Beyond economic growth: pluralism vs a non-profit world

I often get tired of the not-for-profit vs for-profit debate as it too often is simplistically argued. The other night I was at an event on social enterprise, and the keynote speaker starts by saying how much he hates not-for-profits. His background was in small business, and he seemed to think that this was the only answer. If only not-for-profits could operate according to his worldview, everything would be fine.

Over the past four years or so I have followed the work of Donnie Maclurcan who has been involved with founding initiatives such as Project Australia(En)Rich List, Post Growth Institute and even more (or perhaps less) daring pursuits like running across Australia. Donnie is an ethicist, researcher and passionate changemaker. He has taken on the task of understanding the not-for-profit paradigm, and holds a vision that the world be a non-profit world by 2050. You can check out Donnie’s vision in a talk he gave recently at Net Balance. Here is a guy that is trying to go beyond simplistic judgements of the non-profit world to remind us of their powerful possibilities.


Non-profit vs for-benefit: what are we talking about?

First, let’s define what we are talking about. Non-profit does not mean Read more

Electromagnetic ethical thinking

Over the past ten years, I have become increasingly aware of and sensitive to Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR). I notice a strong contrast between how I feel and behave in cities as compared to rural areas. I recently returned to Sydney after two months of mostly being in largely rural and non-built up areas, and the contrast was astounding. For me, electromagnetic fields can cause poor sleep, agitation, scattered thinking, impulsiveness and anxiety. I first notice it physiologically as tension and vibration of my cells, and later as impacts on my overall state.

Electromagnetic radiation is not commonly talked about, despite its prevalence in our lives. For anyone who lives or works in cities, this is especially something to pay attention to. The impacts I noted above are not just mine, and others report headaches, sleeplessness, depression and more.

In my last job, I found that at least once per week I needed to work from home. This was about more than just having some quiet and non-distraction time. Some days I found the electromagnetic energy of the office so overwhelming, that it was impairing my thinking and judgement. I would respond impulsively to situations in ways that I wouldn’t in a more neutral or healthy environment. In hindsight, working from home was about needing to escape the unrelenting energy that exists in offices that are filled with computers, mobile phones 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

You are not a social entrepreneur

You are not a social entrepreneur.
You are not a CEO.
You are not your role or whatever you think you are.

Roles and role titles may be useful at times to guide our work or describe it to the outside world, and indeed these role titles can feel liberating. In fact, great and effective leadership means having a healthy relationship with role.

By contrast however, there is a danger in over-identifying with roles and role titles. It can lead to misuses for power, and can eventually cause harm and be a leader’s undoing.

Founders Syndrome

Many in the do-gooding space have encountered leaders who have lost their ethical footing with regards to their role. I have seen this in other leaders and I have seen it in myself. One group of people who experience this most acutely are those who have founded organisations. There is even a term called ‘founders syndrome’ to describe the effects of poor founder separation and misuses of power by those in that role.

While there are many aspects to founders syndrome, one key feature comes as an over-identification with role. For many founders, the creation of their organisation is a work of significant effort and investment. This can lead to immense pride and attachment which Read more

Why resistance is important

Despite my being a supporter of marriage equality, it is vitally important in the long run for there to be resistance to it. I would say that for any social change issue, we need to rethink our tolerance for resistance, because it is in the resistance itself that real change happens.

A number of years ago I was living in Queensland when Pauline Hanson made her famous debut on the political stage. It was a remarkable time to be there. I remember how friends, almost overnight, started to express what was to me the most vile racism. I was shocked by not only what was said but the fact that people I knew, really good people, were all of a sudden speaking in such fearful and hurtful ways

What Pauline Hanson did was dredge up and fuel dormant racism. She exposed a part of Australia’s social consciousness and collective karmic psyche that was to me repulsive. Despite my judgements of it at the time, the fact of the matter is that it was there and it needed to be dealt with.

Of course along with bringing to the surface this previously unacknowledged fear within the society, it also brought to the surface those people and ideas that were pursuing the opposite. I remember 40,000 people showing up for a Reconciliation March in Brisbane, an attendance and purpose that would have been unimaginable only a couple of years earlier.  It was an exciting time in Australia actually, because there was such a surgence in civic activity, social consciousness and the dissolving of outdated views.

Social change requires both the dark and the light.

Despite the discomfort at the time, and the pain that was caused to people through her words and the communities actions, it was all necessary for the social change process. In the end Pauline Hanson lost nor did Read more

Do the hokey-pokey, that’s what it’s all about!

You put your whole self in

You put your whole self out

You put your whole self in

and you shake it all about

You do the hokey-pokey 

and you turn around

…that’s what it’s all about!

Yesterday I had the amazing good fortune of doing the Hokey-pokey with a group of consenting adults, inspired by Cedar Barstow as part of her Right Use of Power workshop. At the end I laughed both because of the joy and the elegant simplicity of the message. That one little rhyme said more to me than anything else about what it means to be a changemaker (stay with me here).

The journey of doing good often starts by putting part of yourself into something – testing your talents, playing with ideas, exploring the zone. Not long into it though, we find ourselves putting our whole selves into what we do. It is this funny dance of wanting to put our whole self into something, jumping out for survival, only to go back into the zone again.

It is like a dance that repeats in a circular motion, and we keep going back for more.
The origins of the hokey-pokey are contested. In the UK it is regarded a traditional song, now in the trust of the collective consciousness to shape and give new meaning. Writing this from Colorado, I am trepidatious as here the rhyme is owned by Sony. I wonder whether I can give new meaning to our cultural stories when the collective consciousness is owned by the corporate monolith. I will take a risk.

The hokey-pokey is said to have different meanings and origins. The one that I will expand on is that it derives from the words Read more

Systems diplomacy: is this the end of social entrepreneurship?

Last week I wrote a short post titled Now Hiring: Systems Diplomats and had a most surprising reaction. My niche little blog with its humble readership suddenly swelled, at least momentarily. There was something in this post that seemed to resonate for people very strongly.

It might have been not much more than the first two words “Now Hiring” which gave the reader some false hope that in this post was an intriguing new job available, only to realize that it was a fake ad. But the comments and feedback I received on twitter showed something more.

Firstly, to be clear, the meme explored in this post or even the name is not original. I first came across this about a year ago in conversation with a friend, colleague and fellow knowmad @edwardharran. At the time we used the term Ecosystems Diplomat.  Eddie subsequently chatted with @katemural who wrote a stellar post on ecosystems diplomacy. Kate also explored the idea of a kind of Ecosystems Diplomacy Corp. While I have been mostly unaware until recently, there have been others exploring these meme from different angles all over the world, blending it with other memes like open space technology and collective impact.

The collective impact meme was made publicly known and accessible by the team at FSG who have diligently mapped a bunch of collective impact initiatives, and created a framework for how these work. While systems diplomacy is not limited to multi-institutional collaboration, there is definite correlation with the qualities required to facilitate collective impact projects. FSG have focused very heavily on the importance and contribution of backbone organisations in these processes. Systems diplomacy can shed some light on the qualities and approaches of the people who are doing this work. Read more

Walking the middle path – the limits of vulnerability

Vulnerability has been trending of late; a meme that has captured the minds and hearts of many people I know. Moreover, it seems to have changed their behaviour. I experience myself and others being more vulnerable with each other, deepening connection and building community. While vulnerability can create greater connection, empathy and understanding, I have also experienced and witnessed it have painful consequences for people.

Brene Brown’s wonderful TED talks titled “The power of vulnerability” and “Listening to shame” have done a lot to fuel this meme. TED talks and social media offer us bite sized bits of inspiration and information. It is tempting to read 140 characters or hear an 18 minute speech and consequently conclude we are experts or accomplished in the content matter. Brene researched this field for over a decade, engaging in deep inquiry and personal exploration to understand these principles.

Whether we are acting as facilitators, educators, social workers or systems diplomats, we owe it to ourselves and the people we serve to understand these topics more fully. Vulnerability can be powerful in our work, but it can also have negative impacts.

Vulnerability is different for everyone

My experience of vulnerability started when I was young. At the time my parents and others just referred to me as a sensative child. While this was true and in more recent years has become a more endearing and useful quality, for a good period of time it caused me a great deal of angst. My natural sensitivity and willingness to be vulnerable left me open to being taken advantage of by others.

More recently I had a series of professional experiences where my being vulnerable in a Read more

Now hiring: Systems Diplomats

Position Description: Systems Diplomat

The world is seeking a team of curious, creative and humble diplomats to navigate complexity, choreograph systems and facilitate collaboration.

Context and Purpose of the Position

Communities, nations, sectors, industries and more are dealing with greater levels of complexity and diversity of participation. This complexity and diversity, and current collective lack of ability to deal with it, is in many cases around the world creating conflict, dis-ease and holding ‘systems’ back from reaching their potential.

These systems require support in being able to come together, find mutual understanding, and move forward in a graceful and effective way. Systems diplomacy helps address these challenges and move systems forward.

As opposed to ‘traditional’ diplomacy, the Systems Diplomat does not represent or speak for a particular voice or power structure within a system. This is not representative diplomacy as it is currently known. The Systems Diplomat moves fluidly between players, roles, process and relationships to increase consciousness of the system, and as a result bring about change to the system.

Systems diplomacy is not entrepreneurial as it is not goal driven. While the social entrepreneur or systems entrepreneur may seek to pursue a certain change goal, the systems diplomat is concerned with process before outcome. It trusts that the outcome is inherently known to the system, but simply lays dormant or unconscious. The diplomat seeks to make conscious that which is currently unconscious, and through this new understanding allows change to occur.

Reports to: Read more