Written by Andrew Bowerbank
Over the course of my career, I have come to understand a hard truth – any professional or philanthropic aspirations focused on improving our social condition are far more difficult to realize than first thought. In fact, the likelihood of accomplishing your cause-driven career goals in today’s society is almost impossible. That doesn’t mean you give up on your goals; it just means that you might need to shift your thinking on what is realistic based on the tools and resources at your disposal. When you are a young professional first starting out, you think the whole world is in front of you; and there is so much opportunity to get out there and make a difference. But we have a lot against us out there. For a harsh analogy, it’s much like the masses of baby sea turtles that give it all they’ve got to race from the beach to the perceived security of the open ocean. No matter how hard they try, the race is lost for most as they get picked off by hungry birds. Even when they get to the ocean, they have a plethora of predators just waiting for an easy snack.
I have been committed my entire career to driving “market transformation towards a low carbon economy”. I have held positions in government, Not-for-Profits, academia, and most recently the private sector. In each case, I looked for the entities that had the greatest potential for market impact, then I got down to work. I had many successes, but these were mostly project specific – If you notice, we are still hurtling towards imminent disaster. So, I guess I can say to the activists out there, my career has been a success but my mission has not. I have been able to influence, but not change.
Have I failed? Well, I guess that depends on a single question: Am I still passionate about my mission? If I can hold onto my passion, then at the very core there is still hope, drive and desire. Whether you are an activist, an optimist, a pessimist, a realist, or even a narcissist, you need to hold onto your beliefs and use these to drive the change required to shift our trajectory.
“Am I still passionate about my mission? If I can hold onto my passion, then at the very core there is still hope, drive and desire.”
Not to worry (much), there is still a lot of hope out there; there is an opportunity to focus your goals based on a few realities in the market. I have come up against these realities through in my personal effort to affect change:
Human nature has shown time and again that we really don’t like it when individuals stand out as leaders. We prefer to recognize the success of a group or team effort. The reality is, don’t focus on being a boss; don’t make achieving CEO status your goal (sorry narcissists, you will need a bit of a reality check here). Rather, strive to be a person of influence. Having influence in the market can direct decision makers to the type of solutions required in Canada to drive change.
Becoming a person of influence means you will need to work on your personal brand – consider who you are to others. Ask yourself how you want to be perceived, what will make you stand out, and how you want to be remembered. These three considerations will be the basis from which to begin to develop your brand. If you are recognized by your personal brand, if you are able to influence others, you will then be able to facilitate change.
Once you get a handle on your personal brand and you are ready to develop your story, I find it crucially important, especially in today’s fast-paced market, to elevate the importance of the storyteller.
Unless we understand how to share our accomplishments, we will never be able to use these efforts to influence others and drive change. In practical terms, this means that every project you work on should include a comprehensive plan for telling the story. No one can be expected to promote your accomplishments for you. It’s great if they do, but you need to take ownership of your promotional opportunities – Tell people what you are about to do; celebrate when you do it; and tell people afterward what you did and what the next steps will be. You will need to find the commonalities that bring people together under a united cause and then drive the projects that will inspire future possibilities.
Reality # 3
When your personal brand is in place and you have a story to tell, next you will need to find your audience; but doing so within your inner circle is just not good enough anymore. Our problems are not confined within individual sectors; our social, economic, and environmental issues impact all of our lives and reach across the marketplace. You must try to find the opportunities that have the potential to influence others from across sectors, cultures, and interest groups. The reality is, if you can’t get your story out across society, you won’t inspire the level of change needed to make a meaningful impact.
“Unless we understand how to share our accomplishments, we will never be able to use these efforts to influence others and drive change.”
Changing the world one step at a time
Do you think you have what it takes to change the world around you? Do you have a fire, a passion that needs to be fueled? Are you still somewhat optimistic about humanity’s future potential? Well then maybe, just maybe, you will be one of the few professionals that can become a person of influence and drive a transformation of our social condition. I have not given up hope; I know there are opportunities out there – and still more to learn along the way. I can’t give up hope, we have mountainous challenges ahead of us including: climate change, factory farming, pandemics, fossil fuel subsidies, racial and gender inequality, political corruption, and more. Part of my hope is that there is still enough time for the next generation of emerging thought leaders to take over where I have left off, and learn from their experiences – I will forever be a cautious optimist.
Andrew Bowerbank is the Vice President of Market Development at the Canadian Wood Council where he is helping to drive the latest trend in Mass Timber construction. Prior to his current efforts at CWC, he held a number of notable executive roles in Canada’s building, energy and infrastructure sectors through WSP and EllisDon. He is also the former CEO of the World Green Building Council, a published author, and recipient of the prestigious “Ontario Premier’s Award” for his career accomplishments.