My friend David was beside himself with excitement yesterday, as he talked about Tesla’s “better than perfect score” in the automobile safety ratings. “It’s amazing,” he said. “This is the only time that’s ever been done!”

It’s a great achievement, of course, but I saw it differently. What’s amazing is not the rating itself, but that Tesla chose to attain it – or perhaps more accurately, that Tesla declared the goal achievable and then designed and executed a trajectory to achieve it. And that other car companies didn’t.

How do I know? I don’t, really. (Maybe I’m just channeling The Mind of Musk.) But I have to wonder why other automobile companies, with great engineers, haven’t hit that perfect score. Could it be that they set out to “do the best they can,” within the assumption that “perfect” is unattainable? Do they assume inescapable trade-offs – of cost, quality, performance, or other factors – that “inevitably” conflict?

A client once said to me, “We’ve made great progress on sustainability, but doing much more seems so hard.” But what if it weren’t, I wondered. Because “hard” wasn’t a measured, technical assessment they were making, grounded in fact and engineering constraints; it was an interpretation, grounded in assumptions, beliefs and emotions. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course—it’s something humans do; the problem arises when we interpret our interpretations as a fixed, given reality.

“Zero waste is impossible,” a chemistry professor told me 20 years ago; tell that to an ecosystem, I thought, or a farmer, or the Zeronauts. The four minute mile loomed as an impossible barrier until Roger Bannister ran it in 1954; within two months another runner punched through, and four minutes is now the standard, not the barrier.

My questions to you: What “impossible barriers”—to sustainable/restorative/regenerative/thrivable/flourishing enterprise—are waiting to fall in your industry? At your company? If you were willing to make it so.

(PS: Quote of the week: “The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Spread the love