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A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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Do less, do it differently

Can’t remember how I came across this piece in the Harvard Business Review magazine.

But whoever sent it my way: thank you. It reminded me why I struggle with the idea of “time management”.

It’s an interview with David Allen and Tony Schwartz. David offers the Getting Things Done approach, which I tried a while back but discarded. Tony runs the Energy Project which I have much more time for.

David seems to be all about lists and mental activity. While Tony’s approach is much more holistic – focusing on physical, emotional, mental and spiritual domains. That’s obviously more up my street.

David seems to be mainly interested in getting more done in the available time. Through lists.

My argument with that is that it seems to me that life is much more about what I do. Than doing more of it.

Tony seems to be at least partly interested in getting the right things done (a la Stephen Covey: “put your ladder up the right building”).

And he is spot on to focus on habits and breaking them, I think. (Take a look at the work of Ben Fletcher and Rilke’s Room if you want to know how to actually break some habits.)

My argument with Tony, if I had one, would be that, for me, life is more about how I do what I do. About the quality of my experience.

Why is everything about energy and productivity? Occasionally, isn’t simply enjoying life more important?

I suspect that both people are highly energetic, highly capable individuals. Maybe being energetic and productive is what they most value. Good for them. But we’re not all like that.

But thanks both, you’ve reminded me to take the day off. To be a bit more idle that I might have otherwise been. To enjoy the day a little more.

Maybe you’ll do the same. Or read more if you like:

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New Year Non-Goals

I cheerfully said to the wife this morning “maybe we should set some goals for the year ahead”. After having narrowly avoided a flying saucepan, we then explored our general level of exhaustion, and agreed that our main goal for the year is to have fewer goals.

The trouble with goals, in my opinion, is that they do generate an awful lot of doing. Doing brings more doing (and more stuff as a by-product). Yes, I know there’s all that research about graduates who write down their goals earning more money in later years. But so what? Does it mean they contributed more than the ones who didn’t write down their goals? And does it make them any better people?

By contrast not setting any goals allows you to … just practice being a more pleasant person. That seems a pretty good goal in itself and a lot more relaxing than all those more difficult goals. As someone who loves a bit of peace and quiet it sounds a lot better to me.

But what would not setting any goals look like in a business? Businesses always seem to have goals or milestones or objectives or some such thing. Financial goals, people goals, quality goals … and so on.

If your business didn’t have any goals … could it just practice being a more pleasant business? What would that involve? And would that be a good strategy in these recessionary times?

Well, it might mean you could:

  • Slow down a bit and listen a bit more – to customers, suppliers,and the team.
  • Ensure the team speak quietly and respectfully with customers, suppliers, and each other.
  • Be respectful of everyone – even the government – and start by assuming everyone is trying to help not hinder.
  • Tell the truth more often (in all your marketing material and all your interactions).
  • Cultivate good operational habits (and get rid of any bad ones).
  • Change your habits every now and then.
  • Honour all agreements and always be fair (even if you have to lose people).
  • Keep learning.
  • Do your bit to minimise your company’s impact on the planet.
  • Tidy up around the place – including your finances.

I don’t know whether this strategy will work particularly well in recessionary times. But I do think it’s a good strategy at any time. It’ll make you friends, repair and strengthen relationships, and keep you out of trouble.

Sounds good to me.

Here’s wishing you a successful 2009.

PS I nicked some of the ideas for this list from the Pleasant Person Act in Richard Carson’s excellent Taming Your Gremlin.


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Oldest companies in the world

I found this piece on the oldest companies in the world at the Long Now site. And according to Business Week even well established companies can be vulnerable. Japanese temple builder Kongo Gumi, founded in 578 (yes, five hundred and seventy eight), succumbed to “excess debt and an unfavorable business climate” in 2006. The writer, James Hutcheson, draws some interesting conclusions:

“To sum up the lessons of Kongo Gumi’s long tenure and ultimate failure: Pick a stable industry and create flexible succession policies. To avoid a similar demise, evolve as business conditions require, but don’t get carried away with temporary enthusiasms and sacrifice financial stability for what looks like an opportunity. ”

The oldest in the UK is a relative youngster – only 467 years old. Surprisingly it isn’t in the City of London – it’s near Huddersfield and is called Brookes Mill. Textile manufacturing ended only in 1987, and the same family have transformed the business into a “heritage office park”. Sounds like a sensible evolution.

The youngest I recognised was Cordoniu who make rather good cava. Founded 1551. Our own local brew here in Lewes, Harveys, has a venerable 200 year history.

I wonder if there’s something especially sustainable about the drinks business?


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Sitting in the long grass

It’s that long grass time of year. That is, when the grass isn’t cut to 3 inches it can grow up to 3 feet or more. Great for sitting in and contemplating.

Somebody once said to me “enjoy nature”. And I think I know what he meant – relish it, absorb it, study it, let it overcome you. Nature has great lessons to teach. One is that anything important works on a long cycle.

Sitting in the long grass just now I was also reminded that business is a long game. I went to a course at the Sloan School of Management at MIT once and remember hearing someone say they surveyed a vast number of business startups and were surprised to discover that the average time from startup to being what they called a “mature business” was something like 18 years. Ok it might have been 16. But a very long time.

Much longer than I think many people appreciate when they start something up. Or when they try to change a business. I also heard today that while 2007 was the year of people learning about climate change, 2008 seems to be a year of people forgetting it again. Maybe this sustainability thing is just a passing fad?

But, as the people behind the Clock of the Long Now, and other interesting projects (I particularly like the Long Bets idea), are trying to point out, sustainability is a long game. The planet and nature work on long cycles.

It also takes time to develop a business strategy that will take you where you want to go. It takes time to implement it successfully. Sometimes a very long time.

So why not start now?