paracosm is an ornate, richly detailed imaginary world. Whether you’re a three-year old with imaginary playmates, or a passionate inventor imagining how your insight will change just about everything, a paracosm gives icn.seths.headyou the opportunity to hypothesize, to try out big ideas and see where they take you.

Managers at established organizations have a very hard time with this. Take book publishing as an example. Ten or fifteen years ago, I’d sit with publishing chiefs and say, “let’s imagine how the world looks when there are no mass market books published on paper…” Before we could get any further, they’d stop the exercise. “It’s impossible to imagine that. Paper is magical. Are you saying you don’t believe in books?” (I heard variations on this from people as recently as a year ago.)

The emotional response is easy to understand. If one of the core principles of your business needs to be abandoned in order to act out the paracosm, it feels disloyal to even utter it. Sort of like asking your spouse if he’s going to remarry after you die…

And yet.

The most effective, powerful way to envision the future is to envision it, all of it, including a future that doesn’t include your sacred cows. Only then can you try it on for size, imagine what the forces at work might be and then work to either prevent (or even better, improve on) that future and your role in it.

It’s not disloyal to imagine a future that doesn’t include your founding precepts. It’s disloyal not to.

Seth Godin

Let’s imagine how the world looks when citizens are readmitted to science participation and carbon neutral matters.

Posted by: robbryan | January 6, 2013

All Hail the Generalist.

Generalist v. specialist.  I’ll expand on this when I have 2 hands back but, what if we incorporated the concept of generalism in strategy design? Almost every organization in existence is formulated around specialism. What if we began the organizational design process with an assumption that members/employees to be engaged are generalists?

by Vikram Mansharamani  |  10:53 AM June 4, 2012
We have become a society of specialists. Business thinkers point to “domain expertise” as an enduring source of advantage in today’s competitive environment. The logic is straightforward: learn more about your function, acquire “expert” status, and you’ll go further in your career.
But what if this approach is no longer valid? Corporations around the world have come to value expertise, and in so doing, have created a collection of individuals studying bark. There are many who have deeply studied its nooks, grooves, coloration, and texture. Few have developed the understanding that the bark is merely the outermost layer of a tree. Fewer still understand the tree is embedded in a forest.
Approximately 2,700 years ago, the Greek poet Archilochus wrote that “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Isaiah Berlin’s 1953 essay “The Fox and the Hedgehog” contrasts hedgehogs that “relate everything to a single, central vision” with foxes who “pursue many ends connected…if at all, only in some de facto way.” It’s really a story of specialists vs. generalists.
In the six decades since Berlin’s essay was published, hedgehogs have come to dominate academia, medicine, finance, law, and many other professional domains. Specialists with deep expertise have ruled the roost, climbing to higher and higher positions. To advance in one’s career, it was most efficient to specialize.
For various reasons, though, the specialist era is waning. The future may belong to the generalist. Why’s that? To begin, our highly interconnected and global economy means that seemingly unrelated developments can affect each other. Consider the Miami condo market, which has rebounded quite nicely since 2008 on the back of strong demand from Latin American buyers. But perhaps a slowdown in China, which can take away the “bid” for certain industrial commodities, might adversely affect many of the Latin American extraction-based companies, countries, and economies. How many real estate professionals in Miami are closely watching Chinese economic developments?
Secondly, specialists toil within a singular tradition and apply formulaic solutions to situations that are rarely well-defined. This often results in intellectual acrobatics to justify one’s perspective in the face of conflicting data. Think about Alan Greenspan’s public admission of “finding a flaw” in his worldview. Academics and serious economists were dogmatically dedicated to the efficient market hypothesis — contributing to the inflation of an unprecedented credit bubble between 2001 and 2007.
Finally, there appears to be reasonable and robust data suggesting that generalists are better at navigating uncertainty. Professor Phillip Tetlock conducted a 20+ year study of 284 professional forecasters. He asked them to predict the probability of various occurrences both within and outside of their areas of expertise. Analysis of the 80,000+ forecasts found that experts are less accurate predictors than non-experts in their area of expertise. Tetlock’s conclusion: when seeking accuracy of predictions, it is better to turn to those like “Berlin’s prototypical fox, those who know many little things, draw from an eclectic array of traditions, and accept ambiguity and contradictions.” Ideological reliance on a single perspective appears detrimental to one’s ability to successfully navigate vague or poorly-defined situations (which are more prevalent today than ever before).
The future has always been uncertain, but our ability to navigate it has been impaired by an increasing focus on studying bark. The closer you are to the material, the more likely you are to believe it. In psychology jargon, you anchor on your own beliefs and insufficiently adjust from them. In more straightforward language, a man with a hammer is more likely to see nails than one without a hammer. Expertise means being closer to the bark, and less likely to see ways in which your perspective may warrant adjustment. In today’s uncertain environment, breadth of perspective trumps depth of knowledge.
The declining returns to expertise have implications at the national, company, and even individual level. A collection of specialists creates a less flexible labor force, one that requires “retraining” with technological developments creating constantly shifting human resource needs. In this regard, the recent emphasis in American education on “job-specific” skills is disturbing. Within a company, employees skilled in numerous functions are more valuable as management can dynamically adjust their roles. Many forward-looking companies are specifically mandating multi-functional experience as a requirement for career progress. Finally, individuals should manage their careers around obtaining a diversity of geographic and functional experiences. Professionals armed with the analytical capabilities (e.g. basic statistical skills, critical reasoning, etc.) developed via these experiences will fare particularly well when competing against others more focused on domain-specific skill development.
The time has come to acknowledge expertise as overvalued. There is no question that expertise and hedgehog logic are appropriate in certain domains (i.e. hard sciences), but they certainly appear less fitting for domains plagued with uncertainty, ambiguity, and poorly-defined dynamics (i.e. social sciences, business, etc.). The time has come for leaders to embrace the power of foxy thinking.

Posted by: robbryan | November 30, 2012

Press Release:

On November 14, 2012, in Indianapolis, Indiana, Americans for Community Development (ACD) hosted a conference on the groundbreaking concept of implementing the L3C business structure as a form of organization for colleges and universities, using the L3C model to create opportunity ecosystems within the higher education system. Clipboard01

This conference was facilitated by the Lumina Foundation and held at their headquarters in Indianapolis. This meeting was the first of its kind in history bringing together a group of professionals from within higher education, business, law and philanthropy. Over the course of the day the main topic of discussion was how to connect higher education, job creation, entrepreneurship and economic development with the L3C business model as an organizational structure for colleges and universities. This concept “reflects a totally new way of thinking about higher education and how to organize it”.

L3C institutions will be individually unique but will resemble each other in underlying structure. This is a fresh outlook on the organization of colleges and universities that create holistic environments in which institutions are giving back to the students and communities and the students and communities are giving back to the institutions therefore creating opportunity ecosystems that thrive.

The very first L3C university, Rockport University L3C, was formed just prior to the conference and conference attendees were asked to contribute intellectually to its development. A large number of the attendees asked to be part of a taskforce ACD is forming to advance the concept of L3C colleges and universities. ACD thanks Rob Bryan from Windhorse Lightships, L3C for being one of the small group we invited to participate in this ground-breaking event.

Windhorse Lightships, L3C is developing an experiential education program that will operate in concert with it’s volunteer “Citizen Scientist” research program. Students will receive college credits for courses in Nautical Science, Oceanography, Directed Oceanographic Research, Biological Oceanography and others, all conducted at sea, aboard Windhorse Lightships’ fleet of carbon neutral research vessels. Students will also have the opportunity to receive technical training and certification in ROV operations and piloting, submersible operations and piloting, technical and research diving, and seamanship, with the objective of producing well rounded and experienced marine scientists and environmental advocates.

Posted by: robbryan | November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012: taking the glass beyond half full

A holiday musing by our friend and associate Richard Theiss at RTSea Productions. See the link at the end for the path to his blog, RTSea Blog. Thanks Richard.

In the U.S. we are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving this Thursday.  It commemorates a moment when early Pilgrim settlers chose to give thanks for what they had at that moment, even when they knew they still were facing formidable obstacles.  That is the power of optimism coupled with a strong sense of reality.  The glass is half-full but we won’t stop until it’s over the rim.

Conservation and environmental issues have taken a pretty good beating over the past few years.  Since the two depend so heavily on “the kindness of strangers” (as Blanche DuBois once said) or on a benevolent or generous government, funding and government allocations have diminished as nation after nation endures a prolonged depressed economic situation.

And that can lead to the biggest threat of all: apathy.  The oceans face many perils, the consequences of which may be many years away but, to gain the upper hand, they need to be dealt with sooner rather than later.  Climate change, acidification, overfishing, pollution – they all loom large but they become even more threatening if government officials, policy makers and the everyday individual choose to take their eye off the ball.  Distraction leads to disinterest which leads to apathy.  Only a crisis can snap us out of it but by then it may be too late.

So that is the biggest challenge we face in filling that glass to the rim.  But with that said, we still have a tremendous amount to be thankful for.  We continue to achieve significant victories that speak to our optimistic side and fuel our desire to achieve more.  Whether it be the growth of substantial marine protected areas, more and stronger legislation regarding shark conservation, forward strides in seafood sustainability through better managed ocean harvesting, or technological innovations in alternative energy – each step is bringing us just that must closer to the kind of stewardship of the planet that will help sustain it . . . and us.

Search through the blogosphere, through social media, or simply type in “ocean conservation victories” in Google.  The list is long, it is encouraging, and it reaffirms that what we have done, what we are doing, and what we hope to accomplish is feasible, reasonable, and righteous.

Give thanks today and always.

Richard Theiss

Thanksgiving 2012: taking the glass beyond half full.

Conservation and Environmentalism capacity has taken a bit of a beating over the last decade and at a time when we need to be cranking it up not down. Harbor Branch is gone. Sold off in a somewhat shady looking deal. Others are being absorbed.

It’s easy to point to Sandy as evidence of the need and I will whenever the conversation has to be reduced to that. Our oceans are in deep trouble and that means our societies and cultures are too. Progress is being made though, especially in the establishment of MPAs. I’m thankful for dedicated people like Greg Stone, Jean-Michel Cousteau, and Sylvia Earle. Thanks for your dedication.

It’s going to cost a lot to save the oceans. Mostly because controlling the externalizers, will take decades. Our part of the solution  is democratization of conservation. Burton Weisbrod (1964) argues that … people ―”will be willing to pay something for the option to consume the commodity in the future‖”. Intuitively we know that to be true.

Behavioral Economics has shown us that value propositions are are not as simple as the “rational consumer” concept that traditional economic theory operates on. We care about the planet and we’ll pay to save it. How much will we pay? That’s where the value proposition comes in. We’ll pay so much for “this”, and even more for “that”. “That” needs to offer more than just one’s name in a long list of donors on a website and a bimonthly email about all the good things accomplished with our money. I’m not criticizing this outreach model- it is a necessary and valuable part of conservation. I’m saying we can and should go beyond that model and give the donor more. Start with membership in a real community of like minded people that provides a real emotional connection to the mission. Then take them there, show them, and involve them in the activities in real, meaningful ways. Provide them with a well managed absolutely awesome experience that will change their lives. We know how to do this now. In the last decade we have a developed a deep understanding of what motivates people and how to structure value propositions based on real people not “rational consumers”. Make them citizen scientists and conservation outreach stewards. Democratize ocean conservation.


title=”Hurricane Sandy Said What Both Presidential Candidates Were Afraid To Say”>Hurricane Sandy Said What Both Presidential Candidates Were Afraid To Say

Carl is another smart guy and good writer. 

In three debates by the presidential candidates and one by the vice-presidential hopefuls, no one could bring themselves to utter the words “climate change.”

Hurricane Sandy said what all four White-house contenders were afraid to say.

I’ve heard some voters are undecided. Watching the debates, I became undecided over what’s worse: Republicans, who not only don’t acknowledge reality, but who genuinely seem not to believe reality. Or Democrats, cowed into silence on issues of enormous importance like climate change and its solution: clean renewable energy.

Sandy said things no candidate in America could voice without blowing away their own political career. She said: “Enough! Wake up. Take a reality check. And if you don’t get it, it will get you; then you’ll get it.”

Now, we got it.

Sandy is probably the first storm to change an ongoing presidential campaign. Katrina also changed the shape of a campaign, contributing significantly to George W. Bush’s unpopularity and tarnishing his legacy (“Heckuva job, Brownie”) with lingering images of unpreparedness.

But unpreparedness requires, one might say, quite a lot of preparation. We build in places prone to flooding. We do that largely because subsidies encourage it. Federal flood insurance is a way the entire country subsidizes building and rebuilding in places destined for repeated hits.

We rely on overhead lines to bring electricity, lines vulnerable to falling trees. And when they fall, we put them right back. Underground lines are more expensive. But if you have to keep repairing the overhead lines—.

We’ve created coastal bowling-pin communities; we set ‘em up and the weather takes ‘em down. I live in one. I’m guilty. In my defense, I’ll claim entrapment, because I have federal flood insurance. You made me do it. So I just want to take this opportunity to thank you. But I’d like to also tell you, it’s OK with me if you withdraw your generosity. In fact it would be better if you did. You help make us lazy. And by us, I mean millions of people living along the coast, whistling in the dark. And you help our politicians look away from the oncoming truth.

View of  New Jersey shoreline after Sandy

View of New Jersey shoreline taken from a helicopter, nearly 4 days after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast. © Patrick Day

Sea levels are rising. They’ve been rising since the last ice age and that rise had been accelerating since the Industrial Revolution. We’ve had fair and continual and increasing warning. And yet—small coastal communities and cities as large as New York have done essentially nothing to prepare.

Over decades, we filled many wetlands that are the natural buffers to floods. Shrinking the area of our wetlands has left adjacent areas more prone to flooding.

As the world continues warming, the warming tends to intensify storms. New York has been hit with two hurricanes in two years. That’s unusual. And since at least Katrina, scientists have warned that hurricanes take their strength from the heat of the ocean’s surface.

Hurricane Sandy—and being an Independent—has given New York’s Mayor Bloomberg the political cover to simply repeat what Sandy herself has so loudly said: “global warming.” And now Connecticut’s Governor Dannel Malloy is coming out, too, telling NPR’s Science Friday host Ira Flatow on Nov. 2 that, “I’ve been talking about global warming for years.”

But was Sandy just a hurricane, or an angrier child spawned of unusually warm ocean waters? In one sense, it doesn’t quite matter. David Roberts cast it colorfully in his Grist column, saying, “When the public asks, ‘Did climate change cause this?’ they are asking a confused question. It’s like asking, ‘Did steroids cause the home run Barry Bonds hit on May 12, 2006?’ There’s no way to know whether Bonds would have hit the home run without steroids. But who cares? Steroids mean more home runs. That’s what matters.”

These questions remain: Will the storms that come our way get stronger, more damaging? Will we experience more frequent damage from storms?

But the answer is settled: We’d better prepare ourselves for the answers to be yes. That’s because, even if the answer is no, this storm, like last year’s exposed the Northeast’s soft underbelly and our recklessly erected vulnerability.
The world is warming. Warming intensifies storms. Warming raises sea levels. You tell me what we can expect.

So—was the storm caused by global warming? Soon we’ll have a more interesting question: Was the outcome of the presidential election caused by global warming? Did global warming affect the course of human events enough to make a difference in what we say, in what we think, in how we free our politicians to decide what they can do next?

First published at CNN, November 3, 2012

Blog author: Carl Safina

Dr. Safina can be reached at
His websites are and

Posted by: robbryan | November 12, 2012

Why You Should Reveal Everyone’s Salaries


This post was originally published on OPEN Forum.
Max Nisen

September 25, 2012

Creating an entirely new kind of corporate culture is difficult. That’s why most companies don’t do it. They stick to the structures to which they are accustomed. 

SumAll, a New York-based company that compiles tools used by small businesses, has taken extraordinary steps to create a truly transparent workplace.


Opening the Books

New employees get access to everybody’s salary information, according to CEO Dane Atkinson. In fact, the company’s entire capital structure is open for all workers to peruse. And 10 percent of everybody’s ownership is set aside in a non-profit dedicated to doing social good. 

It’s a concerted effort by the company to avoid certain abuses that occur under a traditional structure.

“When you hide your cap table, it’s one of the easiest evils to do in your life,” Atkinson says. “You can tell an employee that they have a huge amount of value and options but you don’t tell them the total allocation of the company…and it hurts somebody else.”

Atkinson adds that at most companies, someone prints out the list of salaries and the everyone finds out a few days later. “For the rest of their careers,” Atkinson says, “they have to make a secret of it and they are disgruntled that someone is making more money than them, and they have no open way of communicating it.”


The Trouble With Transparency

But this transparent method can be rocky at times. Atkinson admits that it’s been a lot more work than he’s expected. Differences in salary or equity have to be explained. During funding rounds, there’s a scramble to figure out what’s going on and how all of the relationships are connected. However, once you get past this initial stage, people start to demand less information because there’s an attitude of trust and less political strain in the organization. In that environment, employees find collaboration much easier.

“Most of our team has refused offers from Google and Facebook and whatnot in the last few months,” Atkinson says. “They are unshakable because once they get that sense of being part of a family and that openness in a company, it’s really hard to go away from it.” 

“We just want to be the counterpoint to the corporate culture that’s out there. We want to help people understand that there are other ways to build successful organizations,” Atkinson says. “You don’t have to fight over information and be overly protective. If you are open and you do take this route, it can work and it’s been working very well for us.”


Rob sez:

Atkinson says it’s a lot more work and I’m sure that’s true. But how much more efficient is an employee who believes in what they are doing, feels that they are being treated fairly, and truly cares about the success of the mission and company? Then multiply that by the number of employees….

Posted by: robbryan | October 30, 2012

Harvest demand or create it?

From Seth Godin’s Blog, succinct and to the point. THIS is how social media marketing works!


Search marketing harvests demand, it doesn’t create it (ht to Drew at Dropbox).

Most small businesses believe that they’re too small to have an impact on the whole market, so they resort to picking the fruit that’s already grown instead of planting their own seeds. It’s far easier to wait until someone is ready to buy than it is to persuade them to buy.

Except the answer isn’t to poach demand at the last minute. The answer is to redefine the market into something much smaller and more manageable. You don’t need to persuade everyone that you have a great idea, you merely need to persuade one person. And then make it easy for that person to share.

One last semi-related thought: Wenda Millard quotes a Mercedes Benz exec, “If the only time I show you a Mercedes ad is just before you’re about to buy a fancy car, I’ve lost.” The fact is, advertising to build brand and recognition and demand is a very long-term proposition, not something you measure with clicks.

A last-minute swipe of purchase intent is a tactical win. It’s not, however, a long-term way to build your organization.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

By Rich Tafel

Rich Tafel (@richtafel) works at Public Squared, which provides strategic consulting to world changing leaders.

Six blind men are asked to determine what an elephant looks like by touch. The one who touches its leg says the elephant is a pillar; the one who touches the tail declares it a rope; the one who touches the trunk thinks it a branch; the next says the ear is a hand fan; another declares the belly a wall; and finally one feels the tusk and says it must be a pipe.

Like the six blind men in this Jain story, our social change leaders are too wedded to our sector expertise; we’re often blind to the importance of other sectors and to the complex strategies needed to tackle big issues. As a result, we sometimes invalidate the work of other sectors (and others invalidate ours). Some examples:

  • During a recent project in Latin America, I worked with an organization that addressed workplace discrimination facing people with HIV/AIDS. To move forward, we needed to engage business leaders. When we suggested strategies for collaborating with and educating corporations, the nonprofit project leader refused angrily, saying, “I’ve dedicated my life to fighting HIV/AIDS, and I didn’t take this position to put on a coat and tie and work with the enemy.”
  • During a presentation I made to corporate leaders on challenges of social change, I asked which sector they thought was best situated to lead social change globally. They believed that business sector was the best engine for social change. When I asked, “What about the nonprofit sector? Might they lead?” After an awkward silence, several women in the audience laughed. One yelled out, “Nonprofits? Lead? They’re broke! They are always begging us for money.” The rest of the room giggled and nodded.
  • In a meeting with a group of leading academic education experts, I shared policy strategies that we had implemented successfully and that changed laws at the federal level to increase the number of low-income students going to college. Before I could finish, a hand went up and the person said: “I’m just curious, what education credentials do you have to be advising anyone on this?”

Our current leadership models are outdated. Today, we are living in the aggregation age. We have long since left the industrial age and have even moved through the information age. But our leadership models have not caught up.

The industrial age broke us into separate social systems—education, health, judicial, etc. The information age created experts who often had multiple degrees to prove it. Together, we’ve created sector specialists who argue that if only the social sector got more funding, it could change the world.

The challenge of treating social problems as distinct areas that require distinct expertise is that our world does not operate like a machine—it is an ecosystem in which everything is connected.

Facebook and iTunes are good metaphors for leadership in the aggregation age: They facilitate access to the kind of information we need when we need it.

Successful social change leaders in the aggregation age require six qualities:

  1. Translation—the ability to translate across sectors
  2. Jack-of-all-trades expertise—cross-sector knowledge
  3. Respect—an understanding that all sectors have a role to play in change
  4. Empathy—the ability to sit in the mindset of each sector
  5. Facilitation—the ability to create collaborative solutions
  6. Big picture thinking—the ability to see and describe “the elephant”

At the conclusion on the elephant story comes the moral: “The disputants … rail on in utter ignorance of what each other mean; and prate about an elephant not one of them has seen.”

We need wise leaders that can embrace the viewpoint of all sectors and see the bigger vision for all.

Reprinted from the Stanford Social Innovation Review, October 11, 2012

Posted by: robbryan | September 19, 2012

Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch.

Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch.

Get on a Southwest flight to anywhere, buy shoes from, pants from Nordstrom, groceries from Whole Foods, anything from Costco, a Starbucks espresso, or a Double-Double from In N’ Out, and you’ll get a taste of these brands’ vibrant cultures.

Culture is a balanced blend of human psychology, attitudes, actions, and beliefs that combined create either pleasure or pain, serious momentum or miserable stagnation. A strong culture flourishes with a clear set of values and norms that actively guide the way a company operates. Employees are actively and passionately engaged in the business, operating from a sense of confidence and empowerment rather than navigating their days through miserably extensive procedures and mind-numbing bureaucracy. Performance-oriented cultures possess statistically better financial growth, with high employee involvement, strong internal communication, and an acceptance of a healthy level of risk-taking in order to achieve new levels of innovation.

Misunderstood and mismanaged

Culture, like brand, is misunderstood and often discounted as a touchy-feely component of business that belongs to HR. It’s not intangible or fluffy, it’s not a vibe or the office décor. It’s one of the most important drivers that has to be set or adjusted to push long-term, sustainable success. It’s not good enough just to have an amazing product and a healthy bank balance. Long-term success is dependent on a culture that is nurtured and alive. Culture is the environment in which your strategy and your brand thrives or dies a slow death.

Think about it like a nurturing habitat for success. Culture cannot be manufactured. It has to be genuinely nurtured by everyone from the CEO down. Ignoring the health of your culture is like letting aquarium water get dirty.

If there’s any doubt about the value of investing time in culture, there are significant benefits that come from a vibrant and alive culture:

  • Focus: Aligns the entire company towards achieving its vision, mission, and goals.
  • Motivation: Builds higher employee motivation and loyalty.
  • Connection: Builds team cohesiveness among the company’s various departments and divisions.
  • Cohesion: Builds consistency and encourages coordination and control within the company.
  • Spirit: Shapes employee behavior at work, enabling the organization to be more efficient and alive.

Mission accomplished

Think about the Marines: the few, the proud. They have a connected community that is second to none, and it comes from the early indoctrination of every member of the Corps and the clear communication of their purpose and value system. It is completely clear that they are privileged to be joining an elite community that is committed to improvising, adapting, and overcoming in the face of any adversity. The culture is so strong that it glues the community together and engenders a sense of pride that makes them unparalleled. The culture is what each Marine relies on in battle and in preparation. It is an amazing example of a living culture that drives pride and performance. It is important to step back and ask whether the purpose of your organization is clear and whether you have a compelling value system that is easy to understand. Mobilizing and energizing a culture is predicated on the organization clearly understanding the vision, mission, values, and goals. It’s leadership’s responsibility to involve the entire organization, informing and inspiring them to live out the purpose the organization in the construct of the values.

Vibrant and healthy

Do you run into your culture every day? Does it inspire you, or smack you in the face and get in your way, slowing and wearing you down? Is it overpowering or does it inspire you to overcome challenges? It’s important to understand what is driving your culture. Is it power and ego that people react to, and try to gain power, or a culture of encouragement and empowerment? Is it driven from top-down directives, or cross-department collaboration? To get a taste of your culture, all you have to do is sit in an executive meeting, the cafe or the lunch room, listen to the conversations, look at the way decisions are made and the way departments cooperate. Take time out and get a good read on the health of your culture.

Culture fuels brand

A vibrant culture provides a cooperative and collaborative environment for a brand to thrive in. Your brand is the single most important asset to differentiate you consistently over time, and it needs to be nurtured, evolved, and invigorated by the people entrusted to keep it true and alive. Without a functional and relevant culture, the money invested in research and development, product differentiation, marketing, and human resources is never maximized and often wasted because it’s not fueled by a sustaining and functional culture.

Look at Zappos, one of the fastest companies to reach $1 billion in recent years, fueled by an electric and eclectic culture, one that’s inclusionary, encouraging, and empowering. It’s well-documented, celebrated, and shared willingly with anyone who wants to learn from it. Compare that to American Apparel, the controversial and prolific fashion retailer with a well-documented and highly dysfunctional culture. Zappos is thriving and on its way to $2 billion, while American Apparel is mired in bankruptcy and controversy. Both companies are living out their missions–one is to create happiness, and the other is based on self-centered perversity. Authenticity and values always win.

Uncommon sense for a courageous and vibrant culture

It’s easy to look at companies like Stonyfield Farms, Zappos, Google, Virgin, Whole Foods, or Southwest Airlines and admire them for their passionate, engaged, and active cultures that are on display for the world to see. Building a strong culture takes hard work and true commitment and, while not something you can tick off in boxes, here are some very basic building blocks to consider:

  1. Dynamic and engaged leadership
    A vibrant culture is organic and evolving. It is fueled and inspired by leadership that is actively involved and informed about the realities of the business. They genuinely care about the company’s role in the world and are passionately engaged. They are great communicators and motivators who set out a clearly communicated vision, mission, values, and goals and create an environment for them to come alive.
  2. Living values
    It’s one thing to have beliefs and values spelled out in a frame in the conference room. It’s another thing to have genuine and memorable beliefs that are directional, alive and modeled throughout the organization daily. It’s important that departments and individuals are motivated and measured against the way they model the values. And, if you want a values-driven culture, hire people using the values as a filter. If you want your company to embody the culture, empower people and ensure every department understands what’s expected. Don’t just list your company’s values in PowerPoints; bring them to life in people, products, spaces, at events, and in communication.
  3. Responsibility and accountability
    Strong cultures empower their people, they recognize their talents, and give them a very clear role with responsibilities they’re accountable for. It’s amazing how basic this is, but how absent the principle is in many businesses.
  4. Celebrate success and failure
    Most companies that run at speed often forget to celebrate their victories both big and small, and they rarely have time or the humility to acknowledge and learn from their failures. Celebrate both your victories and failures in your own unique way, but share them and share them often.



A repost,  originally from Fast Company by Shawn Parr, The Guvner & CEO of Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design consultancy headquartered in San Diego whose clients and partners have included Starbucks, Diageo, Jack in the Box, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, American Eagle Outfitters, IDEO, Virgin, Disney, Nike, Mattel, Heineken, Annie’s Homegrown, The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, CleanWell, The Honest Kitchen and World Vision. also reposted by smart guy Kurt Schusterman



Posted by: robbryan | June 13, 2012

Putting profit in its place.

Who needs profit?

I’m guessing that this might offend a lot of people. If you’re feeling a kneejerk sort of reaction to the idea, take some time and look for the source of it.

Business does not need profit. “Profit” is an incentive system, and like many of our systems is poorly designed and wreaking havoc to our environment and economy. Profit incentivizes the taker, usually the outside and uninvolved investor, to pressure a business to reduce costs and increase prices.

The easiest way to reduce costs is usually to reduce the workforce (fire a bunch of workers) or reduce quality. Usually layoffs will reduce quality automatically, as the best of the workforce will polish their resumes and go elsewhere, because they can. The net effect is a reduction in workforce quality and moral.

Increasing prices will reduce sales (look up price elasticity). Reduced sales often leads to seeking a larger market. To do that the product is redesigned to appeal to a wider market, usually becoming bland and tasteless in the process (see Purple Cow).

No, I’m not a socialist or a communist, but I’m not sure I’m a capitalist either, at least the way it’s being practiced today. Doing almost anything takes capital though. You and I, and anyone but philanthropists need a financial return on our investments (ROI).

“Profit” is only one of many forms of ROI. Two others are capital gains and revenue shares. Once you banish short term thinking, capital gains make a lot of sense, especially for PRI makers, since capital gains on PRIs are not subject to the excise tax.

Revenue shares make a lot of sense for market tranche (outside) investors. ROI based on profit doesn’t make much sense for an investment in an L3C, a low-profit limited liability company (duh) that is mission first to boot. Seems like a non-starter to me. A company like WHLS will take a very long time to get to profitability, focused instead on the mission, growth, and quality (safety).  Instead of pressuring the company to reduce costs, investors with a revenue share are incentivized  to help you get to market sooner.

All that said, profit does have a place in Windhorse Lightships, and that’s at the employee/owner level. They are the ones who can make sensible decisions about product quality and cost reduction with a view to the long term success of the mission, the company, and their careers. I think having ALL your stakeholders working towards the same objectives is a pretty cool idea.

Older Posts »


%d bloggers like this: