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November 2010

Professor Roger Steare's Ethicability


I have just been reading the PWC report on Trust: the behavioural challenge; this emerges from PWC’s ongoing collaboration with Professor Roger Steare, a contributor to these blog pages. It’s certainly wide-ranging, challenging, and relevant to the market we find ourselves in today. What is it saying then?

 First, I would like to go back a step. The trouble with things that are relevant today is that they haven’t got time to go back and really establish where we have come from yesterday. Yes, it’s true: we need trust as the paper argues, especially in our Corporate enterprises. That trust has been shattered by recent events - the banks, BP and oil, Enron, and we could go on and on.

 But what we have to imagine is what the world would be like without trust. At least, what the commercial world would be like. For that we go back to the Eighteenth Century where it was the Quakers, much mocked at the time, who introduced a simple innovation that enabled them to become - Rowntree, Fry and Cadbury to name but three - the industrial giants of the Nineteenth Century. What was that innovation? In retail they decided to sell products at a fixed price. That’s right - you could go to a Quaker shop and know that the price for the same commodity would be the same.

 The opposite of this ‘same’ price is of course what we find in markets and bazaars all over the world: haggling - or getting what ever you could for what you had. This ‘fixed’ price, however, had a strange consequence: namely, people perceived Quakers as honest and their businesses thrived as a result.

 Of course, we take ‘fixed’ - or better still ‘fair’ - prices for granted now, but then it was revolutionary. It created trust between the purchaser and the vendor, and this led to better and bigger businesses. In fact, it could be said it led to the possibility that businesses could grow - manufacturing and retailing could expand in a way inconceivable with a haggling system.

 So Roger Steare’s work on ‘Ethicability’ is vitally important - the root of all growth is not in money but in value, and all value derives from the primacy of trust. Persuading the Corporate-Haves that they start addressing this issue, and the others identified by Steare, is another matter however. The language Steare uses may be very relevant to Corporates, given his background and pragmatic work in their area - and, incidentally, the research is compelling - but it may be more difficult for SMEs to see his wood for their trees. Big business employs less than 10% of the employees on the planet. Where are the benefits for them? That is the real challenge.

 Furthermore, what with the passionate advocacy of ‘diversity’ and such like concepts, some Boards and Entrepreneurs and free spirits may well smell some forms of socialism and social engineering going on here. It may well be that women score higher on Love than men (and men score higher on purpose), but I for one have never observed more Love emanating from women as directors and managers than I have from men, and would feel loath to go down that particular line for making appointments.

 In some ways, though, this point is answered by the document - if we keep its central propositions rather than its incidental findings in the forefront of our minds. The central findings are - we need a complete culture shift, we need principles of operation rather than codes of conduct, we need the heart and not just the head involved in what we do. These are very big things, especially the latter. Can we really imagine businesses where the leaders are ‘authentic’ because they operate not only from their heads but with the convictions of their heart also?

 If we can’t, then so much the worse for us. For in a way, whilst the Report points to certain commercial advantages to behaving ethically in business, it does not describe the key thing of all. This key is not what most directors would accept as key, but it is: it is quality of life, or more accurately life itself. When we are authentic, when we speak and act from the heart, we radiate an inner light and energy which is wholesome and healthy, and which by its own intrinsic nature begins to address one of the big intractable problems of the last ten years: Work-Life Balance.

 How many burnt-out executives have I met? Too many to count. They often become freelance consultants as the futility of their no-heart work in Corporations begins finally to stab at their hearts and they know they must change or die in harness.

 So I urge you to read Roger Steare’s important and thought-provoking ideas, and ask yourself this question: how can we incorporate ‘Ethicability’ in our organisation, so that we can achieve, not just money, but all that the heart desires - for that truly is our life. To find out more about this, go to: or


Playing darts with Dr Dave

 Last weekend I went on an expedition with Dr Dave Richards, the great business strategist (

 In fact we decided to have a brief weekend away to re-charge. Our destination was the tiny fishing village of Polperro in Cornwall.

 Tiny is a good word for it; as is remote – you certainly need to be at least 4 miles outside the Village to have any hope of picking up a mobile signal. So it was a good job Dave forgot his Blackberry since it would have been useless anyway.


We had a fantastic time, although by the end of it I had picked up laryngitis, for which I cannot blame him. But the remarkable thing is the way that getting away from business and being in the moment can be so energising and wonderful. And, in that moment, the most unexpected things occur; magical things.


We had lunch at Harry's Kitchen – fantastic – stepped out and wandered down mid-Saturday afternoon – darkness already looming - to the harbour. Half way there we ran into the Ship pub and diverted accordingly. Cornish Ale from the taps, the pub near empty, and before we knew where we were we were playing darts for all they're worth. I haven't played darts for 30 years!


So, here's the surreal verse I wrote to commemorate the event – the world could have been ending, but we were getting on with our game of darts. Who won? Ah, well – now that's private between mates and completely irrelevant anyway: the state of timelessness does not require anyone to win because all do.


When I played darts with Doctor Dave

The cosmos opened its slow wound;

Deep night crept on us without sound;

And all the while the people raged -

When I played darts with Doctor Dave.


I'd like, I said, to do good things:

Align myself with Life and Spring,

But found that I was trapped and crazed

When I played darts with Doctor Dave.


Speechless, Polperro, we went down -

Merely a village, scarce a town:

Still, all our mission was to save

When I played darts with Doctor Dave.

Seeing the invisible

In my last blog I mentioned the difference between commodity-driven and value-driven organisations. One corollary of this distinction is the difference between what is visible – a commodity/the money – and what is invisible – a value/the truth. We can see or handle money; but a value – for example, truth – we cannot see or handle.

 For some people, then, it is only what we can see which has importance or meaning; but the reality is exactly the other way round. It is what we cannot see – it is what is invisible – that is truly significant in our lives.

 In fact to see the invisible is the beginning of faith, and faith leads to confidence (Latin: con – with, fidence – faith), and confidence leads to success and achievement.

 One of the most profound examples of this is the question of 'love'. We cannot see 'love', although everybody wants it (and those few who don't have abandoned hope as well as love), but we seek it in others. We want to believe another person loves us. And the popular songs have it right: money can't buy (me) love, and love is more precious than money. Without love we wilt inside.

 Thus, the invisible determines the outcomes of our lives, yet many of us remain steadfastly committed to believing only what we can 'see' – which is so limited.

 In the spiritual traditions of the world Moses was a great prophet. His adventures are described in detail and at length in the Old Testament, or Torah, but the most staggering statement of all about him surely comes in the New Testament when it answers the question of how did he accomplish so much, against such overwhelming odds (the Israelites v. Pharaoh and the Egyptians; think in today's terms: Belgium v. the USA!)?

 He endured”, it says (Heb 11.27), “because he saw Him who is invisible.” Can you see, can you feel, the inherent contradiction in that statement? He saw the invisible – which by definition you cannot see.

 We experience that power when we see the invisible here: the love, the truth and hope that is all around us and in the nature of things. The Egyptian Heaven and Hell says exactly the same thing: “All the world which lies below has been set in order and filled in contents by the things which are placed above; for the things below have not the power to set in order the world above. The weaker must yield to the stronger; and the system of things on high is stronger than the things below.”



Two kinds of people

 Somebody once said that there are two kinds of people: the kind of people who divide the world into two kinds of people, and the kind of people who don’t. Beautiful paradox. But I guess dividing the world into two is hard-wired into us : as the Tao Che Ching says. From the One came two … Yin and Yang. The brain itself has its left and right hemispheres; and when we think of good we almost always become aware of bad.

 Thus it is that I – very consciously – divide the business world into two types of business people: commodity driven businesses and “value” driven businesses. And in my experience this is an 80-20 split. 80% of businesses are commodity driven, and 20% are value driven.

 What do I mean, then, by commodity-driven versus value-driven businesses/people? What I don’t mean by commodity driven is that these businesses/people are necessarily in commodities – like oil or gold or even commodity trading. I am sure there must be some ‘value’ people in these areas just as in the ‘value’ areas – say, charity organisations – there must be commodity-driven people.

 No. what I mean is quite simply this ; after over 15 years of being in business, and having experienced large numbers of SME’s, Corporates, and public sector organisations I have noticed a pattern which has become almost visceral with me now.

 There are people – businesses – who, whatever their overt principles, values, mission and vision to the contrary – are only concerned about one thing – selling their commodity – whether you want, need or can use it, they’ll sell it to you. It can truly be said about them: ’it’s all about the money’. These are the kind of organisations that underpay and under train – often now in India – large telesales forces to besiege and badger you in your office or home – download unwanted fax crap on your line – with stuff you don’t want, but with a sales process to ju-jitsu the unwary.

 Frankly, it’s stinking capitalism at its worst. And a profit is the only consideration.

On the other hand, value-driven organisations quite overtly seek customer satisfaction – customer delight – customer astonishment first and foremost – and profits follow as a consequence.

 In short, the value-driven organisation is ethical to its core and one consequence of this is its tendency to longevity. At one time Marks and Spenser had this sort of reputation; now John Lewis has it. In the nineteenth century the Quaker enterprises like Cadbury, Rowntree, Fry had it.

 But I have found one thing in my own dealings. Namely, I don’t want to do business with the commodity-driven people – they are boring and greedy. No, it is much more fun working with value-driven people – and much more interesting too. Sometimes, with all the rhetoric, and smoke and mirrors, it takes a while to work it out.

 What kind of organisation are you in!

Making meaning

I am a Quaker and I recently attended a spiritual weekend retreat at Ammerdown. The topic was re-looking at the Bible to see whether it had any relevance for today, and specifically for Quakers today. There has been in recent times an increasingly secularist approach to religion whereby religion – in many areas – has been synonymous with believing in good causes; the books that define the faith are viewed as magical, literalist, and often fantastical. To see whether or not then the Bible – an important but not a binding or “sacred” text to the early Quakers 350 years ago – had anything important to say was the task.

 I myself was asked to make a presentation on John’s Gospel. Where do you begin? My starting point was to consider before studying the text in detail what the purpose of the gospel was. In fact, what the is the purpose of anything? The purpose of this room we are in? The purpose of relationships? The purpose of Quakerism? What is the purpose of John’s Gospel?

 There can be many ways of answering this, but for me the most powerful must come from a consideration of the fact there are four gospels? Why four? Why can’t there be just one gospel that tells the story. Indeed, various people have compiled or collated one gospel over the years – and their efforts have proved vain. Nobody very much wants to read THE one gospel. Thus it is that we can only understand the true purpose of John’s Gospel in contrast to the purposes of the other three gospels.

 But before I consider what all four purposes are I reflect on the word “purpose” – what does it mean? It means: meaning! What is the meaning? Viktor Frankl wrote about man’s search for meaning. It is in the “meaning” that we find our life – in the meaning we can endure all things, and in the meaning is our joy. Human beings love finding meaning; they cannot stop themselves – from the meaning in Rorschach tests to the meanings of physics and Shakespeare.

 And the opening of John’s Gospel goes, “In the beginning was the word …” - in Greek, the logos. Translation of “logos” – word, or … “meaning”. I need hardly discuss in this blog, then, what my finding was about the meaning of John’s Gospel. No, I need only say that a document that begins, ‘in the beginning was the meaning,’ must have something to say about the joy of human life.

Motivation and the Bruges Group

I was invited to give a talk on motivation and the European Union at the Bruge Group’s annual conference this year at the Great Hall in King’s College, London. It was for me an unexpectedly lively debate - and I met some great people and learnt a lot of new stuff. I say ‘new’, but in a bizarre way it was hardly that: more rediscovering what you knew or had known at an intuitive level for a long time. But in typically British fashion had not been too concerned about.

 For example, I knew that Blair and Brown had promised the British people a Referendum on further political integration with Europe, and had seriously reneged on that promise; and that Cameron had capitalised on their failure, and now himself had failed to do anything different. Of course, the financial meltdown, the fiscal deficits are all a massive distraction. To be fair to Cameron, why would he want to put an issue divisive to his own party at the forefront of his activities when other, more pressing and immediate, problems are closer to home?

 That said, the scale of the problems we are in, and the idea that being in Europe is helping solve them became patently absurd to me the longer the day went on. There I was painting a motivational picture contrasting the profiles of Europe (at least the sample from five countries that I had data on) and Britain. Not to put too fine a point on it, the British profile was more consultancy, small business orientated, whereas the European profile was more Corporate - more big business, in fact.

 And big business is what has partially got us into this problem alongside big Government - the notion that central control, that being in a hive is going to work for long with human beings is exactly what I have never believed or ever wanted.

 It became clear to me too that the renaissance that Cameron wants in the SME market - employing some 95% of employees, and so the only real source of salvation for the economy - could only come without Europe: its rules, regulations and absurd restrictions primarily on British businesses, especially small businesses. These cannot compete with the Corporate when the costs of compliance simply drives them out of business.

So, even clearer was the perception that Corporates are of course main supporters of political Europe precisely because it destroys the effective competition for them; and then we are left with only three or four major chocolate (or whatever) manufactures/monoliths in each sector who have a 98% market share. How nice! And the motivational profile will be similar to the bureaucrats who grab power. Wonderful! Thus, the voice of Corporates is disproportionately powerful and destabilises democracy.

 Of immediate consequence is the need, then, to support in whatever way the promotion of small businesses if we are going to stay motivated, stay in business, and stay democratic. If we can’t agree on which political party to support, or whether increased political union with Europe is good or bad for small businesses and democracy, then at least let us all agree on one thing: a democratic vote on the issue would be good? Go to and add your name.


What we want

There is in all of us basic needs and drives that work at all times but which we are mostly completely unaware of. We are so conditioned to thinking that our conscious mind represents what we are ‘thinking’ that we fail to see how what we are doing can often bear little relationship to our thoughts. This, of course, is why it is so difficult to manage people - heck!- so difficult to have relationships at all. One of the highest pieces of praise we can bestow upon anybody is to say that they ‘walk the talk’. Their actions are consistent, in other words, what with their words say they think.

 One of the primary needs of being human is the need to be loved - really loved. To be accepted for being oneself unconditionally. All children who do not receive this love, especially in the first years of their life, will experience problems, sometimes insoluble problems, later. The search for love goes on all our life.

 But what happens when we don’t get love - when love is not part of our reality? When, as happens, we don’t really believe in it or its possibility for us, and so it does become impossible? What then?

 In my experience I would say those who do not receive love, then require admiration. We see this in an infantile way with little children who in a too much kind of way keep on insisting that their parent or guardian watches them: look at me, look at me, as the parent reluctantly pulls away from reading the paper, staring at the the TV, or hushes them as they are yapping on their mobile.

 Of course, this doesn’t go away at work. It becomes the peacock syndrome: notice me, my talents, my skills, my knowledge - the exercise of which is no longer about getting the job done, but in being the centre of attention. All of this is mildly irritating, although prolonged exposure to it is debilitating. Worst, is a gaggle of such people - all in competition with each other to be noticed.

But what happens when that same person who has not had love, also receives no attention? Then, I think, the person craves to be important. Attention gives way to dominance - you thought you could discount me, didn’t you? But now you see - you hear - you feel - my power and so my importance. People need to talk to me, need my permission, my OK, my validation I have arrived and the world must always know about it. Can we recall managers and directors like this? I sure can.

 This unhealthy need to be important, and so powerful, is always in your face. It always invades your space - it has to. It has to bully you into acknowledging the truth: they are important - they must be - you have had to move aside for them.

But what if the child or person who has not had love, and had not had attention, has also not had importance? Oh, what then? Then we are down in the depths, then we are down in the bottom quadrant of human existence. Without love, without attention, without importance - what do they want? They want revenge; pure and simply, they want revenge - they will destroy the world and themselves with it rather than leave without it.