Episode #112 Business Unusual: Can Business sweep us to a Regenerative Future? With Nathalie Nahai
In a world where governments are failing on all levels, can regenerative business be the change we need to see in the world? Can the new wave of meaningful work create the sense of coherence and community and connectedness to the earth that we need to take us forward? Nathalie Nahai, business coach and resilience trainer talks about the ideas that took form in her new book.
Nathalie is host of The Hive podcast, author of two books, international speaker and consultant with businesses big and small. Her clients have included Unilever, Google, Accenture and Harvard Business Review, among many others.
Her most recent book, Business Unusual: Values, Uncertainty and the Psychology of Brand Resilience, opens up worlds of business where profit is not the only motive, where psychological safety, meaning and solidarity are core business values and businesses are learning to walk their talk. In a world where government is failing so completely to address the many crises of our time, we spent an hour discussing whether business can fill that gap, and if so, how? When it is such a huge part of our lives, when the entire neoliberal model seems to be predicated on a cycle of wage-slavery followed by meaningless consumption, can work bring us back to balance with ourselves, each other and the ecosystems of which we are an integral part?
Manda: My guest this week is Nathalie Nahai. Nathalie is host of The Hive podcast, which should definitely be on your must listen list. She’s also one of our triad in what is now our traditional solstice conversation with Della Duncan. But she’s also an international speaker, a consultant and an author of two books, the latest of which is Business Unusual; Values, Uncertainty and The Psychology of Brand Resilience, which has been described as a book that offers a vital roadmap for how we might transcend old ways of doing business and charter a more resilient, purposeful and values driven path forward. It is essential reading for business leaders and educators alike, and having read it, it seemed to me such a gold mine of the kinds of things that this podcast is devoted to unearthing, and I wanted to talk to Nathalie in much more depth than we were able to do at our solstice conversation. So here we are, people of the podcast; please welcome Nathalie Nahai.
Manda: So Nathalie Nahai, long time friend of the podcast. Welcome back. For us to dive in, really, to the latest developments in business that you’ve been following in your podcast and in your book. So before we start, how are things over there in sunny Spain, when it’s minus five out there on my yard and the water is all frozen and I’ve been hauling buckets all morning. How are you?
Nathalie: That actually, sounds really nice. I’m well, thanks. It’s cold here and sunny, but I actually miss the winter. You know, you sort of get to wear lots of different layers. And yeah, no, I do. I don’t miss the grey. I miss the cold.
Manda: Yeah, it’s nice, actually, because it’s totally clear. It’s beautiful and the kites – we feed the kites – we’ve got five kites that come down and we’re just watching aerial acrobatics in the sun. But in the shade, the water is still like four inches of ice. But still, it’s better than New Year’s Day when it was sixteen degrees above and it was temperatures of May and we’re thinking this is not how it’s meant to be, guys. It’s not that I love the ice, but…
Nathalie: It’s a bit disturbing.
Manda: I feel like it’s meant to be. Anyway, we’re here to talk about Business Unusual, your book. Values, Uncertainty and the Psychology of Brand Resilience. And even the title, I think, is one of the indicators that the world is changing. Because your book reads like a really emotionally intelligent self-help book. Guys, this is really how to get everything together and we can bring this into business. And my stuff around business is that it is the evil that’s destroying the planet. Economics, business, consumerism, we just need to stop all that. Total systemic change and everything will be fine. But that probably means lots of businesses just not existing anymore. And you’ve gone down a different route of business can be part of the solution. So as we’re going to dive deep into that. How did you get that idea? How did the book arise, really? But what is it that brought you to a level of self complexity that let you see the overarching designs of this and then brought it into a book that as far as I can tell, a lot of business people are really responding to.
Nathalie: What a question. So that’s really interesting. So self complexity and then how that has kind of shaped the book. I think one thing that well, and this has come up in our conversations around the solstice, you know, we talk about ‘what are you here for?’ And this is one of the reasons I find that question so difficult to answer. Which is that I think as far as I can remember, I’ve always had a lot of different interests that aren’t necessarily immediately obviously tied to one another, but nonetheless span different aspects of what we can engage in as humans, get interested in as humans. So whether it’s physics that my dad taught me at A-level or it’s art or it’s music or it’s belly dancing or it’s shamanic practise or it’s speaking on a stage. Like all of these different things that maybe don’t immediately seem connected, I’ve always had quite maybe like an eco systemic approach to my interests, which is just a natural way that I am. And on the one hand, it makes life wildly exciting and fascinating and, you know, I get to go on loads of adventures. On the other it’s also really hard because I’m constantly trying to make sense of how these pieces fit together and how to dedicate time to specific areas without risking or at the expense of others. So I think in a lot of my work, this pursuit of connection; how did the dots join up? What are the ways in which we can see bridges between things that others may not see connections between? So I think it arises from that just natural character. I feel like I’ve got maybe five or six different people in one, and I’m constantly trying to get this chorus of selves to sing somehow in unison without dropping any of the major voices. So I think when it comes to this question and questions of complexity, it’s it’s both an exciting invitation and a challenge to figure out, well, do these different layers and lenses connect? So if you’re looking at layers of human existence, we spend so much of our time in work. I try and minimise the amount of work, this year in particular that I do, so that I can free up time to do stuff which is not going to pay me, but is really nourishing. But we can’t argue that work isn’t important because so many of us depend on it in order to survive. So there’s kind of that aspect to it. Then at the same time, thinking, OK, well, if we are going to show up for work, how can we show up and engage in a more meaningful full person kind of way, because it’s going to make life more interesting, more fun.
Nathalie: From a business perspective, if you’re trying to thrive as a business, it means having people who are well, who are engaged, who are able to perform. So it’s kind of looking both from the business angle and from the human angle and then thinking within the wider context, which is the amount of change that we need to make within our systems so that they don’t absolutely collapse. And they’re already unravelling which you and I, you know, talk about a lot in our conversations. Governments are not moving fast enough. So where can we make significant change rapidly, where is there infrastructure, will, power, scale? And all of that, if we sort of find a way to galvanise people towards change. All of that you find in systems of business, because that’s where the money is. That’s where the power is. Consumers can exert immediate pressure on business. That doesn’t mean waiting four years or however long it is for an election cycle. So I think there is great potential to look at business from that perspective as well. So not just on the individual fulfilment level and the societal impact that ripples out from that, but also from a top down level, as in what businesses can do to ferment positive social change, economic change, ecological change at speed, at scale because they’re much more agile than governments are.
Manda: No, no. It’s a fantastic answer. And I’m remembering that one of your reviewers called you a rare polymath with deep expertise in tech, marketing and psychology. And it’s that polymath bit of bringing everything together that makes it so exciting and looking into the areas that really matter. So if governments are not moving fast enough, definitely. If we depend on work to survive, I want to unpick that a little bit later, but not at the moment. Because at the moment I want to look at this power that business has and that therefore consumers have through business, depends on business priorities being other than make the most amount of money as fast as you possibly can. And I look at the really big businesses: Amazon, Facebook, Google, the ones who are now the huge monster gorillas of the planet. And they look very much to be making as much money as fast as possible, partly because they’re in hock to the the vulture capitalists who funded them through the tech dip back in 2012. So. If business is going to be part of the answer, then it seems to me that businesses have to get together to agree on what the problems are and how they might address it. Because if every business of whatever size does something different, then we’re going to be generating a lot of emotional energy and general energy, but it’s probably going to be in spinning wheels in opposing directions and causing a great big pile up in the middle. Bad metaphor, but it probably works. So I listened to one of your recent podcasts; John Featherby. And he was talking a lot about the B-corps and it seemed to me that’s one way of at least beginning to agree on a direction of travel. Can you tell us more about those, how they work and how they’re doing in 2022? Because that podcast was recorded back in 2020
Nathalie: So B-corps are companies that have to go through a certification process, that have met very high standards of verified social and environmental performance. They have to be legally accountable and publicly transparent to be able to balance purpose and profit. And so basically, the certification process, which is very, very rigorous, ensures that businesses qualify along a whole bunch of different parameters in terms of their positive impact in the world. And if you look at the kinds of brands that are joining these ranks, you find that it spans everything from tech brands like Hootsuite to Allbirds, which is a shoe manufacturer and Eileen Fisher, which is a fashion brand. And it’s interesting because it creates a process through which even if you don’t go the whole way, and I know several companies that have. Because it’s so granular and so detailed it actually acts as a framework from which to assess how you’re performing; any sort of blind spots which we all have. And as organisations, you know, these are often less visible blind spots, but things that are sort of glaring omissions that maybe you need to take into consideration if you’re going to have positive impacts in the world. It creates such a detailed, granular, practical roadmap that it actually really helps businesses to change structurally, which is what needs to happen if you’re going to enact your values and create positive change in the world. So from that perspective, it’s really interesting because it gives tools that people can actually employ. It gives a roadmap. So it’s really worth checking out.
Manda: Yeah, because I gather, even if your business is just one person self-employed, you can you can at least use the roadmap. You don’t necessarily have to certificate yourself because that probably would take more time than it’s worth, but you can have a look. And as I understand it, they’ve got the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit rather than just profit as their as their benchmarks. How are those companies doing in a world that is still very much based on huge companies taking over smaller companies and the bigger dog eats the smaller dog? Is there any feedback that you’re aware of of these companies flourishing or not within still quite a competitive marketplace?
Nathalie: Hmm. So one of the people I interviewed, Rita Clifton, who is absolutely brilliant. She’s an extraordinarily accomplished woman. She was talking about how, if you look at some of these larger brands like Unilever, they’re staple of sustainable, I guess, sub brands, if you want to call them that, are outperforming the other categories. So you can see at that level, when you’ve got big companies or corporations that have cannibalised smaller organisations or businesses and then take on board some of the values that made those smaller businesses so successful; and retain those values in the public facing brands – So you’re buying a sustainable or ethically sourced, I don’t know, bar of chocolate, let’s say – but it’s still from one of the major corporations. You’re seeing that actually through the higher performance of those specific sustainable categories, consumers are still making the choices that are aligned with their values, which then gives feedback to the corporation to say, we want more of this. At the same time, you’ve got a lot more talk now in general culture about regenerative business practises, which is tied to local resilience. And we know from the research around younger consumers that, for instance, sixty two percent of Gen Z, who are the younger folks who are beginning to enter into the workforce, they prefer to buy from sustainable brands, as do millennials. We know that 40 percent of millennial folks will accept one job offer over another because of a company’s environmental credentials. They’ll even take a pay cut and that by 2029, so in seven years, consumers who are born between 1981 and 2012 will make up 72 percent of the workforce. Obviously, it’s going to take a while for people to climb into leadership positions, but if you start to look at those sorts of stats and you realise that these are people who will come into the majority of workforces and be in the majority as employees, as leaders within seven short years, with a different set of values, who hold brands to higher account, especially when it comes to ESG. When it comes to social justice issues taking a public stand.
Manda: Can you explain what ESG is?
Nathalie: Sure! So it’s environmental, social and governance protocols. So making sure that you have good principles and practises around your sustainability, around HR practises. So looking after your people, human resources, and then what was the last one? Environmental, Social and Governance. So people are more interested in brands kind of at their heart, baked into the DNA, doing and being good and not just slapping on a bit of corporate social responsibility by, I don’t know, supporting a local charity, what have you. It has to be internally consistent. The value of a brand has to be lived from the inside out in order for it to be robust and to be seen as something which is worthwhile for people to come in as employees or to buy from that brand as consumers.
Manda: Brilliant. This is sounding very resonant with Sam Conner’s idea of Be More Pirate. Of get into your company and be the person who stands up and goes, ‘You know what, guys? This meeting is pointless and we’re not going in the right direction’. And if one other person stands up and goes, ‘Yes, you’re right’, you can go to the other room and go, ‘Hey, guys, we’re going to have a meeting over here that makes sense. Anybody want to join us?’ And if that kind of thing can happen… So I’m hearing that in Unilever and similar sized companies, the brands that we would think were more aligned with our values are doing better. But that doesn’t mean that they stop their sub brands that are basically, first of all, channelling really bad stuff out -that’s particularly Unilever – for people to eat. You know, the really cheap stuff that is full of empty desert, absent nutritional value stuff that’s going to give you diabetes type two, within a couple of months. They’re still peddling those. And until they stop, then the system hasn’t changed enough. It’s just that they’re able to cream more money off people who are prepared to pay more to sell their own consciences. How do we get around that? Is there any sign that they’re thinking about changing that sort of thing?
Nathalie: Yeah, because I think we’re talking about incremental change within a system which is exploitative. And so the question, I guess, is how do you move towards a future or build a future where you’re not exploiting, but you are allowing people to compete. Because, you know, I think there is a human drive for competition. And so to compete in a healthier way, that doesn’t mean extracting more than you give back. So I think when we’re looking at these businesses, it’s tricky, isn’t it? Because as long as you have systems within which you have great scarcity of money in order to buy food, scarcity of health care, scarcity of equal access to education, et cetera, then you’re creating the conditions within which people will be forced to make poorer choices based on what they can afford, based on what educational access to knowledge they have and information they have. So I think that’s really what you talk about. How do we create the deep change that’s necessary for other changes to emerge as knock on effects almost? On the flip side… so if we’re thinking about change that happens at grassroot levels… During the pandemic, what was really interesting to see was there were lots of examples across different countries, from the U.S. to the Philippines, of people coming together and working Land in order to produce food for people who are most food insecure. So whether it was in New York where there was a patch of land that was used as a teaching garden and they suddenly realised, well, actually, rather than teaching, we could actually grow all this abundant food and then give it to people or sell it at a very low cost to people who need it. Or in other places having urban gardens on the top of roofs.
Nathalie: Necessity breeds innovation. Or maybe it just pushes you to be a bit more imaginative and creative. I think there are examples of people suddenly making that leap and realising, to the point around systemic change, that you don’t have to buy everything plastic wrapped from a supermarket. That if you are in a lucky position where there is some land somewhere and people have seeds and they have access to water and access to enough time communally to share and put into it, and usually there is some version of this if you are in a country that has some basic resources. Then if you have that, you don’t need that much more than that in order to get started. And so then you’re changing your relationship with what scarcity means, where food security comes from, how much you need to invest in order to be able to feed your family or to cultivate a different relationship with, you know, tomatoes. There’s so many varieties. You go, you see it grow and you’re participating in what I find like the magic of plants, for instance. Then you’re enchanting an entire generation of young folks who suddenly go, ‘Oh my god. Well, this is not what life was before. I now have a totally different relationship to many, many things, including my community, including the Land.’ That’s where we see, I think, deep change happening and it is happening. But the question is, how do you create that happening at a larger scale? So I think change has to come from all of these different places. It’s a tapestry that together weaves together into larger change. That’s my feeling at this stage.
Manda: Yeah. And it’s good and you’re right. And I’m really interested in that balance between the human instinct to compete and the human instinct to cooperate and create community. And whether we can find, because you’re right, both exist and businesses like making profits. But I have seen some models where any business can make a certain amount of profit, based on an algorithm of its size, a product of its size, say, and an amount per unit of management or an amount per employee and anything above that they have to give away. And then you define how you give it, and I can imagine people gaming the system by setting up charities that happen to employ, you know, their sister and their best friend. And, you know, everything the Tory government is doing now. But there will also be loads that that don’t do that and that that would be a healthier way rather than you can accumulate trillions and then send a rocket to the moon that burns up more carbon than a billion people would have done.
Nathalie: That’s just insane.
Manda: Yeah, yeah. But it’s still happening. And you know, that’s what happens when you let people who are fundamentally still teenage boys playing games of Star Trek and give them infinite power. So we need to change that
Nathalie: Which is awful because actually, there’s so much in Star Trek that was amazing. I’m an avid Star Trek fan. Yes, because you know you had your first interracial kiss on Star Trek. That is huge. You had lots of interesting stuff around integration, so you had Checkoff who was someone who was of, I think he was Russian. So, you know, there was the Cold War happening, you know, inter-country co-operation. Loads of stuff, you know?
Manda: We’ll have another Star Trek podcast! I have to say. I think I probably watched like three episodes in my entire life, so it would be a short podcast..
Nathalie: Oh no Manda!
Manda: Yeah,hey,life,busy. Anyway, let’s go back to regenerative business. That this is now a buzzword. And resilience. I taught a course on the 1st of January and I was asking people to be resilient, and I got a lot of pushback from people going, ‘Oh God, no, that word is just completely devalued in our sector now’. Oh, really? I still think it’s a good idea, though. Let’s call it something else! The ability to bounce back in the face of challenge and not just fold in the corner and huddle and scream. Or turn into a raging monster that has to demolish the challenge. The capacity to find resilience is really important. What do regenerative businesses consider to be regenerative now? What is, if you wanted to set yourself up as ‘I am a business, people, planet, profit and I am being regenerative’, what does that include?
Nathalie: So I think there are different ways of thinking about regeneration, and I’m going to give an example, a concrete one in a moment. But I think if we’re thinking about what creates for a flourishing ecosystem, it has to be healthy. And for it to be healthy, if you think about human systems or other systems, it means bouncing back from trauma. Being able to grow in a way that self-sustaining. Being able to support the different elements of that ecosystem that give the whole network the capacity to thrive. So there’s lots of different layers within that. And I think part of that means, for instance, being cognisant of the biases and prejudice that has been played out throughout systems and oppressed groups. Whether that’s gender, race, ability, sex, age, whatever it might be. Neurodiversity. So thinking about how do you reckon with the almost like traumas that groups have experienced in order to be able to bring them in and create real diversity, which is where we know imagination, performance, creativity, wellbeing thrives? That’s one layer. Another is how do you figure a system or reconfigure a system so that you’re not just thinking of value in financial terms? So you’re thinking about not just money attached to something which is a service or a good or a product, but really, how are you creating value which has longer lasting meaning change and contributes towards longer term flourishing? And so there, the example that I really like that I’d like to turn to, is the credit card processing company called Gravity Payments, which is based out of Seattle and founded by a guy called Dan Price.
Nathalie: So he created this company and became a millionaire multimillionaire at the tender age of 31. And through a series of experiences decided, this is six years ago now, that he wanted to raise the company’s minimum wage to $70000, which was unheard of. It meant basically he would take a huge pay cut like $1 million pay cut, which is 90 percent of his salary, give up his stocks and shares and remortgage both of his houses. So massive personal cost to someone who is making a heck of a lot of money. You know, Fox News said he was going to be a socialist. People would be on the bread lines. It was all going to go, you know, to hell in a handbasket. But since that time, their revenue has tripled. Harvard Business Review has used them as a case study as what to do in terms of positive business practises. Their employees have had a 10 times boom in the homes they’ve been able to buy, so they have security, they’ve been able to pay off debts, they’ve moved in close to the city. They’re able to take holidays without fear of losing money so they’re not burning out. You know, they’ve created an environment in which people feel valued and supported and they’re well remunerated, which means that, you know, these are people who are committed to the company. And actually, what was fascinating was because of all of these changes that he implemented and the cost to himself, when COVID 19 hit and they were basically slashed to 50 percent of their revenues within a very short window, they were losing something like $30000 a day, and there would have been out of cash within five months and then basically the business would have been done. Because of the way in which he’d prioritised the well-being of his employees, the majority of them, they came together to try and find a solution for this, a path forward. The majority of his employees actually volunteered to take a temporary cut in salary to protect the company and to save their jobs and to save Gravity Payments. Within 24 hours, the majority of the staff had pledged over $400000, which is about 20 percent of their total payroll, and they’d offered to give up between 10 and 100 percent of their wages over the following month just to keep the business afloat. So because he’d made a personal sacrifice, people came together, volunteered to sacrifice themselves so they wouldn’t have to hike the prices on all of the small and medium enterprises that they were funding, which were already going through a difficult time because of COVID. So this is just such an interesting case study of what you can do when you show people respect and you sacrifice in the name of values in the name of community. And since then, you know, he’s now become a very vocal advocate for better business practises. And he’s someone that people can look to as a leader who is doing something better, who’s walked the talk and who can navigate the way for other leaders and other businesses who want to make similar changes. It’s amazing.
Manda: It is. It is. It’s so inspiring. And the interesting thing is, this is a credit card payment company. Right locked in there in the middle of free market capitalism. It’s not, I don’t, growing organic almonds in a nice way to keep the bees happy. It’s processing credit cards
Nathalie: It’s in the heart of the Beast.
Manda: And as I understand it, when he first made this announcement, two of his staff members walked out. Because they thought, they had bought into, the whole James McGill Buchanan mindset that you have to keep people poor to keep them working. Except the very rich ones who obviously keep working even when they’re super rich, because they’re different somehow in their DNA. But everybody else, if you don’t keep them poorer, they’ll just stop working. And as you said, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News said, you know, this is appalling socialism. So we’re saying this guy is just acting socialism, and that’s just heinous and he said that he looked forward to Harvard Business School using the example of how to destroy your company. And now of course, Harvard Business School uses them as an example of how to make your company value its people and be wonderful. And I guess Fox News is probably not reporting that, but somebody else is, even if it’s only us. And the interesting thing you said, they they created a workforce that feels valued and supported. And I wonder, do we know, and we might not, has he changed to a more horizontal structure within the company? Has he done any of the other things that the more regenerative companies seem to be doing, as well as shifting the remuneration system?
Nathalie: That I don’t know? I, yeah, he might have done other changes as well, I’m not sure. I know that he, in the interviews that I’ve seen, I know that he has good relationships with and takes advice from people at different levels of seniority within the company. I don’t know how that translates in terms of the actual structure. So whether it’s remunerated based on, you know, your level, etc., if there’s big changes or differences there. But yeah, be interesting to find out.
Manda: I’m remembering something that I think was on your podcast, which was a games company in Iceland that had such a horizontal structure that when a group of people who had been working on a particular game all went off for a day in the sauna. Having realised that they weren’t really enjoying themselves, and it’s Iceland so you sit in the side and you go, you know, this is…we’re just not having fun. And if we’re not having fun, then the game probably isn’t going to be fun. Hey, guys, we just need to cancel the game. And the boss is having a day off because, hey, that’s what you do. And they don’t even have to tell the boss they just announce on their slack to everybody else. Our project is cancelled. You know, we’re basically free. If you want something else, we’ll go and play with you. And everybody’s cool with that. Which,part of me is going, ‘Yeah, of course they’re cool with that. Why would you do anything different?’ And then a part of me is remembering my brief period in a computer games company thinking, No, that would not have been cool. That would not have gone down well with the boss at all.
Nathalie: And that was David Rowan who wrote about it in his book, which is called Non Bullshit Innovation, and he was looking at companies that have a high level of psychological safety and good relationships between the different people who work there, from the bosses to the people who are running the teams, to the people in the teams. And how when you have that and you have a very clear mission, you’re able to make much more rapid decisions when you’re at that crunch point and you think, okay, well, if there is the question of sunk costs – so we’ve sunk lots of time, energy and effort into a specific project – If you know that you’ve sunk that cost into a project and it ceases to be able to get you closer to your goal, you can quite readily see it and then make that call and cancel the project. So it kind of, it looks at those sorts of elements as well. So psychological safety being a really key.
Manda: Psychological safety. So let’s talk about psychological safety, because most of the people that I interview in this podcast are in levels of what Eva Bishop called Pre TSD. As in we’re expecting the trauma of climate and ecological collapse and social collapse and cultural collapse and political collapse right around the corner. And we basically, if we’re losing sleep, it’s over that. To be in a position of psychological safety seems to me where we all want to head. That in the end, we want to wake up in the morning and have that leap out of bed going ‘I don’t know what the day holds, but it’s going to be utterly amazing and the world will be a better place by the end of it’. That is our joint and collective endpoint. It’s just that we all head for it slightly differently. So how do companies create psychological safety within the workplace?
Nathalie: Great question. So the first thing to say is that there are different meanings of psychological safety in different contexts. So what you just described, which is absolutely glorious, is waking up and feeling psychologically safe within your environment, to be able to take risks, to be able to dream, to be able to imagine. Which is wonderful. Within a business context, in order to give people that same sense of freedom to be able to take risks and speak up, psychological safety within a business sphere is about the ability to voice your concerns or your ideas or your queries or challenges, and know that you’re not going to be reprimanded. You’re not going to suffer negative consequences to being promoted, for instance, you’re not going to get ostracised. So it’s about not being penalised for voicing whatever it is that you want to voice in a respectful manner. So it looks at team dynamics specifically. So we know that in order to have a relationship with another person, for it to flourish there has to be trust. When you expand that into a multi person dynamic, when we’re talking about teams, you have to have a sort of a stronger cooperative sense of trust, which then gives rise to psychological safety. So it’s about saying things like and making sure you enact upon things like, we need to hear from you. What is your opinion on this? We need to make sure that everyone has a voice so that we can make better decisions.
Nathalie: So that’s what we mean when we talk about psychological safety within physical business and virtual business context. So then in order to do that, you have to be quite intentional, right? Because especially within groups, where our desire to fit within a group to retain our membership, especially if it’s got money attached, promotions attached, status, etc. Our desire to conform can be very high because our fear of being rejected is also high. So then you’re talking about in order to create an environment where people don’t fear being rejected, you have to create a sense of belonging. So it’s about making sure that you value, for instance, the learning that you get when there is a fallout. Or someone embarks upon a project which subsequently fails. So it’s about looking at how do you create an environment which frames failure or conflict in a positive way, that creates a container that supports constructive feedback and conflict, and that looks at failure in a longer arc rather than the short, very capitalistic frame of, well, if we’re not making changes now that lead to immediate returns, then you know, we’re not moving in the right direction. So it’s also about changing the mindset and looking at a longer arc of results, et cetera. Just some of the elements.
Manda: Yes. So the key to this working, it seems to me, is having your group of people, your team, a tribe functioning with a really quite high degree of emotional intelligence. And I’m remembering back to a podcast I did with Rachel Lilly ages ago, and she was involved in the Welsh Government and she had to go in and talk to their civil servants and I guess, trying to create a space of psychological safety. And offline when we weren’t recording, sadly, she told me the story of the guy whose nickname was the Rottweiler. Because his self-belief of what his job was, was to go into any team, look at what they were doing that was not the way he would have done it and then scream at people until they did it the way he would do it. And this was his management technique, and he was utterly of the belief that this is what management required. And she did the work that she did, and he came to her afterwards and said, I had no idea that you could listen to other people and hear their point of view and that what they’re doing might be the best way to do things. And he had completely transformed, which is utterly amazing and lovely, and is probably one of the many reasons that Wales is becoming quite a regenerative place. And part of the well-being alliance team. So do companies, in your experience, who want to create this psychological safety, bring in people to help their teams get to a point where they can do this, and it works? And it isn’t just box ticking. Because I noticed you said, you have to say you’re going to do this and you have to carry it out. And I’m even then imagining it quite possible to have conversations with people, that still feel like a box ticking exercise, where they’re going through the motions but they don’t really get it. Is this coming more alive in business now? Hmm.
Nathalie: So a few things to point out there. So the the model of leadership that you just described from the Rottweiler was what some people talk about as heroic leadership. Not because it’s heroic in the sense of achieving great, great things, which sometimes it does. Arguably most times it doesn’t. But because it relates to an individual being the one who’s making the decisions, calling the shots. They’re authoritative, dominant, power over kind of model, there’s very little collaboration. You’ve got one captain to the ship and screw everyone else. That’s kind of… I mean, I’m painting a bit of a bleak way, but that’s kind of
Manda: No, that’s what it sounds like. And a lot of people, I think, experience that at work. And it’s horrible.
Nathalie: Yeah. And it’s not just at the top of the organisation. You get it at the top of teams, et cetera, at various different levels within an organisational structure. What we need more of, which I had a lot of interesting examples in in the interviewees that I spoke with for the book, is examples of transformational leadership. So this is more of a kind of a flatter hierarchy type of model. It’s more collaborative. It’s where, for instance, instead of shouting commands at people, I like to think of it as an orchestra with a conductor who’s very attuned to what the people within the orchestra need to do in order to flourish as a group. When to allow certain ones to sing, when to bring it down. And it’s just kind of bringing out the potential in everyone in a way that is harmonious and aligned towards a particular goal. And so in order to have that kind of environment in leadership, you also have to think about what would it look like? And so one of the people I interviewed, Amy C. Edmondson, who’s one of the leading researchers and professors and writers and thinkers in this area on psychological safety. She was talking about its importance in terms of making differences discussable, which she described as a cultivatable skill that starts with curiosity.
Nathalie: So we’re reminded that we should be interested in one another, having an orientation towards collaboration. So being able to approach each other across a boundary, whether that’s a boundary of nation, of function, expertise. Whether it’s in-group, outgroup, across the lines of any number of things that you can think about identity, for instance. And so she talks about how with curiosity in a sense of the person on the other side of this boundary, is a treasure. They have value. They have something to bring to the table. They have something that you don’t have. If you cultivate that awareness, it allows you to take those risks and step into unfamiliar territory that may be very uncomfortable. But with that mindset of curiosity to find out what the gems are. And I think that in particular is so important when we’re thinking about all of the different ways in which discussion of difference is shutting down in society. And how actually really what we need right now is all the difference we can get in conversation; respectfully, robustly, so that we can come out with better solutions. So that, I think is absolutely key.
Manda: Right, Yes. So you don’t want a cancel culture within your company and you don’t want to cancel culture within your civilisation because otherwise you just marginalise people who might have something astonishing to bring to the table.
Manda: And so if we’re bringing out the potential in everyone, this then means that we’re beginning to head to businesses where it is in alignment with somebody’s best potential. I have met so many people who go to work to earn the money, to be able to do what they actually want to do. And my assumption is that as they’re doing that, they’re probably not bringing the best of themselves to the job, because fundamentally they hate it. And so in an ideal world, I’m imagining, in the businesses of the future, which is where we’re heading, you have people who are doing jobs that they love. First of all, is that true? And then second, how do people work that out, do you think? And how do companies work out what it is to bring out the best potential? And do you find a huge turnover? I remember a friend of mine who’s an editor in a publishing company. He was given a training in life coaching, and she said everyone I coached leaves the company. Either you’re a really, really good coach and actually they all hate their jobs, which is entirely possible. Or maybe you need not to be coaching, but I don’t know which it is. So how do we get to having the right people in the right jobs, when a lot of people seem to be like rabbits in the headlights at the moment and they just don’t know what to do to get to a future that’s going to be worthwhile.
Nathalie: Well, I think what’s really fascinating is that we’re seeing a lot of people, especially in the states, but also in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, leaving their jobs. You know, people talk about the Great Reset, the Great Resignation and all these buzzwords that have become quite tired phrases.
Manda: Oh really? Is that happening just now?
Nathalie: Yeah. In the last year in particular, it’s, you know, lots of people are leaving their jobs in droves. And it’s become a market within which ‘the talent’, people who are employees, are in a greater position of power because they can call the shots a bit more on the one hand. On the other hand, because of increased ability to telecommute or to basically work from home, people can be recruited from anywhere in the world. So there’s these interesting dynamics happening in the world of work, that have completely upended what it means to be either seeking work or looking for someone to fill a role. So there’s that question. I think a lot of people are considering now more than ever, whether what they do has a positive impact in the world in general. And that can either mean going and completely transforming what you do; so quitting your job and doing something that’s much more closely aligned on a day to day basis with creating the change that you want. So maybe you quit your job and you go and work on a farm that’s involved in regenerative agriculture. Fine, not everyone’s going to do that. Or it can mean taking a pay cut and working for a company, for instance in software design. But it’s a company that has a very sustainable ethos that has an infrastructure which is very green, or whatever it might be. So it’s about weighing up these different needs, drives and motivations. So how do I do something which is closely aligned with my values, that has a positive impact in the world, where I do make good money, where I’m intellectually stimulated, where I have a sense of belonging and team camaraderie, or I have a sense of flexibility or, as I don’t know, a working mom I have flexible time. Or as a woman who’s undergoing the menopause, she has support in the way that she needs it. Which is another topic which is very invisible, but again now it’s starting to be made more visible. So it’s a question of finding a balance that works for you. And then when you think about ways in which we can change existing organisations… So one of the people I interviewed for the book, Scott Barry Kaufman, who runs a psychology podcast and he’s a humanistic psychologist and an author. He was talking about how we are constantly, many of us, not all of us, in the process of seeking greater self-actualisation. So this process, which is kind of like a North Star goal that we don’t achieve, but hopefully we move towards when we make decisions that feel conducive to our growth.
Nathalie: So getting outside of your comfort zone, making sure that you’re following your values, thinking about a larger purpose than just your own purpose. Which also comes in later parts of life. I remember in my 20s I was super ambitious and I wasn’t quite as interested in the values being at the very top. They were close up there, but they weren’t my priority. My priority was how do I get a foothold in, build a reputation, and then I have the freedom to pursue my art, my music, pro-social stuff, whatever it is, ecological stuff. So it’s also linked to stage in life. And then when it comes to the workplace, Maslow, upon whose work a lot of Scott Barry Kaufman’s is based, talked about Eupsychian Management, which is about this idea of management, where we’re moving towards an ultimate form of mysticism or a fusion with the world, or peak experience with cosmic consciousness and a yearning for truth, beauty, justice and perfection. So like you know, these thinkers have been thinking about this. So how can we help people to feel as though they are growing towards the fullest potential of who they, are while doing jobs that they have to do in order to make money within the current systems? But also finding that intrinsic fulfilment and a larger purpose to the activities they’re engaging in on a day to day basis. Those are kind of the core questions, I think.
Manda: So it feels like what that is doing, if it’s possible, is bringing work back around to being a part of life because it seems to me that for almost all of human Evolution, there wasn’t a work life schism. We were hunter foragers and/or forage hunters, and most of the time we’d be picking berries. And once in a while somebody would go off and kill something and bring it back, and we’d then have all the business of turning it into something long lasting. And we held ritual and ceremony at every available opportunity and basically partied together, and life was a continuum. And it’s only really since the Enclosures and the forcing of people off the Land that that continuum was very deliberately and very forcibly broken. And that what I’m hearing, if I’m hearing correctly, is people striving to recreate that continuum, but doing it within a system that is still inherently free market capital. That’s still about creating stuff for people to buy in order to make money, in order to keep the system going. And there has to be, I think, and this is a question, a breakpoint. Because while that system continues, then there has to be someone making the money to buy the stuff to keep them happy. Because they’re not getting the eudaimonic versus hedmonic balance right. Can we unpick that a little bit, it feels it’s quite a complex concept. But first of all, am I right that people are trying to get back to there being no schism? If we get there, how does a system continue that is predicated on that separation existing?
Nathalie: So, oh, you ask all the good questions! Ok, so let’s unpick that a bit. So if we’re thinking about the drive towards happiness, which is when we talk about eudaimonia and hedonism. So eudaimonia is more of a meaning-oriented state of happiness. So it’s about having a sense of the good life, of integrity, of flourishing, of being able to grow and find fulfilment at a deeper level. So hedonic, or what we might know as hedonistic pleasure and happiness, is the much more short term quick rewards, quite fleeting happiness that you get through sensory gratification. So whether it’s the quick fix of chocolate or the crazy sex that you just had. Or you know, you get a promotion, whatever it is. It’s these short lasting bursts of happiness that are quite fleeting and they don’t satisfy us at a deep level, but they are fun and there’s nothing wrong with it. And I think what’s interesting is that obviously humans are really deeply complex and at least in my own life, I often notice how I can either have a tug of war going on between the eudaimonic versus the hedonistic. I want to eat the chocolate. I want to do something that’s fun. But actually, I know that if I don’t distract myself, I can sink into deeper work, which might be more effortful, but it gives me a deeper sense of fulfilment. By writing the book, by reading whatever article I have to read.
Nathalie: So it’s kind of that tug of war between the two. But I also see in certain instances that there can be an an overlaying of the two, where they work in harmony together. So it could be that if I’m going to go out and buy a beautiful new coat, for instance, that I need. I will save up and get a high quality coat from Patagonia or North Face, which is way more expensive, but it lasts much, much longer. So I get that pleasure of purchasing something beautiful, but also, eudaimonically it gives me a sense of contributing towards something that I think is meaningful. So, yes, I’m consuming, but I’m doing it in a way that is more sustainable, that I know I can repair the thing later. So I think when we’re thinking about the existing systems and the internal conflict we can experience to meet these sometimes warring needs. It can be helpful to think, are there times where these two needs can overlay and we can meet both of them? And I think the answer is yes. And where the answer is no, how can we change the environment or systems and platforms, to not make it overly tempting to go down that route of immediate gratification and hedonistic pleasure, where actually erodes and undermines the more eudaimonic aspect of creating meaning, having fulfilment, feeling like we’re contributing something that’s bigger than ourselves. So it’s quite multi-layered.
Manda: Yeah. And and I’m hearing you about the little dopamine hits, even if it’s just ‘likes’ on Facebook, back in the day when we did Facebook. It’s that little dopamine hit. You know, we are hardwired to want it. But then we also want the kind of longer, slower serotonin stuff that comes from pride in respect from people that we came to respect and essentially in pride in a job well done. So I’m still kind of wanting to chisel into this world that we created, where work and life are separate. And I’m hearing that there are companies who are trying to create within the company a sense of being and belonging, which is what we’re looking for in our greater systems. And I am also aware of some people for whom work was their being in belonging in their tribe, and they’d come home to a kind of cold relationship that only survived because they didn’t actually have to be in each other’s company for very long. And those are the ones that that were completely destroyed by COVID and people being at home and discovering they really didn’t like each other. So in that kind of crazy world, are you seeing, as we move into 2022, people and businesses being able to create a more holistic context, where the work/life division is less? And where the the eudaimonic being and belonging, that sense of mystical endeavour that you were talking about, are happening in business and creating a sense of a world beyond the business, without the boundaries. Is that a clear question? It doesn’t feel very clear.
Nathalie: Hmm. No, it is clear. I think it’s just complex, because it touches on so many different elements. So I try to think about these examples in terms of businesses that I know. So one example that I really like, but it’s very local to me, but maybe it serves as a good story. So these two chaps, Hans and Pedro, who work around the back of my house, my flat and they have this little shop that sells organic fruit and veg and vegetarian stuff. And they used to work in the hospitality industry. They worked at one of the big five star hotels in Barcelona, and they were paid really poorly. They were treated badly. They were given extra shifts to work and not paid. It was just awful. And as anyone who has worked in hospitality will probably know, it’s a very demanding job and you’re not generally valued very well, very highly, which is crazy. So they decided eventually to leave. They were working with chefs and they set up their own shop, which is now at the back of my house. And during the pandemic, at the beginning, I started realising that – I was already shopping in independent shops – but I started realising if I don’t buy really locally, these shops are going to close. So I basically swore off all the supermarkets, apart from when it comes to like buying tins of beans or something. So I swore off the supermarkets and I started buying there two or three times a week. We struck up a relationship with these two chaps and realised through conversations with them, the story of why they’d left, why they set up this shop and how they had strong connections, meaningful connections with people who are small farm holders who then bring their products in. Everything is seasonal. And how actually, when you scratch beneath the surface, they were in relationship with people that they would see every week. They had local people who live in the specific barrio where I live that would come in and buy from them, that would interact with them. And it was this really simple example, that maybe harks back to a more traditional time where you would have your high street, where you had all of the stuff that you just described. You had meaning, community, connection with the Land connection with the people that you buy from directly. No middlemen, provenance of the resources, what have you. All of that was present in high streets back when people sourced their products and communities locally, and that’s starting to return now. And so I think it’s very easy to kind of look for these big examples, and I’m sure they are starting to exist. But actually, we see it throughout patchworks of cities and throughout Barcelona as well as many others. You see it on a tiny level of these sort of seeds of change, which are alive and thriving and well and have weathered the storm of all the lockdowns. So I think there’s a lot of cause for optimism in seeing these big ideas played out in tiny places.
Manda: Okay. And maybe if a lot of people are beginning to leave their jobs and do exactly this; start creating the small businesses that have meaning for them. Then the people left behind in the other jobs also then are able to require better circumstances in their businesses. Because we get to a point where the businesses are not able to just hire whoever will take the lowest wage. Yeah, it would be great. So we’re heading towards the end of our time. I am thinking back to the most recent podcast of The Hive with John Featherby and him talking about things that five years ago were just not on the radar and now everybody pretends they are. That they go through a phase, I loved his wording, of Social Permission and then Social Acceptance and then Social Expectation. And that was recorded a while ago. And I’m wondering, as we close, whether you’ve come across other examples of things that are going through that change? He was talking about businesses having to create a sense of meaning in their employees. And so, what is the leading edge of the wave now, that’s getting to the social permissions stage and will be getting to the social expectation stage, presumably quite fast? I’m guessing that cycle is probably moving faster at each iteration. Is there anything that arises there?
Nathalie: Yes. I think some things that are becoming more spoken about, so more visible. So you mentioned about some of these unusual, to us, things. Like talking about menopause and the health and mental wellbeing impacts of that that are largely visible. Because women generally, you know, our medical priorities are not well served by the current establishments in the ways that we get there. So that’s something that’s super interesting and quite potentially contentious that now is being discussed more. Ability. If you’re able bodied or not able bodied, being able to actually work… I was having this conversation with the other day… work from home and not have a stigma attached because you’re using a cane, or perhaps another friend of mine who was running a conference, you’re pregnant. And you can only see the face in the Zoom window, so actually you don’t know. So there’s the possibility for…it doesn’t fix the problem, but I think it has created a behavioural or expectation shift where people have tasted the freedom of what it means to be able to relate more freely with other people. Or, for instance, another example that I love; someone who was telling me they have autism and they were telling me that it was much more comfortable for them to not be physically in a room present with someone and have to maintain eye contact. And on a Zoom meeting, it’s much easier to voice ideas without having that additional discomfort and pressure. So all of these different ways in which people have been supported and facilitated in the interim through technology, has given rise to an environment in which I think it’s more possible to discuss what different people’s needs are and to be able to talk about it frankly and say, Well, actually maybe our current physical offices are not fit for purpose. And we need to be able to make them more supportive of people with all of our varying needs and necessities.
Nathalie: So I think that’s one area. Issues around transparency and trust. So provenance of where goods come from, where services come from. Using blockchain technology to be able to track the passage of a specific item from the point in which – we’re talking about sheets, let’s say – the cotton is collected all the way until it’s packaged and brought to your doorstep. Talking about transparency in that way, people are expecting that. Talking about social justice issues, of being able to feel safe and not harassed for any reason at work. Talking about being supported in perhaps more personal ways. So I know at Ulever they have a system where they give people support to flourish in skills that are not directly related to the workplace, but they give them a sense of agency and growth. So we’re thinking about it in all these different kinds of ways. And I think that has been accelerated by the pandemic. And the changes we need to make, to make the most of these revelations, require intelligent, intentional consideration, dialogue with the people who are most affected and then participating and collaboration into coming up with solutions. All of those things, I think there’s a lot to take on, but I think if we start to address these things bit by bit, and we’re clear about where we are in the journey towards making workplaces and businesses much better places for everyone to work in, then, you know, we can move in the direction where at some point we’ve worked hard enough to make that a reality.
Manda: Given everything that we’ve said, which I have to say sounds really encouraging. I’m not seeing business as the monster that I was. And government’s definitely too slow. Are you seeing signs that businesses are influencing the overall trajectory of the systemic changes that we need, in ways that government could do, but isn’t?
Nathalie: Yeah. So I’ll give some examples. So on Instagram, which is obviously a massively commercial platform. Based on your interests, you get obviously fed adverts that are aligned with your past behaviours. And one thing that I find really interesting, if you look at, for instance, the financial technology space, there are now loads of green fintech companies that print cards while they print information on cards that are wood. They’re not plastic. They plant trees with transactions. They have much greener infrastructures. You know, this is in the financial space. I’m also getting adverts for Kavalier, which is like a an underwear provider, and they use models with all kinds of body colours, shapes, levels of ability for men, for women in between the genders, across the full spectrum of physical expression, which I find very exciting. And so you’re seeing these kinds of cultural or societal shifts reflected back by many companies. Maybe often smaller companies that can take the risks. And I think seeing that these companies, many of them are thriving, then gives pause for thought for larger companies to go, ‘Oh, well, hang on. If they’re attracting a lot of these young consumers, they’re biting into our potential market. We need to make adjustments accordingly’. And then they need to take the risks.
Manda: Yeah, OK. Yeah. To that, I just want one last thing. Just because this is very key to us now. Is five farms around here have been bought up recently by companies that are going to plant Sitka Spruce as close together as it will possibly go. This is basically factory farming trees. And there has work been done that more carbon is released in ploughing the land to plant the trees, than the trees will ever sequester. And yet, those companies are going to be able to say ‘we’re planting trees’
Manda: So taking farmland out of food production that could be made regenerative, that could be sequestering carbon, helping with water flows, creating biodiversity, and they’re creating carbon monocultures that are actually not sequestering more carbon than they were doing. How do we get that out there? Because I think they probably think they’re doing a really good thing. They’ve said to somebody, ‘Oh God, we need to plant trees’. Company A has come along and went ‘we’ll plant trees for you. Give us the money’. And this is what they’re doing.
Nathalie: Hmm. Ticking the box. Yes. Well, I think as with everything, you know, there’s a cynical perspective, which is just we’ve ticked the box and that’s it. There’s the less cynical perspective, which is we know this is important. We need to do something. Company comes along and says we can do it for you. Ok, great. That’s done. And we’re doing something good for the world. But as with a lot of these movements, a lot of it comes down to education. So for people understanding that actually monocultures are part of the problem. And then also being able to name these case studies, fight against them and change the public discourse, so that we know that actually there are alternative ways that are much better. So I remember a while ago, I think it was Rewild Britain, I think, that were trying to rewild vast tracts of land, which is great in principle, brilliant in principle. And there was, if I remember correctly, these two people who were trying to create, they submitted plans for a permaculture plot. And they’d basically been taken down. They were saying, No, you can’t do this, we need to rewild anything. And they said, Well, no, what are you talking about? This actually will increase yields. It will increase biodiversity, will put soil quality back to levels that you know, from before it was degraded. And in the end, they had the conversation and they were able to continue. So it’s that. It’s also the fighting for a better vision of what’s possible by giving people an example of a different way forward. And so I think now is the time for more of those conversations. And they are happening and they’re making news headlines in certain areas. So there is absolutely hope.
Manda: Yes. And if anybody has a business out there and wants to do stuff, then I would say, for me, one of the obvious things to do is to buy up the farms and then give them to the ecological Land trust, who will bring in the young people who are desperate to work with the land and on the Land. And who have the skills and have the knowledge and have the training to create regenerative farms. And that that’s going to be in its own way, a far better way. And then we also have bringing people back to the Land and common ownership, which are two things we need. So if anyone from Unilever is listening to this, in the very unlikely event and you want to put money into good stuff, that’s the good stuff. I use Unilever as a generality. What did you say? Sorry, I spoke over you…
Nathalie: It’s a good call and they do a lot of good stuff. So if there’s any company that could do it, they should.
Manda: Is there anything that you wanted to say as a last Hurrah for business that we could take away?
Nathalie: Oh, actually, there is a resource I’d like to point people towards, if that’s all right.
Manda: Go for it.
Nathalie: Yeah. So one of the things I was looking at in the book was values and how they shape behaviours, but they’re often implicit and intangible. So I created a free tool you can use based on Schwartz’s basic theory of human values, which is thevaluesmap.com, which is a platform I created in collaboration with Dr Kiki Leitner of Goldsmiths University. And it’s a 40 point questionnaire. You fill it out and it will tell you what your values as a business or organisation are and how to enact them more fruitfully throughout your brand; Your structure, your mission statement, your marketing. So if you want to have a practical, tangible output and guidance on what to do next with values in business, check that out. We put a lot of work into it and made it free so you can try it. So, yeah, check that out and then check out the book. If you want to check out the Book.
Manda: I will put a link in the show notes. Definitely. Yes.
Nathalie: Yes. And the B-Corps. Definitely check out the B-Corps.
Manda: Yay, and I’ve just found the values map. Link will be going to that in the show notes also. So there we go. Thank you, Natalie, so much for coming on to Accidental Gods. It’s always so interesting and inspiring to talk to you.
Nathalie: Such a pleasure.
Manda: Yay. We’ll do it again sometime. Thank you. And that’s it for another week. Enormous thanks to Natalie for writing her book in the first place. And then for being so generous with all of the insights that it brings. I do genuinely feel more hopeful about the possibility of business affecting change than I do about our current political system. And at some point in the fairly near future, we will be talking to people about how we might change that political system to one that actually works, perhaps in harmony with regenerative business. In the meantime, however, I will put links to her book and to the values map and to B-Corps in the show notes, which you will find on the website at accidentalgods.life.
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