Crossing the Abyss

Posted on 21 Sep 2021 by John Robinson

The UN called the recent IPCC report on climate change a “code red for humanity”. We are staring into the abyss, but can we see a way to deal with the challenge ahead?

Many people, including me, believe that human ingenuity and new technologies could provide the long-term solution to climate change and sustainability.

Most of the initiatives currently being applied or developed globally are technology focussed such as renewable energies, Industry 4.0, electric vehicles, and Smart Cities. Placing all our faith in technology however is a risky strategy. What if the theories don’t work? Can we develop them in time? Can we scale them quickly enough? The clock is ticking, and time is not on our side.

Technology being our saviour is a possibility for the future, but it is not making a big enough impact yet.

The question therefore is what can we do now that isn’t dependent on technology?

Can we change our behaviour in a way that makes a big short-term impact and buys us more time?

As individuals I am sure that many of us are changing our behaviour. We are more conscious about the decisions we make in areas such as ethically and sustainably sourced products, our energy consumption, our modes of transport and recycling. But whilst changing individual human behaviour is helpful, there are many influencing factors that mean the impact of this will also not be big enough or fast enough.

Another reason individual behavioural change is not the solution is because the IPCC report states that “fossil fuel combustion for energy, industry and land transportation are the largest contributing sectors on a 100-year time scale”. And given that a large percentage of the current demand for energy and land transportation is actually from industry means that industry must shoulder its responsibility and lead the way.

So how can the global industrial ecosystem change its behaviour?

My view is that the behaviours, or ‘business models’, I have observed throughout my thirty-year career are where the answer lies. The status quo we are all a part of is inefficient, ineffective, and wasteful. It is defined by internal and external silos of competence, an adversarial buyer/supplier relationship and a highly competitive environment that is ultimately to the detriment of all involved. If we perpetuate this behaviour it will lead to a ‘mutually assured destruction’ of a very different kind to the one envisioned during the cold war era.

Crossing the Abyss - SAP stock image

Being able to see the systemic problems with the status quo is what led me to develop ‘The Quorum Principle’ as a possible solution in September 2020.

The Quorum Principle is a simple concept based on collaboration and is the antithesis of the status quo. Competency silos are removed, suppliers become partners and competition is replaced with collaboration. It changes the nature of the relationship between manufacturers and suppliers and between suppliers in the ecosystem. Imagine your five largest strategic suppliers working together with you and each other to achieve your business objectives. As a theoretical example for a global manufacturer, this could mean McKinsey, SAP, Microsoft, Siemens, and Accenture working together with the manufacturer’s teams. The combined value of these suppliers is far more than any one of them can deliver individually. In this case, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

Bringing our combined capabilities to bear towards a common goal would make global industry far more efficient and effective. The impact on consumption, waste and emissions would be huge and can be achieved in a very short time frame. Most importantly, we can start making this change today. We just need to show the leadership, courage, and determination to make this way of working the new status quo.

Some might say that The Quorum Principle is idealistic and unrealistic. That there are too many barriers and that it can’t be done.

Two years ago, I might have agreed. However, the global response to Covid-19 has provided many examples of collaboration that we would not have imagined in late 2019.  The global vaccine effort, the Ventilator Challenge, working from home and almost no face-to-face business meetings. Necessity is the mother of invention and when faced with a global crisis and a common goal we have shown that we can quickly change our behaviour, collaborate, and make a huge impact.

The last 20 months have been devastating and most people realise that Covid-19 presents an immediate threat to human life. I don’t believe however that there is the same level of realisation that climate change is also an immediate threat to life and needs to be addressed now. Furthermore, climate change is not only a “code red for humanity”, it is a threat to all life on Earth. This is a global crisis of our own making and we have a joint responsibility and mutual need to find a solution.

In 1991 Geoffrey Moore published his book, Crossing the Chasm to describe the challenge new products and technologies face in reaching mainstream adoption.

The Quorum Principle faces adoption challenges that are much bigger than that of a single product or technology. Whilst in many ways it is nothing more than a disruptive business model, to describe it as such understates both the size of the challenge and more importantly, the significance of the impact it could have.

If The Quorum Principle reaches global mainstream adoption it would represent a paradigm shift for industry.

So, what will it take for this paradigm shift to happen? In a word – Leadership

Adopting The Quorum Principle is a strategic, board level decision. It is a binary choice between sticking with the status quo or adopting a new business model that has implications across the organisation and beyond. Such change can only be driven from the top down.

The companies and leaders that inspire most of us are the visionaries who innovate, create, and disrupt. The ones who challenge the status quo. They are the leaders I am looking for.

It is my firm belief that if we can start collaborating in this way on a global scale, it might buy us the time we need for technology to save the day.

Maybe this is our way of Crossing the Abyss.

I will be discussing The Quorum Principle with a panel of manufacturing leaders during a keynote at the Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit on the 10th November in Liverpool.

Please register now to join the debate.

About the author

John Robinson, SAP.

John is currently a Strategic Client Advisor within SAP’s global manufacturing and Industry 4.0 team.

Prior to joining SAP in June 2019, John’s career included global roles at EY, Atos and Schneider Electric (Wonderware) as well as roles in manufacturing and manufacturing automation. John’s client experience includes many of the world’s largest manufacturers across all sectors and manufacturing process types. His work has involved global travel and this combined experience provides him with a unique insight into the challenges of digital transformation in manufacturing.

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