Thanks, Sir David …

Yesterday I was among the audience listening intently to Sir David Attenborough as he gave a lecture entitled People and Planet. The thrust of much of his argument is that we need to deal with the taboos surrounding the issue of ever-expanding population growth and the impact on planet earth. Given that the lecture was chaired by HRH Prince Philip KG KT, neither speaker pulled their punches.

This has left me wondering whether in fact the same taboos are affecting business? The reality of never-ending expansion is clearly unsustainable. So what if, following the opening of the population debate in such eloquent fashion by Sir David, discussion starts around ways in which we can operate that do NOT require ever more resources and continual growth to deliver meaningful employment? We should be able to employ people and give them a good standard of living without at the same time vastly increasing their resource consumption.

There seems to be a lesson for business here based in the Natural World. Populations that overreach themselves collapse (like the Arabian Oryx) and even Man is not ultimately immune. As Attenborough pointed out – there are two alternatives. We can stop the expansion by Contraception – which in business terms means developing models that don’t require being ever-bigger in business. The alternative is an increased Death Rate – through famine, disease or predation. For Famine we can insert more bankruptcies due to inadequate markets to support the underlying businesses. For Disease we can expect malfunctioning businesses that are increasingly unable to serve their customer base. And for Predation we can – in Sir David’s words – insert War. The latter may be commercial or the rather more traditional sorts of outbreaks of fighting that have plagued mankind throughout history.

So what – if anything – does this tell us that’s new? Well maybe nothing other than that, at last, some well-respected voices are being raised to question the sense of humankind’s behaviour. The Compleat Biz has advocated that this should be an inherent part of business thinking. So I’m pleased to say that – in the business world at least – we got there before one of the world’s great naturalists. However we cannot rest on our laurels. The real test is to see just how far and how fast the message can be spread before it is all too late.