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A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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Pragmatic Strategy – links to conscious capitalism and conscious business

The practice and ideas of conscious capitalism are not restricted to a few high-profile names; one of the joys of the subject is to look for ideas elsewhere and make connections. With this in mind Pragmatic Strategy – Eastern Wisdom, Global Success makes for an interesting and highly relevant read. The book is written by the knowledge management guru, Ikujiro Nonaka, and UK-based management scholar Zhichang Zhu (Nonaka & Zhu, 2012).

At its intellectual root is a weaving together of Eastern thought and ideas from the US philosophical tradition of Pragmatism, which is both convincing and relevant. The highlight of the book for me was towards the end in Part IV, Think When We Learn.  Here the authors explore, with convincing examples, why our current paradigms of strategy are failing and go on to offer a radically different perspective.  This is based upon:

  • The hazard of focusing only on profits and shareholder value, exploring this from a variety of novel perspectives
  • The problems and hidden assumptions that accompany traditional views of strategy, for example one person’s advantage coming with another’s loss
  • How we extend this to how we treat people as assets with little or no stake in the organisation who can be owned, utilised, discarded or replaced.

In itself this is a clear illustration of the problems we face, but it is in the response to this that they offer something substantial. This can be summarised as being less of a ‘God’s eye view of strategy’ and more that we are all participants in the process in which we all have a stake. In other words we are not mindless parts of a machine subject to the levers, pistons and pulleys of other’s intentions.

Here they argue that we all have at least some influence and control as part of an interconnected world, not in terms of grand abstract plans but rather in a contextually rich reality of everyday life. For both the pragmatists and Eastern way of thought there is a focus on:

  • Practical knowledge, rich in context
  • An iterative process of knowing based upon experience and reflection
  • Attention being given to both the head and the heart of organisational life.

This means however that there can be no certainty, that of the ‘magic bullet’, or the perfect ‘model’. Such an approach would be a contradiction, meaning that we would not have to do the very task demanded of us – to think, pay attention and to act with awareness into the moment.

Nonaka, I., & Zhu, Z. (2012). Pragmatic Strategy – Eastern Wisdom, Global Success. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

 


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Financial Freedom?

I have just finished reading the Real Deal, the autobiography of British entrepreneur James Caan.

I don’t usually read that kind of thing, but I have to say I really enjoyed it. It is well written and interesting, and at one or two points really pulled on the heart strings. There are several mentions of his great ability to find the best people to do things for him, so I guess those are hints that he also found a good ghost-writer. But he comes across as a pretty nice guy, who has done some amazing charitable work.

One thing that is very clear is that he measures his success in financial terms: he has a really strong need for financial success. Given the way the book describes his life, it would even be pretty easy to argue that this arises from his childhood experience, his relationship with his father, and so on.

And, wow, has he worked hard to meet that need. He describes many, many years of working long hours, and with great dedication, to give it satisfaction. And, naturally, given that very dedication, he has succeeded.

Realising this, I suddenly felt very free. I realised that, personally, I don’t have that kind of need. Maybe a little, but to nothing like the extent that James does. I like to be comfortable, but just don’t need that exact type of success.

James seems to have been unable to avoid filling that need, and this has driven his behaviour, his life, and pretty much everything he says and believes about himself. And having met that initial need, he now seems to be on a journey to continue to convince the world of his great personal value, building a school for his father, doing more and more charitable work, and on, and on.

Nothing wrong with any of this. He doesn’t seem to be hurting anyone to get his needs met.

But this also got me thinking about my needs, and how they drive my behaviour. One of my needs, for example, is to understand, and another to be understood.

Thus, I have made a career out of learning stuff, helping others understand complex things, and helping them put that knowledge to good use.

Or, at least, I have been trying to do that. Because as well as being a need, this is also one of my challenges – especially the latter part: being understood. I seem usually to understand complex things fairly easily, but, boy, do I struggle trying to explain them to others – for all sorts of reasons.

What irony. Isn’t life just perfect? Perfect as a “test” I mean…

Our biggest needs and our biggest gifts and our biggest weaknesses all come crashing together into one. And life tests us and challenges us as we work through those issues.

But what of freedom? This need to understand and be understood has clearly driven my behaviour, pretty much all my life. So although I may be free from the need to be very financial successful, am I really any freer than James?

I would like to be, I think. But I guess the only way to gain that freedom is to realise the extent to which that need drives me. Then, a little, I can perhaps choose to let it go.

What about you? What are your needs? What are they exactly?

And how do they drive you?


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Empowered – or employed?

I just read a neat and good little book by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler called Empowered.

It’s a kind of follow-up to Groundswell, and a very practical book packed with case-studies and charts and tools and ‘technical stuff’ about transforming your organisation into one where employees are your greatest asset – interacting with customers (using social media) to build loving relationships that propel you ever more quickly into profitability and revenue growth.

Nothing wrong with that.

But I do have one little problem with it. The use of the word employee. For example, there’s a chapter on IT security – in it one of the principles is to remember you’re an employee. The idea is that employees have certain responsibilities – presumably towards their employer. And that while freedom and empowerment are great things as they relate to dealing with customers, it is vital to always remember you are an employee.

This is clearly true in a legal sense for many people, including the authors of the book, who, it seems, are employed by Forrester Research. But that legal truth seems, to me, to come with an emotional burden and a much broader framing.

The emotional burden is one of duty and maybe even guilt. I ‘owe’ it to my employer to behave in certain ways. Presumably because they ‘gave’ me my job etc. They pay me. And they can take my job away. And like a good father he (I am sure it is a he) will look after me if I perform my responsibilities as an employee.

The broader framing is that my boss, and my company, hold power over me. I have willingly entered into this relationship with them, codified in my legal contract, and that means that while I can do certain things there are many things I must never do. Like question my contract. Or question who is boss.

I don’t want to labour this point. After all, this is perhaps an assumption that a huge number of employed people everywhere hold. I don’t know what Bernoff and Schadler really think, having never met them. And I don’t wish to offend anyone (well, only a little).

So let’s play a different game.

Imagine if rather than assuming that you are employed, and that your employer holds power over you, imagine it is the other way around. You’re the boss. You have the power.

To employ means to put to use. To put something to its natural use.

Imagine you have some needs, and are currently engaged in the process of putting everything else around you into use.

Your computer or ‘phone to read this words. Your chair to sit on. Actually you’re using your bottom to sit on, and in fact you’re using the rest of your body to good avail too. You’re using your body to breathe, see, hear, move, think etc.

And everyone around you is at your command. The organisation you work in is at your command – to do what you want it to do. Your friends and colleagues are also at your command.

Of course, they may not always like it. Like every element of the world you now inhabit they operate according to certain rules that you may only vaguely understand.

You pick up a pen and drop it and it will fall. You pick up a phone, press some buttons, and you may or may not be able to speak to the person you want to speak to. You ask someone to do something and it may nor may not happen.

But despite these natural consequences, consequences that are built into the nature of the world that we interact with, we are at the centre of our worlds, and we are using it. We are employing it. We collaborate within it, we work with other parts of it, to get what we want to be done, done.

This is what I mean by empowered. I usually call it deep empowerment but until I read Bernoff and Schadler’s book I hadn’t really understood why I add the word deep. I now know it is to distinguish it from their kind of empowerment. Which I read as empowerment within limits.

Deep empowerment is a point of view, a framing where you are in charge, and you can question anything. Including what you want your “organisation” to do. What you want your life and your relationships to be like. Even what you are in charge of. Everything.

Sometimes I call this distributed leadership. For me, it is the same thing. The whole idea of centralised leadership – special individuals leading a mass of supposedly unconscious people in one direction or another – deeply offends me. For me, everyone is a leader.

It is a moment-by-moment thing. It is a feeling. It is a framing – a way of looking at the world.

So go on. Take the power. Be the leader. Be the employer. Be deeply empowered.


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Summer reading?

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.

For ages I have tried to get my head around sustainability. What a difficult and complex thing it is.

So it was great to hear of the launch of the Sustainability Project by Haus Publishing – the creation of twelve books written in an accessible way but based on scientific and other expert opinion.

It is a complex topic – so there is an introductory book then eleven others covering population, water, food, health, energy, the oceans, climate change, natural diversity, resources, economics, and politics.

You can see the whole list here and buy them as a set.

Or buy them individually from, for example, Amazon.

Now that is what I call summer reading!


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WWGD – What Would Google Do?

I enjoyed reading “What Would Google Do?” by Jeff Jarvis.

It’s something of a litany – at times I felt a bit exhausted by the long list of examples and case-studies. And I may be old fashioned but personally I prefer chapters in a book.

But that’s a minor niggle. As a survey of the field at this moment it seems pretty complete.

Because of the breadth there’s not much scope to go into details on business models. But I liked the clear overall message of how business works in the new world order; and that platforms, for example, are the way to go. That is so right, and so well explained.

It’s a rather intellectual book, perhaps. I definitely don’t mean deep or difficult. I just mean not a very emotional book. Many of the issues that arise, such as trust, for example, are surely rooted in emotion? Personally, I’d like to see more exploration of these themes in terms of “affect” and not just “effect”. Maybe someone else has written that book.

But overall, well done to Jeff.


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Typecast

Why do we have it in for sales people? In my book, good sales people do a really useful job. They help me find out what I need. They arrange for me to get it. They make me feel good in the process.

So why do I, and others, sometimes get upset when thinking of sales people? Is it because we’re really thinking about pressure selling? About mis-selling? About used-car sales men?  But I bought a great used car from real gentleman.

The answer of course is that we are “labelling”. I said the word salesman the other day and a colleague immediately quipped “untrustworthy”. Word association football.

We’re labelling someone as a type, probably before we’ve even really experienced what’s going on. What there is to experience in their behaviour. What’s really happening. Sure there are people who sell badly. But equally there are people who sell well. Why on earth would we clump them all together? That’s faulty thinking.

Labelling’s just one of many “faulty” thinking types, identified by people like Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck, the founders of cognitive therapy.

What brought this to mind? My holiday reading, a book by Sarah Edelman. I’ve read this kind of thing before. But this is really accessible and well written. I know it’s probably a bit sad to be reading stuff like this on holiday, but as Ellis said, “fighting irrationality and trying to be happy in a nutty world has great advantages in itself. It’s challenging. It’s interesting. It’s rewarding. It’s self helping… Your very determination to work at it can keep you reasonably happy.”

Can’t say fairer than that.