Monday, 11 January 2010

Learning a New Rhythm

I was reminded of the power of repetition in returning to the river yesterday afternoon to race against the Durham University first rowing VIII. It is over 30 years since my last race in a rowing boat but the instinct came flooding back. The old boy’s boat went well (for a short period) but as expected the younger men won.

Rowing in perfect unison is a good analogy of successful society and a successful corporation. We each play our part according to a unifying rhythm. Once we have learnt how to operate we repeat the same actions over and over again reinforcing success and getting ever more efficient.

Novice oarsmen or women take many months to get the balance, a feel for the water and the rhythm that will take them through the race. Old hands like us could slip into old habits with ease. In the past, many hours, days, weeks and months on the river have honed our instincts into a perfect machine. These habits are not forgotten but it would now be tough to learn a new rhythm.

The thirty years since my undergraduate days has seen a huge expansion in the world economy and a huge increase in the pressure we are placing on the environment. The rhythm with which we run society is focused on economic outcomes. This rhythm has become ingrained and second nature.

It will be hard to change the rhythm to a different beat but change it we must. This new rhythm is sustainability. If you are not used to it, you have to concentrate hard or get caught in a number of traps. Take heart; sustainable policy and sustainable operations have a much more natural rhythm. Once learned it will run much more smoothly and intuitively, but putting aside the rhythm of the past will take time.

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