The shape of infinity

While innovation and sustainability have of course both been around as long as time itself, they appear to be the hottest topics in the business world at the moment. In the aftermath of the recent and unparalleled financial crisis, countless directors are calling out for innovation while others are taking the sustainability route.

A recent global survey by MIT Sloan Management Review and BCG concluded that companies fall into one of two categories when it comes to sustainability: a small group of front-runners who are embracing sustainability, and the rest of the pack – so-called ‘cautious adopters’ – who for now are tentatively evaluating their options. The study also revealed that the ‘embracers’ are the best-performing companies.

In 2002, William McDonough and Michael Braungart published their thoughts on sustainable production in their book, Cradle to Cradle. They introduced the double loop comprising a biological cycle of nature and a technological cycle: by avoiding contaminating raw materials through the use of harmful chemicals during the manufacturing process, these can be reused over and over again. Logically enough, the logo of Cradle to Cradle is a horizontal figure of eight – the mathematical symbol for infinity.

In his recent book, The New Capitalist Manifesto, author Umair Haque from Havas Media Lab outlines how innovative companies switch, in the first of six cycles, from a Value Chain to a Value Cycle in which reverse logistics and reproduction close the traditional supply chain loop. Yet another new book, Jumping the S-Curve by Paul Nunes and Tim Breene from Accenture, describes the familiar business lifecycle and reminds us of how top companies continually reinvent themselves. Both authors agree that functional superiority, such as supply chain management, is important and yet barely enough. To illustrate this, they use the case of the successful Porsche Cayenne, in which good planning before the launch enabled the car manufacturer to anticipate its success.

According to Charles Fine from MIT Sloan School of Management, intelligent supply chain design can actually ensure that a company evolves healthily. In his book Clockspeed (1998), based on the developments in the computer industry in the eighties, he introduced the double cycle of shift from vertical industry and product structure to horizontal and modular structure, and back again – which formed, not coincidentally, the shape of infinity.

Martijn Lofvers, Publishing Director & Editor-in-Chief
Supply Chain Movement