What’s the thread running through your organisation?

Every organisation we walk into feels different.

What it looks like – cared for or tired?, what’s on the walls – art or marketing slogans?

What it sounds like – the underlying level of hum, laughter, phones ringing.

How it responds to you – does it notice your arrival and make you feel welcome, or ignore you?

What it’s for – Do you get a sense of why it exists? Is it important?

There are many traditions that believe we have a soul, from faith communites, to the ancient wisdoms.

I have always found the Myth of Er in Plato’s Republic valuable to read every now and then as a means of reflecton.

Whether or not you choose to believe in a soul, I suggest it is a valuable thought experiment.

What if, At the moment of our birth, we receive a soul, to pass it on when we die ?

What if our job during life is to ensure we hand it on in better condition than we receive it?

What if we applied the same idea to our organisations? They are created for a reason, to meet a need in the world – whether for profit, or social purpose, or both. From the time it is created, to it’s inevitable demise, it makes a difference of some sort. Does it leave its employees, customers, communities and the world a better place, or not? Does it care? Does it even notice?

Is it a giver, a taker or a matcher?

It has always mattered, and now it is becoming ever more noticeable, and our organisations more accountable. The population in general, and the younger generation in partcular, notice.

There’s a thread.

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change. You have to explain about the thread. But it is hard for others to see. While you hold it you can’t get lost. Tragedies happen; people get hurt or die; and you suffer and get old. Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding. You don’t ever let go of the thread.

William Stafford

We can keep shareholders happy, make ourselves rich, maybe even famous – but what if we had as our most important metric the condition of the organisations soul? What if we pay attention to its thread?

I wonder what we would do different today?

Beyond the SME Hype

There’s a great piece of research just released by NESTA. In essence, it has four messages:

  1. Most startups were not particularly special from an economic point of view.
  2. Many good companies go out of business.
  3. Existing businesses were by far the biggest contributors to economic growth.
  4. The British economy became significantly worse at allocating resources to the best businesses over the period.

This ties in with other data. Including the fact that the best “high growth” businesses are not start ups – they are, on average, 18 years old.

I think it suggests a message; if you’re going to start a business doing what is already done, it’s a high risk. In the end, scale wins. You may have a better offer, a better service, even be better looking – in the end though, the slower, more boring, uglier businesses at scale are likely to get you.

If you’re going to start a business, launch something new, then make it NEW. The attrition rates may still be high – but if that worries, you probably shouldn’t be reading this. Go NEW – you’ll learn more, meet more interesting people, and have more fun. The risk of failure is not to be feared – it’s part of the price of doing NEW stuff, a part of the process, and recognising it early – before it becomes a problem – is a key element of good business model design.

We all have something inside us we want to make real. There has never been a better time to do it.