Social Impact

There is little doubt of the growing trend towards the creation of alternative enterprise models different from the traditional top-down shareholder-driven, financially-oriented shareholder variety endemic in modern Western economics.

As we are aware, shareholder structured organisations traditionally have offered as little legal obligation as is required of them, to what we would nowadays call their other stakeholders. Namely wages to employees, payments to suppliers, supplies to customers and, if absolutely necessary, tax to their Government. And worse, even if there is an acceptance that this model is not entirely equitable, fair, open and honest they are still allowed to pay little more than lip service to societal responsibility, with superficial CSR policies and ineffective environmental regulatory control. And why not?

Many of these organisations were created, built, developed and sustained by private individuals with private enterprise and a huge degree of personal risk. They originally put in their resources, time, energy and funds and they should be allowed to reap their respective rewards. Many of us who have tried to plough the entrepreneurial furrow alone will understand that this simple risk and reward model of the capitalist regime was effective for those lucky few who were successful. For those not, the system offered a simple choice: work for someone else or not at all. Community was something for their social or spare time and the environment was a Government/national issue beyond the remit (and responsibility) of privately owned capitalist enterprise.

Since the back end of the 1990′s, however, and I am aware that some far-sighted individuals and organisations have been operating this way from earlier than that, companies began to account for and manage their relationship with their respective local and non-local environments and communities. The awareness of the effects of harmful by-products, production waste, the depletion of material resources, and overall pollution of the planet moved hand in hand (whether by need or by choice) with a gradual move towards a stakeholder model.

The stakeholder model, and there are various, creates a structure whereby the organisation considers the value and impact of the parties affected by operational activities in addition to the shareholders themselves. Increasingly employees, customers, the supply chain and communities (and those affected by the whole operation and not just those locationally adjacent) in which the company operates and the environment from local to global. All are potentially considered as reasonably and equitably as possible.

But a model can only be truly assessed by its effectiveness, as can organisations, by its sustainable results. The shareholder model did an extremely effective job at increasing capital wealth and in creating financial growth, especially for those in the controlling positions, namely shareholders and senior executives. After all, this was its true purpose. Just as a good idea can only be considered a great one if it delivers its aims, so can a model. Simply expecting a ‘stakeholder models to the rescue’ scenario is naive and ineffective. It is a start, and theoretically speaking a giant leap, but the proof of these entrepreneurial puddings is in their eating.

The stakeholder model as a vehicle for sustainable growth is increasingly practised but, and with particular reference to those ecologically oriented deliverables, the far ranging implications and results of this more expansive approach are yet to be completely understood. Increasingly it is being proven that it is possible to consider employees, customers, suppliers, communities, and natural environment responsibly whilst still generating satisfactory financial results and all at the same time as producing sustainable products and ecologically sound supply chains (or networks). Such enterprises as these are highly efficient, have low costs and pollution levels and deploy alternative renewable energy sources, all of which can be accommodated into any business model, if the intent is present and the vision is clear and the parties supportive

It is vision that is the starting point. In ‘Caledonia’ by Dougie Maclean, he espouses an ethos of ‘a belief in self and country’. I would take this a little further, or actually a little closer. I would suggest an ethos of a responsibility for self and for society. I am aware that whatever the model and the roles contained within it that there lacks a single and uniform definition. What is community? Where is it, who is it? With increasingly diverse and disparate supply chains, internet supported transactions, communication and knowledge-sharing, an enterprises community is almost impossible to define but for me, society brings it closer to home. If you exist you are part of a society. Responsible citizenship cannot happen without responsible citizens and this introduces the second condition, and by far the single most important one, that of responsibility.

Do you need incentive to be responsible?

Do you need to create different levels of personal responsibility based randomly upon where you are sitting and who you are communicating with, at any one particular moment?

Do you need regulations and controls to define your behaviour?

If the answer to any of the above is yes, no matter what the business model, you are avoiding the key issue to all life: personal responsibility. You have the values and you have the choice. you can, at any moment, choose whether to be responsible for your actions, or not and this is completely true independent of whether you are at work, rest or play, so let’s not get too hung up on models. What is important, however, is the knowledge and mutual trust that the stakeholders within business enterprise understand and accept that the vision will be delivered by supportive strategies and responsible transactions. This approach, of personal and social responsibility, may be an anathema to the 90s ‘loads of money’ exponents but so what? What was, is and will be, you will create.

Returning to the shareholder for a moment. Their historic raisin d’être was to lend money to make money. For themselves. The mere fact that these ostensibly capitalist institutions are now re-modelling and marketing themselves as ‘ethical investors’ shouts loudly of their recognition that we, the entrepreneurs of today and the future, require more from them and that we have more choice. This recognition is in itself is a step forward but one that adopts the traditional approach. They loan, you borrow. They charge, you pay. You struggle, they watch. Surely there is something better, an ‘adjacent possible’, as one of my colleagues, Chris Cook of the UCL Research Institute calls it. And there is. There are business funding and refinancing models that treat shareholders as stakeholders, no more or no less significant than the other business stakeholders and because they are ‘inside the bubble’, along with the other parties, then adversarial contracts and conflicting objectives can be kept to a minimum.

A final word on social enterprise. I have written about this expansively before, so suffice to say that still today there is not enough commercial in social enterprise and not enough social in commercial enterprise. There are still too many good ideas masquerading as valuable ones relying on external funding, loans, grants and good will. Not only are they operating with commercial ineffectiveness but they are attracting and swallowing up funding and support for those genuinely competent organisations that have social responsibility in their respective visions but also within the actual operational strategies. These are the sustainable organisations of the future, these are the responsible entrepreneurs of the future.

Whilst social impact needs to be built into any and all enterprise structure irrespective of the model, so does commercial responsibility need to be managed more effectively in any and all ‘social enterprise’ organisations.

This article was published in the3rdimagazine on 2 September 2013

A committed supporter

I am a committed supporter of life long learning. This is not something that my school teachers would necessarily have expected, my being one of those “could do better” pupils but nowadays I am something of an advocate of business and personal development guru Brian Tracey’s view, namely:

“Invest three percent of your income in yourself (self development) in order to guarantee your future.”

Like me, he sees learning as an investment. An investment in you; an investment policy drafted to protect against the risks of change or, even better, a strategy for you to be the agent of change itself. Learning is life insurance.

You should, in fact, try to learn something new every day. This need not necessarily be a formal training course, but an awareness that someone or something can add to our data bank of knowledge every single day, every single event. You may be surprised to know that simply by being more “in the moment”, by paying better attention, by asking better questions and by deploying better listening skills, you can learn something new every day. This, however, I see simply as life learning. You can choose to do this or not from one moment to the next and then assess whether there is value in these knowledge-bites for you to store and apply as and when appropriate. How somebody else deals with a situation or how they construct their sentences or fact-oids with which you can simply increase your score on TV quiz shows. All learning increases knowledge and all knowledge is power. You choose how to use this power.

From a professional perspective there exist more compelling reasons, however, that are particularly pertinent in days like these; days of redundancy threats, down-sizing, outsourcing and Government intransigence. Professional learning is investment not expense; protection against these ravishes of austerity or future job market developments. I will draw upon a familiar analogy to illustrate:

1. A new string to your bow, non-core knowledge. By adding complimentary knowledge to your skill set and personal portfolio you are able to:

a. Create a broader context for the application of your core skills
b. Provide a greater contribution by way of understanding better where your key skills fit into a project as a whole
c. Understand better where the skills of others are appropriate and relevant
d. See your own offer from the perspective of other contributors and/or competitors

This will allow you to improve the contextual relevance of your own offering and to apply it better across more varied sectors.

2. Stand closer to the target, core skills development. By focussing on learning and the development of skills within the area of your current expertise you can:

a. Become the guru and the only go-to guy for industry comments, strategy and advice
b. Increase your market value with recognised qualifications and/or your own cutting edge papers, policy and products
c. Set the trends within your market/company rather than following them

This will encourage people to see you as the expert by developing a niche u-s-p. Closer to the target you are infinitely less likely to miss!

3. Buy a new bow, alternative and unrelated learning. There is no reason to stick with what you know. In fact, I personally prefer not to; to be a generalist rather than a specialist:

a. Change will happen anyway; why not steer your own ship?
b. Just because you are good (or paid for or familiar with) at one thing should not stop you from trying others
c. No matter how good you are, you cannot know everything about any single topic; life changes, knowledge changes and the value of you and your current skills will change

Step out of your historic comfort zone; try something that you liked at school, try something random or abstract. If nothing else, this will expand your life experience and, the chances are, make you a more interesting person to be around.

You can. Of course, just learn for the fun of it. For the sheer joy of it! You do not need to restrict learning to work or job related activities and by learning non-work skills you may even provide yourself with a mental and emotional (and physical) diversion from the stress and mundanity of how you earn your living. Yes I know, if we love our work then its not really like working but how many of you can actually say that you love everything about your work? Or indeed that you actually like it at all?

The days of 25 year career paths and golden watches have gone. Labour is (hugely inappropriately and incorrectly) seen as a resource rather than an asset, to be used up and exhausted, depreciated and replaced with a more cost effective product rather than invested in and allowed to appreciate. Life long learning is investment in this asset be it, you or your staff.

My advice is simple but, unfortunately, not unique; Learning IS life and, as a far more learned chap than I put it:

“once you stop learning, you start dying.” Albert Einstein

So get out there and learn something new; it may possibly save your life.

This article was published in the3rdimagazine on 4 July 2013

Discrimination by any other name

Anyone who read my piece a few issues ago, on quotas, will understand my position on forced discrimination and so may be able to predict my starting position, regarding preferential treatment for the prioritised funding of women-led businesses.

This does not mean that I am against balance, equity and fairness, in fact the opposite is true. I am absolutely in favour, passionately, of all of these values. I can, if requested, provide examples from my own work that support my position.

Now, I would like to take this discussion a step further, or at least broader, in this piece.

So, to the question of funding. Should women’s enterprise and/or women-led business propositions be given preferential treatment for Government funding and loans? Unsurprisingly I respond in the negative; and why?

Firstly, I do not believe in discrimination in any form, positive or negative. If one wants to change the image seen in the mirror, one deals with the source and not the reflection. I do believe that by creating a system as unfair and biased as the one we are trying to change, the perceived “boys club”, by creating a “womens club” is fundamentally wrong. What I am talking about here is the method of achieving balance, not the issue itself.

Should there be more diversity on Boards? Yes. But this is NOT simply an issue of forcing the inclusion of just women; how many Boards are reflectively multi-cultural or multi-ethnic in proportion to our society? Women are NOT the only group “excluded” from these elite boys gangs, the vast majority of men are too. In fact, I know many men who choose NOT be part of these testosterone-filled, red-braced alpha-male cliques. Unfortunately, in my experience, it is usually the good guys that avoid these groups and for many of the reasons that we are trying to encourage: equity, fairness, trust, respect and authenticity. Not all men are stereotypical “blokes” or alpha-males; many are caring, compassionate, excellent communicators, empathetic and fair.

From a funding perspective, surely the funds should be channelled to the most socially-beneficial and value-driven business propositions. A business that adds value to, not only its shareholders or owners, male or female, but equally to its customers and community, its staff, its environment and through its supply chain. A business that is not only marketing itself as ethical or social, but one that has firm and ratified social benefits formalised and legislated within its operations and activities and not just in its PR releases?

If we are to discriminate positively on which businesses receive support, then surely our terms of reference need to be socially-positive across all stakeholders and NOT simply because the Executive is made up of one specific gender or the other.

Any investor will require a return. Surely it would make more sense and add more value to more people if we required all business loans (Public and Private) to be formally tied into community, civic, social and environmental benefit. Common Wealth, if you will. This way, the most social/community beneficial business enterprises will attract the most funding and investment; once you realise that sustainability is NOT just about being “green” but about long term satisfaction of ALL stakeholders, equally, ethically and equitably, then it is easy to see that this is a fundamentally better way to achieve balance and effective diversity in society as a whole and not just within sections of it.

Many good business ideas require funding to start up. Discriminating which get funding by virtue of the gender of the entrepreneurs presenting the proposition is a fundamentally flawed premise. Private business has to make surplus to survive in the long term. How the surplus is made and how it is distributed is surely a better place to start any investment assessment. If you do not operate efficiently and profitably as an enterprise and are permanently dependent upon external financing, the chances are that you are a charity or a hobby. Both of which are essentially “good”, but they are not commercial enterprises. The solution is to make commercial enterprise more socially accountable and, in fact, social enterprise more commercially aware. More ethically-oriented business models are required that incorporate genuine and lasting change for Common Wealth; enterprise models that we can all contribute to and benefit from.

The above paragraphs refer to private business enterprise. Maybe the answer to our question lies elsewhere, or at least in the first instance? Maybe the first steps to delivering real diversity lies within the Public Sector. Private enterprise is just that, private individuals seeking private rewards from essentially private investors. These ventures will select the best resources for their respective aims and if a particular proposition, person or cause, merits their priority, they do have the fundamental right to choose that resource. You do, I do, and they do. THIS is the free market.

In the public sector, however, their raison d’etre is to serve the public. It is potentially the ideal environment in which to encourage full diversity and representation. So too our political organisations. So why is it that these hallowed institutions are not leading the way? Why is the Cabinet mainly men? Do all local Council Executives reflect their respective societies? If not, why not? We vote for them don’t we? We can directly influence the membership can’t we? Is it that these, our public servants and representatives, are not themselves reflecting our true wishes for equality and fairness? Or is it that women do not see these roles as attractive or influential? I don’t know but I do think that there are valid and valuable questions to be asked in this environment as much as there are to questioning the mix of private enterprise Board Rooms.

Finally, and I hope to lighten the tone a little, I would like to finish with a quote that I heard on the Radio recently from comedian Ed Byrne (I think!). The discussion was on this topic, or women’s representation in the Boardroom anyway, and the comedian made this point when asked about the glass ceiling or the sticky carpet, as it has become termed (I paraphrase):

“…the thing is about this glass ceiling is that if its true, at least women have a valid excuse for not reaching the top; me, I wake up every morning to the damning realisation that I am not Alan Sugar and I have no excuse for not being like him.”

I hope you get the point.

This article was published in the3rdimagazine on 28 April 2013

Diversity – a social and cultural issue

The National Centre for Diversity details its mission as being “to encourage and enable organisations to adopt and develop behaviours and practices which promote inclusion, equality, diversity and achievement.”

They continue, “By understanding the different needs of your stakeholders whether they are employees or customers, or the many other groups that your organisation comes into contact with, we can help you recognise, adapt and enhance your culture to instigate positive changes.

By committing to embrace diversity you will see many business benefits which range from meeting legal requirements, reducing staff turnover and enhancing new product development.”

Diversity is as much a social and cultural issue as it is specifically in the workplace; clearly there are parallels. One can only recruit, for example, from those individuals who express an interest in a position with your company. You can only assess the appropriateness of the candidates that wish to be considered. When considering the strict laws and regulations regarding how we word and position vacancies in order that we specifically do not exclude minorities and, by definition, open the vacancy to the full diversity of our culture as a whole. If we are to accept that diversity is still an issue then we are led to two conclusions: either that the multi-cultural groups (race, gender, religion etc) are just not attracted to the positions and roles that we make available or that we ourselves do not positively act to create diversity in our own business enterprises.

I leave you for the moment with that thought.

Maybe it is worth considering real diversity from a less contentious perspective; let’s call it balance. Do you have a balance of stakeholders? Specifically, are your own client base, supply chain, investors, community and employees socially or culturally diverse? Do you yourself have a balanced enterprise?

Maybe, maybe not. So, if not, what are you doing about it? What can you do about it? A relatively simple, manageable and authentic first step would be to review your stakeholders as individual groups? Where is your investment capital coming from? The white, upper/middle-class male controlled banking system? Middle Eastern angel investors? Overseas investment trusts? Women-only funding organisations?

And your supply chain? Do you really exercise as much diligence in investigating an ecological and cultural balance when purchasing your business services or personal expenditure? Where exactly DO those trainers come from? Where is that leather jacket sourced? Who really gets the equitable recompense? And that call centre that you refuse to call because you cannot understand the dialect of the agent?

And so to closer to home, your employees. Are they all from a similar social and ethnic group? Are they all the same gender, for example. Do you get a balanced and diverse input from your team in order that you can make the most informed decision or is the only diversity on your team based upon skills set and experience: functional diversity is NOT cultural diversity.

Assuming that you are satisfied that after reviewing your own stakeholder mix that your enterprise fairly represents a diverse and balanced group, does this merely represent a balance beneath the psychopath? By this I mean that it is all well and good having diversity in place by quota, although I understand the logistical difficulties in achieving and maintaining this, but just how do you incorporate this diversity into the business operations and culture?

I understand that the Board of Lloyds TSB, yes the bank that we bailed out as taxpayers to the tune of over £46Bn, was made up of the predictably middle-class pin-striped brigade. All masters in their respective functional fields I am sure but guess what? It made no difference because the man at the top ignored their views and recommendations and bought the Scandinavian bank anyway with the consequences that we are all now living with.

My point here is two-fold; firstly, that it matters not a jot who and from which group your employees, partners, advisors and such come from if your are going to ignore them anyway and secondly, would it have actually made any difference if the Board WAS culturally and socially diverse? In this particular instance, I suspect not as Mr Goodwin was clearly on an unstoppable, unregulated ego-trip. “Too big to fail”? Ha! Clearly not.

There are, however, techniques and methods that eradicate, or at least mitigate to some degree, the impact of the Boardroom psychopath. Co-operative business models, like here at the 3rdi magazine, formally incorporate democratic voting processes for all members, not just formal employees. We have no restriction as to where we distribute our journal (other than the content being specifically marketed at the professional female business woman – mmm, is THIS an affront to diversity), nor who reads and comments, nor on the cultural or social source of any articles. If you do not favour the co-operative enterprise model then by using more open and inclusive decision making methods you may introduce perspective and solutions previously unavailable to you. Sociocracy, for example.

Sociocracy is described as a system of governance using consent-based decision making among equivalent individuals and an organisational structure also known as Circular Organizing, (based on a recent implementation of sociocracy by Gerard Endenburg) was developed as a new tool for governance of private enterprise, but has been adopted in many different kinds of organisations including public, private, non-profit and community organizations as well as professional associations. Using such principles as consent rather than consensus, transparency and interdependence, sociocratic organisations are claimed to be a more efficient and effective decision-making method than autocratic decision-making, because it builds trust and understanding. The process educates the participants about the needs of the other members in doing their work effectively as well as their psychological and social needs as human beings.

My final point is this: we are all, I assume, trying our best, but often it is easier to analyse a remote situation than it one that we are in the middle of. If we live and work in a predominantly white, middle-class, middle of the road environment then this will influence our personal culture, preferences and education. If our environment is diverse, multi-cultured, many faceted and we are intent on achieving balanced input, then this too will reflect our business culture.

Diversity, speaking from a pure Ethiconomics perspective is NOT just about getting more women on the Boards of big companies. That IS important, vital even, but to me it is more about creating balanced input, balanced viewpoints, balanced perspectives and a balanced enterprise. I very rarely advocate forced change. Empathetic, considered, equitable opportunities, yes. The creation of diverse stakeholders for these digitally enhanced multi-cultural times, yes. Inclusive, non-adversarial agreements and contracts, yes. A Boardroom environment of rich cultural, gender and social diversity where the psychopath is removed and the creativity of the innovators is released? Very much yes.

So I will leave with a final thought regarding a discussion that I have had several times recently regarding another commercial zeitgeist: that of trust and transparency. How many headlines and journalists, experts and commentators cry war on the lack of both. We need more transparency. We have lost all trust.

My simple view is this, if we have total transparency, we need no trust, and if we have total trust, we need no transparency. What we DO need is not more Government regulation but more personal regulation; personal responsibility in act and thought. If there was an enforced legal requirement for you to be investigated for your own enterprise’s diversity policies, across ALL stakeholders, just how compliant would you be?

This article was published in the3rdimagazine on 2 June 2013

Three certainties: death, tax and change

According to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe “Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for changes.”

You probably already know that we change our living selves every few months or so. Every cell in our body, brain, skin, organs, and bones, is replaced by an entirely new one. Our whole body is changed, renewed, replaced, every few weeks or so. And this, of course, includes our brain cells.

An interesting semantic maybe, but it seems that we can grasp the issue of a new brain (cells and tissues) but can find it more troublesome to change our mind. For some this requires new information on a current situation, for others, their particular environment and company strongly influence their views. For others still, it seems, their mind changes with the wind. But is changing our mind even enough? I suggest not. I would guess that most of us change our mind occasionally (opinion, perspective, priorities, and assumptions) but do we change our behaviour?
Anthony Robbins, famous, successful and popular life coach and entrepreneur, has been quoted as stating that despite his fees (up to £15,000 per hour for corporate events) and the invariable enthusiasm with which his performances are received, less than 10% of the attendees will actually go away from his event and DO something different. It appears that we are open minded enough to consider a brave new world (when presented by a polished man on stage with an endearing smile and a penchant for the dramatic). We are even enthusiastic and profligate enough, to pay someone to tell us of how they themselves implemented change and became wealthy and wise. Far too frequently though, we lack the where-with-all to implement change ourselves. Is it that we just like listening to a good story? Maybe, but I suspect it goes deeper.

In a past life I was given responsibility for a corporate transformation project; the whole nine yards, processes, systems, roles, responsibilities, reporting, objectives, data/knowledge management and more. What was obvious before, during and after the project, was that the key to success of this, and I suggest all, change projects is not the latest software, not whizzy PC screens, mobile data tools or improved efficiency measures, but the people.
Changing people’s habits and practices. I should point out that the project was inclusive, drawing key users and support staff from all areas of the business. The project was supported from the highest tiers of management. The benefits (and intermittent pains) were known, recognized and effectively managed. We designed with the users, implemented with the users, tested with the users and handed over to the users. So, did it change practices? No. Well not immediately. People don’t like change! If I had a penny for every time that I heard the phrase “we don’t do it like that” well I would have a fat piggy bank full of pennies.
And this reticence is not restricted to the corporate beast. Time after time, whether sole trader or SME, I hear the same phrase. You can take the horses to water it seems but getting them to drink . . . .? And therein lies the challenge.

I am not a psychologist but I guess that resistance is a normal human reaction to external change. We like what we know. We are comfortable with the familiar. We have learned, been trained, maybe developed and personalised the work we do now and how we do it, so change represents threat. A threat to the status quo, a threat to position, a threat to knowledge, control, usefulness or value. I have never been supportive of those individuals that hoard knowledge although I do understand some of the reasons why. It usually boils down to power and control wrapped up in fear and past experience. This then, is why many people fear change in the work environment. Security is threatened.
However, I speak to you as an entrepreneur and enterpriser. So what is it that stops you from changing? Fear of failure? Fear of success? Fear of losing kudos, status or position? Fear of exposure? Fear of being usurped or replaced? All are understandable but all are equally untenable.

Change happens all the time. It happens around and despite us. The world (of business) is becoming quicker, more open and less predictable. Technology innovations abound, digital information and communication is virtually unlimited and often intrusive and never has the tenet that “time waits for no man” been more relevant, or so it would seem. So in this ever and more rapidly changing World, how can we deal with or even better create and manage change? I have three rules in this regard.

1. Know yourself. Before you commit to even investigating change in your work or business, be absolutely honest with yourself about what you are prepared to change, what you are not, what you are prepared to accept as the transformation period evolves and what you are not. Your commitment and invariably, your success (your sustainable success) depends upon this. Know your values, display your values, deliver your values.

2. Do Unto Others. If you are not prepared to accommodate and embrace the changes yourself then how are you realistically expecting to convince other people of its efficacies? Change is not just about methodology, systems or thinking, it is about effective, ethical, commercially responsible development and this requires, I propose, other people.

3. Engage and empathise. Engagement is the key. Not just communication or simple explanation but actual, authentic engagement which is why empathy is important. Business is relationships and relationships grow with empathy. Empathy will encourage you to listen and the more open and honest your empathy, then the more engaged, committed and supportive other people will likely be.

In essence, be the change that you want to see. (Thank you Mr Gandhi) If you want savings in fuel or are promoting a green policy, then don’t turn up to work in a Bentley.

There are only three certainties in life, death, taxes and change, and we have little or no influence on at least two of them. We may not be able to directly influence scientific, technological or even social change on the grandest scale but I submit that but we can effect economic change. It starts with us, ourselves. We see opportunities for this every day if we look.

Creative Commons (open architecture for software development without the need for ownership of IP) and Crowd Funding (community financing) being just a couple of examples. Online media tools (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter) are also becoming integral and influential in almost all areas of our private and business life. I myself am currently working on new business models for asset ownership, which focus on the economic use of assets and their guardianship, rather than outright ownership, by a few, at the cost and expense of the many. I also believe that all companies should be measured on their Social Return on Investment not simply on their returns to their shareholders and that corporate directors should have a fiduciary responsibility for their community and environment.

So, if he who lives must be prepared for change then never has it been so true in terms of business and economics. 20 years ago I ran a design agency that used cutting edge technology to send data files across telephone lines. Ten years ago I implemented remote working tools and flexible-location working for sales staff. Five years ago we did not have Twitter!

The world will change around you so you may as well accept it, just like taxes and death. It is how you lead or deal with change that is the only issue worth your consideration and commitment. Simply, know your values, use the tools, find the people, lead the change. If you don’t you can guarantee that someone else will.

This article was published in the3rdimagazine on 1 February 2013

Want to be creative? Stop trying!

There is much written and discussed about how creative people “become” creative. Is it nature? Is it nurture? Is it effort or genius? Well I am no psychological or behavioural specialist and I bow deferentially to their collective greater knowledge so this is a personal piece on how and what works for me. I have 3 rules, well, guidelines really, that I share below.

Anecdotes abound regarding flashes of inspiration, eureka moments and the creative muse. There is, it appears, great consensus within most of the more popular theories that we generally we have to make the time and the conditions that are suitable for us as individuals – we cannot all sit under a tree and wait for the apple – and try NOT to think about being creative. Creativity, it seems, gets more illusive the more it is chased. Essentially that’s my point – I have to “let” it happen.

Listening to an interview with Henning Mankell recently, the author of the hugely popular Wallender detective series of books and films, he said that he finds creativity, inspiration if you like, comes when he is doing something else; something mundane that requires some attention but not complete focus. Washing the dishes, cleaning the car, ironing the shirts, can all serve as conscious distraction and gave his creative juices a chance to flow “in the background”. This works for me too. Some folk can walk in the countryside or meditate or “switch off” easily. I cannot. I find that invariably if I sit and think about nothing then loads of crap immediately floods in to fill the perceived vacuum that my chatty mind apparently thinks needs filling. I, it would seem, have limited control over this “notice me now” side of my brain. Whether left-side or right-side, it invariably sneaks into the gap and fills it with drivel. You haven’t done this or you need to check the other. The precious “no thought” moments are, for me, fleeting and illusive. So what do I do? I stop trying to find creativity but I don’t do completely nothing. I do what Kurt proposes and occupy my “notice me now” element with a task and it seems perfectly content to shut up for a few moments. As long as I don’t consciously tell myself hey, you are doing this menial task so that you can be creative – a self-non-fulfilling prophesy if there ever was one – I drift into menial and, occasionally, the creative block is unblocked.

Another way in which I encourage the muse is to know when to start and when to stop. I know that creative ideas, given the chance, will usually come (see above) but we cannot all wander lonely as clouds until it does. I was treated to a presentation by Lord Archer some months ago wherein he claimed that one of the secrets to his prolific writing was discipline – he arose early every day, completed ablutions and then wrote solidly for at least an hour. Then, muse released, he started the work of Government. This routine, he stated, meant that he could complete all tasks AND satisfy his creative whilst balancing the mundane (my words, not his). There is clearly merit in this organisation, well, for him at least. Personally I try to avoid too much routine – it kind of defeats the point of being self employed if you follow the clock too diligently – but clearly setting up some schedule to allocate specific time to specified tasks will help to keep on top of the rubbish and administration and , potentially at least, allow for some creative space. I try to recognise when I am “best” at particular types of tasks and duties. I am a relatively early riser and, like Lord Archer, I like to get started as soon as I have addressed my own and my dog’s ablutions – but for me I like to bash at the horrid stuff first. I always feel uplifted when I have been online to reply to that email, pay that bill, book that train or increasingly, complain to my service providers! These done, I feel my day is free for the nicer stuff which includes time for the creative moments. In the afternoon, however, its analysis time and the evenings lend themselves to reading and research. That’s how I tend to work. So, tip number 2 is work out when you do which tasks best and try to accommodate this as frequently as possible. There is a tip 2a) here too which is keep off your own back. Just because you plan something does not mean that it will always work out that way – be flexible and patient. You cannot force the muse, and plan in some spontaneity too!

Final tip. Look to the past for inspiration and before anyone with more US tendencies starts to fret about copyright and Intellectual Property law I am not advocating plagiarism. I am merely suggesting two points: firstly that there is nothing new (with the possible exception of cutting edge quantum physics or deep space Voyagers) and many great and creative a solution is either a variation on a theme or one applied in a different manner than previously and secondly, an idea becomes a great idea when the time for it has arrived. Just because it did not work out last time does not mean that it will not now (AND vice versa!!). Timing is key. As a post script to this second point I would qualify it by saying that we will not fix 21st century problems with 20th century solutions and unless you are creative, innovative if you will, then you will fall behind or fail completely. Innovation requires imagination and what is creativity if it is not imagination unleashed and made real? We may not all be intellectual geniuses but we ALL have imagination. Let it speak and listen to the muse.
So, my 3 tips for encouraging creativity:

1.Stop trying to find it, it will find you.
2.Find your own routine and give the muse a chance
3.Look to the past, timing is as much genius as the thought sometimes.

I hope that helps and the best of luck (with the timing of your creativity).

This article was published in the3rdimagazine on March 4, 2013

Do you use technology for social change?

The last few months have seen a significant change in the direction of my business projects. The vast majority nowadays are working with community projects, social enterprises and socially-focused academic institutions.

In many of these projects I am discussing and developing social return on investment models. Typically, SROI is a combination of financial return and social impact. I will not jump the gun at this stage on SROI models until I have at least had the opportunity to discuss current practices with Tony Bradley of Liverpool Hope University, an acknowledged leading academic on the subject and whose wonderful article introducing “integral economics” appears in this issue. I strongly suggest that you read the forthcoming serial of articles for the 3rdimagazine from Tony. No, what I thought I would do is to try and understand whether technology can specifically serve and benefit the “social sector”.

In order to get quick understanding I headed to Mashable; one of the leading lights in the world of digital technology reporting. They rather pleasingly provided me not only with various articles ( and unfortunately sponsored reports and adverts), but also with a list. A list entitled The Top 5 Social Enterprise Technologies for Business. Excellent, I thought. Initially.

The list comprises the following:

Jive – which provides collaboration software for businesses with the mission of improving team and work productivity – a platform for employees to communicate, brainstorm, and collaborate on projects in much the same way that social media sites allow us to connect.

Yammer which provides social networking services to organizations, allowing a secure way for companies and their employees to internally share information and otherwise collaborate.

Kaltura – described as the leading video-related social enterprise software that enables companies to launch a “Corporate Tube” to engage employees and customers, helping enterprises offer more knowledge sharing, collaboration, training, and marketing efforts.

Salesforce who provide enterprise cloud computing software for businesses, including Customer Relationship Management (CRM) services and other products for communication and data collection among employees.

Oracle, the IT and software giant that specializes in database management systems.

I hope that you can see why my initial excitement was now somewhat defused. Maybe I had asked the wrong question because these technologies were clearly business solutions that could be used by social enterprise in the same way that could be used, and are, by any commercial enterprise. I concede that all of the above are of some value, but they were not social enterprise specific; simply “social media” products and services. I returned to my research and asked a better question. The result was far more inspiring and I urge you to follow this link to the Harvard Business Review

Tech-savvy entrepreneurs was just what I was looking for. The use of various technologies to provide genuine social change. Again, I have extracted directly from the article (for which I thank HBS) to save pointless interpretation.

Samasource creates opportunities for marginalized people in developing countries to support themselves through small computer-based tasks executed remotely.

A new generation of social entrepreneurs is using mobile devices and the web to address pressing problems, harnessing their reach and flexibility to make a difference: finding earthquake victims in Haiti, detecting landmines in South Africa, creating jobs for marginalized women in Pakistan, and more.

GroundReport aims to break the barriers of censorship and media bias by empowering ordinary citizens to provide “hyperlocal” perspectives on global events. Anyone can publish news reports, opinion pieces, or videos on its website, and its more than 5,000 contributors have provided coverage of events such as the Iranian election protests—offering perspectives that, without this outlet, would have been stifled by government bans.

There are more examples for those of you interested including a project using speed dial phone numbers and GPS to improve medical support in India and some innovative funding projects. My faith is restored. It would appear that technology was not only being used in the standard marketing and communication fields, nor was it reduced, as it is in so many commercial enterprises, to measure and count, but it was being increasingly used in innovative socially beneficial ways to save and improves lives and communities. This did raise another question, however. Are we dong these things ‘at home’. Could, for example, the use of remote working and social media technologies be better used in the UK by encouraging home working, training and the spreading of knowledge to those who need it most?

I have to admit that I am only in the early stages of my research and work in this field but am now even more inspired. I will hopefully be able to report back to you on my progressing the coming issues. In the mean time I would end this piece with an appeal. Well, a couple actually.

Please have a look at the HBS report on the above link if you are interested in using technology to deliver social projects and enterprise.
If you are involved in socially-beneficial business or projects that utilise technology solutions to deliver and/or measure social change, please get in touch. I would be very interested in discussing your work.

For the moment I will continue to develop the work I am doing and will report back on any developments but please do contact me with your experiences.

This article was published in the 3rdimagazine on 2 December 2012

IT’S NOT YOUR MONEY, IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU, YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING

It goes without saying that you have read many articles on Leadership. There are many blogs, journals, books, and such, all offering “tips from the top” and “how to make £-gerzillions in 12 months” or “leadership is a mindset” type of perspectives. It is true that many of these articles do indeed offer quality advice so why is this one any different? Well, in its intention, to provide possible ideas to assist the lonely life of the leader, is very much the same. Where this one differs, and hopefully succeeds, is that the cases and references contained herein are based on actual situations, actual events, actual people in actual businesses. And recent too; these are not gathered from the expanding archives, nor dredged from the files of the 70’s and 80,s business records, but refer to recent events.

I mention this for two reasons; firstly to assure you that they are genuine and secondly because some of the issues and practices that I reference here could easily otherwise be mistaken for archaic and archane “pre-elightenment” practices before the time of philanthroprenuers, social enterprise and The Big Society.

I will provide them in order of some personal priority but the order is fluid and by all means juggle the content as you so prefer.

Firstly, It’s not your money.

Before horror, denial and indignance set in, let me expand.

You are the Leader. Incidentally, by “Leader” I mean in the context of “leading others” – if you are alone then these comments may have less resonance and relevance. You had (and maybe shared) your vision. You invested your time, energy and money; well done but, put simply, if you are providing all the funds for your business after its initial set up and are not recieving income from customers and/or investors then you do not have a business, you have a hobby; and possibly an expensive one. So, back to the point; the money providing funds for you and your business should be from you successfully providing your product to people willing to pay for it. It is your customers who are funding your business; this is not “your” money it belongs to the business and has materialised as a result of the efforts of ALL your staff. Treat it as such. Your staff and partners have contributed and deserve some recognition and they should expect that the “we are all in it together” theory to at least hold some truth for the work they do. Pay yourself how much and how often you like in accordance with the performance of the business but do not strip your business for personal glory and bling. You are the custodian of the funds; treat themand your partners, respectfully.

Secondly; Its not all about you.

You lead, we know that, but to do that you need followers; if you do not have followers then you are not an inspiring leader of peoples, but are an eccentric performer operating on the fringe of business reality. So, followers it is then and to get followers you need to engage them. I know this may sound somewhat zeitgeist but it holds true for all ages. The “tip” here? Engage them in their own terms, not yours. You may be driven by money, they may not. If they are young and keen then money may well be a priority (to fund the first steps on the property ladder for example) but if they are maturer then longer term commitments such as pensions and investments may be more relevant or social impact and community involvement may motivate them more. Essentially, think about how to engage them in terms that are important to them and not just relevant specifically to you or to the business mission. (Although I would strongly recommend that some social values and objectives are integrated directly into your mission statemnent from the outset.!) An engaged and motivated workforce is far more likely to deliver ALL of your objectives so communicate and listen to their personal requirements and create ways that you can all benefit in terms that are appropriate to all.

And more, detachment will probably allow you a better perspective; standing back to see the wood AND the trees.

Thirdly; You don’t know everything.

If you employ people then it makes sense that you believe that they add some value to your business. It follows that you are prepared to let them perform these duties but here’s the rub; just how unhindered are they actually. If you have to make all the decisions; if you have to sign every cheque; if you have to attend every meeting, if you have to check every task that they complete then let’s be honest, they are considerably hindered. Essentially you do not trust them to do their work. The answer; trust them and prove this by your actions. Delegate, communicate, share, support them; inspire them to be creative and innovative. They probably know more about what they do than you do so create and environment that encourages this knowledge and innovation and a culture that supports it. Trust is something that is better shared and the only way to test trust-worthiness is to actually trust someone. If they can trust you to lead them, you should be able to trust them to follow.

Essentially, detach, empower, trust. Business is about people. Your u-s-p is made all the more unique because of the definitive uniqueness of you and your staff. An innovative product or incredible service will always differentiate you from you competitors but it is your relationship and leadership of your partners and employees that will really drive home your uniqueness. As a leader you have a duty to support your followers as much as they have a duty to behave responsibly and be trustworthy with your business. They have a self responsibility, you have a “collective” one.

There are innumerable tools and techniques on the market but these, above, I hope are examples of a few fundamental truths.
Detach, empower, trust. What can be the worse that happens – you can always go back to the “old ways” !!

This article was published in the3rdimagazine on 4 June 2012.

Networking

Networking

Definitions: making use of meetings with other people involved in the same kind of work, in order to share information, help each other etc.

Networking, as described in the above definition, requires interaction with an extended group of people and this implies those outside of your normal groups of communication. They survive on interaction within the context of relationship (business) development and interest and highlight the requirement for mutual support. There is a point to note here; why are you networking?

I have to confess that I am not a natural networker. I have been to many networking events in the past and can say without fear of contradiction that I found them intrusive and at times quite desperate. Invariably they were gatherings of people touting business cards and hawking products and services; office furniture salesmen trying to sell desks to home-based life coaches and telephony reps pushing cheaper calls to advertising agents. In addition to these hardy souls, most of the other attendees seemed to know each other already and be chatting idly, munching on the slightly curled up range of sandwiches and canapés.

Networking groups that abound these days have developed this basic theme but, in my experience, not by much!. I have no problem with informal meeting and chats, in fact, I genuinely enjoy them (well most of the anyway!) especially if I am not required to pay for the honour! If I could guarantee that I was not going to be sold at or that I did not have to leave the event with however many new orders scribbled on the back of my collection of business cards I would generally relish the opportunity to learn and build relationships.

For me, business is about relationships. Relationships with your investors, employees, customers, suppliers, community and, slightly more abstractly but no less important, the environment. Your entire stakeholder community, in fact. Indeed, in these times of increasing competition and decreasing opportunities that offer a tangible mirror to “austerity”, there is another an key relationship that requires managing. The relationship with your self. This means your authentic self.

Managing relationships by networking is essentially an opportunity for you to learn, gain contacts, pass on expertise and promote your unique business proposition (and more). This holds true whether the networking is undertaken directly or using the plethora of online and social networking tools and sites. Essentially, this development reflects a fundamental change in the way that we can connect with our stakeholders but it is important to understand that this is only a development of tools, an alternative to meeting face to face. The principles remain unchanged.

Bringing these two aspects of networking seems to me to be the key to success. It is the use of an appropriate combination of remote and face-to-face activity that makes networking effective and, dare I say it, beneficial to your business; a strategy that combines the two aspects. Random internet networking is to me as painful, time consuming and ineffective as random network eventing. If that is your “bag” then all well and good and I wish you all the best but in general terms I advise being as diligent and discrete with internet networking as you are with face-to-face events and ensure that you get your (time and) money’s worth.

So, some points to consider:

How much time will it take?
How much time do you have? There is no question that if you are the kind of person who cannot hear a email ping into your inbox without looking at it immediately you should think carefully about adding social networking for your business to the mix.

Decide on the best site(s) for you and your business
New sites appear every day. Even the long established sites change regularly. When you decide which ones to use to start your answer to the “time” question might help you decide what else you do.

Start a conversation
Social media generally – including social networking, blogs, forums etc anything where people can contribute and respond – depends on conversations.

Build a community
Building a community whose members know and trust you can hugely boost your own and your business reputation. One very important thing to remember is that we all like when someone gives us something for free.

Take the conversation offline when you can
We get far more sense of how we can get on with people when we can see and hear them. Social networking should be used in addition to – not instead of – your other networking activities!

Be in it for the long run
No matter how much – or how little – you decide to do you need to decide to stick with it. Just as you will not have built your current network overnight neither will using social networking move it to a new level quickly.

Markets have changed and networking (a method by which you can access companies and individuals within these markets) is changing. Essentially, the traditional market place/square is no longer the only time and place to network as was the case from medieval times to the 19h century. Technological developments in communications and logistics meant that our potential market (and networking) opportunities grew hugely. In the 20th and 21st century this has, and will continue to, rise and grow. Stakeholders can be next door or across the globe. Our markets today are disparate geographically but not necessarily practically. The rise of such companies as Amazon and Google are testament to this. Networking nowadays has infinite potential whether you leave your home or not so my final point is this, always, always be authentic online and offline – you never know when you will meet again!

Extracts taken from “An A-Z Introduction to Ethiconomics” by Philip A Birch

Whose land is it anyway?

A man was touring the British back roads on his bike in late Spring/early Summer. Picture the scene; the glorious, blossoming hedgerows packed with flora and the rustles of fauna unseen, the musky fragrance of elder flower and early gorse. Along a quiet, gravely track away from the traffic, he pulls off the road for his lunch and rests for a short while in a field. Just him, his bike and the glories of the British countryside.

After a short time, a Range Rover pulls into the entrance to the field and parks by the gate; the gate that he had rested his bike against whilst he enjoyed his repast. The following conversation ensued:

Range Rover man: “Hey you. What do you think you are doing?”

Cyclist: “Just having a wee rest while I have my lunch. Beautiful here isn’t it?”

RR man: “Yes it is and its mine.”

Cyclist: “Oh. Yours? What do you mean?”

RR man: “It’s my land and you can’t stop here.”

Cyclist: “Your land? Mmm. How did you come by it?”

RR man: “My father left it to me. We have owned this land for generations.”

Cyclist: “I see. And how many generations?”

RR man: “We have owned this land since my great great Grandfather.”

Cyclist: Oh. And how did he get it?”

RR man (a little ruffled by now) “He got it from the previous owners. It was in their family as long as records go back. Now leave; this is my land and you cannot stay here.”

Cyclist: “And how did they get the land?”

RR man: “They fought for it and won.”

Cyclist: “Fine. I will fight YOU for it now then.”

Okay. It’s a joke of sorts, but actually it’s not really that ridiculous. Unfortunately, it is real life in a nutshell. My point? You cannot own land. In reality, nobody can.

You may be allocated guardianship or legal stewardship but you cannot own it. You may have legal title under the vagaries of UK Law but these legal agreements are invariably based upon fundamentally unfair historic principles and activities in days of yore; namely that if or your ancestors happened to ally themselves with the “winners” in some arbitrary war or battle or political upheaval, then you “got” the land as reward; quite simply, the spoils of war. I agree, that this simplifies the situation somewhat but keep going back in history and at some stage public or common land will have been taken over by private individuals whether you go back to pre-Christian times, the Viking/Saxon era, the Norman conquest, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and so on. If it was good enough to settle a disagreement in the past by violence (or arbitrary political allegiance and sycophancy) then why is it different now? It isn’t. It is the same with our rivers.

Ridiculously, over 90% of our rivers are not accessible freely by the general public. So who “owns” the river? The water itself is ever-moving and so is only passing through one particular section of land at any one time. Clearly one cannot own a specific portion of the water. If one tries to, one will be following that piece of water along its length into the sea (more often than not). The fauna within and alongside the river are born, live and die without our ownership and generally we have little or no idea of their existence let alone possess the ability to own these lives. The trees, plants and flora that grow within and around the river manage to do so without paying us rent. We do not (and cannot) own them either. They blossom, fertilise, grow, spread, die decompose and re-cycle all without their need or knowledge of being “owned”. Indeed, the historic families and “houses” that were previously allocated the land are now no longer with us. The monks that built and managed the monasteries, the churches and cathedrals, the family estates of previous centuries have long gone in many cases but the land still exists. It may have changed appearance or use because of our management or mismanagement but it still there and will be there when we ourselves have shuffled off our respective mortal coils. A simple look at the many large, empty country estates that litter our country are testament to this. Once, the lucky sperm club lauded and lorded over these huge tracts of land but now, once the costs get too high and the inheritance too complex to trace or manage, they are gone. The owners are gone but the land is not. Who owns it then?

I am not espousing some new age hippy impractical theory here; I am attempting to highlight a fundamental issue within our society.

I have started working with some enlightened and progressive individuals and groups that aim to address this issue. The basic premise is based upon stewardship not ownership. We are looking into the fundamental components of ownership and management of land, property, resources and natural supplies. We are creating new organisational structures, contractual agreements, responsibilities and rewards. I use the current terminology for the sake of immediate understanding but these highly innovative individuals are focused on creating new models based upon the value of the resources and the respective flows and usage of this value rather than who owns the “asset” and what they expect to get back in terms of private gain. The return on these investments, for example, is not calculated in terms of compound interest on loans or borrowing but directly calculated in terms of how much is returned to the lender for the use (and value) of the resources.

Does this sound interesting? Then watch this space, I will be providing examples and real cases in the coming weeks. To quote my colleague and friend Chris Cook,

“21st century problems will not be solved by 20th century solutions” (or indeed 17th, 18th or 19th century rules). We need innovative and inclusive agreements across society that rewards stewardship, guardianship and mutual vested interest and genuine equitable co-operation to manage effectively the land and resources in the 21st century.

We are working to provide these and I look forward to reporting on progress in the coming weeks and months.