It’s a pleasure to welcome our newest guest blogger David Cowen. David spent his career most recently as an expert on sustainability. He has now turned his focus to personal sustainability. Here he discusses the connection between self-respect, creativity and sustainability.

Respect from Within

In August, the city of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson held a three-day Sustainable Cleveland 2009 Summit.  It was very engaging and high-energy, and there was a predominance of like-minded thinkers in the room, which made generating goals/objectives and then defining the prototypes and/or initial action steps to achieve them pretty easy.

Without going into detail, there are a number of things that can be done in the near future—harvesting the “low-hanging fruit”—that will move Cleveland toward being more sustainable. In the long term, however, we will need to be on a different level of thinking that Einstein referred to when he said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Creativity and the subsequent innovations will be the key to becoming sustainable as a region. This is no different than in business where sustainability has become the key driver for creativity and innovation.

Achieving that different level of thinking to ensure our sustainability as a region will require marrying diverse ideas, even diametrically opposed ones, not homogenous ones. Strength is built from differences. Having different ideas is a prerequisite, but how we bring those different ideas together is what’s important. It’s not about compromise, which in essence is 1+1=1½—both sides giving up something; it’s about synergy—combining those ideas resulting in something greater than the sum of the two ideas would have produced (1+1>2).

The key to synergizing is the openness of the participants to engage those who have ideas different from their own. Your openness is a function of your internal self-esteem, i.e., your self-respect. The more well-grounded you are from within, the more willing you are to allow your ideas to be morphed into something else during the synergizing process. Even just empathically listening to someone’s idea that differs from your own requires you to have that internal respect.

But when was the last time someone walked up to you with an idea that totally opposed yours and you thought it was great that they saw it differently? People who have internal respect will look to engage those with ideas different from their own.

That’s not going to be true if your worth comes from outside of yourself, for example, having a need to be right. You will want your ideas to be used; otherwise, you will feel less worthy, and you will work to prevent that from happening possibly at a cost to the good of the masses and, therefore, our sustainability.

Respecting yourself from within opens doors to the creativity and innovation that’s going to be needed if an organization, city, society, nation or world is going to be sustainable.