From Ceiling to Floor

August 16, 2012

When I was a kid growing up in Clemson, SC, I was obsessed with basketball.  I loved Magic Johnson and his Showtime Lakers teams with Kareem, James Worthy, and Byron Scott.  I played hoops for hours on end in my driveway and on my Nerf hoop in the family room.  I dreamed of many things -- making the last second shot in a pivotal game, starting as the shooting guard on a college team, and, most of all, dunking!

I wanted to be able to lift off, fly through the air, slam the ball through the hoop, and hang on the rim.  It was the ultimate goal for me.  With the rim looming above at ten feet, it seemed like forever away.  Our home had ten feet ceilings, and I would stare up at it thinking, "if only I could get to that then I've made it." The ceiling was my measuring stick for success, and I slowly inched my way towards it through growing taller and jumping higher.  After many years, at the age of sixteen, I got there, barely. I was elated!

But I soon realized it wasn't enough.  I needed to get beyond ten feet to safely dunk on any goal, in order to account for the following: 
* the few inches needed to get the ball over the rim
* the "bouncability" of different surfaces
* the "slipperyness" and stickiness of different surfaces
* and many other variables, like some goals are 10'1"

I realized ten feet wasn't a good enough goal, as it left no room for error.  The further beyond ten feet that I could go, the more options I had...and the higher likelihood of success.

The same is true for sustainability.

Almost every form of sustainability definition or sustainability goal stated by business equates sustainability to a ceiling -- a faraway, difficult goal to reach with little thought to the benefits of going beyond the minimum goal.  If you really think about it, if your stretch goal is to merely "sustain" (aka survive), then where does that leave Quality of Life?  or Surplus?  or Margin of Error?

It doesn't.  It's like going into college and hoping for a D-minus GPA.  Just survive.

Flipping the perspective and turning it upside down changes the outlook.  If the ceiling becomes a floor, then success is now seen as a minimum acceptable level and all other levels achieved add richness, quality, and room to maneuver.  These are the levels above the floor of sustainability.




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