Thursday, 7 November 2013

Being Resourceful; can we fix it?

Recently I suggested that the idea of Sustainability, or Sustainable Development, contains an underlying negativity which can contribute to a resistance to change.

Instead, I suggested that it might be useful to adopt an alternative term; Resourcefulness. Though in retrospect I am tending towards the idea that Resourcefulness might be a subset of Sustainability; we shall see.

So, what do I mean by Resourcefulness?

First, and perhaps finally, this is a state of mind – an attitude towards the World and its component parts which is both responsible and creative – a predisposition towards the things of the World and Society. Resourcefulness explicitly implies that a response to a problem, demand, crisis, need or situation involves the application of intelligence, imagination and creativity. It also contains the assumption that the attitude to the case in point is one of seeking the opportunity in the situation (if there is one), and making the most of it (and the resources involved).

In itself, this is nothing especially original. Business and enterprise are full of examples of exactly this kind of approach (though often driven by necessity rather than disposition). Some commercial services are particularly focussed on this kind of thinking; others, driven by more immediate pressures on performance, seem to avoid it. In this sense, it looks like there could be a relationship between Resourcefulness and the management of Risk which points us towards something useful at a more sophisticated level of development.

One would expect Resourcefulness to include, specifically, an attitude to Resources. Examples of this might be Resource efficiency (making more from less), Natural Resource Economics, or more closely observed, the Circular Economy concept (I profess to admiration of the work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in this field). All of these, and other existing practises in Sustainability, such as Waste Management, can be included in the remit of the Resourceful Society, Business or Individual, but Resourcefulness should not be seen as being limited to an attitude to Resources alone.

This is because there are other kinds of Resources than simply the ‘stuff’ of the World. And there are approaches to all resource types which do not imply a relationship of use or exploitation; this is particularly important to understand, since Resourcefulness (the ‘creative’ predisposition) expects of us that we see the worth, or value of things and actions, not just in ‘net benefit’ or ‘utility’ terms, but also in terms of the ‘Goodness’ or ‘Rightness’ of these. This means that Resourcefulness goes beneath issues covered by Consequentialism, to the core Human Social values of Equity, Justice and (probably) Liberty.

This leads us to a fairly fundamental point of ‘Resourceful’ Action: it should be non-exploitative both in terms of resources, and also in terms of people. In other words, Resourceful Actions do not serve to take from one person or group in order to give to another. This runs counter to so much of modern Economic and Social theory that considerable effort must be spent to demonstrate that personal or commercial Wealth need not come at the cost of exploitation of Labour or Markets. For some, this will read as an impossibility, for others, akin to heresy (or Social Democracy), but it is the intention to undermine the model of ‘Competitive Advantage’ as best practice and seek, instead, a model of ‘Collaborative (Mutual) Advantage’.

One special strength of the concept of Resourcefulness is that it is Action-oriented, in other words, a Resourceful approach, instead of asking ‘what’s going wrong?’ or ‘who is to blame?’, asks ‘How do we make it better?’

It may seem to some experienced and knowledgeable observers that this appears to be a somewhat trivial and simplistic idea, but I believe that, in common with many important principles, Resourcefulness is both simple to grasp and put into action, but also deep and meaningful – the one does not exclude the other.

I’ll finish today with a reference to a childrens’ TV character. It is a statement of affirmation and intention, of predisposition to make things better:

“Can we fix it? YES WE CAN!”