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A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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Following the crowd

Scott’s recent response to a post got me thinking about group conformity:

The first video:

Candid Camera (2 minutes 13 seconds)

The second is less Candid Camera and more Solomon Asch:

If successful business depends on difference, then learning the skills of iconoclasm to me seem essential. Just why do we conform? And how can we learn to be different?

The neuroscientist Gregory Bern’s book Iconoclast gives some great examples of iconoclasts at work (including Arthur Jones, developer of the Nautilus training machine. Perhaps an inspiration for Indiana Jones (?), his personal motto was “Younger women, faster airplanes and bigger crocodiles”.)

And Bern gives some pointers too on how to cultivate your difference. He suggests developing:

  • your perception
  • your courage
  • your social skills.

Ignoring his interesting appendix on how to manipulate your brain chemistry (!) to enhance these areas, the main initial driver for me is awareness of my own limited perceptions.

(Thanks Richard Wiseman/Quirkology).

But what works for you?

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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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Realising opportunities

Let’s get practical. If you’re convinced there’s a opportunity around sustainability, what do you do? One way forward is to come up with ideas. Here’s a great little book by James Young – A Technique for Producing Ideas. In brief, it suggests there are five important stages to developing ideas:

  • gather raw material;
  • digest that material;
  • let your subconscious go to work;
  • let ideas appear;
  • refine and filter.

Then what? Personally I believe in collaboration as the key to making anything worthwhile happen. Another great book is Organising Genius by Warren Bennis (the leadership guru). The book tells the story of some amazing collaborative projects, including those at Disney, PARC and the Manhattan Project, and draws out lessons on what made them successful (its subtitle is “the secrets of creative collaboration”).

I won’t list them all – but these are some I really agree with, partly based on my own experience in “great groups”. Great groups:

  • Know that talent is key – great groups quite simply contain great people.
  • Value and nurture leadership – great leaders grow great groups, but great groups grow great leaders too.
  • Have passion, and mission. They believe they are “on a mission from God”.
  • Are isolated, yet connected too. This is why, for me, the “skunk works” idea works so well.
  • Believe they are underdogs, and usually have an “enemy”. When I worked with BBC News Online the group demonised and respected CNN.
  • Are optimistic. I prefer to say realistic – along the lines of the Stockdale Paradox. But basically I agree with the great man Bennis.
  • Put people in the right role.
  • Enable people – people are given what they need and freed from what they don’t.
  • Are focussed on concrete results – practical outputs.
  • Value work as its own reward.

Easy really.


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Solar power – no thanks

I’ve asked the question before. Just what are these business opportunities? And do we need an innovation strategy to define them?

Not always – sometimes you can just look. And sometimes a little idle speculation helps. I like the idle bit especially.

It’s been raining a lot in the last few days. I have been looking out of my office window at the rain. I looked and looked. And looked again. The view from my office Window

Where does all that rain go I wondered?

The answer is a whole slew of new rainwater harvesting businesses – such as www.clearwell-rainpiper.co.uk. Offering rainwater collection services for businesses and consumers alike. As their blurb says, not only does collecting rainwater save a lot of money for a bigger business that is greening itself. But it also saves energy and can prevent flooding.

What could be more appropriate. In a rainy country like ours.


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The drivers of innovation

I have been struggling today to write something on innovation. I know it is a hugely important topic for this blog – and I was stimulated by reading Charles Leadbeater’s rather good pamphlet – The Ten Habits Of Mass Innovation.

I like his idea of every citizen becoming an innovator. And I agree there are many improvements to our society that would support this. Not least more tolerance, better dialogue, and a re-thought educational system.

But at heart I fear that, as my friend Duncan says, solutions will still be created “according to power, greed, selfishness, and perceptions of worth”.

This is what troubles me. Can we overcome these very human frailities and truly learn to collaborate, to innovate together? Will I, personally, stick my neck out, and create and innovate in some way that is beyond power, greed, selfishness and perceptions of worth?

I don’t have the answer – perhaps you do?


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So what are the opportunities?

I just finished reading Stuart Hart’s Capitalism at the Crossroads.

I took from it a few pointers about what the business opportunities might be for bigger corporations. His argument is that the 4 billion people at the “bottom of the pyramid” (“BOP”) is an amazing new market. Of the six billion on the planet, these are the poorer people mainly of the developing world.

It’s a market that can’t be addressed in the same way as the developed world markets we are used to. And the best bit of the book for me was how businesses need to change the ways they work with and understand people in order to create relevant, insipiring and above all sustainable products and services.

Another book along these lines is Natural Capitalism (by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins). Again the authors show how capitalism can be adjusted to become part of the solution.

But what about small and medium-sized businesses? It seems to me that the opportunities fall into several obvious categories.

  • SMEs can create B2B products and services for large and small companies who are both “greening” themselves and also addressing the BOP market.
  • SMEs can create products and services for government and other agencies that are influencing the market.
  • And SMEs can create B2C products and services for non-BOP consumers who are greening themselves. Most SMEs don’t have the reach to address the BOP market, without partnering with bigger corporations.

Creating B2C products can be done on a global, national or importantly on a local scale. Another important shift at the moment is relocalisation (or relocalization depending on where you live), driven by the twin needs of reducing carbon emissions and reducing our dependence on non-renewable forms of energy, such as oil.

What does this mean in terms of business ambition, I wonder? Will our definitions of growth and life-style businesses have to change in this new world? How do we match a business owner’s ambitions to grow their business to this new landscape? It’s a challenge.