Conscious-Business.org.uk

A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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A great challenger

Some friends dropped in yesterday and put me in mind of Edward Tufte, the great information designer.

For me, he’s a great example of a challenger. I love his image of Stalin presenting to the troops using PowerPoint, strikingly satirizing the totalitarian impact of the software.

And his suggestion that PowerPoint was implicated in the fatal decisions about the Columbia space shuttle can’t have been easy. As he points out “the Columbia Accident Investigation Board found that the distinctive cognitive style of PowerPoint reinforced the hierarchical filtering and biases of the NASA bureacracy”.

Of couse, the CAIB itself  agreed: “as information gets passed up an organization hierarchy, from people who do analysis to mid-level managers to high-level leadership, key explanations and supporting information are filtered out. In this context, it is easy to understand how a senior manager might read this PowerPoint slide and not realize that it addresses a life-threatening situation.”

But I still think it was a brave thing to do – it’s not easy to go against the tide. And yes PowerPoint is still widely used, even worshipped in government and banks (sorry I meant business circles) alike. Are our choices of communication tools another thing that contributes to our seeming ability to fool ourselves about very serious matters?

By the way, Tufte’s wonderful books seem now to be  available at very much more affordable prices. Go get ’em.


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New Year Non-Goals

I cheerfully said to the wife this morning “maybe we should set some goals for the year ahead”. After having narrowly avoided a flying saucepan, we then explored our general level of exhaustion, and agreed that our main goal for the year is to have fewer goals.

The trouble with goals, in my opinion, is that they do generate an awful lot of doing. Doing brings more doing (and more stuff as a by-product). Yes, I know there’s all that research about graduates who write down their goals earning more money in later years. But so what? Does it mean they contributed more than the ones who didn’t write down their goals? And does it make them any better people?

By contrast not setting any goals allows you to … just practice being a more pleasant person. That seems a pretty good goal in itself and a lot more relaxing than all those more difficult goals. As someone who loves a bit of peace and quiet it sounds a lot better to me.

But what would not setting any goals look like in a business? Businesses always seem to have goals or milestones or objectives or some such thing. Financial goals, people goals, quality goals … and so on.

If your business didn’t have any goals … could it just practice being a more pleasant business? What would that involve? And would that be a good strategy in these recessionary times?

Well, it might mean you could:

  • Slow down a bit and listen a bit more – to customers, suppliers,and the team.
  • Ensure the team speak quietly and respectfully with customers, suppliers, and each other.
  • Be respectful of everyone – even the government – and start by assuming everyone is trying to help not hinder.
  • Tell the truth more often (in all your marketing material and all your interactions).
  • Cultivate good operational habits (and get rid of any bad ones).
  • Change your habits every now and then.
  • Honour all agreements and always be fair (even if you have to lose people).
  • Keep learning.
  • Do your bit to minimise your company’s impact on the planet.
  • Tidy up around the place – including your finances.

I don’t know whether this strategy will work particularly well in recessionary times. But I do think it’s a good strategy at any time. It’ll make you friends, repair and strengthen relationships, and keep you out of trouble.

Sounds good to me.

Here’s wishing you a successful 2009.

PS I nicked some of the ideas for this list from the Pleasant Person Act in Richard Carson’s excellent Taming Your Gremlin.


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Relocalisation

At this time of year I guess we are all thinking about hearth and home. But a conversation with one of the founders of Gossypium, a great little business that started here in Lewes in 2001, got me thinking about the reality of building a sustainable business locally.

Gossypium sells organic and Fairtrade certified cotton, sourced directly from independent farmers in India. This is worthy in itself. But I think one of the things  the company has done really well is embed itself in the community.

This isn’t done in a forced way, but simply and authentically. For example, the company supports local initiatives. It’s open to suggestions by local people for local campaigns that matter. It contributes to these campaigns and joins in – both the owners and the team. Generally, and wherever it can, it does the “right thing”.

I think this, and the fact that the business started here, has led to a growing belief that Gossypium “belongs” to Lewes. Gossypium is a business that people who live here seem almost proud of.

I know my wife and I have chosen to shop there this year, and lots of other local people do. It’s probably not the cheapest place in the world. But there’s something special about buying things from a place you know is involved in and supportive of your community.

And the owner told me that this support has really benefited the company, financially as well as in other ways, and she believes it will continue to do so.

Perhaps this is the kind of thing the writers of the Cluetrain Manifesto had in mind. The Manifesto is 10 years old this year. As you may know, the Manifesto sees markets as conversations. And it stresses the importance of talking with a human voice. Principles 34 through 40 are:

  • To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.
  • But first, they must belong to a community.
  • Companies must ask themselves where their corporate cultures end.
  • If their cultures end before the community begins, they will have no market.
  • Human communities are based on discourse — on human speech about human concerns.
  • The community of discourse is the market.
  • Companies that do not belong to a community of discourse will die.

It’s easy to critique the Cluetrain idea. But, for me, the point about community is essentially true.

Happy New Year.


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Business as war?

I just read this wonderful statement by Sam Keen about questions – “Your question is the quest you’re on. No questions — no journey. Timid questions — timid trips. Radical questions — an expedition to the root of your being. Bon voyage.”

That touches me deeply. Asking really good questions is very dear to me.

I looked Sam Keen up because I came across another quote from him “Business is just warfare in slow motion.” What an abomination. I was shocked to read this. But an abomination that I guess that many people, including myself, sign up to. Not always, and perhaps not consciously. But sometimes I do think in terms of “the competition”. How can we beat them? How can we outwit them?

Even if I am not the most outwardly agressive person, I admit I do sometimes think of business as war. Or at the very least, as a zero-sum game – where there must be a winner and a loser. I start to believe there isn’t enough to go around. I belittle and blame others for their own suffering – it must be their own fault they’re unable to find their way out of whatever problems they face. And, if I look inwardly, I am shocked to discover a core belief that others are somehow separate from me, disconnected, that we are not all part of a whole.

As Keen says elsewhere “we have to stop pretending that we can make a living at something that is trivial or destructive and still have sense of legitimate self-worth”. Destructive livings are bad for self-worth; they’re also bad for the world.

So what’s the alternative? There is a new world out there. It’s coming soon. A world where a different type of business exists. A world where co-operation and the win-win game are the only game in town. Where we all recognise that we are all connected, that we all share this one world.

How does business operate in that new world? For me, it’s beyond democracy. It’s even beyond caring. It’s about giving. And business is just a framework, a way of working, that gives real results to the people it serves. All of us.