How organisations disrupt ‘business as usual’ in response to exponential environmental and technological change and the relevance of this to mainstreaming sustainable practice.

Alexa Forbes
24 August 2017

Forbes, A (2017). How organisations disrupt 'business as usual' in response to expontential environment and technological change and the relevance of this to mainstreaming sustainable practice. A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Master of Professional Practice with a special focus on Environmental Management [PDF 3,063KB]

Executive Summary

Understanding the exponential function is integral to understanding what is driving deep changes to our civilisation and our environment, to grasping the sheer pace of change coming and to planning future action. Part of this is the need to understand the deceptive nature of the doubling curve in its early stages because of the low start point and early low impact of the initially shallow curve.

The convergence of twin disruptive forces, exponentially developing technologies and exponential environmental degradation, is a key consideration in the delivery of education for sustainable practice and so to the future of the Centre for Sustainable Practice, (the Centre). This study is designed to inform development of the Centre and its place within these forces. This has to include the impact of these forces on the more general world of higher education.

As in the rest of the world, many organisations in New Zealand are undergoing disruption to business models - six were researched as part of this study to build a picture of what it’s like to work under those circumstances and how relatively-normal business continues while disruption occurs. This qualitative section was designed to combine with the thinking from sections one and two to inform a plan for the future of the Centre – potentially as a disruptive pilot for the wider Otago Polytechnic. Ultimately, there are many more questions than answers and further work is needed to answer the questions and then seriously consider the future role of the Centre. If the Centre sought to behave as a truly disruptive innovator (assuming the Centre could become such a thing) it would, by its very nature, be seeking to completely overturn the processes of the incumbent mothership, because that’s actually how the process of disruption works. A series of questions are posed to act as thought accelerators that will allow Centre staff and staff of the wider polytechnic, to understand change and the consequences of our reaction to it.

The first two sections investigate the global mega trends and thinking around exponentiality and disruption, and then how these are beginning to drive changes to higher education that are likely to disrupt current business models of education. Sections three and four narrow the focus to New Zealand organisations and then finally to the context of the Centre.

Key words: Future thinking; Transformation; Disruption, technological and environmental; Future of education; Sustainability.


This thesis is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International