Measuring Sustainability in Organisational Culture

The original version of this article appeared in Awake’s ‘Wake-Up Call Nov/Dec 2014 newsletter.

graph mapping SCI results

It’s been a big year of applying psychology to sustainability, and especially for implementing the Sustainability Culture Indicator (SCI).

SCI is a survey tool for measuring sustainability within your organisational culture. It has been developed so that organisations have a standardised measure of employee attitudes and engagement in sustainability, can track their progress over time, and can compare their results to their peers. It is designed to bring some rigour and metrics to the ‘soft science’ of culture and engagement in sustainability.

I’ve recently spent some time reviewing the SCI results for over 2000 employees of a variety of organisations, including local councils, multinational corporations, NGO’s and more. The SCI was even recently adapted to implement in a number of schools in Melbourne. In the future I’ll be writing up the results for peer-reviewed journals, but in the meantime I thought it would be timely to share some of the initial observations.

Firstly, a very brief overview of the SCI. It measures 13 enablers of sustainability within organisational culture. These are divided into individual enablers and organisational enablers.

The individual enablers are the psychological and attitudinal factors which employees need to engage in sustainability, such as relevant beliefs, responsibility, knowledge and control.

The organisational enablers are mechanisms which support employees to engage in sustainability, such as leadership, processes and facilities.

The presence of high levels of these enablers indicates sustainability is well embedded in the culture. The SCI also asks survey respondents to indicate the frequency they undertake a variety of behaviours such as recycling and minimising energy use, both at work and home.

Across the organisations which have completed the SCI, the individual enablers which tend to score highest are Beliefs about Sustainability and Personal Responsibility for it. That means people believe sustainability is important and consider it to be something they should personally play a part in. That forms a great basis for organisations to embed sustainability in their culture, as they don’t need to convince too many people it is important.

The lowest-scoring individual enablers tend to be Sustainability Knowledge and Perceived Support. This indicates that one of the big barriers to embedding sustainability is people knowing how to do their jobs differently in order to be ‘more sustainable’, while they also don’t always feel like sustainability is part of the culture and norm in the organisation. Given the role of social norms in promoting sustainable behaviour, this latter finding demonstrates a need for organisations to ensure people feel sustainability is something valued and reinforced in the culture.

In terms of organisational enablers, those which scored highest across all those surveyed were Strategic Commitment and Innovation. These indicate that the organisations in question are doing a good job of defining and communicating their sustainability goals, and that they effectively support new ideas for sustainability.

The least highly rated organisational enablers are Rewards and Recognition, and Processes. People often feel like they are not explicitly rewarded for engaging in sustainability, while processes are regularly misaligned with sustainability goals (printing policies and processes are the most commonly cited of these in the written comments).

When it comes to on-the-job action, the sustainability-related behaviour which people most commonly report is shutting down their computer at the end of the day, followed by recycling. Respondents are less likely to report choosing low-impact transport options and influencing others for sustainability.

Outside of work, energy and water conservation behaviours are the most commonly undertaken by respondents. Transport again features as an uncommon behaviour, along with making environmentally-friendly food choices.

One common perception is that people are more likely to undertake sustainability-related behaviours at home than they are at work. The story goes something like ‘people are not paying the power bill at work, so they don’t bother saving energy’. The SCI results indicate that this may indeed be an accurate assumption in the case of most behaviours measured. As shown in the graph below, people are more likely to conserve water, energy and other resources at home, as well as influencing other people. The exception is recycling, which people report more frequently at work. This may be due to the likelihood that workplaces are often set up to make recycling simple for people. It may also be something to do with the role of social norms in recycling behaviour.

All the differences below are big enough to be statistically significant, although we should also bear in mind that these are self-reported behaviours (and possibly overstated).

One area of great interest is the correlation between enablers and behaviours. Identifying which enablers have the strongest link to behaviours can help us prioritise our efforts to support and engage employees for sustainability.

For a start, all of the individual and organisational enablers measured by the SCI correlate significantly with behaviours at work and at home. This means that, for instance, the higher we score for Beliefs about Sustainability, the more likely we are to engage in such actions as recycling and conserving water.

The individual enablers with the strongest correlations with behaviour are Responsibility and Perceived Support. This tells us that those who have personal convictions aligned with sustainability, and perceive that those around them are supportive, are most likely to engage in sustainability-related behaviours.

Of the organisational enablers, the analysis shows that Job Responsibilities and Activities to Embed Sustainability are the strongest predictors of behaviour. Those most likely to adopt the relevant behaviours are clear about how sustainability fits into their role, and perceive the organisation’s efforts to educate them to be effective.

In summary, making a deliberate effort to engage people in sustainability on an attitudinal and psychological level, as well as supporting them with education, clarity and supportive processes, is most likely to result in an organisation which has sustainability truly embedded in its culture.

If you’d like to chat about implementing the SCI in your organisation, I’d love to hear from you. Email

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headshot of Tim Cotter

Tim Cotter is an environmental and organisational psychologist with extensive experience in organisational culture change. Tim founded Awake in 2005 to provide resources and leadership in applying psychology to sustainability to support organisations and communities to develop a culture of sustainability.  Visit for more info, or download the Sustainability Culture Indicator brochure.  


The Art and Science of Persuasion and Motivation

book cover of How To Get People To Do Stuff

This guest post is by behavioural psychologist and author Susan Weinschenk (aka ‘The Brain Lady’). The original version of this article was published on The Brain Lady Blog, and has been republished here with the author’s permission. 

Are you good with people? Do you know how to get them to do stuff? Are you using tips and techniques you picked up from others or experimented with?

If so, I bet that sometimes your strategies work and other times they don’t.

There are seven basic drivers of human motivation. And if you understand what motivates people you’ll be better able to figure out how to get people to do stuff.

That’s the premise of my book ‘How To Get People To Do Stuff’. Here’s a summary of the seven drivers of motivation:

The Need to Belong

Have you ever felt left out? Not part of a group you wanted to be part of? It probably made you feel sad, depressed or angry, or all of the above.

We are ultimately social animals, and our desire to connect with others is a strong, innate drive. We’re not meant to live alone, and we’ll work hard to be socially accepted. We need to feel that we have a place in the world where we belong.

You can use the need to belong, and the longing for connectedness, to get people to do stuff.

For example:

  • If you use nouns when making a request, rather than verbs – for example: ‘Be a donor’ versus ‘Donate now’ –  it results in more people taking action. That’s because nouns invoke group identity.
  • People are more likely to comply with a request if they trust you.
  • The best way to get others to trust you is to first show that you trust them.


It might surprise you to learn how much of everything we do in a typical day we do out of habit without even thinking about it. We don’t even remember how those habits got formed.

We hear so much about how it takes months to create a new habit. How could that be, when we seem to have created hundreds of them easily without even realizing it?

It turns out that it’s actually very easy to create a new habit or even change an existing one, if you understand the science behind habit formation. You can use the science of habits to help other people create or change habits, so you can get them to do stuff. Here’s a little bit of information about the science of habits:

  • The easiest way to create a new habit is to anchor it to an existing habit.
  • If you use anchoring you can get people to create a new habit in less than a week.
  • An important part of getting someone to create a new habit is to break things into really small steps.

The Power of Stories

What kind of person are you? Are you someone who helps those in need? Do you keep up on the latest trends and fashions? Are you a family person who spends time and energy to nurture family relationships?

We all have self-personas. We tell ourselves, and other people, stories about who we are and why we do what we do. Some of our self-personas and our stories are conscious, but others are largely unconscious.

If you understand these self-personas, then you can communicate in a way that matches those self-stories and thereby get people to do stuff. For example:

  • If you can get people to take one small action that is in conflict with one of their self-personas, that one small step can eventually lead to big behavior change.
  • You can prompt someone to change their own story by having other people share their stories. If someone hears the right story you can get people to change their own self-stories in as little as 30 minutes and that one change can alter their behavior for a lifetime.
  • Writing something down (in longhand, not typing) activates certain parts of the brain and makes it more likely that people will commit to what they wrote.

Carrots and Sticks

Have you ever been to a casino? Think about this: You spend a lot of time and energy trying to get people to do stuff; you may even offer rewards or pay people to do stuff. And yet a casino gets people to pay them!

Casinos understand the science of reward and reinforcement. Here are just a few things the science of reward and reinforcement tells us about how to get people to do stuff:

  • If you want consistent behavior don’t reward people every time they do something, just some of the time.
  • People are more motivated to reach a goal the closer they get to it.
  • When you punish someone it only works for a little while. Giving rewards is more effective than punishment.


Imagine you’re driving down the road and there’s an accident ahead. You tell yourself not to slow down and look, and yet you feel the irresistible urge to do exactly that.

Being fascinated by danger is one of our basic instincts. Instincts are strong and largely unconscious. They affect our behavior. Sometimes you can get people to do stuff just by tapping into these instincts. For example:

  • People are more motivated by fear of losing than the possibility of gaining something.
  • We are basically all ‘control freaks’. The desire to control starts as young as 4 months old.
  • When people are sad or scared they will want is familiar. If they’re happy and comfortable they’ll crave something new.

The Desire for Mastery

Even stronger than giving an external reward is the desire for mastery. People are very motivated to learn and master skills and knowledge.

Certain situations encourage a desire for mastery, and others dampen the desire for mastery. You can use what we know from the research on mastery to set up conditions that will encourage and stimulate the desire for mastery, and, by doing so, get people to do stuff. For example:

  • Giving people autonomy over what they are doing will stimulate them to master a skill and will motivate them to work harder.
  • If people feel that something is difficult they will be more motivated to do it.
  • Don’t mix praise with feedback if you want to stimulate the desire for mastery. Just give objective feedback.

Tricks of the Mind

You’ve probably seen visual illusions—where your eye and brain think they’re seeing something different than they really are.

What you may not realize is that there are cognitive illusions, too. There are several biases in how we think. Our brains are wired to jump to quick conclusions.

This is useful in reacting quickly to our environment, but sometimes these fast conclusions and decisions lead to cognitive illusions. You can use these tricks of the mind to get people to do stuff. For example:

  • If you mention money then people become more independent and less willing to help others.
  • People filter out information they don’t agree with, but you can get past those filters by first agreeing with them.
  • People are more likely to do something if you can get them to phrase it as a question to themselves (‘Will I exercise each week?’) than if you get them to say a declarative statement (‘I will exercise each week.’)

If you understand what motivates people, then you can change and modify what you do, what you offer, and how and what you ask of people.

You can change your strategies and tactics to get people to do stuff.

susan headshot

Dr. Susan Weinschenk has a Ph.D. in Psychology and over 30 years of experience as a behavioural psychologist. She applies psychology and brain science research to predict, understand, and explain how people think, work, and how to persuade and motivate people to take action. She is the founder of the Weinschenk Institute, and author of several books including ‘How To Get People To Do Stuff’ and ‘100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People’.

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Brand Management, Russell Style

russell brand with his 'fag pimp brand' sign, a gift from the WBC

In all my years scouting out the best examples of communication, leadership and tools for sustainability change agents, I never dreamt that I would be featuring UK comedian Russell Brand as a case study.

Perhaps this is not so unusual as I have already tipped my hat to Jon StewartJimmy Fallon (and that other guy in the clip with Fallon…) and others, for whom comedy well done becomes a powerful tool for communicating so much more:

Comedy is a way of ‘reaching around people’s walls’, because those endorphins (released during laughter) bring down the walls. This works in exactly the opposite way to anger, fear and panic – the fight or flight responses that release adrenalin, which raises our walls of self-defence. Through laughter, comedy enables us to question the validity of ours and others’ views on issues without becoming defensive.

The Fool, or Jester, was considered an important part of public life in past centuries – through humour, they could breach taboos and challenge conventional wisdom, whereas such actions may have been a dangerous tactic for ‘serious’ discussions.


Like all exceptional comedians, Brand is not only very funny, he is a social commentator, highly intelligent, articulate and able to run rings around those who are wrong-footed on encountering him because they are expecting The Fool.

Brand created a viral internet sensation when he interviewed leaders of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) on his TV show ‘Brand X’ late last year.

First, a little bit of context as to why this was an interesting scenario in terms of communication.

The WBC, who subscribe to a literal interpretation of the Bible, have gained notoriety for their extreme homophobia (their web site URL is godhatesfags dot com) and hate tactics in general – among a string of provocative actions, they had most recently planned to picket the funerals of victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting and Boston bombing. Some sources claim that the WBC’s ‘hate’ tactics are to offend, and incite people to sue them, so that they can counter-sue on the grounds that their First Amendment rights (right to free speech) have been infringed.

Russell Brand, on the other hand, is an outlandish comedian, actor and author whose public image has been in large part shaped by his wild reputation. Marvellously sharp-witted, Brand holds views that could be described as diametrically opposed to those of the WBC.

Watch the clip (11 mins):

After I’d finished laughing until I cried at this unlikely scenario, I saw a deeper value to this example than comedy.

Regardless of what you think of Brand, the WBC or religion, what played out here was an interesting example of being open to the views of others where they do not agree with yours, withholding judgment, and stomaching hostility so that you can hear what they have to say.

This situation could have quite easily gone all Jerry Springer very quickly at any moment – but notice how Brand manages both his own reactions and potential conflict.

On introducing his guests, he makes a point of saying ‘please welcome my guests, with love…’ and follows it up by dampening the adverse reaction of the audience with ‘don’t be mean, don’t be mean!’

His guests then promptly present him with a large red sign depicting himself with three words in large capitals: ‘FAG PIMP BRAND’.

Rather than taking offence, which would be the natural reaction of the ego, he approaches the situation in a detached manner, as if the poster is referring to someone other than himself.

Instead of reacting to the ad hominem attack, he deflects the intent of the poster’s abusive message by choosing to take issue with something different – pointing out that the picture of him used on it was ‘…not a very flattering photograph’.

Did Brand create this situation for comedic purposes? Of course. Is he taking the mickey out of his guests? Yes, though cheekily rather than insultingly.

But he was also being genuinely respectful in the face of what at times was open hostility and rudeness, working to allow his guests to get their message across, no matter how abhorrent he or members of his audience may have found it.

In response to his audience’s reaction, Brand announces:

Thank you, I appreciate your vocal respect, but these people are here to explain something to me, and it does take courage and bravery to come in front of a room full of people you think almost certainly aren’t going to agree with you, but let’s hear what they have to say, because I’m actually very interested.

Here, Brand adopts a position of ‘curiosity without judgement’ in order to hear another’s point of view. After being cast as a ‘promoter of sin’, he listens patiently and without interruption as his guests explain:

When the Lord Jesus Christ said to ‘love your neighbour as yourself, you love your neighbour as yourself by warning them when their sin is taking them to hell. And as a matter of fact, if you fail to warn your neighbour, you hate your neighbour in your heart. So by a Bible standard, we love you all, and I know you can’t believe that from your goofy Hallmark standard, but from a Bible standard, we love you. And by a Bible standard, he (Brand) hates you (the audience). And, you probably hate each other.

In his Essex accent (which makes what he says all the funnier), a bemused Brand looks directly into the camera and exclaims:

‘Bloody ‘ell! It’s like a really, tricky, quiz of hate!’

Later on, he offers a view counter to those of his guests, pointing out that although they are ‘good on the scripture’:

Have you considered that the Bible, like all religious doctrine, may be allegorical and symbolic, to direct us toward one holy entity of love, as opposed to a specific, litiginous text to direct the behaviour of human beings?

Notice how unlike his guests, Brand puts forward his view not as a forceful statement of position but as a question, an invitation to converse. At this point the following exchange occurs:

[RB] The Bible wasn’t literally written by a cosmic entity, it was written by people! People!

[WBC] It was written by the Holy Spirit.

[RB] The Holy Spirit – ain’t got a pen!

screen shot from the clip where Brand is telling the WBC that the Bible was not literally written by a cosmic entity

This last comment generates peals of laughter from the audience, and some conflict with the WBC. Brand then attempts to find common ground, without yielding his position.

There were several moments in the segment where Brand managed to get both his audience and his guests laughing for the same reason, at the same time – either by his persona or by making himself the object of amusement. Watch the WBC guys’ faces at 2:20, where even they lose their composure in the face of Brand’s irresistible eccentricity.

Imagine being able to sustain for longer those instances where deeply opposed groups found, momentarily, a commonality through laughter.

Ironically, Brand was far more the embodiment of the Christian values of tolerance and turning the other cheek than his guests.

He was able to maintain a fine balance between being inquisitive and non-reactive, and squeezing comedy gold out of the clash of values.

And he showed far more ability to be open to conversing with others ‘not-like-me’ than many people and groups in society.

Russell Brand’s leadership skills, intellect, wit, empathy and command of English in this exchange are admirable – this sets a standard for those in positions of power, who, if they really want to pimp their brand, would do well to learn from his example.

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Communicating Change And Staying Sane While Doing It

Critical Mass film poster - black background with Earth represented as an apple with huge bites taken out both sides.

Crux is pleased to present a guest post from my good friend and London-based filmmaker Mike Freedman, who has recently completed his first feature documentary, Critical Mass.

Mike’s film deals with subjects that are very sensitive to many groups of people for a range of reasons. As such, he has taken on a major communication challenge in terms of presenting the content as well as learning how to manage personal challenges that go with offering a message that people may not be receptive to. Here’s what he has learned about communication for change.

Upton Sinclair, the famous writer of the early 20th, was quoted as saying: ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.’

In December, I will be giving my second guest lecture at Bournemouth University on the subject of the ethics of marketing. For all the shortcomings of that field, in marketing it is understood that all communication is aimed at change, whether it is changing a preference for toothpaste or a cultural narrative. If I invite you to come see my band or my niece’s piano recital, I’m trying to change what your plans otherwise are or might have been. Even sending out a press release debunking climate change is itself aimed at change, in the sense that it is seeking to change the believability of an opposing message. That is why Sinclair’s quote is so important for understanding the work that lies ahead of us – it discards the idea that what we are doing is somehow unique.

The difference between you and an oil company press officer is only the message, not the act. Your motivation might be loftier, your goal more beneficial for a larger swathe of humanity, but doing what you are doing is functionally no different from the press office at the Heritage Foundation or the Adam Smith Institute. Those people are also ‘change agents’, it’s just that they are trying to change society into something you and I agree is a Spencerian experiment in social Darwinism using high rhetoric about liberty and individualism to disguise the desires of their paymasters.

This may seem depressing, but it’s not. I’m not trying to tell you that what you are doing doesn’t matter – it matters a great deal. The truth, however, must be acknowledged because it will liberate you from the ‘I know I’m doing the right thing so why hasn’t it worked yet?’ burden that presses down on you in the dark when you lie in bed. You are telling people something that they are paid not to understand. Why let it upset you? It’s almost a law of nature.

I spent two years researching, writing, directing, producing and narrating a documentary called Critical Mass about the impact of human population growth and consumption on our planet and on our psychology:

Critical Mass trailer by Mike Freedman

Now that the film is finished, I have the task of bringing it out into the world. This involves a great deal of communication, and because of our use of archive footage which needs to be cleared, fundraising as well.

So how do I reconcile my belief in the message with my own concerns about adding to the noise already being made by every other person who’s soliciting on this giant street corner we call the internet? How do I wake up every morning and keep working, moving forward despite occasional silences, adversarial reactions or seemingly hopeless odds?

Crack cocaine, in Herculean doses.

Just kidding.

There are many reasons I am able to keep on keepin’ on, but the most relevant one here is that I gave up on the idea that I was going to change the world about a year ago. That’s not to say that our human systems, structures, habits and frameworks don’t need to be reappraised, improved or utterly redesigned. What it means is that I found that the greatest obstacle to my own personal development was myself, not the world. In attempting to know and conquer myself, I discovered that many external improvements flowed from that decision. What good is an improved world if the ‘me’ in it isn’t also improved?

So how does this emphasis on self-development fit in with my earlier point about the intractability of others based on their own vested interests? Well, it’s been my experience that placing oneself in opposition to something increases the resistance you face, which in turn makes the prospect of real change very remote. If someone is paid not to understand your message, being upset with them or telling them their paymasters are bad people won’t actually help the situation nor will it further your ultimate aim, which is to spread the word and encourage the adoption of new ideas and methods by others.

There are no good guys and bad guys in the world of communication, only people who know what’s up and others who have been mis- or uninformed. Dispense with the idea that you have enemies. Resist the temptation to externalise your obstacles. If you are the active element, changing yourself is the best example and also the most compelling argument in favour of your cause.

Furthermore, by seeing those you are trying to reach or convert as your equals rather than your adversaries, you will not underestimate the powerful, sometimes subconscious reasons for your message being ignored or dismissed. You will know why their ears do not hear and their eyes do not see, and this will help you to do better. Most of all, you will realise that the process of change is constant and the work of communication is ongoing; by no longer believing that there is a definite endpoint, you won’t feel so hopeless or exhausted by not having gotten there yet. The work is its own reward.

Thinking about these important aspects of what you do may not ultimately make your work any easier, but they will help you stay sane while you do it.

headshot of Mike

Mike Freedman is a filmmaker and writer based in London. Over the past two years, he has interviewed 60 of the world’s leading scientists, authors and academics on the issues of population, water, food, peak oil, economics and sustainability for his debut feature documentary, Critical Mass, which is about the impact of human population growth and consumption on our planet and on our psychology. In addition to his film work, he is an occasional guest lecturer at Bournemouth University and also gives presentations on the subject of population growth around the UK. His writing has been published by Stakeholder Forum’s Outreach Magazine, The Daly News and Transition Voice.

Facebook: CriticalMassFilm
Twitter: CriticalMassDoc

Special Request

If you’d like to help support Mike’s Indiegogo campaign to realise the commercial release of this independent film, please watch the pitch video below (which is one of the funniest I’ve seen) and choose your perk here:

Whether or not you’re in a position right now to support the campaign, please consider sharing this with your networks on email and social media by copying and pasting the following text:

Critical Mass is a feature length documentary about the impact of human population growth and consumption on our planet and on our psychology. There is an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to secure its commercial release currently underway. Please support it by purchasing a ‘perk’ or if that’s not possible for you right now, please share it with your networks

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Bugs Bunny, Archetypes and The Art of War for Change

an early version of Bugs Bunny, reclining eating a carrot and reading 'Victory thru Hare Power'

When we achieve the changes we set out to make, it feels very rewarding.

Yet the process of achieving change, which I like to think of as switching the ‘frequency’, can often feel like a battle.

Metaphors of dance and music are useful to understanding how the changes you seek affect other people – for example, how can you go up to someone who is dancing a waltz and expect them to dance the salsa?

You could start a new and better dance craze they can’t resist. Or you can start waltzing with them and then begin to switch a few of the steps, then a few more. However you can only go as far and as fast as peoples’ tolerance levels for change.

In the classic 1940s Warner Brothers cartoon Long-Haired Hare, Bugs Bunny unintentionally raises the ire of an opera singer by disrupting his ‘frequency’ (opera singing practice sessions) with all kinds of different tunes played on banjo, harp and a tuba – until, inevitably, pushback occurs:

Bugs’s predicament is comical for us, but it’s not so comical when we are the ‘interruption’ to what others want to get on with, and the pushback gets directed at us.

Bugs’s line following his physical pummeling (in turn quoting Groucho Marx) ‘of course, you know, this means war…’ heralds his ultimately getting the better of the hapless opera singer by posing as revered conductor ‘Leopold’.

One cannot help but admire the approach Bugs takes in response to pushback, and this iconic character is described in Wikipedia as:

…clever and capable of outsmarting anyone who antagonizes him…Bugs almost always wins these conflicts, a plot pattern which recurs in Looney Tunes films. Bugs Bunny has some similarities to figures from mythology and folklore, such as Br’er Rabbit, and might be seen as a modern trickster. Unlike most cartoon characters, however, Bugs Bunny is rarely defeated in his own games of trickery.

In terms of archetypes (models of a person, personality, or behavior), the concept of a ‘trickster’ is not necessarily someone who deceives others into doing things – the role of tricksters in mythology and folklore includes raising consciousness, and disobeying norms and conventions. In other words, tricksters can be ‘frequency disruptors’:

The job of any trickster…is to think the thoughts and do the things that they say can’t be thought or done. He’s most likely to be found disturbing the complacency of his culture, or deflating the pompousness of its symbols…

But Bugs is not just a disruptor, he is a tactician who understands the psyche and traits of those around him – consider how effective Bugs is at achieving his ends, by contrasting his Wikipedia description to those of his fellow characters (noting that their characterisation has evolved over time):

– the self-serving and greedy Daffy Duck – ‘…the rabbit’s rival, intensely jealous and determined to steal back the spotlight, while Bugs either remained indifferent to the duck’s jealousy or used it to his advantage.’

– the antagonistic firebrand Yosemite Sam – ‘…an extremely grouchy gunslinging cowboy with a hair-trigger temper…created to be a more worthy adversary for Bugs Bunny. Until then, Bugs’ major foe had been Elmer Fudd, a mild-mannered and dim-witted man…’

– the sweet but flaky Porky Pig – ‘…his mild-mannered nature and shy demeanor made him the perfect straight man for zanier characters.’

– the deluded Pepé Le Pew – ‘…he cannot take ‘no’ for an answer, blissfully convinced that the girl is flirting with him…(she) runs away from him anyway because of his overly assertive manner.’

– the dopey and often cranky Elmer Fudd – ‘…although Bugs Bunny was called upon to outwit many more worthy opponents, Elmer somehow remained Bugs’ classic nemesis, despite (or because of) his legendary gullibility, small size, short temper, and shorter attention span.’

– the tunnel-visioned Wile E Coyote – ‘…Wile E. Coyote has unsuccessfully attempted to catch Bugs Bunny in another series of cartoons…while he is incredibly intelligent, he is limited by technology and his own short-sighted arrogance, and is thus often easily outsmarted…’

– the overly-confident and devious Sylvester – ‘…Sylvester shows a lot of pride in himself, and never gives up. Despite (or perhaps because of) his pride and persistence, Sylvester is, with rare exceptions, placed squarely on the “loser” side of the Looney Tunes winner/loser hierarchy.’

These characters don’t have the ‘smarts’ of Tweety Bird, Speedy Gonzales and the Road Runner, who are more akin to Bugs Bunny in terms of their personal characteristics and tactics.

Bugs is a smart strategist and, like the characters similar to him, much more aware of what’s going on around him and what dynamics are in play – so much so that one suspects he might well have studied Chinese general Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, a treatise on military strategy from about 6 BC which has influenced not only military but business and legal strategy and beyond for over two thousand years.

section of the original 'Art of War' bamboo book

Image credit

This useful dot-point summary of The Art of War covers off on the thirteen chapters of the text (Strategic Assessments, Doing Battle; Planning A Siege, Formation, Force, Emptiness and Fullness, Armed Struggle , Adaptations, Manoeuvering Armies, Terrain, Nine Grounds, Fire Attack, Use of Spies).

Although change can often feel like ‘war’ at times, and it may be amusing to characterise it as such, it is not helpful or wise to approach change from a combative mindset (see: success rates of Daffy Duck, Sylvester, Yosemite Sam).

However although some elements of The Art of War relating to physical acts of war are not relevant, and it is counterproductive to see forces opposing your efforts as ‘enemies’ or that your situation will result in ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, there is wisdom that can be distilled from this classic text that is useful for contemporary change strategists and tacticians.

For example, The Business Insider recast ‘Use of Spies’ (‘what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge’) in contemporary terms as ‘Information Is King’ (ie. don’t go into battle without knowing what you’re up against). This could be cultivating a network of contacts who trust you and give you honest intelligence that keeps you up to speed on the cultural pulse of your organisation, so you know where people are at, and what their tolerance level for change is. ‘Terrain’ could be viewed as the power structures of an organisation rather than valleys, rivers or deserts.

Ironically, one of the main messages of this text on warfare is how to avoid battle through meticulous preparation, planning – these quotes from The Art of War are powerful:

Therefore a victorious army first wins and then seeks battle; a defeated army first battles and then seeks victory. Therefore the victories of good warriors are not noted for cleverness or bravery. Therefore their victories in battle are not flukes. Their victories are not flukes because they position themselves where they will surely win, prevailing over those who have already lost.

Outwitting opponents so that battle is not necessary is the most desirable course, but how you fare once in battle depends on ‘knowing thyself’ and knowing who the other players are:

If you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.

In your strategic approach to change, do you know which archetypes are you dealing with? Are there Daffys, Sams, Sylvesters, Elmers, Pepés and Wile E. Coyotes around you?

Which one(s) are you?

Be aware whether you are cultivating the archetype of the unflappable, disruptive trickster like Bugs Bunny – it will not serve your purpose to stray into the territory of the earnest yet irritating Pepé, or the belligerent Yosemite Sam in order to achieve your ends (a modern archetype for this would be the ‘eco-nazi’).

It is worth studying the great changemakers and strategists like Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Sun Tzu to learn what made them successful and how you might incorporate elements of their approaches in your work, but also remember that tacticians and strategists can be found in unexpected places – and they might even be figments of our collective imagination.

Bugs Bunny reclining with carrot, speech bubble with Chinese characters

Image credit

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