Ernesto Sirolli – Shut Up and Listen!

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:

  1. Never Initiate Anything
  2. Never Motivate Anyone

Your job is to simply shut up and listen!

Embracing failure and giving beneficiaries a voice

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 DambergerWhat 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 Euthanization Series

Hello friends,

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?

Euthanize Your Business Today!

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

YOU are your business

A wise teacher said to me recently, “You are your business”; and seldom has a truer thing been said. We live in a world where we celebrate building things outside ourselves – companies, campaigns, architecture, change. Yet on some level these things are not outside of us, they are outward expressions of our inner lives. They represent our dreams, hopes, strengths, weaknesses and more. Our creations are also our teachers. They have the unique power to teach us that which we most need to see in ourselves.

When going Outward Bound, we used to use the phrase: “let the mountains speak for themselves”. This pedagogic dream was only as effective as the student’s ability to listen to and understand what the mountains had to say. What are your mountains saying to you? What is your business, life and work teaching you?

It was no surprise that I ended up in social entrepreneurship, and it wasn’t because I was a brilliant entrepreneur. On the contrary, this choice of life path emerged more because of what I needed to learn than what I had to offer. Social entrepreneurship was an ideal vehicle to learn more about discipline, focus and channeling my creative energy. Quite simply, we do what we do because of what we don’t know more than what we do.

Why is it that some people choose the go into partnership while others choose to go solo. Is it because one method works better than another? No. When we choose our strategies we are subconsciously choosing our teachers. Every little part of your business, job or work is trying to teach you something about yourself; it is trying to perfect you in some way.

I became a CEO not because I was an expert leader. I became a CEO because I needed to learn more about the ethical use of power. I needed to learn how to discern between what was my stuff and what belonged to others. For anyone who has served in this role, they will know that it forces you to face yourself. Read more

Get real…don’t piss people off!

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” – Bill Cosby

About a month ago I read the most ridiculous article on Fast Company that took inspiration from this Bill Cosby quote. Cosby had difficulty defining success, so the author decided to have a go. And I guess this means that I am going to have a go too. In the original Fast Company article, the opposite of pleasing others was pissing them off. The logical conclusion was therefore:

Success = Pissing people off

Come on…really?

I just don’t buy into the poorly formed logic in this article, and many of the comments that followed. The article tried to promote a new and more evolved way of looking at brand strategy. To be fair, there was some interesting content in the article. Having a clear strategy and brand position is important.

My difficulty here is the poorly founded assumptions behind the article. Even the examples that are provided in the article are nonsense. Somehow the writer sees that it is acceptable for brands to take positions that alienate markets and create controversy, simplistically justifying this by saying that not everyone will like everything.

Brands like Nestlé, Nike and in a more indirect way Vegas have engaged with practices over the years which have been ethically questionable. While these companies may not have deliberately set out to piss of their respective markets, they certainly did achieve just that. Pissing people off is not good strategy as the article suggests, but actually very poor strategy.

While the article does not condone unethical practice, it should be noted that there may be very good reasons why the market rejects a brand. Brands don’t need to please everybody, but companies should look for Read more

The ethical alignment of mission, strategy and investment

I had an interesting conversation the other day with Nick Moraitis about the ethics and alignment of mission, strategy and investment in social change. Very often social entrepreneurs will possess incredibly ambitious goals about what they want to achieve. This may include eliminating poverty, stopping global warming, or reducing unemployment amongst a certain part of the population.

As Nick pointed out to me, there can often be massive gaps between the mission that is pursued, activities that are taken to achieve that and the budgets that exist to fulfill that mission. Is it ethical to set a goal that is grossly unachievable and selling that unattainable mission to beneficiaries, funders or supporters?

This lack of alignment between mission, strategy and investment is very common, and not necessarily because of any deliberate intent to mislead. In my experience there are a number of factors that contribute to this including a culture of inflating possibility, lack of skills in business planning, poor design processes and a lack of external reference checks around mission.

In terms of skill gaps there is a general lack of understanding of what it actually costs to achieve change. For me I was raised in the school of doing things on the cheap. I have become adept at finding free or low cost ways of achieving change at a local level, and have been involved in a bunch of initiatives that have done just that. I have less experience in working on complex global problems that require heavy financial investment and multidimensional strategies to achieve the mission. If I was to pursue the solving of a complex global problem, I personally would need a lot of external input in the design of an appropriate strategy and Read more

The ethics of working outside of one’s competence

It is a basic ethical standard in most professions and industries for one to operate within their field of competence. This is true in law, medicine, psychotherapy, financial advice and more. Professional bodies will often dictate what the minimum standards of competence are, and codes of ethics require or suggest that professionals operate within the individual’s level of competence.

In the first instance, it is up to the individual professional to self-regulate and operate to their level of competence. It is generally accepted that if a professional comes up against the limits of their competence, they refer to the matter to a colleague or someone with the competence to handle the situation.

Professional competence and minimum standards are important ethically in order to protect both the industry from ‘dodgy operators’, and also to protect clients and customers from harm caused by poor practice. This is interesting for the field of ‘doing good’, which is neither regulated nor has suggested minimum standards of competence. It is an area with very low barriers to entry. Basically, anyone can start a charity, community service or business. One does not need a particular set of skills or competence; all they need is an idea. There are bodies like the Australian Community Workers Association that promote and support community workers, including outlining codes of ethics and providing ongoing professional development. Being a member of this body is not a legislated prerequisite for employment in the community sector however.

As a social entrepreneur and long-term do-gooder, I have found myself in numerous situations where I was pushed beyond my level of competence. This was particularly so Read more

Pay it forward – searching for a more ethical incentive

In the business world it is a fairly common tactic to use bonuses, commissions and other rewards to incentivise performance and retention amongst employees. Is it possible to create a more powerful incentive however, where the employee who does the work receives nothing personally? In addition, could it be possible to create an incentive where the individual receives nothing, but generates good will amongst others?

A few years ago I worked with the business development team at a well known Australian charity. It was at an important stage in the organisation’s growth. They had a proven product and a good understanding of their market. The challenge was simply one of increasing volume, filling up business in quiet periods and making the whole operation more profitable. Sounds simple doesn’t it.

The organisation was highly effective at retaining existing clients, with over 75% having been with them for over 15 years. Each year there was a small attrition of clients, and a modest acquisition of new clients. To meet the organisations growth, profitability and sustainability targets, new sales needed to ramp up significantly. The team had participated in training, implemented new sales tracking tools and managed its contacts more closely. The organisation also invested in innovating new programs and services to take to market. Aside from the new style programs, none of these made a significant difference to increasing sales.

The Executive Team considered whether the organisation needed to implement an incentive scheme for its sales staff. Prior to this, business development staff were salaried and conducted sales alongside client management. There were no specialist sales people in this team – each person had Read more

Freebirthing and the ethics of judgement

In many ways ethics can be about making judgements or assessment about what is right or wrong, good or bad. But are all judgements the same?

Recently there has been an ongoing story in the press about a mother who lost her child in during a freebirth. This event was naturally a deeply tragic one for her and her family, despite the apparent non-recognition of this in the news. The coroner’s inquest and associated media coverage was a rampage of judgement to condemn this mother for what had occurred for her.

What amazed me was the total lack of compassion for the mother and her loss. As if losing her child was not enough pain, a number of people saw it best to condemn her for it. This ‘double punishment’ seemed to be built on the principle that judgement and condemnation is the perfect right of anyone, and there are no situations by which judgement should be tempered with empathy or compassion.

In our modern world, we have a tendency to judge all matters with a scientific lens, as if all matters are purely scientific. Birthing seems to have become a medical procedure rather than a rite of passage or important life event. Is it though? Should we really boil all things down to simple scientific views. Life has far greater complexities that warrant looking beyond simplistic viewpoints, binary answers, or clear cut rights or wrongs. And just because we were all born once, does that make us experts in making determinations about how others should give birth?

It it not surprising that we are so good at judgement. Despite mainstream spiritual teachings being grounded in compassion and love, contemporary interpretations often speak of a ‘judgmental’ God or Read more