Category Archives: Uncategorized

On purpose, humanity and the future of the corporation

These past couple of weeks, I’ve been reflecting on an interesting paper from the British Academy – Principles for Purposeful Business: How to deliver the framework for the Future of the Corporation.

Essentially, it’s a treatise on closing the ‘say-do’ gap on purpose, setting out principles and pathways for taking us beyond the rhetoric and hardwiring it into organizations everywhere. And there’s a lot to like about it – not least its definition of corporate purpose, the simplicity and clarity of which stands in sharp contrast to the Business Roundtable statement published a few months back:

The purpose of business is to solve the problems of people and planet profitably, and not profit from causing [them].

I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love that – not just for what it says about anchoring corporate purpose in broader societal goals (as represented by the SDGs), but also what it implies about our notions of ‘prosperity’ and the essential role of capitalism in furthering it. It encourages us to shift our perspective on how and why markets work from their allocative efficiency to their effectiveness in promoting creativity, problem-solving and the diffusion of innovation.

When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. After all (as some smart McKinsey bods argued a few years back), life isn’t better today than it was in 1800 because we’re allocating the resources of the 19th-century economy more efficiently; it’s better because of the vast array of innovations (life-saving antibiotics, indoor plumbing, motorized transport to name just a few) that have become available to much (if not yet all) of the world’s population.

In other words, prosperity can’t be properly understood by looking at just monetary measures. Maybe it’s better understood in terms of the accumulation of solutions to human problems – the ultimate measures of societal health and wealth (and business success) being the range of problems solved, and how widely available those solutions are to all.

I do have my reservations, though…

Aside from the undoubtedly excellent definition of corporate purpose – plus a few abstract references to the wellbeing of humanity – the report is strikingly devoid of any kind of human expression. From ownership and governance to measurement and performance, the principles outlined (while useful) are all largely ‘mechanistic’ in nature, steeped in the mindset of the lawyer, the accountant, the economist, the management consultant and the academic.

As highlighted by a purposeful pal of mine, amid some WhatsApp chat-chat about the report, a big part of the problem today is surely that we’re already drowning in these perspectives – and have been since time immemorial. At their worst (embodied by the likes of Frederick Taylor and his scientific management theory), it’s these perspectives that have led us to spend the best part of a century trying to drive humanity and its imperfections out of the system, so perhaps it’s no great surprise that a humanist perspective is missing from the narrative.

But when it’s our essential humanity that’s now seen as the very thing most critical to business and society thriving over the long term, those deeper philosophical underpinnings need to be there, e.g.:

  • Understanding what it means to be human at work in an era of increasing human-machine collaboration, and how to nurture that
  • Recognizing that any business (at least at its founding) is fundamentally a social enterprise – a coming together of people to solve a problem/meet a need that they couldn’t address alone
  • Appreciating our innate desire, as humans, for connection – with nature and with each other
  • Framing the need for change in terms of finding the antithesis of an economic model seemingly designed to pry ourselves from our human natures, dampen our passions and keep ourselves from constructing a ‘whole’ and meaningful story for our lives

To that last point, the WhatsApp chatter generated a series of ‘from… to…’ statements that bear closer inspection and deeper thought. If the mood takes you, I’d invite you to have a think about these, and maybe share other ‘mindset shifts’ you’d add to the list:

  • From engineer to artist
  • From physicist to biologist
  • From economist to spiritualist
  • From specialist to generalist
  • From consumer to citizen
  • From parts to systems
  • From economics to holonomics
  • From mechanism to organism
  • From extractive to regenerative
  • From ‘more!’ to enough
  • From scarcity to abundance
  • From growth to scale
  • From financial returns to impact returns
  • From transactions to relationships
  • From bureaucracy to community
  • From organization to self-organization
  • From control to nurture

Something to ponder over the festive break, anyway.


I’m not Boris (obvs!).

“We will dismantle systems of privilege and inequality and build a society that works for the millions and not the millionaires,” says Holly Rigby of the Abolish Eton campaign of Labour’s conference vote to abolish private schools.

Well, Holly, I’ve got news for you. Not everyone who goes through, or pays for, private education is some Boris-style toff. I’m certainly not a millionaire and I don’t come from a background of privilege – unless, of course, by ‘privilege’ you mean having the good fortune to be born into a loving family who instilled in me the value and importance of a curious mind and a lifelong love of learning.

Like my parents and grandparents before me, whatever good fortune I enjoy now, I’ve earned through study and hard work. And I choose to spend the fruits of my labour on my daughter (the first member of the family on my side, incidentally, to go to private school). I do so because I know the mindsets and skills she will need most to adapt and thrive in the future of work, and because (regrettably) I don’t believe we will find those 21st century skills being given anything like the same focus and attention in the state sector.

You wanna fix that? Grand. Go to Finland. See how the highest-performing education system in Europe does it, and recognise the myriad ways in which it differs from ours – not least the prestige of the teaching profession, the complete absence of standardised testing, and the way in which development of what they call “transversal competencies” is foundational to the teaching of every subject.

Then, perhaps, you’ll realise that your proposals are redolent of that excellent quote from US journalist, essayist and satirist, H. L. Mencken:

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.

Live Long and Prosper: now available to download for free

To be honest, the title of this post says everything that needs to be said, so I won’t belabour the point. Rather, since my magnum opus (if anything that can be read from cover to cover in under an hour could ever be described as such!) may soon disappear from Amazon, I wanted to let people know that, instead, I’m making it available to download for free, as a PDF; also to record for posterity some of the very kind words people wrote about it in customer reviews.

For all the equally kind words Live Long and Prosper received from luminaries such as Paul Polman, Jonathon Porritt and John Elkington, it’s these reviews that I truly cherish, because they nail the essence what Kevin Keohane, me and our fellow 55-minute guide authors set out to do: namely, to give our readers the maximum possible insight, while taking from them the least possible time. I couldn’t have asked for better…

I bought Live Long and Prosper out of curiosity to see how it would tackle the complex convergence of sustainability, brand and design in a book that could be read in only 55 minutes. It does it well.

Billed as a ‘quick and dirty’ tour with ‘no fluff. No filler. No jargon’, I’m not sure this description quite does the book justice. Admittedly, the style is no-nonsense, however this only helps convey highly complicated concepts in a concise, clear and accessible format that will appeal to the seasoned sustainability professional, as well as those new to this space.

As someone well-versed in the concept of a sustainable business and brand, it was a great book to re-elevate my thinking out of the day-to-day issues, re-grounding me in the importance of what building a sustainable brand really means – the ability to exist in 50 years time. The short summaries on each page are great sound bites – handy for those conversations with the non-believers! In fact, this is an ideal book to hand out to the skeptics that I meet on a daily basis.

Yes this book can be read fast but I challenge readers to get through it without pausing to think or jot things down. A few extra minutes – in my view, it’s time well spent.


For those who have already read the first edition of “Live Long and Prosper”, you know how fantastic this little treasure is. I don’t know how he did it, but author Dan Gray has updated and improved his 55-minute Guide to Building Sustainable Brands and has (in my humble opinion) created the best guide to how sustainability issues can and will influence business in the opening decades of the 21st century. For anyone with an interest in the future of business and brand value, you owe it to yourself to get this book!

[About me: I recently completed a multi-year graduate degree in sustainable business at a top-ranked US business school, and when I read this book I was amazed at how it manages to combine the most important themes from my (very expensive) education into 100 thoughtful, concise, and easy-to-digest pages.]

A few of my personal favorite updates in the 2nd edition include a feature on “Creating Shared Value” first advanced by Michael Porter at Harvard Business School, an explanation of the dichotomy between thin vs thick value, and a new section on “Design for Sustainability” and biomimicry (the most exciting field within sustainability today).

This 55-Minute Guide has been near the top of my sustainability reading list since it was first published, but now that it has been updated it is going right to the top of the pile. I can’t recommend it highly enough.


Distil down all the critical points you might hear from a well-informed sustainable business consultant, using everyday language grounded in practical business fundamentals rather than emotive arguments, and deliver it in a form that even a slow reader can squeeze into an hour (with time left over to make a cup of tea), and you’ll end up with something like this.

As someone who works in the field and consults with some of the world’s biggest companies, I can honestly say that if I were given a chance to spend an hour locked in a room with a global CEO, to persuade him or her to think differently, I would seriously consider keeping my mouth shut and just handing over a copy of this.

Global CEOs: buy and read this.

People who have the ear of global CEOs: buy and make them read this.

People who consult with global CEOs: buy, read and absorb the simplicity and clarity of this.

Everyone else who cares about the impact of business on our planet and society: ok, you get the message!

On democracy: the case for a referendum on the final Brexit deal

Amid the ongoing Brexit shitstorm, I find myself perplexed by the position of some – including HM Government – on the idea of a referendum on the final deal.

The government’s official response to a petition calling for said referendum reads as follows: “The UK Government is clear that it is now its duty to implement the will of the people and so there will be no second referendum.”

Contrary to the belief of some, I don’t dispute the result of the 2016 referendum. Regardless of my feelings as to how ill-conceived it was (in both motivation and execution), I nonetheless accept it was a decision that was democratically reached. However, I’m bound to point out a logical fallacy that lies at the heart of the government’s response, which is this: a referendum on the final Brexit deal would not be a “second referendum” (as in a rehash of the first). Rather, it would be a different referendum answering a different question.

The 2016 referendum result represents the view of the British people as to whether, in principle, they would rather leave or remain part of the EU, based on their beliefs as to what the relative benefits and consequences might be. A referendum on the final deal, on the other hand, would represent their view as to whether they feel it will be better in practice to follow through on the decision to leave, based on what the precise terms of departure actually are.

This is not the same thing at all.

Further, if you believe it was right and proper for the people to have a say in the UK’s future relationship with Europe by means of the former referendum then, logically, I struggle to comprehend why you wouldn’t adopt the same position with regard to a further one on the final deal.

The democratic rights and freedoms at play are no different. The only difference, in fact, is that, this time, it would be even more right and proper to exercise them. After all, leaving aside subjective opinions on the political and economic fallout, there were no immediate practical implications to the former referendum, other than to trigger Article 50 and commence negotiations. A vote on the final deal – when we will have much more substantial idea of what the upsides and/or downsides of leaving will actually be – is of infinitely greater consequence and therefore even more worthy of being subjected to a public vote.

Let’s state things even more baldly:

If you agreed with the need for the first referendum, there is no logical reason to oppose a further one on the final Brexit deal. There is only an emotional one – the fear that, this time, the result might be different.

This, too, I find perplexing, since, if the case for leaving is as clear and obvious as many Brexiteers purport it to be, then why should that fear exist?

There are only two viable answers to that question, it seems to me. The first is that people aren’t as confident in the benefits case for Brexit as they outwardly claim – or at least not as confident as they once were that a majority of their fellow citizens still see the world as they do. The second is the utter chaos within HM Government’s ranks and the consequent hash they seem to be making of the negotiations – in this case, the fear stemming from the prospect that the final deal bears little relation to what many Brexiteers wanted, and which therefore waters down or undermines many of the benefits they thought would flow from the “hardest” form of Brexit.

Here again, though, you would think this only adds more grist to the mill, strengthening the case for a referendum on the final deal even further. After all, it matters not what you think the deal on the table ought to be. It matters only what it is. And irrespective of whether you are a Leaver or a Remainer, if you think the country’s being sold a pup, you should have the chance to express that view.

On the search for identity in a VUCA* world

As I’ve written before, perhaps the greatest joy of my current role is the exposure I get to the fabulous work of some truly inspirational impact entrepreneurs. These people are at the forefront of accelerating progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals, innovating new business models specifically conceived to extend affordable access to essential goods and services (e.g. off-grid energy, clean water, improved sanitation) to households living at the base of the pyramid.

Many of those that EY works with are investees of Acumen, one of the world’s leading impact investors, who are also seeking to cultivate a wider community of change-makers through their +Acumen platform. Having signed up to +Acumen, I get the occasional thought-provoking email from them, and the one I received this morning really stopped me in my tracks.

Citing the following from Amin Maalouf’s writings on identity, it’s striking how relevant these words – written almost 20 years ago – feel today:

[In] the age of globalization and of the ever-accelerating intermingling of elements in which we are all caught up, a new concept of identity is needed, and needed urgently. We cannot be satisfied with forcing billions of bewildered human beings to choose between excessive assertion of their identity and the loss of their identity altogether, between fundamentalism and disintegration. But that is the logical consequence of the prevailing attitude on the subject.

If our contemporaries are not encouraged to accept their multiple affiliations and allegiances; if they cannot reconcile their needs for identity with an open and unprejudiced tolerance of other cultures; if they feel as if they need to choose between the denial of self and the denial of the other – then we shall be bringing into being legions of the lost and hordes of bloodthirsty madmen.

For it is the way we look at other people that imprisons them within their own narrowest allegiances. And it is also the way we look at them that may set them free.

What do you think?


* VUCA = Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous

On our desperate need to teach civics

Getting my caveats in first, I don’t mean for the body of this post to imply that people who voted for Brexit are stupid. Although admittedly fewer in number than Remainers in my acquaintance, I know enough very reasonable and well-reasoning Brexiters not to stoop to that level.

And yet…

For every rational and reasonable Brexiter in my circle of friends – with whom it’s possible to have a sensible discussion – there is at least one other who can be relied upon, like clockwork, to breathe life into the “ignorant Brexiter” caricature by regurgitating Daily Fail-fuelled bile at the very whiff of anything that tickles their “Remoaner” gag reflex.

One guy in particular – my antagonist in this particular exchange and a dozen others like it – appears to come straight out of central casting:


Inability to master basic spelling and grammar? Check!

Complete reliance on straw men as the basis of argument? Check!

Refusal to engage substantively, deliberately not answering direct questions and/or replying to challenges and counterargument with yet more straw men? Check!

In his mind, and the minds of others like him, there’s only one course of action for “whining liberals” (his epithet of choice for people such as I): to shut the hell up! For him, it’s as if democracy existed for one day and one day only – the day of the referendum – then promptly vanished like a fart in the wind.

It’s exactly this that disturbs me more than anything that Brexit may hold in store for us, and the thought that lends me the title of this post – the quite staggering lack of knowledge about what it means to live in a democracy.

His is a world in which a well-functioning democracy is entirely compatible with judges being branded “enemies of the people” for having the temerity to assert the primacy of Parliament (Erm… isn’t UK parliamentary sovereignty what you said you wanted? Have you ever looked up “separation of powers”?).

It’s a world in which a well-functioning democracy is entirely compatible with ownership of the press by a handful of oligarchs (Erm… have you seen who owns that paper you read? Is it possible their reporting might be, I don’t know, ever-so-slightly biased? Have you ever tried sourcing “news” from multiple sources to get a more balanced view?).

It’s a world in which a well-functioning democracy is entirely compatible with the indefinite suspension of freedom of speech (at least as far as Brexit is concerned).

How much longer must this sort of thing go on before the realisation dawns that no democracy can function effectively, so long as a sizeable number of its subjects remain wilfully ignorant of the rights, duties and responsibilities it entails?

A slightly edited version of the particular exchange that sparked this post – what set yer man off, what he wrote, and what I said in reply to try and set the record straight – is laid out below. At the time of writing this, I haven’t received any further reply and, while the idealist in me would like to think I might actually have broken through this time, my inner realist won’t be placing any bets on it.

Dan Gray:
Retweeted Stephen Harper (@stephenaharper)

Celebrate Brexit day by cancelling your Netflix subscription and attempting to build a VHS player using instructions on the side of a bus.

Brexit bloke:

Dan Gray:
Time to retire this pathetic straw man argument. For the umpteenth time, this time in really short sentences:

  1. Brexit is happening.
  2. I accept this democratic decision.
  3. But I don’t have to like it.
  4. And I’m free to continue to express my dissent.
  5. This is called freedom of speech.
  6. Which is also part of democracy.
  7. Don’t like it? Boo hoo!

If you insist on living in a country without such rights, and where every citizen is forced to agree with the powers-that-be, I hear North Korea’s nice.


Happy Now?

This sums up how I feel, pretty much to the letter. Sad. So sad.

Katyboo1's Weblog

It is day four in the Big Brexit house.

I had hoped after Friday’s absolute catastrophe of a day that the country might somehow magically rally over the weekend. I mean, when you plunge your country into possible ruin on the promise of a golden future that will allow it to rise like a phoenix from the flames, you have a plan, right?

As it turns out, you don’t. The only person that seems to have any plan at all, and be acting on it rather than just spouting meaningless Churchillian rhetoric is Nicola Sturgeon, and I can’t even vote for her.

I was distraught and angry on Friday. I had hoped to feel better by today. Instead I am running on barely controlled rage and getting more enraged by the moment.

Here are a few things I am furious about:

Firstly, leave voters telling me to calm down. I’m sorry…

View original post 1,627 more words