Gavin’s Friday Reads: This View of Life by David Sloan Wilson

How are we going to get through this pandemic?  How are we going to put this country together again?  How are we going to ameliorate racial and financial inequality.  How are we going to collaborate globally to deal with climate change?  How are we going to deal with the next global crisis after that?!!  We can be sure there will be more and we need to develop our skills and be capable of dealing with them effectively.  

David Sloan Wilson is an Evolutionary Biologist.  His book “This view of Life” has an answer.

It is what he calls the third way.  THe third way is based on his work in evolutionary biology  and Elinor Ostrum’s “Core Design Principles” for successful human groups.

Ostrum is the Nobel Prize scientist who studied groups that did not have a tragedy of the commons.  They managed their water resources or their fisheries effectively and sustainably.  She found that there were 8 key principles embodied by these groups.  She called them “Core Design Principles.”

This book is about a whole lot more than this but I am pulling this nugget out because it seems the most relevant now.

I sometimes think it is just going to be too hard to put this country back together so maybe we should just split up and go our separate ways.  Unfortunately we can’t afford to do that.  In fact we need to develop even stronger relationships within our country and between all nations if we are going to succeed as a species.  We will not overcome this pandemic unless everyone on the planet works together.  Same goes for all of the other major crises we face now and in the future.

Originally life was single cell organisms, then multi cell organisms evolved.  Multi cell organisms had advantages over the single cell organisms so more of these developed over millennia.  Each of us is a combination of billions of cells working together.  Every one of our cells does a job.  Some, like the cells in our immune system, sacrifice themselves for the good of the whole. If our cells work together the whole survives.  When one cell starts to take too much and ignores the good of the whole it is what we call cancer.

Laissez Faire does not work.  We see this in capitalism run amok.  Selfish individuals taking too much. Cancerous, homoeconomicus behavior.  Financial inequality.

Central control ie. Communism does not work either.  It is too slow to respond and the world is too complex.  (many large corporations try to run themselves through tight central control, Information travels up and approvals travel down the chain of command, instead of being agile they are slow and ponderous)

“The group evolves to be so cooperative that it is transformed into a higher-level organism in its own right.”


What does work is a third way.  A society (or a company) based on Ostrum’s Core Design Principles (CDP’s)

There are 8 of them.  Here they are in brief.

  1. Strong group identity and understanding of purpose
  2. Proportional equivalence between benefits and costs
  3. Fair and inclusive decision making
  4. Monitoring agreed upon behaviors
  5. Graduated Sanctions
  6. Fast and Fair conflict resolution
  7. Local autonomy
  8. Polycentric Governance. (Groups of Groups within Groups)

Here are the design principles through the lens of a Conscious company or B Corp.

  1. Employees are proud and passionate about their work.  They know they are a group and they know their mission.  Their Higher Purpose
  2. People are paid generously and are appreciated for their work. It is not a work life balance thing.  Work itself is fulfilling.
  3. People are included in decision making.  Stakeholders’ interests are represented when decisions are made, not after the fact as window dressing and greenwashing.
  4. They care about and monitor their company’s performance in areas of social responsibility.  They monitor behavior within the organization to make sure it is consistent with their principles.
  5. When there is a transgression of principles, they first of all gently remind the individuals involved before escalating sanctions, if needed.  Most people want to do the right thing and just need a gentle reminder.  They may even be unaware of the inconsistency in what they did.
  6. When things get out of hand, when transgressions escalate, then respond quickly and fairly to fix the problem.  This could mean disciplinary action, demotions or dismissals.  If it is not addressed the group will begin to fall apart.  If someone is allowed to commit  sexual harassment and get away with it everyone will become demoralized.
  7. Give people and groups autonomy in how they get their work done.  Trust them to find new solutions and to try them.  The more experiments we run the better.
  8. Join forces with other individuals and groups on the same mission.  Whether they are suppliers or customers or competitors it does not matter.  It is the mission that is critical.  Even our competitor is our partner when we are working to solve the same issue.

This works on all levels.  It works on the level of the small group of 5 people working together.  It also works on a global level.  

First of all recognize that what is good for me may not be good for my group.

What is good for my group may not be good for my… company, organization etc.

  • What is good for my Company may not be good for my community.
  • What is good for my community may not be good for my state
  • What is good for my state may not be good for my country
  • What is good for my country may not be good for the global community and environment.

At what level are we engaged?  Are we being selfish for ourselves, our company, our nation, or are we putting the good of the whole larger group first?

Here is what I think it looks like through the climate change lense.

  1. We are all of humanity.  Climate change due to human behavior is a fact.  We have only one planet, one ecosystem, and we have to protect it.  This is the mission.  Everything else comes after this.
  2. We need to treat each other fairly. Economically, racially etc.  This needs to go into our decision making on how we address the crisis.
  3. We need to be democratic.  We need to hear each other out. We need to respectfully discuss the issues and share ideas based on factual evidence.  Where there is no evidence we need to get it ASAP.  The planet’s voice is the main voice we are representing and hearing from.
  4. We will monitor each other.  We will agree on what will be effective solutions to the climate crisis and what we will do.  
  5. When we fall short others will first gently remind us of our responsibility and what we agreed to do.  (This happens at all levels.  The level of the individual person right up to the level of a nation.)
  6. If there are repeated and severe violations (at any level) there are swift and measured pre agreed upon consequences and solutions.
  7. Allow autonomy to achieve the goals in the way the local community thinks best.  The more experiments we run the more good solutions we will discover and the more we can refine them.  Complex issues can not be solved by central control.  It requires diverse experimentation.
  8. We are all in this together.  Our generation may not see much in the way of benefits for ourselves but future generations will be depending on us to do the right thing for them NOW.

I am sure you can see now how this can be applied to racial justice, economic inequality, the pandemic,  and putting our country together again.

I can’t help myself so I will go on a bit more.  

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”


I want to point out that doing things to disenfranchise people, or just to make it difficult for them to vote is a violation of CDP #3 fair and inclusive decision making.  

I think it is also worth mentioning that some people have been observed fostering misinformation CDP#4 monitoring behavior, 

They have been gently reminded that continuing to sow the misinformation about the last election is a violation of our republic’s democratic principles CDP#5.

If they persist in these transgressions then the result must be a swift, just, and definitive response to that behavior if our country is going to be effective for its people and even for our republic’s continued existence. CDP#4

Cheers for Friday,

Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter

Gavin Watson & Associates

Latest Posts

Gavin’s Friday Reads: Blueprint by Robert Plomin

Plomin is a genetic psychologist. He studies the effect of our genes on who we are.  

We all share 99% of our genes with each other. That’s what makes us human. We share about 97% of our genes with chimpanzees.  It would not surprise you then to know that most of the 99% of the genes we share are controlling things like the fact that we have two arms and two legs are mammals, have a digestive system, etc.

The 1% of our genes that are responsible for all our human variation controls things like eye color and height. that is easy to understand. You would not be surprised to learn it also controls other things like our BMI body mass index.  What might surprise you is the extent to which our genes are responsible for our personality.

It turns out that body mass index is 70% heritable. Diet and exercise and the environment in which we live are a factor but the largest part is genetic.

Our personality is also highly heritable. About 50% of our personality is encoded in our genes.  Plomin studied identical twins adopted at birth and raised apart and found that they are remarkably similar. Children who are adopted show almost no correlation of BMI with their adoptive families but a lot of correlation to their birth parents who they only knew for a few days.

There are literally thousands of genes that give us our personality and many of these genes control other aspects of ourselves also.  

There is another compounding aspect to this.  The nature of nurture. If there are two children in a family they will each get a share of their parents DNA. Therefore they will be different in size and shape and also personality but also alike in some ways.  

You can easily have a child who likes to read and one who does not in the same family. The one who enjoys reading may have been read to more when they were little.  Did the parents treat them differently on purpose?  Not at all.  What happened is that one child asked to be read to and the other found it boring and did not. The parents are actually being modified by their children more than the other way around.  (Like the humorous bumper sticker that reads “Insanity is inherited; you get it from your children”.)  If one child is genetically anti-social the parents may treat them more harshly.  In this case it is not the harsh treatment that made the child anti social.  It is the other way around.  If a child craves affection their parents will spend more time cycling them.

As we go out into the world a lot of random stuff happens to us and there is nothing we can do to control that. However there are a lot of things under our control. Who chooses our friends? We do! Our choice in friends reinforces who we are.

Some people who read this may find it upsetting because afterall getting dealt a genetic hand not only on our sex, skin color, height and weight but also our personality as well seems a bit unfair.  

It does seem unfair that so much that contributes to our outcomes in life was determined genetically at conception. Then we tend to choose the things in life that reinforce our personality differences.  The remainder of what influences us (socioeconomic status and the society into which we were born) is mostly random stuff that we have no control over. Genetic inequality to which is added, the inequality of our circumstances in which we grew up.  

Here is my take on it though.

I think it feels unfair only because we are looking at it through a narrow lens of individual success. Individual selection in a game of survival of the fittest. But what if life is about group level selection. What if we do well because our group does well?  

“If you can find a group that is highly accepting of differences and highly collaborative, where you feel you can openly bring your whole uniquely quirky self to work, you have probably found a group that is and will be successful.”


Take the Olympics as an example. Obviously success in pole vaulting requires a particular body type. Gymnastics is better suited to a person who is a bit smaller. Both of these people need to have little fear of heights though. The Olympics, like life, are not just one sport. We have been dealt a genetic hand of cards and the environment in which we grew up.  But life is complex.  Who is to say at conception which hand is best?

We are group creatures. Our individual success depends on the success of our group and our group’s success depends on having a wide variety of sizes and shapes and personality types in it. Equality is not helpful in group level selection. Individuality is. The only limiting factor in how varied our group can be is that we need to get along and collaborate at least most of the time. A leader determines the extent to which we either hold the space open for and celebrate differences or do not.

It is not so important what traits I have been dealt. What is important is that our group can collaborate well with different individuals.  Making the best use of our differences to help the group.    

If you can find a group that is highly accepting of differences and highly collaborative, where you feel you can openly bring your whole uniquely quirky self to work, you have probably found a group that is and will be successful.  

Groups that are overly concerned and rigid about procedure, dress code, and job descriptions will not do as well.

I heard a talk by a young woman who had just got her masters in business and was hired by a large company who wanted to increase their diversity.  She had a very different ethnic and experiential background. She really needed the job.  She had school loans to pay off. She hated her job!  She was required to comply with the strict dress code and do her work in the same precisely defined way as everyone else. “Why did they hire me?  They could have hired anyone to do this job”!

What I would really like you to take away from this is that each of us is unique.  I can’t help being who I am, and you can’t either.  Neither can that young person you just hired.  Work with the grain of human personality not against it.  A company’s success comes from respect, and collaboration. Instead of trying to control people with rigid job descriptions, encourage job crafting.  Let everyone’s individual strengths come to bear on what we sense needs to be done at this moment in furtherance of our group’s mission.

Cheers for Friday,

Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter

Gavin Watson & Associates

Latest Posts

Gavin’s Friday Reads: Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

This book covers human history over the last 200 thousand years but it is much more than that.It gives great insight into what sort of creatures we are and how we were shaped by evolution.

The reason I picked this book this week is for one particular topic he covers. Our ability to collaborate is based on  our biology.  Our brains reward us intrinsically for the behaviors that benefit our groups.  I discussed this in my reviews of the books The How of Happiness and The Book of Joy. 

However it is not all roses in a garden of Eden.  There are people who take advantage of others and act selfishly.  How do human groups cope with this?

In Sapiens Harari writes about the importance of gossip.  Many organizations attempt to stop their people from gossiping.  Gossiping however is how we humans keep track of who is behaving and who is misbehaving in our tribal groups (or small companies) up to about 150 people. (Dunbar’s number)  When our groups get larger than this we can’t keep track of the bad apples in our group and we either need to split into two smaller groups or we need to find another solution.  

When we invented agriculture we became stationary and we began to live in larger and larger groups numbering in the thousands.  If someone ripped you off in the market place there was a good chance they would get away with it.  It is about this time that for the first time religions emerged with gods who cared about laws, were vengeful,  just, and would hold people accountable in an afterlife.  IE Zoroastrianism.  (Previously gods were mischievous trickster gods or nature gods who might require sacrifices to appease them.)

This belief system in a just and vengeful god and an afterlife was a useful thing.  If I know that you also believe in the same vengeful god then I know I can trust you, and if you cheat me, I know that in the afterlife you will get what is coming to you.  This allows the economy to operate more smoothly.

Our belief in our currency is a similar thing.  A $20.00 bill has value because most of us believe it does.  If most of us now believe it is only a piece of paper (which objectively it is) then it is just a piece of paper.  

Only humans can do this.  We are the only creatures who can create and share a fictional belief system that can promote cooperation of millions of individuals.  You are not going to convince a chimpanzee to give up a banana for a $20.00 bill.  It is not possible for 10,000 chimpanzees to gather peacefully in a stadium to hear a speech or attend a ceremony either, but humans can do this because we can believe in ideas and these ideas can unite large numbers of us.

“You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.”

Yuval Noah Harari

What we have lost track of is how many other “fictions” like this we currently depend upon and believe in, and how dangerous a lack of belief in those fictions can be if they are undermined and too many of us decide they are no longer true.

It was not long ago that most people believed in the divine right of kings.  Then overnight we thought that was just a silly idea and we chose to believe in government by the people instead.  Democracy, and Human rights, are just as much “fiction” as was the divine right of kings. Objectively no god endowed us with inalienable rights.  THere is no sovereign god protecting our democracy.  The only way these rights are “true” is if most of us believe it is true.  These truths are “self evident” only because we all believe it.

When a group of people undermines our basic beliefs and “faith” in our system by ignoring evidence, spreading lies, and engendering “false” beliefs for their own selfish aggrandizement they are literally taking apart our society.  There is nothing, no institution or system to prevent its collapse.  We believe the system is strong and can protect itself but that is not true.  (hundreds of societies have collapsed in the past)  As we have seen recently (I wrote all of this before the insurrection in the capitol building which just makes it more obvious) if it was not for a handful of people with hard facts in hand and moral spines in a few key positions, our democracy would already be over, or on life support.  These people have performed heroically under a lot of pressure from very powerful people.  Our society is still under attack and I am afraid it will continue to be for a long time.  

We need to wake up and realize how fragile our democracy and freedoms are. 

Freedom of speech is a value we all hold dear.  Along with the good of being able to speak freely to authority comes the downside of people freely being able to spread false information and blatant lies.  However opinions are one thing and facts another thing entirely.  We may not be able to legally shut down these lies but we can speak up and reach out to others we know who have bought into the lies. 

To change a person’s point of view you need to be respected by them.  Therefore the only expedient way out of this is for the leaders of these groups to have the decency to now speak truth to their followers.

Cheers for Friday,

Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter

Gavin Watson & Associates

Latest Posts

Gavin’s Friday Reads: The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky

Lyubomirsky is a professor and a researcher at the University of California Riverside.

All human beings want to avoid pain and suffering and we all want to find happiness.  How do we find happiness?  This book is about 20 years of scientific research around finding sustainable authentic happiness.

In her book she shares her research and the research of others in the field of Positive Psychology.  Sustained authentic happiness does not mean that you can do something once and be happy forever.  It means that if you continue to practice these things you will continue to maintain a higher level of happiness.

There are three contributing factors to our happiness.

  1. Our present circumstances.  Did you just get a puppy?  Did your cat die last week?  Did someone unfriend you on Facebook?  These are the somewhat random things that happen to us that we spend a lot of time obsessing about.  We think if only I had this pair of shoes, or if only that person would… then I would be happy.  These things only account for 10% of our overall happiness.  We need to spend less time on these things.  A new big screen TV will make us happier for a while but it will quickly fade.
  2. DNA.  Our genetic coding is responsible for a whopping 50% of our happiness.  (at least 50% of our personality also but that is another book) We all live on a spectrum and have a happiness setpoint we naturally gravitate back to.  This is called hedonic adaptation.  We all know some people who are like Tigger.  They bounce out of bed in the morning and are ecstatically happy nearly all the time.  We also know people like Eeyore.  They could have won the lottery yesterday but today, paying the taxes on their winnings is all they can think about. These people can’t help the DNA hand they have been dealt and neither can we.  Just recognizing the impact of our DNA and accepting ourselves for who we are is the best we can do on this.
  3. The good news is that the remaining 40% of our happiness is within our control.  This 40% is what the book is about.

“Thus the key to happiness lies not in changing our genetic makeup (which is impossible) and not in changing our circumstances… but in our daily intentional activities.”

Sonja Lyubomirsky

Lyubomirsky explains proven strategies for sustained authentic happiness; Gratitude, Cultivating Optimism, Avoid Over Thinking and social comparison, Acts of Kindness, Relationships, Coping Strategies, Forgiveness, Living in the present/flow experience, Savoring life’s Joys, Authentic Goals, Religion and Spirituality, Care of your body, and meditation.

As she explains not all of these are for everyone. She suggests that you just try the ones that feel right for you. 

She goes into each one in depth. She shares the research and findings and her own experience.   

As an example, here is a quick look at Gratitude.

Due to the exhaustive, exacting research, we know that practicing Gratitude really works.  However, research shows that while writing a gratitude list is good you can do better. Optimally you should not count your blessings every day. The optimal frequency for most people is once a week.  Ideally you should do this with a gratitude partner. Someone who you team up with (like an exercise partner). You would each collect the things you are grateful for over the week and then the two of you share them with each other. 

Even better is a Gratitude Round, a practice we began at work first in our maintenance department years ago.  Each week on Friday morning after we had discussed the plans for the day, about 10 mechanics and I would do a Gratitude Round.  There is no pressure, it is entirely optional (I just explained it and I held the space open for it to happen).

Sure, it can feel a bit awkward at first but someone will start and eventually it can become a regular expected thing that people look forward to.

People who wanted to could thank someone else in the group for something they did during the week.  Maybe someone shared their knowledge, maybe someone gave a helping hand, or brought in a birthday cake, or cleaned the shop, or reorganized the parts or accomplished a particularly difficult job for the first time.  This weekly practice took just a few minutes once a week but gradually changed the dynamic between mechanics.  People became more generous with their knowledge and looked out for each other more.  It became more of a caring community.  People would freely volunteer to try to fix something they had no prior experience with.  (psychological safety) Others would quickly share some tips, or volunteer to help them out in case they got stuck.

We did other gratitude related things, we had a “Compliments and Accomplishments” white board in the lunch room so that people could write a note to someone thanking them for something or sharing an improvement that had been made.

If you read the “Book of Joy” you would immediately see the perfect overlap of Lyubomirsky’s research and the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu’s 8 pillars of Joy; Perspective, Acceptance, Humility, Humor, Forgiveness, Compassion, Generosity, and Gratitude. 

When multi millennium old religious, spiritual, and philosophical traditions align perfectly with modern scientific research it is a good sign we have discovered the truth of Authentic Sustainable Human Happiness.

Cheers for Friday,

Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter

Gavin Watson & Associates

Latest Posts

Gavin’s Friday Reads: The Book of Joy by The Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams

This book is set in the framework of these two great friends The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu getting together, possibly for the last time.  Douglas Abrams knits the narrative together as these two old friends share their wisdom with their characteristic humility and humor.  

They draw a distinction between the superficial happiness of external things and deep Joy.  If happiness is reliant on external circumstances, it is not true joy.  Joy is the happiness that comes from inside us, from our choice of perspective, and from intrinsic rewards.

Desmond Tutu describes his belief in what he calls “self corroborating truth” when many different fields of knowledge point to the same conclusion.  Indeed when Positive Psychology research and Evolutionary Psychology point to the same truth as millennia-old spiritual traditions both Buddhist and Christian, and timeless philosophies we are most likely on the right track.

Self Corroborating Truth gets me excited.  I see these same connections between this book and many others that I have read.  Which should be no surprise.  These books are all about us humans.

“The meaning of life is Happiness (Joy) that’s the easy question.  The hard question is what makes Happiness?  A big car?  A fancy house?  Or a kind and compassionate heart?”

Dalai Lama

There are 8 pillars of Joy described in the book.  Perspective, Humility, Humor, Acceptance, Compassion, Generosity, and Gratitude.  They are very similar to the things that Sonja Lyubomirsky (a researcher in the field of positive psychology) describes in her book “The How of Happiness”, as the essential things that if practiced on a regular basis lead to true lasting happiness.

From an Evolutionary Psychology perspective, we are descended from ancestors who lived in highly collaborative groups.  (The non-collaborative were less successful evolutionarily and died out)  Can you imagine a group of people working effectively together without Humility, Humor, Forgiveness, Compassion, Generosity, or Gratitude?  Think about it for a minute and try to imagine it.  Leave out just one of these pillars of Joy and a human group would be in serious trouble.

Turn the question around and imagine a group abundantly full of these things.  How much would you want to be part of that group?

Evolution has baked these Pillars of Joy into us.  When we do generous things or we express gratitude to someone, our brains reward us with the feeling of Joy as an intrinsic reward. We feel Joy when we are compassionate or when we see someone else in the act of being compassionate or even when we just hear about an act of compassion because it was and still is essential for our group survival.  It is our true human nature, These 8 pillars of Joy bring us together.  When our group lacks these we feel uncomfortable and may leave that group.

The first Pillar is Perspective.  This is about how we choose to view ourselves in our world.  It is related to our awareness of our Purpose. In addition to the 8 pillars of Joy there are of course other things that are intrinsically rewarding, like learning and teaching, for example.  

This year has highlighted the issue.  When we have a perspective that pits not wearing a mask as an individual rights and freedom issue that is more important than human compassion and generosity, compassion for exhausted health care workers and people who are not in good health it leads to catastrophic human loss.  Our ancestors were successful because they put the larger group’s needs ahead of their personal and family’s desires.

If we continue down the path of material goals, extrinsic rewards, and selfishness not only will we be following a path of destruction, we will not find the Joy in life that is waiting there for us.

If we humans are going to make it for the next thousand years or so it will be due to these 8 Pillars of Joy and the other intrinsically rewarding things that make us truly human.  It will be because we put compassion and generosity before selfishness.  If our descendants are here 1000 years from now It will be because we learned to put the needs of all humanity and our planet ahead of our own desires, and our tribe’s, and even our nation’s desires.

We will need to believe in a perspective and a higher purpose that includes not only our families and those close to us but all of humanity and all living things.  We will need to recognize these intrinsic rewards as our path to Joy and to saving our planet and ourselves.

Cheers for Friday,

Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter

Gavin Watson & Associates

Latest Posts

Gavin’s Friday Reads: Drive by Dan Pink

Pink’s book takes what we have learned from decades of psychological research and turns traditional economics on its head. In a time of tying up loose ends in anticipation of holiday merriment, I give you the option to view his Ted Talk, The animated version is a lot of fun and an excellent recap of the ideas about human motivation revealed in the book Drive.

In a nutshell, the central concept is, “give people control over their own tasks, and they will enjoy and do them well.” In my experience at Watson Inc. and now in my consulting work at Watson & Associates, this truth gets revealed again and again.

Autonomy is not only personally satisfying to the worker to keep them engaged, but it also results in higher-quality work than that which can be achieved through top-down, command and control structures. The people closest to the work are in the best position to understand the nuances of what needs to be done and carry that out. Trust that, and you will be well on your way to better management. 

There are three ways we can be motivated.  First like all animals we require basic things like food and water and we want to reproduce, these are basic biological motivators.  Secondly like most animals we can also be bribed to do a task (extrinsic motivation).  Offer us a bonus and just like a pigeon you can get us to complete a project on time, sell something or (for the pigeons) peck at a lever for a food pellet.  The third and more human  motivation is intrinsic motivation.  It comes from doing something good for our group.  We are group creatures and we are hardwired for this motivation above all the others.  Typical business practices however don’t treat us as humans.  Typical practices treat us like pigeons.

As W. Edwards Demming Says “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.”

HR spends a lot of time on the compensation package, we should be spending time on creating as much autonomy at work as possible and believe me a lot is possible.

When we maximize autonomy we maximize engagement.  Some managers will hear autonomy and think chaos.  For autonomy to work we need a North Star we need to know our group’s purpose and our purpose within our group. When we have a purpose along with group agreed upon values and behaviors we have all we need to craft our job ourselves.

“Conscious managers exercise a minimum amount of control.  Their role is not to control other people it is to create the conditions that allow for more self-management.”

John Mackey & Raj Sisodia

However, managing this way is of course incomplete. We are social creatures and naturally like to be collaborative. So another key need that fuels motivation and pairs well with Autonomy as a companion design principle is Belonging. Together (and not just individually), employees are part of a social group that has intrinsic value. Keep that in mind, and you will have a stronger and more resilient organization.

I hope you will come to our Town Hall meetings with some ideas of your own about autonomy, belonging and other workplace motivations. You might find, as I have, that Dan Pink’s work resonates on a deep level. If so, then you may want to consider subscribing  to his newsletter, called the Pinkcast. There’s some good stuff in there!

Cheers for Friday,

Gavin  Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter

Gavin Watson & Associates

If you don’t have the time to read his book or are simply interested in hearing more from Dan Pink, check out the TED Talk below that I mentioned earlier in this post.

Latest Posts

Gavin’s Friday Reads

Nov 27, 2020

An Interdisciplinary Perspective on Human Behavior, from our Chair

This list introduces a new weekly series – Gavin’s Friday Reads. As anyone who attends our Town Hall events has come to know, our Board Chairperson, Gavin Watson, is an avid reader who delights in books to stoke his curious mind. Now that many of us arrive at a long weekend ready to relax, unwind and hopefully restore ourselves while safe at home, we wanted to present his top five current book recommendations. 

We offer it in thanks for the health and happiness Conscious Capitalism brings to the world. 

Bonus points for coming to our next Town Hall with one or two under your belt. As always, we’re sure to have a lively exchange. 

  1. Elinor Ostram, Governing the Commons (1990) 

Ostrom won a Nobel Prize in economics for this – and with good reason!  In it, she lays out the conditions necessary for a group to manage common resources, sustainability. Gavin considers this a foundational text because it can be applied to self-organizing teams at work. For next Friday, we’ll lay out all 8 of Ostrom’s core design principles and get into more detail about how we can use these principles to design for creative and highly productive teams that are essentially self-organizing and self-governed.

  1. David Sloan Wilson, with Paul Atkins and Steven Hayes, Prosocial (2013)

Wilson is an evolutionary biologist, and stands on Ostrom’s work in economics to view group behavior through the scientific lens of how humans have evolved over time. As the authors lay out, when you understand how we are hardwired to behave with each other, workplaces as well as volunteer or activist groups can be engineered to address deep social needs in the drive for performance. Gavin wholeheartedly agrees with their claim that addressing social equity first and foremost is the path towards lasting change. 

  1. Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind (2013)

A psychologist, Haidt is concerned with morality and politics, two issues that are intertwined and often divide society into “us” and “them.” Resolving these rifts is primarily, according to the author, a function of shifting our mindset to recognize that we need both caution and risk, standards and autonomy, in order for any human group to function and our species to survive. 

  1. Jeff Sutherland, Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time (2014)

By now you may notice that these picks are in chronological order. Their ideas interlock, and reflect Gavin’s own interdisciplinary approach to poking at the biggest and most fundamental questions that can keep us up at night. Why is it so easy to misunderstand each other, even when we’re on the same team? And how can work have more intrinsic meaning, so that it becomes creatively satisfying? These itches get scratched in this read, which will motivate some immediate experiments. Gavin has found that inviting people to opt-in to projects, empowering them to self-organize and keeping up a conversation about what’s working and what’s not is the essence of Scrum, and it works! 

  1. Robert M. Sapolsky, Behave (2017)

The subtitle of this book is “Humans at our Best and Worst.”  Do you see a theme, here, yet? Gavin is enthusiastically concerned about how we treat each other in groups not only so we can get things done right, but so we can decide – together, and not in conflict – to do the right things! This pick from Bill Gates’ reading list is more than worthy of being passed along, because it draws upon latest advances in neurobiology, primatology, and other scientific disciplines to explore all of the above. 

“If you only have time to read one new text over Thanksgiving break, any of these would be worthwhile. But if you want to build a mini-curriculum of big ideas that can lead to great results, this could be a good start. We’ll be at the Town Halls ready to discuss, and of course want to hear your picks as well!” 

-Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter

Gavin Watson Associates

Principles of Conscious Capitalism

Conscious Capitalism has 4 principles. Conscious Leadership, a Higher Purpose, a responsibility to every Stakeholder and a Conscious Culture. As Raj and John say they are all connected with each other and you can’t separate them out they all go together.

My favorite part though is Conscious Culture.

No matter what your perspective or political affiliation I am sure we can all agree that there is a lot to do.

Our world needs all of our best efforts if we are going to get it all done.

Unfortunately, as Gallup is happy to tell us only about 30% of us are engaged (13% globally). This is a huge waste of potential. As Raj and John say, “humans are not a resource, they are a source”. Like the sun humans are creative and full of potential to do what needs doing in amazing new ways.

There are two reasons that Conscious Culture is my favorite part.

The first reason is that the people in the organization are the ones who are going to make everything else happen. The people carry us all forward in service of our higher purpose and the people take care of all of the stakeholders, starting with the customers and the suppliers and then the community and the environment. This is where it all happens.

The second reason is 90,000 hours! This is the number of hours each of us is likely to spend working during our lives. A paycheck is just a stipend that keeps us going, it needs to be fair and above average and that is where it stops being important. Once we are compensated fairly and generously then the issue of money is no longer worth our time and we can get to what really matters. For a healthy work environment, we should avoid all other extrinsic motivation. (no bonuses! they are a distraction and a demotivator)

Human beings have intrinsic needs. We want; positive emotion, relationships, meaning/purpose. We want to learn and to teach what we know, we want environments filled with humility, humor, forgiveness, compassion, generosity and gratitude. We need psychological safety and autonomy to flourish.

Want to know why 70% of people are not engaged or are actively disengaged? There are two potential reasons.

#1 Scarred psyches. Many people have spent years in abusive or sub optimal work environments where they were distrusted, closely monitored, manipulated, and treated like a resource. They may have had a manager who was nothing like a Conscious Leader. It can start very early. Many of us from grade school through high school were told what to do, exactly how to do it, and judged by how well we conformed. Some company environments are harsh. It is no wonder that after years of acculturation to perform in a non-compassionate and non-creative environment that it can take time for someone to begin to trust, feel safe, and begin to engage.

#2 Have we provided an intrinsically motivating environment for them? Human beings need psychological safety and autonomy, this is non-negotiable. How much autonomy is there for us to decide what we are going to do, how we are going to do, it and who are we going to do it with? Most typical managers would be shocked to see how far autonomy can go and how well it works. Have we co created an environment with friendships, positive emotions, compassion, generosity and gratitude? Are people learning from eachother and teaching eachother every day?

Our planet and everyone on it needs all of us to be performing at our best. This is why creating a Conscious Culture is more important now than ever.

Gavin Watson

As of January 2020, Gavin Watson began serving as Board Chair of Conscious Capitalism, Connecticut Chapter. View Gavin’s LinkedIn profile here:


Horse Leadership

Gavin Watson

I have been reading Mismatch by Ronald Giphart and Mark van Vugt. The following are some ideas I gleaned from the section about the mismatch in the work environment. The book is about the mismatch between the environment in which we were “designed” by evolution and the environment in which we now live and work.

We can learn something valuable from horses. They have a different system of leadership than we use in our corporations.

Within herds of horses the leader is a mare. She is the leader because the other horses choose to follow her. They select her to lead them because she is the best at looking after the others. She is the best at keeping the group healthy. She does not take leadership it is given to her by the other horses.

Here is the way they define leadership: “Leadership is a process of social influencing, whereby a leader coordinates the activities of one or more followers.”

There is a stallion also. He does not lead he follows. He guards the back of the herd and protects it from predators.

Gorillas establish “leadership” based on who is strongest. The strongest male gets all of the females. This is of course not real leadership according to the definition above. It is just dominance.

Chimpanzees will have none of that. If one male chimpanzee is too dominant and taking advantage of things for his own interest several other male chimpanzees will gang up on him and put an end to it. This keeps dominance in check.

For humans group survival is the key to passing along our genes. (the goal of evolution our ‘designer’ is gene replication) Human cooperation is our main survival mechanism. Anything that gets in the way of cooperation (like aggressive and dominant individuals) needs to be eradicated. In our ancestral environments the followers selected the leader(s). We did not have just one leader who led all the time. Leadership was fluid. Who was leading us depended on what was needed at that moment. The one most suited for that need took the lead.

Our current corporate structures do not allow for this flexibility. We do not select who will lead us. Leadership does not easily change when the situation changes. In addition, because managers are often “leading” from positional authority rather than being selected by their followers, their followers can not easily get rid of them when they begin to behave in ways that are in their own interests instead of the interests of the group.

We could learn something from horses and our human ancestors. Two different species evolved similar solutions that work.

Gavin Watson

As of January 2020, Gavin Watson began serving as Board Chair of Conscious Capitalism, Connecticut Chapter. View Gavin’s LinkedIn profile here:


Energy Savings at Watson Inc.

Gavin Watson

In March of 2019 we sold our family business Watson Inc. to an Irish food company Glanbia PLC. Watson is a nutritional food ingredients company in West haven CT with 330 employees, 100 million in sales and about 10 million in profits. We sold Watson for $89 million. Glanbia has kept the facilities and all of our people. Glanbia is investing heavily in growth and new business at the company.

I mention the above not because it is particularly relevant but just to establish that I have valid experience and I know what I am talking about when it comes to running a business.

I have always been most interested in two things. Saving energy and developing people.

In my high school years, I experimented with solar energy. While in college in the late 70’s. I built an experimental three-wheel energy efficient vehicle. Later on, after college, I converted a Porsche 914 into an electric vehicle. Over the years I have converted three diesel cars to run on vegetable oil, so they would be carbon neutral and have a zero-carbon footprint.

In college I studied psychology and religious studies. I am still driven to understand and share what I discover about, what motivates us, and what humans find is a meaningful higher purpose.

In this blog I want to tell you about our experience becoming more sustainable in terms of electrical usage at Watson Inc. We had been conscious of our effect on the environment for a long time. I was purchasing 100% renewable electricity starting in 2010. In 2015 we really started to put a lot of effort into sustainability.

One of the things I am most proud of is our reduction in electrical energy consumption. We were already buying 100% wind energy for our electrical needs but I wanted to use as little of that as we could so that more energy would be available for other things. I reasoned that if more people were to start driving electric cars, as I was doing, that was going to put an additional load on the electricity supply so we needed to free up as much as possible.

By 2019 we had succeeded in reducing our electric consumption by 25% while growing the company 20%.

Typically, most companies would hire a consultant to come in and survey our operations and give us a list of the things we should do. This would have been easy but not optimal in my view. Instead we hired a consulting team (Leanovations) to come in and show us how to do an energy survey and how to quantify it ourselves.

I asked everyone in the company to let me know if they were interested in participating in this. Seven people volunteered. Most volunteers were from the maintenance department, which you would expect, but there were also people from the analytical lab who were passionate about energy saving.

There are two benefits to doing it this way. The first is that people are learning something valuable and they are actively involved in something they care about. This naturally leads to higher engagement. The second benefit is that we now have the skills in house and enthusiastic people paying attention to this so this knowledge can be applied continually.

We ran this as a kaizen event. We went to the “Gemba” where the energy is used and quantified it. Teams learned how to read the information on motors and other equipment. We measured the amount of power it was drawing, and how many hours it was on. We pulled this information together and made easily understandable charts so people could see where the energy was being used. We explored what could be done differently. We came up with ideas. We applied to the electric utility for funding and received over 50% funding (about $800,000) for what we did. The payback on our investment was about 3 years.

This is what it ended up looking like in 2015.

Watson Inc. – Annual KWH Usage

Watson inc Annual KWH Usage

This is what we physically did;

Air Compressor

Our old air compressor system would run continuously and load and unload as the air pressure cycled up and down in the building from 110 to 120 psi.

We upgraded our air compressor to a new VFD drive compressor that would speed up or slow down as needed keeping the air pressure constant. We also added 2,000 gallons of additional compressed air storage to the 2,500 gallons we already had.

We upgraded the compressed air piping from 3” to 6” piping. This gave us more uniform air pressure at the far end of the plant. Previously we ran the compressor at 110 psi to get 90 psi at the furthest machine at the other side of the facility. With the 6-inch piping there is virtually no pressure drop from the beginning to the end of the line. The new compressor now runs at 94psi only. For every 2psi of pressure reduction an air compressor uses 1% less energy. Since the compressor runs 24/6 days a week this really adds up. We are using 10% less energy on our compressor which is 25% of our building energy usage so that amounts to 2.5% reduction in facility electricity usage over all.

LED lighting

We upgraded all three facilities (West Haven, CT, Orange CT, and Taylorville, Illinois) with LED lighting.

Dust Collection

In West Haven we had 14 dust collectors some had blowers on them of 10 HP and some of them up to 50HP, depending on the size of the unit. The average was about 20 horse power. In addition, these dust collectors also used compressed air to pulse clean the filters.

We replaced these dust collectors with much smaller units that are situated right next to where the dust is being generated. These new units have 5HP motors and they are cleaned with compressed air only when the operator pushes a button on the unit. These smaller units actually process about 20% more air flow than the larger units did but they use much less energy. They are able to do this because we do not have the efficiency losses of long sections of ductwork. (We no longer have long sections of ductwork that need to be disassembled and cleaned either. There is just a short piece of flex hose.)

A more dramatic energy savings was achieved because the new dust collectors return the air to the room. The old dust collection units exhausted the air outside the building above the roof where the old exhaust blowers were located. Because the air is no longer being exhausted outside, the air conditioners no longer have to cool down the make-up air. The old dust collectors exhausted the entire volume of air in the room every 30 minutes. This meant that the air conditioners had to cool the entire volume of air in the room from whatever the outside temperature was to the required room temperature two times an hour. (This was sort of like driving around in your car with the AC on and the windows down.)

Since the new units return the air to the room, so the AC units no longer need to work as hard.

The same dust collection reconfiguration was done in Orange and in Taylorville.

Air Conditioning

We replaced all 33 of the HVAC units with newer more efficient units with economizers on them.

We replaced older inefficient motors with more efficient ones.


We use steam for many of our processes. We have done several steam trap surveys and fixed and replaced traps that were not operating properly. We also reconfigured our steam piping to make it more efficient.

Compressed Air Leak Survey

We conducted several sleeping building audits. On a day that nothing is running we walk around the building looking for things that were running that could be turned off and we also looking for compressed air leaks. These leaks were fixed. There is a lot to be learned and saved by doing these sorts of sleeping building audits.

This is how our energy usage declined. There is some variability due to weather inconsistencies but you can see the trend.

Watson Electric Monthly KWh

Just to put this in perspective according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average US family uses 900 KWH per month. We reduced our energy usage by about 100,000 KWH per month or about as much as 110 U.S. households.

We did this while at the same time growing the company from $80 million to $100 million in sales.

For me personally I enjoyed combining energy efficiency with collaborative learning. Learning every day is essential for long-term engagement, and long-term company success.

A sustainability project like this and developing a conscious company culture are both things that are never done. There is always more to do.

Gavin Watson

As of January 2020, Gavin Watson began serving as Board Chair of Conscious Capitalism, Connecticut Chapter. View Gavin’s LinkedIn profile here: