A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK

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Conscious Business Events in November

Four great Conscious Business-related events in London, Birmingham and Brighton next month:

  • Meaning Conference – connecting and inspiring people who believe in better business – 8th November, Brighton
  • Many employee-owned businesses are purpose-led. The showpiece EOA conference for employee-owned businesses is in two weeks time – 12/13th November, Birmingham
  • An RSA-sponsored event: Is CSR dying? 20th November, Brighton
  • A Conscious Leadership Conference – How to create profit with purpose – 28th November, London

Plus our usual Conscious Business practice meetups in Brighton (18th November) , London (25th November), Bristol (11th November) .

And a new event if you work in the City of London  (26th November).


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?


Did Ghandi blog?

A rather random thought: how would Ghandi have used blogging (and Twitter, and all the other social media tools) had they been available in his day?

I’m a bit limited here because I don’t really know much about the man. Other than a few random sayings that I much admire, what I have read on Wikipedia and from the Richard Attenborough film.

Maybe others know more and can correct me. But it seems to me that Ghandi’s tools of non-cooperation, non-violence and peaceful resistance could work well in a world enabled by social media.

I suppose first off, Ghandi would have blogged. He was a teacher amongst other things, and I guess would have used blogging to share his teachings. Each post might have been written around a saying such as  “live simply, so that others can simply live”: expounding the value of vegetarianism and a simple life.

He would have encouraged dialogue, rather than preaching, of course. It would have been as important to him to learn from the discussion as to teach. Comments on his posts would have been remarkable and many.

Twitter might have been a daily source of wisdom. Something to inspire us and move us to mindfulness: “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”

One a day perhaps: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”; “A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes”; and “Honest differences are often a healthy sign of progress.”

These would have been personal meditations. Not written to appear smart. But as least as much to help him learn.

And most importantly he’d have been on Facebook and LinkedIn. With working overtime. There would have been hundreds if not thousands of groups and communities – organising boycotts, strikes, marches and so on. Groups for people who committed publicly to non-violence and peaceful resistance.

The public demonstration, and thus solidarity, often being as important as the action itself.

Finally, in terms of style I feel sure he’d have used wry humour much of the time, to soften the blow of accurate words.

When asked what he thought of Western civilisation he reportedly said “I think it would be a good idea.”

Isn’t it great how the good ones last?

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Social business

I’ve been reading Muhammud Yunus’ 2007 book “Creating a World Without Poverty“. Plenty of stuff on the Grameen bank, but the bit that really interested me was the section on social business.

According to Professor Yunus there are social enterprises, and social businesses. Social enterprises include not-for-profit organisations, publicly funded organisations and so on. Social businesses are a type of social enterprise that use the tools and techniques of business.

Social businesses differ from ordinary businesses in that rather than having the primary objective of making a return to shareholders, the primary objective of a social business is solving social or environmental problems.

These objectives can be very varied. A social business can serve a particular community and solve any social or environmental problem. Social businesses may employ people from a particular disadvantaged community; but even where that isn’t the case, ownership is spread widely and democratically.

In Yunus’ definition a social business must also serve a disadvantaged community. Robert Owen’s co-operative movement doesn’t fit this definition, according to Yunus, because it isn’t “inherently oriented towards helping the poor or producing any other specific social benefit”.

I think I understand this, and I’d be interested to know what the co-operative movement think of that exclusion.

But what I do like about Yunus’ definition is the idea that a social business, unlike a charity, doesn’t have to divert energy to raising funds. And unlike a not-for-profit, profit isn’t minimised. It’s just used differently, being reinvested into the same or a different venture.

This recycling of profit creates the ability to achieve “lift-off” velocity and start solving social and environmental problems in new and exciting ways. It means surplus profit, once initial investors are paid back, can be used to invest in new companies, with new aims.

And I’d like to humbly suggest one bit of reframing.

In one sense, we are all disadvantaged. We’re disadvantaged by a crazy financial system that rewards the few to the detriment of the many. We’re disadvantaged by a political system that seems to be largely ignoring  the risks of climate change and environmental destruction. We’re disadvantaged by an economic system that prioritises conspicuous consumption over personal health and well-being.

Surely that creates an amazing opportunity? For the creation of social businesses which address the needs of not just one community, not just one particular group. Instead their purpose is change the system and to serve all of us, the whole of humanity.

That, to me, seems worth doing.


Roll up, roll up

What a great time to enrol people in the business of doing something about social and environmental issues.

Gordon Gecko was wrong, greed is not good. As some of the financial fat cats get their comeuppance surely we’ll see  an acceleration towards a world where more people use their working lives to do something worthwhile.

But what might stop this happening?

Firstly, I suppose, especially in an economic downturn, people might claim poverty. But as fellow JustMeans blogger Osbert Lancaster wrote in “Responsible business in a time of turmoil?” – one good strategy is to remember we in the West are rich. Wildly rich compared to many of the people in the developing world.

Selfishness isn’t a bad strategy in my view. If you don’t look after yourself, what chance do you have of looking after others? The trick is probably to try to sort oneself out, in every way, then start to see what you can do for others.

Secondly, many people seem to argue there’s no point. The world’s going to hell in a handcart anyway, so why bother. Well is it? It seems to me that our biggest hope is the very presence of sites like JustMeans, and all the thousands (millions?) of people signing up to similar initiatives. If together we create a critical mass, then surely there’s some hope?

Thirdly, some people seem to feel they aren’t able to do anything. Maybe we haven’t got  the skills. Or maybe we don’t have any choice.

That’s something that took me some years to fully understand. That really everything we do is our own choice. We may tell ourselves that we have no choice but it’s simply not true. No one cooerces us. Or very rarely anyway.

Anything else? People like me, preaching? Personally, I hate being told what to do. And I do worry that many of our social and environmental organisations are too exclusive, run by “professionals” and “experts”. People who “know” the answers. (Hopefully that’ll trigger a response!)

I like the message that came across from Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest video – that this movement is wide and deep, broad and inclusive. Everyone, literally everyone, has something to contribute.

So dive in.