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A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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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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The need to please

I have a strong need for acceptance.

Whenever I have done personality tests I have always been grateful for the kind psychologist’s desire to cast the most positive light on this aspect of my personality. Words like “introverted”, “extremely sensitive” and “would enjoy working one-on-one with others” could, of course, be written in a less positive way: that I fear rejection and have a deep-rooted need to please others.

But hold on. Rejection is something we all suffer from, isn’t it? And haven’t I heard it said that the sales person’s greatest skill is overcoming rejection? That confuses me a little because sales people always seem to me to be so focussed on their relationships – perhaps paradoxically they also have a very high need for acceptance, but show it differently from me?

My personally preferred route would be to avoid human contact a lot of the time, and avoid rejection at all costs.

But, in business, that isn’t always possible. And over the course of my working life I have probably done quite a lot of selling. Several things have made it possible for me.

Firstly, major bits of reframing. I see selling not as the activity of using my charm and personality to win someone over to my point of view. Rather I have learnt to see it as a qualification exercise: one where I simply ask questions to find out if this person desires whatever I have to sell.

I see selling as helping. After all that is how I sometimes experience being sold to. If I need something and a helpful salesperson gently guides me to the product I want, in the right size and the right colour; and gently removes my fears – about what I’ll do if I change my mind later, for example – I am a happy customer.

And I have learnt to see the word “no“, or indeed any other word which signifies the conversation is not heading in my chosen direction, with great curiosity. “What on earth do they mean by that?”, I ask myself. “What are you really trying to say?”. I have built my curiosity muscle – and if I use it often the conversation may take another, sometimes quite unexpected turn.

Essential to all of these is reducing the emotional burden behind the thoughts. I am a fan of cognitive behavioural therapy and actually enjoy the process of trying to reframe my thinking around the harder areas of my life. But I know that if there is deep-seated emotion still sitting around in me while I try to see the world differently, reframing will have only limited success.

Awareness is, for me, the most powerful way to lessen that emotional burden. Gradually, over time, inch-by-inch I think I am becoming stronger, and more able to deal with my need for acceptance; and this seems well correlated with my growing awareness of it.

And finally to action: Testing my beliefs to destruction seems to give me the ultimate proof I need to make real progress. Each time I find myself in a sales situation, and I practice “helping”, I practice asking those questions, and I practice just sitting with those difficult feelings, I seem to get just a little bit stronger.

I break my old habits and I forge new, more appropriate ones. That’s how it seems to go for me. What about you?


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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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So what's it all for?

I heard someone ask me today what all this conscious business stuff is about. So here goes.

Business is great. It’s a very powerful force. It’s great at harnessing creativity and innovation, but mainly it’s good at getting things done. While governments and non-governmental agencies alike plan and develop policy, business has usually finished the first activity and is on to the next one.

And we are in a hurry. We have a lot of problems in the world. Poverty. Hunger. Disease. Climate change. Loss of bio-diversity. Desertification. War. Nuclear proliferation.

All of these threats are coming closer. And many are getting worse as, for example, population grows.

Business can’t solve all those problems but it can contribute to solutions for many. Especially when we need new, radical solutions that haven’t been tried before, the unique structure of business allows their creation and rapid deployment on a large scale.

Even small business can seed changes elsewhere, by setting an example or by being a catalyst.

The problem with business is that for too long the people running it have had the wrong goals. If your goal is financial, and you work at it hard enough, and diligently enough, you are likely to achieve a financial goal. While neglecting other more useful goals – such as addressing the threats listed above.

So, the question is: “How do we get at least some of the people running business to adopt other, more beneficial goals?”

Forcing them won’t work. These are very independent-minded people.

Luckily, however,  I believe people evolved with a set of values that are constructive not destructive. The natural state for people is to select goals that will put back good things into the world, for all of humanity.

All that has to happen is for us all to become more conscious.

More conscious of more than just our material drives – in fact, conscious of what drives us mind, body and soul. As we become more conscious of our deeper values, then we will start to work towards them.

More conscious of our individual contribution to the results we create.

Many of us don’t believe that we have much influence on what happens in the world. So then it’s rational to let it just go to hell. But we all do have that influence, and once we realise that then the sky’s the limit.

Many of us believe that others need to be told what to do. And we don’t understand that this approach itself creates unsustainable solutions. Nothing that is enforced will last. The only things that last are those that are created together by those who benefit.

And more conscious of what holds us back and limits our influence. Many of us are ‘hungry ghosts’ – we carry around past emotional pain that makes us greedy, envious, jealous, addicted, obsessed, and compulsive.

Becoming more conscious of this pain, while usually a painful process in itself, is a good way to reduce or even remove its power.

So, as we become more conscious, we do more of the right things, more often. And that’s what all of us need. Now in and in the future.

Simple as that really.


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Pricing

Everyone’s complaining about the price of energy. In all the analysis I didn’t hear many people say price rises are a good thing. But surely it’s good for the environment if people drive less and burn less electricity at home. If we use less. Are we all so miserly that we won’t spend a little more on these basic necessities?

And how do prices get set anyway?

It’s about what the market agrees, right? Whatever competitors are doing, plus anything we can get away with?

Why then are we are prepared to pay £10 for a round bit of plastic called a DVD costing a few pence to make. £100 for a bottle of alcohol tainted with a few chemicals and a nice smell. A thousand pounds for dress with the right label. Several million pounds for a cow cut in half.

Doesn’t price have a lot to do with perception?

I think part of our challenge for the future is to change people’s perception of the products and services they buy. So that we all properly value the incredible complex machine that delivers heat and light into our houses at the flick of a switch.

Maybe the best thing would just be to turn it off for a few days. I bet  that would change perception fast – and allow a really significant price adjustment.

And what would your customers think if you did that to them?? It’s an interesting thought-experiment. Not sure I’d dare try it out in real life though.