The Pivotal World of Sustainable Wellbeing

If you had to move, which planet would you choose to live in:  a utopian but slightly uncomfortable world of sustainable wellbeing, a dynamic but disruptive technology-rich world, or the world as it actually was in 1986?

  • The world of sustainable wellbeing has lots of yoga classes, vege co-ops and great public transport.  Businesses put ethics and eco-friendliness ahead of profit. No supermarkets or fast food though.  And no email or social media, not even Instagram.
  • The global techno-culture world is bursting with new stuff. There’s still no supermarkets,  but everything you need can be delivered to you. It’s all very personalised.  Downside: very hard to tell what’s real and what’s fake.  Bladerunner levels of  surveillance.
  • And the world as it was in 1986 – We have no smartphones or laptops, but lots of television channels. There isn’t as much precision in the world and we don’t know where anyone is.  There’s no such thing as a healthy diet – it’s just food. There’s no recycling and no good explanation for all the crazy weather.

It’s OK – you don’t have to choose – they all exist here and now. But the old world is slowly dying – partly because it doesn’t work so well any more – and also because the new worlds are  lining up to take over.

Why 3 Worlds?

I came up with the 3 Worlds idea in 2014 – it came from a thought that looked like this.

an early version

When I fleshed it out some more, the three worlds emerged as they are today:

  • The World of Industrial Consumerism [Old World]
  • Global Techno-culture [New World]
  • The World of Sustainable Wellbeing [Slow World, – though that term has aged badly].

As I say in my 3 Worlds White Paper [2015]:

Over time the boundaries have changed, and my 3 Worlds model is more sophisticated now, but this was where it all began. I realised that we no longer live in one world, we live in three worlds — each with its own rules, and its own ethos.

It’s like living at the intersection of three different neighbourhoods, each with unique ways of operating. Every day we flit between these worlds, not really aware how different and contradictory they are. We know things are changing but we don’t really see how or why.”

Tribes of the Three Worlds

Back in 2015, my first thought was to use the 3 Worlds concept as a way to talk about employees and how to structure businesses for growth. I did a promising pilot study, and I still use the concept in my analysis. But I couldn’t get a shared organisational study off the ground at the time – my network was much more marketing-oriented.

The Tribes of the 3 Worlds report is all about marketing.

One of the big breakthroughs in my understanding of the worlds came when a colleague, Duncan Stuart kindly ran a factor analysis for me, which looked at the kinds of brand qualities that matter to people when they are assessing brands.

There were four factors in the original analysis. Strikingly, three of the four reflected one of the three worlds. [I could only find three of them in the 2018 research, but luckily they were the right three.]

Understanding Tribes

The Tribes of the 3 Worlds are based on the brand values they selected as being important to them.

  • Industrial Consumerism [focus is on convenience and value for money]
  • Global Techno-culture [all about having the latest technology, being smart]
  • Sustainable Wellbeing [drawn to eco-friendliness, ethical, good for people]

A tribe is not a segment – it’s a much looser arrangement. You’re allowed to belong to more than one – they overlap each other. In any tribe there are people who display all of the key tribal characteristics, and others who display very few. But it is the people who display most or all the tribal qualities who determine the character of that tribe.

Here’s an example of that.  Think about your school days and the range of tribes in your classroom – sporty boys, popular girls, geeks, rebels etc. Every tribe would have two or three people who really defined its character and set the standards or the tone or the rules – you can probably still picture them. But some people crossed over – sporty and rebellious, popular and brainy.

The 3 Worlds Tribes are like that – and so are the brands they like.

I  Prefer the World of Sustainable Wellbeing

Someone asked me the other day which world I would prefer to live in.  Without hesitation I picked the world of Sustainable Wellbeing. Not because it solves every issue, but because it’s the enlightened humanist one. It’s the one that insists on treating people with respect and it doesn’t try to manipulate them. I feel that’s an essential component for the world as it is.

The world of sustainable wellbeing does what the other two don’t do – it addresses our relationship with the wider world and our tendency to defecate in our own nest. It has the essential humility to recognise that, just like a plague of locusts, we do have the capacity to destroy our habitat. Can you picture each one of us as locusts, mindlessly gobbling up all we can eat. Maybe we’re worried about missing out? Perhaps we don’t even realise we’re leaving nothing for those coming behind us.

Side Effects & Unintended Consequences

That’s one of the side-effects of consumer industrialism – many of us consume mindlessly.  This is a system that started out as a great improvement – leading to improvements as necessary today as toilets and public schools. In the 20th Century it  built  a seductive philosophy of earned abundance. But now in its later years it has ended up commoditising almost everything.

As this world  begins to lose value, its owners respond by buying up the real estate of other worlds.  I don’t mean actual Mars – I mean that a high proportion of the investment in Silicon Valley came from money earned in the ‘old’ world. Also Coke now owns the Innocent drinks brand and Nestle just took a share in Starbucks ethically-sourced  packaged coffee business and bought an  icon of Sustainable Wellbeing, Bluebottle Coffee.

As for Global Techno-culture, on the one hand they want to make the world a better place. On the other, their potential to amplify everything leads to all kinds of unintended consequences. Like spreading social contagion, like the burden that those mining crypto-currencies place electricity generation . . . Heaven forbid that they should try to come up with a solution to climate change! And remember, recently bought Whole Foods.

Don’t Let Perfect Be The Enemy of the Good

The world of sustainable wellbeing  is a deceptively hard world to join though, mainly because of insider attitudes. There’s a perfectionism there, and a teeny little bit of holier-than-thou-ness. Political correctness is a stupid label, but anyone who detests that will be put off by clannish greenness. I was struck by something I read the other day about how most British people wanted to be eco-friendly but didn’t want to be thought of as greenies. Because greenies .. ? Maybe because en masse they are scary.

I did some work for a famous greenie organisation back in the day, helping them to build a more mainstream movement. There’s absolutely nothing about the people as individuals that would lead you to fear or reject them. Really lovely people,  but I can see how they’d be daunting as an organisation. They were scarily well-informed , extremely dedicated,  and they ruthlessly ridiculed  companies that didn’t measure up. That’s not something that mainstream people really like.

So it really wasn’t surprising to hear some clients recently reject the notion that they should focus their social wellbeing efforts on promoting eco-friendly transportation. The rationale: we’re not perfectly sustainable, so we might be accused of green-washing. That’s a pretty cautious response, but it is also an unintended  consequence of in-group attitudes from a former outsider tribe.

The World of Sustainable Wellbeing is no longer just the home of outsider tribes. It’s crossing the fabled ‘chasm’ – becoming mainstream – with one of the most important jobs in the world to do. In the words of Marshall Goldsmith [who wrote a book about this topic] “what got you here won’t get you there”.


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