By Melissa Belongea, Content Strategist, YML

January 21, 2020

It’s 2021 and whether you believe in placebos or the positioning of the sun, the turn of a calendar year is a great excuse to breathe in fresh air. Especially after the past twelve months, what some might consider a breaking point — large shifts to daily life, historical social and civic unrest, extreme weather events, a highly consequential election cycle, and shaky transitions of leadership. Yeah, things are certainly progressing quickly, and we couldn’t be more excited.

As builders of technology products in a design-driven agency, we are constantly negotiating current conditions with a future that is being created today.

We know our stakeholder set is wide — customers, clients, employees, society, and the environment. We recognize they are all interconnected on some level. Yet sometimes (often) reconciling priorities feels overwhelming. Do we have to choose? Yes and no. What if a roadmap toward more balanced decision making were right under our nose?

Systems in nature are wired for efficiency and perfect balance — a world of diversity boiled down to simple, basic, common principles; symbiosis, energy efficiency, diversity, momentum, to name a few. Perhaps by intentionally and regularly applying these same principles to business and technology problems, we could more easily locate balanced solutions, and a repeatable, reliable formula for creating regenerative growth. 

While cultural and policy influences have been brewing below the surface for some time, more and more, leading financial institutions have been outwardly prioritizing sustainability as the new bottom line. Investing firm, Morning Star, views ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) strategy through the lens of risk management and due diligence.

Beyond risk-mitigation, however, people (consumers, clients, and company leaders alike) are more often searching for lasting impact. Robert Eccles, a visiting professor of management practice at Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford, breaks it down in a recent interview with the Harvard Business Review. “Impact is about those things that matter to the world. And increasingly, people are looking at impact through the lens of sustainable development goals.” 

Making a lasting impact has been a driving force behind the work at YML since our founding, where we’ve placed people and customers at the center of our outcomes, but today those words carry greater meaning. We are defining with deeper intent what these goals mean to us. As a leading innovation partner in technology product design and development, we want to create them alongside our stakeholders.

Below are three key themes to consider along with some of our favorite reads, ideas, and resources that apply this thinking to designing a more sustainable and equitable future. If making a larger impact is of interest to you too, we’d love to start a conversation. 

1) Seek out symbiosis. Create efficiencies and increase positive outcomes through symbiotic relationships. 

To Overcome Your Company’s Limits, Look to Symbiosis

  • “Symbiosis is a powerful force in business too. A broad examination of nature reveals six key guidelines for adaptable symbiotic relationships that can be applied to today’s organizations.”

What Cross-Silo Leadership Looks Like

  • “The core challenges of operating effectively at interfaces are simple: learning about people on the other side and relating to them. But simple does not mean easy; human beings have always struggled to understand and relate to those who are different. Leaders need to help people develop the capacity to overcome these challenges on both individual and organizational levels.”

Brad Frost and Dan Mall: Rethinking designer-developer collaboration

  • “The first line of collaboration is, “What are the things that you should own and need to own, and are the good things for you to own? And what are some things that you really can rely on somebody else for, that they would do a better job or their environments are more native to the process than yours are?”

2) Balanced by design. Nature has been practicing design for a long time, what can we learn?

Atomic Design

  • “Taking cues from chemistry: In the natural world, atomic elements combine together to form molecules. These molecules can combine further to form relatively complex organisms.”

Emergent Strategy: Organizing for Social Justice

  • “This model of emergence is practical instead of theoretical. It emphasizes “critical connections over critical mass” – it is the depth of relationships that determine the strength of a system.  It is these “simple interactions” – from how we relate to the thoughts in our own heads, to how we show up in our relationships, to how we exist as local communities – that create the patterns that give rise to our ecosystems and societies.”

Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature

  • “The biomimics are discovering what works in the natural world, and more important, what lasts. After 3.8 billion years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival. The more our world looks and functions like this natural world, the more likely we are to be accepted on this home that is ours, but not ours alone.”

Design Thinking—A Permaculture Approach

  • “Previous to the emergence of design thinking in product design, the pinnacle concept in sustainable design methodology was cradle-to-cradle design. The fact that design thinking moves from a linear design process to a non-linear design process (taking into consideration all outside variables), brings us to the established process of ecological design.”

3) Ecosystems thrive on diversity. Business and technology ecosystems thrive on diverse thinking. 

How Women and Men Can Work Together to Create Equality

  • “We often hear about the importance of diversity, but that word usually refers to attributes like race and nationality. While those are critical elements of diversity, companies frequently overlook one of the most important drivers of innovation: diversity of thought. As a 2017 Deloitte report puts it, "Research shows that one of the biggest sources of bias at companies is a lack of diversity of thought." If a company wants to facilitate real diversity and inclusion, it has to welcome a broad range of ideas and perspectives.”

Black Girls Code

  • “Our Vision: To increase the number of women of color in the digital space by empowering girls of color ages 7 to 17 to become innovators in STEM fields, leaders in their communities, and builders of their own futures through exposure to computer science and technology. To provide African-American youth with the skills to occupy some of the 1.4 million computing job openings expected to be available in the U.S. by 2020, and to train 1 million girls by 2040.”

American Indian Science and Engineering Society

  • “The vision of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) is for the next seven generations of Native people to be successful, respected, influential, and contributing members of our vast and ever-changing global community.”

Project Drawdown

  • “Our mission is to help the world reach “Drawdown”— the point in the future when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline, thereby stopping catastrophic climate change — as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible.”

The Business Case For Diversity is Now Overwhelming

  • “In this era of globalization, diversity in the business environment is about more than gender, race and ethnicity. It now includes employees with diverse religious and political beliefs, education, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientation, cultures and even disabilities. Companies are discovering that, by supporting and promoting a diverse and inclusive workplace, they are gaining benefits that go beyond the optics.”

As we move through a time of upheaval and change, nature is a balm that connects people to their senses, and to the sense that we are all part of a larger ecosystem.