personal skill. I can't help but imagine a lot of it came from my class, though, obviously he deserves the overwhelming credit for implementing it. Though the class he took with me was social entrepreneurship, that semester, several students showed great interest and initiative and I'd stay after class to teach and coach leadership exercises, sometimes for hours. Among those students, RJ stood out.
I also ask him about his personal role as a student barely older than the people he's helping, as well as his personal challenge of avoiding plastic bottles.
For a self-aware, thoughtful, active leader, the modest personal challenge increased his mindfulness, activity, awareness at no cost in time, money, or other resource.Read the transcript.