Do Not Climb that Ladder

I recently finished reading The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals And Organizations Are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World, by Peter Senge, Bryan Smith, Nina Kruschwitz, Joe Laur and Sara Schley Nicholas Brealey. I highly recommend this book to anyone working in sustainability / corporate responsibility. It provides practical tools to help professionals think about the challenges and opportunities presented in this field. The book made me think deeply about mental models and how our assumptions about the systems we live in affect our ability to see opportunities, understand risks, and think critically about the solutions we come up with.

For example, one of the ideas explained in the book is called the Ladder of Inference. The authors explain that the Ladder of Inference is the process by which we add meaning and draw conclusions about the world around us. It shapes the way we select data from our experiences, add meaning to the selected data, and make assumptions and conclusions according to these meanings. Ultimately, these conclusions shape our beliefs about the world. This process is cyclical; the beliefs we currently hold affect the data we select for analysis in the future.

Ladder of Inference

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Inspiration from the Net Impact 2014 Conference

I recently attended the Net Impact 2014 Conference in Minneapolis, MN and thought I would share some of the ideas and debates from the event that inspired me. The conference was full of positive, proactive energy and provided some interesting lessons for the world’s next group of sustainability leaders.

Firstly, if you have not listened to Dan Pallotta’s TED talk about the way we think about charity, I highly recommend it. He spoke at the conference on this same topic and received a very positive response from the conference attendees.

Pallotta provides some very thought provoking statistics and arguments about how our perceptions of charity often defy logic. (One excerpt: “You want to make 50 million dollars selling violent video games to kids, go for it. We’ll put you on the cover of Wired magazine. But you want to make half a million dollars trying to cure kids of malaria, and you’re considered a parasite yourself.”) He also discusses how these beliefs about charity are impeding our ability to make effective change in the sector.

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