Human endeavour is an inspirational thing. I recently interviewed a very brave guy who struck out on his own to start a business that closely aligned with his value set. A few years down the track that one man show has expanded considerably both in employee numbers, client base and positive impact.
This blog post is the first in what will become a regular feature on this site and profiles the achievements of Terence Jeyaretnam, founder of Net Balance Management Group. If you are wondering how I found out about Terence then you probably haven't read the Engineers Australia magazine in a while. As an engineer and a member of the Society of Sustainability and Environmental Engineering (SSEE) I have been reading Terence's articles on sustainability for about five years now, in fact, it is pretty much all I read in that mag. This is not a comment on the quality of the magazine, simply an indication of my priorities when it comes to reading the rest of it. The following is an excerpt from theNet Balancewebsite:
Welcome to Net Balance
Net Balance is a different kind of company.
The Net Balance team is made up of energetic, passionate individuals who see sustainability as core business, presenting exciting opportunities for innovation, industry leadership, risk management, and cost reduction. That’s why Net Balance has become one of the leading providers of sustainability advice and assurance in Australia.
I asked Terence a number of questions to find out what inspired his work to create this company and what he thinks can inspire other sustainability practitioners.
Q1 - Why did you decide to launch Net Balance?
Because the company I was with at the time, URS, decided to step away globally from providing assurance to sustainability reports due to litigation fears. This was, and has been, my area of passion for the past 15 years, and I needed an entity to house my interests. Besides, it presented an opportunity for a unique experiment in setting up a company – one that measures, offsets and reports its sustainability performance, has a strong focus on non-profit work and is based on a strong set of values. The experiment has been a phenomenal success so far, proving that there is indeed much room for sustainable business models.
Q2 - What are the key resources you employ in the conduct of your work (an example of some that I have listed for readers is locatedhere)?
Editor’s note: As a time management guru, Terence typed up his reply to my questions while in the air between Sydney and Melbourne so he lacked the capacity to check the list of resources I provided in a recent post.
Jud, again, as I’m in the middle of the air, I can’t see your list, but my key resource (and to an extent the only resource) is my brain. I find that one of the fundamental issues (even with sustainability) is that we do not use our brains as much as we could. Lazy brains lead to lazy people and a lazy planet – I’m not saying that my brain is not lazy – it is, and it does try very hard to coast, but I keep challenging the possibilities!
Editor’s note: Wow. Insights like this are exactly why I started this blog. That was not what I was getting at with my question but it provides a great wake up call. What is your first point of call when you have a hard decision to make or a complex problem to solve? Do you make a conscious effort to extend yourself and make the most of your own mind? Consider the sheer volume of information you can access. It quickly becomes clear that it is your discerning mind that will actually make sense of it all and turn it into a useful resource. Thanks Terence, excellent point.
Q3 - What inspires you to work in the field of sustainability?
The possibility that we may leave this planet to our kids just the way we found it. When I was a child (which by the way was not that long ago!), there was very little waste, very little pollution and much more time in the day. I would like to give the place back the way I found it – and the reason my work continues to get me out of bed very early every morning is that it has the potential to change large institutions and create much more change than I could ever achieve on my own.
Q4 - What are some examples of work you have been involved in that you think may be inspirational to other sustainability practitioners?
Two things. Most companies that I have worked with have improved their performance each year and have gone from strength to strength. This makes me proud. Secondly, I’m proud of what Net Balance has done as a company – ticked most boxes in a sustainability journey from day one. Hopefully, it will inspire other sustainability and engineering companies to practice what they believe is good for business and reap the rewards.
The next sustainability practitioner to be profiled will be freelance writer Leon Gettler of Fairfax, G Magazine and Sox First fame. Do you have anyone you would recommend I try to profile on this blog? If so please feel free to add a comment below.
After an epiphany over the weekend I have finally decided upon what this site and blog are going to be all about. The aim of this site will be to provide inspirational examples of organisational change for social, economic and environmental sustainability. Negative news stories in this space are plentiful, I will offer an alternative. This blog will be filled with examples that you can use to drive change in your organisation.
There is plenty of advice around about finding a niche and specialising so that you can stand out. But what if your speciality is as a generalist? What if you are a person people turn to for advice on a wide range of topics? What if the only common thread you can see between the things on your plate is that you are responsible for them?
The nature of work these days requires people to learn, unlearn and relearn so quickly that the generalist is in a niche of their own. I would consider the following as examples of roles where being a generalist is advantageous:
Project Manager. Every project is unique!
Researcher. If research didn’t require the bringing together of a number of skills and fields of practice then they would just ask a specialist and not waste time with a researcher.
Consultant. As a consultant you will be asked to advise on a broad range of topics. When it is outside of your field of knowledge you need to at least find out enough to work out who can help and what should be their brief.
Manager. In the work required to operate an organisation you will be regularly called upon to make decisions about things that are new to you. If you weren’t then there would be a simple manual or FAQ list that everyone would be referred to. Appreciating the broader context of your decisions is essential to many of the decisions you will make.
The common thread across this short list of roles is the requirement for transferable skills. A transferable skill is one that can be used in a range of different scenarios. Examples include listening, analysis, planning, presenting and writing. This list is by no means exhaustive.
Considering yourself to be a generalist has its limitations though. At times there will a perception that specialised input is required because the challenge to be tackled is too complex. But once the specialist is finished with their work this will need to be interpreted into everyday speak for the people left to carry on in their wake. Who is best placed to perform this vital role? I would consider that the generalist is in an excellent position to do so.
Generalist sub-topics that I will cover in future posts include the following:
- Skills analysis. How to do it and what most generalists can expect to find
- Resume writing for the generalist
- Communication for the generalist
- When does a generalist need to display a speciality?
- When does a specialist need to display their capacity to generalise?
Anyone with a stationery fetish has seen one of these before. It is the Fisher Space Pen. Apparently used by astronauts to take notes while in outer space. It writes on just about anything and costs between $20.00 and $40.00 depending on the model you choose. This is about 20 times more expensive than a pack of five biros.
As an engineer I am regularly faced with the challenge of defining how much effort needs to go into an element of a project. When NASA decided to start using the pen developed by Paul Fisher of the Fisher Pen Company it was not because they had spare cash lying around and wanted to show off or had a tiff with their standard supplier. It is because they worked out the consequences of a dud pen or pencil in orbit and decided it was not a risk they could tolerate. What you need depends a lot on what you do.
Sitting at my desk pen failure results in a binned biro and a gentle roll over to the cupboard where I get the next one out and keep going. In space pen failure could equal mission failure. If an astronaut needs to make a note, mark a point or do some quick hand calculations you can bet that they need that tool to work to provide a quick solutionto whatever instigated the need. Having to scramble around inside the space craft for the next pen may result in wasted time they can’t afford. Subsequently the consequences of failure justify the very high level of reliability.
In our every day purchasing or design decisions we have to make sure we know what this thing is going to be used for before we commit. The accuracy of this assessment is the key to finding the sweet spot between money well spent on high reliability and a false economy from a poor understanding of the end user. Spending time finding out the end user’s needs has a similar level of importance to design that reconnaissance does to planning military operations. As all good military leaders know, time in reconnaissance is seldom wasted. The designer’s equivalent would be that time in testing is certainly time well spent.
What allowances have been made for testing on your current project/s?