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Managing the Department of No and the Department of How

Managing the Department of No and the Department of How in an organization requires diligence and persistence to achieve optimal outcomes. Corporate culture can thwart sustainable objectives and innovation. Leveraging new technologies, an open mind to change when smart science dictates and pursuit of radical product design form a good strategy to implement viable green initiatives and perferably a welcome SROI (Sustainable Return on Investment)


Does your organization have a Department of No and a Department of How? Maybe not with those titles but certainly implicit under different names and sometimes subsets of the same group or team. Phil McKinney the former VP and Chief Technology Officer at HP’s Personal Systems Group used these terms in a recent panel discussion, Future Shock: Technology in the Next 10 Years” to describe the function for “No” and “How’ in the deployment of innovation and technologies.

How does this relate to sustainability and green initiatives? The answer may reside in our view of the future. While we are often tied to short term thinking in the online virtual now, often bombarding us to the point preventing focused reflection, a long term view can be quite welcome.

“Corporate culture eats strategy for lunch” according to McKinney. Companies and organizations obstructing or dismissing prudent strategy due to a dogmatic corporate culture threaten sustainable solutions. Resistance to change is resident in the department of No. The question requires that we ponder some very relevant macro and micro strategies to ensure a sustainable path for all. Finding compromise and promoting dialogue between the No’s and How’s are critical.

So where do we begin?

Broadband will become as necessary as electricity, water and air according to McKinney. The ubiquity of reliable and more efficient broadband access plays a huge role not only for developed countries but also developing countries. Stewart Brand, author of Whole Earth Discipline: an Ecopragmatist Manifesto noted “cell phones are the fastest global diffusion of any technology in human history.” With accurate and available information, individuals can make informed choices to improve their lives. Today in many African countries, cell phone minutes and wireless access are used as a type of barter currency confirming the inherent value to access information quickly for better decision making.

Brand passionately argues for smart science to set the pace for environmental policy. Previously opposed to some new technologies on environmental grounds, Brand had a conversion of sort when he realized some taboo tactics for environmentalists were actually very green. Take genetic engineering for crops and plants. While conventional plant breeding can be very time consuming, genetically modified (GM) plants can grow more efficiently with greater nutrition values, drought tolerance, and pest resistance. For emerging countries, this is huge benefit. Brand notes “ we have stood in the way of golden rice in Asia, and we have stood in the way of Africa moving ahead with much better tropical crops, designed and made by engineering”

As for energy, the “Nos” have again raised concerns and perhaps rightly so after the Fukushima disaster during the 2011 earthquake. Yes, lessons can be learned and improvements made. A strategy severely curtailing nuclear power to meet rapidly growing energy requirements is not practical or really feasible in the near future. Consider the waste stream as well as the greenhouse gas impact from coal. Brand remarks, “if all of your electricity came from nuclear, it would be about one Coke can's worth of waste. But, one gigawatt a day from a coal-fired plant is turning 8,000 tons of fuel into 19,000 tons of carbon dioxide, plus all the slurry and mercury and all the rest of it.”

Green cleaning is a hot topic both for residential as well as commercial markets. Objections from the No’s follow well worn clichés. First, the upfront cost appears to be higher but only when Life Cycle Costs are dismissed or overlooked. Second, how effective can “green chemicals” be? Well, the answer was quite revealing.

When considering the total costs including reduced health risks, the ROI on green chemicals is not difficult to justify. In many cases VOC free green cleaning chemicals are very competitive depending on the application. The efficiency and effectiveness continues to meet and exceed conventional products. The prospects for innovation and continuous improvement are great. The department of How must be leading the way with radical product design while keeping a wary eye on those dragging their feet or resisting the benefits from collaboration.

The triad of reuse, recycled and reduce is standard in most sustainable discussions. Waste Management Corporation emphasizes another “R’ with their reminder to “Don’t Waste-Recover!” This ensures a robust cradle to cradle thinking as well as an example to challenge the good enough plateau. Radical product design demands the same mindset where better sustainable solutions continuously improve Life Cycle Costs.

The No Department is a necessary part of our personal and professional lives. Consideration for safety and accurate calculations come to mind. Cohabitation with the Hows can be testy. Open engagement with smart science is paramount for long term sustainable objectives. Embracing the “how” and more importantly the willingness to change one’s viewpoint or mind as Brand did on nuclear and genetic engineering will be necessary to maximize what should be a SROI (Sustainable Return on Investment). Secondly, seeking radical product design not only for green cleaning but for all sustainable products and tactics requires diligence and perhaps courage to challenge the culture.

Moderating the exchange between No and How Departments may not be easy especially when corporate culture suppresses different approaches. Leveraging new information technologies, a willingness to change one’s mind when smart science dictates, and a spirited pursuit of radical product design is the preferred way to sustainable know how.


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