A Beautiful Business looks after the people and places around it so that the people and places around it look after it in return. By finding ways of supporting each other more deeply, business, people and place can flourish together, for longer, in more inspiring ways.

We can all take part in the Beautiful Business revolution - as entrepreneurs, managers, investors, consumers and policy makers - finding better ways to connect, support and grow as a whole.

This blog is a place to help Beautiful Business to thrive. If we don't, Ugly Business will do us great harm.


Future of finance and community investment...

Great to meet Bruce Davis of abundance at a session with Masters for business, sustainability and community students at Uni of Chester yesterday. Strikes me Abundence is doing much that shows beautiful business - new kinds of connection across public, community and sustainable project - mainly in renewable energy for now, but I guess will open up to different kinds of investment in future. Great to support it! 

Seeking meaning and purpose in the world of business

Good stuff on values in business, and on how its not soft to be sound.

People matter more than process in shifting to #beautifulbusiness

This very much links to a programme I’m hoping ton set up in K&S in 2012. The notion: if people make change happen (which I believe they do) then we need to do more to understand the human factors of success / limitation in the way organisations build to sustainability or beauty.

The beauty of Kalundborg and Hardin Tibbs’ brain

Just went back to Hardin Tibbs stuff on crisis and solutions (and lost my entire blog entry so this is the second time I write it… more briefly).


Tibbs draws out principles of a sustainable and natural ecosystem. He then translates this to principles of a cyclic economy, with a notion of cyclical or closed value loops at heart:

·     Industrial system seen as a dependent subsystem of the biosphere 

·     Economic flows decoupled from material flows

·     Environmental costs fully internalised by the market

·     Cyclical flow of materials

·     Virgin materials minimalised

·     Information substitutes for mass

·     System entropy kept as low as possible 

2 things strike me:


1) This symbiotic relationship is key to the notion of beautiful business. 2) And Tibbs writes about this too… this stuff is about relationships as much as technical capacity or knowhow. It’s about people; feelings; looking after each other better. 

Tibbs also writes about Kalundborg as an example of a working symbiotic system. Kalundborg is a a ‘circular ecosystem of economy’ in Denmark - a number of aspects of community and industry connecting across produce and waste.


Beautiful business is about this way of working to help each other better. And Kalundborg is the kind of story we need to support and learn from more and more. 

Link to Hardin Tibbs: http://www.hardintibbs.com/

Link to Kalundborg project:  http://www.symbiosis.dk/en


Storied products… deepening connection as consumers

Interesting to catch up with a friend and former colleague, Ching, who now works with digital start ups. We discussed ‘storied products’ - a rising interest in knowing where and how products are made, and being able to find out about the individuals and communities involved in production in the online purchasing process. It feels to me like this is about consumers looking to connect more personally and taking responsibility for conscious and responsible purchasing decisions. Really good stuff. And it is an example of the internet being able to do something brilliant for how we support beautiful businesses. A good example seems to be Press IOU: http://blog.iouproject.com/

Knowing and working with the factors of beautiful business

Beautiful Business is more than a philosophy. I am passionate that it is something that firstly is important to our collective future, but also a genuine strategy and tactic that can help the best of businesses to win. With my own work I am continously exploring this question of how to make it real. Why should a leader or board of directors or an entreprenuer sit up and make sure his or her business s beautiful? I share some principles and thoughts on this below - content which will be defined over time and I think helpful to have it here now.

First, some principles hat guide this work:

  • Business is a man made construct and as entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, policy makers and investors we can choose to influence and change it.
  •  Business is more than a medium for economic transaction – it is a medium for learning, for making change happen, and for expressing identity and culture.
  •  Because business is a medium for saying ‘this is who I am’, and for helping us learn to be the best we can be,  we must not let business undersell us. Yet there is too much ‘ugly business’ – too much that lets us down.
  •  By helping Beautiful Business to win, we can attain greater personal, organisational and  social fulfilment.
  •  By applying good principles and practice from fields of learning, change and innovation - as a community of practice - we can accelerate how we help beautiful business win together.

Against this context, what is a beautiful business really?

A beautiful business is beautifully balanced. First, it supports and inspires the people that make part of it. Second, through its people, it supports and inspires the wider community  around it (including customers, investors and its environment). And through this, it makes itself one of the most attractive players in its market – in doing so driving success and supporting people and communities richly and sustainably at the same time. A beautiful business balances what it takes with what it gives.


So what factors MAKE a business beautiful? I believe we see some aspects of beautiful business often. But it is not frequent that we see all of the aspects below together:

·         It aims to create positive value in every way: economic but also in terms social and learning progress. (Michael Porter is now talking about this in terms of Shared Value. Unilever have goals to grow while decoupling environmental impact from this growth, Dunphy and others show evolutions to this point..)

·         It begins by giving people it works with freedom, responsibility and support to be the best they can be. Its values are aligned towards is about human flourishing and it recognises ‘work’ as a medium for growing and learning. (Gary Hamel brings out examples here such as Whole Foods and Google. I include Kessels & Smit here, as an example of seeing people’s passion and needs at the heart of wider growth.)

·         It is strategic and collaborative at high levels – it sees itself as part of the biggest whole and works to mutual learning and benefit.  It builds on deep and mutually respective relationships with all stakeholders. This is about relationships for life instead of short term gains that throw systems off balance.

·         It changes the paradigm of top-down to bottom-up. It works to local needs; to local benefit; with local understanding; using local resource.

·         It has a deeply systemic perspective on all aspects from its work. This can be seen in aspects such as cyclical supply and value chains (Hardin Tibbs). This relates to all aspects of ‘input’ into the business – including finance. 

  •   It is undeniably attractive –  through some or all aspects of purpose, values, service, quality, creativity, playfulness, aesthetic - we all want to be part of it

At the heart of all this is a sense that the business is part of a wider whole. And there is an essence that it is about mutual growth and flourishing - helping positive growth without negative impact at every part of the system from the individuals that make the entity out to the biosphere and back again. I see these aspects of working NOW in differnt forms - from the small business in the village street to some multinational organisations. I think our work in this space is about finding these pieces of the jigsaw, turning the into inspiring and accessible maps and stories, and then inspiring all people from customers to investors to entreprenuers to policy makers to help beautiful business to flourish.

As a next entry I plan to share some examples and pen portraits of beautiful business.

Beautiful learning and working: remembering we are less like cogs and more like swirls

I am linking here to a blog entry on our Kessels & Smit site: 'creative perspectives on knowledge management' - related to a session I supported in Washington DC earlier this year.

Reason is - I write here about working in a way that is fit for human purpose. In the blog I share thoughts and ideas that I put to a group of international health leaders working on real life and death issues. The challenge for this group is how to connect and share knowledge about best practice in their field. What I helped to do is to explore more human ways of working - of imagination, story (or what I call ‘visioning’) and then PLAY.

The session was a big success for lots of reasons, the creative angle being one of them. With hindsight, it is great to see how valuable it is for people simply to remember how important it is to be humanely creative in a given context - even in this field with such serious issues at heart.

In the context of Beautiful Business, this relates to a notion that we must rediscover and develop ways of working that are fit for who we are as human beings. We are not machines and must not work as machines. Less like cogs in a big wheel, we are more like swirls in a bloody cool chocolate Willie Wonka river. When we work from this perspective, life seems has more colour, flavour - and possibility.

The work of Peter Reason around action research and different ways of knowing was really important to me in this session. This is stuff that helps us work with the world in a way that recognises it is messy, and that we do not think and feel in straight lines but in swirls and twirls so we should work and celebrate that.  

We must continue exploring these more creative forms of working in the workplace. At one level it is about recognising we are humans and we need more fluid and colourful ways of working. At another, this is about developing ways of working more collaboratively and effectively in an increasingly complex world in which we face some really serious challenges as a whole. More so, I think when we see the world from this perspective it is easier to see we are part of a wider system - and it becomes easier to work with the whole in the mind and heart - is a crucial shift in consciousness to achieving great things in how we all grow in better ways. 

The final quote in the blog is a killer worth sharing here. Thanks to Chris Seeley from Ashridge for sharing it.

“There is no scientific evidence that seriousness leads to greater growth, maturity, or insight into the human condition than playfulness.” John Paul Lederach, 2005

Guest blog (!): WHAT BEAUTIFUL BUSINESS MEANS TO ME: As a seasoned strategist in advertising.


I’m lucky to work and practice my resarch with lots of creative and inspiring people. Here is a blog entry by one of my brilliant learning buddies - Kirsty Saddler, on Beautiful Business from her perspective as a ‘seasoned’ strategist in advertising. I love the themes Kirsty brings out - related to Fred Kofman in that business is a place to develop human flourishing. I wonder if the future advertising model might do all that it does well while supporting more local and sustainable flows of knowledge, communitcations and beautiful trade. What a great setor to look at in the context of Beautiful Business… and of course so many skills in making things aesthetically, playfully and relationally beautiful. Thanks Kirsty :-) 

I have enjoyed working in creative advertising agencies for most of my professional life. They are typically offices of under 500 people that thrive on having a distinctive culture, driven by creativity and that puts primacy on their people. The industry is very relationship driven and success is based on individuals and the way they think. This arguably frames things in a very human way, meaning the happiness of the people is important to the office’s success.

For me, beautiful business is when experience is valued, but is not allowed to overshadow naivety. A great idea can come from anywhere and so everyone in an organization should have a voice and feel excited to use it. 
It is when an organization recognizes their reason for being, as more than just delivering financial success. The higher purpose for advertising agencies is, I believe, to better explore and exercise the power of creative communications and how it can positively influence people’s attitudes and behaviors, to help solve problems and create new, inspiring realities for people. 

A beautiful business is spatially aware, it knows the community it lives in and tries to both draw from that and contribute to it. It sources materials and food locally, it engages the community in its higher purpose, it connects its employees to the locals. In an era of business parks and high-rise blocks, this is more important than ever. 

It is when an organization feels the weight of its own presence and manages it as best it can. It also engages its employees so that they are conscious of what they do, knowing how what they do influences the business’ impact overall. 

A beautiful business supports its people to thrive in the context of their job description and beyond, recognizing that broader life experience and skill sets can add indirect value to the business. Company cultures too often drive conformity, whereas the diversity of the people the employ and the way they approach their work should be leveraged.

Below are five of the ideas I’ve had since doing what I do….

  • Skills sharing in an office is really valuable, whether it be ping-pong technique, explaining the meaning of Swedish customs or lunchtime knitting, it builds a co-operative culture in agencies which help make people feel emotionally, not just financially bound to the business. This also best happens in an informal and self-motivated way, so that it is not just a top-down mandate.
  • Volunteering and consultancy to non-profits should be considered by agencies as training, for every staff member. Training is expensive and people’s ability to interpret the value of lateral skills is a training experience in itself, so I believe different frameworks should be found by which training benefits the employee and others from outside the agency.
  • Like cars, office real estate is under-leveraged. Office space and production resources are typically redundant once the working day is done and on weekends, it should be loaned out to local start-ups, the self-employed and non-profits during this down time. 
  • A lot of an agency’s creativity goes to waste as the ideas are not ‘bought’ by clients, this could be converted into a fundraising revenue stream as designs are repurposed as art and sold, and ideas are shared out to communities to adapt for themselves. This also helps maintain creative teams’ motivation. 
  • Agencies should collaborate more, to help come up with solutions to larger social and environmental issues. They can leverage their talent in more diverse ways and potentially engage clients too. Agencies should be held accountable to do this at least twice a year, affording them tax breaks or some other business incentive if they do. The individualism of businesses is damaging and out-dated, convergence and collaboration will offer many more advantages in the future. 

Three fantasies of dominant business strategy and learning to rethink around them

Nice to read Chris Nichols’ paper: ‘Fit for Purpose: Remaking our sense of “strategy in business’”’

Chris describes three fantasies of the dominant business paradigm:

1) limitless growth 2) actions without concsiousness 3) separateness (us as separate to others and nature)

And as a response, Chris touches on the importance of shifts from the language and metaphors we use for business; some wonderful learning from permaculture (in which we observe more deeply and patiently towards change); and more appreciative ways of leading strategy.

Nice to connect care for people and the earth in a beautiful way… And approaches which feel more human and increasingly important.

See Chris’ paper at www.ashridge.org.uk

Looking forward to learning lots more about permaculture and bringing insight into my work and research, starting at http://permacultureprinciples.com as referenced in Chris’ paper.

Vision 2050 Report from WBCD

Report on a pathway to sustainability from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Good to see alignment of closed loop systems, behavioural change & education and new forms of systemic collaboration. Misses a bit of ‘enchantment’ for me but great as a basis for dialogue!

Awarenes & Wisdom in the workplace: cool course

Linking to a course that seems closely related to my previous entry on Entering the Market with Empty Hands!

Work is love made visible.

Kahlil Gibran via Fred Kofman

Entering the market with Helping Hands – lessons from Kofman’s Conscious Business

I have been contemplating Conscious Business by Fred Kofman. A Conscious Business, in Kofman’s words: “…fosters peace and happiness in individuals, respect and solidarity in the community, and mission accomplishment in the organization.” 

Kofman describes a set of principles and practices that guide how to be more conscious and powerfully responsible in our work, learning and interactions. There would be far too much to cover here as a summary, but there are many overlaps with what I see as Beautiful Business. 

What I wanted to share here is linked to the final part of the book, where Kofman puts forward a story of ‘Entering the Market with Helping Hands’ – an allegory taken from Zen Buddhism represented in a carving called the Ten Ox-Herding Pictures. 

‘Entering the market’ is a story of a shepherd who first finds and then tames an ox. One of the last pictures in the series is an empty space in which both shepherd and ox disappear. In the final image the shepherd marks a happy return to the market with ‘empty hands’ – now empty from small-minded desire, full of joy and ready to serve the world with purpose. The story represents a realisation that the mind is ‘lost’, then found, then consciousness developed and wisdom and contentment emerge. The cool thing is – it doesn’t stop there. The shepherd does not detach from the world, but moves back to the market with helping hands, joyfully and full of energy.

With this mindset, it means that we are not just working mindlessly to solely personal gains. Rather, we can choose to be more conscious of our work, and to grow through our work, and to be at a point in our growth where we feed and nourish work and those around us back. Echoing Kofman, this might also bring out ‘success beyond success’ – a different level of satisfaction that comes as much from how we do things than it does from what comes out in the end (and of then the end result is greater for it). 

It also frames business back to how I introduce Beautiful Business. Business is a technology (as in a human invention) with a positive intent within. Rather than a machine, we can look at it as an essential holding space for our own learning and growth – albeit many of us have lost sight of this. And it means that growing a business is not simply about mindless profit and growth. Looked at from a beautiful perspective, it is a place dedicated to human flourishing.

I believe that whoever we might be and in whatever work we are, the aims of personal growth and happiness drive us most deeply. By looking at business in this light, as a place through which to grow, way can come closer to this satisfaction. All the while this mindset can also help us be a lot more powerful and responsible in the way we work.

‘Truth, happiness, fullness, freedom, peace and love are not a means to an end; they are the ultimate end.’ – Fred Kofman, Conscious Business