Building Sustainable Legacies


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The Superpowers of a Change Maker

What is it that makes change makers so impactful? And what can we learn from them? How does resilience turn into a strength that when combined with other strengths becomes a true superpower?

As I am adding the finishing touches on my upcoming book that answers these questions in the context of what makes co-creation successful, I would like to share an emerging bit of insight that hopefully adds value to you.

Kathy Miller has expanded the personal resilience story I have shared in January reflecting on my WEF experience with her insights on what makes organizations resilient, pointing out how few companies possess the cultural backbone that enables such resilience. Here I am turning the spotlight on a remarkable group of people that are emerging as the pillars of change in turbulent world: the change makers.

My book features six change makers from all walks of life. They have a few things in common:

  • They feel an increasing need to connect what they do at work with what concerns them in life in general
  • They are triggered and challenged by their environment (students, colleagues, kids, news) to acknowledge that what they do no longer works
  • They have a capacity to reflect and the courage to listen and learn
  • They are able and willing to engage with others, often strangers, to try old things in new ways and to collaborate in entirely new settings and with new approaches

What none of them had, however, were superpowers. And here is were we come in. All of us who care and who resonate with the above. Superpowers can be acquired and developed. Let me explain!

In his book “Building the bridge as you walk on it”, Robert Quinn offers a new way to look at leadership competencies. He suggests moving beyond a static view of preferred traits that we “should” possess, to a dynamic view of so-called competing strength that are both required but which need to be equally developed in order to achieve a higher state in which both strengths lead to a higher state of competency. Too complicated? Take the example of two strengths we are all familiar with:

  • Being tough and providing structure and limits
  • Caring about the other and being lenient and forgiving

Both of these are undoubtedly strengths, yet one without the other will not lead to an ideal outcome. Quinn argues that we need both of them and calls for a higher state of “tough love”. Makes sense, right! You got the concept that I use to define superpowers!

A superpower for me is when a strength polarity pair is overcome and super strength, or superpower, emerges!

In my research that has led to the sequel of the Collaboratory book, we have identified the following three superpowers of individual change makers in co-creation processes (see also Figure 1):

  • Appreciative curiosity results from being constructive and positive, overcoming self-righteous judgment.
  • Building bridges happens when an inclusive influencer stops being opinionated or unprincipled.
  • Empathic support comes from being open and caring, resisting the temptation to be distant and withdraw.

Figure 1: Extract of the Book “Secrets, Solutions and Superpowers of Co-creation”
due for publication in September 2018 by Routledge Publishing
From Strengths to Superpowers

 

From Strengths to Superpowers

We have developed the strengths by having identified the reasons why co-creation efforts among stakeholders fails most often. We have labelled these causes “limitations” and found out that these limitations are not failures or weaknesses, but rather strengths that have turned into a negative expression due to insisting too much. Each strength therefore has a negative expression when over-stretched (see Figure 2). This is something that you may have experienced when having either experienced somebody being too tough or somebody being too caring.

Figure 2: Extract of the Book “Secrets, Solutions and Superpowers of Co-creation”
due for publication in September 2018 by Routledge Publishing
From Limitations to Strengths

 

From Limitations to Strengths

The journey from limitations to strength and from strengths to superpowers is the development journey of the heroes of our times: the change makers. I am sure that you have used your inherent strengths in various combinations with other strengths to develop your very own personal superpowers. Here I invite you to take a look at the strengths we have identified in our research in Figure 2 and to ask yourself: where am I on the scale of these strengths and their respective limitations? Which limitation have I noticed in myself when I overstretch a strength and how can this overview help me return to my powerful expression of the strength again?

The book highlights two additional levels of superpowers that come into play when we co-create: the superpowers of a stakeholder group and the superpower of facilitating the space for solving shared issue. You will find out more about these in the book which is expected in a bookstore near you in September this year.

 

Picture credit: https://www.dumblittleman.com/7-superpowers-you-act-like-you-have-but/

References:

Robert Quinn (2004): Building the bridge as you walk on it. Jossey-Bass.

Katrin Muff (2013): The Collaboratory – A co-creative stakeholder process for solving complex problems. Greenleaf Publications.

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Finding our space in a new place

Building personal resilience – an applied example

CEOs and HR Directors have consistently rated adaptability, authenticity and values as top leadership qualities for people at any level of an organization. These are also key ingredients for resilience. I define resilience as the capacity to respond to external pressure by adapting and recovering quickly and hence finding a new equilibrium.

Typically, we look at resilience in interaction with others in an organizational setting. I discovered last week, that I can apply these three ideas also in a challenging networking environment. As a way to launch our transatlantic blog into a new year, I wanted to dedicate this first blog to how we can build personal resilience while being in new challenging situations. I will demonstrate this with my personal experience and reflection from my first participation at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos last week.

Arriving in Davos for the World Economic Forum was hard. Hard for different reasons than I had anticipated – it had been raining and the slush on the street made it a real challenge to make it to the AirB&B my colleague had organized for us. And yet, all this struggle was nothing compared to the difficulty we had securing accommodation for the event! Unimaginable! My colleague Julia Christensen Hughes, Dean of the College of Business & Economics at the University of Guelph , persisted through all obstacles and miraculously found for our Female Deans Trio a fabulous apartment.

Figuring out networking in an event that is strictly structured around privileged access to select events was another eye-opener. The weather challenge which drowned the arrival in unbelievable masses of snow and rain meant that nothing worked as planned. Being simply in the moment and helping fellow attendees out, together finding registration and queuing for badges ended up being the best way to connect. The human element of together making it in a challenging moment created a connection far more important than a typical cocktail party ever would. I may even have attracted a new MBA student to BSL as a result of one such incident.

Nesting in and finding spaces that feel comfortable was a big thing for me too. Given such unfriendly weather conditions outside made it a necessity to find warm and dry spots. Ideally with a seating option and a coffee machine nearby. So finding comfort in the welcoming Female Quotient equity lounge, felt perfect despite my initial resistance to join a “feminine” movement. Admitting that, listening deeper to my intuition and overriding superficial mental judgement, was important. The previous night, I had ignored such intuition and in an attempt to do some networking and meet up with friends, I ended up roaming the Promenade getting wet feet in the slush and maybe a cold along the way – without ever catching up with my friends. I did have the intuition that I should have stayed in the apartment and caught an early night, but failed to listen.

So what am I saying here? I find that when we reach out into the world as change makers, we end up in new, unfamiliar spaces where we need to orient ourselves and find out how we can be effective in such a space. Being effective, I suggest here with my brief insight into my brief #WEF2018 Davos experience, involves these three things:

  • Adaptability: Arriving well and creating a space of comfort either by being with people or having accessories that create comfort (I always bring a candle when I travel)
  • Authenticity: Being in the present moment and embracing the encounter that presents itself wholeheartedly without trying to be elsewhere – trust serendipity!
  • Values: Listen to your intuition and go or stay where you feel well rather than where a program suggests you should or could be. Find your inner rhythm and stick with it as you dance with what is happening around and allow that duality with grace and joy!

And these three insights that I have gained in Davos link nicely back to what CEOs suggest are the backbone of resilience: adaptability, authenticity and values. I hope you find this reflection insightful in your own journey as a change maker both within your organization, and as you shape your own journey across new ground and landscapes!

 


Business Schools finally involved in the World Economic Forum

A blog by Katrin Muff at Business School Lausanne in collaboration with Julia Christensen Hughes of the College of Business & Economics at the University of Guelph and Mette Morsing of Copenhagen Business School and the Stockholm School of Economics

You may wonder why business schools should be present at a global economic event. Well, some leaders have received their education from business schools and there is great pressure from civil society and business that business schools do a better job in educating the future generation of leaders. Leaders that can deal with the complexity of a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (short VUCA) world, that have a solid values-based inner compass, can work effectively both inside and outside of their organizations, fluent in systems thinking and capable of leading multi-stakeholder initiatives that address the complex issues that the world is facing. At Business School Lausanne, we call such people “Responsible leaders for a sustainable and just world”. We are dedicated to developing such leaders across all of our programs, from bachelor to doctoral degrees and substantiate our learning space with world-leading research in the areas of sustainability, responsibility and transformation.

We are not the only ones! Toby Heaps, CEO of Corporate Knights and Jonas Haertle, Head of U.N. PRME jointly invited 40 business school Deans who are championing responsible management education for a better world. So, for the first time at the World Economic Forum in Davos, a comprehensive cohort of Deans from such disrupting schools were present to discuss how to strengthen our initiatives and collaborate with like-minded business leaders. There are 13’000 business schools around the world, and while there are 700 signatories to the PRME principles, it is high time to disrupt the 20th century curriculum built on flawed assumptions about the economy, the purpose of business and the role of a leader. These 40 champions offer inspirational ideas for providing a 21st century education and research focus that provides the foundation to receive a “licence to educate” as expected by society (source www.50plus20.org).

Celebration dinner of the 40 champion business schools appointed by United Nations PRME, in collaboration with Corporate Knights. Lisa Kingo, Head of the UN Global Compact, addressing the champions

I had the privilege to spend time with Julia Christensen Hughes, Dean of the College of Business And Economics at the University of Guelph in Canada and Mette Morsing who created possibly the largest CSR center in business at Copenhagen Business School and who is now creating a similar new sustainability research center at the Stockholm School of Economics. Being roommates in a rustic (AirBnB) apartment in Klosters has allowed not only great late night and early morning talks around the kitchen table, but also deepened a human connection that results from the bonding experience when three women have to make do with one bathroom and make it out of the door by 6am. My coffee capsules helped a bit, and Julia’s tea bags did magic, as did the wine we shared. The celebration dinner hosted by Corporate Knights and PRME allowed us to deepen connections with fellow Deans who have been partners on our transformative journey such as Philip O’Regan who last year hosted an unforgettable joint PRME and GRLI conference in Ireland. It also allowed us to make new connections with delegates from around the world including Africa, and new faces such as AIM in the Philippines, Berkeley in the USA and Insead in France.

Mette Morsing, Julia Christensen-Hughes and Katrin Muff

Visiting the Sustainable Impact HUB

Business schools have a long way to go. And so does business! While it may seem contradictory to participate in an event that assembles a global political and economic elite and where social entrepreneurship is possibly seen as a noteworthy phenomena, we realized how important it is for us, leading disruptors in business education, to also have our voices heard if we are to support further disruption in enabling global business to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Our input was appreciated and called for at many sessions, including those that focused on women’s leadership (and yes, there is a case suggesting that women deans can be particularly effective change agents, like women managers!). In business oriented sessions, our input and reflection was also sought and appreciated; it was heartwarming to feel how welcome our presence was. We were also challenged. Business expects significant change in education – we heard calls for breaking down silos, teaching in interdisciplinary non-linear ways, focusing on problem solving and embracing a spirit of experimentation and co-learning with our students. We also heard of how technology, applied well, is democratizing education – providing anywhere anytime access and opportunity to learn.

Participating in a breakfast meeting

Influencing and networking at the WEF in Davos happens everywhere, not just in meetings. This is the Davos magic. I talked to a successful entrepreneur who became interested in doing an MBA at BSL while queueing for my badge. Mette challenged assumptions behind the WEF competitiveness report while sitting next to its author in a shuttle bus. Julia met business leaders with an interest in supporting further curricular innovation in her business school. She also proudly participated in sessions offered by one of her alumni on block chain and crypto currencies. We got first-hand insights into the new IMF report while riding a local train and we thought of an inspiring new initiative around the Golden Rule when having lunch with Kim Polman. Julia also met renowned author of Donut Economics and HD recipient Kate Raworth while riding a late night shuttle. Kate is designing the first entire updated 21st century economics course with BSL to be launched in September 2018. The WEF demands that you are present in every single moment and that you are free to engage in the most diverse kind of conversations you can imagine at any time of the day, from the moment you open your eyes until your head hits the cushion. It is as much exhausting as it is exhilarating and if we leave this event with one shared learning it is this:

We will be back next year and we will be better prepared and better organized. We will work on the ideas that were developed this time around and announce the results next year. We will organize a house where Transformative Deans (or Deans as Agents of Change) can meet and discuss effective ways to transform not only their own schools but the management education landscape. It takes leadership, and this year’s WEF theme seems to suggest that it takes female leadership. Well, that is a currency we have plenty of!


How to inspire scientists on a Monday morning?

The Swiss National Fund (SNF) is a key provider of research funding in Switzerland. The National Research Programme 73 (NRP73) is a CHF 20 mio. research program that supports and encourages applied research across all fields to help achieve a sustainable economy. After a lengthy application and screening process, 25 projects were selected across all major public research institutions in Switzerland. The ambition of the program is that these 25 projects deliver not just independent research outcomes but collaborate among them and also with the stakeholders they seek to influence. That is a high call and one that researchers traditionally find difficult to embrace. It is often hard enough to collaborate within a multi-stakeholder project that there is little room to investigate further opportunities beyond. My job as the opening keynote speaker of the NRP73 kick-off session with about 100 of the scientists present in one room was “to inspire them”.

I chose to address three key questions that would contextualize their projects and to develop key emerging challenges resulting from this investigation. Knowing that there would be an expert in the room with more knowledge than me on pretty much any point I would address, I needed to be careful in framing my assumptions and conclusions. The three questions addressed the role of sustainability research in Switzerland, the ability to ensure relevance, and how to achieve impact through sustainability research. Figure 1 shows an overview of the emerging challenges I have identified.

Figure 1: Overview of the emerging challenges resulting from the 3 questions

In the context of the Gapframe (see Figure 2), I suggested that each project team assesses their project with regards to the issue it addresses. Some concern issues where Switzerland is particularly strong internationally and where solutions can be pioneered as a result of new insights. Other issues are of key priority for Switzerland itself and solutions will need to be innovated to ensure local relevance. Further issues may be of critical relevance globally and Swiss solutions can be scaled and shared as best practices.

Figure 2: Overview of the emerging challenges resulting from the 3 questions

To provoke thinking, I suggested there was a perception gap between how practice looks at “applied research” and how science looks at it (see Figure 3). This generated more nodding than I had dared to hope for. I even got a positive reaction to my suggestion to consider taking an action research stance, whereby the researcher assumes a subjective partner rather than an objective observer perspective. Very promising indeed!

Figure 3: The perception gap between science and practice in refereeing to “applied research”

When looking at these challenges, I remembered the insight of Insight of Andrew Hoffman in his book “How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate”: more knowledge doesn’t change minds. So how do we maximize the value of all the knowledge that will be generated by these 25 projects? My recommendation was framed as an attempt to answer the three questions and I highlighted that the secret lies in the research process. I summarized the elements of a success research process in 7 points:

  1. PURPOSE FOCUS
  2. DYNAMIC
  3. INCLUSIVE
  4. CO-CREATIVE
  5. IMPACT ORIENTED
  6. ONGOING DISSEMINATION
  7. ADAPTIVE OUTPUT

A purpose focus entails verifying again & again: does this project truly serving society, and if so how? A dynamic process needs to integrate new developments and may embrace an action research stance. Being inclusive means involving those stakeholders that are intended recipients the project seeks to influence. A co-creative research projects includes being truly “applied” from a user-perspective rather than a research perspective and includes integrating feedback. Being impact oriented is about ensure that the project is truly influencing those who matter when it matters. Ensuring ongoing dissemination means that external communications starts from the very beginning of the project, not only once first results are in. Finally, achieving an adaptive output includes negotiating and agreeing on value of improving output along the way according to changing context.

In conclusion, I suggested that it is of prime importance to review and adapt both the research process and outcome in an adaptive and dynamic way throughout the project lifetime.

 

 

Author: Katrin Muff, PhD

Active in thought leadership, consulting & applied research in sustainability & responsibility, and directing the DAS & DBA programs


How CEOs can inspire personal change

Imagine you had 30 minutes with 4 renowned CEOs in front of several hundred business practitioners and you wanted to use the time to create change in the audience. What would you do? I recently had the opportunity and here is what happened!

At the Swiss Green Economy Symposium, the largest event among sustainability enthusiasts in the German speaking part of Switzerland, I could facilitate a CEO panel. I had about six months to prepare which was necessary given the busy agenda of the CEOs. I contacted more than a dozen to have a confirmed gender balanced panel of 4 CEOs. One of the female CEOs had confirmed early and said she would participate with one condition: that there would be at least as many women on the panel as men. What a great condition! Imagine how things would shift if all women (and men) would demand this!

I wanted to create a panel that would serve as a trigger for change in the audience rather than a the usual story-telling inspiration sharing success stories of their organizations. Would I be able to convince the CEOs to give up the opportunity to position their company in front of an attractive audience in service of creating a space where change could happen in the audience? Yes, imagine that. CEOs were open to that idea, once I shared my idea with them and had talked them through the concept. Wonderful!

Figure 1: The Circle Model connecting the inner world of personal development with the outer world of organizational development as a transformative journey towards a world worth living in (Katrin Muff, 2016)

We split the 30 minutes in three parts. After a short introduction where I framed the conversation with a simple concept (see figure 1), we started the first part. Each CEO shared a personal story illustrating the question: “which challenges have influenced them personally and how have these shaped the way you are leading your organization?” As the audience collectively leaned forward, topics such as gender stereotypes, work-place injustice, product waste and power abuse were discussed with courage and vulnerability. I invited the packed auditorium to take moment and to individually reflect on what has shaped them most in your past and how this influences their priorities at work. Both in terms of what they currently do and what they wish you were doing. People came to me afterwards and said they have never experienced a room so quiet and so focused. The magic was starting.

In a second round, we had selected only two of the four CEOs share examples of what issues were challenging their organization in this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world and what long-term business opportunities were emerging concerning the Sustainable Development Goals? To grant time to the audience, the generosity of the other CEOs to stand back was really touching. We were one and we had one common objective! I invited the audience to turn to their neighbor and to discuss what options their saw to implement change for their organizations to embed the SDGs into their strategy. On a background slide, I shared a support website for those needing help. The room exploded. Everybody talked and shared and exchanged. We sat in our chairs with our jaws wide open. What an energy in the room. And how were we going to get them back to listening to us? When the time was up, the CEOs and I spontaneously stood up together and loudly applauded the audience. They look up and stared at us in surprise. They stopped talking and we could continue.

In the last round, all CEOs shared which issue concerned them most in our society and where they saw opportunities to connect these to future business activities? Their stories addressed the top burning societal issues of Switzerland as addressed by the Gapframe: CO2 overuse, equal opportunity, sustainable consumption, social integration and clean energy. I invited the audience to take a moment and choose one action that they could implement in the next 3 days to close the gap of where we are today vs. where they thought we should be in an area important for them. I offered an online tool to share these actions, if anybody felt like it.

I wish we had more time at the end, the final reflection was a minute shorter than I had hoped but our 30 minutes were up. Nonetheless, I was happily surprised when I discovered the personal commitments coming in. Figure 2 provides an overview of them grouped into some categories I hope are helpful in reviewing.

Role modelling

  • I commit to dedicate my working time to a project that serves 100% to make our living more sustainable
  • Lead a topic coming out of SGES 2017
  • I will define my personal SDG‘s to be achieved by the end of 2018
  • Break the barriers, create sense of urgency and implement the much needed change
  • Prepare presentation about the legal implications of a meat tax as a ghg heavy good

Encouraging others for action

  • Communicate knowledge to peers
  • As corny as it may sound: foremost change minds
  • I commit to also encourage others to live more sustainably
  • Talk with my Patents about their travelling
  • Poll others on these questions
  • Roll out the sdgxchange in a world wide level
  • Make my sons understand that they also have a big responsibility for Equal Opportunity and that they must contribute to achieving it

Community building

  • Organize a non-hierarchical roundtable for a common sustainable mindset within my organization and outside
  • Partner to strengthen the capability to act
  • Launch SDSN Switzerland on 2 Nov, the network that mobilizes the Swiss research & innovation community for the SDGs
  • Keep engaging people for a sustainable future
  • I’ll ask my fellow Entrepreneurs how they care about Sustainability! And I’ll publish it later on!
  • Organize the startups around me in a matrix to share sustainability progress

More time for the soul

  • Slow down. I will lower my expectations towards myself and spend more time speaking with my employees
  • I will observe better!

Aligning corporate sustainability goals with national priority issues

  • Identify lacks in our sustainability goals by comparing them with the topic of gapframe.org
  • Build our new 150kW PV project in Bern – Solarify
  • Verity the strategic goals of my organization against the Agenda2030 for Sustainable Development and adapt if needed
  • I will create a personal project on how we can introduce GTDs with local partners and stakeholders in our projects worldwide
  • Make sure that we also talk about social innovations.
  • Apply the standard for sustainable construction (SNBS) in the area of buildings

Social integration action

  • Partner up to reach higher employee diversity (age, gender, education, etc.)
  • I would like to support employees who lost their jobs with improving their skill-set and find a new opportunity or career path.
  • Transparency and equality

Reducing the CO2 consumption (Switzerland’s no 1 sustainability issue)

  • Only travel by train to destinations in Europe (always!)
  • Rain or shine, I’ll bike to work.
  • I commit to eating only very little meat and buy organic food, to fly as little as possible and compensate my flights
  • Compensate my flight
  • No more elevator – taking the steps, staying fit and saving energy
  • Exchange my diesel into an electric car
  • Conscious Consuming
  • Cook local
  • Eating less meat
  • Renovate our old Windows in order to create more insolation
  • Commit to an organic “vegetable-abo” in order to support sustainable and local agriculture.
  • Before I buy something, to ask: what is the harm when I buy this?

Figure 2: List of shared personal commitments as a result of a 30 minute transformative CEO panel

I don’t think I have ever spent so much time preparing for a 30 minute intervention. I think I spent 30 hours, or 60 times the intervention time, in preparation. I needed not only prepare the CEOs, I also needed to get the organizer onboard. Among the CEOs, we had spent two months carefully scripting each statement of each person so that we could create an overall story that would hopefully allow a change in the audience. This resulted in a 3500 word document that everybody had approved, outlining minute by minute who would say what. If you attempt something similar, ensure you have plenty of lead-time available! It is worth it though!

Author: Katrin Muff, PhD

Active in thought leadership, consulting & applied research in sustainability & responsibility, and directing the DAS & DBA programs


The tricky interconnection of values and purpose

Being values-based implies a connection with oneself, a deep inner knowing. Embracing a purpose requires, so I argue here, a connection with the context in which we live and operate, a deep outer knowing. When these two senses are disconnected, we are in trouble, as individuals, as organizations and as societies at large. When the senses are aligned, thriving individually, as an organization and as a global community means thriving at all of these levels for the benefit and well-being of all.

Brené Brown recently said in an interview with Marie Forleo “our worth and our belonging are not negotiated with other people. We carry those inside of our hearts.” Brené is a widely recognized and respected psychologist in the domains of authenticity and vulnerability. She talks about how an individual can find herself, find her roots and core and how to stand up for herself and what matters to her. In many ways what she talks about has to do with finding one’s own purpose and identity or what she calls knowing who you truly are. To her, the importance of knowing who you are is key in living an authentic life as it ensures that you can always belong to yourself, rather than fitting in with what others might expect.

I can resonate with this and I understand the importance of what she says. How are we supposed to know what is right and what is wrong if we don’t know who we are and what that means in the context of what happens around us? This journey of self-knowing, of self-awareness, is a key component in the journey of being a responsible leader. It may well be the first and most important one, the dimension without which all the rest doesn’t really make sense. It certainly is critical to create role models that can serve others to find the courage to adapt their behavior and attitudes in order to re-connect with who they truly are. Or, as Lena Faraguna claims: “Lighthouses don’t go running all over the island looking for boats to save. They just stand there shining.”

Quote and image by Lena Faraguna

Let me zoom out a bit. How would we translate this self-knowing, this inner self of self-belonging in the context of working with others, of teams, and of organizations? How can a sense of belonging among a group of people, be it a family of a company, be created without negotiating with others? How can a group of individuals that belong first and foremost to themselves ever belong to a greater cause? I am troubled when I imagine how a particularly purpose-oriented company, such as those that Kathy Miller described in her last blog, might do if it decides to “not negotiate with others because its self-worth is inside of its own purpose”. Isn’t that what we are accusing the modern corporation of doing? Of putting its own priorities first and to forget about the rest? Where is the line drawn? If investors and owners are part of the inner core, then profit-maximization sure makes sense. If they are not part of it (and how might they not?), then how can a company protect its interest from investors without negotiating? Tricky.

When adding a further dimension and zooming out to an entire society, what changes in that frame? If a society decides that it needs to first and foremost belong to itself, its citizens, and not negotiate with others, what might that mean? Wouldn’t we be moving very close to the explosive sense that nationalists are expressing when they say “my country first”? And when they start protecting themselves from perceived outside threats, such as immigrants, refugees and trade agreements?

There is something dangerous in all of this. And this might well also be the dangerous in purpose-oriented firms. Purpose, after all, means what? The dictionary says purpose is “the reason for which something is done”. Well, and that is the entire problem. That is not good enough. There are excellent reasons to do something and there are incredibly stupid reasons for doing other things. Let me take the three-step zoom back from society, to the organization to the individual.

A society that defines a purpose, or “raison d’être” as something that is distinctive from what is around it, will in the worst case create harm to other societies and possibly even to itself. Global well-being can only be achieved if a society, a nation, embraces the idea that it is fundamentally and indisputably a part of the larger context in which it operates. And finding a purpose that does not take this into account is potentially harmful, as the Swiss President and many other statesmen have pointed out after President Trump gave his disturbing “America First” speak at the UN SDG forum last week.

Zooming now in to an organization or a team, what does this mean? If an organization chooses a purpose that is purely self-serving and that may seem like the best way to survive and ride the increasingly turbulent waves of change, then this organization is also very likely to harm those around it, and as a result, potentially itself. The metaphor is the cancer cell that builds its growth on eating into the very organism that is providing its living substance until that organism has been emptied out and can no longer sustain the ongoing growth of these cells. That sounds ugly and I apologize. What I mean to say is that a purposeful organization is not good enough, if that purpose does not imply taking into account the well-being of the context in which the organization operates.

Further zooming in and back to the individual, I struggle to see how an individual can and should have a sense of identify to herself that is limited to herself only. It appears limiting and potentially dangerous. As it if was necessary to put up guards against something outside. As if that sense of inner belonging needed protecting. An inward journey of discovery will uncover, I am certain, that there is both nothing and everything that can shake you and me in our core. Nothing in the sense that we are who we are irrespective of what happens outside of us, our sense of self is based on how we see and talk to ourselves. Everything in the sense that we are shaped by the events in our lives and we respond to them, in the full understanding that we have no idea what lies ahead of us.

The Circle Model (Katrin Muff 2016)

Let me attempt to conclude. In order for purpose and values to be aligned, an ongoing journey between the inner and the outer world in which we live is needed, allowing an emergent transformation as we advance. This allows a development of the inner knowing and the values we build on. In addition, purpose will need to be defined not just as the “reason for which something is done” but “the reason for which what is done serves the well-being of the next larger holon” or unit. Arthur Koestler coined the term holon (“whole”) as something that “simultanesouly a whole and a part”. Holacracy, which is founded on the principle of Holons, embraces this nicely as an operating system. A holon is a unit that is contained in another holon and that may (or not) contain other holons. Each sub-ordinate holon by definition must embrace the purpose of the holon of which it is a part and the entire system is guides by an overarching missing that should – and here Holacracy stops – again serve the next larger holon. Imagine if individuals would understand that we are holons, as parts of organizations, which in turn are holons as a part of societies, which in turn form a part of a global community, all while being in and of itself a whole that again contains other smaller holons. This understanding would allow an alignment of purpose and values based on the understanding that we are all a part of another, infinitely interconnected.

Author: Katrin Muff, PhD

Active in thought leadership, consulting & applied research in sustainability & responsibility, and directing the DAS & DBA programs


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Walking the path of change: from the invisible hand to the invisible heart!

Kate Raworth left me with a question I could not answer: “How do we transform the ‘value-extraction’ mentality of the 20th century with the ‘designed-in benefits’ mindset needed in the 21st century?”. I walked home after a lovely dinner with her and pondered about why arguments that make total sense to some of us can be dismantled so easily by those who follow the profit-maximization drumbeat that has brought havoc to the world and economics in my lifetime. Kate had shared a story of well-regarded expert who proposed a cleverly designed building able to extract CO2 from its environment to a CFO. The CFO killed the genius idea with as little as: “But why should I do such thing? It doesn’t serve me!”

Kate was in Lausanne to inspire our graduating students along with Peter Bakker, President of the WBCSD, both recipients of BSL Dr. Honoris Causa awards. And they did! Peter shared a story of when he was CEO at TNT and his purchase of two long-haul planes doubled the CO2 footprint of his company in one year. The planes served to fly mobile phone from China to Europe – customers like their orders fulfilled overnight irrespective of the cost to nature. He reminded the graduates that the origin of leadership is “path finder” and that they were more than ever required to serve exactly that; as pathfinders to bring organizations to be the positive force our future needs.

Kigen Moi, the BSL Valedictorian, talked about Ubuntu, a word well known where he grew up “Humanity”. Or, as his story illustrated, the idea that no one can be happy, if the others around him are not. Such a profound thought which stands in such stark contrast to Kate’s struggles we had debated the night before.

I am struck by an oldish HuffPost blog entitled “There is no trade-off between profit and purpose” and that Paul Polman had recently retweeted with the words “To reach the land of profit, follow the road of purpose”. I have been a long advocate of using the right language to talk to various audiences. And that it is necessary to talk to those who see profit maximization as the holy grain by pointing out the immediate opportunity and risks of embracing business ideas that go beyond serving the interest of shareholders but at the same time also serve other stakeholders, society and the world at large.

To hell with it! Why should we adjust a values-based argument to a value-disconnected audience. Why cannot we not shake the CFO in Kate’s story to senses by responding with utter disbelief and exclaiming with wide-open eyes: “But how can you be happy if around you so many are unhappy? And let him reconnect with the humanity that undoubtedly sits inside of him, maybe underneath much dust and fast asleep, but most certainly alive and ticking. Why argue that purpose leads to profit, as if following purpose needed any excuse? Why having to point out there is no tradeoff between making money and doing good?

Why not shake the hearts and minds of those stuck in the 20th century logic of the misinterpretation of Adam Smith’s invisible hand? Take a look at the state of the world, the state of any single country of your choice and you can clearly and without a single doubt see that the profit-maximization argument has gotten it wrong. We have spent the last decade trying to twist purpose and values-based arguments into the ill-fatted logic of the past century and we have gotten nowhere. If we want to change the mindset that Kathy Miller and I are trying to figure out how to change, maybe the time is now ripe to start talking the truth. Kathy ended her last blog with a deep insight of Mahatma Gandhi: “You must not lose faith in humanity.  Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

Why not point out the amazing power and the beauty of the invisible heart that is beating in every single living thing and that connects all of us into a humanity across all living beings. Why not question empty values and fake arguments, and why not replace them with the wisdom of Ubuntu and insist that we can only rest if all of us are happy that that we will no longer take part in a race against each other but in a journey towards a place where all of us can be well on that gorgeous planet we are living on. Why not?!