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Introduction by Gene Miller, Gaining Ground

Do you recall–I mean fully recall–those rare, unplanned one-on-one conversations you’ve had from time to time, conversations that took you past all the surface noise in your life, the golf link banter, the superficial structures of meaning, to a set of ideas that seemed much more true and left you with that “Ah, so this is what it’s all about!” feeling?

In about seven pages, you are going to start one of those conversations as you begin Bruce Piasecki’s Doing More With Less–a short book, but not a small one.

Bruce asks you to study the practice of business–or any social undertaking for that matter–at the level of calling. We all instinctively understand the idea of calling, and understand that calling asks: “Why are you doing what you’re doing?” and “Can I stand foursquare–morally and intellectually–with the choices I make?”

Bruce uses an interesting word, machine-like, in this book, and by it he means the opposite of calling. The one is energized, fully-committed, imaginative; the other is dull, automatic, feeling-deprived.

The general calling he explores in this book is frugality, and as a central idea it echoes importantly on every page. By the time you close the back cover of this book, it’s likely your head will be buzzing as you consider ways in which you can realign your own enterprise in response to the shifting conditions of life that Bruce enumerates. This book cultivates a special sense of social purpose in capitalism, as it refines your particular instincts for innovation and survival.

Look, for example at Wal-Mart management from Piasecki’s point of view–Their executives are responsible for a vast corporate entity–but as the world changes, they didn’t have to abandon its core business model or its motto “Save Money, Live Better” to become a massive champion of solar power. All they had to do was to realize that their flat store roofs average two acres, and that they have almost 8,000 stores globally, and that by doing this they were Doing More With Less. Bing! This book explores what Piasecki coins this “art” of competitive frugality.

Here are some of the newly important conditions explored in this book before you–nothing short of:

The book adds, in short order, and with wit and speed, insights to the literature of globalization, product development, change management and general management, as it provides an original take on the increasing role sustainability and energy issues place in competitiveness.

This book could not be better timed for our new century. We all know we’re at the brink. Bruce Piasecki gives us the framework to look at what’s next, without tottering toward failure. We can feel it in our bones that we’re poised at the stroke of mid-night, and even the current or recent (depending on your perspective) recession feels like an ecological metaphor–that is, a system out of control and pushed past its limits and natural carrying capacity.

It’s in the spirit of these ideas that Bruce poses the challenge to all of us connected, in various ways, to the world of enterprise: How do you use your creative and innovative talents in this “swift and severe” world to free yourself from your self-inhibiting rationalizations, re-compass your professional life, and then bring fresh direction to the endeavors you manage and influence? His vision is a new way to better align money, people, and rules, and his insights are global and of “immediate application”, as I heard folks say at our Gaining Ground summit, to leaders in government, business, and society.

What all of this comes down to, in my view, is the principal responsibility of every business leader and every reader concerned about social trends: to cultivate a reliable favorable view of the future. Not the next quarter, but the near and certain future, where our own endeavors prepares a world for our successors.

To his credit and your clear good fortune as a reader, Bruce believes in ‘The creative power in this return to frugality.” That is to say, he believes in you–leaders and innovators in business, corporate and technical spheres–and in your fundamental ability to take stock of change, both short term and tectonic, and make a creative, adaptive, resilient response. He knows this will not be easy, but it is a satisfying transformation before you.

I have a more hand-wringer sensibility than Bruce Piasecki, and share the serious worries of his colleagues Jared Diamond, Ronald Wright, James Howard Kunstler, Thomas Homer-Dixon and James Lovelock. In essence these popular observers say that “enough” is neither enough nor soon enough. In reading Bruce Piasecki’s work, however, I guess the purpose of his approach and tone is different that those that alert us to impending catastrophe–Piasecki is in the game to change the game. Piasecki writes like a social historian, but with the color of a man in action. He is changing the game as he observes its patterns.

Of course, we still need to prepare for something worst than swiftness and severity: namely, many of us know we need to prepare for catastrophe–catastrophe in our financial and corporate and personal institutions. Catastrophe is highly disruptive and it breaks down systems, as examples like Haiti and Hurricane Katrina clearly demonstrate to all of us. While aware of the worsening trends, Piasecki sees through all this swiftness and severity, and gives you here a set of lasting principles about how we will survive. He is very much about surfing the change to avoid catastrophe.

Of course, a pessimist is just a worried optimist. Along with Bruce Piasecki, I have the hope that our instincts for self–preservation, our desire for social justice, our appetite for well-being will lead to an era of unprecedented innovation in the marketplace and in community life. Paradoxically, as this book before you dramatically indicates (mostly in the middle chapters of this book), scarcity itself opens new innovative markets. And herein lies the magic that makes this book moving.

Towards the final chapters of this book, Bruce’s at times quirky but mesmerizing insights into competition and its complex relationship to frugality grow into an awareness of “social diplomacy” in a fashion I’ve never read anywhere else. You cannot say that about many books, except those that last due to their sensibility and humanity.

By the final chapters on tomorrow and freedom and fate, you’ve traveled a long way indeed. By chapter four, I felt almost as if I was reading an essay Ralph Waldo Emerson or other social philosophers of consequence like Matthew Arnold. In the process, Piasecki has persuaded and delighted a set of us to become more hopeful, more active.

After all, thrift, apart from its conventional meaning, also can be considered as a new roadmap for the allocation of resources; and even saved money has energy and utility. As Bruce notes, “this book offers you a pledge and a promise…to find a new creativity in scarcity.”

For the last two decades, I have organized the Gaining Ground urban sustainability conferences in the Pacific Northwest. Increasingly we are a “stop over” and “sensing platform” for some of the best world thinkers on growth and sustainability.

Bruce was a keynote speaker at the second Gaining Ground conference, titled Whole-City Change, back in 2007. He shared the podium with one of the ‘godfathers’ of sustainability, Paul Hawken; developer extraordinaire John Knott; real estate valuation visionary Scott Muldavin; Regenisis Principal Pamela Mang–creator of the extraordinary city-building process called ‘story of place.’ Also at the conference to study North American sustainability thought and practice were more than a dozen of China’s top environmental and sustainability leaders (and learn they did from Piasecki and Hawkins!).

To this day, I remember Bruce’s deft narrative, “Go Green or Go Broke.” To appreciate how provocative and trend-setting this was, cast your mind back. Sustainability (if I can lump all modern industrial endeavor and corporate strategy under that common umbrella Piasecki writes about) has raced from its ‘early adopter’ phase to mainstream in the short span of less than ten years.

Back when Bruce began his series of books and his consulting firm in the l980s, ecological advocates were called tree-huggers and radicals. The entire movement was considered ‘woo-woo.’ It did not understand the role of business in society. Now, the raging debate centers on issues like the comparative advantages of energy recapture from industrial waste heat versus heat-sourcing from landfills, and the debate is being conducted by folks who wear suits and swap business cards!

There is no missing the longer, truer trend line embodied in Piasecki’s work. I first saw it myself in the title of Bruce’s prescient talk, back in ’07, when I hired him to speak to my 360 leaders that week. As a result of his particular style and personal force, his World Inc argument has since appeared in Portuguese, Italian, Greek, Korean and other language editions. The world has come around to see the power and opportunity in this line of looking at competition.

In Doing More With Less, Piasecki takes his three decades of learning and travel and compels us forward through a mix of narrative non-fiction, personal storytelling, and astute reflections on sports and modern times. This is a book about the management of the relationships between business and society. Moreover, it remains a revolutionary book about how to think about business in our new smaller century.

For eight books now, Piasecki has pointed the way to this smart money view of cultural conflicts. Enterprise has its teeth into sustainability now, as Piasecki predicted. Some see it now as a lion gorging its new kill, quieting society. But Piasecki remind us of a bigger story: this quiet transformation of business positioning is materializing under our feet in a fashion that has changes the lives of 7 billion neighbors. Bruce has been promoting these values and ideas for thirty years, but each new book re-approaches the issues in a more mainstream and more commanding fashion. In the business setting, he has been a green pioneer and a master facilitator. As a consultant to governments and to big business and as a public speaker in many nations and in many smaller firms, he has guided corporate strategic thinking, and changed lives. I know many that now see him as the father of “social response capitalism”, foretold in this next six related chapters.

Here, in Doing More With Less, Bruce more deeply and personally unwraps the future for and with you. This master work is transformative stuff. I hope you extract its full and lasting value.

– Gene Miller
Center for Urban Innovation, Director of the Gaining Ground Conferences

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