Conscious-Business.org.uk

A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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Enough is enough

I came across a really neat little report today – “Enough is Enough” – that summarises in just ten pages the reasons why we need a steady state economy, and what we need to do to get started on creating such a thing.

It was produced by two British non-profit organisations: CASSE and Economic Justice for All, and is based on work at the first Steady State Economy Conference held in June last year.

The ten straightforward proposals seem very much aligned with what we are trying to do with Conscious Business. In fact, so much so, that I have added links to relevant past posts in the list below. The ten proposals include:

  • stabilising population – sensible in a finite world, but what a challenge to achieve and maintain this;
  • reforming the monetary system – if you thought stabilising population was difficult, imagine successfully reforming banks, bankers and all that;
  • changing the way we measure progress – something so deeply entrenched in establishment thinking, and in the education system itself;
  • improving global co-operation – vital to balance the needs of countries where growth is necessary with developed countries like ours, but an immense political challenge;
  • engaging politicians and the media – another daunting task; but there are always early adopters in these groups.

And five in particular standout as of specific relevance to business:

  • limiting resource use and waste production – this, to me, is the only sensible route in a finite world, and business as a huge user of resources and producer of waste clearly has an enormous role to play in this;
  • limiting inequality – lots of practical things we can do here and are already exploring – like limiting the gap between the highest and lowest paid; and introducing new models of business ownership;
  • securing full employment – this requires a change in the way we think about employment – for example, to allow us to reduce the working week. I have written before about the real, underlying challenges of this;
  • changing consumer behaviour – we have the technology, and probably the know-how; but do we, collectively, have the will: this means, ultimately, changing ourselves?
  • rethinking business and production – the key here for me is changing the primary goal of business towards developing the people in the business – helping them become more conscious and happier.

All of these things are difficult individually. And overall the list of 10 priorities can make the whole exercise seem overwhelmingly hard. But two things strike me:

  1. We are already some way down the track on many of these things. I know more about the business elements than the others but I know we have been experimenting – going around the loop of failure and success – for many years. Conscious Business itself is already a broad and growing church.
  2. What an exciting and amazing overall goal? A true Big Hairy Audacious Goal – something stimulating and exciting for a whole new generation of younger business people. Young people who in many cases aren’t held back by the attitudes and outlook of their older colleagues. People who are happy to shake up the status quo and challenge “Establishment” thinking.
Game on!


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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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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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Stop working, stop spending and start living

I read a chapter by Tom Hodgkinson in “Do good lives have to cost the earth” last night. He wrote one of my favourite books of the last few years – “How to be idle.” His article is a variation on that theme – ending with the suggestion that in order to save the planet we should “stop working, stop spending and start living.”

I have huge sympathy with this idea and in our own small way I think this is what my wife and I have been trying to do for some years. I try to work as little as possible (although I fail lots of the time), and we have also down-shifted quite a bit.

Making this step is about attitude as much as anything else. And often my attitude is less than the best. I am still plagued by the same socially driven desires as most other people (Hodgkinson is clearly a saint). Security drives me, sometimes status drives me, and the desire for the easy, perfect, TV-like-life drives me.

But I agree with Hodgkinson, it’s worth the effort. Maybe I am getting better at it too. There really is more life with less spending and less work.

But what does that mean for businesses? Hodgkinson rails at business because he believes the whole system depends on greed. That 0 percent growth means death to business. And that “business” therefore drives us to work and spend.

I think he is talking about big business. I don’t see why small business (and he is the owner and operator of a couple of small businesses: publishing a magazine, writing books) has to be just about growth in terms of scale. It’s also about growing in strength. Perhaps it is easier to grow your small business if the economy is booming. But I don’t see why it has to be that way.

For example, a small business can get stronger by changing from a dependence on one large account to a larger number of smaller accounts. The latter business is stronger and more resilient. But its income (and profitability) may not change at all.

A small company can get stronger when one of the team learns some new sales skills. And then finds it easier and simpler to close a piece of business – using less time and less effort. If that sales person spends more time playing and doing nothing (and definitely not shopping) revenue won’t rise. The company won’t grow in conventional terms. But it is stronger and more resilient. So it has grown in that sense – like a piece of bamboo.