October 26, 2011
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October 1, 2011
Ed Miliband, Conscious Capitalist? I, for one, am applauding Ed Miliband, leader of Labour in the United Kingdom. While I may not agree with Ed’s approach, he did deliver a glittering riposte to what’s going on in business and banking in the UK – two indicators of the economic and business disasters that are rife in the Eurozone and indeed all over the world.
Ed bravely broke the ranks of mild-mannered politics, the kind of sitting on the fence that politicians can be so guilty of. He directly targeted a number of problems in culture and society, but from my perspective most importantly he targeted business itself. He managed to put his finger on the pulse of that which most irks all of us about capitalism and business in today’s world: fast-buck capitalism, the “take what you can, fill your boots, who cares as long as you get away with it” behaviour of bankers, executives (and business in general) and the dismaying gap between executive pay and their employees.
Ed gave some pretty good examples of reckless capitalism, such as Sir Fred Goodwin, former CEO of Royal Bank of Scotland, who pushed the bank to collapse in 2008 and walked off paying himself £17million. Or Southern Cross, the company that runs care homes for the elderly, which stripped assets for short-term profit, in the process treating tens of thousands of elderly people like commodities to be bought and sold. My favourite quip from his speech: “They may not have sold their own grandmothers for a fast buck. But they certainly sold yours.”
What didn’t work about Ed’s approach, however, brave as it was to face up to British capitalists, is that it came from a place of reaction. It had the intoxicating effect of rousing the rabble, but dividing others, and today Ed had to back down and explain himself and pare down his message because the capitalists were upset.
That’s the problem with being in reaction: you always get an equal and opposite reaction.
So what’s to be done? Clearly we need a change – we are ready for a change. Things can’t go on as they are and we can’t go on living with the effects of what we’ve created in business, in economies, in countries, in the world. To continue along our path is ripe only for self-destruction. And to get ourselves into reaction simply divides people and brings about a backlash.
Here’s a solution: Conscious Capitalism. Now I know that anyone reading this in the UK is more than likely thinking this is a new-fangled, hippy fad suitable only to lentil-punting cooperatives. It’s not.
Here’s one word about conscious capitalism. Profit. In fact, more profit than you get if you are aiming short-term for your own pocket, or that of your shareholders, first. The facts of it show: there is more profit to be had by delaying your immediate gratification for profit and taking care of the needs of all your stakeholders first.
Conscious capitalism is not for everyone. It’s so much easier to take what we can and ignore the effects. But this is not sustainable; that much is abundantly clear from the world we’ve created for ourselves these days. Capitalism as it is currently practiced has the effect of separating us – profit separates us because greed separates our humanity.
So what is conscious capitalism? First and foremost, it’s about creating conscious profit. Conscious capitalism is unapologetically in favour of free trade, free markets and entrepreneurship. It’s not corporate social responsibility (or, not only CSR) and it’s not about giving away the shop. It’s certainly no not-for-profit outfit.
How does it differ from today’s capitalism and businesses practices? Firstly, it is about purpose above profit. It’s about getting in touch with, and getting all of your stakeholders in touch with, the purpose of your business beyond making a profit. Getting in touch with this purpose tends to energise everybody, from your employees to your leadership to your suppliers to your customers (we human beings love and are searching for more meaning and purpose), and consequently results in greater activity in your business and greater profit.
Secondly, conscious capitalism is about taking a stakeholder-centered – not a shareholder-centered – approach to your business. Conscious businesses regard the needs of all the stakeholders in their business – employees, suppliers, customers, shareholders and the community/society in which the company operates – as equally important. They do whatever they can to minimize the negative effects on stakeholders from one profiting at the expense of another. In the land of conscious business, it’s not a zero-sum game. I don’t have to lose out if you win, and you don’t have to lose out if I win. If you win, I win too.
How refreshing is that for business? Not Southern Cross’s approach, that’s for sure.
Conscious business, conscious capitalism. You may not like the terminology, but the results are inarguable. Business methods needs to change. Even business leaders themselves are now raising concerns about capitalism that used to be raised only by critics of capitalism. Business leaders need to begin to see themselves as part of the solution.
That solution is conscious capitalism. It is the front-runner in a more sustainable, intelligent and profitable-for-all way of doing business. It is, as Ed Miliband said (even though I doubt he knew he was referring to conscious capitalism) not an anti-business approach but an anti-business as usual approach.
If you, as a leader, feel yourself to be in reaction to this, ask yourself: ‘What am I afraid of losing?’
Life is evolution and when we look at the universal principles of how life evolves, conscious capitalism becomes recognizable as the natural next step in our evolution. Richard Barrett, of the Values Centre, writes an easily understandable account of how evolution works and the stages to be found in evolution universally. When this is linked to consciousness and business, it provides a fascinating window on why conscious capitalism is the natural successor to the way we conduct business.
Throughout life, evolution begins with individual entities learning how to survive and be independent within their existing conditions. Therefore, within their existing context (which can also be thought of as their existing level of consciousness), these entities learn how to survive on their own. We can think of this as businesses that become established, perhaps start-ups finding their feet and stabilizing in the way they operate and make a profit.
What life throws at us is the urge, the drive for evolution, and how this plays out is that the conditions in which we find ourselves change – they become more complex and difficult, and we are no longer sufficient to meet the demands of this new context. The only way to survive is to adapt – to form group structures by bonding with other similar entities. Bonding rather than being independent requires a higher level of consciousness and we are forced to develop this through the natural process of our evolution. In a business context, perhaps mergers and acquisitions most closely resemble this pattern.
The third stage of evolution is where the framework or context in which this group of entities functions becomes even more complex and demanding and threatens the survival of that group of entities. The only way to survive is to evolve, and evolving into this new context requires cooperating with other similar groups. Therefore, shifting to a mindset of cooperation is what is needed and this forces the evolution of a different and higher level of consciousness. It requires seeing the importance of and value in letting go of what one knows, of what used to bring a sense of security and safety. It demands letting go of notions of ‘them’ and ‘us’, and instead seeing the underlying similarities between us – what we have in common, rather than what makes us different.
In business terms, I believe we are arriving at the foothills of this new form of consciousness through conscious capitalism. From its attention on a higher, more inclusive purpose than purely profit, to its business model that looks to cooperate with and align the needs of its multiple stakeholders, conscious business and, in its more inclusive sense, conscious capitalism, shows how through cooperation and joining up, more is possible – more survival, more flourishing. When taken against the backdrop of the science and theory of evolution, it is simply the more evolved way of doing business.
Wherever there is resistance to doing business in this way, opponents might look towards what is keeping them at the previous stages of evolution i.e. at the levels of independence or bonding. From the vantage point of independence or bonding, cooperation would seem like a threat to what one knows – because independence or bonding is all one does know. Perhaps this is why the opposers of conscious capitalism have such a hard time accepting that it might be a viable way of doing business. It requires them to let go of what they are most familiar with and know best – aiming for profit no matter what the consequences are to the other independent entities.
As such, conscious capitalism is a leap of faith for some, and for others it just makes perfect sense – a sort of answer to the call, the inward urge, that already exists within them that there must be a better way of doing business than the way we have been going about it in the past.
And so the megatrends we see all around us are indicators of a changing context, a more threatening set of circumstances that is challenging us to evolve in the way we live and work so that we may survive. Business is part of that. Megascandals, public dissatisfaction with corporations and the way they are run, markets imploding, global leadership disappointments and challenges, a universal search for meaning, voting and purchasing with your values, and a trumpet call for truth and transparency in business – these are our beacons in the sea change of our context that is demanding that we evolve to the next level. These conditions are forcing us to find new ways of conducting business, forcing the evolution of our business models, and the more inclusive, cooperative, stakeholder-driven model of conscious capitalism, which a natural reflection of the next stage of our evolution.
August 15, 2011
In conscious business, giving is the new receiving. At face value it appears to make no sense at all to spend more money on your employees and your suppliers, and less on your advertising, your marketing and your own pay packet as an executive. Nevertheless, the results show that companies that practise generosity of pocket and of spirit have employee turnover that is far lower than their industry average (therefore costing less). They are more positively regarded by their customers (therefore earning more). They enjoy a culture that people want to belong to because they love what they do and feel like they are contributing to making the world a better place. This culture is more resistant to short-term pressures and can also adapt easily to challenges. And – most importantly for the skeptics – these conscious companies earn more money. Somehow, by focusing on creating a balanced, interconnected and satisfied whole, orientated around a higher purpose, conscious businesses enjoy more success than their more traditionally-minded contemporaries who aim directly for profit.
If you were looking for a blueprint of how a conscious company is constructed and how it operates then, with the help of Raj Sisodia and his colleagues, amongst others, here are some of the practices you would adopt to transform your company into a conscious one.
- Identify, become connected to and align yourself, your employees, your suppliers and your shareholders with your higher purpose, essentially by asking: ‘What does this company exist to do/contribute?’
- Pursue a mindset that considers all stakeholders in your business to be equally important to the superior functioning of the whole of your business, aim to maximise the benefits for all of these stakeholders and, with every decision you make, be guided by what would constitute a balanced, win-win outcome for all involved (no trade-offs). Your stakeholders include: employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders and the community/society either in which you operate, or even more broadly than that – society at large.
- Hire people who are passionate about your central higher purpose – when they are aligned with why your business exists, the whole thing works better.
- Regard your suppliers as long-term partners, collaborate with them and help them to become more profitable (rather than putting pressure on them to cost you less). If your suppliers are also conscious companies, even better.
- Make a conscious effort to humanize the experience of your company for your employees and your customers. This means taking a relational not a transactional stance to your stakeholders.
- Radically close the gap between executives’ salary and employees’ salary. John Mackey of Whole Foods Market, and one of the leaders of the conscious capitalism movement, famously capped executive salary at 19 times the average wage. This meant that the only way he could earn more money would be if everyone earned more money. This focuses the mind on the whole and on creating ways for everyone to win. (This is probably also where most leaders falter at the starting gates of conscious business because here, where the rubber meets the road, is where your commitment to being a conscious leader is tested).
- Decentralize and empower leadership as far down the organisation as possible. Empower employees to make decisions that leave the customer fully satisfied. (For example, in Wegmans Food Markets every employee has wide latitude to do whatever is necessary to ensure that a customer leaves the store fully satisfied, without consulting a manager).
- Practice an executive level open door policy.
- Be open and transparent with company information, including financial information. Some conscious companies keep books in store, for viewing freely, that indicate what every employee earns. Counter-intuitively to what our habits and fears would have us believe, this practice actually engenders trust and connection with management.
- Pay your employees more than industry standard and increase their benefits too. The rationale is that freeing people up so that they don’t have to worry about their survival makes them a whole lot more productive.
- Devote more time and money to employees’ training and development. (The Container Store gives its employees 241 hours of training and development as opposed to the industry standard of 7 hours).
- Be generous with the amount of time you give your employees to put towards paid community or volunteering services. Patagonia has an Environmental Internship Programme that gives employees up to eight weeks of paid leave to volunteer for an environmental organisation of their choice. Despite all that time off, the company still managed to turn a 2010 revenue of $400 million. Timberland employees get 40 hours paid time off per year to volunteer for community service and a six-month, paid sabbatical is offered to employees who want to ‘pursue a dream that benefits the community in a meaningful way.’
So, in some ways, it seems easy: know the higher purpose your business stands for, work to balance and benefit all of your stakeholders, and manage your employees in such a way that they are inspired by your purpose, can act autonomously, are well-rewarded, enjoy good benefits, are trained well, and are allowed time to contribute what matters most to them outside of the company, while you stay accessible to all your stakeholders by being open, managing relationships and not doing things that create a distance between yourselves and your employees.
Why do more companies not practise this approach to doing business? Like the proverb goes, the more you give, the more you receive. This includes money: the financial generosity of conscious companies towards their stakeholders is far outweighed by the profit, the success and the positive branding they enjoy in return.
Perhaps it will take a jolting paradigm shift to shock us out of our habitual, survival-and-fear driven ways of doing business, garnering as much of the pie for ourselves as we can possibly hold. And, looking at some of the trailblazers out there of conscious business, perhaps we are already changing.
August 1, 2011
Today we met with a conscious leader (aware, mindful, consciousness-oriented) who wants to evolve his company into being a conscious business.
How exciting to be involved at the genesis of such an idea! Usually we’re trying to define what we mean by a conscious company, or looking to find ones that exist (why are the ones most written about all in America?) or looking to convince leaders that there is an alternative way of doing business.
And here, falling into our laps, is a CEO and his business, a case study in the making, for conscious business and conscious leadership. If we succeed in instilling more consciously-minded business practices and principles – and it has a positive effect on the bottom line and the engagement of the employees – then this will provide very interesting reading and a blueprint for other leaders and other businesses.
Watch this space as we develop this approach live…
July 26, 2011
We need to change towards a more conscious way of doing business because we can’t afford to keep repeating the same mistakes of the past, blindly feeling our way forwards in the dark. Leaders have a paramount role to play in the game of new business. However, new business needs conscious leaders – those who are able to step outside the stream of their thoughts and feelings, their desire for self-protection and their fears for survival. Conscious leaders are aware of these human conditions that drive us all and, because of this awareness, they have more choice to be a different sort of leader and to make different decisions.
Research is showing us that businesses that care for balancing the needs of all stakeholders involved (even where this costs more), rather than just aiming for short-term profits, actually end up being more successful and making more profit in the long run than those businesses that go after profit alone at the expense of their stakeholders such as suppliers, employees and the community. A conscious leader is able to see this and acts in the interests of the whole, rather than in self-interest.
What new business needs is conscious leaders who see the evolutionary benefit of collaboration and whole-minded thinking. Business is one of the most powerful forces in society today and it will survive longer – and serve the society it depends upon better – if it is run with the whole in mind.
Conscious leaders can set cultures, they can influence thousands of people to do the same and they can ensure that they set the bar at ‘flourish’ rather than ‘deteriorate’. How they choose to use their influence depends on how much they have woken up.
April 12, 2011
Just reading Fred Kofman’s book Conscious Business – How to Build Value through Values. In it he describes the work of Christian thinker William Barclay, who writes about the form of love, agape.
Here is what he says:
In business love is seen to be too personal a matter, yet love forms the foundation of all human interactions. Without love, there is no teamwork, no leadership, no real commitment to customer service. I am not referring to romantic love – I am talking about a different kind of love, agape. Agape was, in ancient Greece, seen as the noblest form of love, a commitment to another’s well-being.
He goes on to quote William Barclay:
“Agape has to do with the mind: it is not simply an emotion which rises unbidden in our hearts; it is a principle by which we deliberately live. Agape is not a feeling. Feelings arrive passively; we cultivate agape. We are not responsible for our feelings – we can’t help how we feel – but we are responsible for our agape because agape is an act of will. Feelings are triggered by external events, such as people’s actions or the weather, or internal processes such as digestion or thought. Agape comes from the soul. Liking is a feeling. Agape is a commitment, independent of our likes and dislikes. We fall in (erotic) love, but we rise in agape.”
I was so inspired by the email I blogged about on 20th March that I was moved to make a video based on it and post it on YouTube. I hope that it will inspire others who watch it and that they will feel the possibility of the human connection in the face of such utter disaster.
I am worried that some people who watch it may think I am trying to glorify the disaster in Japan or be insensitive about it or, even worse, glamorise it, so I want to make my intention clear here which is that I want to honour the woman who wrote the email describing her experiences and I am blown over by the possibilities of connecting to each other that she wrote about, by the love that is being expressed between fellow human beings in the face of such disaster and by the promise of how, when everything is stripped away, all that remains is me – connecting to you – connecting to everyone else – connecting back to me.
No separation. No selfishness. No fear.
It’s a way to live in the future. Without the disasters of course.
Be Inspired…by the human possibilities coming out of Earthly disasters – it gives hope and the promise of transformation for the future
March 20, 2011
This email arrived ‘from a friend of a friend’ – it may well be one of those urban legends that does the rounds – however, no matter. Upon reading it I was struck by the intensity of promise that exists in what we currently regard as ‘disasters’. The possibility for human connection and transformation of how we relate to each other following the times of change that are surely likely to come is an inspiration to me…and I hope to you too. Don’t you just find yourself hoping for and looking forward to the ‘peeling away of non-essentials’ when we can relate to each like human beings again? The stripping away of Identity to reveal our human essence. (The bold additions are mine).
Date: 3/15/2011 9:40:51 AM
Subject: A personal glimpse
Here is an e-mail from the friend of a friend presently in Japan. She very movingly describes the way people are coming together in the course of this disaster. This sort of personal report is worth so much more than what the msm puts out …. love Rosie
Hello My Lovely Family and Friends,
First I want to thank you so very much for your concern for me. I am very touched. I also wish to apologize for a generic message to you all. But it seems the best way at the moment to get my message to you.
Things here in Sendai have been rather surreal. But I am very blessed to have wonderful friends who are helping me a lot. Since my shack is even more worthy of that name, I am now staying at a friend’s home. We share supplies like water, food and a kerosene heater. We sleep lined up in one room, eat by candlelight, share stories. It is warm, friendly, and beautiful.
During the day we help each other clean up the mess in our homes. People sit in their cars, looking at news on their navigation screens, or line up to get drinking water when a source is open. If someone has water running in their home, they put out sign so people can come to fill up their jugs and buckets.
Utterly amazingly where I am there has been no looting, no pushing in lines. People leave their front door open, as it is safer when an earthquake strikes. People keep saying, “Oh, this is how it used to be in the old days when everyone helped one another.”
Quakes keep coming. Last night they struck about every 15 minutes. Sirens are constant and helicopters pass overhead often.
We got water for a few hours in our homes last night, and now it is for half a day. Electricity came on this afternoon. Gas has not yet come on.
But all of this is by area. Some people have these things, others do not. No one has washed for several days. We feel grubby, but there are so much more important concerns than that for us now. I love this peeling away of non-essentials. Living fully on the level of instinct, of intuition, of caring, of what is needed for survival, not just of me, but of the entire group.
There are strange parallel universes happening. Houses a mess in some places, yet then a house with futons or laundry out drying in the sun.
People lining up for water and food, and yet a few people out walking their dogs. All happening at the same time.
Other unexpected touches of beauty are first, the silence at night. No cars. No one out on the streets. And the heavens at night are scattered with stars. I usually can see about two, but now the whole sky is filled.
The mountains are Sendai are solid and with the crisp air we can see them silhouetted against the sky magnificently.
And the Japanese themselves are so wonderful. I come back to my shack to check on it each day, now to send this e-mail since the electricity is on, and I find food and water left in my entranceway. I have no idea from whom, but it is there. Old men in green hats go from door to door checking to see if everyone is OK. People talk to complete strangers asking if they need help. I see no signs of fear.
Resignation, yes, but fear or panic, no.
They tell us we can expect aftershocks, and even other major quakes, for another month or more. And we are getting constant tremors, rolls, shaking, rumbling. I am blessed in that I live in a part of Sendai that is a bit elevated, a bit more solid than other parts. So, so far this area is better off than others. Last night my friend’s husband came in from the country, bringing food and water. Blessed again.
Somehow at this time I realize from direct experience that there is indeed an enormous Cosmic evolutionary step that is occurring all over the world right at this moment. And somehow as I experience the events happening now in Japan, I can feel my heart opening very wide. My brother asked me if I felt so small because of all that is happening. I don’t. Rather, I feel as part of something happening that much larger than myself. This wave of birthing (worldwide) is hard, and yet magnificent.
Thank you again for your care and Love of me,
With Love in return, to you all,
March 1, 2011
“A human being trying to catalyze the emergence of a higher level of consciousness is like a rocket ship trying to break through the gravity of the Earth’s atmosphere. The gravity that we are endeavoring to release ourselves from is the historical weight of our conditioning, both personal and cultural. If we can generate enough vertical momentum to propel us beyond the boundaries of who we have been, we will find ourselves in uncharted territory.”
This great quote comes from Andrew Cohen, founder of Evolutionary Enlightenment and possibly one of the most enlightened people on the planet today – despite the extremely dodgy moustache. Check out his excellent site at http://www.andrewcohen.org/ and his fascinatingly animated teachings at http://www.andrewcohen.org/teachings/