Skip to main content

Rearranging deck chairs

I received this question:

In one of your wonderings last week you wrote:

"One conflict, that is bothering me a lot at the moment, is the challenges of tinkering around the edges of complex, international material flows. Are we at risk of rearranging deck chairs on the sinking ship? (IE are we really busy while having zero impact?)" [1]

Can you elaborate a bit more?

I can try!

That paragraph is actually covering a lot of different thoughts. One of the purposes of these #circularwandering is the slowly work though these half formed thoughts - so I continue to reserve the right to be incomplete and to change my mind in the future ;)

"Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" is an idiom [2] that translate as activities that are not worth doing because they cannot improve the situation.

In terms of a circular economy this is made more complex as we don't always know what actions do actually make a difference. So, we may not know if we are working hard on something where the impact will be no more than a rounding error in the big picture.

Here's an example: I reuse a containers for my grocery shopping. For that to actually have an impact of my personal waste output I need to reuse each container multiple times. To be fully circular that container (or the materials it is made from) needs to have a clear route to it's next life. I have no idea what impact I am having with this action. Worse, the system makes it easier for me to not reuse the container. I have to put time and effort into selecting containers, keeping them usable and decided what to do what there is a problem with one.

Multiply that uncertainty up to the international business scale. We want start to make the complex, international material flows more circular. Where do we start? Is there a risk that we put huge effort and expense into a 1% reduction in the packaging used in shipping - when a different change would have a 10% impact?

So one aspect of the "conflict" here, is working out what actions will have the result we are looking for.

Another aspect is unintended consequences [3] - but that's a slightly different conversation!



About the author

Barry O'Kane

Barry is the founder of HappyPorch. With 20 years in the web development industry as a programmer and agency owner, he has a preternatural ability to decipher the systems and processes code that holds many teams back from achieving their goals. Partners say Barry gets to the root of issues quickly and makes it downright easy to deliver good work.    

While he's unbelievably grounded, it's not uncommon to find him sailing through the trees as he paraglides his way round the world.