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Conscious Business Embodied – Part I

This post is by Mark Walsh of conscious business training providers Integration Training.

The world has a problem, business is psychopathic, and this is strongly related to how we relate to our bodies. This is a bold statement to open with so I’d better first clarify that I don’t mean that all business people are amoral axe-murderers – I am a business trainer myself and know many compassionate people working in the field – the problem is that work and “life”, including values and emotions, have been split.

Let’s take the fact that most businesses are essentially dictatorships, yet as a society we value democracy. That’s odd when you step back and think about it.

Or that many people feel that you should be a nice guy at home, but not take the very values that make them human to work as “it’s business”. “Businesslike” is now a synonym for disregarding emotions, relationships and the values that are at the core of our shared humanity.

“Work” is defined as that which is not fun, connecting or good.

Structurally, a limited notion of shareholder “value” (i.e. short-term profit for a few) means that businesses are required by law to behave amorally and in the US corporations are given the status of people to protect them from the interests of real humans. We work “for” a company but not for ourselves or for the world.

This is all a bit odd, and more than a bit terrible with personal stress and ill-health, damaged relationships and an increasingly unjust and environmentally damaged world being the result. From heart-attacks to global warming it is literally killing us.

Happily, there is a movement towards a more integrated world, where business is aligned with what people care about and has more than one bottom-line.

Emotional intelligence was one of the things that kick-started this, in my opinion.

Once it was realised that emotions are a critical part of management, three times more likely to predict career success than IQ (source: CIPD) they started to be taught in business. Mindfulness, systems theory and spiritual intelligence have all played their part and a new view of what work is emerging.

The “multiple bottom line” model where people, planet and profit are all considered of value is becoming popular in the conscious business or conscious capitalism movement.

There is no one definition of what conscious business is but it may involve a focus on higher purpose, considering stakeholders of all kinds, leadership and a culture of respectful and transparent communication.

Here’s a short video introduction to conscious and integral ways of doing business if you’re new to the concept. There are also conferences in the US and a meet-up in Brighton if you’re local.

To me, and borrowing from philosopher Ken Wilber, conscious business has an “I” (happiness and growth at work), “we” (good relationships) and “it” (it not only gets the job done, but gets it done better than unconscious – a.k.a. “stupid, effective and evil” business).

Personally, running a conscious business is about health and growth – my business is my main practice, having relationships that match my values and doing something effectively in the world. So I don’t go to work to make money, I make money to learn, have fun, connect and make the world a better place.

So, how does all this relate to the body? I’ll cover that in part II.

Mark Walsh leads conscious 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 Unilever, The Sierra Leonian Army and the University of Sussex.

He is the most followed trainer on Twitter and Youtube and has the Google no.2 ranked management training blog. Offline, Mark dances, meditates and practices martial arts.

His ambition is to help make it OK to be a human being at work.


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Manage yourself

Quora sent me a link to an interesting topic the other day: As first time entrepreneurs, what part of the process are people often completely blind to?

There are many good answers, but mine would be: Manage Yourself.

What I mean is look after yourself physically, mentally and emotionally.

I have seen entrepreneurs and other business people make themselves ill. And clearly if they are physically unfit, developing and growing a business becomes hard if not impossible.

I have seen entrepreneurs suffer much mental distress. They have made poor decisions, blamed other people, and failed to take the right action at the right time.

I have seen entrepreneurs stay unaware of their emotional selves. And in doing so they have often inadvertently pushed away those who would help them under other circumstances.

What’s more I have done all these things myself. And therefore I know that I was completely blind to these things at the time.

Hey ho. Onward and upward.


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Great leaders, great groups

A recent contact pointed me to a great little book on leadership by Steve Radcliffe.

It’s short, very clear, and very aligned with the way I understand leadership. I have written before about the need for us all to lead, but I only wish I could put it across so succinctly.

Of course, it’s only a book, and can’t really give a full sense of what it is like to live in a real life, or in a real group situation. But the central tenet – that we benefit by becoming more conscious of how we behave, what we think, and what we assume – is very dear to my heart.

The book also suggests this idea can be carried into teams, and again I completely agree. But borrowing from the great Ed Schein, I think there are even more fundamental things we need to build into our groups and teams, namely an understanding of:

  • Who am I? What is my role to be?
  • How much control/influence will I have?
  • Will my needs/goals be met?
  • What will the levels of intimacy be?

These are really great ways to access the dynamic of a group. If you are in a group and answers to these questions aren’t clear, then I’d suggest asking again, and again, until they are.

But why doesn’t every group automatically provide good, believable answers to these questions?

I believe it does indeed relate to leadership. Personal leadership. The responsibility of each of us to manage ourselves, our own emotions, our own impact.

To my way of thinking group culture is no more than the sum of how all the people in a group lead. That aggregate is what creates a situation, or maintains one, where we do – or don’t – get answers to those questions.

It is, ultimately, how we all lead that makes the difference.


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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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Do less, do it differently

Can’t remember how I came across this piece in the Harvard Business Review magazine.

But whoever sent it my way: thank you. It reminded me why I struggle with the idea of “time management”.

It’s an interview with David Allen and Tony Schwartz. David offers the Getting Things Done approach, which I tried a while back but discarded. Tony runs the Energy Project which I have much more time for.

David seems to be all about lists and mental activity. While Tony’s approach is much more holistic – focusing on physical, emotional, mental and spiritual domains. That’s obviously more up my street.

David seems to be mainly interested in getting more done in the available time. Through lists.

My argument with that is that it seems to me that life is much more about what I do. Than doing more of it.

Tony seems to be at least partly interested in getting the right things done (a la Stephen Covey: “put your ladder up the right building”).

And he is spot on to focus on habits and breaking them, I think. (Take a look at the work of Ben Fletcher and Rilke’s Room if you want to know how to actually break some habits.)

My argument with Tony, if I had one, would be that, for me, life is more about how I do what I do. About the quality of my experience.

Why is everything about energy and productivity? Occasionally, isn’t simply enjoying life more important?

I suspect that both people are highly energetic, highly capable individuals. Maybe being energetic and productive is what they most value. Good for them. But we’re not all like that.

But thanks both, you’ve reminded me to take the day off. To be a bit more idle that I might have otherwise been. To enjoy the day a little more.

Maybe you’ll do the same. Or read more if you like:


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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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Go for it

Confidence, and self-confidence, are very important issues in the organisations where I work.

Lack of confidence can lead to all kinds of problems: sometimes it can freeze us  – we find ourselves completely unable to enter new territory. A simple example: having the confidence to sell a new type of product or service to a new type of client.

I think it was in a book by Jesper Juul that I first saw the distinction made between self-confidence and self-esteem.

Self-esteem, the way I read it, is about how I feel about myself, regardless of my skills or abilities.

Self-confidence, by contrast, relates to my view of my skills, my abilities, and my behaviours. If I think I am good at things I do – then I am self-confident.

Following this approach I can, if my self-esteem is good enough, feel good about myself even if I am demonstrably rubbish at something. And if I unfreeze and take the necessary steps, then I’ll learn and build the skills I need – growing my self-confidence.

Children, of course, learn new skills like sponges, and only at a certain age start to worry about their skills and abilities. By the time we are adults, many of us seem to be depending on our skills and abilities to maintain our self-esteem.

So that’s the theory. But how can I ‘operationalise’ this? (I love that word). What can I actually do that will help me become more fearless and act as if I have high self-esteem, even when I have zero self-confidence in a certain domain?

Three things come to mind:

  • Tell the truth. Maybe I am the only one, but a lot of my fears and worries are fears of being ‘found out’. Fear leads to inaction. Without action I cannot develop the self-confidence I need. So to avoid ever being put in a position where I will be ‘found out’ I find it useful to always tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

When I was younger, if someone said something I didn’t understand I might try to bluff my way through it. You can imagine the results. Anxiety and tension that only escalates as the situation gets more complicated because of my failure to understand a key point. Then scurrying away afterwards to research what I didn’t know.

A big waste of time. Today, if I don’t know I’ll say. That way I can put my energy into doing whatever I should be doing (like really listening) instead of wasting time watching my back.

  • Work as a team. Drop the commonly held expectation that you are somehow ‘serving’ the other person, in the sense of being inferior to them. I do believe in one sense that we always serve others. But often the worst way to serve another is to act as if they have some kind of hold over us and to pander to their demands.

Much better to treat other people as peers. The easiest way to do this is to change the language you use. If someone asks you a question, don’t always jump to answer it. Instead, use language that assumes you are working together in a team. Say “we”. Say “that’s an interesting question, I wonder what the answer is. Shall we work it out together?”

  • And finally, stay in the moment. Handle what’s in front of you “one step at a time”. Stop planning ahead. A year. A month. A day. Even a few minutes.

Instead, focus on your breath. On your body. Tap into your emotion. Feel the earth (the seat) beneath your feet (bottom). Look around. Listen carefully. Extremely carefully – to what is being said. And what your body is saying.

And respond to that, what ever it is. Don’t worry about what might happen – in the future. Bring your focus back to the present and respond to that. OK, so you don’t know the answer. What does that feel like? What’s happening to the other person? When you have an answer, respond. Take the next step.

Rinse and repeat.