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Sustainability and Technology Acceleration—How to Surf the Killer Waves: A Systems Thinking Approach to Become Fit for the Future

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Rethinking Strategic Management


Addressing key decision makers of any organization, this chapter not only answers the question, ‘Why’ any organization must walk through a fundamental transformation to become fit for the future, it also provides a sound response on ‘What’ to do and ‘How’ to do it, taking a systems perspective. While many of the mentioned concepts, terms, methodologies, tools, etc. might sound familiar, this chapter takes a System Integrator Approach, comparable to an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), building on the capabilities of its Tier 1 and Tier 2 partners to provide the integrated solution that stakeholders ask for. Two essential processes, namely ACER and ADVISE, put existing knowledge and experience in system context, thus leading to complete new insights. Based on the introduced mental models and language, the relevance of collaboration over competition will become obvious, with the guiding theme being context-driven, purposeful innovation leadership, inviting the new leaders to take over.

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  1. 1.

    Innovation is often referred to as product innovation, however, innovation happens in all four quadrants, hence the labeling of this quadrant in quotation marks.

  2. 2.

    Originating from the US Military VUCA stands for: Volatile; Uncertain; Complex; Ambiguous. D as in Disruptive has been added to emphasize market effects (Lawrence & Steck, 1991).

  3. 3.

    The term Singularity Wave as synonym for Technology Acceleration Wave references to the exponentially growing advancements in any kind of technologies, a trend which is well captured in the landmark Time magazine 02.2011 article “2045, The year man becomes immortal” (Grossman, 2011) and was elaborated by, among others, the Singularity University (Singularity University, 2018). See also Chap. 18.

  4. 4.

    “The Human Development Index (HDI) is a summary measure of average achievements in key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and having a decent standard of living. It does not reflect on inequalities, poverty, human security, empowerment, etc.” (United Nations Development Program, 2018). The maximum HDI value of 1 is broken down in quarters, defined as low, medium, high and very high development.

  5. 5.

    The term “overall” in this case is about national statistical figures and does not take into account the variances affecting individuals and organizations who may see themselves confronted with opposite trends due to societal break-downs, wars, hunger, etc.

  6. 6.

    “Ecological Footprint accounting measures the demand on and supply of nature. On the demand side, the Ecological Footprint measures the ecological assets that a given population requires to produce the natural resources it consumes and to absorb its waste, especially carbon emissions. (…) On the supply side, a city, state or nation’s Biocapacity represents the productivity of its ecological assets. These areas, especially if left unharvested, can also absorb much of the waste we generate, especially our carbon emissions.” (Global Footprint Network, 2018). The EFP is measured in global hectare per person.

  7. 7.

    “The Anthropocene defines Earth’s most recent geologic time period as being human-influenced, or anthropogenic, based on overwhelming global evidence that atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric, and other earth system processes are now altered by humans. The word combines the root ‘anthropo,’ meaning ‘human’ with the root ‘-cene,’ the standard suffix for “epoch” in geologic time. The Anthropocene is distinguished as a new period either after or within the Holocene, the current epoch, which began approximately 10,000 years ago (about 8000 BC) with the end of the last glacial period.” (, 2018); see also Chap. 1.

  8. 8.

    “The 12 dimensions of the social foundation are derived from internationally agreed minimum social standards, as identified by the world’s governments in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.” (Raworth, 2018); Illustrative indicator sources: FAO, World Bank, WHO, UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF, OECD, IEA, Gallup, ITU, UN, Cobham and Sumner, ILO, UNODC, and Transparency International. See also Chap. 1.

  9. 9.

    Alternatively, The Natural Step introduced the Funnel metaphor to depict our sustainability challenge where declining walls indicate decreasing space to maneuver which need to re-open. Kate Raworth visualizes and speaks about the “safe and just operating space” between the social foundation and environmental ceiling in her Doughnut.

  10. 10.

    As also reflected by Elkington in his “strategic product recall” of the Triple Bottom Line at its 25th anniversary (Elkington, 2018).

  11. 11.

    Disclaimer: Both authors relate to The Natural Step Germany and the international TNS network.

  12. 12.

    One of the authors, Edwin Janssen, was involved as Technical Advisor since the beginning, early 2013.

  13. 13.

    See also Chap. 8.

  14. 14.

    ACERing Key Stake Holders” follows the same logic as before but asks for a different approach. Instead of the individual level, it is now the organizational level that needs to find its turning point. Without getting the Key Stake Holders on board, change is simply not going to happen. See also Part III of this book.

  15. 15.

    These personas are anecdotal types, based on numerous interactions with individuals, many of them being Key Decision Makers, and their reactions respectively responses to the topic of socio-ecological sustainability from a systems perspective. They are helpful definitions to prioritize communication measures.

  16. 16.

    Incompetent in this case is meant as being fully aware that the current understanding of an individual, or organization does not suffice to master a given challenge.

  17. 17.

    Potential sources are Collins and Porras (1996, 2002), Future-Fit Business Benchmark© (2018a), the UN Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations, 2015), the Singularity University’s teaching on Exponential Technologies (Singularity University, 2018).

  18. 18.

    Full implementation, or improvement, of an innovation ecosystem to ensure it serves context-driven, purposeful innovation leadership is to be considered an initiative on its own as part of the Masterplan.

  19. 19.

    Muda (無駄) is a Japanese word meaning “futility; uselessness; wastefulness,” and is a key concept in lean process thinking (Ohno, 1988). At Toyota originally seven forms of waste were identified.


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Correspondence to Rüdiger A. Röhrig .

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Röhrig, R.A., Janssen, E.J.M. (2019). Sustainability and Technology Acceleration—How to Surf the Killer Waves: A Systems Thinking Approach to Become Fit for the Future. In: Wunder, T. (eds) Rethinking Strategic Management. CSR, Sustainability, Ethics & Governance. Springer, Cham.

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