Archive: Jean Brittingham

January 31st, 2011 | By Contributing Writer | Posted in Innovation | 1 Comment

Focusing on our Future: Where We’re Going

This is a guest blog by Jean Brittingham.

FuturamaFocusing on the negative doesn’t work. It crushes creativity, quells innovation and makes it very difficult to find hope. It makes us feel as if we have less control over our situation. It builds fear.

And fear breeds denial and resistance to the message as explained in this recent Big Think blog about the studies related to climate change and the increase in disbelief about the serious nature of the challenge.

And yet, we can’t seem to help ourselves. Those of us who spend a lot of time with science and scientists, looking at the data and spending nights worrying about how limited our ability to respond would be if the worst of what we fear actually happens, feel compelled to bring others along on our very dark ride. It reminds me of a line from a haunting Randy Newman song “I Just Want You To Hurt Like I Do.”

But let’s be honest. If the best that we can do is spread the fear, we are not any better at responding than those who decide they are just not going to believe in climate change, climate science, climate scientists or us—the fear bringers. In fact anything that would suggest they can’t just focus on their lives and do the best they can every day to make things better for themselves and their families is invisible to them.

And that’s where I believe the answer lies–our better future. Better for you and for your family. And ultimately, better for the planet, the rest of our species, and the others we share the planet with.

But that’s not the starting point. It’s the ending place.

The starting point is focusing on the future you really want. That’s why I am so excited about a new project lead by my friend and colleague Bill Becker. The Future We Want aims to engage the public in envisioning how the future will work, how we will live, get around, work and play. It is based on the idea that some of the greatest shifts in the world have happened after large-scale exhibits, world fairs and expos, that were future-focused, hopeful and exciting. The trick is that many people need to get excited and see the opportunity at the same time. That part is critical.

So how about we not just change the way we are communicating, but we change the way we are thinking. Let’s focus on the future and how to get there. Let’s focus on finding and then creating the future we want together.

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January 13th, 2011 | By Contributing Writer | Posted in Business & Economy, Innovation | 1 Comment

What’s So Great About Sheryl Sandberg’s Ted Talk AND What She’s Missing

This is a guest blog by Jean Brittingham.

I was very pleased to see Ms. Sandberg, COO of Facebook suggest some solutions for the mistakes that we women make in making our way in the work world. And even more pleased to hear her acknowledge the significant issue of dualism in our society as it relates to the interpretation of strong men and strong women. We (and in most studies and instances this includes women) are not so sure that we like strong, passionate, forceful and successful women as leaders. We’re pretty sure that we do like those traits in men.

This hard truth is a glimpse into a primary and deeply embedded belief in the culture of human society that is at the heart of why the leadership shift that we need must happen through a massive and meaningful women’s entrepreneurial movement. Only in a society where we have changed the culture from the top of our own organizations will the other efforts to gain equal access and opportunity meet success.

Really?

Yes.

And here’s why. Culture is an amazingly strong and unwieldy force. It is largely unnamed and invisible. Asking someone to explain the essence of their organizations’ culture is like asking a fish to explain water. The Denison Culture Survey folks, arguably the holders of the world’s leading database on organizational culture, say that culture is like an iceberg—most of it is hidden and underwater. Further, it is that hidden and unacknowledged part that will wreck your ship.

In his book Ishmael, Daniel Quinn unveils the concept of “mother culture” as a way of helping us understand not only how ubiquitous and unexamined most of our culture is, but more importantly how deeply we respect and obey these unexamined norms. Our culture is who we are and what we will become. It is our protection and nutrition. Our laws and societal norms don’t form our culture—they are built upon our culture.

So where does this strong aversion to women as leaders come from and why does it endure even now when the world has dramatically shifted to one where the very skills unique to the female half of our species are those most needed in leaders today?

At this point I could go into a long discussion and explanation of the role that the rise of the male-dominant monotheistic religion and the concurrent rise of legal property rights has played in creating our current culture. But let’s suffice it to say that these ideas, of right and wrong for women, have been in development for millennia (which is a very long time).

But we can simplify the analysis dramatically if we examine the primary mechanism of culture—the conversation. The language and stories of society offer us a most interesting window into the issue of strong, competent women as somehow “wrong.” Our feelings about this, individually and collectively, are set from the beginning by the language chosen to support the culture.

Good girls are Nice.

Good boys are, well–just good.

And everyone knows, nice is different than good.

Nice is polite, pleasant, kind and respectable and modest.

Good is skilled, superior and respectable.

There you have it.

It can be no surprise then that corporate cultures expect women to be capable and nice and know their place and men to be capable and skilled and get the job done no matter what. After all, nice girls grow up to be women and good boys grow up to be men.

And it’s just not very likely that this dominate culture, which prevails in nearly every corporate, government, religious and civil society organization on the planet today, will change no matter how consistent women are in being at the table, keeping our hand raised and negotiating for better and more equitable compensation.

It will change in two related and meaningful ways.

First, by men and women openly talking and exposing this culture without recrimination or need for apology. And second by building new companies with new cultures that work the way women entrepreneurs work. Their success at navigating the waters of the next economy will be the final tipping point for a return to balance between the masculine and feminine in the power structures of our society.

Because as Sheryl says, “if half of our countries and half of our companies were run by women, it will be a better world.”

It would be good and nice.

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December 23rd, 2010 | By Contributing Writer | Posted in Art & Society, Business & Economy, Environment & Energy, Innovation | 1 Comment

4 Trends that will Drive the Next Economy

This is a guest blog by Jean Brittingham.

I’ve been a little behind on blogging because we are working feverishly on our book—The SmartGirls’ Way. It’s very exciting to see it coming together. In the book we discuss the characteristics, strengths and success stories of women entrepreneurs and the critical role that women will play in the Next Economy. Today I thought I’d share my thoughts about this new economy as I see it evolving.

The real recovery from the “great recession” will come with some major changes that portend good things for entrepreneurs. First, there is near-consensus that the recovery cannot be built on consumption as it has reigned in the last 50 or so years. Resources are too limited, the planet is too fragile and large corporations that supported this consumption too easily become institutions unto themselves that care only for their own future and their own profits and fail in a huge and costly manner.

Instead we should begin to envision and shape the next economy—one that is focused on creating a new solid economic base, is powered by a low-or no carbon energy source, is driven by innovation, transparency and collaborative business models and creates opportunity across the entire spectrum of social-economic reality.

There are many thoughts and ideas out there about what will drive and create this new economy. I believe it will be driven by the following four trends:

  1. A resource-constrained environment on a health-challenged planet
  2. The creation of “mega-intelligence” through collaborations that create in-depth knowledge and insights in the fields of science and technology
  3. A massive amplification of creativity that feeds innovation
  4. The rise of entrepreneurial collaboratives

Let’s first look at the issues related to a resource-constrained planet. This is not a hypothesis but rather our reality. Peak oil is around the corner. Coal, while abundant, is a major contributor to unhealthy air and global warming. Increasingly, we will have to learn how to reuse what we have already used and treat the planet as the amazing life support system that it is. This one truth has to be embraced—the planet does not exist for the benefit of the economy. It just exists. If we foul it forever, we are truly lost.

But an economy that benefits humankind, supports the development of peaceful society on earth, and sustains our life-support planet infinitely is not only possible but we can actually begin to see how we will get there.

Mega-intelligence as I am talking about it here is not a new field of study of the so-called super class of genius. I don’t mean to be dismissive, but if brilliant individuals could save the world, we would certainly be in a different spot right now. More appropriately, this term refers to the combined or collective intelligence that can be put to a problem through the connectivity and transparency afforded by increasing ubiquitous technology. Our digital connections have taken us well beyond any boundary condition previously thought of around the internet (for those who like to think about limitations) to a place where individuals of different cultures and language are collaborating on projects ranging from nuclear energy to music in the “cloud” and we are lending our personal computing ability to work 24/7 on the worlds most pressing problems—at least those that can be approached through 0s and 1s.

We are at the edge of knowing how to harness and focus this intelligence and the success of recent movements ranging from politics to science assures us that we will solve many more problems together than we have even dared to dream of by ourselves.

Creativity is fuel. It generates momentum and optimism. A wonderful/horrible truth of human nature is that when pushed to the limit, we get very creative. Our survival instinct is strong and often kicks it into high gear to help us out of a tight spot.

The current economic reset represents just such a tight spot. Even if you don’t understand or care much about economics, it’s clear that something dramatically different is afoot. Not only is a rebound to the old consumptive habits unlikely—most of us don’t seem to want it. But we aren’t excited about a future that is less interesting or comfortable either. So things are getting creative. Creative ways of working and living, of finding value propositions and new business models and creative about collaboration and wealth creation. Creativity and urgency have energized some amazing collaboratives and innovations.

And finally, whether as a result or a response, the willingness to exercise our entrepreneurial spirit has never been higher. Whether in the clean-energy economy, social enterprises focused on creating breakthroughs in traditionally underserved communities or as spin-offs and internal “tanks” in the big dog corporations, the fall of the old economy has seen the rise of entrepreneurs.

Polar opposites come together to pave the way to a future that is more vibrant, resilient and flexible. A world where entrepreneurial spirit and self-reliance is augmented and magnified by a connected creativity supported by technology that builds communities that learn, grow and make a living together.

You can see why I think the entrepreneurial future is one where women will thrive.
Success in the future will likely be measured more by the quality of your experiences than the 0s after your income bracket. Your net contribution to life will matter more than your net worth. And the inheritances your grandkids will care about are great communities, interesting work and a healthy planet.

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December 17th, 2010 | By Contributing Writer | Posted in Art & Society, Business & Economy, Innovation | Comments Off

If You Want to Design Consumer Shift – Let the Women Do It!

This is a guest blog by Jean Brittingham.

Over the past few years, there has been a ‘quickening’ in the world of women as it relates to the health and future of our planet. This awakening has fuelled the emergence of grassroots communities as well as the significant increase in entrepreneurial activity among women that we at SmartGirls are so very excited about.

It has also created a significant body of research about the traits of successful women in these ventures. Not surprisingly they are the traits talked about extensively in sustainability salons, environmental blogs, and policy meetings — systems awareness and thinking, passion, hopefulness, solutions orientation and a keen understanding of the undeniable power of relationships.

Women, who are known to wield significant influence in consumer decision-making, can become a secret weapon in a shift to sustainable consumption. To be specific, if experiences are created to engage women in the design, marketing, advertising and delivery of the shopping experiences of the future based on sustainable, healthy and generative products and services, the shift to sustainable consumption could be accelerated and the long-desired “consumer pull” for sustainability could see daylight.

I would be thrilled to see consumer brands get excited and real about this opportunity and have recommended it to Davos through my involvement with the Consumer Industry Global Agenda Council. Think about the power of a “design for the future” project incentivized with prizes that is particularly focused on engaging with women across the planet. I see kiosks in retail outlets, community centers and other places where women naturally gather.

It’s true that current consumption model was built on creating desire and needs that citizen-consumers (mostly women) respond to. It’s also true women care more about the health of families, communities and therefore the planet and are creating a lot of the actual leadership to make this shift happen.

Who then better to help design our way to the future we want?

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