The mindset for success

Photo by Caju Gomes on Unsplash

There are five principles you need to commit to and master if you want to create a competitive edge with circular economy and create a positive environmental impact: Mindset – Mission – Roadmap – Implement – Communicate. And in that order.

If you can’t honestly tick all five boxes, then this is your job for the next 6 months. Follow through and you will get results!

In five posts I will introduce each of the principles, so you can accelerate your journey, get success and impact the world in a positive way.

Will be happy to answer questions along the way.

Circular Business Success, part I – Mindset

So why is mindset important? Mindset influences and controls, how you view things, what you see as possible, and the way you actually look at the world around you.

How you understand and think about circular economy in a business context defines the number of opportunities you are capable of spotting, who and what you can attract, and the number of results (business and sustainability) you can create.

That is why the right mindset is critical to your success with circular economy in your business. If you get it right you will start at the right place, you will get value and learning out of the money, time, and resources you invest. If not, you will properly only get a fraction of the results you aim for, and is it quite likely that the effort will be a bit detached from the strategic thinking and from the core issues that the business or the customers are facing.

There are 4 key components that are essential to understand and embed in your mindset.

  1. Start and end with business
  2. Create, not minimize
  3. Be an entrepreneur
  4. Stay core


1. Start and end with business

We are so used to sustainability being seen as a mainly technical discipline. Consequently, it is often driven by people with a solid environmental or technical background. But if you think it is an environmental and technical discipline, you are missing the point.

The thing is that circular economy can be used to solve a range of common business issues. Circular Economy is really a toolbox, so view it as extra layers in the toolbox for leadership, management, and business development. This is essential as it will shape how you address it, where you focus and the level of commitment from everybody in the organization.

You can boil it down to this sentence:

It is all about creating business with embedded environmental impact!

If you do that you will automatically focus on solving important problems either for you or your customers. Once you have a solution to the problem and simultaneously create a positive environmental impact, then the questions about whether to scale it or not become a no-brainer. Of course, it should be scaled. So, no matter if you are in it to change the world or make your business better or prove to someone else that you are capable of doing either of these two, then this approach be the most impactful one.

So, the starting point should be to solve a business problem. A meaningful one – one that somebody has an interest in getting solved. And then use the circular economy toolbox to find new and better ways to solve that problem while simultaneously creating a positive environmental impact. Once you find a solution for it, you will want to scale it rapidly.

That is a radically different result than what most sustainable projects end with. Quite typically the environmental project creates a proof of concept and in the end, there are some recommendations for how to scale it. But many solutions will never be scaled, as it does not really solve a business-critical problem – not for your own company, not for your customers. It might be a critical issue for us (as in mankind) as a whole. But it doesn’t really matter if nobody has the willingness to buy or sponsor the solution. Such initiatives end up competing with all the other nice initiatives and good ideas on the nice-to list that we do a couple of each year.

Coming to circular economy from a business point of view and creating value from solving a problem is essential. You might ask “What kind of business value can I expect from a serious engagement in circular economy in my business?” These are some of the typical results that I see companies get again and again across industries and geography:

  • Cost reduction
  • Increased sales
  • Innovation
  • Access to new markets
  • Product development
  • Competitive Advantage
  • Ahead of upcoming regulation
  • Investor relations
  • Massive uptake in satisfaction amongst employees
  • Increase in productivity
  • Ability to attract and maintain talent.

So hopefully you now see that there is a clear link between the most common problems that business leaders are focusing on and the kind of outcome that working with circular economy delivers.

And once you recognize this you see that circular economy is in fact a business discipline. This is your starting point. It is about creating business results with embedded environmental impact.

2. Create, not minimize

The second key component to your mindset is for most people one that flips a switch in their head and makes it all the more energizing.

Circular economy is not about being less bad. It’s about being more good.

We are so used to hearing about sustainability in terms of minimizing. Often the ultimate goal is zero. Zero waste. Zero carbon emissions. Zero pollution. Zero whatever. As a businessperson, you get up in the morning to create more! More turnover, more profit, more products, more growth, more jobs. No wonder most business leaders over the years have concluded that business and sustainability don’t go hand in hand. There really isn’t much energy in “zero”. The energy comes from creating something. It is our nature to create, grow and expand. This is how we have evolved as a species. A good circular business solution is one that creates a positive impact. Not just being less bad, but really having a positive impact.

There is a clear reason for this standpoint. One that is rooted in science and that simultaneously will elevate your business.

When people talk about sustainability there is often a reference to the definition that came out of the Brundtland report back in 1987. It says something along the lines of: “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising future generations abilities to the need to meet their needs”. But take a look out of the window or go to any news platform, and you will get a quick reminder of what science tells us; the coming generations – meaning your kids and my kids – have a completely different and in many ways significantly poorer set of opportunities and conditions for them to realize their potential and unfold their lives. Think of climate change, depleted resources, loss of biodiversity, access to clean drinking water, acidification, or the amount of chemicals in the people and natural systems. Just to name a few. In so many ways the generations to come have significantly reduced and poorer opportunities to fulfill their needs than we have.

Yet we talk about sustainability as if it is about avoiding getting to that situation where future generation has poorer opportunities than we have. As if we still have some distance to that line and just need to stop the train before we cross that red line. But that is nowhere near the situation. The fact is we have to rebuild future generations’ opportunities to meet their needs.

That is why a good circular solution is one that is not less bad, but more good. It leaves the world a slightly better place in some form. It will move us back towards that situation where we crossed the red line. Reestablish a situation where future generations actually have kind of the same abilities to meet their needs as we have today.

Might sound daunting, but the good news is when you create a positive impact instead of “just” minimizing you create a great alignment between the traditional business approach and the circular economy business approach. And it is clearly what the world needs and what we must do for our kids and coming generations. By creating and being part of the solution, not the problem, you will experience a tailwind as the market starts to pull your products and solutions towards them.

3. Be an entrepreneur

It is essential to build in what I would call an entrepreneurial approach into your mindset because in so many ways the transition from linear to a circular economy with the development of new products and solutions, new incentive structures, perhaps new business models are a lot more similar to creating a new business than it is to plan and develop as you are used to.

The typical project management – or business development approach works really well if you have a pretty good picture of where you’re going. But the more you are entering new space, the more you are developing new stuff, the more innovation that has to occur, the less you can see where you are going. Here the traditional suitcase for managing projects and development is very poor.

There will be a lot to gain if you adapt a modern entrepreneurial culture and the tools for modern entrepreneurship e.g., be more mission-driven, experiment and test with the market, fail fast and forward, and build on the best already out there.

Instead of trying to plan and figure it all out and spend a lot of time, money, and effort before you take it to the market work in a series of build-measure-learn feedback loops. Be clear on where you want to go, set up the hypotheses for the next steps, and then build the minimum viable product (product, solution, or approach) and find a way to get feedback through testing it with your customers. Learn from it and adjust, re-build and test again. Instead of trying to see all the way to the end, just create what is necessary for the next step and see where that will take you.

When uncovering new land there are so many things that you won’t be able to foresee, so don’t try! It is literally impossible to foresee how the market will react to something they have most likely not seen before. Odds are high that you will waste your time and money and thereby perhaps ruin your chance of realizing that great idea what will make the world a slightly better place and your business more successful

It might be harder than it sounds in the beginning. The problem is that then you have to unlearn a ton of stuff that you learned at school. Ever since you started school, you basically have been told that if you look at what your classmates are doing, it’s cheating. You have to improve on the areas you are weak in, and if you have to get more of something – someone else has to get less. Recognize this picture?

Most people have been trained for this approach all their life, so it’s not strange in any way if you clearly recognize yourself in this picture. The intrapreneurial approach is different. We find the best and add to it. We exercise our strengths and create a team to deal with our weak areas. And we create solutions that grow the pie, so there’s more for everybody.

By utilizing the entrepreneurial approach, you will move a lot faster and a lot further ahead of the competition and develop the kinds of solutions the world needs – and thus will love you for offering them.

4. Stay core

Well, that’s three out of the four components. They constitute a great mindset and with that, you have the foundation for a successful circular economy journey. The last component you need to complete your mindset is to understand that:

This is not a project. Circular business is a way of doing!

It is not something that you put on the agenda for a little while, something that you assign some people to handle and then you continue whit business as usual. You must understand and take it to heart that this is how you run and develop your business going forward.

You must integrate it into your way of thinking and doing business altogether. Consequently, it is not about deciding on a circular project somewhere in your company, perhaps a less known product so the risk might appear smaller, and name it “our flagship” project. You must focus on your core.

Success comes from changing the way you do rather than just making changes to a product somewhere in your portfolio. And there are several things a play here, but just know that the bottom line is that by focusing on the core, you increase your odds for success, you increase your business opportunities, and you decrease the risk of being accused of greenwashing.

It might sound counterintuitive but bear in mind that one thing is the scope of your focus and the mission you embark on while the speed and the pathway of that journey is something else. Of course, you have to start where you are in terms of maturity, knowledge, other changes going on, business setup, and all the other things to consider when making your strategy. You can start small as long as it is the first step in a longer journey that will change how you operate and that will make you part of the solution.

So why will integrating circular business thinking into the core of your business improve your odds of success, increase your business opportunities, and lower the risk of being accused of greenwashing?

You are a businessman, so you know that the language of business is results! Results create credibility and trust. Results attract. Results talk. For your customers, for the media, for your investors, for your partners, and for your employees and potential employees. With that in mind, it is quite clear why you must focus on the core of your business to create the kind of results you want to be associated with you and your company.

Today people see through you if you just conduct a flagship project instead of a series of steps that leads to a change in the way you do business. Doing something somewhere in your business and then continue with business as usual will be seen as window dressing. It will be hollow instead of trustworthy. And nobody wants to do business with, work with, or for an untrusted company.

Consequently, it also means when you go to the core, then everybody will see and understand that you are really serious about this, that you are committed and actually working to become part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

There are literally millions of customers, partners, and talented people that come to the conclusion that they want to be part of changing the unsustainable course the world is on and they are all looking for trustworthy companies to lead the way and to support and join. This is the old saying put into practice: Birds of a feather flock together!

Dare to focus on changing the core of what you do and take action to demonstrate results and let the world know about it, and you will attract new business, new partner opportunities, and new talent like never before.

Let me address the elephant in the room for many of you here at the end: The fear of being accused of greenwashing. If you have a strong mission to make your company a force for good, have a high-level roadmap for how to get there, and demonstrate results then you have the defense in place for such accusations. On the other hand, if you continue with business as usual and just do some smaller flagship projects sooner or later someone will call your bluff and point out that you only do marginal changes and thus is still part of the problem. It can be very costly to your bottom line and brand value and reputation. Ultimately it is your social license to operate that is at stake.

Start now

Those are the four components of a mindset that will set you up for success with circular economy.

  1. Circular economy is a business tool, and it is all about creating business with embedded environmental impact.
  2. It is not about being less bad – it’s about being more good. It’s about creating a positive impact, not just about minimizing.
  3. Master the competencies, skillset, and approach of modern entrepreneurship with all the tools and methods we see in successful startups today.
  4. It is not a project – it is a way of doing.

If you build those four components in your mindset and come from that starting point in whatever you do when you work with circular economy, then I guarantee you have a significantly better chance of succeeding and you will see a lot more opportunities and ways to go forward. It’s going to open a world of abundance and a wealth of opportunities and ways you can move forward.

Perhaps it feels like a daunting task, but you can initiate mindset changes in a heartbeat. The fact that you have read this far means you are already undertaking the next steps. Ask yourself how do I score on a 1-10 scale on each of these four components? Where I am already strong? Where do I need to upgrade? Can you see how you can upgrade? What could you do today to build on your mindset?

Let me know if there is anything I can do to speed up your journey.