A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


So what's it all for?

I heard someone ask me today what all this conscious business stuff is about. So here goes.

Business is great. It’s a very powerful force. It’s great at harnessing creativity and innovation, but mainly it’s good at getting things done. While governments and non-governmental agencies alike plan and develop policy, business has usually finished the first activity and is on to the next one.

And we are in a hurry. We have a lot of problems in the world. Poverty. Hunger. Disease. Climate change. Loss of bio-diversity. Desertification. War. Nuclear proliferation.

All of these threats are coming closer. And many are getting worse as, for example, population grows.

Business can’t solve all those problems but it can contribute to solutions for many. Especially when we need new, radical solutions that haven’t been tried before, the unique structure of business allows their creation and rapid deployment on a large scale.

Even small business can seed changes elsewhere, by setting an example or by being a catalyst.

The problem with business is that for too long the people running it have had the wrong goals. If your goal is financial, and you work at it hard enough, and diligently enough, you are likely to achieve a financial goal. While neglecting other more useful goals – such as addressing the threats listed above.

So, the question is: “How do we get at least some of the people running business to adopt other, more beneficial goals?”

Forcing them won’t work. These are very independent-minded people.

Luckily, however,  I believe people evolved with a set of values that are constructive not destructive. The natural state for people is to select goals that will put back good things into the world, for all of humanity.

All that has to happen is for us all to become more conscious.

More conscious of more than just our material drives – in fact, conscious of what drives us mind, body and soul. As we become more conscious of our deeper values, then we will start to work towards them.

More conscious of our individual contribution to the results we create.

Many of us don’t believe that we have much influence on what happens in the world. So then it’s rational to let it just go to hell. But we all do have that influence, and once we realise that then the sky’s the limit.

Many of us believe that others need to be told what to do. And we don’t understand that this approach itself creates unsustainable solutions. Nothing that is enforced will last. The only things that last are those that are created together by those who benefit.

And more conscious of what holds us back and limits our influence. Many of us are ‘hungry ghosts’ – we carry around past emotional pain that makes us greedy, envious, jealous, addicted, obsessed, and compulsive.

Becoming more conscious of this pain, while usually a painful process in itself, is a good way to reduce or even remove its power.

So, as we become more conscious, we do more of the right things, more often. And that’s what all of us need. Now in and in the future.

Simple as that really.


The elements of passion

A colleague, Mick Landmann, introduced me to the great Ken Robinson, a very funny speaker and holder of strong views on education. Last night, I watched him talk about his latest book, the Element, which is about the importance of having a passion for what you do in life.

If we follow our passions, Robinson argues, we are so much more motivated to do our work, are so much better at it, and we can achieve, much, much more.

He also made very clear the link between the problems we face in running up against resource constraints (land, water, oil etc) and the importance of following that passion. His suggestion is that for us, as a society, to find a way out of these problems it’s essential that all of us do what we are most passionate about.

The logic, I guess, is that these problems are so difficult that they require all of our individual and collective power to overcome them. Only by fully tapping into our passions can we access that power.

For me, this is where business comes in. I have been asking myself again recently, thanks to Simon Conroy, what business is. For me, business, when all is said and done, is a sandpit, a place to experiment, that allows people to be their best. To tap into that passion.

Sure, business can generate money. It provides employment. But much more importantly it clearly identifies problems and opportunities. Such problems, opportunities and the resulting solutions are meat and potatoes to someone with passion.

With passion people will work the long days, take the risks, and overcome the fears (facing conflict, for example) needed to solve the most difficult of problems, tackle the most inspiring of opportunities, and come up with the most creative solutions.

And through that work, become whatever they can become.

“Win-win” is a rather over-used term. But if at the same time as developing ourselves, we solve some of our hardest and most challenging problems, I can’t help thinking that is a real win-win.

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Change master

A wonderful post by the inestimable Rosabeth Moss Kanter – on the power of old ideas.

Suppressing ideas is an anathema to me. More examples immediately come to mind: of a hard disk manufacturer that had better technology but left it on the shelf while competitors with more open minds leapt ahead. Or of the Lego of old where according to Jake McKee all ideas became unwelcome.

We need ideas NOW like never before. Let’s not suppress them.

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News from the front-line

I rarely watch TV news. Actually I hardly follow the news at all. Once every couple of months I might pick up a paper (usually the FT because I like their style). Sometimes at the station with time to kill, I look at the newspaper headlines.

This is all because news depresses me. The endless negativity. The partisan nature of the analysis. The time it wastes. The way even sensible people are depicted as idiots – under the pressure of lights, time and deadlines, I’m sure it’s really hard to get a coherent and sane message out, let alone start a useful or enjoyable conversation, which I much prefer.

I studied the news. In fact, I wrote a dissertation about online news at the BBC. Actually, I confess, I worked for BBC News.

And overall I like the news journalists I have met. As a bunch they are bright (sometimes terribly bright), articulate, caring and funny people. I say caring because despite the bluster or detachment which they probably need to do the job, many, many are really caring individuals. I’m sure they care far more than me about global issues, politics, big business and all the really IMPORTANT things.

Things I grew up thinking were important anyway. Like many middle-class kids I was encouraged to read a newspaper. Although I never got beyond the little snippets in the inside pages – “thieves steal 1000 left-footed shoes”.

The major headlines: war, famine, earthquake, disaster – all these fascinated me in a way, but never really engaged me to do anything. Is that a terrible thing to say?

But when I watched the TV news (Channel 4) the other day, just to do something different, I really enjoyed it.

I was struck again by the sheer entertainment value of it. The great music. The amazing graphics. The tension. The suspense. The build-up. The baring of teeth. The bloody combat amongst the protagonists – “no holds barred”. The skill of the referee – goading and urging them on. The silky warm conclusion and the seductive invite to “join them again”.

And overall the absolute art of the piece – drawing me in, and pulling me to the front of my chair, hooking me in.

Like Damien Hirst’s work it may just be a cow cut in half. But, you’ve got to admit, it’s very well done.


New ways to consume

Another solution to over-consumption is simply that we stop consuming so fast! Slowing down makes a lot of sense to me, especially when it leads to a better experience as in the Slow Food movement. Yum.

And another is to create a rental business.

One example that has been around a really long time is video rental. Why does everyone have to buy a video, causing one to be manufactured, when a perfectly good business model exists for renting them? As we have seen the model does work well – it’s stood the test of time and evolved from shops into postal rental services like DvdsOnTap which became Lovefilm and so on. Maybe it will be replaced by electronic downloads, but so far I am surprised by how resilient the model seems. Maybe there’s more to these services than just selling the same physical item over and over again?

Another more recent example are the car clubs popping up everywhere (Streetcar, WhizzGo, CityCarClub to name just a few). It’s the same business model – buy one car and let many people use it.

I wonder what other goods could be provided in this way?

If you do go down this route, of course, differentiating yourself becomes more interesting. It has little to do with the product itself – differentiation comes from the way the service is offered. It’s good therefore to see more and more consultancies emerging specialising in this area – I came across the Engine Group just today.

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Close the loop

On Saturday I saw again the great little animated film The Story of Stuff – “a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns” according to the blurb.

One of the solutions proposed in the film is closed-loop manufacturing, an idea pioneered by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in the early 1990s. Essentially closed-loop manufacturing does what it says on the tin, and you can find out more about their version of it, “cradle-to-cradle” or C2C Design on their website.

Well worth a look.

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Big business or small?

I said earlier that I am primarily interested in small and medium-sized businesses and what they can do. Does that mean that I am against big business, by which I really mean trans-national and multi-national corporations?

Of course not. I think big business is far too wide a term to rail against indiscriminately. I think there are good big businesses and probably bad ones too (the film “the Corporation”, based on Joel Bakan’s book, is a great awakener). And plenty in between.

I do think big business is different from small business. It seems to me that small business often starts from a position of “giving”. Many small businesses are set up initially to give something to someone else.

Big businesses seem to me to be small businesses that have grown (!), and often, somewhere along the way, they have also forgotten this central purpose. There are exceptions of course, and indeed corporate venturing in spin-offs or small teams often seems to try to reinstil this purpose.

But in general, this idea of serving the customer, or society, does seem to get lost. I don’t whether it’s because the founders left and all that remains is an echo of the original vision. Or maybe the pressures of being big and having so many stakeholders are just too distracting.

But really that’s why I like small business and think it’s important. It doesn’t have the reach, of course. But its flexibility, energy, and creativity make it very important as we face the opportunitities of sustainability. We need to innovate not just around products or services, but also around business models, and indeed even around the very purpose of business.

This seems to me to be something that small and medium-sized businesses are very well positioned to do.