Conscious-Business.org.uk

A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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Women and Conscious Leadership

Taken from the forthcoming spring ‘e-Organisations and People’ journal – For more information and to purchase a copy look here. This article asks whether the time is finally right for women to take on leadership roles without needing to give up their core values, needs and behaviours.  Evidence is put forward showing how essential it is to include women in leadership roles if we want to attain a sustainable future.  Lasy Lawless explores what might prevent that from happening.  She considers how much of this problem is self imposed and how much of it relates to gender politics in the workplace.  She asks each reader to do one thing to accelerate change.Keywords: Inequality, women in leadership, gender, prejudice, diversity and sustainability

My discovery of gender prejudice

I grew up on a farm in a large family in Ireland.  There was an equal number of boys and girls in my family.  This description probably conjures up a stereotypical image of simple country folk following strict catholic doctrines, women in the kitchen supporting men in the fields.  But that’s not what it was like.  My mother was the first female to study law at Cork University.  She experienced severe prejudice from male lecturers, who assumed she chose the subject to be the only female amongst men so that she could flirt with them.Despite being awarded a first class degree, she never got to work as a lawyer.  In those days the economic policy to address unemployment was that women gave up work when they got married.  Those women who did not go on to have children simply struggled to contribute and to live full lives. This background set the scene for my upbringing because in my home we never distinguished between male and female roles along traditional lines.  Boys cooked and girls worked on the farm – if that suited our strengths, rather than tasks that were assigned based on our gender. So natural was this to me that it wasn’t until I actually entered the workforce in 1980 that I discovered gender prejudice and I found it both shocking and stupefying.  It simply made no sense to me.

Slowly it dawned on me that although women were a core part of the workforce, they rarely ran companies, sat on boards or shared equally in rewards. Throughout my twenties I watched and learned just how agonisingly slowly systems of power change, irrespective of whether they are effective or satisfying.  I have oscillated between irritation with the system, rage at men and frustration with women themselves, each playing a contributory role in ensuring that change cannot be immediate. However, in the last ten years I think I can see the roots of a sea change.  I hope that when we look back at the noughties we will all be as shocked and stupefied as I was in the 1980s.

Conscious capitalism for gender equality?

And I believe that conscious capitalism is the movement that captures the attitudes and values that will make it possible for women to take their rightful place as equals in the business world.  I believe that gender equality requires three major shifts:  a new economic structure, the buy-in of men and women being more assertive. Conscious capitalism is that system.  I will try to address the other two conditions later in the article.Conscious Capitalism by Mackey, Sisodia and George (2013) identifies some key qualities of the conscious leader.’Conscious leaders abundantly display many of the qualities we most admire in exemplary human beings.  They usually find great joy and beauty in their work, and in the opportunity to serve, lead, and help shape a better future.  Since they are living their calling, they are authentic individuals who are eager to share their passion with others.  They are very dedicated to their work, which recharges and energises them instead of draining them.  Conscious leaders commonly have high analytical, emotional, spiritual and systems intelligence.  They also have an orientation toward servant leadership, high integrity and a great capacity for love and care. (Mackey, Sisodia & George 2013, p183). While so many of these qualities are gender neutral, others (love, care, emotional intelligence, sharing passion, servant leadership and helping shape a better future) are attributes frequently associated with women.  They might even be described as nurturing or maternal characteristics.

Because of the roles traditionally played by women – supporting partners, enabling children towards independence and reaching their potential, running households and finances, it could be said that women have been in training for leadership positions for thousands of years. ‘Conscious business’ is a way to describe organisations that operate within a conscious capitalist structure. Conscious businesses positively encourage women to embrace leadership roles outside of the home, but this is only the structure.  For real change to occur we need women to step into the roles and demonstrate our effectiveness in leading.

So what are the issues that women will have to address if they choose to step into leadership roles?  I think they fall into two main categories – things that women need to do for themselves, and things that men need to support us with.  Equality for women is happening slowly, but for change to happen quickly both genders need to collaborate.  The greatest hurdle is to raise general awareness of the challenges and of the amazing opportunity if we address the issues.  We need to take the conversations out from the feminists and futurists to every layperson. The major challenges we face are: women’s preference for collaboration over competition; scepticism about how their accomplishments will be reported by journalists/men; women’s fear of being humiliated by being judged on how they look rather on their accomplishments; young girls low aspirations based on their lack of belief that they will succeed; and ignorance by female graduates of the benefits of working in SMEs rather than in corporate cultures.

Collaboration vs competition

It would be easy to idealise women and to pretend that they completely avoid conflict or competition.  They don’t. But research shows that there are significant gender differences in frequency when entering into ‘winner-takes-all’ types of competition, and yet no significant gender gap in other types of competition.   Women are averse to entering competitive forums that result in a single winner walking away with the prize and the kudos, but women are equally competitive where the agenda results in rewards for the majority (Niederle, M., & Vesterlund, L. 2007). Conscious leaders believe that the most successful and sustainable results come from including the interests of all stakeholders – employees, investors, suppliers etc  rather than simply focusing on shareholders short term returns.  Conscious businesses need leaders who favour collaborative, empowering attitudes rather than ‘shareholders-take-all’ behaviours, and women compete as frequently and as successfully when these conditions exist.

Respect for the long-sightedness of how women compete needs to be applauded, rather than their aversion for winner-takes-all outcomes to be portrayed as a weakness.  After all, we have seen the outcome of pure capitalist attitudes – the majority lose while the minority continue on in a self-serving manner. I ran a workshop this week for “Women in Leadership” that included an hour of dialogue with three significant female leaders.  I was struck by their passion to share success and power, which was reflected in these three responses: “In the Green Party we spent a long time considering how to do leadership so that it was not something that we did to people, but something that we do with them.” Caroline Lucas (First Green MP). “When I got above the glass ceiling I threw the ladder down so that other women could climb it.” Polly Toynbee (Journalist for The Guardian). “I have never knowingly turned down any conversation with anyone who wanted to talk about their career development.” Penny Thompson CBE (CEO of Brighton & Hove Council). These responses were not constructed to gain PR advantage.  They were authentic responses embedded in answers to various questions on “Women In Leadership.” It demonstrates their natural preference for “power with” as opposed to “power over”.

Scepticism about the press

I am currently working with an amazing female MD running a successful international business. The company is a conscious business moving towards employee ownership.   A year ago I invited her to speak about the company’s culture at a business event but she found the idea horrifying.  Besides a fear of public speaking, which is a common fear for both genders, she just didn’t trust the media to get that the success of the company and its culture was down to her team and not to her alone. She was not going to risk her team feeling undervalued. Since then I have introduced her to books and articles on conscious capitalism and very, very gradually she is becoming hopeful that there is a growing appetite for change in how business is done.  We need to get more information about conscious business out to women so that they know there is a system that absolutely relies on the feminisation of business.  I believe that they will take the risks necessary to step out of the shadows if they have faith that something is changing.Caroline Lucas resigned as formal leader of the Green Party after four years because she “had benefited so much from the position and she wanted to pass on that opportunity to someone else in the party”.  She told us that the press could not accept this explanation and so instead they were creating stories about an affair or her mental health.  This is the type of personal assault and misinterpretation that women risk when we openly offer an alternative explanation for our motives than the winner-takes-all model.

Fear of humiliation regarding personal appearances

Women fear the limelight of greatness because they risk being judged on their appearances rather than on their accomplishments.   68% of girls across all groups agree with the statement “ability”. At the workshop that I mentioned earlier, Penny Thompson told us that when a picture of her appeared in the paper after her appointment and announcing her amazing prior achievements she had to tolerate comments on her appearance such as suggesting she “use her huge salary to do something with her hair”. The most atrocious recent example of what women have to endure is captured here by the Financial Times about the first female prime minister of Australia: “Few politicians in a western democracy have endured such personal abuse as Gillard, whose three-year term as prime minister ended in June amid a welter of recrimination about the nature of Australian society and its treatment of women in top jobs”. (Parker, 2013)

But the Welsh-born lawyer did not go down without a fight. Gillard reflected on her role as the country’s first female prime minister: “I’ve been a little bit bemused by those colleagues in the newspapers who have admitted that I have suffered more pressure as a result of my gender than other PMs in the past but then concluded it had zero effect on my political position or the political position of the Labor party.” With tears in her eyes, she talked about what her term as prime minister might mean for other female leaders: “What I am absolutely confident of is it will be easier for the next woman, and the woman after that, and the woman after that, and I’m proud of that”. While this type of attack didn’t stop Penny Thompson or Julia Gillard from embracing leadership roles, not all women are resilient or brave enough to survive it.  Just as it is not every man who is brave enough to be a Nelson Mandela or Ghandi.  It takes a huge amount of self belief and faith in the underlying higher values for a person to put themselves consciously in these positions.  What we really need is the support of men, the press and all powerful thinking individuals everywhere to make this kind of ignorant behaviour a thing to be ashamed of.

Young girls’ aspirations

Women lack self belief in their ability to succeed in business.  Girls across every level of affluence are almost 10% less likely to believe they could start their own business than boys of a similar level of wealth.  (Click for link to survey results.) For me, this is the most depressing piece of research available.  When I compare this perception to how I described my beautifully, naive beliefs in my teens it feels tragic.  We need more female role models in all walks of life.  Change of this type has to begin at home. So if you are reading this article, make one little change – point people towards Guardian Women, attend an event to support women in leadership (there are loads of them), vote for female leaders, challenge the status quo in companies.

Corporate careers vs SME offers

Women do better in SMEs, and SMEs do better because of women.  The number of women on FTSE 100 boards has risen from 15% in 2012, to 17.3% in 2013 (Dr Sealy, 2013 – Link). Career breaks, bias and having babies certainly account for some of the shortfall but it cannot account for all of it and gender prejudice must account for at least some of it.  In contrast, recent research also found that 80 percent of family owned businesses are more gender balanced, having at least one female director and that this diversity meant that the companies were less likely to fail than companies with less diversity (Myers, 2013 – Link). The study highlighted the fact that family-orientated goals such as preserving unity, wealth and providing employment for family members may also contribute to their survival.  The team analysed data of over 700,000 medium and large private family and non-family firms with an annual sales turnover of at least £6.5 million, a balance sheet total of at least £3.26 million and at least 50 employees. This information is available to corporate boards but because they are so entrenched in traditional thinking and averse to taking risks they often appoint women as a token gesture and to appeal to corporate social measures rather than in the full understanding that they need to do this for their own survival.  We need this kind of thinking and behaviour to change.

Some hope

I think it is significant that although conscious business culture is only recently emerging as a solution to addressing the pitfalls of capitalism, and that democratic management and empowerment are being touted as the way to run successful businesses, it was an exceptional female political scientist – Mary Parker Follet – who wrote about it almost a century ago.   Her work was largely ignored by business writers, all men, until recently. “Follet was profoundly interested in society and how one could attain personal fulfilment while striving at the same time to create the well-ordered and just society.  The answer, she concluded, lay in democratic governance, an abiding belief that was to inform all her activities and become the goal that inspired her for the rest of her life”.  (?Graham 2003, p: ?)  In ‘Prophet of Management’ (2003), Pauline Graham explores the reasons that she was so ignored by her peers – was it a sign of the times or simply because she was a woman?   Like my mother, Caroline Lucas, Polly Toynbee, Penny Thompson and the female MD mentioned earlier,

Mary Parker Follet continued to say what was true for her despite being ignored or misinterpreted by her male peers.  It is remarkable how ahead of her times she was, and it is testimony to her message that approaching 60, and without any experience in the business world, she became a management thinker eagerly sought after by the business communities of both the United States and England.   Those business leaders, mostly men, were also ahead of their time.

Summary

Conscious business is a successful, sustainable way of addressing the failure of pure capitalism.  Conscious leaders require additional qualities that have been traditionally described as feminine.  Companies that have at least one female director significantly reduce the risk of business failure and conscious business culture was originally captured in the writings of a woman over 100 years ago.  So all of this bodes well for women who are ready to aim for leadership roles.  And having a more balanced mix of the genders across business leadership roles would appear to  lead to more sustainable success for everyone. It would seem that the time is ripe for women to share more equally in leading the world towards a better way to do business.  It is now up to women to embrace the moment and aim for greatness, for the good of everyone, rather than fearing the comments of small minded individuals.  It is also up to men to support women in the journey because it has finally become clear and evidenced based that this is the only intelligent choice for us all.

References

About the author

Lasy Lawless is passionate about change and transformation. She likes to combine this with pragmatism, strategy and business focus. Her approach is person-centred – which means, she expects and supports others to take their own, full responsibility.As a trained accountant, Lasy worked for Big Finish – a conglomerate of TV and film post production companies – at a time when that world was being radically changed by digital technology. As Group FD, after 10 years sitting in over a dozen boardrooms devising strategy, she realised that the old ways of doing things were finished. Traditional power structures no longer delivered.That’s, at least in part, why she re-trained as a psychotherapist. Lasy believes that understanding what motivates people, and how to create strong challenging relationships at all levels, is the single most critical success factor for any business. Lasy is one of the founding partners, with Pete Burden and Jamie Pyper of Conscious Business People, a consultancy a business consultancy helping leaders build 21st century business cultures. She can be contacted  via  http://www.linkedin.com/in/lasylawless.


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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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Extreme innovations in employee welfare

Jack Hubbard, CEO Propellernet
(Extract from Winter eO&P AMED journal edited by Rob Warwick and Pete Burden)

Jack Hubbard Cartoon

The business world puts profit before people and in doing so cuts off its nose to spite its face. Inspired people and goodwill in relationships are where the true value lies in a business, but in an effort to organise and industrialise we stifle people and throttle value. Jack found that the tools and ideas of the business world were not fit for his purpose as CEO and has been on a 10 year journey trying to build a new mindset and toolset, one that recognises and harnesses human value potential. In this article Jack shares his credo and some of the thinking and initiatives that have helped him on his journey.

Having recently topped the Guardian’s honours list, Propellernet is officially the best small company to work for in the UK. Our company is also accredited with the Investors in People Wellbeing Award and made the Worldblu list of the most Democratic and Free Workplaces in the world. And because of our complete commitment to the health and happiness of our staff, they return the favour by delivering outstanding work, market beating growth and record profits. We were also recognised as the Best Agency and for the Best Campaign at the European Search Awards earlier this year.

The credit for this success belongs to kind hearted MD Nikki Gatenby, everyday genius Gary Preston and the diverse cast of wonderful characters I am privileged enough to work with. For my part, as CEO, I strive to hold a vision and space for them to do their thing. I believe the way to make a company the best version of itself is by hiring outstanding people and creating a culture within which they can become the best versions of themselves. In this article I share my thoughts on how the business world gets this wrong, and how we get it right.

 

People create the future

For the last 150 years the prevailing business paradigm has been one of industrialisation, globalisation and automation. The business world strives to do more at a lower cost. As a result, products and services that were considered high value just a few years ago have been copied, commoditised, automated and outsourced to Asia. Creating more of the same stuff for less money belongs to the robots and the Chinese, so creating better stuff is the only way to go for us.

This is the business of innovation and it is done best by companies who invest in their people because the requisite qualities for innovation (curiosity, creativity and adaptability) are fundamentally human attributes. Innovation is done best by people who embrace the uncertain future with a spirit of adventure, compelled to design a better one. A culture of fear kills this spirit.

Business at its core is about people working together to meet their needs and improve their situation. It is a tool to serve people, not the other way round, as is often forgotten. Employees and customers are human beings and the things that really matter are how these people feel, think and relate. Business is a design tool for improving the things that matter in life, and we should use it for this purpose; to improve life for employees and customers.

 

We are Superheroes

When we start a job, we are given a job description. How we perform this list of tasks is measured through our appraisal process, which forms the basis for how the company values our contribution. Our employer only places value on our ability to perform a narrow set of tasks. We are encouraged to limit our potential, which is why Clark Kent hides his cape at work.

Billions of years in the making through nature’s great evolutionary design, we human beings are pretty special creatures. We are amazing in ways that are beyond our own comprehension and have many superpowers we don’t even know about yet.

At Propellernet we encourage full use of super powers. Every one of our superheroes has a rich tapestry of history behind them and a world of possibilities ahead of them. As individuals they are vast reservoirs of energy, alive with experiences, ideas, contacts, dreams, opinions, emotions and abilities just itching to find a creative outlet. We are discovering new superpowers all the time, and as a team we’ll save the world from the clutches of evil.

 

There’s no accounting for people

The business world is run by accountants but accounting is not about people, it’s about numbers. Accountants regard people as unpredictable liabilities. We have lives, get sick, change jobs and exercise rights. We are an obstacle to profit and a cost to be minimised. HR departments too often exist to protect companies against the legal repercussions of treating their employees badly. Is it any wonder people get sick or leave in search of a better life?

I believe people should be accounted for as assets who appreciate in value over time as they develop relationships, goodwill, knowledge and ideas. The more a company invests in each person, the more of themselves they invest into the company and the more valuable they become as an asset. This value is not recorded in modern accounting practice and until it is, bad decisions will be made at the top, destroying value and creating a mess on the shop floor.

Financial reward is an important but small part of investing in people. People need to rest, to learn, to be inspired, to be challenged and to grow. We all have different needs at different times in life, the most important thing is to be interested in people beyond their job role and invest time to get to know them.

 

Growth isn’t always good for people

Small businesses want to get big enough to be bought out by big businesses so that the founders get rich. Big businesses want to get big enough to become PLCs so that their executive team can liquidate their stock and check out before it all goes tits up. The unsuspecting public then acquire what’s left through pension schemes and wind up holding worthless shares in something they know nothing about, have no control over but are dependent upon for retirement. We blindly chase arbitrary targets around a hamster wheel to serve a system that will ultimately screw us over. Ask your mum or dad if their pension was as good as they were led to believe.

Companies chasing this dream often grow too fast and go pop. More clients increase service headaches, more employees increase HR headaches and more products increase administrative headaches. I don’t know anyone that likes headaches, so why does the business world dedicate so many resources to producing them? Ironing out these issues is easy for an agile gymnast, but impossible for an unwieldy juggernaut. Growing a business of value and happiness is a worthy pursuit, but scaling a business full of suffering is toxic and should not be allowed. Stay small, iron out the pain and scale the joy later.

 

Employees make great shareholders

Many businesses give away big chunks of equity to outside investors, particularly in the early years, because they believe they need money to hire staff, develop products and find clients. They invariably regret it and there’s no going back. If you are creative and keep things lean the money from your early clients will finance cash flow. This way you learn valuable discipline, stay in control of decisions and see a greater share of the rewards.

If you want to sell shares, sell them to your best employees. If they can’t afford it, get creative, there are ways. These people understand your business better than anyone and know exactly what to do to grow the value of it. If they have a stake they will drastically increase the value of the company, along with the value of any remaining shares you hold.

Employee owned companies perform brilliantly because the people who best understand the company retain control of key decisions and share the rewards of good performance.

 

Pay your Fun Taxes

When you have fun, the tax man assumes it can’t be work and taxes you on it as if it were salary. If a business expense can be seen to provide a level of enjoyment to employees it is deemed as a benefit in kind and subjected to an extortionate fun tax. The Inland Revenue assume that work is meant to be miserable and don’t understand that you might be inspired to create something of value while climbing a mountain, dancing in a forest or gazing upon the northern lights. Their perverse logic leads them to believe that the most valuable work gets done in drab offices under fire of angry bosses and RSI injuries.

Most companies ban fun because the fun tax makes it too expensive. Christmas party budgets are slashed, benefits are scrapped, employees become miserable, they leave, then profits start looking miserable. We think it’s worth paying fun taxes and go to great lengths to maximise fun levels despite the cost. We create beautiful workspaces, throw outlandish parties, take adventurous holidays and feast at fine restaurants. And guess what, we boost the economy, attract and retain top talent and do world class work.

 

Champion Wellbeing

When we feel great we do great work and so we are always looking for new angles on health and wellbeing. Meditation, yoga, Pilates, reflexology, head massage and mind clinics can often be seen taking place around our offices, and we regularly invite experts to talk to us on a wider range of wellbeing subjects. As a result we have a caring, healthy and happy culture. If our people experience adversity in life, we are there for them and try to signpost them to appropriate support networks such as doctors, counsellors and legal aid, often picking up the bill.

We encourage the creative arts and have sponsored employees through courses as diverse as glass blowing, improvisational comedy, street dance, pottery and learning to draw. This has strengthened the foundations of our culture and unleashed a wave of creative energy which has driven many innovations. The learning to draw course, for example, sparked a revolution in visual communication which has transformed the work we do with clients.

 

Art for Inspiration

The ever curious Sophie Tanner was astounded by how interesting her colleagues were and saw this as the company’s primary asset. She set about interviewing everyone and documenting their life story, what kind of childhood they had, their philosophies, hobbies, ambitions, favourite music, what animal they saw themselves as. She hired a local artist to draw a cartoon scene capturing each person, commissioned the build of a beehive room and placed a cartoon world for each of our people in a honeycomb cell. Sophie’s “Honeydrome” is a powerful metaphor for our collective intelligence and a great example of art for inspiration.

For a new starter it can take years to get to know just a few people, now they can get to know everyone on day 1. Employees can see that the company places value on the fullness of who they are in life, not just what they delivered at work today. And when we lack empathy for a client project we have a visual signpost to the parents, the skiers, the travellers, the foodies, the musicians, the fashionistas and the yoga teachers.

 

The richness of the Honeydrome

rich honeydrome

 

Will it make life better?

Nikki Gatenby and I were inspired by Olympic gold medallist rower, Ben Hunt-Davies. His crew in the 8 man boat were average at best and without the natural talent of Pincent and Redgrave. They had toiled away for years and gotten nowhere. They had to try something new so they replaced their training programme with a single question, “Will it make the boat go faster?”
They all came up with ideas, and every idea was put to the test. Over the months, bit by bit they discovered many ways to make the boat go just that little bit faster. On the big stage their boat went the fastest and the underdog crew each picked up an Olympic gold medal.

It wasn’t a lengthy plan or set of arcane principles. It was a simple mantra that drove their behaviour every day in a way that would achieve their desired goal. We loved its simplicity and wanted our own one: “Will it make life better?”
The real purpose driving us, the motivation for getting out of bed, turning up every day, hungry to run a great business and deliver great work over and over again, is to make life better. Now if we are ever unsure, we simply ask “will it make life better?” and the way becomes clear. Consequently life keeps getting better.

Instead of making happiness a goal for a tomorrow that may never come, we design it into our everyday experience. And we become more successful tomorrow because we are happier today.

The glorious Dream Machine

The dream machine

 

Revenue-per-person

To calculate revenue-per-person we divide revenue by the number of people in the company. It is this number we are driven to grow because it indicates the relative resources available to make life better for everyone in the company. If we doubled revenue and doubled staff numbers, revenue-per-person would remain the same and there would be no more money to make life better with pay rises and perks. More of the same growth means more work for the same reward. Revenue-Per-Person is aligned to our true purpose of making life better and powers innovation to create more value, not grow more volume.

 

The Dream Machine

When we achieve our revenue-per-person target we make a dream come true by drawing a dream ball from our giant yellow 80’s bubble gum dispenser, our very own “Dream Machine”.

We ask everyone to consider their dreams in life, the things that would really make life better for them and we help them understand how they can influence company performance in a way that will make theirs and other people’s dreams come true.

Our business plan is to make everyone’s dreams come true. It gives us a reason to dream and puts us in control of achieving our dreams. Steve and Jim are off to the Rio World Cup next year, Alan is riding a motorbike across Africa.

 

Making life better begins at home

Only by discovering the fullness of what life has to offer am I in a position to share it, and by living as an example I give the people around me permission and inspiration to explore life and pursue their own dreams.

 

Steve and Jim are off to the Rio World Cup

dream machine

As a mere mortal, time is not on my side. So I seek extreme experiences which help me learn about life in an accelerated way. I’ve scaled the Matterhorn, danced on pirate ships, driven the getaway car from a jail break, challenged CEO’s in their boardrooms, eaten 30 courses in a single day and performed on the main stage at Glastonbury.

This of course is the ultimate in work life balance, but it isn’t as easy as it sounds. There is an oppressive assumption in the business world that if we enjoy something, it isn’t work and doesn’t create value. It’s as if we equate the level of suffering we endure to the amount of value we create. When business leaders behave in this way, sacrificing health, family life and happiness for the cause, they set a destructive precedent for everyone around them and create a culture which sacrifices people on the altar of profit.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally love making life better for myself on company hours, but because it’s not the normal behaviour the world expects from a CEO, I find myself swimming against the tide to make it work, and this can be exhausting. As long as I stay positive and focus my intentions on holding a vision, living the values and making life better for people, I can trust that I’m doing my bit in holding the right space for everyone to do their thing.

Staying positive is an essential part of it, and here are a couple of the practical brain tools I use.

 

Curate Positive Beliefs

We attribute meaning to our experiences through our belief systems. We all have different belief systems, which is why different people experience and perceive the same events in different ways.

For example, I choose to believe that everything happens for a reason and that it serves me in some way. So when something doesn’t go my way, instead of affirming the negative “bad things always happen to me” which will only help you make more bad stuff happen, I instantly think the infinitely more helpful “OK, that wasn’t meant to be for a reason because there is something even better that it would have prevented happening.” Then my mind searches for something better, finds it and makes that happen instead.

I curate my beliefs like a football team and field the team I know will score goals. I’m always scouting for talent and will regularly try out a new player. If they perform badly they’re out. Only consistent performers maintain their place in the squad.

The act of believing tricks the mind into perceiving our experience in ways that are consistent with that belief. I also choose to believe the mind is just another muscle to be put to work for the benefit of my greater self, so I have no problem deceiving it.

Developing an awareness of a conscious self beyond simple mind function in this way enables me to understand people and situations from a broader and more objective perspective. This is a vital skill for business leaders with responsibility for vision and culture.

As this awareness becomes more habitual, I find I can switch off my mind, relax and allow the world to make good things happen in my space. Less effort seemingly delivering better results.

 

Star in your own movies

The media promotes a belief that life is happening somewhere else, and we can only observe it from the sidelines. This gives us a feeling of powerlessness over our lives. When I came to realise this I stopped reading newspapers and watching TV and started paying more attention to my own world, the physical one that I actually live in and can influence.

A friend recently joked that I was too busy starring in my own movie to have time to watch the ones on TV. I thought that was a powerful metaphor which captured it nicely, so now I choose to see myself as a screenwriter and producer for my own life. I write the scenes in my mind then watch them unfold through my eyes. It’s great, I get to play all my favourite roles and cast all my favourite people in all my favourite places.

When you get really good at producing reality it’s essential to stay positive because our moods and emotions control the sort of films we make. If we feel negative we might make drama and horror, if we stay positive we can enjoy action, comedy and romance.

 

Whatever next?

I said earlier that putting people first isn’t an altruistic principle and that’s because for 20 years I have had my own dream that has motivated me to overcome the countless challenges along the way. I close my eyes and this is what I see.

I’m living in a large chalet, surrounded by lush green forests and snow-capped mountains, the faint sound of a waterfall crashing in the distance, wild deer grazing in the valley and eagles soaring high up above in clear blue skies. This is my base of operations for a lifetime of adventures. I select the mission, assemble the team, consult with experts, gather intelligence, pour over maps and check equipment. We set out, the fires of excitement in our bellies. We return, enriched by new experiences and treasured memories. Then we feast.

Tomorrow I fly to the Alps where I am viewing 8 chalets in the valley of dreams. Next year my team will be joining me on a host of new adventures designed to make our lives better. Feel free to join us.

 

Heroes and influences

Here are some of the great people and ideas that have helped me along my journey.
Endless inspiration for conscious business – Karen Smithson
World class mentoring – Simon Conroy
Inspirational Spaces and Dream Machines – Nicola Gobat
Will it make the boat go faster? Ben Hunt-Davies
Freedom and democracy in the workplace www.worldblu.com
Wellbeing and creativity courses www.evolutionarts.org.uk
Business as an enabler of dreams – The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly
On lifestyle design – The 4 Hour Working Week by Tim Ferriss
A spirit of adventure – Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
Right brain business – A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink
Embracing change – Who moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson
The importance of values – Built to last by Jim Collins
On hiring – Who by Geoff Smart
How the mind works – Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
Effective brain management – Unlimited Power by Anthony Robbins

 

About the author

Jack Hubbard is CEO of Propellernet
info@propellernet.co.uk

 

About eO&P

eO&P is an e-journal published by and available from the Association for Management Education and Development (AMED), a charity and membership network for business people interested in knowledge, innovation and networking in the digital age. The Spring 2004 edition of eO&P, guest edited by Pete Burden and Rob Warwick, will be published in April. AMED are always looking for guest contributors.


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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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What is progress?

Out walking the other day I noticed that the skyline at Newhaven near where I live has now been split by the large (230ft?) chimney of a new incinerator.

A hundred years ago this might of been progress. Under the conditions then, it might have been appropriate. Like the building of our Victorian sewers, massive construction projects designed to improve public health or get rid of waste would presumably have been a good idea.

But today this sight makes my heart sink. Even ignoring the defiled view, to me, building that incinerator is not progress. It is a retrograde step.

This is a plant that will simply burn waste to produce further waste which then must be sent out in to the atmosphere or put in landfill.

And rather than a real dialogue with the people who live nearby, it seems to me many objections and suggestions were ignored. The idea of a zero waste strategy, for example – based on reducing waste at source and throughout the production cycle – doesn’t seem to have been taken very seriously by the “powers that be”.

By contrast, Ovesco, another local initiative, has been raising money for a community-owned solar power system. The idea is to put 544 photovoltaic panels on the roof of a large local building and generate renewable electricity. And, perhaps most interestingly, anyone with £250 to invest can join in and share in the returns from the project. An experiment in sustainability, and in the participation of local people.

The Ovesco project, for me, is progress.

Of course, these are very personal views. So, what makes me, personally, label one project “progress” and the other not?

Simply, for me, it is all about the vision I hold. My personal vision.

And what is vision? For me, vision is about what I see coming down the road towards me.

If I have no vision of the future, then I am interested only in what is happening to me right now.

With a negative vision, a future where the world is polluted, and a hard place to live in, then an incinerator makes perfect sense. It deals with a short-term problem. Creates some jobs in the short-term. Contributes a little to economic growth.

With a positive vision, a future where businesses and people work together in harmony to create a world where many of our energy needs are met through renewables, then the Ovesco project makes perfect sense. It allows us to experiment and learn – about renewables and how to work together as a community.

This suggests some questions: Do I need a vision? Can I choose a vision? And what should I choose: a negative or a positive vision?

Part of our nature as humans means that many of us are very present-focussed and are pretty unconcerned about the future. That is great in many ways – after all pleasure and happiness all occur in the present – not in the future.

But if we have no vision, I believe things may just happen to us, and we may miss an opportunity to influence them.

If we allow ourselves a negative vision, we create the conditions for that negative world to come about. That kind of view leads to acquiescence and a lack of action. And then we may just find ourselves getting something we don’t really want, deep down.

And, by contrast, if we learn to cultivate a positive vision perhaps we’ll start taking steps to bring it about.

By “cultivate” I really mean “learn to look”. As Shakespeare wrote, the world “is neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so”. If we look carefully, consciously, we can see signs that indicate where things are heading. By selecting those that seem positive to us, and acting on them – finding allies, and taking simple, practical steps – I believe we can draw that world closer, and make it more likely to come about.

That, for me, is progress.


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Right or wrong?

I listened to an interesting talk by Paul Gilding at the RSA yesterday.

I often become defensive when I hear people strongly assert their views, so I liked it when later in the talk he disarmingly admits that actually he may be wrong. In fact, he says he’d be happy to be wrong.

I like that, because how can anybody know the future? The future hasn’t happened yet. And even if it is in some way pre-ordained, personally, I don’t believe it can be accurately predicted.

Gilding’s talk is based on his book, the Great Disruption. The message as I understand it is that the world is already at one and half times its carrying capacity. Our success means that what we consume already outstrips our planet’s ability to provide it, and we are only surviving because we are burning up our capital.

Anyone who has ever been involved in running a business understands how easy it is to burn through capital once expenditure exceeds income.

Economic and corporate growth have, so far, been mankind’s great, and only, solution to the problem of human development: so far defined as giving more people ever better standards of living.

The problem we now face is that the ratio of use compared to carrying capacity is going to grow rapidly as we apply that solution to the poorer people in the world. And from a humanitarian point of view, as well as politically, we just can’t avoid doing that.

Once we get to a point where the majority of the world’s population – already nearly 7 billion – has a reasonable standard of living, we will be at a much, much worse ratio. Somewhere around 3, 4 or even 5 times carrying capacity within the next 30 years or so.

So, according to Gilding, this is the end of our existing economic system – the one based on growth. That doesn’t mean it will be curtailed, or slowed down, or whatever; it simply means it won’t work. And it will end long before we reach 3, or 4, or 5 times carrying capacity.

Practically, and in the relatively short-term, food and oil prices will again rise dramatically – as our global oil and food production systems reach their natural limits. Political instability, oil and food prices, and climate are all inextricably linked: so we can expect even more unpredictable results. We’ve already seen the first signs of this: the need for a global financial bailout and even the recent Arab spring.

But “Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts”. There is no “global government” that can throw additional resources at the problem. So whatever happens precisely, growth will stop. Clearly, an economic system based on growth doesn’t work when growth has stopped. And this will happen well before we reach the higher end of those use-to-capacity ratios.

Again, according to Gilding, fiddling around with population won’t help. Even if we could stop population growth today this ratio of use compared to carrying capacity will still grow massively as the standard of living of people already born rises.

Might technological advance, and, for example, limitless energy solve the problem? Possibly, but not for the next twenty years or so. We’re just not there yet technologically. Gilding’s prediction is that the current economic system will reach its limits well before we find technological solutions.

So, not a pretty vision. But ultimately he is mainly optimistic. For two main reasons.

Firstly, he believes that once we eventually notice that we are being boiled alive (like Charles Handy’s frog), then we will band together and deal with the crisis well.

Humanity, he says, is excellent at dealing with crises. It may be painful but we will do whatever it takes to solve the problems we have. A spirit similar to that of the second world war will emerge – community and mutual support will strengthen, and with a bit of luck we’ll get though it. Perhaps not as individuals. But at least as the human race.

And the other reason for hope is that as the current economic system collapses we’ll replace it with a much better one. A steady state economy which while it reduces that use/carrying capacity ratio to a sustainable level also has the huge benefit that it supports a much more holistic definition of wealth – where happiness, relationships, community, and mental and physical health sit alongside sufficient material prosperity.

All of the above is based on research done by some respected bodies and groups (such as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the Global Footprint Network). I suppose there’s always a question with this kind of thing: who do I, as a relatively uninformed citizen, trust?

Personally, what worries me about some economists is that they seem locked in to a paradigmatic view of the world which assumes growth is the only model. Where many environmental scientists, perhaps because of their more systemic world view, seem to be prepared to challenge their own assumptions. Perhaps.

But does it really matter if Gilding is right or wrong? If I am right or wrong? Or if anyone is right or wrong about this kind of thing?

In one sense yes. Gilding downplays the terrible human consequences if he does turn out to be right.

But in another sense perhaps not. Not in the sense of what we should be doing about it.

What does it mean for Conscious Business if he is right?

Well, for me, it means that Conscious Business is an excellent idea – because anything that prepares people for a world where happiness, relationships, mental and physical health sit alongside sufficient material prosperity is a good thing. Making the transition to that world easier seems, to me, a good and useful thing to do.

And what does it mean for Conscious Business if he is wrong?

Well, for me, it means that Conscious Business is an excellent idea – for exactly the same reasons. Creating that kind of world is a good thing in its own right, for all of us.

So take your pick: right or wrong? And then get on with becoming more conscious, and bringing more consciousness into your business.


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How to become the home of smartphones (or anything else)

Someone from a large mobile phone company asked the following question the other day: “What would make Vodafone the home of smartphones?” It’s a question I hear pretty often – I heard it as: “how do we become leaders in such-and-such new technology”?

I posted this reply. I thought you might enjoy it:

Hi Tom, here’s an answer:

Step 1 – Radically redefine the purpose of your company. Maximising stake-holder value is never going to work – because it will never inspire the company’s employees. And to become a leader a company has to have inspired employees. Replace that purpose with another one – to serve your customers and increase the well-being of the employees.

[I used the words stakeholder-value and then half-regretted it. I really meant shareholder-value, because “stakeholders” often will already include customers and staff. I only half-regret it though because I also think that stakeholder-value is often really code for shareholder-value. What is needed is a real re-think of purpose and a change of emphasis – not just fancy word-smithing.]

Step 2 – Change the way the company is structured. Employees will never be happy or inspired in a workplace where a few people at the top wield all the power and earn 20 times more than the customer-facing employees.

In the old days power was concentrated in the hands of the unions and the “bosses”. Nowadays it’s usually just the “bosses”.

Employees, like all of us, need fairness, transparency and a sense of being able to make a difference through what they do. They need to feel they have a fair share of the power.

Step 3 – Change the focus of the company so that it is focussed on what customers want, not what shareholders, or even just the employees, want.

You’re looking for a win-win – a solution where customers get what they want, and employees get what they want – but more as a by-product of pleasing customers.

To find this everyone in the company needs to learn new skills – to learn how to talk to customers in new ways, to really listen and understand them.

Then, having understood what customers want, change the company so that it gives customers what they want.

Customers, for example, don’t want to be shuffled around from department to department. They want to speak to someone who is knowledgeable and can help them with all the problems they may have: billing, contracts, hardware, software, network issues and so on.

This may require reorganising into different groups that stick with clients for a long-time. Customers want personal and meaningful relationships – not call-centre queues.

Giving clients what they want isn’t rocket-science. Once you realise that what they want isn’t rocket-science either. Customers want what all human beings want: respect, honesty, trusting relationships and so on.

This approach will, I believe, lead to leadership and success for your company – in smart phones and anything else you turn your hands to. Customers will become happier and more loyal, revenues and profitability will rise, the company will be able to pay everyone better, and train and support everyone better.

Is this vision hopelessly naïve? Well, there are companies out there doing this already if you look, which suggests that even if I am assuming things can get better, I am not the only one; there are others out there who believe it and are proving it every day.

The biggest problem that these successful progressive companies seem to have is being killed off by their success. They get good at all of the above, and other bigger companies buy them and destroy them and their culture.

So if you embark on this journey a fourth step (or maybe it should be step zero) is to choose a set of managers who really buy into all this and won’t sell you down the river later on. I’d recommend exploring employee share ownership as a way of ensuring you can hang on to your rights.

And, finally, what do you do if you are the single employee in a corporation of a hundred thousand who reads this and believes it? How on earth can you start to make this happen, alone?

The answer is simple actually: start with you.

Firstly, think or feel your way into this stuff – is it better than what you have right now?

Secondly, if so, decide to make it happen. Commit to not giving up at the first hurdle.

Thirdly, seek allies – in your company or else where. Use social networks – that’s what they’re for.

Fourthly, learn those new skills of communication and start doing the customer service bit with your existing customers. This will prove to the cynics and skeptics that this can work. That customer happiness and loyalty rise.

By the way, this probably won’t lead immediately to better profitability because your company structure may still be wrong – remember all those powerful, top-level high-earning employees for example?

Fifthly, keep going, just for the hell of it. Keep flexible, adapt when you need to.

At the very least, you can trust that this approach will:

  • make you happier
  • earn you allies
  • build your reputation

It may attract better offers and opportunities.

And remember that this is an unstoppable trend anyway. Wherever you look you’ll see these kinds of changes taking place as our economies mature. As this trend rolls out, you’ll be caught up in it anyway.

So why not take the first step yourself?