Whenever I start to believe my own publicity, I simply look up at the stars at night (when in the countryside at least due to light pollution making the night sky all but invisible in our cities) and remind myself how small and insignificant I am...

5 min read

Whenever I start to believe my own publicity, I simply look up at the stars at night (when in the countryside at least due to light pollution making the night sky all but invisible in our cities) and remind myself how small and insignificant I am.

If we walk around thinking we’re insignificant it’s not necessarily that empowering but recognizing that even something of a seemingly insignificant scale can have a major impact, can have an influence on our lives. As an example, what’s the deadliest creature on earth? Shark, Hippopotamus, Snakes? No, 7 deaths, 500 deaths, and 100,000 deaths per year respectively. In fact, it’s the humble, insignificant mosquito is responsible for between 750,000 and a million deaths a year.

So, size and scale aren’t the determinants of insignificance. One of the major voices in the need to address climate change has been Greta Thunberg, a Swedish environmental activist that caught the attention of so many across the world from the age of 15. It’s not about where you live, who you are, or how old you are. It’s about what you think and what actions you take.

But above all else, I truly believe it’s about the ability to connect with others and forge meaningful relationships. As individuals, we can achieve a great deal, and as a team, we can deliver so much more. It’s not (and I think this has only been enhanced by the lockdowns many faced) always about coming together as a team in a physical environment, to me it’s more about bringing together the most relevant people possible. I know relevant sounds very exclusionary, and I want to stress it’s the very opposite. In my mind relevance comes from wanting to be involved. This is not about people being in a meeting because they have been invited or taking part in a project because it’s one of their objectives. It’s because they have an interest and something to contribute.

As someone that was very much an introvert in my earlier life (until I realized I needed people to hear what I had to say) I very much recognize the importance to bring people into the fold. To encourage people to contribute and to make people welcome and ensure their views are heard.

When I first started my last corporate role, the very first thing I did was to reach out to speak to as many people as possible. It’s not because I have amazing questions or people were desperate to talk to me, but I found anyone I wanted to get time with was so generous and giving. I’m talking about people from across the business, people in Australia, Costa Rica, South Africa, just anywhere and everywhere. Doing this in advance of COVID was like rocket fuel for the conversations that followed.

By nature, we’re social beings, we like the connection with others, and we like being around people we can talk to. (I’m going to touch on loneliness in a couple of weeks as it’s such an important topic I’m unable to do it justice here.) I’ve now a genuine network of amazingly talented and thoughtful people whom I can connect with on any topic. In fact, in an hour's time, I’m connecting with four of my favourite people that just happen to be based in Miami, New York, Milan and Amsterdam, two I’ve never knowingly met in person! We don’t need to be in the same room, each of us has something different to add to the conversation, about the expansionary nature of sustainability. I’m always mindful of avoiding an echo chamber of people that think, behave, and have the same background that I do.

For the avoidance of doubt, and in case the photo is misleading, I’m a middle-aged, white, male. Without leaning into empathy I cannot hope to understand what it’s like to walk in the shoes of any of the people that have been kind enough to join the call we’re going to have.

To make something significant we need to come at it from a balanced perspective. Have we explored different views, have we allowed ourselves to be willingly challenged in how we think? If we haven’t, I think the significance of what we say diminishes. Again, I’m not saying that what I think, what you think isn’t important. It is. However, it’s rare that I would have enough belief in a piece of output that it wouldn’t be improved by the eyes or words or others. There’s a difference between belief and certainty. I see a belief as being something you commit to supporting regardless of whether there is robust evidence or not, I see certainty as something I have evidentiary proof of.

I believe that focusing on empathy is the most important thing I can do. Is there evidence that my involvement will lead to a significant change? No. Do I have certainty that I can influence and engage people on the topic? Yes. I’ve seen people respond, I’ve seen people feel challenged, feel uncomfortable and ask the question that is like manna from heaven, ‘what can I do? ‘What should we be doing?’

he first concert (gig?) I ever went to was to see Counting Crows and it happens that one of their songs is called ‘Insignificant’

‘I don’t want to feel so different. But I don’t want to be insignificant.’

They are right in many ways. People like to fit in, and sadly we are suspicious of those that are outside our usual frame of reference. Sadly, because it’s often those that are different that have the best ideas to share, what does different mean anyway? I revel in being different and I believe that’s what gets engagement. Why would you want to always see and speak to the same person, different in name only?

I hope I’ve shown why none of us is insignificant. But also, the knowledge that we rarely have an answer by ourselves is what makes our impact even more significant.

The ability to create those relationships, to create a connection, to support and empower someone else is a key fundamental of sustainability. By bringing together diverse thinkers we give ourselves the greatest opportunity to make a difference.

I would urge anyone, regardless of what stage they are in their career, to make connections. You will never meet enough people; you will never get to speak to everyone you should. If someone starting their career reaches out to you on LinkedIn give them a little of your time if someone that’s a fair way through their career offers to listen or again wants to talk give some of your time.

I know that time is the most valuable commodity we can offer but if our time enables someone to be more significant, to contribute to a discussion and often, to educate us, isn’t that one of the best uses of time you can think of?

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