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A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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Putting People at the Heart of Business

The other day I read a great paper by Chris Rodgers. The paper was written for the Centre for Progressive Leadership and was then submitted to the All-Party Parliamentary Group Management Commission on the future of management and leadership.

What I liked most was how the paper makes clear the difference between the dominant discourse about leadership/management in our society and alternative views.

As someone who has been trying to stand up for a somewhat alternative view – conscious business – for some time, I found this greatly steadying.

Just to summarise quickly, Chris’s view is that we are part of the conversations that surround us: when we say something, another person responds, and we respond in turn. What we say – and what we hear – depend on the context, and this context is constantly emerging as we speak.

Chris also points out that it is easy to forget we are immersed in this ‘system’. If we mentally step outside of it and start to talk about it as something we can mend or improve we may be deluding ourselves.

I took the title of the paper – “Taking organisational complexity seriously” – to mean that we need to ‘believe’ in complexity and all that goes with it. One of the things that comes with complexity is a need to give up the idea that we can control outcomes. Complexity comes with unpredictability.

Now that is very hard for many managers and leaders to hear, as I pointed out recently. We’re asking them to give up control.

And that is perhaps why this remains the dominant discourse about leadership in our society. Nearly everything is built on the very male idea of ‘power-over’, and this includes the idea that we ought to be able to fix or change a system, be it a business, or a society.

If this still seems unclear, please take the time to read Chris’s well reasoned and well referenced piece.

But there are three practical take-aways I would like to leave with you.

The first is that there are serious implications of not adopting this more ‘immersive’ approach to leadership.

As Chris points out – using the example of the Francis report into the Mid Staffs NHS scandal and the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards (and I’d add another: Leveson) – we end up blaming individuals, or disempowering them by demanding improved systems and processes to guide and control their every move.

But there’s a danger we do this every time something scandalous happens: we scapegoat people, and we demand better processes and procedures. And yet these scandals – banking, health, media, education etc – keep coming.

So maybe, instead, as Chris suggests, we should focus on the ‘dedication and commitment’ of the people that work in organisations and businesses and encourage them to use their natural (systems?) intelligence.

This is what I think conscious business is really about – it’s about putting people at the heart of business and trusting and allowing them to be their most creative, most innovative selves.

Secondly, Chris gives a great list of some of the implications for leadership practice. These include:

  • helping managers ‘see’ better
  • focusing on enabling, rather than directing or delegating
  • acting – some would say stumbling – into the future, rather than planning

He suggests we need to move

  • from controlling to contributing
  • from certainty to curiosity
  • from diagnosis to dialogue
  • from colluding to confronting

and so on.

And mostly we need to recognise that leadership is not an activity for elites, nor should they get all the kudos or blame. It is something we all do, all the time. At least every time we enter a conversation consciously.

These are all things we believe in and are exploring in the conscious business community in the UK. I think we’re ‘positive deviants’, taking an alternative position outside the mainstream discourse, with the intent to improve things. So if, as Chris suggests, we can find ways to form coalitions with others who share similar views we may be able to make more progress, more quickly.

And finally, I’d just like to add something else that came to mind when I read Chris’ paper.

There’s a lot to do, and a probably a lot of resistance to come before these ideas are more widely adopted. In business we’re taught to find benefits, and build a case for things. So would it help to further explore some of the benefits of adopting this kind of approach?

That is tricky because benefits are usually promised, and then delivered in the future. They’re also usually defined by those who write the stories. For example, business people are heroes when their story is being written as a success. And they can be criminals when it is written as a failure.

So if we are to know we are making progress, we probably need to focus not on some distant ‘output’ but on something tangible, something that is here right here, right now.

I’d suggest the major benefit of the kind of approach that Chris proposes is being ‘in it’ – building the relationships, building the coalitions, being a member of a community of people who are trying to do something useful. Learning to get along, learning to stay in the conversation, and perhaps even having fun along the way.

Hopefully, that is also what it means to be involved in some way in conscious business – immersed in the process of ‘putting people at the heart of business’.

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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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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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A Chance Meeting

He had an idea. He felt it was very exciting because it was different and could even be important. But he didn’t know what to do about it. He didn’t talk to other people about it because he had learned that when he told them about it, they saw little in it for themselves, but a lot in it for him.

Many of them just cut him down, directly or through faint praise, explaining how they could see that it wouldn’t work even if he couldn’t. That left him feeling silly.

Even worse were the few who saw his idea and encouraged him, but they were no closer to knowing what to do about it than he was, so that left him feeling bad too. Smart enough to think up something, but not smart enough to know what to do about it, huh?

One day, by chance, he found himself in the company of another man on a journey.

After a while, this man asked him what his interests were. He was too shy to give a truthful answer, muttering abstractions and generalities that didn’t mean much. Doing otherwise always ended badly.

But on this occasion the other man seemed able to read his hesitancy and be interested in what lay behind it. He gently persisted with his question as though he desired to learn something of his travelling companion. It was almost as if he was saying: ‘This is our opportunity. The Universe is large, but will still be richer for what we can make of this time. There is nothing to fear’.

Eventually he caved in. He told his companion his idea showing the excitement he felt as he talked about it. The companion listened intently then asked some questions to make sure he had understood what he had heard. Then he commented on how important and valuable the idea was, but agreed it was hard to see what to do.

They travelled in silence for a short distance then the other said: ‘You have been thinking about this for a long time. You must have ideas about how it can be done. I’d very much like to hear, if you are willing to reveal them.’

At this he became very nervous again because the words he had to speak sounded ridiculous from such as himself, who had never moved in the circles of making such lofty things happen. But again it was as if the other man ecould read this and gently drew him out.

And as the ideas poured out of him and were met with approval rather than ridicule, his confidence grew and he spoke with greater clarity and force. His companion grew more and more impressed and started to share the sense of excitement.

They were nearing their destination. The companion said: ‘You knew all the time how to proceed and now you have laid it out. I know people who would be pleased to support you. If you would allow it, tell me your name and I will arrange for them to contact you.’

He said: “They just call me EM”.

The companion said: “Doesn’t that mean Everyman in your language? It’s funny, that’s what they call me too. Lot of us about aren’t there?”


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Because we can

A really nice talk by Bruce Mau, of Bruce Mau Design, on society’s response to environmental degradation, and specifically what we should do about oil.

Maybe I only like it because he seems to agree with me – here’s a post I wrote a couple of years ago making much the same argument: we should build a more sustainable, a more beautiful world because we can.

And I especially like his idea of removing guilt and angst from the situation around oil.

But I guess I might not use the word “remove”. Accepting our guilt might be more powerful? After all guilt can be useful, if it galvanises us to more positive action.

I think Bruce understands this. He also suggests that another emotion, embarrassment, can drive us in a positive direction. We “should” be creating a better, and better designed, world because we “ought to be” embarrassed if we don’t.

Everything we do, we do for a feeling. Harnessing those feelings in a positive direction seems, to me, to be a perfectly rational thing to do.


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Let it be

In my working life I quite often hear people make a distinction between life-style and ‘growth’ businesses.

‘Growth’, at least from the entrepreneur’s point of view, really means exit.

The idea is to build fast and create a lot of value in the company – in the eyes of prospective purchasers – so that the business can be sold.

Naturally, this also creates a lot of uncertainty for employees, and other stakeholders. And often it creates a lot of uncertainty for the entrepreneur.

Maybe they sell. But then they have to endure an earn-out, and disrupted relationships with all those around them. And at the end – well, often they’re back at the beginning, needing to find the next opportunity to express whatever they feel the need to express.

So-called life-style businesses on the other hand provide the owners with a steady income over many years, provide steady employment and can lead to strong, resilient relationships with staff, customers and investors.

I guess this distinction can be a useful way of getting someone to think about their values: about what is important to them.

I nearly said goals, but goals as opposed to values are perhaps part of the problem.

“Growth” businesses are all about long-term goals. They’re about imagining a particular future (e.g. making a lot of money; lying on a beach) and working single-mindedly towards that goal. They’re sometimes about control: making sure that the actual future matches that imagined future.

Short-term goals can be useful, especially as a measurement tool. But long-term goals, don’t make as much sense, as I don’t think we can control our lives. Whatever we plan, something else will usually happen. We plan to lie on a beach and end up starting another business.

Ever so often, our lives evolve outside of our conscious control and something unexpected happens. Particularly over time, few of us can predict the detail of what will happen to us.

Of course, being the kind of creatures we are, we do make sense of it – after the event. We’re excellent at dreaming up good explanations. So we can very easily fool ourselves into thinking we are in control.

But if it’s an illusion, and we can’t control the future, what should we do? Well, I’d say relax and let the future come. It will.

And if that doesn’t satisfy the need to control the external world, what about transferring that need to your internal world?

Why not start with yourself? Try and understand yourself first, and if you wish, make a choice to be different, to be more conscious and self-aware.

Make a choice to communicate better/differently. Make a choice to build better relationships, ones that last and give you something that no amount of money can.

Make a choice to build a team around you that works in a very special way – a team that is supportive, creative, fun and challenging. And one that gets things done.

Make a choice to learn new business skills – and to learn about the world outside and explore what is really out there.

Do those things and let the rest happen. Life-style or growth. Whatever will be, will be.


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Following the crowd

Scott’s recent response to a post got me thinking about group conformity:

The first video:

Candid Camera (2 minutes 13 seconds)

The second is less Candid Camera and more Solomon Asch:

If successful business depends on difference, then learning the skills of iconoclasm to me seem essential. Just why do we conform? And how can we learn to be different?

The neuroscientist Gregory Bern’s book Iconoclast gives some great examples of iconoclasts at work (including Arthur Jones, developer of the Nautilus training machine. Perhaps an inspiration for Indiana Jones (?), his personal motto was “Younger women, faster airplanes and bigger crocodiles”.)

And Bern gives some pointers too on how to cultivate your difference. He suggests developing:

  • your perception
  • your courage
  • your social skills.

Ignoring his interesting appendix on how to manipulate your brain chemistry (!) to enhance these areas, the main initial driver for me is awareness of my own limited perceptions.

(Thanks Richard Wiseman/Quirkology).

But what works for you?