The future of consultancy is sustainability, and the big consulting companies are ready to go, as was announced in the FT this week. Still most companies have a high segmented structure and not all chain managers are really in the full process. The gap between expertise and understanding complexity of a system needs to be filled. But most consultants need to learn how to implement. The big times of „strategy and planning in finance“ is over, the processes are done. Now the diversity of experts needs to be managed in the head offices and in operations worldwide. It is time of collaboration. The challenge starts to move beyond energy efficiency. All partners need transformational skills to change the way society operates. And this is behaviour, not technology.

In 2010 the big part of consulting was: strategy and planning (33 per cent), carbon measurement (32 per cent), renewable energy (10 per cent), energy efficiency (20 per cent) and eradicating waste (5 per cent). All experts see further need in change expertise. (FT 17.11.2011)

Somehow energy efficiency and eradicating waste are linked to efficiency improvement and cost reduction programs. This is a different angle from cost cutting, an old learned pattern. Sustainability thinking has a longer way to go.

What is to be learned:

– Long term thinking, in cycles rather than in lines

– Process view vs department view

– Complexity created by changing stakeholders behavior

– Complicated systems mirrored in it-systems (company view)

– Pattern recognition of impacts

This process of new thinking is driven by globalization, shortage of resources and cooperation. Most of these skills are not learned in MBA programs or at the university. System thinking is not learned with machines. It is a process which can be started with consultants, but it has to become a culture in the companies. Like Toyota in the 50ies: The best way is observation, reflection and action. Somehow it sounds like Laotse – very eastern thinking.

One way of learning is with simulations, that reflect human behavior, decision making processes and thinking models. We use models everywhere, sometimes without knowing. Models are standardizations of cultural thinking. Already 30 years ago, anthropologists agreed upon: “Culture is not innate, but learned; the various facets of culture are interrelated – you touch a culture in one place and everything else is affected; it is shared and in effect defines the boundaries of different groups.” (Edward T. Hall in Beyond Culture 1977)

This system thinking aspect of society has now reached the companies. The challenge is to implement system thinking and change of behavior. It is more agile than planned. And the big question is: Do our measurement systems and box thinking hinder this? Do we need more strategic goals which make sense? You cannot change one thing alone. Complexity management is more than a mobile (art), a bit fragile and always moving.
We need to use more right pictures for the brains to un-learn.