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A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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Are you living your Purpose?

There’s a current resurgence of interest in the idea of Purpose, as it relates to business. Aaron Hurst with his book the Purpose Economy and company Imperative, and Jeremy Heimans over at purpose.com seem to be hammering social media with the idea that purpose is not just good for people, but that it is also good for organisations and the way we run our businesses.

I am pretty unlikely to disagree with that. I also think purpose is important, for both people and organisations

Of course, purpose itself isn’t a particularly new idea in business. It has existed in the form of ‘Mission’, ‘Vision’ and ‘Values’ for a long time, and while people like Umair Haque have brilliantly lampooned these more traditional forms (in his book Betterness, for example) it continues to be something that comes up regularly with clients. “Help us clarify and communicate our purpose” they ask.

But the more of this work I do the more I realise that the really critical thing with Mission or Purpose, or whatever you want to call it, is ‘living it’.

Again this isn’t a particularly new idea – people have called this ‘walking the talk’ for as long as I can remember.

But I am not sure that particular injunction – ‘telling’ people to live it, to be it – really helps that much. I may want to “walk my talk”, but I still find it hard.

So here are some simple things you might choose to do that I believe will help you live your purpose.

Have a Purpose

First of all, it’s is good to have one, obviously.

But there’s a dilemma in that. I am going to focus in this post less on finding or discovering a purpose because I think there may be nothing to find. I don’t think purpose is a thing, and therefore we cannot find it like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Stafford Beer, the great cyberneticist, talked, I believe, in terms of POSIWID. “The Purpose Of a System Is What It Does”. This suggests that purpose is more ’emergent’. Like a rainbow it isn’t really there. But under certain special circumstances in combination with the way our eyes and brain work we can surely see it.

For example, my purpose today based on an observation of what I am doing, is to get out of bed and write a blog post.

I seem also to be in the throes of trying to raise a family, build a business, be a good citizen etc. Later I’ll make breakfast, go to meetings etc.

Notice that my purpose depends on a number of things, including the time of day, my role as viewer, as participant and so on.

The purpose gurus I listed above will, I am sure, provide useful methods to ‘capture ‘ your purpose as if it is a thing to be captured. There are audio books and books galore (contradicting myself, I have to say I rather liked Richard Jacobs’ attempt), and generally consultants and coaches love to do this kind of work.

And if you really want to clarify your purpose then I can recommend nothing better than a week-long silent retreat in the mountains of Wales or some other beautiful and remote place.

Maybe it is just me, but I think the assumption behind many of these ‘processes’ is that purpose will emerge as something tangible, words that you can, for example, engrave on a tablet of stone. A ‘calling’ that you can take along with you for the rest of your life, to steer you, to drive you?

But maybe purpose as a thing is hard to ‘capture’? Maybe it is too temporary, too contingent on circumstances for that?

Simply Noticing

So instead of a long search, or following a complex process, I suggest simply noticing. Being aware. Not just of our thoughts, but also of our feelings and our instincts. Noticing what you do and how you do it. Noticing is a conscious business practice and one we can do at any time.  It is especially best done, while we are acting – we sometimes call this reflexivity.

If you spend a little time on that then you’ll probably quickly notice that purpose changes. It changes from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute and even second to second.

If I am eating lunch with a friend my purpose is probably something to do with enjoying the food and conversation. Or maybe I am trying to get something across, or share something, or get some support.

At a business meeting an hour later, my purpose might be completely different. I may be trying to build a very different kind of relationship.

Yes, I may be able to see a pattern in my purpose. I seem to want to build a business day after day after day. My need to feed and clothe and educate my children does not go away.

Seeing purpose as changing makes me want to explore it all the more. I can learn more about my purpose by enquiring into it, enquiring into all these facets, discovering what it means, and what I am about.

Am I Living My Purpose?

But when I do that, and I guess it is the same for many people, I notice that there are also plenty of times when I don’t seem to be following my purpose. I find myself distracted. Or I find myself doing something completely at odds with what I think I want to achieve.

This happens most often in groups and teams. For example, my purpose, as I might name it when entering into a meeting is to be unconditionally constructive, collaborative, and help people, including me, find the best solutions to whatever issues they face.

But what happens? Sometimes, almost the opposite. I might notice myself behaving destructively. Perhaps causing as many problems as I solve.

Again noticing, I believe, is the key to unpicking this. By observing what I am doing, I can ascertain a new facet to my purpose, something I may have been previously unaware of.

Maybe I am more competitive than I thought and I am engaged in a bit of sibling rivalry. Maybe I have learned some habitual ways to get my need to feel outraged met, and I am exercising this by blaming other people and their failings.

Again, simply noticing will probably give me all the clues I need.

Beyond noticing – community and conflict

So noticing is great. But for me, noticing also isn’t enough. When I become more aware of what is going on it helps, but it doesn’t necessarily help me break out of the habits I have formed.

This is one reason why I like the Do Something Different system – because I believe it can help us break those habits – of mind and body – which keep us in our comfort zone.

And the other thing that I believe is completely necessary if I want to live my purpose is trust, and conflict. Echoing Patrick Lencioni, we have found again and again that a group of people won’t enter into conflict unless there are high levels of trust amongst the group.

A healthy form of conflict is necessary for someone to do me the huge favour of pointing out my failings. If you are going to point out to me that I am not living my purpose, and, believe me I do want you to do that, you risk me fighting back.

We risk conflict every time we point out to someone the difference between their espoused position (what they say they will do) and what we actually observe.

But being open to this feedback and being in a group of people brave enough and caring enough to give accurate feedback is, I think, really the answer to living my purpose. Few of us are saints – few of us have the awareness to always notice when we stop living our purpose. And even fewer, myself included, have the willpower to do much about it.

We need other people, we need a community around us that will give us that ultimate gift of clean, unencumbered feedback.

Being personally open to that feedback isn’t easy, of course, but the skills and conditions that allow trust and healthy conflict to arise in a group are fairly easy to learn and practise. There are better ways to converse than those we learned in the playground or in our first families.

As a group, we can learn to break collusion, and see reality.

I’d love to hear what you think? Does this make sense? Is your purpose more easily fixed than the way I describe it? Are my assumptions correct, or way off base?

What is your purpose?
And are you living it?

Pointers

Aaron Hurst – Purpose Economy book company Imperative

Jeremy Heimans purpose.com

Betterness by Umair Haque

Richard Jacobs – Find your Purpose

Patrick Lencioni

Do Something Different

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Conscious Business parts 1 and 2

A little over a year ago Rob Warwick and I, with great encouragement from Bob MacKenzie at AMED (the Association for Management Education and Development), started the process of writing two special editions of the journal eO&P (Organisations and People) on Conscious Business.

The first edition was published in 2013. It includes six diverse pieces around the topic of awareness from Dick Davies, Jack Hubbard, Paul Levy, Alison Donaldson, J Kim Wright and Patrick Crawford. We explained our caution about the way that Conscious Business might be reduced to formulaic frameworks and schema that play down the attention that we give to everyday practices and how people relate to each other.

The second edition is out now. Building on the first edition, the second leads into a discussion of purpose, practice and community.  We focus on purpose, including the reasons why we should bother with Conscious Business. And, linked to this, we give a taster of some further elements of practice – the means by which we can bring this about.

The journal features pieces by Steve Hearsum, Sam Zubaidi, Lasy Lawless, Deb Oxley, Nate Whitestone, Natalie Wells and Giti Datt.

You can read the editorials for free. Or if you wish to support the work of AMED you can subscribe or, I believe, buy individual copies of the journal. Check out AMED.org.uk for details.

Happy reading.


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Conscious Business Strategy

We love helping people to build and implement their business strategy more consciously. What does that mean?

Like Conscious Business itself, Conscious Business Strategy is not a thing. It is a process. It is a way of approaching the world.

It has three stages. We call them Awareness, Agreement and Action.

Awareness

Awareness is often the first stage. Awareness means opening ourselves up to the situation in front of us. This means seeing it, understanding it, absorbing it.

That means realising that the world is out there – external. And in there – internal.

In business, the outer world is made up of people in all sorts of relationships – customers, colleagues, suppliers, investors, and other stakeholders. The products and services you offer.  Your supply chain. Your prospects and your sales pipeline. The market you operate in. Revenue, your profitability, and so on. Over time – past, present and future. Whole systems, not just patterns and events.

All these things – and many more – are connected. Opening up to the outer world means looking at it in all its glory – with all its complexity.  It is not one thing, it is a complex array of interactions and relationships. Awareness means starting to see all of that – not just one aspect of it. Seeing the whole system.

Awareness also means looking at the inner world. We know that what we see externally is moderated by how we are internally. Our perceptions are incomplete and often wrong. Thoughts, emotions, attitudes and beliefs all colour the world we see. So do our dreams and aspirations, states and moods. Our memories change to suit us.

So Awareness is also about looking at ourselves – being aware of what is going on inside us and how it affects everything – inside and out. Awareness – and self-awareness – mean waking up to that.

Aware of Purpose too

Awareness also means becoming aware of our purpose. There are lots of people out there trying to help us put our “deeper Purpose” (usually with a capital “P”) into words. This is probably a good thing. But purpose is complex too. We have many different purposes – not just one. Sometimes these are in conflict, sometimes aligned.

One way to understand purpose is simply to look at what we are doing. I am writing this blog post. Why? To communicate something? To get something out? To engage others in interesting dialogue? To while away some time on a Sunday morning? There are always many purposes, and many may also be invisible to me.

So Awareness also means looking to see what my purpose is. Using my self-awareness to understand what I am doing, and maybe why.

Agreement

We call the second stage of Conscious Business strategy Agreement.

Strategy isn’t necessarily about the long-term, but it is definitely about something that endures. Strategy is about following one course of action, sometimes despite the response from the world. That is why so many approaches to strategy refer to Principles, Policies, Precepts, Pillars etc. (For some reason they always seem to be words that start with the letter “P”).

These are all ideas or beliefs that we can hang our hats on. They endure even as we implement the strategy. We check back against them and use them to determine whether what we are doing is following or diverging from the strategy. They guide us. Following them allows us to implement the strategy consistently in a way that gives us the benefits we are seeking.

But we call this stage Agreement because it is essential to agree these Principles, Policies, Precepts and Pillars either with yourself or with other people. Once agreed, once we have committed to them, then we can hold ourselves and others to account.

Agreement means dialogue, and it means being congruent – authentic, transparent, choiceful. It means letting these ideas emerge, and then settling on them, agreeing them with oneself, or with others. Making a definite choice.

Once we have made these agreements, then we can say things like “We agreed we would hire a fair balance of men and women, and yet we are actually hiring more men than women. We are diverging from our hiring strategy. Why? And what are we going to do about it?”

Action

Finally, a conscious business strategy is really about Action.

If we do all that looking and agreeing, and then do nothing, we aren’t really implementing the strategy. It is only through action that we get to learn more and discover more. It is only through action that we get the chance to iterate and update the strategy. Strategy lives in operation.

We are always doing something. We are always acting. So acting strategically is to be conscious of those Principles, Policies, Precepts and Pillars. Making choices in the present but with awareness of those things we agreed. Reflecting as we go. This awareness affects our decisions, which affects our actions, which affects the results we get.

If we agreed our strategy is to hire men and women equally, then that is what we need to do. Our strategy affects how we advertise, how we interview, how we assess, how we speak and what we do. We change our behaviour and we get different results.

When you pick up a stick you get both ends. Decisions have consequences. It is often difficult or impossible to predict the consequences. Strategy isn’t about somehow forseeing the the future. No one can do that. It is about acting consistently over time, despite the immediate response, and thus eventually getting something that is more aligned with what we wanted in the first place.

Sometimes this stage is where we make a plan. Strategy is definitely not planning. But planning – building lists of actions, to be completed in a particular order, and at a particular time – sometimes flows from strategy.

But of course, we need to iterate, to pivot, to be agile and lean. Maybe we need to abandon our plans. So all the time as we take action, we look to see what response we are getting. We stay aware. And we choose whether to continue, or whether to update our Principles, Policies, Precepts and Pillars. So really Conscious Business Strategy is a cycle, not a linear thing.

Awareness, Agreement, Action. That’s it.

(If you want to read more about Conscious Business as a way of doing business, take a look at this).

 


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We’ve come a long way baby

In its short history, the human race has achieved some magnificent things. But together we’ve also created a host of complex, and very serious, social and environmental problems.

Of the three powerful forces in society – business, the public/charitable sector, and politics/religion/media – I believe it is only business which has the power and the flexibility to address these problems.

Power because of its reach – the ability to touch many lives, even from a small base.

Flexibility because only business seems to be currently capable of transforming itself – reinventing itself. Away from greed and personal profit and towards really addressing those broader, much more important problems. Above all, business listens, and people are crying out for change.

But change alone isn’t enough. Too often change just means small improvements to delivering the status quo. We need ‘step-change’ – real transformation. Transformation is beyond change – it means adopting a new purpose, and a completely new way of operating, with new energy.

I am reminded of the story of one visitor to Ray Anderson’s visionary company Interface. A fork-lift truck driver, working for a company that makes office carpets, after helping her all he can, tells the visitor he must get on, because he’s “busy saving the planet”.

That is the new kind of energy we need in business people. Energy released by belief in a new kind of purpose.

How do we get there? As the author Jeanette Winterson said in her New Year resolution: “It is important to work out what is important. Living consciously has never mattered more.”

Individually and collectively we need to raise our consciousness. To become part of the group who are trying to transform things, systemically, radically – at the root.

We need to become more aware of what matters, why it matters, and what we can do, and are doing, about it.

And often are not doing. We need to become aware of our habits and the other things that hold us back. Conscious of our failings, as well as our successes. That means internal, personal work. As much as putting our heads above the parapet.

There are many, many people on this journey. It is not my place to tell you what you should do. But I can tell you what we are doing.

We are building a business – Conscious Business People – that helps leaders discover a more important purpose, a transformational purpose for themselves and their businesses.

Then we help those leaders develop transformational strategy, structure and culture – to create businesses that are part of the solution. Businesses with positive purpose, and radically better behaviours, and much higher levels of awareness.

We help businesses and the people in them become more conscious, and stay that way.

Many will say this is foolhardy, it will never succeed. That mixing business with purpose is simply wrong and doomed to failure. But I think it’s the only game in town. The only game worth playing.

I’d love to know what you think, what you’re doing to “save the planet”.

Happy New Year.


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Research and Practice in Organisations and People

If you’d like to get a handle on some of the deeper thinking around Conscious Business, you might find it useful to buy and download a copy of the latest issue of eO&P.

We think this is probably a world first – an issue of an academic journal dedicated entirely to Conscious Business.

e Organisations and People is the quarterly journal of AMED – the Association for Management Education and Development. If you download a copy you’ll be supporting its work:

“AMED is a long-established membership organisation and educational charity devoted to developing people and organisations. Its purpose is to be a forum for people who want to share, learn and experiment, and find support, encouragement, and innovative ways of communicating. Our conversations are open, constructive, and facilitated.”

What I really like about AMED  is its focus on research and practice.

Remember Everett Rogers’ bell curve – the diffusion of innovation? If you’re at all interested in Conscious Business you’re probably an innovator or an early adopter. Conscious business is still very early in the adoption life-cycle – indeed the term only really emerged a few years back.

Rogers' Bell Curve

Rogers’ Bell Curve – Source wikipedia

Now research is really useful, but I believe that research combined with testing, practice, experimentation is the way to really get to the heart of a new innovation.

To find out what it is good for. It’s strengths and weaknesses. How to mitigate those weaknesses. How to refine it – and pivot if necessary.

I believe it is only through real immersion in the practice of something that we can properly get to know it.

eO&P is not a peer-reviewed journal. I like that too.

Peer-review has its strengths. But Kuhn’s famous work on paradigm change has shown us that there are dangers too – that elites can, for example, suppress the emergence of new ideas. And that this can slow innovation and hence paradigm change.

And boy do we need a new paradigm for business 🙂

Most of the academic publishing houses seem to be very conventional businesses. Where will the energy to overturn the existing paradigms come from, if not from us?

Not being peer-reviewed doesn’t mean that we (@smilerob and @peteburden) didn’t work very hard to ensure the quality of the pieces. We did.

And the authors did a fantastic job too. Some had written for journals before but for others it was a  totally new experience. All brought their practical, hands-on experience as well as critical thought to the project. We’re really proud of every piece, and of the overall outcome.

I’d also really like to thank the publisher of eO&P, Bob MacKenzie and everybody at AMED (especially David McAra) for their massive help and support during the publishing process. We’re currently starting work on the next edition and we’re looking forward to that collaboration too.

So please take the trouble to download a copy, or better still if you are really interested in supporting the development of management and leadership education please consider joining AMED. There’s an annual subscription option at their website.


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Inner and Outer

I was lucky enough to spend a couple of hours yesterday with the entrepreneurs at the Fusebox, an exciting Brighton-based project. Tom Nixon invited me and a crowd of other mentors to meet the participants – a great bunch of people all round.

Whenever I meet entrepreneurs with new ideas I am struck by how their ideas reflect their personalities and passions.

This is a very good thing – for me, a big part of the joy of meeting entrepreneurs is seeing their creative process in action, watching them express, and flex, their ideas.

There’s a lot to be learnt from even a short chat – as someone tells you why they are interested and passionate about a subject, what got them involved, why of all the millions of things they could be doing they have picked this particular one.

I learn something about the subject, and the approach they are taking is often stimulating and new too. Again and again I am inspired by people’s individual passion and how far this has taken them, and will take them on their journey.

But people are complicated, of course. Entrepreneurs’ creations tend to reflect their personalities perfectly. So each creation, each venture, while containing their passion and personality, also contains the full breadth of each entrepreneur’s nature. The twists and turns, and perhaps even the ‘flaws’, are there too.

Over time aspects of personality that may hold the entrepreneur back become clearer, hopefully to the participants, and also to those around them. These are the personal challenges each may need to overcome if they are to realise their dreams and hopes and aspirations. Entrepreneurs, like all of us, have often suffered hurt and pain. Sometimes this is still unresolved.

From the point of view of Conscious Business, completing this inner journey is as important as the outer one.

The inner journey itself can offer a sense of success. Some of these hurts may be resolved and overcome. People grow fast when immersed in the cauldron of a start-up.

Often, of course, such a venture will not take the entrepreneur where they expect – they’ll be surprised by the lessons they learn and the ways the learning is delivered. But with luck they’ll end up as a different, and hopefully fuller person.

And in terms of external success, I believe looking inwards, discovering and resolving these issues is as much the solution to a business problem as external work such as clarifying the value proposition, developing the business model, and finding partners and investors.

The challenge for the Fusebox programme, and for the systematic development of entrepreneurial ventures in general, is to create an environment that makes it possible for both kinds of development – inner and outer – to happen simultaneously, and in mutually reinforcing ways.

The mentor model is great – connecting people with different sets of experience, knowledge and skills together. But good mentorship also develops real trust between mentee and mentor. Often this is the trust to share really valuable personal feedback, about our personal blindspots and flaws. That feedback can make the difference between continuing in a ever-repeating cycle, or breaking out of it to new ground.

Our world is sadly lacking such opportunities. The combination of personal defences and high levels of anxiety in organisations make genuine, untainted feedback a rare commodity in many businesses.

It’s great to see the Fusebox programme identifying this and trying to do something about it.


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Keep it clean

JR Ewing is dead.

Actually Larry Hagman is dead, and I always had a soft spot for him. But I understand the JR character for many epitomises the amoral, covetous and above all selfish worst of the archetypal fat cat business leader.

Selfishness is a theme than seems to be the back story behind much of the discourse around business and capitalism. Surely ‘fat cats’ are selfish? Isn’t the entrepreneurial dream of success a selfish journey? Isn’t business about selfishly taking what you want for yourself?

Indeed, selfishness may seem downright wrong to those who think that Conscious Business is all about doing things for others.

But contrary to this, talking to a friend the other day, I was reminded of how much I do things because I am trying to please. There’s a sense, nearly always at the back of my mind, of trying to help, to support, and to put right, to mend, to solve. I suppose that’s understandable given how I make a living, and perhaps explains it.

That statement – “I am trying to please…” – raised a question for me. Exactly who am I trying to please?

The answer was not immediately obvious. It has taken a lot of soul searching for me to realise that very often I am seeking to please other people. Parents, siblings, old friends, and various derivatives thereof.

And that has been big for me – to realise that much of my effort goes into giving to others who are actually long gone. Who might not want that particular burden anyway. And, therefore, that my selfless giving may not be quite so noble after all.

So, in praise of selfishness, I will from now on do whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it. I will ignore the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ of the typical day. I will enjoy the moment. Give myself what I need, when I need it.

In the words of Joseph Campbell I will follow my bliss.