Conscious-Business.org.uk

A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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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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Conscious Leadership: The Challenges of Empowerment

Laziness is my primary motivator when empowering others. If a thing is worth doing, I believe it’s worth getting someone else to do it.

This, however, is not as self indulgent as it might seem. I know that as a leader one of the first things I need to learn is to let go and trust others to get on with it.

I have not always been very good at this. However, over the years I have learnt why my old, more controlling ‘I’ll do it for you’ ways don’t really work and why empowering others is essential.

First off, lets look at confidence. My mother’s “Let me do that for you darling” – while I’m performing some simple task like making a cup of tea – is probably meant as an act of kindness. How I actually feel it is: “I am an idiot that can’t be trusted to make tea, despite the years of apparent evidence to the contrary.”

This not only irritates me but it also kicks my confidence, as it’s a tacit implication that I’m incompetent. There’s a subtlety to it though because cognitively I know I’m not, however I still irrationally feel it at some level and feelings tend to beat thoughts.

Learning is another key benefit of empowerment. In today’s fast moving, customer-centric world it is essential that everybody learns, and learns fast. Best of all is when they are so confident and engaged they take responsibility and drive their own learning.

When it comes to learning new things Mum is very much of the school of “probably shouldn’t try as it’s likely to be too difficult”. For me this is less than ideal. When I’m learning, what I really want is lots of encouragement and belief, as this helps me push through the self doubt.

Challenge is also very important to us. Solving something like a crossword puzzle or winning a video game is all the evidence we really need for this. Overcoming challenges helps us grow our self belief (or confidence) and it usually gives us a little frisson of excitement, and a sense of deeper resilience.

So why is empowerment so important? In my quest for a work free life, it is fairly obvious that once I let someone do something little – like a task I have handed them – then I  can give them more and more responsibility – until ultimately they are acting more like a leader themselves.

Effective leaders actively offer responsibility by distributing leadership power among the people that need it, allowing leadership to occur where it is needed most, often in the front line of business.  Most importantly this helps get a lot more done. It’s also likely to help teams be happier, more engaged and show more initiative.

It’s also probably helpful to think of leadership more as how you enable others to do what they need to do and then get the hell out of the way.

Although this is obvious in theory it can be quite hard to get right in practice. If you’re a control freak, for example, not only are you likely to be killing off your team’s motivation and innovation but you are likely to need more than a little help overcoming this urge.

A good and challenging place to start is delegation, and to get good at that. The more you are able to do this the more you are getting closer to allowing others around you to lead.

Inexperienced or untrained managers are most at risk of sabotaging themselves and their attempts to delegate.

The problem is, even if you are a ninja level engineer with technical insight gifted seemingly from the gods, management requires a totally and utterly different skill set and will exercise very different personality traits and emotional muscles, including some you might not have developed yet.

Many organisations miss this obvious fact and expect people to just figure it out, without proper investment in management training or personal development.

Not knowing how to be effective as a manager (common in those newly promoted to management) and without any help from those around them, before long the freshly challenged become frustrated and revert to what they do know – in this case “engineering”. They then start interfering with the “engineering” people in their teams are trying to do – showing them how they are doing it wrong and how the new boss can do it better.

As I said above, the thing most likely to undermine my confidence, motivation and general goodwill is poorly veiled criticism over my shoulder. Every “suggestion”, implies that I’m doing something wrong and thus can’t be trusted to perform the simple thing in front of me. And so I disengage.

Psychologically, I’m in a “double bind”: I’m feeling things are wrong even though I can see my way is working or valid. So I stop trying – because I’m wrong either way. I’ll go and look at what my friends on Facebook are doing instead.

Challenge is also removed – if my manager does take over and do my work for me. I lose the opportunity to learn. And, of course, I now believe he thinks I’m an idiot, so trust between us is destroyed.

It is worst of all when this exists at the top of hierarchies. Perhaps we are genetically predisposed to look up the hierarchy for tips on how to behave. So if someone senior is guilty of micromanagement, this crime can infuse the organisation below them like an unwanted inheritance.

An antidote follows. Let’s imagine the team player we’re delegating to is called Bob and he reports to me. Here is a way to set up delegation, broadly in line with the approach espoused by the late Stephen Covey. This is a mechanism that should catch any possible derailment and put the task back on track.

Bigger picture: I help Bob understand where he and what he’s doing fits into the bigger picture. What the organisation he is part of is trying to achieve. This taps into Bob’s sense of purpose and connects the task he’s achieving with that broader purpose. The context also helps him understand the implications if he does not get it done.

Ownership: I give Bob total ownership of the task. It’s up to him to get it done. This is so he is clear that no one else is responsible for achieving the desired outcome. No one is going to pick up his toys or tie his shoelaces for him. The buck stops with him. Essentially this is an invitation for him to “step up to the plate” of responsibility.

Expectations and Results: I also make sure Bob is very clear about what kind of results are expected. This will be helped if Bob already understands the bigger picture. It’s even better to ask Bob to consider the position of the other stakeholders and figure out what a good outcome for all might be.

For example, Bob might decide he needs to finish the project on time with a high quality, technically robust solution, and on, or under, budget.

Booby Traps: If there are some big obvious pitfalls in front of Bob then it’s only fair to warn him of these in advance so he can try to avoid them.

Support: If Bob is experiencing any problems, is unclear or struggling with the task, or if the delivery of the project is in jeopardy, I make it clear I am available to support to him to get through it, or to re-agree expectations. But I definitely am not going to do it for him.

Mistakes: Bob will undoubtedly make plenty of mistakes, we all do. This will help him learn and become more resourceful and do his job better, especially if all “mistakes” as are treated as learning opportunities. Not with punishment or disapproval, but with encouragement and support.

Feedback: Feedback should be a gift not a weapon. If given as a gift your teams will grow, develop and make you look good. If used as a weapon then your groups will regress, be generally unhappy and perform badly – they will be fearful of taking risks or “getting it wrong”. This kills innovation, creativity and energy.

Finally, having set all this up, you now need to live by the rules you’ve created. Again this is  basically because “monkey see, monkey do”. Other people will do as you do, not as you say. Any ambiguity also creates “wriggle room” – space to allow people to wriggle out of their responsibility. However, if you are consistently well boundaried and do what you’ve said you will do, the opportunity for others to wriggle will be minimised.

Good luck!


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Conscious Business Events in November

Four great Conscious Business-related events in London, Birmingham and Brighton next month:

  • Meaning Conference – connecting and inspiring people who believe in better business – 8th November, Brighton
  • Many employee-owned businesses are purpose-led. The showpiece EOA conference for employee-owned businesses is in two weeks time – 12/13th November, Birmingham
  • An RSA-sponsored event: Is CSR dying? 20th November, Brighton
  • A Conscious Leadership Conference – How to create profit with purpose – 28th November, London

Plus our usual Conscious Business practice meetups in Brighton (18th November) , London (25th November), Bristol (11th November) .

And a new event if you work in the City of London  (26th November).


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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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Too big to fail?

A recent post in the Conscious Capitalism LinkedIn group made me think about what happens when a group – a company – gets too big.

Is this the end for consciousness? Can large companies sustain the consciousness that small groups can?

As a young man I worked for a Fortune 50 company called Digital Equipment. (No relation to the much smaller and less successful Digital Research – the company that produced the operating system CP/M).

This was a company which grew organically from a $70,000 investment in 1957 to a $14bn corporation employing some 120,000 people. Eventually it faltered and was sold to Compaq in 1997 – in what was at the time the largest merger ever in the computer industry.

As some of you will remember Compaq itself faltered and was acquired by HP in 2002.

But my story is about growth. And demise.

Following its meteoric rise over 40 years, the hard fact is that DEC was a large company that faltered and eventually disappeared.

You could put this down to all sorts of reasons. Unseen flaws in what was a highly collaborative, innovative but also caring culture? Failure to adapt to a changing marketplace? Even narcissism amongst the top team? We can speculate endlessly.

Or maybe it just got too big.

But there’s a letter from a friend and colleague of mine in Ed Schein’s book on DEC (DEC is Dead, Long Live DEC – The Lasting Legacy of Digital Equipment Corporation).

Schein was a consultant with DEC for many years, and it was seemingly where some of his enduring ideas about organisational culture – and process consulting – emerged.

My friend’s letter suggests that when a big corporation disappears we can talk of death. But we can also talk of new life.

He suggests we picture a sunflower. When the flower is ready, the hundreds of thousands of seeds – the employees – spread far and wide, born on the wind. They take with them the DNA of the organisation.

And indeed look around the world today and you will find many ex-DEC employees still following the values that attracted them to DEC -we could call them ‘power’ and ‘love’ – and bringing them into their working lives with new colleagues and new companies.

I like this story – obviously, because it is little self-flattering. It also helps me make sense of what happened, and the loss – of great culture, great dreams, great experiences and great friendships.

But I also think it is a story worth telling. Because it reminds me that at core organisations really are only people.

Yes, something special can happen when a group of people coalesce together in a special way – a new matrix is formed. I think groups and companies are really important. I also think that we are attracted to groups that share our values anyway – that is why we get together.

Companies – groups of people working together (literally, breaking bread together) – give us strength and collective power. And that is good if linked with generative purpose.

But we can also sustain our values individually, even if we move from one organisation to another. Our identity as individuals continues.

In many ways it is harder – being together is great. But I think being alone also contains strength and power.

And sometimes it seems to me to better than relying on any one organisation – however comforting it may be – for our sense of identity.

I’d be interested to hear what others think.

Is the “great group” the be all and end all of working consciously?

Or is there something to be said (heroism, for example) for being alone with one’s values?


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The language of business

Had a very interesting chat with Reuben Turner of the Good Agency the other day.

As Reuben pointed out,  many of the ad men of Madison Avenue, that I have loved to watch on Mad Men, were returning to work from the Second World War, and they brought with them into advertising and marketing the language of war.

To this day we continue to use the language of targeting, for example. The idea is that we can select a target group of customers and then bombard them with our ideas and messages, until we win their hearts and minds and turn them to our point of view.

I have written about the language of business before. From a slightly different angle, Sam Keen said ‘Business is just warfare in slow motion’.

But it is fascinating to think how the language of war has spread so widely into business – presumably through the huge influence of advertising and marketing. In business we fight the competition, and our choice of terms such as goals, milestones, burning platforms and beachheads all smacks of struggle and the wrong kind of conflict.

It’s all about winning and losing. Business is only rarely about reparation, or giving.

This frame has been adopted in many market segments, and has also spread more widely into society and every day culture.

For example, we talk of the ‘battle against cancer’.  Poet Anthony Wilson writes about this. It would be interesting to try to track the spread of this language from the ad men into the pharmaceutical industry and then into medicine.

The rise of executive coaching doesn’t seem to have done much to halt this process. Senior managers are encouraged to set goals, and achieve their targets. Work life becomes something we all need to battle through. Ultimately we need to compete, and to win.

Of course, we can’t completely blame the ad men.

Psychologists also had remarkable influence on the thinking in Madison Avenue – as documented in Vance Parkard’s great book ‘The Hidden Persuaders‘. For example, how was it that spending rather than saving became the moral thing to do? Just how did consumerism arise?

But then these psychologists were also perhaps high on the apparent success of various psychological innovations (such as the development of personality typing) that arose during the Second World War.

And I suppose ultimately there is nothing wrong with having a frame. Any frame can be helpful, whether it is war, or sport or something else. We can use the language of a particular frame to distinguish and separate things and to make ourselves clear.

But I do think it is helpful to be aware of the frames we choose. This, for me, is at the core of Conscious Business.

For me, Conscious Business isn’t just about behaving ethically, and doing good. Nor is it just about ‘holism’ and everything being connected. It isn’t just about transparency, or personal responsibility, or even better communication.

It is all these things.

But for me, and it is a personal view, Conscious Business is really about trying to understand how we experience the world, and what effect that has on the results we create – both good and bad. It is about seeing our frames.

With that kind of consciousness comes choice. And that feels very worthwhile.


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Collecting our thoughts around conscious business for eO&P

As people show an interest in writing for the Winter edition of eO&P on Conscious Business it is striking how many different angles there are to the subject.  They are all important in their own way.

This poses both a risk and an opportunity.

On the one hand conscious business could mean anything to anyone – becoming buried in its own fuzzy well meaning. On the other, the number of avenues offers the possibility of making real sustainable change: change that we can look back on and say ‘this is the difference we have all made’.

A quick look at our list today includes subjects such as:

  • The role of the law in building and sustaining relationships in conscious business.
  • The impact that an enlightened approach to human resources can have.
  • Consciousness within capitalism.
  • Moving from straightforward management models to paying attention to long term sustaining ‘communities of influence’ to bring about change.
  • The role of forgiveness in how we manage to work together.

 There needs to be some centralising theme around which these different paths consciousness business can develop.  For us, in this edition of eO&P, this needs to be the interaction between ideas of conscious business and what happens on the ground to make this happen; in other words a ‘groundedness’ to consciousness business.  We especially want to hear what goes well and what doesn’t as people struggle with making an abstract ideal to a practical reality.

However, these are our thoughts today as we start the process of sourcing articles and editing eO&P, a process that will take several months.  In those months to come we will be sharing with you our consciousness as we work with these ideas and make sense of them with the authors.  In other words, it is consciousness in practice.

Rob Warwick and Pete Burden


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Conscious Business – Call for Papers

Pete Burden and I are the guest editors for the winter edition of eOrganisations & People (eO&P) on the subject of Conscious Business.  If you would like to write a paper for the journal we would very much like to hear from you.

We are looking at papers from practitioners, academics, consultants – basically anyone who has anything thoughtful to say.  One angle that we are particularly interested in centres around the challenges people face in making conscious business a part of their day-to-day reality.

Writing is not just about writing.  We are looking for this edition of eO&P to develop into further action and gatherings.  We don’t know what this might look like yet.  That is something that we will develop with authors and collaborators.

About conscious business

There are many definitions, but features we are drawn to include:

  • being profitable but with more than just financial goals
  • delivering value to a wide set of stakeholders
  • providing a safe place for human development and growth
  • where all involved have the power to influence outcomes
  • where transparency, communication and awareness are paramount

About eO&P

eO&P Is the journal of the AMED, the Association of Management Educators and Developers (Hyperlink to: http://www.amed.org.uk/) in the UK.  It is a quarterly journal written for both practitioners and academics who are involved in management and leadership development.

Interested? Please contact us or click here for more information.


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Book review: Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia

Here’s a review I wrote for Amazon. I think I could probably write several reviews of this book – there’s such a lot in it. But here is a snapshot:

This is a great book.

I must declare a bias: I am a real fan of the ideas presented here, and I have met one of the authors.

But trying to put that to one side, I still think it is a great book.

It is very thorough, very complete, and like my colleague Will McInnes’ book Culture Shock: A Handbook For 21st Century Business it is full of practical advice and suggestions on building a different type of business.

It is clearly written, full of good stories and quotes. It also seems to include a good measure of honesty – as when John Mackey describes the problems he had with the SEC.

It is ideological, yes, but I think that is what we need right now. There’s a lot of talk in business about disruption, and how business should respond, but this book sets out the beginnings of an intellectual and emotional framework for business in the 21st century.

Umair Haque’s Betterness: Economics for Humans (Kindle Single) also comes to mind.

After an introduction, which aims to reset the narrative of business, the book is broken into several sections on making practical changes to the way a business works:

– Higher Purpose
– Stakeholder Integration
– Conscious Leadership
– Conscious Culture and Management

The book pulls together a lot of thinking from a range of very diverse sources. That is the whole point I suppose: to bring topics such as economics, sustainability, business management, psychology and systems thinking together. Indeed, the authors aren’t afraid to mix words like love and care in with the kind of terminology (innovation, collaboration, decentralisation) you will read in many modern books on business management.

There are lots of practical examples and stories from Whole Foods Market. That company is obviously better known in the US than the UK, and there is a notable lack of any European examples (John Lewis, the Co-op, Cadburys etc). But as founder and CEO, John Mackey has been through most of the major decisions that need to be made in setting up and growing a large, listed company.

Once or twice I had a bit of a sharp intake of breath.

The term “free-enterprise capitalism” personally reminds me of “free market capitalism”, in the style of Reagan and Thatcher. Something to which I have an instinctive and somewhat negative reaction. But, after a moment, I reminded myself to suspend a little, remember that I am not an economic theorist or expert, and read on.

And their real point is that capitalism generally has given itself a very bad name with the people who should be supporting it – those of us who believe in freedom for individuals and also in sharing, giving etc.

The other slight intake of breath came when Margaret Thatcher is listed amongst a list of leaders with high integrity, including Gandhi and other personal heroes. Again personally, I found this hard to take.

But again the truth is this is probably more about my biases and prejudices than anything else. And a good book, I believe, should challenge one’s thinking, not just confirm one’s prejudices. I resolved to dig out a biography and do some deeper research.

The book ends with sections on starting a conscious business, and transforming to become one.

An appendix covers the business case for Conscious Capitalism – including reference to Raj Sisodia’s work on Firms of Endearment and a comparison with the “Good to Great” companies. This, in my view, is a very strong and compelling financial case.

Another appendix gives a very useful list of similar, related approaches (such as sustainable business, B-corporations etc), and explains why conscious capitalism is different.

In a final section, which contains a call to action, I was pleased to see a reference to Tom Paine, author of Common Sense and the Rights of Man. These, at the time, were seditionary works. They stirred people up.

This book is similar – some will hate it, but the mixture of emotion and intellect is powerful. Which is important, because, as the authors say, there’s no time to waste.

Overall, this is a manifesto for a new type of business. Or, if you simply want to find out what Conscious Capitalism and Conscious Business are all about, this is a great starting point.

It is a big book as well as a great book. It will take you a while to read. But in my view it is really worth the effort.