Longevity and Resilience

Cross section of a log showing many tree-rings and cracks in the wood grain.

[Image credit: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay]

Time and sustainability in business is a theme on which much has been written.

On the one hand, sustainability invites businesses to develop a more long-term focus than might otherwise be the case when they are making decisions. On the other hand, there are worries about possible ‘tipping points’ in the Earth system that means that business should react quickly to the challenges faced. In addition, there is evidence that more longstanding organisations are often those that are responding in more proactive ways to sustainability challenges.

In May 2023, the Centre drew together a group of leaders of longstanding organisations to explore if how they have navigated change in the past provides them with the resilience to deal with current volatility. A series of provisional observations were drawn from this workshop that have, and continue to be, ‘sense checked’ with Centre stakeholders.

The work undertaken to date surfaced the existence of what we are calling ‘longevity anchors’ that might ‘hardwire’ resilience in the face of volatility and are made up of five provisional elements which draw from and reinforce each other:

  • Organisational purpose, encompassing wider-than-financial outcomes guide actions,
  • Stewarding assets/institutions drives thinking, with a goal of preserving the best of what has come before,
  • Keeping values and culture alive through inter-generational storytelling,
  • Longevity is a ‘team sport’ with buy-in from key business partners,
  • Protections against losing one’s way exist such as ‘in perpetuity’ thinking and knowing what is non-negotiable.

Another trend that we are starting to observe in business also relates to time, and focuses on the formal inclusion of future generations in corporate governance processes in the form of advisory boards. This is another area where time and longevity are entering sustainability considerations: the perspectives of those who are going to be around after the current generation are making their way to board room considerations.

If you would like to have more information on this project please contact Professor Jan Bebbington.

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