Conscious-Business.org.uk

A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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Keep it clean

JR Ewing is dead.

Actually Larry Hagman is dead, and I always had a soft spot for him. But I understand the JR character for many epitomises the amoral, covetous and above all selfish worst of the archetypal fat cat business leader.

Selfishness is a theme than seems to be the back story behind much of the discourse around business and capitalism. Surely ‘fat cats’ are selfish? Isn’t the entrepreneurial dream of success a selfish journey? Isn’t business about selfishly taking what you want for yourself?

Indeed, selfishness may seem downright wrong to those who think that Conscious Business is all about doing things for others.

But contrary to this, talking to a friend the other day, I was reminded of how much I do things because I am trying to please. There’s a sense, nearly always at the back of my mind, of trying to help, to support, and to put right, to mend, to solve. I suppose that’s understandable given how I make a living, and perhaps explains it.

That statement – “I am trying to please…” – raised a question for me. Exactly who am I trying to please?

The answer was not immediately obvious. It has taken a lot of soul searching for me to realise that very often I am seeking to please other people. Parents, siblings, old friends, and various derivatives thereof.

And that has been big for me – to realise that much of my effort goes into giving to others who are actually long gone. Who might not want that particular burden anyway. And, therefore, that my selfless giving may not be quite so noble after all.

So, in praise of selfishness, I will from now on do whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it. I will ignore the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ of the typical day. I will enjoy the moment. Give myself what I need, when I need it.

In the words of Joseph Campbell I will follow my bliss.

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4 good reasons to make your business more conscious now

I get some perplexed looks when I mention ‘conscious business’, which are often initially followed by further confusion as I try to explain the concept. This is because on the face of it, it does not sound very ‘business-like’. But then, maybe the problem with business practice as we’ve always known it, is that it has actually remained too ‘business-like’ and that hasn’t evolved along with the needs, awareness and expectations of society. This leads me to my first point…

  1. Evolution through expectations in the workplace

It might be living in Brighton, it might be that I’m getting older, but it feels like we’re finally getting over the ‘greed is good’ hump and refocusing towards something a bit more enriching. Maybe trying to climb an increasingly greasy pole makes us pause for thought and wonder why we’re focusing so much energy on that specific objective and not so much on everything else in life, such as making it more enjoyable, or pondering what it would be like to look forward to going to work every day because we just love it there.

This is not unique to our generation, it’s the ongoing culmination of the evolution that has been before us and that continues every day. The same basic principles that eradicated slavery, for example, have influence on the increased adoption of flexible working hours, less structured working environments, less formality, project days once a week, etc.

We’re slowly realising that effective collaboration and a well boundaried democracy is far more productive, adaptable and enjoyable than a mono-focused dictatorship. Conscious business is the natural next step in the business evolutionary process and it’s already happening.

  1. Knowledge changes things

Being able to Google anything from your pocket – apart from ruining the pub quiz – has a more profound impact on how society functions because the wide distribution of knowledge means we’re no longer living in the dark, trusting only a few questionable sources.

Part of this shift to knowledge ubiquity has been the rattling of the skeletons in many company’s cupboards. In fact now it’s a bit like the cupboard doors have been removed so all can see inside. So if a company is less than honest and perhaps a little too cut-throat in their practice, the knowledge of this will increasingly decide how and more importantly if, we deal with these people now or in the future.

Consider the web site TripAdvisor: when people have good or bad holiday experiences they have a forum to publicise this information. This knowledge helps others decide whether they want to go to a particular hotel, for example, but most importantly it transfers control of the hotel’s reputation into the hands of the hotel users who are perhaps more objective than the hotel itself.

So if you are not open, honest and genuine in your dealing with your clients you rapidly risk being left behind as your potential customers go to those hotels that are. Wouldn’t it be better to be the hotel that they move to, rather than the one they move from?

Now this sort of balance is what we’ve always wanted but we’ve never had the tools to achieve it before. To that extent, though social media has provided the tool, it’s in response to an underlying desire for balance and fairness that is innate within us. And this is an important distinction: what we innately desire is conscious business, it’s just we’ve lacked the tools to achieve it. Without this desire, TripAdvisor would never have been conceived, let alone built.

On the other side of this the internet also empowers us to make change directly, hence:

  1. The empowerment of the general public

The other part of the ‘TripAdvisor effect’ is that if you’ve been poorly treated by a company as a customer or in B2B dealings, you can broadcast that experience to the world quite easily. So suddenly we’re empowered and the knowledge that we can do this makes us less likely to accept substandard practice.

Last time I got stitched up by restaurant owner, who admitting the mistake (thinking I was a tourist rather than a local) refused to do anything about it, I posted a factual article about the experience on a local restaurant review site for others to read. There were many similar complaints from others – maybe I should have checked first – next time I will.

Now I know most people reading this would never consider ‘stitching anyone up’ for anything but the point is in a business that attempted some empathy with their customers rather than just trying to say the right things to extract the maximum amount of money, one where the client is valued as an ongoing relationship rather than a ‘mark’ to fleece, that business would be full of clients throughout the sparse ‘tourist free’ winter months. This one is always empty. Now I know why.

Again my personal desire was to redress the balance because I’ve been swindled by sharp practice and left with an unwholesome taste in my mouth. It’s just that before I could never do anything other than mention this to a few friends, and now I feel a real sense of  redress because I have ‘outed’ them publicly.

Social media is the tool but it’s only used because there is a desire from me wanting to do something about the situation, to let them know that their behaviour is unacceptable in a way where they can’t brush it under the carpet and to warn others.  Personally I only want the nice, fair businesses to survive and I think I’m probably not alone in that.

Which neatly leads me to the last point and that’s all about spin.

  1. We are better spin detectors

Spin has been the norm in political messaging for a good long time, but because we are aware of it, we’ve got more cautious about believing it and on the whole we’re pretty sick of it. We know when we’re being spun and very often where to look to find the truth or at least what sort of questions to ask to reveal what the spin is designed to conceal. We’re tired of being lied to and want something better than that.

If you think about your relationships in general you will probably find that, if you are honest with yourself, what you prize more now than ever is truthfulness or congruence in how you’re communicated with. We’re tired of being bullshitted to and we increasingly know when it’s happening.  So a very positive differentiator when attracting customers is to be straight with them.

Also remember being congruent is just sooo much easier as well. One of my favourite quotes, from Oscar Wilde I think, is this: ‘People who never lie have it easy because they never have anything to remember.’ If you are always straight and open you will build trusting, long lasting and fruitful relationships.

So where does all this take us? Well, there are lots of reasons to make your business more conscious, but none better than to capitalise by being in front of the revolution as the sort of business that everyone in society wants you to be, rather than desperately trying to catch up when you’ve been left behind.


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Sensing Passion

As a rule of thumb I won’t eat in a restaurant where the people running it are not passionate about what they are doing.

Instinctively I don’t go back to places where it feels like the people just don’t care.

My grandmother was a formidable Hotelier and Restaurateur, and she often said: ‘If you want to know how clean the kitchens are, look at the toilets’.

This is going back a long time, and maybe things have changed since the advent of food hygiene laws. But her point is still valid: people often betray their principles in areas where they think you are not looking.

And many assume that if they say, for example, that they are a ‘caring business’, that you’ll accept this statement over your own direct experience.

But if the people making the product and guiding it to my table do not seem to care about it, or indeed about their very own role, this attitude gets projected on to and infects the product, and I guess it has been produced without care. It “feels” substandard to me.

I may be wrong, but perception is everything.

I will also intuit something about a business that hires and keeps people in roles they don’t enjoy. Or a business that fails to create an environment where its people can thrive and are enjoying their work. I will generally assume their priority is not a quality product or an excellent service.

I will then make a further assumption: that they are more focussed on making money than pleasing me. This might clash with my principles, and I stop wanting to give them my money.

Quite a big leap perhaps? But it’s all lurking there on the edge of my subconscious, affecting whether I eat there again – or not.

Now for an old counselling trick: If I get this negative feeling with the above business, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that I might get the reverse feeling from turning that experience on its head.

So what am I likely to intuit from a conscious business? Well, first of all if the people are genuinely interested in the product or service, and in me, their feeling and enthusiasm is projected onto and thus infects the product and I feel good about it.

I feel good about them because I detect their genuineness, or “congruence”. I also feel good about an organisation that values its staff and culture. One that picks people with passion and creates an environment for them to thrive in. If they are applying care to their environment then the product must be fabulous, surely?

This instinctive feeling is usually borne out by my experience. Another place might be cheaper or have a better location but I still prefer to be at the place where the staff care. To quote a line from the Cheers’ theme tune: ‘You want to go where everybody knows your name’.

Or to borrow the basic principle from the famous book “How to win friends and influence people”, we like to do business with people that we like, and who appear to like us.

This has to be authentic liking, but if it is, it wins every time.


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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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Service or product?

I was planning to post on the topic of purchasing decisions today, when by coincidence I saw Jeremy Litchfield’s interesting post on consumer responsibility. Isn’t it great when things fit together like that?

One aspect of taking this responsibility is whether we decide to buy services or products. I was faced with a choice over the weekend of buying a “thing” or a “service”. Both served exactly the same function (to make some of my data safe).

Products clearly have a quite different environmental profile from services. A product requires energy and raw materials to manufacture and transport. A service, delivered over the internet, for example, has low transportation cost. And the incremental cost of providing it may be small because of economies of scale and the fact I share the tangible components with many other people.

I considered the environmental impact of both – and the service won hands-down. But I still felt myself so drawn to the “thing”. A strong emotional pull that I couldn’t fully locate, but I knew was real. What was this all about?

The thing was nice and shiny and I could imagine it arriving and the fun of unpacking it. The service was a software download – and pretty intangible and almost “grey”, in my mind.

Something about “having” the thing – on my shelf, in my house – was also attractive. I guess this is the same thrill that collectors have. Not something I thought I suffered from, but I when I looked I could really experience it.

There were some additional benefits to the service – the “thing” would quickly become obsolete. Whereas someone else would have the problem of ensuring the service always took advantage of the latest technological advances. And, of course, if the “thing” broke I’d be the one dealing with the problem.

But I also felt some fear around the service – the idea of tying myself into a long-term contract was getting under my skin. My preference is not to load myself with financial commitments. I guess I am not alone in that, especially right now.

In this case the burden of owning the “thing” seemed negligible; whereas I felt I was imprisoning myself in the service deal – probably for life.

In the end, I found another way and bought neither. Hooray for a simpler life!

But my point is that there are habits around this kind of purchasing decision. Perhaps my example was trivial. If we are talking about the difference between car ownership or car sharing, then yes, as Jeremy points out, we need to take responsibility.

But, in my opinion, we need to do that fully: we as consumers, and also the businesses that serve us, need to become aware of these emotional and psychological factors if we are to have any collective hope of changing our behaviour. Some clever people are already looking at this – look at Live|Work’s work for Streetcar, for example.