Developing Authentic Businesses and Sustainable Leadership – Maria and I discuss Holonomics with Olivia Parr-Rud

Maria and I had a great time last week discussing Holonomics with Olivia Parr-Rud, host of Quantum Business Insights, a show which is broadcast each Friday at 12 noon Eastern Time on VoiceAmerica, the number one internet radio channel in the US.

Quantum Business Insights

The show goes out this week, Friday 28th August (5pm UK time), and there will also be a podcast for those who are not able to listen in live:

Listen and download the podcast: Holonomics on Quantum Business Insights

Back in May when we first appeared on the show, we introduced Holonomics as our book had just launched, discussing its relevance to strategy, organizational design, change management, innovation, sustainability, human resources, brand management, and communication (listen here).

In this second show we were able to explore a little deeper the inspiration behind the dynamic concept of wholeness in Holonomics, which is of course the philosophy of wholeness conceived by Henri Bortoft, who in the 1960s studied the problem of wholeness in quantum systems under David Bohm.

In the second segment of the show we discuss how to give people in business an experiential sense and intuition of the dynamics of wholeness, and so Maria explains two of our techniques – modelling blindfold with clay and her meditation on starlings.

Human Values

In the final section of the show we explore the role of universal human values in organisations. This was a great dialogue with Olivia, and we discuss how human values provide the ultimate foundation not just for resilient and sustainable businesses, but also for agile processes, since when human values are present, very little bureaucracy is required.

We hope you enjoy the show, and do please check out the podcast if you are not able to listen in live.


Holonomics: A Holistic View of Our Economy with Simon and Maria Moraes Robinson

Holonomics: Developing Authentic Businesses and Sustainable Leadership with Simon and Maria Moraes Robinson

A introdução da sustentabilidade na estratégia das organizações


Valores Humanos

O painel do Strategy Execution Summit apresentará empresas que ganharam o conceituado Prêmio Eco da Amcham, e entender como elas atuam na prática de acordo com seus princípios norteando todas as esferas de sua atuação.

O Painel terá a presença de:

  • Denise Lana Molina – Schneider Electric
  • Daniela Rodrigues Alves – Tetra Pak
  • Daniela Hollo Aiach – AMCHAM

Strategy Execution Summit 2014

The 3 most important old-school business skills in the new economy

This article has been on my mind for some weeks, and so I thought I would just jot down some thoughts with a view to provoking some ideas in you all.

Credit: VCU Arts Creative Disruption Lab

Credit: VCU Arts Creative Disruption Lab

I have a background in user experience design, product marketing and business development. I have had the great luck in my career to be involved in some very cutting edge products and services, such as the launch of the Nokia 9000 communicator, the first location-based service in the UK – Traffic Master on BT Cellnet, Barclaycard’s first mobile phone with – gasp – a smart menu, Genie Internet and countless others.

The Barclaycard BT Cellnet phone

The Barclaycard BT Cellnet phone

In this era there was no such thing as design thinking, business model canvasses, disruption and all these kinds of thing. But my gosh we had innovation in spades. We kind of just got and did innovation.

What has changed, and what is great to see, is such a growing understanding of issues relating to sustainability.

BT Cellnet had no concept of sustainability for example in the 90s, and yet now, O2 (the new name of BT Cellnet), just to cite one example, is doing excellent work, with many other networks, handset manufacturers and innovators such as Dave Hakkens all envisioning a new generation of eco-friendly mobile technology.

Credit: Dave Hakkens

Credit: Dave Hakkens

As some of you will know, I have actually reviewed Business Model Canvas. It took me a while to decide if it was too simple to be truly useful, or if the visual codification of the value proposition was actually groundbreaking, and in the end I decided that the canvass really is helping people develop a better understanding of their propositions, and is helping communicate this across whole teams and organisations.

There is a BUT and it is quite a big BUT. It doesn’t matter how good the canvass or tool is, and it does not matter how revolutionary your idea is, if you are still lacking basic business, even in the new economy, things are not going to run smoothly. So what are the top three business skills we still need, and why are they important?

1) Business Development

It seems that Business Development is a role no one wants to talk about nowadays. It’s all about the word Design, which is so much sexier than plain old Business Development. But the truth is, the new economy is all about relationships, and no matter how visionary you are, you are going to really need these networking skills. Whereas a lot of business development used to be done on the golf course, I can see many organisations looking to have more women enter this role, as we move from vertical value chains to authentic ecosystems.

2) Product marketing

A massive problem in many organisations is still a bunker mentality. Product managers still have a monumental role to play in the management of the whole product life-cycle, and organisations really need to recognise the difference operationally a good product manager can make.

Credit: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Credit: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

What does change in the new economy is the shift to the circular flow of materials, both organic and technological. The old skills are still vital, it’s just the life-cycle which changes, from one where old products are thrown away as waste, to a new cycle where old products are recycled back with near-zero waste.

3) Business Cases

A business canvas with pretty coloured post it notes is one thing. But no matter how pretty the canvas, the proposition still requires a business case and this is no easy thing to write. At BT Cellnet I was just one member of a huge team making contributions to the business case for the purchase of 3G licenses, but most of you will probably not be involved in this level of business case. But the necessity is still the same, no matter what your project and even if it relates to sustainability.

In the new economy, there will still be investors and they will still be looking for a return on their investment. The nature of money may be different, with bit coin and the like, but what changes is not the necessity for old school measures such as return on investment, but the level of consciousness of the people making the investment.

Money is not evil. The concept of exchange of value is amazing. It is your own attitude and feelings towards money that will matter in the new economy, and if you practice universal human values.

In the new economy, we have to understand that the world is more complex, so writing business cases that have a ten year span are going to be less meaningful, as we cannot predict that far into the future. In case you are asking, yes, I have written business cases that go this far out.

Human Values

What changes is our ability to continually make sense of the new reality, and the ability to pivot, self-disrupt, innovate and be agile. If we can achieve all of this, while practicing the human values of peace, truth, love, non-violence and right action, then no matter how choppy our seas become, we will prosper, grow (in all the right ways) and make this world a better place. Just don’t throw out those old school business skills which you know, are still quite useful.

This 12 year old Brazilian won a major international fencing match. There is definitely no way you will guess what happened next.

Guilherme Murray

Guilherme Murray

This is 12-year old Brazilian Guilherme Murray. He was playing in the Panamerican fencing championships in a class two years above his own age.

He won his game in the final 16 after the referee judged him to have won.

But he was eliminated.

At his request.

Realising that he had been awarded a point by the referee when in fact he had not touched his opponent, he asked the referee to take away his point, and so he was eliminated. He could have been in the top 8 but declined due to his honesty, character and absolute epitome of sporting behaviour.

He left the championships defeated, but here in the Spanish and Portuguese press, he is an absolute champion of which Brazil can be proud.

We need to educate our children in human values, and we need to celebrate such gracious ethical behaviour as Guilherme, who is a fantastic role model not just for his fellow Brazilians, but for all of us.

Guilherme, I doff my hat to you. Well done my friend, may you have much sporting success in the future.

Human Values

According to the Indian programme ‘Education in Human Values’​ created by educator Sathya Sai Baba, the great aim of education is the development of character. At the heart of the programme are five human values which are instilled in all students. These are love, peace, righteousness, truth and non-violence.

Human Values

The Great Wave off Kanagawa, by Hokusai. Source: Wikipedia

I thought I would share this short quote from our book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter. In turbulent and chaotic times, and times when an organisation is experiencing a bifurcation – a rapid transition from one state to another – the practising of human values is essential:

An education devoid of values results in the loss of the ability to see connections and the dynamic relationship between the parts and the whole. Introducing human values such as love, peace, righteousness, truth and non-violence into education develops exactly what Sergio has stressed – not just intelligence, but also wisdom. The Indian programme ‘Education in Human Values’​ was created with the explicit intention of producing future leaders who would receive an education infused with these values. We can refer to this as a form of ‘holonomic education’, one which prepares the individual not only for financial independence, which enables a dignified life, but also for a life of better choices, greater happiness and harmony. If we do not have this on a personal level, we will never have it at the social level – of households, organisations and society.

Simon Robinson and Maria Moraes Robinson – Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter

Universal human values form the ethical and spiritual foundation of an organisation, allowing people to connect, communicate and work together in teams in order to achieve common goals. Authentic dialogue becomes possible, allowing the whole to overcome not just complex but wicked problems.

Film Review: The Pilgrimage – The Best Story of Paulo Coelho

Não Pare Na PistaThis weekend Maria and I went to see the recently released “Não Pare na Pista: A Melhor História de Paulo Coelho” the film biopic of Brazilian author Paulo Coelho. This translates as “Don’t Stop on the Track” with the film’s full English title becoming “The Pilgrimage – The Best Story of Paulo Coelho”.

I am sure Coelho needs little introduction as the author of The Alchemist, selling over 165 million books (all titles). Coelho is the only author in the world to be more translated than Shakespeare,  and has won numerous literacy awards around the world.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

It is interesting that Coelho appears to have a much lower profile here in Brazil than his global success would suggest he warrants, and as I could not find many English-language reviews, I thought I would offer a few thoughts on what turned out to be an excellent portrayal of his incredibly intense teenage and early adult years.

The film is not a linear progression of Coelho’s life. It weaves a number of narrative threads through three periods of his life – his late teenage years, his late twenties and thirties, and his life as it is now. The younger Coelho is convincingly played by Ravel Andrade, with both the adult and old Coelhos played by Júlio Andrade.

Ravel Andrade

Ravel Andrade

Guti Fraga

As a troublesome teenager, Coelho is incarcerated in a mental hospital where is he administered horrendous electric-shock treatment by Doctor Edgar Mutarelli, played by the very wonderful actor Guti Fraga, who Maria and I had the pleasure to meet in 2011 when he spoke at that year’s Strategy Execution Summit about his work teaching children to act in favelas in Rio de Janeiro. For all its glamour, Brazil is a tough country to live for many, and there must be hundreds of thousands of extremely moving stories yet to be told to the rest of the world here.

Coelho harbours a dream of being a writer, a dream that continues into his early twenties, an extremely strange period in the history of Brazil which saw both the start of the brutal dictatorial period, as well as a flourishing underground movement which unlike the loved-up psychedelic sixties of Britain, had a much more darker edge, with the disappearance, brutal beatings, torture and killings of thousands of young dissenters.

Ravel Andrade

Ravel Andrade

I thought that the transition from teenager to adult was fantastic, the director seguing the manic dancing of both Coelhos together, capturing the excitement of the freedom and energy of the young artist. As Coelho starts his alternative sci-fi managzine 2001, he meets singer Raul Seixas, played by Lucci Ferreira, himself a larger-than-life musician whose own biopic is also well worth watching if you are interested in Brazilian music of the 60s and 70s.

Júlio Andrade and Lucci Ferreira

One of the slightly queasy aspects of living in Brazil, especially as a Brit, is the fact that the consequences of the dictatorial period, being so recent, are still resonating in Brazilian society today. This connection of the present to the past really impacts on one key scene, where Coelho, like so many other musicians, artists and intellectuals were rounded up and imprisoned. I won’t spoil the film to say what happens next.

As  I mentioned before, the film cuts back and forth to the modern day, where Coelho and his wife Christina Oiticica, played by Fábiana Gugli, are in Spain for the launch of the 25th anniversary edition of The Alchemist. If there was one aspect of the film which didn’t work for me, it was the heavy prosthetics required to age Andrade, which kept knocking me out of the experience of the film somewhat.

Santiago de Compostela

That aside, director Daniel Augusto’s treatment of an older Coelho reflecting on his life, perhaps yearning for his more rebellious years, and rediscovering friends as he accidentally finds himself back on the road of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, the path of pilgrims which Coelho undertook in 1986 and which would lead to his own spiritual awakening and the inspiration for The Alchemist, was well-crafted and gives the film some inspiring textured emotional and philosophical layers.

I myself first read The Alchemist in 2005 as I flew to India where I would live for some months. At this time Coelho’s books were near omnipresent, although I myself knew little about the writer. It can be a slight shock to discover his alternative past, which not only was psychedelic but also included periods in which he took part in occult ceremonies, an aspect of Coelho’s life which the film does not run from or try to diminish.

For all its potential sensationalism his life offers, I felt that this was a sensitive and well-observed attempt at capturing the whole life of Coelho, a feat surely difficult to undertake if it is to be contained within a film of little under two hours.

Julio Andrade

Julio Andrade

It was interesting as there were a couple of groups of young teens at our showing, teens who were rudely being noisily boisterous despite shusshing and countless warnings from the cinema staff. I don’t know why they went, as I thought that it was maybe not so suitable for them, and to the relief of the rest of the audience, they left after around maybe half an hour or so. Maybe they thought the film would be full of sex and drugs, and while these are referenced, we never lose sight of the writing, the philosophy, the spirituality and the reflections of one of the most influential authors in the world.

You yourself may or may not be a fan of Coelho’s writing, but either way, this is a hugely enjoyable film, capturing every side of this complex thinker, spiritual guide and story teller. I don’t know if the film has been released outside of Brazil yet, but it really deserves to do well. Sensitively acted, beautifully portrayed, textured, profound and exciting, I can definitely recommend this to all of you.


Book Review – Hearing our Calling: Rethinking Work and the Workplace

Hearing Our Calling Gill CoombsWith an already extensive catalogue of non-fiction books covering Steiner-Waldorf education, biodynamics and organics, holistic health, philosophy of the natural world, mind body spirit, parenting and child health, philosophy of human life and religion & spirituality, in 2013 Floris Books made the decision to expand into business and economics. Starting this April with our own book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, the following month Floris then published Hearing our Calling from our good friend Gill Coombs, who like me studied Holistic Science at Schumacher College.

Hearing our Calling is an inspirational invitation to re-evaluate what is truly important and meaningful to us in our work. Gill shows how so many of us came to occupy predictable and homogenised roles, characterised as ‘busyness’ and not authentic business. Drawing on her many years of experience as a therapeutic counsellor, she provides real-life case studies across a range of sectors to show how we too can mobilise to create workplaces in harmony with nature and which support healthy communities.

Gill Coombs

Gill Coombs

The book starts with a look back at the history of work, enabling us to better understand both the current workplace today, and the impact on both ourselves and society. Having first examined what has gone wrong in modern economies, Gill then leads us towards an examination of what it means to have a vocation in life:

Vocation is something special. It’s our primary calling, and when we’re engaged in our vocational work it’s as if we are simply a tool or a conduit for what the universe is trying to do: be it writing a book, making a chair or singing a song. We can often hear our calling when we’re very young; we experiment with it through play. But as we pass through a long and rigid education system, our primary gifts can atrophy through lack of use and encouragement.

This notion of a calling is not static but dynamic:

We all have a calling: work which draws us, emerging through our history and our context. But it isn’t a fixed, unchanging vocation which we must identify and then make our way towards, and then having found it simply do it and be complete for the rest of our lives. We’re constantly evolving along with our context, physically and psychologically changing, and changed by, all we encounter. Each time this happens we are refined. We become more complex; we deepen and we grow. And so does our work.

I enjoyed reading about the many different people Gill has helped in her career, and I am sure that there will be much recognition from many of us who may recognise certain situations we have found ourselves in when working in particularly stressful or unfulfilling roles. In this example, Gill shows how the helped a sales director discover his sense of play:

Richard used to worry that during our coaching sessions, in which we were supposed to be talking about developing his leadership skills, he would often digress into completely unconnected topics such as radio comedy shows. To begin with, we found ways of disciplining and limiting these digressions. But as I became increasingly aware of their nature, it grew clear that the digressions were trying to take our coaching work somewhere important.

Yes, Richard agreed when I put it to him: he would love to be a comedy script writer. He’d fantasised about it lots of times, and developed little skits with friends. We explored the possibility of his seeking to develop his career in this direction, and he wrote a couple of scripts, but it didn’t feel to either of us like the right route.

We began to look at other possible outlets for his comedic talents. What eventually emerged was that he passionately wanted to influence the procedure-bound culture of the organisation of which he was a director, and could see no way of doing so – until we explored introducing the notion of play… and then he began to have ideas. His vocation ‘would out’, and made its presence clearly known during our sessions.

How Richard’s calling will evolve in the future, I don’t know. Through our work together he found an expression, a response, which felt right for that time in his life. I imagine there will be more twists and turns to his story. Calling is a process, rather than a distant goal.

Hearing Our Calling is an insightful treatise guiding us towards happier, more purposeful lives filled with generosity, spontaneity, creativity, connectedness and love. Looking to the future, Gill closes with a look at both the future of education and a new conceptualisation of the workplace.

A return to the values of the community and also more mature approaches to conflict play key roles in this vision, as do of course the design of healthier environments. Gill asks to imagine a society that asks of us not “can you find a job” but “what needs can you respond to?” and it is in answering this second question that we will find meaning, health and happiness in our work.

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