Conscious-Business.org.uk

A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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Conscious Business: The Pyper calls the Tune

Cross-posted from Paul Levy’s Rational Madness blog here.

According to Jamie, a regular café converser with CATS3000’s Paul Levy, conscious business uses  “Common Sense to change the way business is done.” Here Paul has elaborated Jamie’s powerful eleven point checklist and the call is now out for your input!

Comment: You’ll notice a certain take on what common sense means in the set of behaviours Jamie outlines below. These behaviours embody a useful checklist for being a conscious business. Jamie and his colleagues at Conscious Business People work with organisations to help bring this consciousness about.

Pyper’s Eleven Elements of a Conscious Business

A conscious business behaves in the following ways:

  1. Uses plain speaking
  2. Is more profitable
  3. Is always applying common sense
  4. Is a place where everyone wins
  5. Is always grounded in evidence based stuff that works and is proven
  6. Tolerates no bullshit
  7. Lives a philosophy that is easy to grasp and apply
  8. Believes that Anyone can do it
  9. Is designed around simple idiot-proof concepts
  10. Is a popular place to work: People love it
  11. Continues to learn and develop

Let’s dive further into these…

1.     Uses plain speaking

The language of a conscious business supports that consciousness. This is a jargon and bullshit free organisation. The language of the business is aimed at clarity, understanding and reflects as true a picture of what is going on internally and externally as possible. People speak plainly, say what they think and how they feel in a culture that encourages and values openness and honesty

2.     Is more profitable

A conscious business has a real time clear picture of its processes. It knows what things costs and is mindful of resources. It uses only the resources that are needed to get work done and to deliver products and services to customers. It is lean, though never mean. It is more profitable because it minimises costs and all of its processes are energy efficient. Things are not minimised for their own sake, but rather optimised leading to processes that deliver excellence.Being conscious of costs, processes and the dynamics of value creation all feed into the profitability of a conscious business.

3.     Is always applying common sense

Common sense is a core ethic in the business. Common sense is the shared language and practice that makes sense to all employees and those with a stake in the organisation. Common sense is the common ground on which everyone meets in practice. People understand the logic of the business – why we do things the way we do. There is a regularly updating dialogue within the business and with its community about what we are doing, how we are doing it, and how it could be done better.

4.     Is a place where everyone wins

Organisations exist for the benefit of all their stakeholders. A conscious business does not play the game of win and lose. It seeks to create authentic value in ways that allow it to sustain itself, thrive, and ensure that those who depend on it thrive in ways that allow them to further feed their energy, feedback and commitment into it

5.     Is always grounded in evidence based stuff that works and is proven

A conscious business doesn’t guess. It measures what needs to be measured, collects and shares information as necessary that is relevant and useful. It collects and shares stories in order to learn from experience. It builds information into evidence to inform further decisions and actions.

6.    Tolerates no bullshit

A conscious business is grounded in truthfulness. It makes a virtue of accurate data, and rewards directly accessible truth. People tell the truth, never fudge nor engage in spin. Language doesn’t only have to be technical The conversation can be humorous, motivating but is always motivated by a sense of honesty and truth. People trust what they hear in a conscious business, wherever and whoever it comes from.

7.     Lives a philosophy that is easy to grasp and apply

The mission of the business is clear to all. We know why we do what we do. Motives aren’t hidden but out in the open. Products and services have a clear and well-articulated underlying philosophy. The people in the business are aware of, and committed to the values of the business and this is reflected in their consistent, freely applied daily behaviour. Each person lives the philosophy, because they want to, not because they have to.

8.     Believes that anyone can do it

A conscious business does not shroud its approach in jargon and mystique. Grounded in common sense it believes that everyone from the product designer to the managing director, to the security guard can practice conscious business. Consciousness is accessible to all of us, regardless of income or qualifications. We can all reflect on what we do, speak openly, honestly, observe and learn, share information, and apply what we know mindfully and carefully, as well as consistently and truthfully. We can all be open to feedback, responsive and keen to question and input.

9.     Is designed around simple idiot proof concepts

The core ideas and processes in a conscious business are articulated clearly, never too dependent on one personality, can be learned from simple documentation regularly updated and innovated as needed. There is a culture of prevention – preventing things going wrong and learning from mistakes in a fear-free culture. Ideas need not be over-complex and the business puts value on simplicity and clarity. Processes tend to be mapped in pictures rather than over-wordy text. Media are used skilfully and processes are designed in smart ways that help task completion in problem-free ways.

10.  Is a popular place to work: People love it

A conscious business is a motivated, energising place of respect. There are no hidden agendas. Irritations are brought out in the open. The working environment is light, vibrant and reflects people being open and up for change when it is needed. Work space is flexible, creative and there are times and spaces for refreshment and reflection. The business feels honest and a trusting place to work. People love what they do because it reflects their own authentic sense of self. And yes, the “L” word!  People love the business and love working in it.

11.  Continues to learn and develop

There’s a culture that values curiosity. We learn from mistakes and are open to the new. Ideas can come from anyone or anywhere and at any time but tend to be timed and focused on emerging business challenges and questions. Feedback and dialogue inform steady state and consistency over time. New skills, new knowledge evolve as needed. We know what we don’t know quickly and this becomes our learning agenda. The business feels as if it is always updating, changing when needed, and staying “in touch”.

Discussion

There are probably more. We welcome your input to these. A conscious business is also conscious that there is no such thing as a checklist cast in stone in a dynamic world!

The checklist can form the beginning of a real and potentially ground-breaking conversation for an organisation that would like to call itself a conscious business. It can create some challenging debate on a leadership team and can also mark start of a turnaround for an organisation in crisis.

An Activity – How Do You Measure Up?

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1. Score yourself above out of 10 on where you feel you are on each of the elements of the Conscious Business Wheel. Shade each segment from the centre, outwards, where the centre is zero and the circle perimeter is 10. Be honest.

2. Pick one that you would like to improve:

3. Reflect on what you are going to do to improve that score. (Plenty of resources on this site to help you!)

Consider:

  • What will get in your way?
  • What support will you need to overcome it?

Contact Jamie for a further conversation or leave a comment below.


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The Real Value of Totems

We often get asked: “How do I know if a business I am working in is conscious?”

There are plenty of posts here, and on other sites, which attempt to answer that question by giving lists of attributes – behaviours, processes, statements of principles etc.

These ideas are very, very useful. But they also have limitations.

Our BHAG is to create more conscious businesses. That means change. Such analytical and diagnostic methods can help bring about change in organisations. But there are other ways to assist change – and to increase consciousness in a business.

For example, in our consulting practice, we often encourage our clients to create what we call ‘totems’. Another contributor to this site, Rob Warwick, has written about this topic too, but from a slightly different angle.

A totem is an object to which a society or group attaches a particular significance or meaning. It may become emblematic of that society or group.

For example, one of our clients created a pack of Top Trumps cards representing the strengths of employees. Another has a large banner which represents the future vision of the company.

A totem can be something physical, or it can be a ritual.

For example, at another client in the ’90s we started holding stand-up meetings. These meetings became an emblem of how things were done. Since then many other companies have come up with the same idea – it’s not a unique practice. By what it represented was unique to that group at that time – in that case innovation and the ability to do things differently, and better.

One of our long-term clients, NixonMcInnes, has at least two obvious totems. One is a ritual: The Church of Fail, which came directly from some workshops we ran for the company. The other is Happy Buckets, which was born a little more indirectly, but still by design.

The idea of measuring happiness in a business has been around for many years. Paddi Lund, for example, first wrote about it 1994. In fact, I borrowed the idea from Paddi’s book “Building the Happiness-Centred Business”. There’s lots of interest in the idea today, post-Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, and there’s even a Chief Happiness Officer!

Happy Buckets is very simple in principle.

When people leave the office they simply drop a ball into a bucket to show whether they are feeling happy or sad, or something in between. The number of balls is counted up every day. At NixonMcInnes the figures are reported back weekly to the whole team, and monthly to the management team for further consideration.

People often ask: “What do you do when the numbers go down?” “How do these numbers correlate with other business measures, like profitability?” “Do the numbers really measure happiness?” And so on.

Unfortunately, these questions miss the real point of this and many other totems.

The important thing from an organisational development perspective is what simply having Happy Buckets means. What does it mean to the group – the business team – and how will that meaning help effect real, lasting change in the organisation?

Clearly something like Happy Buckets means different things to different people. Meaning is constructed on the fly, and is related to context, our personal state and probably other things.

But we can make some guesses for the meanings people might construct. For example:

  • To some, measuring happiness every day signifies that the company cares about employees and their happiness.
  • To some it means that employee happiness is an objective of the company beyond simply making money.
  • To some it might simply mean that the company likes to measure things.
  • To some it might mean that the company values experimentation and piloting things.

And so on.

All these different meanings give people a story to tell, a narrative to follow. By telling the story and listening to it, we create meaning together. And we gain something to hold onto, something to ‘anchor’ around.

As long as it stays foregrounded, the totem begins to emblemise something about the company – something semi-permanent about the ‘culture’. As we construct the ideas in words and language, we start to ‘live’ it, and the ‘culture’ emerges.

At best that aspect of culture becomes ‘embedded’. Something is now different from how it was. A short cycle of change is completed. Or so the theory goes.

Of course, there’s probably more to it than that.

For example, I can also read Happy Buckets as a transitional object.

Businesses and society generally are stuffed full of such objects. It has been argued that work itself is something that we use to manage separation from our parental figures. Work, just like a teddy bear or a security blanket, helps us grow up, and gain our own adult independence.

So, perhaps, for some, totems like Happy Buckets operate in a similar way. We attach to them, and hold them as important, because they signify something that is important to us about a particular company.

When they represent a particular kind of relationship – a caring relationship between an organisation and an employee, for example – they allow us to foreground that relationship, and perhaps eventually integrate it.

By that I don’t mean move away from it, nor do I mean cosy up to it. I mean to bring the parts together and make a connected whole.

Over time, therefore, that object might allow us to step beyond a simplistic and dependent relationship into a realisation that we can choose to build caring relationships with other adults, in adult ways, in the company we work in, and beyond the company or corporation too.

That also takes us beyond a rather mechanistic view of company culture as something we can ‘build’ or ‘create’ or ‘design’ and into a more complex one – where culture is continually constructed by adults relating to each other. In complex and continually evolving ways.

That to me seems much closer to how life is.

As a way of thinking and being it also generates a ‘living flexibility’ that from a business and a human perspective seems more likely, at least to me, to give us the immediate and longer-term results we need.

What do you think? Does your business have totems? What do they mean to you, and your fellow employees? What are the obvious meanings, and the more subtle? Do they help or hinder people in ‘growing up’ and becoming more conscious?


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The language of business

Had a very interesting chat with Reuben Turner of the Good Agency the other day.

As Reuben pointed out,  many of the ad men of Madison Avenue, that I have loved to watch on Mad Men, were returning to work from the Second World War, and they brought with them into advertising and marketing the language of war.

To this day we continue to use the language of targeting, for example. The idea is that we can select a target group of customers and then bombard them with our ideas and messages, until we win their hearts and minds and turn them to our point of view.

I have written about the language of business before. From a slightly different angle, Sam Keen said ‘Business is just warfare in slow motion’.

But it is fascinating to think how the language of war has spread so widely into business – presumably through the huge influence of advertising and marketing. In business we fight the competition, and our choice of terms such as goals, milestones, burning platforms and beachheads all smacks of struggle and the wrong kind of conflict.

It’s all about winning and losing. Business is only rarely about reparation, or giving.

This frame has been adopted in many market segments, and has also spread more widely into society and every day culture.

For example, we talk of the ‘battle against cancer’.  Poet Anthony Wilson writes about this. It would be interesting to try to track the spread of this language from the ad men into the pharmaceutical industry and then into medicine.

The rise of executive coaching doesn’t seem to have done much to halt this process. Senior managers are encouraged to set goals, and achieve their targets. Work life becomes something we all need to battle through. Ultimately we need to compete, and to win.

Of course, we can’t completely blame the ad men.

Psychologists also had remarkable influence on the thinking in Madison Avenue – as documented in Vance Parkard’s great book ‘The Hidden Persuaders‘. For example, how was it that spending rather than saving became the moral thing to do? Just how did consumerism arise?

But then these psychologists were also perhaps high on the apparent success of various psychological innovations (such as the development of personality typing) that arose during the Second World War.

And I suppose ultimately there is nothing wrong with having a frame. Any frame can be helpful, whether it is war, or sport or something else. We can use the language of a particular frame to distinguish and separate things and to make ourselves clear.

But I do think it is helpful to be aware of the frames we choose. This, for me, is at the core of Conscious Business.

For me, Conscious Business isn’t just about behaving ethically, and doing good. Nor is it just about ‘holism’ and everything being connected. It isn’t just about transparency, or personal responsibility, or even better communication.

It is all these things.

But for me, and it is a personal view, Conscious Business is really about trying to understand how we experience the world, and what effect that has on the results we create – both good and bad. It is about seeing our frames.

With that kind of consciousness comes choice. And that feels very worthwhile.


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Taking a day off – from selling

A couple of my colleagues and I went to an interesting talk on Friday by the excellent Anil Seth from the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex.

The event was hosted by the Headstrong Club, which has been debating the hot topics of the day since at least the 18th century, although it only more recently relaunched – in 1987.

Anil gave a very lively run through eight key areas that he and his colleagues are researching. I really liked the way his team are integrating recent technological advances such as virtual reality into their research – as with their VR version of the rubber hand illusion (here’s the background).

I am a sucker for this kind of thing, and also like the perceptual illusions which are often used to illustrate some of the surprising ways the brain works; I especially enjoyed Anil’s version of the amazing colour changing card trick.

But I don’t know if it was this talk or something else that meant I woke up this morning deeply aware that everyone is always selling something.

I respectfully include Anil, because actually one of the bits of his talk that most stuck in my mind was his answer to a question about which other key aspects of consciousness are worthy of research.

His perhaps only partly flippant answer was something like “those that attract funding”.

I liked this answer because it seemed to me to be an honest acknowledgement of that need that I also share – to be always selling.

There’s a probably apocryphal story of an academic and a salesman meeting at a party.

Quickly they engage in a debate around the value of each others’ profession. The story ends with the academic unconsciously proving the salesman’s point, by saying “Just give me 5 minutes and I’ll tell you why my profession is worth so much…”.

At its worst selling is a intrusion, a subtle form of violence. An attempt to manipulate someone into doing what they don’t want to do.

At its best it is a form of helping – a way of gently discovering what another person really needs and helping them gain it for themselves.

And I am not just talking about buying a physical product. I am also talking about ‘buying’ ideas. Selling is just as relevant to politicians and therapists.

So I suppose what I am really noticing this morning, and objecting to a little, is that desire in me to manipulate another.

And I am recognising the difficulty of staying in a place where I seek to get my own needs met, without having to persuade others to adopt my point of view.

And perhaps I am making a little plea? Could we all take a day off from trying to persuade others that we are right? Or that we have something that the other needs?

Let’s all just stop selling for the day, and see what happens.


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Solving ourselves

I read a great blog post recently by Tony Schwartz of the Energy Project about giving and receiving feedback.

He uses the term ‘deconstructive’ – a term I have also seen used in the book ‘Seven Languages for Transformation‘ by Harvard Professors Kegan and Lahey to describe both feedback and conflict.

The idea is much older than that, of course, and runs as a theme through much work on dialogue – including that by Bill Isaacs (Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together – one of my favourite books), who refers back to David Bohm. It is also central to the ideas of Chris Argyris and many others. In fact, I am pretty sure the idea can be traced back and back, probably to ancient thought including Taoism and beyond.

So what does it mean? Putting it into a modern context, the starting point for me is how we perceive ourselves and our relationships.

If we see ourselves as unitary figures, each with our own problems and failures, and if we adopt a critical mindset, then deconstructive criticism doesn’t make much sense. Surely our aim is to point out the failings of others and fix their problems? To be constructive – in other words to help and support them as they “grow”.

Extend that a little, and add in a little sympathy for the human condition, or perhaps guilt at our own imperfection, and the idea is now that we need to find our own flaws and figure out how to eradicate them.

But take a different perspective. Start with the idea that everything is how it should be. That people as individuals and the relationships they inhabit are fine, just fine. In fact, they are perfect – in the sense that they are in balance, in a perfect homeostasis – like everything in nature.

Take a different perspective – that we are not unitary figures, but that we are all connected, that we are part of complex systems, in fact, part of a single complex system. Unboundaried parts involved in a complex interplay, perhaps one that cannot even be understood by us – not simply cogs in some giant machine.

Then what deconstructive means is to try to understand our own role in that system. To understand how what we say and do, and even what we think and feel, joins together with what others say and do, and think and feel, to create a particular result.

Deconstruction is about stepping away from blame, stepping away from a position of superiority, or, equally, of inferiority. Away from a position of condescension, or of false innocence. Of stepping away from knowing.

I am probably misinterpreting it but doesn’t the Bible say that knowledge is the root of all evil? I know for sure that my own tendency to think I know the answers is the biggest block to my understanding. It is only when I start to suspend my certainty in my own knowledge and beliefs that some sense may start to creep in.

As Tony Schwartz, and Kegan and Lahey, and all the others point out, giving feedback to others from a position of knowledge is fundamentally flawed.

What works better is to examine our own role in the systems we inhabit. How is what we are doing, thinking, feeling affecting the results we get?

This is how problems can be helpful – not because we can identify them, solve them, eradicate them. But because problems teach us something about how we are. I can learn how superior I can be. And that might just help me start the process of starting to solve myself.


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And or but…

For some years many years ago I worked for a very successful US company, which is now part of HP. There was a popular saying in the company: “everything before but is bullshit”.

What this meant to me was that we should look out for the occasions when people might try to soften the impact of saying something tough by saying a list of positive things first. The saying drew awareness to a lack of directness and a tendency to evade.

I also remember reading somewhere that women use the word “and” at the beginning of sentences more than men do. Men engaged in a conversation will often start a sentence “But…”. Where women will respond “And…”.

The suggestion is that women are trying to build on what has just been said, where men are trying to knock it down.

Thinking about these words – “and” and “but” – puts me in mind of Conscious Business.

Conscious Businesses aim to put people and their development and growth first. And they aim to make very decent profits.

People who work in Conscious Business seek wealth. And health. And psychological well-being. And relationships.

Conscious Businesses seek to provide real value to employees. And to customers.

Today’s customers. And tomorrow’s. And people who might never be customers but who share the same planet with us.

Conscious business is also about communicating clearly, directly and congruently. It’s about less bullshit.

It’s also about taking action. Despite our fears that we might not get where we want to go. Getting past the excuses.

So not about buts. All about and.