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Embodied Conscious Business

What is the relationship between the body and value-led business? Why will the next generation of business work, not just cognitively but “below the tie”? How can increased body-awareness and self-management transform business practice, ethics and effectiveness? This is a guest blog post on the relationship between embodiment and conscious business, written by Mark Walsh of business training providers Integration Training (see fuller profile below).

In describing the two-way relationship between these fresh fields it pays to start with some working definitions. Conscious business is the idea that making money is not incompatible with doing good – looking after “people and planet” as well as profit and having a “values-led” or “multiple-bottom-line” approach. One might add that enjoyment and even personal growth through business is a part of this broad and not easily defined field.

Embodiment is a concern with the body as not just a piece of meat that carries our head around but as an integral aspect of ourselves. The field concerns the living subjective experience of having a body and has applications in the business world to such areas as leadership, stress management and team development.

Embodiment includes a concern for basic physical health and goes way beyond this into areas such as impact and presence, communication, emotional intelligence (a sub-set of embodied intelligence), bodily intuition and state management such as centring. Embodiment is not about athleticism but on being present to and as the body, so requires mindfulness and is about making full use of the body’s inherent capacities which industrial culture and business has largely ignored.

I have observed that doing embodied practices with business leaders increases their “circle of concern” and develops their interest in values other than money. Also that those emerging as conscious capitalists tend to become interested in embodiment. My conclusion is that causation works both ways. This makes sense given what is known about adult development which indicates that the post-modern value-set emerging in business is feeling orientated and therefore embodied.

This cultural shift in response to several hundred years of disembodied “hyper-rational” Western culture first emerged strongly in counter-culture in the sixties and has now worked its way into business, particularly in sectors such as high-tech industries which are not held-back by stagnant traditions. See, for example, the humanistic feel, and emphasis on well-being and personal sustainability in many Silicon Valley companies.

The move towards both (re)embodiment and conscious business may start with a vague sense that health is important and a company gym or similar may be needed so that employees are productive and don’t die of heart attacks. Emotions (note that the word “feeling” points to their physical nature – emotions are embodied) reemerge as aids to productive leadership and communication.

Both subjects of this post owe a debt of thanks to Daniel Goleman for legitimising being a human being at work again. EI and similar notions have provided a bridge to allowing first more effective and satisfying leadership and well-being, and then to the full embodied and spiritual aspects of being a person from nine-to-five. We are embodied, emotional values-led creatures and it pays to take account of that after all!

So ethics and the more developed perspective of conscious business have a physical foundation. Morality is as much bodily as it is rational – note that people tend to say “this FEELS” wrong, for example. And empathy is again largely bodily (feeling for others). Other capacities that remerge with embodiment are intuition (“gut” feeling) and creativity (all thinking, in fact, has been shown by embodied cognition research to be a full-body experience), giving embodied conscious businesses a competitive edge.

As the business paradigm shifts from organisation and body as machine, to organisation as living system, and body as core aspect of self, a new world of possibility emerges. What was once tolerable when one was disassociated from one’s natural empathic bodily response to suffering, ugliness and stupidity, becomes something in dire need of change.

Going beyond physical, emotional and ethical numbness business can be done in an entirely better way – in both senses of the word. A new generation are starting social enterprises and others are transforming big business from the inside. When we feel our bodies, a business that does not support us, others and our deepest values becomes an unattractive choice; and business that does will get the best and brightest. The soul of business is coming back embodied; conscious business is not just a theory: it is flesh and blood.

Mark Walsh leads business training providers Integration Training – based in Brighton, London and Birmingham UK. Specialising in working with emotions, the body and spirituality at work they help organisations get more done without going insane (time and stress management), coordinate action more effectively (team building and communication training) and help leaders build impact, influence and presence (leadership training). Clients include Virgin Atlantic, The Sierra Leonian Army and the University of Sussex. In his spare time Mark dances, meditates, practices aikido and enjoys being exploited by his niece and a mad cat. His life ambition is to make it normal to be a human being at work.


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Conscious Business – A Strategy

I have lost count now of the number of times I have been asked what Conscious Business is.

And I have also lost count of the numerous ways I have explained it.

I suppose it is a bit like trying to describe a mountain. It all depends which face you climb. Or whether you are interested in geology and what’s underneath it.

But here’s one more go. An attempt to boil it down to something people can take away and use.

Conscious business is a strategy – for personal, business, and ‘planet-wide’ use.

As with all strategies we tend to be interested in the outcomes it produces. Are they good, bad or indifferent?

I think it’s a good strategy for personal use because it produces good outcomes:

  • it is more enjoyable – being based on authenticity and congruence;
  • it is more fulfilling – leading to better, more stimulating, and richer relationships;
  • it feels better – moment by moment, it leads away from disquiet towards more energy and peace.

It’s a good strategy for business because it produces good outcomes:

  • better short-term profits – through differentiation, reduced costs, more creativity and innovation;
  • better medium-term profits – through increased customer loyalty and lower staff turnover;
  • better long-term profits – through more resilience and flexibility in the face of market upheaval and change.

And it is a good strategy for the planet because it produces good outcomes:

  • it naturally leads to the creation of products and services that are less harmful and more beneficial;
  • it is more aligned with our deeper collective needs as humans – to collaborate, to support each other, and evolve in a positive direction;
  • it builds value for everybody, including future generations.

That’s it.


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More idle than ever?

I have long been a fan of How to be Idle, Tom Hodgkinson’s essential guide to how to invest your time better. In line with recent psychological ideas, and with common wisdom, he suggests that there are better ways to spend one’s life than queuing in the supermarket for goods you don’t want, and spending the rest of your life working your socks off to pay for this nonsense.

So I was pleased when my colleague Will pointed me to this talk on NEF’s policy idea of a 21 hour working week – as the “norm” (instead of whatever it is today).

You can listen to the debate online and read the paper here (writte by Anna Coote, Andrew Simms and Jane Franklin) so I won’t bother to repeat all that.

But what struck me, from the point of view of doing business more consciously, is what might stop us making this move. I can listen to all the rational arguments, and come to the conclusion that working hours are not fixed, and probably are declining in any case in some parts of the world. And that a 21 hour norm is probably a good idea.

But at a more personal level, what would stop me actually making the change? The authors of the paper said, I think, that many people wondered how they would pay the mortgage, or the bills, or whatever? I think even that is fairly easily answered for many: add more value in less time. Ricardo Semler’s “Seven-Day Weekend” describes one way to do this – and what happens if you make a success of it.

But maybe this response also masks a deeper, more complex issue? Just why do so many highly intelligent, articulate and capable people spend so much time “working” – in whatever form – making money, doing charity work, running errands, or even doing crosswords or the gardening?

Is it possible that most of us find it incredibly hard to sit and be still? To do nothing?

And is that perhaps because doing nothing inevitably leads us to experience whatever there is to experience – externally and internally?

And that trained as we are – to keep busy, to detach from our feelings, to focus on achieving the perfect end-state – we can safely avoid just this experience. Of powerful emotion. Of being in process. Of really being alive?

The Sandpit by Sam O’Hare.

That’s what it seems like to me sometimes. I’d welcome your comments.


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Navigating through difficult times

In difficult times, as in good times, I think it’s important to focus on the basics. Perhaps more so.

What are the essentials for a sustainable business? I can feel a list coming on.

Firstly, be agreed on what you are trying to achieve. Knowing this can get you through the toughest times.

Secondly, believe in profit. I know this is a little controversial. Some will say it is obvious. Others will not like the idea of profit as essential.

Profit is such a emotional topic, although mostly we don’t admit that. For many it has a bad name. And on the other extreme, even those who seek it above all else might be feeling a little guilty about it now.

But for a business to be sustained, whether it has a social or a purely economic goal, profit is needed. Profit builds reserves. When reinvested it creates strength – primarily through skills and knowledge. Excess profit can be harmful. But reasonable profit, reinvested, is essential.

Beliefs about profit are often so deeply held they’re hard to shift. But unless everyone in your company shares a positive view of reasonable profit, then you really do have difficulties if you want your business to survive and meet its mission.

Thirdly, everyone involved has to have a can do/will do attitude. It’s easier to believe that if things get hard we can give up. But to succeed we have to believe there is a way to get through – even in the hardest times. And we have to believe that we, and we alone, control our progress.

This is somewhat related to understanding that fear is normal. Fear of meeting people. Fear of doing new things. Fear of failure. And most of all fear of change. Know that fear is normal, and you are part way to overcoming it. If you know it and admit it, then you can ask for help, as just one example.

Being open to learning more generally – not being afraid to look a fool, and being unafraid to duck difficult things – is part of the same skill.

I believe even the strongest among us are afraid of change. We all fear the new and unfamiliar. Some like to change the world; but few are brave enough to change themselves.

But in an ever-changing world, what could be a more essential attribute for a sustainable company or an individual?

Fourthly, do the right thing. This doesn’t mean moralising. It’s more of a felt sense. For me, it mainly means overcoming fear so you can move towards a bigger goal. It’s about knowing what that bigger goal is. And sometimes taking the time to check the goal, so that it doesn’t get too big for its boots.

It also means a sense of proportion in other ways. For most of us in the developed world, it means remembering how lucky we are even when things look bad. Most of our lives contain many good things. Remembering to be grateful for them helps keep everything in balance.

Fifthly, do what you say you will, most of the time. Avoid promising to others; but if you make promises to yourself, then keep them. It’s all too easy in times of uncertainty to let a fog settle over us. And that fog provides the perfect shield to hide away, to let things slip, to quietly drop promises – even the most important ones.

Holding on to and reinvigorating your vision is one way to dispel that fog. Another is simply not to let yourself or others off the hook.

One way we let ourselves off the hook is by failing to “bottom-out” things. To me, this means starting a conversation, but when it gets a little hard, giving up. It means failing to push through the mental pain barrier to get at the roots of a problem.

The antidote might be stopping and declaring a time-out, and admitting one is lost. With no idea which way to go.

Being right, knowledgeable and on the ball is so important to most of us that sometimes we’d rather let confusion reign than admit we are lost.

But if you are wandering around in a mist, you are unlikely to get out of it by just wandering around. You need to get a grip. Work out what you know and what you don’t. Assess your resources. Form a plan. And then move steadily forward.

Another way of saying this? Tell the truth. Not just any old truth. But THE truth. The truth that is true for you right now.

However hard that may be.