Taking the Red Pill Series: Nigel Topping

Epiphanies, healing & responsibility with Nigel Topping, High Level Climate Action Champion, COP26

In the movie The Matrix, the hero Neo is given the choice of taking a red or blue pill. The blue pill means remaining in blissful ignorance about the destructive system he is part of, while the red pill means facing the uncomfortable truth and helping to challenge the status quo. This series asks leaders we admire, ‘What happens when you take the red pill?’

Did you have an insight/epiphany that led to you recognizing that business as usual needed to change? What was your ‘red pill’ moment?

Aged 8 crying over an encyclopaedia picture of whale on deck with its guts cut open; aged 21 at the snout of Sermilik glacier in east Greenland which wasn’t there because it had retreated 20km; aged 38 in a meeting with auditors deliberately not asking probing questions as we sought to refinance TMD after the CEO and CFO defrauded 87 million euros; aged 40 with rabid environmentalists pointing fingers and criticising ‘greedy business people’ and taking no personal responsibility for the systemic destruction of our planet.

There is increasing recognition we need to move from an extractive to a regenerative economy. What does regenerative mean to you and your organization?

Healing.

What is the most exciting thing you or your organization are doing to help shift towards a more regenerative future?

Changing the narrative to one of hope; converging disparate voices around pathways to a regenerative future.

 

What is the most difficult dilemma you have faced on your regenerative journey? Have you been able to resolve it and if so, how?

Accepting suboptimal commitments from powerful protagonists as a helpful step along the journey.  Reconciling myself to the reality that they will come back and ratchet as the system starts to move.

Name one decision/action that you or your organization has taken that has helped shift mindsets and created real momentum.

Insisting on the centrality of S curves in industrial systems transformation, and pointing to the exponential dynamics of early stage change.

What have you learnt along the way that others who are starting this regenerative journey could benefit from?

There’s more than enough work for all of us – don’t fight your fellow travellers. Instead get to know their work and its unique differences.

Have you won over colleagues/peers who are not convinced of the need for change?

Yes – most proud of our work with the Daimler board, the last couple of years!

What’s one individual or company you most admire for helping sow the seeds of change and why?

Martin Daum at Daimler Trucks. He self-identifies as a boring old German engineer, yet has wrestled with the need to act on climate change and come through this reflection with more energy and vision than ever before.

How has taking the red pill affected your idea of what it is to be a leader?

Increasingly I see my responsibility to wider and wider circles of life in space and time. I am saddened by the lack of preparation for societal leadership in our great universities.

Have you changed anything in your personal life as a result of what you have learnt?

Home energy/emissions, diet, investments.

By Future Stewards

A coalition of partners working together to build a regenerative future - where we meet the needs of all, within the means of the planet.

  • Climate Action
  • Future Pathways
  • Responsible Business