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Brain circuits

How to change the way you think for innovation and sustainability

Published 14 March 2022 in Brain circuits • 2 min read

Understanding how profitability and sustainability work together is the critical factor that will define successful businesses for the rest of this century. While shareholders will always want profits, your employees and customers are expressing growing demands that businesses should also work to make the world a better place. The good news is these ideals are not in conflict; they actually support each other.

The challenge

As an exercise, ask yourself this question: Does your organization pursue both profitability and sustainability as something to be achieved together (a “both/and” mentality) or is it viewing them as conflicting efforts (a “profits vs. sustainable goals” mentality)?

We posed this question to executives in an IMD webinar, and found that 73% of participants indicated that they were striving to achieve both. This is a fantastic statistic, but when you dig a little deeper it becomes evident there is more of a conflict with this way of thinking than people realized.

Now ask yourself this: How do you envision moving forward with your goals? When launching your business, how do you think it is best to start?

1.       A focus on profits so you are able to then put resources into sustainability?


2.       Start with roots in sustainability, creating a product or a service aimed at improving the world, and then figure out later how to monetize it?

If you opted for the first choice, you are not alone: 68% of participants in the aforementioned webinar said that was their organization’s approach. In fact, this was a bit of a trick question to illustrate how most people are stuck in an old-fashioned, linear way of thinking. If you can change this, you can unlock innovative potential.

Think cyclical


Profitability and sustainability, when done right, should work together. You are seeking profits, which will give you more resources for sustainability goals – but you should also seek to find ways your sustainability goals can contribute to the bottom line of the firm. This essentially creates a positive feedback loop where each goal is supporting the other. Sustainability goals provide leverage for generating funds, and that profitability allows for more resources to go towards sustainability.

If your organization can shift its thinking, the next step is to identify potential opportunities to change your business operations. Read more about this in part two.


Patrick Reinmoeller - IMD Professor

Patrick Reinmoeller

Professor of Strategy and Innovation at IMD

Patrick Reinmoeller has led public programs on breakthrough strategic thinking and strategic leadership for senior executives, and custom programs for leading multinationals in fast moving consumer goods, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, and energy on developing strategic priorities, implementing strategic initiatives, and managing change. More recently, his work has focused on helping senior executives and company leaders to build capabilities to set and drive strategic priorities.


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