Digital Transformation

I just wrote this and put it on the NixonMcInnes blog, because it is talking about the work that we do and want to do more of, our current mission I suppose.

But it belongs here, too, with you.


We are at an interesting point.

The World Wide Web is nearly 25 years old. Google is about 15 years old, and Wikipedia about 12. Mobile phones have been commercially available since 1983, and there are now gazillions of them and not just in the developed world, of course.

This stuff has been around a while now.

Today Amazon no longer only sells books and running shoes – it now sells the building blocks of its own ecommerce infrastructure to others, it develops hardware in the Kindle and is developing an ecosystem all of its own. It isn’t sitting around, cosy in its little digital world. It is busy disrupting the status quo in publishing, entertainment, in digital infrastructure and in retailing,

Activists in Turkey, and before that in the so-called Arab Spring, now use digital networks to get videos, photos and notes about police or government brutality out to the rest of the world.

Here in the UK, an elite team called GDS is seeking to transform government digital services, attacking the highest volume transactional websites in the UK – spreading user-friendly goodness, bringing the best of digital practice to government departments, departments that ran the British empire for hundreds of years.

Communities that have never and will never physically meet raise funds for people in need on Reddit, through Kiva and to get projects off the ground via Kickstarter.

And my dad, soon to retire as a state school teacher after 30 odd years, has been given an iPad, as has every student in his school. What is education like in a world where every person in a classroom has a tablet at their finger tips? Where the greatest universities in the world publish their courseware on the web freely? (See also: Sugata Mitra).

This is the new reality.

You know this. So what. It’s all a bit yada yada, perhaps.

The point is this. We are at a point where digital practices, behaviours and business models are disrupting pretty much everything – education, business, politics, civil society, and so on.

And some organisations are natively digital – those we laud and congratulate loudly. “Well done Facebook!”, “Bravo, Twitters!”, “Go Mumsnet!”. And those guys are great pioneers.

But the most fascinating question for me is what will it take for organisations steeped in and born from the last century or before to make a digital transformation, when their successes were born of old models and practices?

That’s hard. That’s interesting.

Is it classic reinvention story, like Lou Gerstner tells of his transforming IBM from hardware to services in Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? Can you achieve it through acquisition, perhaps, this digital transformation?

And in the end, who will make it? Now that’s going to be really interesting.

  • Will the US Treasury and the Bank of England move with the times, and will the dollar and the Euro still be suitable?
  • Will state governments resist a great atomisation, a fragmenting into digital tribes and physical small communities?
  • Will schools work more like co-working spaces?
  • And how on earth does an 80,000 person multi-national corporation transform when so much around it is in flux? Who will be on the inside and the outside, how will rewards happen, how will intellectual property be handled, what does leadership look like and who will the shareholders be?
  • And what is like to be a person or a team or an office in all of these places – what is like to have the ground moving under your feet, to have to adjust to things that are profoundly different to before, to be so challenged?

Digital transformation.

This is a big ask of us as individuals, with our habits and norms, let alone a big organisation.

Yet the challenge is we have to bring these large complex organisations with us. And what a great challenge to tackle, in service of a better world.

And it is tempting to divide these things – to see the rise of technology and the rise of a new business consciousness as two separate things, but I really believe that they are innately connected. That transparency, openness and the rapidity of the digital world is a powerful catalyst for the rise of employee ownership, for participatory leadership and new networked organisational structures. I guess that’s what Culture Shock is about.

That is what we’re up for at NixonMcInnes. To help positively transform the business world, with digital transformation as the catalyst.

Culture Shock links #13

Hey there – here’s the lucky 13th instalment of interesting progressive business bits and bobs that caught my eye recently.


Companies that Mimic Life: The New Profit Leaders

Fascinating but fairly densely written report and outcomes, looking at this idea of ‘Companies that Mimic Life’, which on its own is a really interesting premise.

We’ve seen other codes emerge in traditional business as the source to everlasting brilliance – In Search of Excellence, Good to Great and so on.

What is interesting to me is the investigation of biomimicry as a source of possible business advantage or helpful patterns.

Have a proper dig around it, but for now here’s the study’s key takeouts:

In general, we see five distinct attributes of firms that mimic living systems. Not every company in the global LAMP index ® is a perfect exemplar of these, but each fits the model in important ways and displays best living asset stewardship (LAS) practices in their respective industry/sectors.

  1. They are highly networked to facilitate feedback and information exchanges within the firm and without. Many of these networks are informal, self-organizing consortia of employees, suppliers, and customers. When you layer these networks over one another and the firm’s chain of command, you get a structure that looks much like a double helix. 7
  2. They manage by means (MBM), understanding that people and relationships are the primary means by which they build network capacity and create value. 8 they strengthen and empower employees by practicing servant leadership. 9 they also give employees decision-making authority in their areas of competence and hold them accountable for results.
  3. They optimize their use of physical resources by “closing the loop” so the waste of one process becomes food for another. 10 in doing so, they aim for factor efficiencies by producing more value for customers with less input of energy and materials.
  4. They are exceptionally open in the ways they share information with employees and in their desire for stakeholder feedback. They know such openness builds trust, learning capacity and adaptability.
  5. They nurture the larger living systems of which they are a part (nature, society, markets) because they understand the inherent connection of all life.

If those aren’t 5 enormously exciting characteristics they you can call me Esmerelda and dress me up as a show pony. LOVE IT.


New clues to Wikipedia’s shared super mind

I have been using Wikipedia as an example of what we can achieve for quite a while now, and even in the past few weeks, working with groups of reasonably sophisticated digital people (whatever that means).

I feel that many of us use Wikipedia as this hardly noticeable resource every week, maybe every day, and quite naturally spend little or no time thinking to ourselves what an incredible edifice it is. To me, Wikipedia is just the earliest prototype of what is possible now that we are living in human networks with tools that allow us to pool and direct small amounts of effort and large amounts of collective intelligence. Wikipedia FTW!

But the word I used was edifice – like a monolithic structure of old, more Stonehenge than bee hive.

So I love that academics, like the author of this paper, are examining the dynamics and patterns of Wikipedia to find new answers. Answers that reveal the super-organism-ness of Wikipedia, the vibrant social system that seems to power it.

The actual academic paper is gobbleydegook to me but this short article about it got me excited, particularly this quote:

“The big result is that the Wikipedia behavior is what we call non-finite state,” DeDeo says. “It’s constantly generating new patterns of behavior that haven’t been seen before.”

One possibility, he says, is that the unbounded source for these behavior patterns in Wikipedia is shared between people – it’s the product of everyone’s mind. “That’s what’s really exciting,” he says.

I really believe historians will look back and chart Wikipedia as an early pioneering example of a new way of collaborating that went on to change our world.



IT Departments Have Become Completely Useless

If you’ve read Culture Shock, you know that I put one of 8 chapters towards the role of Technology in progressive organisations, a quality I call ‘Tech DNA’ with the basic idea that in the best 21st orgs technology absolutely isn’t a department, and is instead an interwoven part of everything the organisation does.

Fundamental to achieving this interwoven tech in organisations requires nothing short of a revolution in traditional IT departments and IT thinking on behalf of everyone outside the IT dept.

What is interesting about this short piece is that the author sees an emergence of Chief Digital Officers and Digital functions in organisations, running in parallel to CIO and IT functions which I recognise and you probably will too. He questions how this will play out. Will they merge? How?

It’s straightforward stuff, but you may find it useful.

The big question for me is ‘what will it be like when the sexy Digital gang have to take care of or distribute responsibility for the big, ugly, mustn’t-go-wrong technology stuff?’ How do we upgrade the infrastructure of large complex orgs to a 21st century state of fitness? (Remember the RBS-Natwest bank technical issues, rumoured to have been due to outsourcing of IT for a vast legacy system?).


Crown of Win

Related to the above, a great guy I know called Toby has been implementing Culture Shock-type ideas with his IT helpdesk team.

Here’s his team’s blog, with photos of their weekly ‘Crown of Win’ to reward achievement in a funny, silly, non-financial yet somehow meaningful way. And in a way that might not completely fit with their org’s wider culture.

This crown of win is part of a wider family of simple ideas like Zappos Reply-All hat and NixonMcInnes’ Sword of Win.

Nice to see people actually doing stuff, though 🙂 I remember a takeout from our Organisational Change course last year as being ‘you change an organisation’s culture one meeting at a time’. Easy to deride the ‘small’ stuff, but it matters. See also: aggregation of marginal gains.

Nice one Toby and team!


To finish, a really nice review of Culture Shock by Marc Abraham – thank you Mark!

So yeah, please keep sharing links and spreading the good word,

– Will

Weekly ammo #12

Right, let’s do this. Four fresh Culture Shock-y items.


What your culture really says – by @shanley

Oh man. This is so good. So so good. Please read all of it. It’s like an antidote to the sunny optimism that pervades my work and that of others, where there is only upside and no scepticism.

Check this out for an ‘ooof’ kick in the stomach:

 An economic and class-based revolt of programmers against traditional power structures within organizations manifests itself as an (ostensively) radical re-imagining of work life. But really, you should meet the new boss. Hint: he’s the same as the old boss.

I need to re-read this piece weekly, because I do blithely drink the kool-aid, I do include examples in my evangelical talks that I pick up with little research or sceptical interrogation. I do need to question much much more.

Hat tip Mark Higginson

Read it now.


Up a creek, Pirate Party looks for a paddle – Spiegel Online

Ooops, another example I promote in my work, and touted only last week – but it seems that the German Pirate Party has hit a downward spiral.

I talk about the Pirate Party as vibrant example of how politics is being disrupted in the same way as business (and education, and science and government and so on) by networked, purpose-driven organisations with a new kind of DNA.

I still believe that, of course, but this is a very interesting snippet that relates to a big theme in Culture Shock of openness and transparency:

The party’s culture of open debate and transparency has, if anything, provided a powerful argument for the kind of discretion with which most parties go about their business. Hardly a week goes by without a brutal and public personal attack made by one Pirate Party member against another.

One to watch with interest.

Read it now.


 Martin Sorrell on what’s next – HBR

I just liked this for the fact that Sorrell, a notorious and open micro-manager and self described ‘old fart’ describes his 162,000 person organisation as being in a state of anarchy. At our consultancy we believe that all organisations are spinning into a worldly state of affairs that is more anarchic than they have ever experienced or are indeed ready for, so good to hear Sorrell saying as much.

HBR: You’ve been quoted as saying that your business is in a state of anarchy. What do you mean by that?

Sorrell: There are four forces creating anarchic pressure. The first is what we call faster-growth markets—Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe. The second is new media: digital, search, display, video, social, and mobile. The third is the application of technology to our business, including unifying all the sources of data that our clients use. And the fourth is what we call horizontality, which means getting people to play together.

Welcome to anarchy.

Read it now.


Before I die – another awesome Candy Chang project

Just love this project from Candy Chang – its purpose, its format and its open-source spreadable nature. (An instance of it has popped up in my city, Brighton).

Here’s how they open sourced the project with a toolkit – kinda Hexayurt-y:

After receiving many requests, we created the Before I Die toolkit and this project site to help people make a wall with their community. You can also download all files for free on this site to remix or create your own stencils. Thanks to passionate people, over 100 Before I Die walls have now been created in over 10 languages and in over 30 countries, including Kazakhstan, Portugal, Japan, Denmark, Australia, Argentina, and South Africa. Each wall is unique and reflects the people of that community. Each wall is a tribute to living an examined life.

Read it now.


Hope you enjoyed some o’ that.

And if you did, please spread word of Culture Shock!

On that note, I am grateful for this interesting and positive review by Simon Robinson – a consultant and lecturer in chaos and complexity theory, innovation, creativity and sustainability living in São Paulo, Brazil.

Onwards yeah? Will.

Weekly ammo #11

Hello there reader – here’s a freshly packed lunchbox of linky goodness that caught my eye.

This week the items are presented to you in ascending order of complexity – a nice magaziney start on working shorter weeks to get you going, winding up to a densely packed write up from Davos finale.

Should people be off on Fridays?

Sweetly tempting and interesting BBC article about The Gambia introducing a four-day work week for public sector workers. OK, so the bad bit is ‘President Jammeh wants the extra rest day to “allow Gambians to devote more time to prayers, social activities and agriculture”.’ (two outta three ain’t bad!) but the piece goes on to talk about other firms and other international examples.

If you’re interested in this, a must-read is the work done by the New Economics Foundation, ’21 Hours’ which has a compelling rationale for a shifting balance of time. Get a precis and the full thing here.

Employee ownership: a possible model for independent community pharmacy?

I really enjoyed this personal tale of turning a community pharmacy in Sheffield into an employee-owned business. Another quietly inspiring glimpse of more mutually beneficial ways to operate a business.

Oh, and I just tweeted this link, and a guy on Twitter had this to say: “for a good reason too – very well known in sheffield – great community service”. That just sums it up really doesn’t it?

Netflix Culture deck on Slideshare, uploaded by founder and CEO Reed Hastings

Lots and lots to like in here – particularly like the values, the emphasis on high performance (which is often quite jarring but I can really respect it), the vacation policy (there isn’t one…).

LOVE the ‘Highly aligned, loosely coupled’ strategy. This is an increasingly sought-after organisational structure (think Gore in Culture Shock but also other interesting organisations like Occupy) but here is snappily expressed by Netflix.

Really quite detailed and thorough, for something external, which makes it extra interesting. Much of the rationale is explained.

And lastly, I think one of the attractive things about this from Netflix is the confidence. The reader may agree or disagree with bits, but ultimately this is a well-thought through and confidently asserted expression of how Netflix wants to operate, and what it values. Interesting!

Thank you to @ade for sharing this.

Davos Debrief: In Resilience We Trust

Enjoyable and densely packed debrief, writing up what feels like a ton of this writers’ notes from Davos.

Plenty of familiar topics here, especially resilience, but this was shared with me for the final section, which is on Meaning: “Emerging as a major theme at Davos, it was mentioned by CEOs, NGO and religious leaders, and academia throughout the five-day program” and “It is perhaps no surprise that meaning and spirituality enjoyed such prominence this year in Davos, against the backdrop of a fragmented connected age so volatile that it seems to even lack the one historic watershed moment, the one crisis to agree on (as was the case in previous Davos meetings).”

Check the piece out yourself here. Better still, come to Meaning 2013 once we announce it! 🙂

Thank you to James Allen for sharing this.

And to finish, a quick update on the book itself.

Culture Shock had probably its best week since launch, with a satisfyingly high Amazon Sales Rank (which means everything and nothing, but is an author’s only real yardstick) and a new favourite tweet:

“It was challenging, thought provoking, inspiring, frightening. Quite a bit to take in, in a good way. It made me think. Alot.”


Weekly ammo #10

Hello revolutionaries 🙂 Here’s the first update of 2013 – been a bit busy at NixonMcInnes getting the year kicked off, but in that time I’ve been collecting some nice links to share.

Pivoting a City: Can Startups Help More Than Themselves?

Interesting piece from The Atlantic about the possibility that start up ecosystems can substantially lift up or even turnaround a city, looking in particular at Pittsburgh, USA, where the steel mills collapsed and precipitated an unusually long-term restructuring.

Although the piece lacks real breadth or rigorous quantifiable evidence, it’s interesting to me with my Brighton / Wired Sussex hat on, thinking about the role of clusters and ecosystems on their cities, and I know that people like Indy Johar are working on some VERY interesting schemes in this area.

From a Culture Shock perspective, ‘can this stuff scale to cities?’ I guess is the question. I like that question!

Zaarly Employee Handbook

Another inspiring handbook from another progressive, smart company. And deliciously presented too – have a little scroll through.

So much to love here.

If I had to pick my favourite bits, it would be the hierarchy of communication modes, with face-to-face first and email last (and only to recap), but also this bit on structure which is so Culture Shock:

  • We try to keep our organization as flat as possible.
  • We love to quickly form small teams to attack big problems.
  • We believe that even small teams need leaders and that anyone can lead.

That third bullet is what Gore call followership, as I describe in the book. YES.

For Employee Wellbeing, Engagement Trumps Time Off

Gallup researching showing that engagement is the thing that powers wellbeing more than lots of other nice-to-haves:

Employee engagement is a much stronger predictor of overall wellbeing than factors such as hours worked, weeks of vacation time taken, and flextime allowed, according to new research by Harter and Sangeeta Agrawal, a Gallup research manager. The study, which used a sample of 4,894 U.S. Gallup Panel members who work full time, explored the relationships among employee engagement, hours worked, flextime, vacation time, and wellbeing.

So it’s about engagement. How do you create that? You gotta watch Alexander Kjerulf’s funny and ENGAGING (see what I did there?) Meaning Conference talk.

US developer outsources his job to China so he can watch cat videos at work

I know many of you will have seen this. But we need to think about it. If you haven’t seen it, a US developer outsourced his programming job to a Chinese developer, and did really well in performance reviews, but the work was being done by a dude in China. When his employer found out, they sacked him!

Very Timothy Ferris, four hour work week-esque…

The thing is, what is actually wrong with this, if the company wants outcomes? I’m not saying I would like it as an employer, but we’ve got to question why not, surely? Is it only OK for companies to make decisions like these?

Some bonus links:

Somewhere – a startup who say ‘We help people find their place and companies find their people’. Really like their ethos, looks intriguing.

Social learning accelerates innovation faster than innovation processes – really interesting piece started by NixonMcInnes’ own Anna Carlson and taken on by Stowe Boyd on his influential Giga Om blog.

Culture Shock update

Publishing a book is weird – it goes off and then you hear snippets back – but from the snippets I get the book really seems to be gaining momentum which is VERY exciting. I now have heard of three examples where the book is being passed around teams in organisations – a big bank, a social housing trust, and an information/tech business. That is hugely exciting to me! The sales, especially post-Chrimbo, are ticking along nicely. And the reviews, which are no longer from people I actually know, continue to be unexpectedly positive. So I’m excited again about this book writing thing. Thanks for your part in that, dear reader 🙂

And a hat-tip to Giles Palmer, founder and CEO at Brandwatch for at least 3 of the above links 🙂

So here’s to 2013. My motto for this year is win everything – Will

#cltrshck weekly ammo #9

Here the latest Culture Shock-inspired links, plucked carefully from my LET’S CHANGE THE WORLD radar:

Nesta’s Failure Fest

This is a LOVELY lil’ piece on failure, mainly in the context of education but of huge relevance to business.

Here’s a tasty outtake, but definitely find a few minutes to read the whole post:

But perhaps the over-riding lesson was in the event itself.  Jim Wynn put his finger on it first.  After the event he said “I think the reason for the success of the Fail Fest is around trust.  Sharing success often precipitates feelings of jealousy, fear and worry, rather than the expected admiration.  Sharing failure relaxes people, increases empathy and builds trust.  This is something special.  We should build on it”.

I’m including this because I, like these guys and many others, am convinced that a greater acceptance of failure is key to unlocking greater innovation and creativity in life and at work, which is why there’s a little bit on NixonMcInnes’ Church of Fail in Culture Shock.

Reality versus belief about corporate success

A short piece by the notable British economist Diane Coyle on a book called Spark. What I enjoyed most about this was discovering another brilliant company that does things the right way, and thrives in tough times: Lincoln Electric.

As Diane says:

Frank’s book is about businesses with no-layoff employment policies, and particularly about a company called Lincoln Electric – I’d never heard of it but it’s the global number one in arc welding. Lincoln has a formal guaranteed employment programme as well as rewarding employees with bonuses and incentives. The company history sets out its longstanding (since 1895) commitment to employees and customers as well as shareholders. According to its latest results, published last week, employees got an average bonus of $33,915, the 79th annual bonus in a row, a bonus pool of $99.3m (the pool normally represents 32% of pre-tax profits).

I love these long-standing businesses who 1) seem to be performing brilliantly in recent times against any and all competition (see also: John Lewis record sales) and 2) yet have put their employees first for decades (and in this case, over a century!), and yet are still seen as somehow ‘radical’ or ‘progressive’.

How idiotic is traditional business? Pah!

Thanks to Aden Davies for the link.

Culture Shock further reading list

Talking of books, I’ve put a further reading list for people who enjoyed Culture Shock.

These are the books that inspired or taught me: Culture Shock reading list – and there are some crackers in there.

Do you have a passion to start something?

The best event I’ve been to was the Do Lectures – if you want to, you can read more about why in my ‘Notes from the Do Lectures 2011’ (though in them I forget to mention my favourite moment, Tom Fishburne’s talk, because I was so emotional I didn’t bring home any notes).

This year, the Do is different: it’s about getting a start up off the ground:

DO ‘START-UP’, APRIL 25–28, 2013

Is your idea going to change the world? How do you fund it? How do you protect it? How do you build it? How do you market it? How do you brand it? How do you tell the world about it? How do you scale it? How do you hire the right people? How do you do all this and more? 20 amazing entrepreneurs are going to give you the answers, because they have been there and done it. Oh, and in the workshops after the talks, we are all going start a business in the 3 days of the event. Because the best way to learn is by doing. And then at night, we can just eat super fresh local food and listen to great music. Sleep will have to wait.

And they sent me an invite which I need to give to someone that’s gonna make something happen.

photo (10)

So please do get in touch if you’ve had a look at what Do Lectures is about and are committed to starting something that matters – will dot mcinnes at nixonmcinnes dot co dot uk eh.

Challenge a friend or colleague

The New Year is approaching and our friends and colleagues will be thinking about resolutions, goals, the future. If it feels rights, send or loan them a copy of Culture Shock – a handbook for 21st Century business.

It might be the spark or push that they need… And if it is, they’ll never forget it or you!


Onwards! Will.

Time for a revolution: bold new business models for the 21st century

I wrote this for the October edition of British Airways in-flight magazine, Business Life. 

If you’ve read Culture Shock, this is like a refresher, reinforcing some of the key points and specific examples.

And if you haven’t read Culture Shock yet, well, this is the essence of it…

Dear business-as-usual, it’s time for a revolution

Business as usual is utterly screwed. It values the wrong things, rewards the wrong people and behaves in the wrong ways. Here we are in the 21st century and the world has changed so completely, so profoundly, yet if you took a CEO from the 1950s and parachuted him – and it would be a him, not a her – into 99% of our business organisations today, he’d know his way around. It would generally look, behave and operate in ways that he’d be familiar with.

But look out the window – that world you peer down on is transformed from the post-war 50s when the high principles of ‘modern’ business practices emerged. Right now business must make sense of new technologies, generational differences, geopolitical shifts in power from West to East, continued economic crisis and the needs of a planet that is increasingly ravaged. But most all, business must adapt to a world where people are beginning to demand much more from it – where the pursuit of profit alone is no longer enough. We need a revolution.

Change is coming

Meanwhile, in dry and dusty California, Patagonia has created a sustainability initiative to actively encourage owners of their outdoor apparel to sell their used Patagonia products on ebay, potentially limiting new product sales. In wet and windy Scotland, upstart craft beer makers BrewDog have twice raised millions from their customers to fund expansion, turning fans into investors, whilst in the close humidity of Bangladesh Grameen has created a pioneering bank and a mobile phone company both of which allow people living in poverty to improve their lives and are financially sustainable. This is what 21st century business looks like: different and better.

Changes like these are happening in pockets and often at the edges at first. For the complacent, these evolutions are easy to ignore or deride – ‘pah, might work in California or Bangladesh, but not in my business – what matters here is the bottom line’ or maybe just sheer lack of time is the smokescreen – ‘heh, we’ve got enough on our hands without worrying about this airy-fairy hippy business stuff’. But my argument is this: that the time is now, and a tidal wave is growing in size out at sea, a wave that will wash through the whole of business and more. And soon it will come crashing down on the aging structures and stale, dated attitudes of 20th century business. This is no time to be complacent, great change is coming. Time to build a better boat!

So if we were to step back from the businesses of today, and ask ourselves ‘what can we learn from these early pioneers to help us design a 21st century organisation?’, what would we come up with? Here’s a flavour of what I found when I researched my book Culture Shock drawn from three chapters: Purpose & Meaning, Leadership and Fair Finances.

Purpose & Meaning

21st century businesses have a higher purpose and creating meaning that goes beyond the work itself and the creation of profits. They stretch to solve a great problem that matters to society. I call this a ‘Purpose of Significance’.

Here’s an example – have you heard of Noma? If you’re a foodie, the answer is of course yes. Noma was ranked as Best Restaurant in the World by Restaurant in 2010 and 2011. Noma isn’t in New York City, Tuscany, the hills of Catalunya, Paris, London or Tokyo. Noma – famous for dishes and flavours that celebrate the very best of Nordic produce – is in Copenhagen, the gorgeous capital of Denmark. When you start to look into the story behind Noma there’s a fabulous and inspiring story of how purpose and meaning can fuel incredible achievement, and simultaneously empower a whole generation of likeminded changers.

As Claus Meyer, co-owner of Noma, describes on his website: “Less than 10 months after the opening of our restaurant “noma” November 2003, head chef, manager & partner Rene Redzepi and I took the initiative to organize “The Nordic Cuisine Symposium”. The day before the symposium September 2004, at an 18 hour long workshop, some of the greatest chefs in our region formulated the New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto. The Nordic Cuisine Movement was born!”

The whole manifesto is simple and inspiring, but for me the tenth aim is the most powerful of all: “To join forces with consumer representatives, other cooking craftsmen, agriculture, the fishing, food, retail and wholesale industries, researchers, teachers, politicians and authorities on this project for the benefit and advantage of everyone in the Nordic countries.” Basically, to go beyond our own self-interests.

In doing so Noma created and placed itself in a context of higher meaning that could engage and impassion every would-be employee, every diner, every producer and supplier. It triggered a great change in how Danish society thinks about food. This is what can be done with the power of Purpose of Significance – change that affects millions, for the good.

Conscious leadership

21st century businesses demand much more from leaders. This networked age, with workforces dispersed across different nations, working fluidly from various locations connected in new ways by digital tools, requires a different leadership approach. As John Chambers, the long-standing CEO of Cisco put it in an interview with the New York Times: “I’m a command-and-control person. I like being able to say turn right, and we truly have 67,000 people turn right. But that’s the style of the past. Today’s world requires a different leadership style — more collaboration and teamwork, including using Web 2.0 technologies.”

So key to success as a leader in the 21st century are these values of collaboration, dialogue, transparency and authenticity – command and control just won’t work any more.

A great example of this that I discovered is at W.L. Gore, makers of Gore-Tex. Gore is quite a different business, and has been way ahead of its time for more than half a century – it’s just taken the rest of us a while to catch up! At Gore they talk about Leadership being ‘defined by followership’. That is, that the group nominates its leaders – they “vote with their feet” as CEO Terri Kelly puts it. Quite simply, you cannot be a leader at Gore without having people that are willing to follow you. Love it!

I believe that this mindset will grow in a world where our teams are dispersed, increasingly made up of freelancers associates and the influx of Millenials who are more willing to ask ‘why?’. We increasingly need to manage our teams like volunteers rather than conscripts. So the questions then for any of us that lead are ‘how do I create followership?’ and ‘why do people choose to follow (or not follow) me?’. This search will lead us to developing a much deeper understanding of people’s intrinsic motivations, beyond money alone. If we can do that, people will follow us, and we will successfully lead in this changing world.

Fair Finances

In the 21st century there are exciting new ways to raise funds to get businesses financed. And it is no longer acceptable for businesses to reward leaders grossly more than the workforce that contributed so much to those rewards.

On the funding side, we are also seeing 21st century innovations happening around how businesses raise cash for growth. I mentioned the rebellious Scottish brewers BrewDog and their fan-funding programme earlier. Whilst those guys organised their own scheme, the web platform Kickstarter is opening up the same possibility to many more businesses.

Kickstarter is a platform where I – a creative or entrepreneur – can outline a project I’d like to bring to life: a film I’d like to shoot, a book I’d like to write, a technology I’d like to develop. After describing my would-be project, I can invite the world to become ‘backers’ – that is, to co-fund the development of the project in return for a small reward – a signed copy of the book for $25 or a private reading for $250!

Some projects are hugely over-subscribed – like the Pebble customizable watch project, which raised a whopping $10,266,845 against an original target of $100,000 goal, whilst others just meet their targets and some don’t at all. The crowd decides, and the crowd funds: this is crowdfunding and it’s here to stay. And what a powerful prize: turning consumers into investors.

Mondragon is an enormously successful Spanish employee-owned conglomerate whose 250 odd businesses turn over in excess of €14bn annually, despite the disastrous performance of the Spanish economy in recent years. At Mondragon a democratic vote within each individual operating company agrees what the ratio will be between the general manager and executives, and those on the frontline – those the ratios vary from 3:1 to 9:1 in the 250 different Mondragon businesses, and the average is 5:1.

Why is it that Mondragon has been able to buck the travails of the Spanish economy and continue to thrive? Perhaps this inherent fairness binds the workforce together, creating a culture that is more resilient in challenging times. That certainly makes sense to me.

What really matters?

I’ll finish with a story. About a month ago I went to my little boy’s infant school for his leaving assembly. We sat in the school hall in small chairs, lines of us parents, like giant overgrown kids. It smelt like school used to smell, it sounded like school used to sound and I found myself remembering what it was to feel like a kid back at school. Our children came out and danced, spoke and sang. And then they sang the Heather Small song with the chorus ‘what have you done today to make you feel proud?’. Boom. That chorus hit me like a hammer. The innocent intensity of the children singing, the simplicity of the words, it cut through. I know it’s cheesy. It’s kids, it’s a pop song, but really – just then – I thought ‘what have I done to make me feel proud?’. What an epic, challenging question. It makes me wonder, when we stand together as a business community and look back, what will we see? What will we have left behind, what will we have improved, solved and positively changed? Will we be proud of what we did?

There are many more examples to share, and I am still discovering more every day, but I hope you can see what I see – that business has to evolve. I believe that it is time for a revolution in business. That it is time for us to reach for more than profits alone. And that the time is now.

For more, see the reviews and buy Culture Shock.

#cltrshck weekly ammo 8

Here the latest Culture Shock inspired links, plucked carefully from my LET’S CHANGE THE WORLD radar:

Why + How = What

Just an absolutely inspiring piece of writing about one man’s journey out of corporate life into something that feels meaningful and right to him. Totally uplifting, brilliant clarity. I know Mark and he said he’d been doing a lot of thinking. I admire anyone who can reflect and then express themselves to succinctly, in such an organic-shot-in-the-arm style.

Here’s an excerpt but I encourage you to read the whole post:

 I can’t stand board meetings, I dislike the formality of most conferences, networking isn’t something that comes easily and most of all I hate forced innovation in places where I can’t be inspired to think differently.  If you bear in mind that I was experiencing this at Virgin, one of the most progressive cultures there is, I wonder if there might be a problem in the structures of business that constrain the way we think and the way we do?

And this bit!

 Even today my two favourite creative mediums are sea water and muddy hillsides.  That is where my ideas live and where I need to go to unleash my potential.

LOVE IT. Go @searsio.

In Sweden, bus stops offer light therapy

As someone put on Twitter, quite literally enlightening!

Umeå Energi has replaced bus stop advertising boards with therapeutic illumination, hoping to tackle instances of winter depression.

Trendy term, but rarely seen, ‘design thinking’ like this can unlock so much more potential if only we stopped to think, non? Like this solar bag that purifies water as you walk home from collecting it. Clever.

P&G’s Muddled Messages, And The Need For Corporate Meaning

Interesting piece pointing out how cluttered the messages are from the top in P&G to regular employees.

It’s an interesting challenge, that – communicating succinctly and clearly when one’s organisation and one’s environment are so complex. In a world of VUCA (which I learnt from Stowe’s talk at Meaning, see below) how does one even do that? I struggle (hugely) to do this in our 20 person company!!!

What’s interesting is where the guest authors of this Fast Company piece take it – their schtick is a ‘meaning message’ which I think sounds interesting:

It’s time for P&G to rethink what its one message should be. For an organization known for its superior marketing and business discipline, it’s time for it to focus on one unique and meaningful message. We call this the “meaning message,” a concise, commonly understood statement that highlights the true meaning of the organization and which serves to inspire and provide direction. It’s a message that also captures the spirit of the organization.

The Happy Startup School

This is interesting, though I don’t know what it is yet 🙂

They say:

We’re helping a new breed of entrepreneur to realise their dreams. Startups that put people first and measure success in happiness, as well as profits. Think sustainability above short–term.

Good to see this kind of initiative happen, and especially exciting to me as part of this groundswell that I personally am seeing in the rise of a more conscious approach to business. Looks like they’re based here in Brighton too…


Beyond Social: imagining the post-normal business

This is Stowe Boyd’s keynote from Meaning 2012.

It is jam-packed with brainfood about the near-future of business. I recommend it: you’ll walk away with something to mull, something to pass on.

Further reading: For a book that wraps these ideas up into 8 chapters, check out my book Culture Shock – a handbook for 21st Century business. It is well reviewed on Amazon, I wrote it and I believe in it.

Onwards! Will.

#cltrshck weekly ammo 7

The world is changing. Damn, THE WORLD NEEDS CHANGING.

Here’s how:


A desperate failure in the financial system – The Guardian

A great piece from Jo Confino writing in the Guardian about the blocking role that the financial community appears to be playing in holding back the fundamental change required for business to become sustainable:

At its heart, the answer is simple. The vested interests who control the financial architecture, and have an extremely powerful voice in the corridors of power, simply don’t want to change because they still benefit hugely from the status quo, despite seeing the ruin they have brought on all of us.

And the possible answers:

So could it be up to civil society to generate change? The Bank of England governor quite rightly wondered why there wasn’t more outrage at the behaviour of the big banks, but the Occupy movement did show there is a river of anger below the surface that may well turn into a flood.

Or maybe it will just be the case that the financial markets will implode under the weight of their own hubris.

Personally, I think it is only to going to change as a result of real action from civil society. In other words, us. No single institution is going to face up.


Barclays buys 8,500 iPads

In Culture Shock, I wrote about Tech DNA, and about how all businesses need to break technology from out of its IT and R&D silos to truly enable the whole organisation. This story isn’t quite that, but it’s still provocative because of the scale.

In fact, this is just about giving people access to a particular mortgage app. But what else is possible now? What more does the trojan horse of a new technology bring when rolled out like this?

And this is happening widely – my dad, a teacher for 35 years, was given an iPad mini today… All change. As the article says: The IT supplier independently confirmed that it was seeing “significant interest in the take up of Apple iPads in large enterprise.”


How social media supports Israel’s military and political goals by Neville Hobson

Fascinating, odd and slightly scary account of how Israel is using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even Pinterest to: “to get Israel’s narrative out in real time, as people read about red alerts in Tel Aviv and rocket landings in Gaza on Twitter, and to cut out the middleman of “old media” in communicating with pro-Israel activists”

In fact, we turned down a defence company last week. I guess that world is changing too…


The Brightoneers vision for Brighton: to pioneer in creating an employee owned economy

Inspiring and perfectly-timed movement to propel Brighton’s already different-and-better business cluster into a truly radical, employee-owned hotbed, driven by co-founder of NixonMcInnes, Tom Nixon (link to his blog in righthand sidebar):

Wouldn’t it be great if the economy in Brighton existed to make life in our city better for everyone, now and for future generations, in harmony with the natural world?

Wouldn’t it be great if the local economy was not just for the people, but owned by the people – the workers and citizens?

Wouldn’t it be great if businesses that worked in this way collectively became the largest employer in the city, creating jobs that deliver happiness and meaning as well as a salary?

Wouldn’t it be great if we created a model that inspired other towns and cities across the world to build better local economies for the benefit of everyone there too?

If you’re in or near Brighton or London, and into this stuff, come to the launch party thing, I’ll see you there. This is where it starts.


Creating happiness at work by Alexander Kjerulf

Alex is a master of happiness at work. This talk at Meaning 2012 was one of the highlights for many people I’ve spoken with since. This is Alex in top form: 30 minutes of funny, poignant Danish brilliance.


Further reading: For a book that wraps these ideas up into 8 chapters, check out Culture Shock. It has a five star rating on Amazon, I wrote it and I believe in it.

Onwards! Will.

#cltrshck weekly ammo 6

Hello peeps, here’s the latest Culture Shock update – 5 tasty handpicked progressive peaches for you to sink yer teeth into…

The plural of personal is social by JP Rangaswami

Just a brilliant, brilliant post by JP that nails our mission at NixonMcInnes.

“Social” is not a layer. “Social” is not a feature. “Social” isn’t a product.

Social is about bringing being human back into business. About how we conduct business. About why we conduct business.

Social is something in people’s hearts, in people’s beings, in their DNA.

Man is born social.

Many companies were not.

Yes, JP! 100%, yes. A rousing reminder that we are not just putting lipstick on a pig.

Much of what you know about business is wrong. You will continue to believe it even now that you know it’s wrong by Alexander Kjerulf

Really nice piece by Alex on the biases and deeply held beliefs that we have around work which powerfully influence our behaviour without us even realising.

Here are some examples he provides before giving us some steps to address the problem:

  • Work is unpleasant but that’s normal and there are no happy jobs.
  • The more hours we work, the better.
  • If you’re enjoying yourself, you’re not getting enough done.

I know I definitely hold the second belief and that it traps me, and I know I fall prey to the third too at times…

Important stuff.

The Power of Listening from Inc. Magazine

Lovely old inspiring article about an American cardboard box factory business that runs democratically and in doing so gets an edge in a ruthless horribly commoditised business.

What I still really like about this article, is the story of how they educate over time their workforce in the intricacies of the company’s finances:

“We believed that people should have stock,” says Peter. “They should have ownership. And we thought if we were going to sell people stock, they’d have to have education.” They’d also have to have access to all the financials — open books. Maybe they should even have a voice in the decisions that affect their lives.

In fact, this was the article that inspired me sat at my desk in a dull ‘business park’ in Burgess Hill, near London Gatwick airport, that showed me that business could be done differently. Luckily it inspired Tom too, and that’s what set us off on the difficult but rewarding path of doing business differently. So this is a pretty important article for us 🙂

A tool for listening to culture by Hugh Garry

Absolutely love this quick read from Hugh about culture and curators.

Informed by his 15 years at Radio 1, the piece is about how an organisation can best match and engage with the preferences of an audience (by listening) and my take out is pretty simple: you do this best by truly being part of that same culture and hiring and nurturing people that match that culture. Absolutely love the Tumblr-esque images that Hugh starts and finishes with too.

In fact, this one image of Willy Wonka has been creeping into my thinking about my own business all week…

And how about a finish with Caroline Lucas MP’s fantastic, funny and challenging talk from Meaning 2012? Brilliant.

I know that this talk inspired friends of mine to join the Green Party and others to despair that the excellent Caroline is a lone voice in parliament. Watch this to understand why.

Further reading: For a book that wraps these ideas up into 8 chapters, check out Culture Shock. It has a five star rating on Amazon, I wrote it and I believe in it.

Onwards! Will.