One of the most problematic metaphors I have heard in changemaking and social innovation is that of ‘the core’ versus ‘the edge’. Changemakers can often be heard to speak of ‘the core’ representing all those aspects of the world which involve the existing system; features that have become so entrenched and enshrined to be unchallenged assumptions of daily existence.
In contrast, many changemakers see themselves as operating on ‘the edge’ – that zone which lies outside of the existing paradigm or system; pushing the boundaries of existence and what is possible. The edge is the space where newness flourishes, innovation bursts forth and discovery happens.
If the core is a place of boundaries and knowingness, the edge is the place of fuzziness and unknowingness. It is the contrast that is powerful, and yet it is the core that is often referred to negatively while the edge the alluring positive. All the while I cannot help but see a necessary yin-yang dynamic here, as if both are necessary and deeply entwined with each other.
In the beginning of heaven and earth
There were no words,
Words came out of the womb of matter
And whether a man dispassionately
Sees the core of life
Or passionately sees the surface
The core and the surface
Are essentially the same, Read more
Yesterday a 24-year old friend called me concerned that he hadn’t yet done anything meaningful in his life. While this may seem laughable to some, the striking regularity with which I hear this is disturbing.
To give some idea about this young friend, he is incredibly inspiring and likeable. He is creative, compassionate and has a real interest in making a contribution to the world. Yet he like so many people falls into one of the greatest traps of the human condition – comparing oneself to others.
He is concerned that at twenty-four he has not successfully founded a non-profit, started a movement, achieved Young Australian of the Year or been recognised in a Top 100 Most Influential People or 30 under 30 list. The benchmarks by which young people are judging their own success and self-worth are climbing higher and higher each year, to the point that they seem unattainable to many.
Statistics around the poor mental health of young people in Australia has reached epidemic proportions. Young people today are more likely to need mental health care than they are to be admitted to University. Suicide, depression and anxiety seem to be part of the everyday experience of modern Australia.
This is not to say Australia doesn’t care. Australia has numerous innovative and effective mental health organisations, full of competent and committed people who have dedicated their life to supporting Read more
I just love this talk. It is perhaps one of the most important TED talks ever related to the field of ethics and doing good. Ernesto Sirolli’s work as an enterprise facilitator is well known around the world. In this talk he shares both his early experiences in what doesn’t work in Africa, as well as his work with entrepreneurs in Australia and beyond.
There are many great lessons in this, but I just love his 2 principles of:
- Never Initiate Anything
- Never Motivate Anyone
Your job is to simply shut up and listen!
I’m guessing that you’ve been following my series on business closure and the ethics thereof. This post does not seek to provide definitive advice. What lies herein is based more on intuitions, and a reflection point for leaders to consider where they are at. If you are wondering whether your organisation is terminally ill, or whether you should close, seeking support and advice from experts would probably be wise.
Some symptoms of struggling non-profits and businesses in decline can include:
- Prolonged inability to attract the external resources (funds) to maintain what is necessary to operate – I am not talking about additional resources for growth, just resources to operate at a level that means you can provide a professional, ethical and effective service.
- Massive changes to the market whereby the organisation is competing for resources, and unable to achieve that ahead of others.
- Lack of, or inability to attract the expertise, knowledge, commitment and drive to turn around the organisation – this needs to be at Board and staff levels.
- Pain and exploitation of staff through poor resourcing – rather than scale down operations, organisations can be guilty of maintaining services by exceeding the reasonable expectations of staff. Read more
Over the past week I have been exploring the ethics of business closure and the idea of euthanisation. It is time for me to explain myself – what do I mean by business euthanization? and why use this metaphor for talking about business life-cycles?
My sense is that how we treat business closure is actually symptomatic of a much wider cultural and spiritual issue around how we perceive and deal with death and dying (stay with me!). For many people, death comes as a surprise and can be full of heartache – not just for the person dying, but also for the family. Research around organ donation for example shows that many families do not discuss the wishes of their loved one prior to their death. This lack of discussion and planning leads to sometimes difficult decisions needing to be made, and conflict amongst those left behind.
What can reincarnation teach us?
All cycles come to a close, and to the beginning of a new cycle. Yet we somehow treat business, strategy and life as if it is in a state of perpetual growth. This is simply not how life works. Of course all cycles will end. In life we have two main types of cycles – the major cycle of incarnation, and sub-cycles which could be seen as life stages. Each sub-cycle can include periods of creation (or innovation), growth, maturity, sustainability and eventually decline. Periods of decline can lead to business turnaround, which usually occur after some kind of midlife crisis or turning point.
This post is actually about two distinct but connected topics: embracing failure and giving beneficiaries a voice. It was only after writing the piece Do you get your market’s vote? that I stumbled upon this TED talk by David Damberger – What happens when an NGO admits failure.
In it Damberger beautifully articulates the principle I was talking about in my previous post. Rather than go down the route of NGO closure, he instead wonders about how we might innovate to give beneficiaries a vote.
The other part of Damberger’s talk is around failure. This is a topic I hear people talk about a lot, but struggle with how to bring it to life. The most powerful part is when he shares his own personal regret about a failure he was engaged with, and the downside of the ‘do-gooder-as-hero’ myth. He also points to Engineers Without Borders (Canada) culture of embracing failure, and a fabulous website they developed which unpacks and explores failure – Admitting Failure
. Well worth checking out.
Business is simple really – not easy – but simple. You create a product or service that offers value to a market, and that market acknowledges its value by purchasing it. If your product (or service) is not purchased, then you have to look at whether or how much the product is valued. In a way, customers are voters. With each purchase, the customer is voting for whether they like your product and/or your brand. You get lots of votes and you stay in business; you poll poorly and you are out of business.
Okay, so this is looking at business far too simplistically. There are many factors that go into a business working or not working. Indeed, you may well have a good product but haven’t figured out a way of marketing it or producing it at a cost that fulfills profit goals and a market’s price point. But that aside, let’s roll with our metaphor of the customer as voter.
This mechanism of voting/purchasing is based on a value exchange between the provider and the market. The business owner’s job is to be in constant relationship with the market to know whether or to what extent that relationship is healthy and there is a value exchange. If the relationship is healthy and the market perceives a fair value exchange, you are doing pretty well. Sales is a very clear feedback loop on how your business is tracking.
What about non-profits?
Small (and big) business owners know this and track sales constantly. It is like a doctor checking the businesses pulse (okay, no more metaphors). But what about the non-profit ‘market’? Read more
This series on business euthanization was originally inspired by two colleagues who as CEOs of two separate non-profits, had the courage to close them down. Both happened independently of each other, one in Melbourne and one in Sydney, and for different reasons.
The first case came about through a realisation that the purpose of the organisation, while noble, was not making the impact it set out to achieve. It had been working project to project and producing fine work. There were by all reports wonderful achievements, and a lot of goodwill surrounding this organisation. Despite that, when impact is the main game and resourcing that is essential, there comes a time when one wonders whether something else could be done with those same resources to achieve impact (and resources mean more than money here).
The decision was perhaps a surprise to some stakeholders. Why close a business that essentially is doing some good? If it was a commercial business, there would have been little evidence to close it. In fact if profit was the main game, this business could potentially have moved into markets that exploited staff capabilities and maximized return. But this was not a commercial organisation, and the drivers were elsewhere. The people wanted to make an impact.
The second case was in many ways more surprising. It was a market leader in its industry or target group. They had been around for a long time, Read more
You may have read my advertisement for BESi – Business Euthanization Services Inc. This was inspired by a bunch of conversations and real life stories around the ethics of business closure. To celebrate the pending end of the world, over the next couple of weeks I want to explore and write about some of the dimensions of business closure – market changes, leadership, decision making, courage and more.
I want to put attention on both the non-profit space, and also big business. For me this is new territory, as I have not found existing services or writing on this very important part of the business life cycle (well at least not in the conscious or planned sense).
My choice of using euthanization is important too, and I will write about why I have referred to this as business euthanization and not business murder or business genocide.
I would love to hear your comments over the coming couple of weeks as I explore this topic. Perhaps you could point me to existing writing, or case studies where you have seen either ethical or unethical approaches to business closure.
If you are new to this blog, feel free to sign up to receive updates. In the meantime, take care of your good selves. Enjoy Earth!
Here are the full series of posts:
Euthanize Your Business Today!
Courage to Close: Two nonprofits take their next step
Do you get your market’s vote?
Business hospice and euthanization: what the…?
Closing shop: how do you know it’s time?
Are you concerned that your business or non-profit is not having the impact it intended?
Do you worry about forced closure and the ethical impacts it might have?
Has your market shifted so dramatically that your business is irretrievable?
Are you seeking an exit strategy that provides dignity and respect to all your stakeholders?
These are some of the many questions that business people and non-profit leaders ask when they come to Business Euthanization Services Inc (BESi) for advice. Over the past decade, we have seen dramatic shifts in markets and a sharp rise in the number of businesses forced to close. So often the final years and months of a business’s life is riddled with pain, stress and significant negative impact on its stakeholders.
Our research has shown that this was not due to poor intention on behalf of the business owner. So often business owners end up feeling shame and regret from the impacts of closure. At BESi we know that this can all be avoided through thorough prior planning and conscious leadership. This is what we like to call: conscious closure.
BESi was founded in 2012 to help business owners and leaders approach the matter of business closure in a way that brings dignity, compassion and respect to all people involved. BESi has a generous and wise team of associates who are able to support you and your closure needs in a way that honors your highest ethical intentions. Our services include: Read more