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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Overfished Ocean Strategy

Overfished Ocean Strategy
Powering up innovation for a resource-deprived world
Dr. Nadya Zhexembayeva

ISBN: 978-1609949648

Published: Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 1 edition (June 2, 2014)


Overfished Ocean Strategy offers five essential principles for innovating in this new reality. Zhexembayeva shows how businesses can find new opportunities in what were once considered useless by-products, discover resource-conserving efficiencies up and down their value chain, transfer their expertise from physical products to services, and develop ways to rapidly try out and refine these new business models. She fills the book with examples of companies that are already successfully navigating the overfished ocean, from established corporations such as BMW, Microsoft, and Puma to newcomers such as Lush, FLOOW2, and Sourcemap. The linear, throwaway economy of today—in which we extract resources at one end, create products, and throw them away at the other—is rapidly coming to an end. In every industry, creative minds are learning how to make money by taking this line and turning it into a circle. Nadya Zhexembayeva shows how you can join them and avoid being left high and dry.

I have had the privilege to hear Dr. Nadya Zhexembayeva deliver keynote addresses twice in the past couple of years, and both times, I have listened to her articulation of the headlines of the Overfished Ocean Strategy with absolute focus, totally absorbed in the message and in the delivery. Now, Overfished Ocean Strategy has hit the shelves and I find drawn to its simply stated narrative and coherent arguments. Don't let that simplicity deceive you. The book is the result  of deep-dive research and a good deal of leadership thought and intelligent analysis. By the end of the book, you not only know what the Overfished Ocean Strategy is all about, you know how to get there. You also want to. And, you want others to, as well.
The book starts with an overview of our new competitive reality. One in which we are trashing more than we have places to put the trash we generate. The linear economy has outlived its usefulness and is now hurling us along the path to oblivion. Declining resource reserves, the volatility of fossil fuel prices, water scarcity, climate change and weather extremes, with high insurance premiums hot on their heels, and overconsumption of stuff that becomes obsolete all too quickly are the defining warning signs of a crisis in the making. It's a throwaway economy. But all is not lost. Yet. The wealth of ideas, some already successfully implemented, on how to create bottom up sustainable design is what will save us. It's not only about "disruptive innovation for a resource-deprived economy". It's about a new economy, designed from the ground up to recreate the way we innovate and generate value. Instead of rewarding those that handle trash, we should target to eliminate trash at source. This means rethinking our world and stopping overfishing the oceans.
There are five central ideas that take us through the journey to an appropriately fished ocean.
First: From line to circle: a circular economy in which the waste of one process becomes the raw material for another. Michael Braungart and Bill McDonough's Cradle to Cradle took this concept to scale, and although it makes perfect sense, it's still not even approaching common practice by a big margin.
Second: From vertical to horizontal: expanding horizons and approaching business strategies by engaging with the entire supply network at all levels, not just upstream and downstream to suppliers and customers. Through fundamentally remapping supply chain relationships and engaging in partnership spirit with key players, the top-down bottom-up approach to doing business becomes as obsolete as the items in the linear economy that we dispose of so rapidly. And with a direct link to what we might otherwise know as sustainable business practice, Nadya recommends stakeholder mapping as an essential tool in the Overfished Ocean Strategy toolkit: "It is surprising how few managers I meet that are able to think in terms of stakeholder needs and risks - even within their organization, let along outside of it."  
Third: Growth to Growth: When we think growth, we think more money, more production, more output, more sales. Theoretically, all this should lead to more profit. But in a linear economy, it also leads to more of the stuff we have to find places to trash. Overfished Ocean Strategy tells us we should be looking for a new kind of growth, one that is based on the value we generate not the items we manufacture. By shifting the paradigm of what constitutes value - services rather than physical products, meaning rather than mass production - companies can reframe their offering and meet society's needs in a different way. "Building relevance into everything a company makes is not an easy task" writes Nadya. "What matters is meaning. The good news is that meaning comes in different forms, and in unlimited supply".
Fourth: From Plan to Model: "Planning is overrated" (I am glad to hear this! I can't remember anything good ever coming from a business plan... :)) This fourth principle of the Overfished Ocean Strategy urges us to constantly adapt to the new reality. By the time we finish our plans, reality has changed. It's better to work on the basis of a constantly evolving model rather than a rigid prescriptive plan. Such a shift might, for example, urge you to get out there in the market with a less than complete product (according to plan) and take the plunge with something that can evolve as the market evaluates how to use and benefit from it. Don't plan. Plan to model.
Fifth: Department to Mind-Set: Here we go on a journey back to the ancient Sumerian civilization that developed the concept of division of labor in the roles citizens played in Sumerian cities. Current corporate life is pretty much the same.  But, according to Nadya, "resource intelligence is not an easy-to-follow principle. Line-to-circle thinking cannot depend on narrow functional brilliance.The Overfished Ocean Strategy does not fit into a small box or department". And then she adds: "The majority of companies I met got it wrong." Even "the sustainability department" gets knocked on the head here. (I agree with this to a point, thought I personally believe that there is and always should be a place for a sustainability specialist in every company, that acts and an integrator, an overseer of sustainable principles and practices, and a coordinator of sustainability communications, without replacing the individual accountability that all leaders, managers and employees must integrate these into their daily roles).
Overfished Ocean Strategy follows a simple consistent message that most of us won't be challenged to understand and even agree with. Each chapter is peppered with examples of practice from large corporations and small companies we've never heard of, and supplemented with guidance for how to make the shift. Relevant and sometimes humorous quotes from a range of thought-leaders add interest. The toolkit section at the end of each chapter provides valuable suggestions about where to look for additional help or inspiration. The book does not propose a quick fix. But it does provide several diverse examples of the Overfished Ocean Strategy being played out today in companies across the world. We can learn from all of them.
Nadya's earlier book, Embedded Sustainability, co-written with Chris Laszlo, was spectacular, and well worth the investment of time to read. This one is easier on the brain, faster and more entertaining, and plays to both our intellect and to our emotions. It's a book with charm that totally packs a punch. In both cases, it's a perfect reflection of Nadya Zhexembayeva. You have my strongest recommendation to read it and absorb its message. It won't take you too long, but it will leave a lasting change in your thinking.  

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via   or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm
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