Sustainability, generative reasoning and Pascal’s Wager

I felt duty bound to weigh in on the comments thread of one of Umair Haque’s fantastic recent posts and, I’m glad to say, my contribution was much appreciated by the author.

Umair is the writer of some truly inspiring and thought-provoking posts on the subject of sustainability and what you might describe as his “business case for betterness” – all the more noteworthy and significant as they are written under the distinctively left-brain banner of HBR.

For me, they paint an extremely compelling picture not only of how sustainability can create superior value for organisations, but how the increasing significance of sustainability stands to re-shape very definition of what constitutes “value” in the first place.

Sadly, they also seem to encourage an extraordinary amount of vitriol from many others who prefer to demand line-by-line proof of causality of Umair’s musings rather than consider the implications of the bigger picture he’s painting.

Leaving aside the fact that… erm… it’s a blog (not a flippin’ PhD thesis!) this points to a basic paradox that’s far more insidious…

That is, the fundamental flaw in attempting to apply analytical, 20th century, industrial-age thinking to judge the merits of a more intuitive, 21st century, sustainability-age thesis.

To quote Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management, “to prove something means to look at the past and apply one of two forms of logic – inductive or deductive – to produce a declaration that something is or is not true.”

Patently, this is completely inappropriate for emergent concepts that require not declarative reasoning (the definitive declaration of what is), but generative reasoning (the imagination of what might be).

Just as with Umair’s blog, I know there’s a lot of people who view what’s written here and on the CommScrum as unduly sensationalist and hyperbolic at times. But here’s the thing…

If you make the leap and open your mind to the possibilities, and we’re wrong, what have you really lost?

If you bury your head in the sand, and we’re right, by the time your longed-for definitive proof arrives, chances are you’ll already have been out-competed.

And here’s the bridge for lovers of deductive reasoning…

It’s just like Pascal’s Wager. Whether or not you believe in what we have to say, it makes logical sense to act as if you do. Because the consequences of betting the wrong way are infinitely worse.


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