Conscious-Business.org.uk

A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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Why Consciousness

People sometimes ask me why am I involved with Conscious Business?

I have been involved in business for over 30 years. During that time I have worked with some marvellous people, and in some marvellous groups and companies. And we’ve done some great things.

So the business bit is easy – business is, in my view, simply the best and most powerful way to get good things done.

But why ‘conscious’?

I’ve often noticed that the things that seemed to work really well in those successful groups weren’t the stuff of conventional business or management. It was as if I was operating in a parallel world – that, to me, seemed very different from the conventional one outside.

About 10 years ago I moved to Brighton and helped create the MDhub, a collaboration of local MDs. Working with this group I realised that a lot of them wanted to do things in more innovative, more collaborative, more successful ways, but that they too could only find the one business and management book – the conventional one.

So I started working with some of them to do things in slightly different ways from how they are usually done. Business, but different.

Digging this up is a bit like archaelogy. It is only through uncovering artefacts I can date certain of these activities and things that I started to do differently.

For example, I know it was it 1987 that I learnt some of my first lessons about self-responsibility at work. On my first day of work in my new job at DEC, I was left to my own devices. On the next day too. And the next. It took a while for me to realise that I was meant to figure out what I was meant to do – for myself. Without instruction.

I know that it was during 1997 that I started doing stand-up meetings with teams, because I know that is the year that BBC News Online launched. And I remember the first large team meetings – held in an abandoned studio that had no chairs. Hence it was a “Stand-Up”.

I know it was in early 2007 that I started measuring happiness in my favourite organisation – my family. I got the idea from Paddi Lund – an Australian dentist – and my wife, kids and I measured our happiness daily for some months. I know because I still have the spreadsheets.

Having prototyped (!) the approach the only sensible thing to do was to start trying it out with the businesses I worked with.

The financial crash of 2008 certainly isn’t too far back to remember. The crash accelerated the number of MDs, and people from other fields, calling out for different, more effective ways to do business and management. The trend was already clear by then, and it wasn’t just financial. Bigger social trends such as the feminisation of the workplace were already well underway.

So working with my partners we’ve continued to develop and deliver new and different ways of doing business.

But why consciousness? Looking back the key to change in all the outfits I have worked in has always been a change in the level of consciousness, first with individuals, and then with the group.

By a change in level I don’t meant anything esoteric. Or spiritual.

I mean something quite simple to understand. But hard to achieve in practice. I mean a change in my assumptions, a shift of paradigm.

I don’t know how many levels there are.

But I do know that my experiences of 1987, 1997, and 2007 were all about increasing my consciousness and those of others.

In 1987 I learned first-hand that business worked better when I and others chose what to do.

In 1997, standing up, I and others learned that meetings weren’t the be-all and end-all of getting things done.

And in 2007 I realised that measuring happiness every day – paying attention to it – actually seemed to change my level of happiness.

There are many ways to ‘do’ change in organisations. Change is often approached like a technical problem, as if a company was a machine that could be prodded and pushed into action. Much is ‘technological’, believing that new technologies will somehow drive changes in behaviour.  Some change is ‘structural’ – change what is connected to what and things will get better.

In my view all of these work to some extent. But the thing that makes most sense to me is increasing consciousness. To me changing, and developing and growing, in fact, maturing, seems to me to be the only thing that really changes things sustainably and reliably.

I am not saying it is easy. It has taken me these three decades to make even a few real steps forward. And I often step backwards too.

But, personally, I find the process of growing my consciousness terrifying and fascinating in turns, and ultimately deeply rewarding. We get better things done, and it is more enjoyable.

That is why I choose to work in Conscious Business.


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Enough is enough

I came across a really neat little report today – “Enough is Enough” – that summarises in just ten pages the reasons why we need a steady state economy, and what we need to do to get started on creating such a thing.

It was produced by two British non-profit organisations: CASSE and Economic Justice for All, and is based on work at the first Steady State Economy Conference held in June last year.

The ten straightforward proposals seem very much aligned with what we are trying to do with Conscious Business. In fact, so much so, that I have added links to relevant past posts in the list below. The ten proposals include:

  • stabilising population – sensible in a finite world, but what a challenge to achieve and maintain this;
  • reforming the monetary system – if you thought stabilising population was difficult, imagine successfully reforming banks, bankers and all that;
  • changing the way we measure progress – something so deeply entrenched in establishment thinking, and in the education system itself;
  • improving global co-operation – vital to balance the needs of countries where growth is necessary with developed countries like ours, but an immense political challenge;
  • engaging politicians and the media – another daunting task; but there are always early adopters in these groups.

And five in particular standout as of specific relevance to business:

  • limiting resource use and waste production – this, to me, is the only sensible route in a finite world, and business as a huge user of resources and producer of waste clearly has an enormous role to play in this;
  • limiting inequality – lots of practical things we can do here and are already exploring – like limiting the gap between the highest and lowest paid; and introducing new models of business ownership;
  • securing full employment – this requires a change in the way we think about employment – for example, to allow us to reduce the working week. I have written before about the real, underlying challenges of this;
  • changing consumer behaviour – we have the technology, and probably the know-how; but do we, collectively, have the will: this means, ultimately, changing ourselves?
  • rethinking business and production – the key here for me is changing the primary goal of business towards developing the people in the business – helping them become more conscious and happier.

All of these things are difficult individually. And overall the list of 10 priorities can make the whole exercise seem overwhelmingly hard. But two things strike me:

  1. We are already some way down the track on many of these things. I know more about the business elements than the others but I know we have been experimenting – going around the loop of failure and success – for many years. Conscious Business itself is already a broad and growing church.
  2. What an exciting and amazing overall goal? A true Big Hairy Audacious Goal – something stimulating and exciting for a whole new generation of younger business people. Young people who in many cases aren’t held back by the attitudes and outlook of their older colleagues. People who are happy to shake up the status quo and challenge “Establishment” thinking.
Game on!


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What IS a sustainable business?

So what is a sustainable business exactly? Surely we must know by now.

  • Is it a green business?
  • Is it a business that is good at environmental management? That follows an ISO standard?
  • Is it a business that’s good at CSR? At accountability? With a good human rights record?

I have a more simple definition. A sustainable business is one that lasts for ever.

OK, you’ll jump on me now and say that simply lasting for ever isn’t the right definition. Some of the companies on the list of the oldest companies in the world aren’t really green and they may not be specifically concerned about their impact on human rights.

And they almost certainly don’t conform to ISO 14001.

But I believe that lasting for ever is an excellent aspiration for a business. No business (and no human) will ever achieve it. But it’s a really good goal.

It’s a good goal because to achieve it a business has to become really good at a number of things:

  • Being a learning organisation. Fancy words that mean that a company develops and grows – not necessarily in size, but like a person, becoming wiser with age. Stronger perhaps, but stronger with compassion, not violence.
  • Caring for the environment. If a business doesn’t care for the environment, then eventually the environment will hit back. Whether it’s fuel prices or raw materials – any business that is ultimately dependent on depleting these resources will eventually run out of them – or find itself  uncompetitive.
  • Caring for the people it employs. Businesses are people. Businesses can’t learn but people can. And if people aren’t cared for then ultimately they will walk or give less than they can.
  • Caring for human rights more generally. If a business breaks this rule, sooner or later people including customers and investors will figure it out. Ignoring human rights is a violation so huge that most people will eventually, when faced by the facts, turn away. Without customers and investors no business can survive.
  • Really understanding and fitting into the market. The market is all these things: customers, investors, people, resources. It’s more than that too – it’s the complex interactions between these things, the system that makes up the world we all live in.  It’s the connections, the inter-dependencies, the limits, and the whole.

Understanding the market means understanding our world and our place in it.  Understanding that if our goal is human sustainability then we need to address all the complex issues of poverty, war, greed, species destruction, resource depletion, climate change and so on. And find a way to really fit in.

Unless a business gets really good at these things it simply won’t last.

And neither will we.


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Getting better all the time

Someone asked me last week what good management is. We were talking about people management. And  the exact question was “how will we know when we are good managers?”.

Perhaps rather glibly I said that I thought that good was a label and it was perhaps better to consider ourselves all in the process of learning to be better managers. I said that in my opinion management was very hard, and that while it was possible to get better, it was unlikely that anyone would get truly “good” at it, given the uniqueness, and the unique difficulties, of individuals and of human kind in general.

Reflecting on the question again later, I came up with three simple ways that I think I would use to measure good people management, in the context of a sustainable business, that is, one that is trying to last.

The first is retaining our self-respect as managers. “Managing people”, in my view, is a label for a particular type of relationship between two or more people. Relationships can be very hard if boundaries are not clear. Sometimes managers can be bullied, or at the very least rattled, by the results of the emotional turbulence or needs that the other person in the relationship has.

This is not good, for the manager, for the business, or for the person being “managed”. If the relationship becomes badly skewed, probably all parties will lose out.

Secondly, helping the business achieve its goals. I always try to remember that a business is not a therapy room. It may seem naive but, for me, a business is simply a group of people who have thrown their lot in together to achieve a common set of goals. Finding a compromise between using the business to help an individual to develop and grow personally, while focussing also on the good of the greater number seems to me to be essential. If sometimes the individual’s needs have to be sacrificed for the greater good, well, for me, that’s the right way to go.

Thirdly, retaining our imagination. Or at least enough imagination to believe that there is a better way, and that we just have to find it.

For me, a huge part of people management is about helping individuals in the company to learn, and to grow. Businesses are people. They are one and the same thing.

I love work and I love business. Mainly because it is grist to my personal development mill. It gives me something to work on, to worry over, to chew on. (I’d probably go quietly mad if left completely to my own devices.) And if I fail to truly engage with the relationships I have, perhaps by distancing myself emotionally from the people I work with, or by  falling back on management techniques I have used again and again, it’s just another way of quitting, of giving up on my own and the other person’s development (assuming they want it).

Having faith in people is essential to good management. Faith that working together we will find a way through. This is essential if we are to build businesses that are truly sustainable. For me, growing that faith, despite the inevitable setbacks and let downs that come from working with other people, is therefore perhaps the best success measure of all.