Ride the Green Swan to a New Future

By Santhosh Jayaram

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Few birds stir our imagination like swans do. They’re part of many motifs, legends, and in India, even religions. Swans are a grace in motion. They appear as if they don’t need to evolve any further.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, trader-cum-academic, used the black swan metaphor as the title of his book ‘The Black Swan – The Impact of the Highly Improbable. When he showed the extreme impact of rare and unpredictable events, business leaders could relate to it easily.

A decade later, the swan is back. This time it’s color is green. John Elkington, renowned sustainability guru, published Green Swans – The Coming Boom in Regenerative Capitalism.

I’ve read many of John’s 20 books. In terms of their contribution to profound transformative thought process, Green Swans is only next to The Cannibals with Forks. Both were published at critical moments in business history and provide an excellent framework for moving ahead.

In The Cannibals with Forks John questioned businesses’ single-minded focus on bottom-line. In Green Swans, he shows how, capitalism in the current form, is broken and how the world needs to transform to a new economic system that is regenerative.

John’s style of writing is a mix of in-your-face approach and calls out challenges the way he sees them. He sees these challenges with measured optimism. He sees the ugly ducklings of today transforming into green swans of tomorrow.

John explains how we are headed towards a systemic breakdown with numerous examples, yet, he believes in the extraordinary creativity of humankind that has the potential to create a radically different future. Many things that used to be fiction, fantasy, or the magic of the past, are a reality today. He weaves old stories and counters them with the new and explains how transformation is taking shape.

The book switches between the wicked problems and the green swan evolutions that are happening concurrently. It contains several well-researched case studies. Through many examples, John tries to convince the reader that the change towards green swan capitalism will indeed be a paradigm shift. If organizations and leaders are convinced of this shift, it’s the beginning of them becoming future fit. It’s not enough if a single or a few organizations become future-fit, the whole market and the eco-system needs to become future-fit. This book is a must-read for business leaders. It will help them overcome their cognitive biases so that they can steer themselves and their organizations to a greener future.

The Author is Global Head – Sustainability, HCL Technologies Limited

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