Conscious Leadership Through the Lens of Two Simple Quotes

For today’s Friday Reads, I decided to offer a close read of two significant lines that have been tumbling about in my head this week.One is from David Sloan Wilson and the other is from David Attenborough.  I think these may have given me a new and simpler way to explain the benefits of Conscious Capitalism. 

I was reminded of the Attenborough quote last week while watching a series featuring Greta Thunberg called “A Year to Change the World.” She had just finished the Davos climate summit and was feeling discouraged. Attenborough was sharing his long perspective that comes with many years.  During the conversation he said; “Self interest is for the past. Common interest is for the future.” It was just so simple, and so profound.

The David Sloan Wilson quote is; “Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. All else is commentary.” This needs a bit of unpacking.  

When there is a selfish individual or several selfish individuals within a group, those selfish individuals will take advantage of the altruistic members of the group and take more than their fair share. Therefore; “Selfishness beats altruism within groups.” Only that’s not the whole story.  

“Altruistic groups beat selfish groups.”

David Sloan Wilson

In groups containing selfish members, not only are members of the group being unfairly treated, groups containing selfish individuals have to spend effort creating rules, policing individuals, and watching their backs. They are forced to waste potential creativity on guarding against a cheat. Altruistic individuals are forced to start thinking more about their own self interest for their own self preservation. Performance of the group is going to be miserable.

Altruistic groups who have no selfish individuals are focused on helping each other. This generates lots of win-win-win scenarios, and people are happy about it. Individuals think every day about how they can contribute more to their group. They love their group, and their group loves them. There is great positive energy and collaboration, more creative ideas and more energy. When someone needs help, the others gladly step in to lend a hand. There is no place within the group’s culture to be asking, “what’s in it for me?”

This is why Conscious Capitalism works. This whole concept of altruistic groups of individuals is fractal. It looks the same at whatever scale you are looking at it. A group of five people or a group of five companies. The same principles are at play. In either case, an altruistic group will beat a selfish group.  

What could be more selfish than a company focusing solely on generating profits for its shareholders, especially if it is at the expense of everyone else in the company or any suppliers or customers? Pay the employees less, buy materials at a price almost sure to drive the suppliers out of business, and cheat oops… I mean charge your customer as much as possible.

On the other hand….

What could be more altruistic than a group of Conscious companies acting for the benefit of all their stakeholders; the employees, the suppliers, the customers, the community, and the planet? This altruistic group will beat similar groups containing selfish companies.

What company culture could be more Conscious than one composed of altruistic employees intrinsically motivated and fulfilled by doing what they do best every day to benefit everyone else for a shared higher purpose?  

They will certainly outperform a company focused on shareholder profit in a culture that allows selfish individuals to contribute less and take more.

A Conscious Leader is engaged in the common interest of her people and all of the other stakeholders.  She has an abundance of altruism.

Cheers for Friday!

Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter

Gavin Watson & Associates

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As David Attenborough said: “Self interest is for the past. Common interest is for the future.”


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Musings on Conscious Capitalism Strategy

Today I started a 12 month course on becoming certified as a Conscious Capitalism Consultant.

As all good first days of a course should be, it provoked some new thinking for me.  A question was raised.  How do we as consultants expect to transform business into something more Conscious?  

For me that requires answering the question: how did we get here in the first place?  Why is business done the way it generally is?  I can think of three possibilities; you may think of more.

Door #1 Was it originally a garden of Eden where businesses (like my grandfathers) cared deeply about their employees, generously shared profits, and went out of their way to help their people and the community?  My father is another example, in the 1960’s he was known to pay people more because they had families and needed to care for them.  (A crazy idea nowadays – and probably illegal – but there it is.)  He acted generously based on his compassion for a parent struggling to raise a family.  The New England Shaker communities would have agreed with him “to each according to need”)

Did the garden of Eden come to an end because of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Milton Friedman and Neo-liberal economics?  Was that a more compelling story?

Door #2 Or is it a stage of development thing, like Piaget’s stages of cognitive development and Kohlberg’s stages of moral development?  Do businesses move from selfish to selfless on some sort of continuum?  From ruthless and profit driven, to higher-purposeful?  Is it dependent on the leaders’ stage of development as Keagan and Lahey suggest in their book, An Everyone Culture: Deliberately Developmental Organizations.

Door#3  Or are selfish organizations, neo-liberal economics, extractive capitalism on the one extreme and Conscious Capitalism near the other end of the spectrum reflections of personality type? On the one extreme narcissistic and psychopathic leaders and their companies and on the other extreme companies run by a near Mother Teresa type personality and acting accordingly?

If it is Door #1, that Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand destroyed the garden of Eden then we just need to work on a more compelling story than the one Ayn Rand tells in Atlas Shrugged.  David Sloan Wilson, an Evolutionary Biologist, has done just that in his new book Atlas Hugged.  Kate Raworth rewrote economics and destroyed Milton Friedman’s neo-Liberal economics in her book Doughnut Economics. 

If it is Door #2 a stage of development problem and a company can’t go beyond the level of development of it’s leader then we would employ a strategy of leadership coaching and development.  These programs are a dime a dozen.  I think a lot of these programs fail.  The ones I witnessed certainly did.  

My bet is on Door #3.  It is personality based.  It is the personality of the leader that is relevant. So the temptation is to ask the question: how do we change someone’s personality?  The problem is that we can’t.  Every personality trait is highly heritable. It’s mostly genetic.  We are who we are and we get more entrenched in our personality the older we get (see the work of Robert Ploman and his book Blueprint.)  Compassion is an element of personality therefore it is highly heritable. Both the extent to which someone is compassionate, and who that compassion is directed towards – only our family, only our close group members, or absolutely anyone who is suffering – gets passed down.

Everyone I have met so far in our Conscious Capitalism tribe felt strongly that something was deeply wrong with corporate life.  Some of us had developed our own versions of something similar to Conscious Capitalism and were fighting to make it real. Then we discovered Conscious Capitalism and realized this was what they were looking for.  It was not the other way around.  We did not think corporate life was great (as clearly some people do) until we read about Conscious Capitalism and only then realized it could be better. People find us and express the genuine feeling that they have found their tribe. Reading and attending lectures did not convince them. They already felt out of place in the corporate world and upon discovering a Conscious Capitalism group feel right at home.

John Mackey is himself a great example.  He was not a born capitalist. He was on a mission to serve a community by providing good wholesome food. Later on he discovered capitalism enacted in a conscious way could help him, and was indeed necessary to serve this mission.  

I am arguing that people will either have a combination of personality aspects to be genetically disposed to get it and feel excited about Conscious Capitalism, or not. No amount of pounding on the door of a person who is not tuned to that frequency is going to persuade them. You might at best get them to agree that it is an option on the table, but they just don’t want to taste it right now… maybe later.

So if this is the case what do we do? Certainly not give up! There is a rich audience of people out there who are going to get it when they hear it and immediately and joyously join the tribe.  We need to be speaking much more clearly and passionately so they hear us.  

One of the things that struck me recently was the Gallup engagement survey data. It just hit me that the 15% who are “actively disengaged” who are drilling holes in the boat are actually engaged and just pissed off. They would not have that negative emotion if they did not care. They feel strongly that something is just wrong. Drilling holes in the proverbial company boat is not constructive behavior, but I would bet that if they were in a Conscious Culture with a high degree of autonomy and they felt free to bring their whole selves to work and that they were appreciated for their uniqueness, we would not see that behavior. Instead most in this group would become highly engaged. The problem is not the people, it is the system and culture. But I digress.

Turn up the volume!  I think we Conscious Capitalists are soft selling our idea because we are generally more thoughtful and understanding than most.

We have experienced the pressure from the traditional business leaders to conform to the traditional practices and we don’t want to behave like that. There is also a desire to win over a larger audience so we don’t want to offend any potential business owners. If it is door #1 or door #2 that is the right strategy. But if it is door #3 that is a mistake. If it is door #3 then we need to be loud and unapologetic about what we believe, while at the same time acknowledging it is not going to be for everyone and that’s ok.

If we are unabashed and unapologetic, loud and clear, those who are predisposed to connect with the principles of Conscious Capitalism will hear us and show up. They are members of our tribe that have not found each other yet. We can then help them along the journey they already yearn to be on. We can provide a language and a framework with which they can explore their feelings and ideas and share them with others in their organization. This is the most effective path to converting the highest number of companies to this framework. This is the way we will have the highest positive impact on people working at companies who deserve to be fulfilled by work, when they are investing 90,000 hours of their lives there. This is the way we will change our societies and save our planet.

These conscious companies will of course continue to dramatically outperform the regular companies, but don’t expect that to sway any non-believers. They will continue to take a wait and see, maybe I will have a taste of it later, approach until the cows come home. It’s just not their thing and it is never going to be.

Of course, there is an upside and a downside. On the downside we won’t get everyone to become a Conscious Capitalist. I never expected we would. On the up side we can take a bolder stand, attract the leaders who are looking for this tribe, and assist in converting more companies to these principles faster. People deserve to have fulfilling work lives, and our planet desperately needs more conscious businesses. For me the mission is clear.  The urgency is great. 

Cheers for Friday!

Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter

Gavin Watson & Associates


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Gavin’s Friday Reads: Mismatch by Ronald Giphart and Mark van Vugt – Part 2

This is the same book I reviewed last week. Last week’s review was about ancient human societies, and the contrast with our modern work culture.  It was about the autonomy and egalitarian systems we crave that will also lead to high performing workplaces. This book also has a lot to say about leadership, much of which is especially applicable to our times, so I wanted to cover the subject of leadership separately.  

“In humans, leadership is a little more widely spread than in other animal species. Someone would take the lead on the savannah in the limited arena in which his talent was able to flourish…amongst our ancestors the followers fundamentally created the leader.”  Mark van Vugt and Ronald Giphart, Mismatch

Or, as Simon Sinek puts it: “To be a leader means one thing and one thing only. It means that you have followers.”

If you are a leader your ‘power’ was given to you by the people you are leading. They are letting you lead because they trust that you will care for them above only yourself. That is a sacred responsibility that should not be violated.

In our ancient ancestors’ time, leadership was fluid; it depended on what needed doing. Leadership was not hereditary or a full time job.  A leader was a person with a good plan and the ability to engage others and make it happen.  

If Pete suggested going out on a hunt even though Pete had never come home with as much as a Bunyoro rabbit, all the men would carry on lazing under the trees.  But if Jack who was extremely proficient at catching wildebeest proposed a walk, everyone would definitely follow.

Leadership can have a dark side.

“I worry that business leaders are more interested in material gain than they are in having the patience to build up a strong organization, and a strong organization starts with caring for their people.” – John Wooden

Unfortunately some individuals will abuse leadership (the power that the people give them) to take advantage of the group.

We want transformational leaders who have the good of the group as their focus and who will self-sacrifice for their group.  We don’t want transactional leaders or narcissistic or sociopathic leaders. Cooperation, high performing groups, fulfilled people, and dominance don’t go together.  

What to do about a bad leader?

Ultimately the responsibility for bad leaders lies in our followership.

“Cooperating in a group context is more effective when aggressive or dominant types are ejected or when the group takes them down a peg or two.  No one individual is stronger than the group.”  Ronald Giphart and Mark van Vugt, Mismatch

Being expelled from the group 50,000 years ago meant certain death. Our ancestors had ‘STOP’ strategies: Strategies To Overcome the Powerful.  They used gossip, had minimal hierarchy and used humor, ridicule, and shunning.  If none of that worked, then the death sentence by expulsion from the group was meted out.  That was an effective strategy for ridding the group of a narcissistic or sociopathic person trying to take control.

Our current organizations and governments are lacking effective STOPs.  Sometimes our organizations even institute rules against essential STOP tactics like gossiping.  We need to put effective STOPs in place.  We could encourage the gossiping around the water cooler that used to happen around the campfire in the evening.  Leaders used to be chosen by their followers.  In our ancestral groups you were a leader because your followers chose you.  We could still do that in our companies and even review our company leaders with the authority to replace them if they are not serving the group.  As in ancestral times, we could pass leadership around as something that is situationally dependent. Whoever is best at leading the project at hand takes the lead. This allows for more variations and selection and if the results are good, repetition in the future. In this way, the better leaders for particular circumstances will emerge from the group.

Unfortunately, as in so much of our business practices, there is a Mismatch in our human evolutionary design and our corporate leadership systems and in our political leadership systems.

If the shareholders choose the leadership for a company through the board of directors, there is a risk that they might choose the wrong type of person for the job. Parachuting in an MBA from outside is rarely a good choice for leadership of a company. Natural leaders should be allowed to emerge from within. When a CEO is chosen who primarily cares about the stock price and their bonus, there is not much the employees can do about it except vote with their feet. There is a good argument for the employees to choose their leaders at their working group level and, even at the top of the company.

In our politics there are real issues.  We have been designed to exist in groups of up to 150 people. At this size we either know each other directly or we know someone who knows that other person and we can find out about their reputation by asking our friends. 

A great number of us are prone to following self serving leaders who enhance themselves to appear strong. When we are fearful (and sometimes bad “leaders” deliberately create fake stuff to be fearful of or deliberately amp it up) we want someone who sounds confident, and if it is a complex issue we may elect them to take care of it for us.  

We have different personalities, psychologically we are not all built the same. We tend to one end of a given spectrum or the other. 

Liberals and conservatives, for instance, care about the issue of fairness but see fairness in a different way, through a different lens. Some ask; am I, and is my group, getting our fair share?  Others ask, is that disadvantaged person being treated fairly?  We are all compassionate but feel compassion differently.  Compassion can be group-related.  Who is my group?  Is it my family? My friends, My church? My religion? My company? My fellow sports team fans?  My political party?  My country? Or am I a global citizen with global responsibilities?

In our ancestors’ times it was good to have people who cared about strangers outside our group.  People who felt compassion and offered sustenance to outsiders. We see that in the generosity of groups who do not have much but willingly share what little they have with total strangers.  It was also good to have people within our group considering how that would put an additional strain on our group’s resources. A strong in group bias. We still have this range of personality types living among us.  A good leader needs both.

How I participate in leadership is linked to a large degree in how we are hardwired.  Am I one who wants to lead?  Do I prefer to stay in the background?  Am I a good follower?  Do I pledge allegiance to a flag?  Do I respect authority? or do I question authority?  Keep in mind, I am wired a certain way, and so are you. 

The question to ask ourselves is what level is the leader operating on?  Is he putting himself before everyone else in the group?  Is he putting himself and his friends before everyone else in the group? Or is he putting the group ahead of himself?  If he is putting himself and or his friends ahead of everyone else then he is clearly not the person we want leading us.  As soon as things go wrong he will be blaming everyone else instead of helping to solve the problem.  A good leader who cares about the group over himself would be apologizing for what went wrong and offering to step down and let someone else with a better idea give it a try.  That is not weakness, that is putting the good of the group first.

If our leader is putting the group ahead of herself and her friends, that’s great. Then we need to ask a follow up question which is; what level of group is she putting ahead of what other group(s)?  Is she putting our group ahead of the other groups?  Or is she putting everyone in every group’s best interest ahead of her own and our group’s self interest?

It is important not to be just a leader for your own group. After all, Hitler’s power came from the belief in the idea that Germany needed to come first.

To the extent that humanity not only survives but prospers for the next thousand years, it will be because we and our leaders put the greater interest of all of us and our planet (on which we and all future generations depend) ahead of our short term, personal, and national interests. 

We are a global collaborative system of groups of groups within groups, living on a finite planet.  Just like any stakeholder system if a group treats other groups unfairly and takes more than their share, the system is going to collapse.  We followers need to be choosing leaders who understand this and we need to be willing to make personal sacrifices for our global group of humanity.  

This pandemic is a trial run of our ability to put global human interests ahead of our personal, local, political, and national group interests.  So far I am not impressed.  Hopefully we are beginning to learn the lesson.  How this pandemic continues to unfold over the next decade depends on learning the global citizen lesson.  The pandemic will keep teaching us about global citizenship through viral variants until we learn it.  As the followers who give our leaders power to act for us, we are responsible for behaving (and voting) like global citizens.

Cheers for Friday!

Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter

Gavin Watson & Associates


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Gavin’s Friday Reads: Mismatch by Ronald Giphart and Mark van Vugt – Part 1

Mark van Vugt is an Evolutionary Psychologist.  Evolutionary Psychology is the study of our evolution as a species and how that has determined how our brains function and our behavior.  Ronald Giphart is a novelist. 

The two authors ran across each other at the university where Vugt teaches – and where Giphart was visiting as a creative-in-residence. Giphart was intrigued by Vugt’s work and Vugt needed a better way of explaining his thinking. They came up with the term ‘mismatch.’ This book was a natural partnership to explain evolutionary psychology in a readable way.

Mismatch explores the ways in which our “Stone Age Brains” were matched for our ancient ancestors’ environment but now sometimes glitch up in our current environment.  

You see, evolution always relates to the current environment in which a species lives.  An individual or group that is better suited or more adaptable to a particular environment will outperform and out reproduce the less suited. That is, until the environment changes. Then different individuals or groups will have the upper hand.  

It’s interesting to consider, as this book does, all sorts of mismatches we have created for ourselves in our daily lives. Food and supermarkets are an obvious one. Our food no longer runs away so that we have to chase it and expend calories in the pursuit. We can just go buy a box of sugary cereal and eat that. The results are diabetes and tooth decay.

I am just going to focus on the part of the book that covers our work environment.

We humans have dramatically changed our environment.  We are no longer wandering across the African savannah in small groups as our ancestors did for most of the last 200,000 years. We were perfected for that environment, not the one in which we currently find ourselves.

Now we commute to work, punch a clock, get paid money for our labor, manage or have a manager, job descriptions, performance reviews, strategic plans, budgets, paychecks, and bonus programs all of which did not exist while we (and our brains) were evolving.  Biologically and neurologically, we are still the same creatures who traveled in small groups, shared food, and stuck together for protection from much stronger and faster predators.  

Evolution happens minimally and incrementally over at least a dozen or so generations and more likely tens of thousands of years. We have not yet begun to adapt to these new circumstances that we have created for ourselves.   

Genetically, we are lagging far behind. We are hardwired to view, process, and engage with the world in ways we need to understand better so we can adapt our work lives to ourselves, as real human beings.

Our fellow human beings are, in large part, what we have evolved to deal with.  The most common and consistent feature of our environment 100,000 years ago when our ancestors traveled together through the savannah and primordial forests was the other people in our groups. This has not changed. What has changed is the way we interact with each other due to the business operating systems we have invented.

“In the savannah there were no managers or middle managers.  Decisions were taken by the group, on the basis of consensus, not on the basis of hierarchy.  Modern organizations have become excessively formalized and institutionalized, which goes against our small group instincts.  Studies show that employees need a great deal of autonomy, a primeval preference for self-employment. People want to be left alone, they do not want some process supervisor breathing down their neck.  The same studies reveal that employees consider autonomy and social contacts more important than pay.  Our desires have not changed only the circumstances in which we operate.” – Ronald Giphart and Mark van Vugt

The good news is, we CAN better adapt our workplaces to ourselves. This will enable us to operate more in sync with how we are designed.

We thrive in groups of around 100 to 150 people. It is impossible for us to apprehend companies that are too big for our social brains

WL Gore, a global life sciences company

When a unit grows to a size of 150, a new unit can be set up that does the same work.  Everything in Gore is set up in small groups that are responsible for a segment of a process.  The groups choose their leaders. Every team has a leader, but he or she is chosen by the group itself on the basis of questions and requirements which were also answered by our ancestors: “Who should I follow?” “Who is best able to help me?” and “Who will teach me the most?”  

The Brazilian company Semco likewise works according to this ancestral philosophy and is also successful. Network governance is a method to cancel out mismatch.  Some governance experts believe that this is the organizational model of the future, but in fact it stems from our ancient past.

We are not homo-sapiens, thinking is not our strongest suit.  We are rarely all that logical.  We are homo-collaborens, the collaborative primate.  We have such a strong influence on each other that evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson says; that the smallest human unit is not an individual, it is a small group. We can’t survive without each other and as the african concept of Ubuntu suggests we actually call each other into being.  In different groups with different people I am a different person.  As Margaret Wheatley says this does not make me inauthentic it makes me quantum.

“What is crucial is the relationship created between two or more elements.  Systems influence individuals, and individuals call forth systems.  It is the relationship that evokes the present reality.  Which potential becomes real depends on the people, the events, and the moment.  Prediction and replication are therefore, impossible.  While this is no doubt unsettling, it certainly makes for a more interesting world.  People stop being predictable and become surprising.  Each of us is a different person in different places.  This does not make us inauthentic; it merely makes us quantum.  Not only are we fuzzy; the whole universe is.” Margaret Wheatley ‘Leadership and the New Science’

We are designed by evolution to sense what needs doing and to want to help our groups.  We are descendants of the highly collaborative people. We  carry those same collaborative, generous, and compassionate genes that made our ancestors groups successful. We have everything we need to be high performing groups and organizations. We need to reinvent those organizations in a more human way. Our ancient past is the key to our best future.

Cheers for Friday,

Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter

Gavin Watson & Associates


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Gavin’s Friday Reads: Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn

This book has been around for 25 years, challenging the old “carrot and stick” philosophy of how to motivate people. It’s still one of my favorites, and in my opinion deserves a read and a place on every manager’s shelf. For perspective, though, I’ll start with Deming, founder of Total Quality Management (TQM). You’ve probably heard of him. 

The present style of reward… squeeze(s) out from an individual, over his lifetime, his innate intrinsic motivation, self-esteem, dignity.  They build into him fear, self-defense, and extrinsic motivation.  We have been destroying our people, from toddlers on through university, and on the job.  We must preserve the power of intrinsic motivation, dignity, cooperation, curiosity, joy in learning, that people are born with.

W. Edwards Deming

As management legend goes (and every business school teaches,) Deming’s advice on manufacturing quality was falling on deaf ears here in the U.S. but he found a rapt audience when he took his ideas to Japan after WWII.  He is probably the key person responsible for the quality turn around in Japanese products.  This was most evident in the auto industry. U.S automobile quality was terrible, Japan was worse but they listened, and Toyota quickly became and is still now a dominant car maker in the U.S.  Honda, Subaru, Nissan and many others are also doing quite well.

What you may not expect from such a guru on manufacturing quality and performance is something like his quote above.  Deming comes out very clearly and firmly against extrinsic reward systems!

Here are a couple more Deming quotes to reinforce that point:

        ”The idea of a merit rating is alluring. The sound of the words captivates the imagination: ‘pay for what you get; get what you pay for; motivate people to do their best, for their own good.’ Well, the effect is exactly the opposite of what those words promise. Everyone propels himself forward, or tries to, for his own good, on his own life preserver. The organization is the loser.”

        ”The merit rating rewards people who conform to the system. It does not reward attempts to improve the system.”

The book Punished by Rewards is all about this. I return often to one of my favorite examples of how rewards backfire, pulled from its pages.

A group of psychological researchers is studying the effect of different sorts of rewards. The study is done using young children in a school setting. The study starts with the researchers handing out art supplies. It is a free period, so they can do whatever they like.  As you might expect, some kids run around the room, but a great number of them settle down to make some art. The researchers take note of which kids are engaged in artwork. With this baseline established, the next week begins the experiment.

The following week, kids who spent the most time doing artwork are randomly divided into three groups. The first is the control group. They are given the art supplies and just like the first week, they settle down to do art. The second group is a test group. They are told that if they do great artwork today they will be given an art appreciation award. This award is a ribbon of the sort schools often give out (I am sure you have seen them). This group settles down and does art just like the first group and just like they did the first week.  At the end of the period each child in the second group is given an “Art Appreciation Award,” as they have been promised  The third group is also given the art supplies and they settle down to do art.  At the end of the time they are all surprised by being given an Art Appreciation Reward. They were not expecting it! 

The third week rolls around and again the control group is given art supplies and they settle down and do art.  The second group is given art supplies and told that unfortunately “we are all out of art appreciation awards.” This second group proceeds to do almost no art. The third group is given the art supplies and told that unfortunately “we are all out of art appreciation awards”.  This group settles down and does the same amount of art as the first group.

What happened to the second group? They liked to do art.  They were randomly selected from kids who like to do art.  The third group did not get any rewards either and were told that there were none, but they did just as much art anyway.

The difference is subtle but obviously extremely important. The kids in the second group were given an IF=THEN reward.  If you do this = then you will get that.  The third group was given a NOW THIS! reward.  They were not expecting anything, and yet they got a reward.

The second group was doing something they liked doing. However, all the while they were doing art they were thinking about an extrinsic reward. And it was a really small thing, just a ribbon.

An if=then reward is an extrinsic reward.  It is essentially, as the title of the book suggests, a bribe.  The kids were all randomly selected from a group of kids who intrinsically liked to do art.  They quickly became trained not to do it unless there is something extra in it for them. They have been refocused on the reward instead of the art itself. As Deming says so well, “squeezing out their innate intrinsic motivation.”

One takeaway from this is that if I am being bribed, then the thing I am being asked to do must be something that people don’t want to do, hence the bribe for doing it.  

The third group was unaffected because they did not expect the reward, hence it did not become a bribe. They were still doing the art because they just liked doing it.  The presence of a reward or lack thereof the third week was therefore of no negative consequence.

One of the great joys in life is doing what we do well for the benefit of our group.

Gavin Watson

When our workplaces give us bribes to do what we do best and what we love doing it squeezes out the intrinsically rewarding nature of our work lives. If this continues to happen, as Deming says it will also destroy our motivation, self-esteem, and eventually our dignity.  Who wants to do that to anyone?

How many of our workplace systems are set up to extrinsically motivate us?

Now I know that some people may read this and think, “but I can’t get people motivated any other way!”  If that’s true, and to some extent I hear you and agree with you, it is not because people are born to be extrinsically motivated. It is rather because they were trained to become that way, through reinforcement over time.  Effectively, many managers have unwittingly “destroyed” what was not broken in the first place! Most of the destruction may not have occurred while they have been working in your company. It may have begun at school as Deming suggests and continued at other places they have previously worked.  This will take some time and patience to reset.

Knowing this, we need to reset work practices. Eliminate all extrinsic rewards (AKA bribes) from the workplace. Including even (and this might come as a shock!) the bribes considered essential to motivate that separate species of human, the “salesperson” who is usually the primary target of this bribery.  You want your sales people thinking about the customer’s needs and how your company can creatively help them, not how large their bonus is going to be. So, compensate them fairly, with an amount typical for a salesperson living where they are doing the work in your type of industry. I would also add in some great advice from Janet Yellin that you should “pay above average”.  This builds in a bonus, and takes the issue of money and fixation on bribes off the table and out of mind.  Your salespeople can now focus on doing what they love to do.  Find that sweet spot, where the company provides what helps the customer get their needs met. 

If=then rewards are particularly destructive.  “Now this!” rewards (the kind the third group of kids were given) can become “if=then” rewards if they are expected.  If every time you do something I surprise you with a gift card you will begin to expect a gift card when you do it.  It has now become an “if=then” reward.  If you do the thing and you don’t get a gift card you might even ask me why I didn’t give it to you.

Don’t let HR tell you (as my HR department did) that we need to set up a gift card reward system to reward ABC type behaviors predictably and equally with XYZ rewards, and that all managers should have a meeting and agree on the metrics we would all use consistently to give them out.  That’s the surest path to an If=Then reward system.  Treating people fairly is not the same as treating them equally.  We want to be treating people fairly.  Fairly means treated as the individual (i.e, distinctly different) person I am. Conformity does not equal fairness. 

Now, I do like surprising people with gift cards. Or just seeking out someone to thank for a job well done.  It’s fun! Just keep mixing it up.  

People should be coming to work for the intrinsic rewards. Two Intrinsic rewards are positive emotion and relationships.  So, a Hi-5 is a good thing.  Someone may be a consistent high performer and not get a lot of recognition, yet they are happily engaged in what they find fulfilling every day.  Work can be (and should be) its own reward.  Someone else who has been working really hard to learn a new job may just barely manage something for the first time.  It might be far from perfectly executed, and it may have taken them a lot of time to do it, but YEA! They did it!  Hi Five!

So am I saying eliminate all extrinsic rewards: bonus money, special parking places, a corner office, a company car etc?  

If it is an If=Then bribe to elicit a certain behavior then yes, that is exactly what I am saying.  If it is rare, spontaneous and unexpected, a fairness issue or a group reward that is OK.  

If for example everyone who works for the company for 20 years gets XYZ then you can keep doing that.  That is just a fairness thing.  It is not something you did as an individual to get it,   it is something related to the job or role you are doing and everyone who is in that same group doing that same thing gets the identical same thing no more or less.  That’s just fairness.  Fairness is good.  

It is also better to give rewards to groups instead of individuals.  That fosters group collaborative effort instead of selfish effort.  We don’t want to create a system in which an individual wins and “the organization is the loser” as Deming says.

The best sort of reward is a bonus (pizza for everyone on Friday, or a company trip, or whatever) to everyone in the company.  Afterall, everyone who showed up contributed to the company’s success that week.  It is best to give the same amount to everyone regardless of position, or possibly even more to those who earn less.  It will mean more to them, and we all like taking care of each other.  Leaders who take care of those who need it most are regarded much more favorably by their group.  If you want to instill loyalty, take care of the ones who need the most help.  We all care about and will protect our group when our group cares about and protects the most vulnerable among us.  It’s a sign of a healthy group.

In any case, sharing an if=then reward with everyone in the company, or possibly just the people in a given location signals that ‘we are a team, and we are all in this together.’  Which is exactly the message you want to send.  We may be thinking about this reward while we are doing our work, but we will be thinking of the good it will do for the others in the group.  It is not a selfish motivation now.  Now I am motivated by doing something good for my whole group.

Bottom line: If your people are not engaged in their work and not being intrinsically fulfilled it could be that some of the company “compensation” systems may be unintentionally getting in the way. Have YOU had an experience like this? Let us know! Leave a comment on this blogpost or email us at info@consciouscapitalism.org

Cheers for Friday,

Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter

Gavin Watson & Associates


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Dr Dolittle and Kermit: A Conscious Capitalism Rainbow Connection

One of my favorite song lines is from the original Dr. Dolittle movie. Matthew is singing to young Master Stubbins, and one of the lines goes: “I know that what the Doctor tells me isn’t all together true, but I love every tale he tells me. I don’t know of any better ones, do you?”

I think Matthew hits the nail on the head. The stories might not be true, but they are really good stories.  

Most of us adults think that kids and imaginary magical worlds are fun stuff, but when we are adults we need to be based in reality and as adults we undoubtedly know what reality is. 

On the contrary, I think kids have a much better sense of reality than we adults do.  After all, most kids know when they are playing, make believe, don’t they?

We adults tend to get a bit confused on this. Think of the ancient mystery cults, for example, or the idea of divine right of kings whereby the king ruled because God said so.  A lot of adults used to believe this stuff. But surely we have got it all sorted by now right?

Modern business-people and lawyers are, in fact, powerful sorcerers. The principal difference between them and tribal shamans is that modern lawyers tell far stranger tales.

Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Yuval Harari gives as an interesting example: What about those Wizards called lawyers?  They write the correct spells on a piece of paper and get them signed and stamped with magical stamps and Poof! A corporation exists where there wasn’t one a minute before.  And then possibly a few years later an even more powerful wizard called a Judge decides she does not like the corporation so she has her cort scribe create another magical document and she signs it and puts her magical stamp on it and… Poof!  The corporation no longer exists! 

The people who were employees are still there, the suppliers, customers and even the former shareholders are still there.  The equipment and the building are all still there but the corporation is gone!  Very magical thinking and unlike the kids we don’t even know we are doing it.

Another song that comes to mind is the song co-written by Kenneth Ascher & Paul Williams called The Rainbow Connection.  You know the one Kermit sings while sitting on a log.  Why are there so many songs about rainbows?…Rainbows are visions but only illusions, and rainbows have nothing to hide…Somebody thought of it and someone believed it, and look what it’s done so far!

Maybe Conscious Capitalism is about doing some magic in the mythical world of capitalism and making it a better story.  If some of us think of it and more of us believe it imagine what it can do!  After all, since capitalism isn’t altogether true anyway I think we need a better story, don’t you?

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK! Leave a comment on this blogpost or email us at info@consciouscapitalism.org

Cheers for Friday,

Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter

Gavin Watson & Associates


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Gavin’s Friday Reads: How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates

“I was surprised when I learned that what sounded like a small increase in the global temperature – just one or two degrees Celsius, which is 1.9 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit – could actually cause a lot of trouble. But it is true: In climate terms, a change of just a few degrees is a big deal.  During the last ice age, the average temperature was just 6 degrees Celsius lower than it is today.  During the age of the dinosaurs, when the average temperature was perhaps 4 degrees Celsius higher than it is today, there were crocodiles living above the Arctic Circle.”

Bill Gates, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

This was the most shocking thing I read in this book.  I had to stop and read it again.  Crocodiles swimming north of the arctic circle.  The vision of crocodiles comfortably swimming where polar bears still do now was a shock to me.  We are already responsible for a 1 degree Celsius rise in average temperature.  We are easily on track to hit crocodiles in the arctic range by the end of this century.

I have been fixated on fuel efficiency since the early 70’s.  Maybe it was because I turned 16 and got my driver’s licence in the middle of the 1973 Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo, during which gas prices nearly quadrupled.  With a new licence to drive and being the oldest child it became my responsibility to take the two family cars down to fill them up whenever they got below half a tank. 

For those of you who are too young to remember, fuel was in short supply.  To encourage saving fuel the law changed and, you were only allowed to fill up your car on certain days.  If your license plate ended in an even number then you could fill up on even numbered days and if it was odd numbered you could fill up on odd number days.  We were lucky enough to have several cars and license plates with odd and even numbers.

So I got to sit in long lines waiting for hours to fill up our cars.  One of our cars was a Ford Montego Wagon.  It was rated the lowest mileage car in the U.S. at the time.  It had a V8 450hp engine and got about 8 miles to the gallon.  It idled at a very high speed.  If you took your foot off the brake it would probably get to 35 mph without touching the accelerator.  Waiting in those lines for hours served to provide me with plenty of time to contemplate everything that was wrong with this picture.

My father also had a diesel Mercedes.  Not only did it get great mileage but he could pump fuel out of the home heating oil tank right into his car.  Most people don’t realize that #2 heating oil and diesel are the same thing.  This allowed my father to continue commuting to NYC from Greenwich Ct. every day without much inconvenience.

My first attempt at a more efficient vehicle was a three wheeled motorcycle I built in my college years out of a small Suzuki 60 cc dirt bike and a snowmobile frame.  Later on I bought a 1973 Porsche 914 and converted it to an electric car.  But lead acid batteries were quite heavy and due to all the lead I was moving around I only had a range of about 45 miles.  I had a 40 mile commute which was cutting it close so the car mostly sat in the driveway to be used on weekends.

By the late 80’s I was working at the family food business.  In the early 90’s bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) hit England.  In England up until that time to provide cows with protein, cows were being fed leftover cow parts mixed into their feed.  Brains and nervous system parts contained these things called prions which infected the brains and nervous systems of the cows who were fed this.  (gross right?)  It turned out that these prions could then be passed on to people.  Anyway they had to stop this and find another source of protein for the cows.  One of the sources was soy protein from the U.S.  Soy contains a lot of oil though which was believed to be not so good for the cows so the oil was pressed out and left behind.  Due to the glut of soy oil, soy oil prices plummeted. 

Eventually the price of soy oil was the same as #2 heating oil.  I wondered if our #2 fuel oil fired boilers that created steam for food processing would run on soy oil.  I found some articles that suggested it would, so one Saturday we filled up a 55 gallon drum with soy oil and brought it to the boiler room.  We hooked it up and the boiler continued to run as though nothing had changed.  So we began to run our boiler on vegetable oil until the price of it got too high again.

That got me thinking though, the boiler ran on #2 fuel oil and vegetable oil.  Diesel cars would run on diesel and on #2 fuel oil.  So could a diesel car run on vegetable oil?  It was early internet dial up modem days but I checked online and sure enough found some Sweedish farmers who were pressing the oil out of their canola seeds and feeding the meal to their animals and the oil to their diesel,  tractors, Volvo’s and VW’s.  All I needed to do was heat the oil to 140F and it would have the same viscosity as diesel and the engine would run the same.  

I could not find a used diesel car so I bought a new VW Golf in 2001 and converted it straight away.  For the next 10 years I drove to work on vegetable oil, a renewable fuel!

At the same time that electric Porsche was sitting in the driveway because it’s battery range was so poor, so I also converted the Porsche 914 to vegetable oil.  I installed a Yanmar 40HP turbo Diesel in it and with that car I won the 2006 NESEA TourDeSol prize for most environmentally friendly and highest mileage bio fuel vehicle.

All this to say that I have been obsessing about energy efficiency and climate change for decades.  Not only in my cars, but at work, and at home as well.

Gavin Watson

I really enjoyed reading Bill Gates’s book.  As he says in the beginning he is a technical guy so when presented with a problem he immediately looks for a technical solution.  He is also an optimist, (as I am, at least as far as technology goes).  We have a lot of solutions at hand already.  Some are actually less expensive than the fossil fuel alternative.  Heat pumps are a good example of this.  In these cases it is really a matter of getting the word out.  In other areas there are promising technologies that we can probably use but it will take a bit more time and investment to get us there.  There are new breakthroughs in solar, wind, and especially in batteries that are coming out almost every day.

I am aware that I am an imperfect messenger on climate change.  The world is not exactly lacking in rich men with big ideas about what other people should do, or who think Technology can fix any problem.

Bill Gates, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

On the other hand there are big issues to overcome in some areas like making cement and steel, and the ways we do manufacturing and agriculture.  According to Gates we need to get to ZERO net carbon emissions in the wealthier countries by 2050.  We are currently adding 51 billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere each year.  (Just like the volcanoes were adding carbon to the atmosphere back in the days of the dinosaurs)  A 50% reduction in the wealthier countries is going to be the easy part.  We have some relatively easy things we can do to get us there like electric cars and heat pumps and less sexy stuff like caulking air leaks and insulation.  

But as Gates says “this is going to be really hard”. We have developing countries who will want and deserve to have a similar standard of living.  That is a lot more people who will need a lot more energy.  Since we wealthier countries are responsible for getting us into this mess it only makes sense that the burden for getting us out of this should also start with us. We need to be investing in numerous potential solutions that might or might not work out.  The benefit to this investment is that the countries who figure it out will have technology and goods they can export.  The Danes invested a lot in wind energy early on and they are currently the world’s largest exporter of wind technology and equipment.  

This same race to higher levels of expertise is happening in solar and to an even higher level in batteries.  Battery competition is exploding and whoever wins this development race will have car makers and others banging on their doors.  

Despite Gate’s admission to being a technical guy, this is a very readable book written in a conversational voice.  I have listened to Bill Gates speak, and as I read this I can actually hear him talking to me as I read.   The book is a good blend of why we need to do this, what we need to do, and how it can be done.  He is also clear on the technology that we have and the technology we will need to develop.  He presents the large numbers like 51 Billion tons of CO2 in terms you can get your head around.  He is both practical and realistic.  A good blend of how hard it is going to be and also examples of similar large scale transformations we have already accomplished in a similar amount of time.  He is quite humble admitting he is part of the problem and he knows it.  He is also genuine about admitting that there is a lot we don’t know about climate change.

Of course what we don’t know could mean it might be better than we think but it could also be worse.  We only have one planet and the future of generations of humans for the next 10,000 years or longer depends on us in this generation getting this right.

Bill has a lot of experience working with governments around the world through the work he has done with Melinda at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  He understands the complexity of getting to consensus.

Global cooperation is notoriously difficult.  It is hard to get every country in the world to agree on anything – especially when you are asking them to incur some new cost.

Bill Gates, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

The biggest problem we face is getting global consensus.  As a friend of mine says it is 90% attitude and 10% everything else.  As the wealthiest nation we need to get our attitude right and go first and set an example. This is the best way to get others to adjust their attitudes.

I think the book is great.  The details, the conversational tone, realism, practicality, and humility are all a good balance.  There are only two things that I think more time could be spent on.  The first is regenerative agriculture.  Not only do we need to modify our agricultural processes to emit less carbon as Gates suggests.  But we can also use agriculture to store carbon in the soil and improve farming at the same time.  This is something that is currently being done and it needs a lot more experimentation and research.

The other thing I would have added in are more creative ways we can conserve energy.  Conservation is not as sexy as solar panels and batteries but it is the first and most important thing.  There are a lot of opportunities in the details of how we live our lives that can make a big difference.  Gates does not expect us to be willing to change our lifestyle much and he may be right.  As a person who has modified and built his own vehicles out of frustration for what is available in the commercial market though I think that harnessing determination and creativity of all of us (especially young people) has a huge potential for positive impact.  I intend to continue to keep working hard on this issue.  People who are 18 years old now will be 50 in 2050.  I think we can expect big things from them.

Cheers for Friday,

Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter

Gavin Watson & Associates


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Gavin’s Friday Reads: Blueprint by Nicholas A. Christakis

If you have been reading my book reviews, you may be experiencing a bit of deja vu.  A previous post was also titled “Blueprint,” but it was by Robert Plomin.  You can find that review here. I suggest reading both, because the ideas go together (and not just because alphabetically these two works would be next to each other on the bookshelf!)

Plomin’s book is about each individual’s set of genes responsible for our unique personalities.  In essence. Plomin’s thesis is that (identical twins aside) we are unique individuals primarily because of our genetically determined innate characteristics. Anyone who had kids close together raised by the same parents in the same household knows this; they are very different.

Genes do amazing things inside our bodies, but even more amazing to me is what they do outside of them. Genes affect not only the structure and function of our bodies; not only the structure and function of our minds and, hence, our behaviors; but also the structure and function of our societies.

Nicholas A. Christakis, Blueprint

Christakis’s book, on the other hand, is about how we are the same.  Christakis is a sociologist at Yale and writes about how our genetic coding ensures the ways in which we tend towards social sameness. His argument is that our evolutionary success came about because we were predisposed to express particular qualities and behaviors in groups.  

This resonates, because, as you may have heard me say before, we are group creatures.  Our success depends on our group more than we care to admit.  It has been this way for hundreds of thousands of years, and it is probably even more true today than it was 50,000 years ago.  We are not likely to survive long on our own… but as a group we do remarkably well.  

Our individual differences in skills and abilities are essential for our group’s survival.  At the same time our survival and the group’s survival depends on cohesiveness of the group.  As suggested in last week’s review of An Everyone Culture, there is no tension between individuals growing in skill and self knowledge and the group’s success; it is one and the same thing, inextricably tied together.

Christakis is focused on the things that keep us together.  He calls it “the Social Suite”.  At the core of all societies are 8 critical things.  They are:

1. The ability to have and recognize individual identity

2. Love for partners and offspring

3. Friendship

4. Social networks

5. Cooperation

6. In-group preference

7. Mild hierarchy (that is, relative egalitarianism)

8. Social learning and teaching

Early in the book, Christakis illustrates the importance of these things.  We can’t of course test an hypothesis by setting up a control group in a social setting.  However sometimes natural experiments occur, and we can study those.  

He compares many instances of groups of people who have been shipwrecked.  Some of the groups did remarkably well even under very adverse circumstances.  All or nearly all of the people survived and were eventually rescued even years after being shipwrecked.  They did so he argues because they modeled these eight essential things for optimal group performance.  Other groups in arguably better circumstances, some who were even shipwrecked on the same island at nearly the same time (almost a perfect controlled experiment), had very few or no survivors because they did not embody these essential principles.

Just musing on some of these items in the “social suite” above will probably make it sort of obvious. Groups with authoritarian leaders who were not concerned about the lowest ranked members in the group did much more poorly than those led by more egalitarian leadership of groups who treated members with equality.  Bonds of friendship and social learning were also important.  The more skills and abilities everyone has the better off the group will be.

The social suite offers a successful, time-tested strategy for group living. Sometimes, groups cannot coalesce to express the social suite.  Nevertheless, they do not have any viable alternative to it.

Nicholas A. Christakis, Blueprint

In other words, he argues that this is the only successful strategy there is, with success equated to survival. We must embody these things if we are going to survive as a group.  

If you were going to be shipwrecked tomorrow would you choose to be shipwrecked with the other people in your company?  If not there is work to be done.

Admittedly, this is pretty strong stuff! And of course, in our daily lives we are not in such dire circumstances as a shipwreck (hopefully!) Therefore, we can sometimes get away with poor performance.

Without the social suite, we may survive, but our performance will be miserable.  And we will feel miserable.  Does this sound familiar?

Autocratic self centered people in leadership positions…people reluctant to share what they know for fear that the organization will no longer need them and will boot them out…lack of compassion and friendship at work… lack of trust in, and care for the group…fear of getting cut from the payroll when the chips are down…sound like a workplace you know of?

Think about it – there is no better example of the “chips are down” than being shipwrecked!  Some groups took care of everyone, even the very sick and injured who were unlikely to ever be much help.  These groups did far better.  Other groups almost immediately left the sick and injured behind.  These groups failed catastrophically, even though their circumstances were in many ways better.

Just because we are lucky enough not to be shipwrecked does not mean that we should not be doing everything we can to improve our groups.

When I compare the “Social Suite” with the prosocial core design principles, I see the same theme emerging.  And wouldn’t you want these things in your shipwrecked group?

Prosocial Core Design Principles (Elinor Ostrom)

  • Strong group identity and understanding of purpose.
  • Fair distribution of costs and benefits.
  • Fair and inclusive decision-making.
  • Monitoring agreed-upon behaviors.
  • Graduated sanctions for misbehaviour.
  • Fast and fair conflict resolution.
  • Authority to self-govern.
  • Appropriate relations with other groups.

And wouldn’t you want these qualities in the members of your shipwrecked group?

If you are a leader in your company, it is your job to make sure your group is “coalescing” around the social suite and the prosocial design principles. Or to put it another way, if you are engaged in the embodiment of these things, you are a Leader.  That is what leadership is.

Cheers for Friday,

Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter

Gavin Watson & Associates


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Bringing Purpose to Your Business

Purpose is more than a marketing tactic; it’s much more than a term thrown around at conferences. It is something that is so deeply embedded into our experience with a brand that it can drive individual and collective actions to create a better world. The feelings we get from being part of these interactions or even seeing them happen – feelings produced by our own brain chemicals – fulfill the deepest of human needs: connection, belonging, wellbeing, and meaning, to name a few.

So let’s explore what this can look like from both sides of the market.

Recruiting Talent

Research shows that monetary rewards only go so far. From the perspective of “where do I want to work?” Purpose – or meaningful work, is a more essential driver of employee engagement and therefore one of the key predictors for organizational success.  

The best human resources you can imagine are asking themselves questions like: Will this job give me the autonomy I seek, plus tools and support to get the job done right? Will my suggestions for improvement be taken seriously? Will I be able to look back and see tangible results for my efforts? You want to be sure that your organization appeals from that perspective.

Brands that can clearly articulate their purpose will attract employees who become deeply committed to one another and the company’s goals. They will, in turn, attract your greatest fans and lend discretionary time and energy to be brand ambassadors – on social media and in their daily lives. 

So your company brand purpose should:

  1. Describe the kinds of problems that you solve in terms that are immediately engaging and lead naturally to “calls to action”
  2. Define your value proposition as a set of high stakes: what good things will happen in the world if your business achieves its purpose? What bad things will happen if you don’t?
  3. Include all stakeholders.
  4. Make the old “vision, mission and values” more visceral
  5. Unite the head, hands and heart of your organization by connecting what you do and how you do it with WHY you do it and who benefits.

Finding Customers

Consumers are now in the position to push for social change with every purchase 

As we cruise the crowded marketplace, we make split-second decisions based on emotional connections associated with each brand. And every time we spend money, we are casting a vote for what kind of world we want to live in and leave to future generations. 

What does your brand say about you in these terms, compared to your competition?

When we consider the causes we are drawn to or inspired by – what makes them compelling? We find that brands do a good job when they draw people in. Enabling people to champion an underdog, for example, is an excellent strategy for animating purpose. So is filling a gap or providing visibility to an underserved group. 

During this time of great upheaval, opportunities for transformation are always at hand. More than ever before, customers select brands that align with their values. Show them that you care about the same things they do and together, your company and your customers will realize great potential. 

Examples of consumer-facing brands and the campaigns that highlight purpose by addressing important global issues and fighting societal ills:

So to sum it all up, Brands leading with a clear sense of purpose experience greater ease in talent recruitment, employee engagement and staff retention, higher productivity, and attract the right kind of customers.

Cheers,

Glen McDermott,

Executive Director, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter

Founder & CEO, Red Rock Branding

Feel free to schedule a consultation now to discuss how these ideas can apply to your organization! Contact Glen Now


Gavin’s Friday Reads: An Everyone Culture, by Robert Kagan & Lisa Laskow Lahey

This book is by two Harvard organizational psychologists who go out in the field to research what they call Deliberately Developmental Organizations – or DDOs. These are companies that invest much more time and energy in their people’s development than most companies. It is also their central focus every day. DDOs do this because they know that it is essential for the people and the company to grow. Focus on development is what has created their success.

There is no tension between investing in the growth of their people and being profitable. It is one and the same thing for these companies. “Decurion’s Christopher Forman says “We do not see a trade-off, and the moment we consider sacrificing one for the other, we recognize that we have lost both.”

Better Me + Better You = Better Us

Robert Kagan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization

Each of the companies used as examples in the book is a deliberate system that is all about growing people. Because the company focuses on this, as a consequence it also does extremely well.

If you ask someone in one of these companies whether they focus on the development of their people because it is the right thing to do or because they believe it is the best thing for the organization, people will look at you funny because for them it is a non-question. It’s both/and. The two go inextricably together.

There are engaging stories told about each of the companies in the book. I encourage you to read them. Each of the companies has unique ways in which it goes about consciously and deliberately engendering the development of everyone who works there. Even the leaders are not exempt from the process they have set up. 

The company’s other primary commitment—to radical transparency—goes much deeper than the glass office walls. Every meeting is recorded, and (unless proprietary client information is discussed) every recording is available to every member of the organization. Each office and meeting room is equipped with audio recording technology. For example, if your boss and your boss’s boss are discussing your performance and you weren’t invited to the meeting, the recording is available for you to review. And you don’t have to scour every audio file to find out whether you were the subject of a closed-door conversation. If your name came up, you’re likely to be given a heads-up, just so that you will review the file. In effect, there is no such thing as a closed-door conversation; everything is part of a “historical record of what is true.

Robert Kagan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization

Most of us are familiar with the concept of child development.  We know that children grow in capabilities. At one point, kids like to play Peek a Boo. It is because they have recently discovered what Piaget called “Object Permanence.” Before this stage, things are just there sometimes and not there other times. When our brains figure out that the thing is now somewhere else but still exists, that’s object permanence. We take great delight in covering our eyes and everything is gone and then uncovering our eyes and it is still there!  How exciting!

Adults can grow. Around the age of 25 our frontal cortex is nicely formed. The wiring of this part of our brains begins in our teenage years and takes until our early 20’s. Our brains develop so slowly precisely so that they can be wired for our particular societal norms. That’s an evolutionary adaptation for creatures living in complex societies. During these years we are being socialized into our culture’s environment by parents, friends, and teachers. This results in what Keagan and Lahey call the Socialized Mind.  This is the young person who may have just started working in their first job. They are working out what is expected of them and how to fit in.  Keagan and Lahey describe this using the terms: “Team Player, Faithful Follower, Aligning, Seeks Direction, Reliant”.

The next level that most of us get to is the self-authoring mind. At this level we become more conscious, we wake up and realize that we have been socialized into our world view and it is not really our own.  Sometimes this starts to happen when people are in their 40’s as a midlife crisis which gives us a kick. We go on a hero’s journey to discover meaning and purpose and create our own view of reality. This is called the Self Authoring Mind. This is a journey to discover our own one best way to understand the world.  We use this perspective to change our environment. These are the terms used to describe this stage: “Agenda driven, learns to lead, has their own compass, own framework, problem-solving, independent.” While having your own compass and framework is better than being unconscious of the societal framework you were living in it can be limiting. It can be hard for people at this stage to hear information contrary to their personally developed worldview.

A very few of us get to the stage Kegan and Lahey call the Self Transforming Mind.  At this stage the person becomes aware of the many many other frameworks out in the world and that many of them are more complete and may work as well or better. They begin to shrug off the limitations of their own self-authored framework and explore these other frameworks.  This is a journey to discover many best ways. They use a framework to examine the other world views and continuously recreate their own framework to better reflect what they are learning.  This stage is described in these terms: “Meta Leader, leads to learn, multi-frame, holds contradictions, problem-finding, interdependent.”

If you are fluent in Conscious Capitalism, you will have heard that an organization can’t progress beyond the consciousness level of its leader. The three levels above show how true this is. I am going to exaggerate the descriptions below just a bit to make it clearer. In reality, it is usually not so black and white.

At the level of the socialized mind a company leader may be just doing what they were taught in business school or as part of an MBA program. They are following the social norms for running a business checking off all the boxes on the ‘how to run a successful business list’ that they were taught. If a person is at a supervisory or manager level they will be acting just like their first manager or supervisor did. That is the model they are following.

Hopefully at some point they wake up. Maybe it is a midlife crisis. They get to their 40’s and they ask, is this all there is? Is making money what it is all about? Maybe they have been treating their people like they are just a resource and they have a conversion experience where they realize that each of these people is someone’s precious child. Just like their own son or daughter. They begin to rethink what they were taught and they “Self Author” their own world view based on their own values. Their company begins to run much better. More people are engaged in their work. The company has discovered values and possibly even a purpose beyond profit.

As time goes by some leaders who are now comfortable in their Self Authored world view become confident enough to feel safe (and even excited by) exploring alternative views. They realize that their Self Authored view, their secret sauce, that gave them success is now probably holding them and their companies back. They realize that the world is a lot more complex than they once thought. They realize that they must begin continually trying new things.  They find joy in exploring possibilities and encourage others in their organization to do so also. They go way beyond their once-accepted way of doing work. They encourage others in their organization to lead from wherever they are and explore their own leadership views. They seek to continually recreate a framework that can be used to understand the other frameworks. Their own drive comes from a deep desire to learn and they want everyone else in their companies to be learning and growing also. Ultimately, they understand that all of these realities are our own creations, and therefore we are free to create new, more beautiful ones for people to enjoy.

Keagan and Lahey do share evidence to suggest that the higher the level of development of the company leader (and therefore others in the company), the better the company’s performance will tend to be.

Of course, this book is just another framework with which to look at ourselves, our businesses, and the world. I think it is a useful one. It certainly rings true to me as a person who loves learning new ideas and seeing how they fit together with my current understanding.  

Also, it seems that many of us are operating at one level in one area of our lives and at a different level in a different area of our lives. It could be more a matter of how much of the time we spend thinking at a particular level. For me, this indicates that it may not be so much a stage of development (like Piaget’s object permanence) but a subjective worldview that is holding us back, particularly in our work lives. 

If you would like to listen to a podcast on a similar vein I would suggest the Conscious Capitalist podcasts https://www.theconsciouscapitalists.com/  especially #24 Values and Consciousness with Richard Barrett and #26 Leaders get the Organizations they deserve which explores the journey to Conscious Leadership.

Cheers for Friday,

Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter

Gavin Watson & Associates


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