During this year’s House of Beautiful Business “Concrete Love conference”, Maja, an 8-year-old girl from South Africa, was challenging the gathered business romantics, self-proclaimed innovation, inclusion & diversity experts and leaders of some of the most acclaimed tech companies in an experiment to come up with one single but joint action towards betterment of the climate, for the planet, to reduce emissions. Maja, via a recorded video message, gave us exactly 45 minutes.
And so, history took its course. After 45 minutes, 300 humans where yelling in disorder, fighting for the microphone to propagate their ideas by all means. And as the last 10 seconds we’re ticking down, instead of at least just taking one single, one tiny or even desperate measure, we had nothing better to do than to squirt with water guns laying around for our distraction.
We lost the bet
Then Maja came on stage – for real. And she was supposed to get our one, single solution presented. But there was none…
Let me just state her final two words: “I understand.” With a tone of voice like a loving mother to her child that just made a terrible mistake. Full of forgiveness.
This moment was the pinnacle of deep-felt shame. A feeling starting to rise in me 10 minutes earlier when I realized in resignation, we had no chance of succeeding. The magnitude of this feeling left me in shock. When was the last time I felt so much ashamed? And why, since this was a planned and well-crafted experiment, a hoax if you want to call it so. Why did I care?
By design of the experiment there was no given process, nor designated leadership. And time was utterly scarce. So instead of seizing the moment and first organize ourselves, defining a process and delegating leadership, we jumped to the guns quite literarily. Decapitated chickens like, we stopped using our brains but run-on instincts.
Why did we not think of the beautiful Einstein quote: “If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.”
With a daunting task and time working against you, how do you organize and lead the masses? In Lisbon we were three hundred people trying to solve a bet. In Glasgow, thousands of people discuss, argue, and try to find a solution, while our planet holds billions.
Shouldn’t we all work in unity against climate change?
At the House, the experiment’s organizer deliberately aimed for the feeling of shame. Who would not feel ashamed when failing a child’s emotional request for agency? The power of shame became visible when people either resigned and withdrew from the center stage to a remote corner in the dark or by irrationally squirting water-guns as to deflect attention from themself.
But shame is not only a very powerful human feeling, it is key in our survival as a species. Shame helps us adhere to cultural norms and to develop or change corresponding behaviors. Therefore, it is so important that we embrace the shame from this experiment. It is this healthy shame we should use to recalibrate our beliefs and attitudes towards how we will change and what needs to be done to fight the climate crisis.
But what could that be? Time? We will never have “enough” time. Someone who owns the process and leads us? We will never have the one leader we all want to follow.
So how do we disagree and still move forward, together?
The crowd in Lisbon was full of people capable of articulating ideas and visions. And I am grateful humans can collaboratively imagine so many futures. But as long as visions fight with each other for leadership, we will not move forward. We need to decide whether we rather make a point or make a difference. Leading change means that you need to let people embrace the change for their own reasons. We sometimes must step back – despite the urge to make a point for a topic we are burning for. Why? Because it is with small first steps that big solutions are created.
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Karel J. Golta
CEO + Founder