Conscious-Business.org.uk

A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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We’ve come a long way baby

In its short history, the human race has achieved some magnificent things. But together we’ve also created a host of complex, and very serious, social and environmental problems.

Of the three powerful forces in society – business, the public/charitable sector, and politics/religion/media – I believe it is only business which has the power and the flexibility to address these problems.

Power because of its reach – the ability to touch many lives, even from a small base.

Flexibility because only business seems to be currently capable of transforming itself – reinventing itself. Away from greed and personal profit and towards really addressing those broader, much more important problems. Above all, business listens, and people are crying out for change.

But change alone isn’t enough. Too often change just means small improvements to delivering the status quo. We need ‘step-change’ – real transformation. Transformation is beyond change – it means adopting a new purpose, and a completely new way of operating, with new energy.

I am reminded of the story of one visitor to Ray Anderson’s visionary company Interface. A fork-lift truck driver, working for a company that makes office carpets, after helping her all he can, tells the visitor he must get on, because he’s “busy saving the planet”.

That is the new kind of energy we need in business people. Energy released by belief in a new kind of purpose.

How do we get there? As the author Jeanette Winterson said in her New Year resolution: “It is important to work out what is important. Living consciously has never mattered more.”

Individually and collectively we need to raise our consciousness. To become part of the group who are trying to transform things, systemically, radically – at the root.

We need to become more aware of what matters, why it matters, and what we can do, and are doing, about it.

And often are not doing. We need to become aware of our habits and the other things that hold us back. Conscious of our failings, as well as our successes. That means internal, personal work. As much as putting our heads above the parapet.

There are many, many people on this journey. It is not my place to tell you what you should do. But I can tell you what we are doing.

We are building a business – Conscious Business People – that helps leaders discover a more important purpose, a transformational purpose for themselves and their businesses.

Then we help those leaders develop transformational strategy, structure and culture – to create businesses that are part of the solution. Businesses with positive purpose, and radically better behaviours, and much higher levels of awareness.

We help businesses and the people in them become more conscious, and stay that way.

Many will say this is foolhardy, it will never succeed. That mixing business with purpose is simply wrong and doomed to failure. But I think it’s the only game in town. The only game worth playing.

I’d love to know what you think, what you’re doing to “save the planet”.

Happy New Year.

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Relationships – how much do they really matter?

After reading the ‘Get Started’ page of this site I was struck by how much the point “providing a safe place for human development and growth” resonated with me.

It’s probably not surprising as I’ve spent the best part of my career in learning and development but what drew me in was the term ‘a safe place’ and I thought it would be interesting to explore this a little further.

I would argue that feeling safe is a fundamental condition for optimal learning and development as it allows individuals and teams to explore their potential and try different approaches without fear of reprisal.

One of the key roles for great mentors, coaches and teachers is to create a feeling of safety that allows others to step outside of their comfort zones and try something new in order to develop and grow.

Sometimes, I worry about the trend to continually justify and measure improvement at both the individual and organisational level as this measurement in itself can result in the safety net disappearing.

For example, I remember a French teacher from school who was a stern character and ruled her pupils through fear. At the beginning of each lesson she would pick on a student to stand up in front of the class and test them on the vocabulary homework she had set the week before. This fear of being publicly humiliated in front of your peers meant that most of the time we did our homework well and when it came to exam time she got her results with nearly all the class passing.

A good result you may think. But unfortunately I have spoken to my classmates over the years and she has left a dread for French in all of us and I don’t know of one of us that went on to study the subject at A level.

So, all in all, not much of a legacy for a teacher.

This memory, for me, reinforces the idea that building safe, trusting relationships is probably the most important part of encouraging development and leaving a great legacy for the future.

Claire is a learning and development professional and runs Hove-based Learning Consultancy Partnership.


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Taking charge

A recent news piece on BP’s behaviour in the Gulf of Mexico made me wonder about the use of the word ‘systemic’.

I know it’s probably not what was meant. But when I read this article, “systemic” started, to me, to sound like an excuse. A reason why BP and others didn’t do what they could have. Should have.

The first time I heard that word in relation to a disaster, or a scandal of some sort, it seemed to be properly used. Indicating that there are features of the system that make a problem likely to reoccur. That the problems are deeply entrenched in the design of the system, and that these conditions ensure that individuals often behave in certain ways. That we need to reform the system. Not just scape-goat individuals.

But now, and maybe it is me, it begins to sound as if the word is trotted out whenever a major disaster or scandal occurs to absolve any individual of responsibility.

“It’s the system’s fault, I couldn’t do anything!” comes the plaintive cry.

But as Margaret Mead said:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.

Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

And where does that small group of thoughtful, committed people start? It starts, of course, with the individual. One individual needs to take a risk, change their way of thinking, say something others daren’t.

An individual within a system is, I believe, the only thing that really can start to change a system. The individual is the catalyst for system-wide change. Somewhere, sometime, were there perhaps people in BP would could have said something and didn’t? Who went along with crowd-pressure and followed the herd mentality? When there was an opportunity to say or do something different?

What does this all have to do with you and your business?

Maybe you are in a business, running it or working at the front-line, and everyone blames everyone else? Maybe everyone is rubbish at their jobs. Maybe you don’t like the way the company is set-up or structured. Maybe your boss is an idiot. Maybe the reward systems are set-up to reward the wrong things. Maybe the company regularly does bad things, or allows poor quality work in the pursuit of short-term profit.

If any of those things is wrong with the system – please don’t blame others. Don’t blame “the system”. Take responsibility. Change yourself. Be the catalyst. Be the change.

Happy New Year.


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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.


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What goes up must come down

Stimulated by reading something in a discarded newspaper by Jonathon Porritt, standing down this month as chairman of the government’s Sustainable Development Commission, I dug out their report “Prosperity without Growth“.

It’s long, over a 100 pages, and could do with a bit of editing. I think it was Greg Dyke who when faced with a difficult decision would ask “What would it mean for my mother?” My view is that if a bit of technical writing can’t be presented clearly and simply, then they may be a waste of all that brain heat.

I only managed the summary (pages 6-13). But the frustration and confusion leaps off the page. The author (Tim Jackson of Surrey University) seemingly can’t understand why others simply don’t get it, and he isn’t happy about it.

His point is that economic growth, in the way we commonly understand it now, is completely at odds with living on our planet in a way that gives all 6 billion or more of us a decent life.

The current macro-economic model doesn’t work socially (letting us all be happy people), environmentally (keeping our ecosystems alive), and economically. Economically it fails when it peaks and troughs, leading to the kind of financial “meltdown” we have experienced recently; but then neither does reversed growth, leading as it does to increased unemployment and so on.

I don’t pretend to understand the complexity of all this – I am no economist. But I do think it’s sad when minds are closed, as Porritt suggests they are, at some of our leading institutions.

Porritt claims that, in the Treasury, for example, there is “no readiness to interrogate the macro-economic model”.

I sometimes come across businesses who aren’t ready to interrogate their own local economic models. But after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, the realisation comes that without a sustainable economic model, the business won’t be around long. There simply has to be some kind of effective balance between what goes in and what goes out.

Anybody can see that, especially my mother. And I don’t want to live in a world with a broken economic model.

Maybe Porritt’s plan is to embarrass the Treasury into change. Whatever it is, I’d rather hear the news that all the intelligent people out there are working together, facing the facts, doing a bit of brainstorming, and coming up with some new, practical ideas about creating a new model that really does work.

I know it takes courage to challenge the status quo. But people are full of courage. So come on.


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Fear of the unknown?

The failure of the social bookmarking company Ma.gnolia because of database corruption made me think about the dangers of reinventing the wheel.

This won’t be the first business (or the last) to fail because of lost data.

The video of Larry Halff (the founder) explaining what happened shows plenty of contrition. Larry admits he made mistakes and I admire the focus he places on the lessons he has learned.

But maybe the biggest lesson might be to be more open to things that other people have already learnt – in this case over 50 or more years of IT and software development. The primary mistake the company made seems to have been very basic – not testing a backup worked before it was needed.

Larry seems a very bright guy. But I wonder, if I had made the same mistake, what would have stopped me getting the help I needed? Over-confidence and thinking I knew what I was doing, probably. And more specifically, not knowing what I didn’t know.

And, perhaps, being afraid to find out.

Formal education doesn’t seem to do much to encourage us to admit what we don’t know. Assessment, for example, is all about proving what do know, not learning our limitations. But especially in uncertain times revealing the extent of our knowledge, however limited, is surely a powerful thing to do.