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Infectious Engagements

This is my checklist when designing projects or initiatives in support of the sustainability transformation. I wrote them as affirmations.

  1. I am carried by a vision: I want to enable a world where all thrive within the means of our planet.

  2. I value an honest appraisal of what is: I acknowledge the ecological and social crises as they currently exist and as they are likely to unfold, given current trends. I strive to describe them with clarity and without spinning. I separate the descriptive from the normative as cleanly as I can. I believe and have experienced that non-moralizing, straight honesty opens doors and energizes everyone.

  3. I hold the crises as our context, not our burden: I am not the “saviors of the world” nor its central planning committee. The world is so much bigger than what I can influence or control. Nor am I likely able to impose my will. But I can make positive contributions, given the context we live in.

  4. I recognize that neither me nor society are caught in a “free-rider trap”[1]: Many people hold a common misconception that most of the world’s problems are unsolvable free-rider dynamics where individual and social interests are no longer aligned, or where the collective good can only be achieved by giving ourselves up for that good. The isolated focus on climate change amplifies this misconception. As a result, people afflicted by this misconception see no benefit in acting or even reacting. Yes, some free riding (or ‘externalities’) exists in many situations. But I believe that ‘free riding’ is not the dominant dynamic, not even for climate change and even less in the context of resource constraints. Because as we enter ever more into a world of climate change and resource constraints, the alignment between self-interest (self-care, self-protection, preparing oneself) and social benefit is omnipresent. Because if I am not ready, for that future, it is me who is not ready. There are many ways by which we can secure our own future and also bend the global (and society’s) ‘curve’.

  5. I believe in motivation as the main transformative force. With motivation, I mean intrinsic or internal drive (as opposed to external, which I would call inspiration). Once there is critical mass for the sustainability transformation, external inspiration, such as incentives, nudging etc. becomes more relevant, but for now, the question still is how to create critical mass. Further, neither I nor anybody else have the money to pay people into doing the right thing for the sustainability transformation. Nor do I have the power to force others to support my vision. Our main magic force is to be invitational and generate motivation. Without motivation, there is no movement, no sustained force for change. In my view, and consistent with research on motivation in business management, education, and cognitive therapy, motivation as applied to the sustainability transformation has three measurable core components. Motivation is heightened if increases people’s:
    a.    desire (“I want this”),
    b.    sense of agency (“I can do this”), and
    c.     curiosity (“I’m excited to learn more and figure this out”).

  6. I celebrate, I do not impose or endorse. To generate motivation, I do not teach and tell, but celebrate and nurture what people discover for themselves. I offer opportunities to learn, encouraging a learners’ mindset. I strive to catalyze enlightening experiences and provide opportunity for collaboration. This also reduces conflict and fear, both conditions that undermine creativity, experimentation, and willingness to engage.

  7. I position the initiative not as a lofty moral pursuit, but as a necessary inquiry: I avoid using “shoulds”, categorizing, judging or limiting myself to binary choices. Rather I want to invite all onto a journey of discovery and exploration.

  8. I collaborate, and am open to opportunities from micro to macro. In the end, it is individuals, and coordinated individuals, individuals in a community, who make a difference in their own lives and in, and with, the organizations they engage

  9. I want to produce results advancing my vision. But I cannot predict the outcomes. I have an open agenda, while being motivated by my vision. Where opportunities arise, I continue to infuse, rather than impose, my vision. Being open to outcomes that then emerge is not only titillating, but also most likely producing the most powerful results.

  10. I look for responses, not “solutions”. Solutions assume that a particular problem can be neutralized. Also “solutions” suffer as they typically do not identify a “subject” (who does this with what means?). Therefore, I believe it is more meaningful to think of responses rather than solutions. Responses ask: how are YOU responding to our context? It is an invitation to get into the game; it is not an outside declaration of what should be. It avoids presenting solutions as magical interventions that can neutralize the problem, with somebody else taking care of it. And often, the problem is not even clearly defined, or misjudged.

How is this checklist supporting your efforts? I am interested in feedback.

[1] Free riding means that benefits can accrue to the individual at the expense of society, or vice versa, trying to help societal outcomes would come at the cost of the individual. Different academic disciplines use different terms for the same (or related) concepts: “tragedy of the commons”, “prisoner’s dilemma”, “externalities”, or “inversely aligned incentives”.

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