6 inspiring business audio books

A friend who’s not into reading asked me recently if I could recommend some great business audiobooks. Here’s a little list of some books I’ve enjoyed over the last year or two which are available as audio. Some famous ones and a few you might not have come across before. They’re all available as normal books too. Enjoy.

  1. Peak by Chip Conley. Really fun and inspiring book about creating amazing experiences for customers, employees and investors – this got me really buzzing with ideas for my own company: My review.
  2. The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin. How everyone is an artist, and can lift off their lid and be true to themselves.
  3. I Have a Dream by Rashmi Bansel. Brilliant stories about creating businesses that deliver real social good.
  4. The Go-giver by Bob Burg & John David Mann. Lovely little story about the power of giving as a way to success and happiness.
  5. Betterness by Umair Haque. Brilliant short book about the purpose of business. My review.
  6. Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. The inspiring story of Zappos – building a business based on happiness.

A simple, powerful way to create a collaborative workplace

Last week I visited the awesome Studiomates collaborative workspace in Brooklyn, New York. When you visit the space, you immediately notice the collaborative, friendly atmosphere so I asked how they go about cultivating that. Naturally they are selective about who they accept as studiomates, but once people are in, how do they get people collaborating?

A big part of the answer over there is simply eating lunch together every day. You don’t have to have a Google-style free gourmet canteen to do this. Just have a set time every day and encourage everyone to eat their lunch together. It’s as simple as that, but don’t under-estimate the power. Humans have been talking while they eat together for thousands of years. It’s a very natural way to find out what’s going on and who needs help as well as creating and strengthening relationships and having fun.

We’re starting this practice at The FuseBox today. How about doing this at your workplace?

Three free Brightoneers events and other updates from me

I’ve been very quiet on this blog lately, but there’s been loads going on so here’s an update from me.

The Brightoneers

The community of people working together to build a pioneering new economy in Brighton launched with a bang in January. 100 people came to the first event and we have the next three events lined up. All of them are free to attend and open to all. Just register using the links below.

12 Feb: Alternative currencies and smartcard pilot. Led by Good Money, we’ll be working together on moving towards a pilot of a smartcard system in Brighton that helps the local economy.

19 Feb: How can we use crowd funding to build a better economy? We have speakers covering the use of crowd funding for equity, rewards and lending, then time to break into groups to start making stuff happen.

5 March: The first Brightoneers film night: Shift Change – an awesome film about the power and potential of employee ownership – check out the trailer. I’m planning on making this a monthly event screening documentaries that will inspire us into action.

WorldBlu

I’ve been working as an ambassador for WorldBlu, speaking about democratic business at a number of events (like this) and talking to some awesome companies about them joining the movement. The WorldBlu List of Most Democratic Workplaces 2013 will be announced in April. I’m very excited to see Brighton growing as a hub of certified democratic workplaces following on from my previous company, NixonMcInnes being one of the first WorldBlu-certified companies in Europe. There’s also WorldBlu Live coming up in May in Denver. Get along to this if you can. My involvement in WorldBlu is now winding down and I’ll be focussing more on work locally here in Brighton. There may just about be time to get your organisation assessed by WorldBlu for this year’s WorldBlu List. If you’re interested, drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch with the right people.

Business development help for consulting companies

Having spent 10 years building a consulting company myself, I’m keen to share my experience in marketing and selling consulting work with other consulting companies in Brighton. If you’re a freelance consultant or running a small consulting company and would like to bring in more business, I might be able to help. I’m also launching a little project around this over the next few days. If you’d like to be kept in the loop then please get in touch.

And the rest of life

I’m mid-way through an 8-week course on Mindfulness and meditation with Mindfulness Sussex. I’m loving the combination of ancient wisdom dating back 2500 years backed by modern scientific studies that have shown many benefits to mind and body.

It’s the Brighton Half Marathon this Sunday. I’ve been gradually getting back to pre-travelling levels of fitness. I still have a long way to go and a horrible bout of ‘man flu‘ set me back these past couple of weeks, but the Half is a bit of a milestone anyway.

OK that’s about it. If we’re overdue to catch up for a chat then give me a shout.

Organisational democracy and wellbeing

Last week I presented at RobertsonCooper‘s Good Day at Work conference. I had a really great time – thanks to the organisers and everyone who stayed right until the end to see me. Here are links to the things I covered:

My slides are on Slideshare.

WorldBlu: helping organisations globally to be more democratic using their 10 principles of organisational democracy and publishing the list of Most Democratic Workplaces in the World (together with lots more inspiring ideas)

NixonMcInnes: my previous company

Happy Buckets: measuring happiness in the workplace daily

Analysis of happiness and profit

Celebrating failure at the Church of Fail

The amazing story of the cardboard box factory becoming a democracy that kicked off this whole journey for me which my friend and business partner Will McInnes left of my desk with the words ‘Fucking amazing – read this’ emblazoned on it.

Employees First, Customers Second: Vineet Nayer’s book about transitioning a large business, HCL Technology to a democracy

Beyond the Corporation: David Erdal looks at how employee ownership is the future of business, including research into what makes humans cooperate and the benefits to the whole of society of employee-owned, democratic businesses.

Erik Weihenmayer: The first blind person to reach the summit of Everest. I really recommend buying the DVD of this. Watch it with your family over Christmas.

The power question that will help you to overcome a challenge

This week I’m at BluCamp in beautiful Missouri, USA – a retreat for leaders wishing to build freedom-centred, democratic workplaces. I’m here partly to help out but mostly to learn, and already it’s been mind-blowing.

The biggest thing I’ve learnt today is that the first step towards building a freedom-centred workplace is to adopt a freedom-centred mindset. Sounds obvious, but it’s very easy to dive into adopting crazy new working practices or trying to change the culture before working on yourself first.

At WorldBlu, when we talk about ‘freedom’, we mean freedom from fear, since it’s fear that narrows our thinking, causes us to try to control rather than develop opportunity and at a most basic level, it’s a whole lot more fun feeling a sense of freedom than fear. Unfortunately most workplaces are dominated by fear and control which makes us unhappy and leads to poor performance. It’s not about being fearless. It’s natural to feel fear. The important thing is to recognise and free yourself from fear by taking action.

So how do you begin to go about adopting a mindset of freedom? Here’s a very simple exercise that we did today which really opened my mind.

1. Write down up to three challenges that you are facing in either your personal or work life which give rise to any kind of fear. This could be a direct, adrenaline-fuelled fear; more subtle, long-term or unconscious fear; or even well-intentioned fear. Write down how the fear manifests itself as well as the specifics of the challenge.

2. Now ask yourself the question: ‘What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?‘ and write down the solution for each challenge.

3. Reflect on how you feel about the challenges. Do you feel different?

It’s as simple, yet powerful as that. When I answered this question for three meaty challenges I’m facing, I was amazed how easily the answers flowed onto the paper. And not only that, it genuinely did change my mind-set from one of fear to one of opportunity, confidence and even excitement. This is the power of freedom.

Please give it a try it now and let me know in the comments if it worked for you.

Culture Shock

Hey, long time no see! I’ve been traveling around Papua New Guinea with poor Internet and a broken laptop so haven’t been able to blog. I’m writing this on my phone.

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Will McInnes, my old business partner at NixonMcInnes has had his book Culture Shock published. I finally managed to get the kindle version downloaded to my phone so I could read it. The book is fantastic and covers many of the issues that we discuss on this blog, so check it out.

Here’s the review I left on Amazon. 5 stars:

In 2002 I was fortunate enough to meet Will and we founded NixonMcInnes together. Full disclosure: I’ve left the business but am still a shareholder, however Culture Shock is 100% Will’s.

Will has been a truly inspiring figure who introduced me to ideas that shaped not only our business and my career but also my entire worldview. Big stuff!

He wrote this book from a rare and valuable position of having founded and run a very different type of company AND taught and helped some of the world’s most high profile organisations to be different and better too. He’s no ordinary pundit. His experience is deep, and real. This shines through in the book.

In Culture Shock you can see Will’s simmering and often humourous displeasure for business-as-usual but he doesn’t waste time going into too much detail about what’s gone wrong and why. And although the book cites solid studies and other sources that back up the case for a new approach to business, Culture Shock is from the heart and from experience. It’s not an empirical or academic work and as such it’s not the book to convince the cynical or anyone who has been on another planet and missed the failure of 20th century business (even Alan Greenspan the market fundamentalist said there’s ‘a flaw’… no kidding!).

Instead, Culture Shock is for revolutionaries who know that business can and must be better and want to take action and build incredible organisations, right now. They can also use it to inspire others who have the instinct that things can be better and want to know how.

The book’s scope is impressive, covering both internal and external practices, technology, and the new leadership traits needed to drive these changes. The book is meaty with big ideas, examples and practical advice yet manages to be mercifully concise (revolutionaries are busy!) so you can read it in a few hours. Where readers want to get more detail there are suggestions for further reading.

Will and I had Ricardo Semler’s ‘Maverick’ as our bible on our journey. That book is a wonderful case study but we had no field guide for ourselves. After 10 years of trial and error and learning, Will has written Culture Shock to provide exactly that.

If you read Culture Shock then your path to building an incredible business will be much shorter and easier, and the world will be a better place for it.

Viva la revolución!

Inspiration Sunday: Why happiness is the new productivity

Here’s an awesome presentation from Vishen Lakhiani the founder of one of the Worldblu Most Democratic Companies – Mindvalley.

There’s so much I love in here:

  • The focus on being happy NOW (not putting off happiness until you’ve achieved other things)
  • Achieving a state of Flow
  • Rituals like ‘ringing the bell of awesomeness,’ ‘the gratitude log’ and even guided group meditations!

All of this has created an incredible workplace at Mindvalley that attracts and grows fantastic people, and that leads to success for the company as a whole.

The only thing I’m not sure about is the idea of sharing 10% of company profits on a monthly basis. I am all for profit sharing, but my fear would be that with it being a monthly thing, people may quickly grow used to it and instead of it feeling like a bonus it could come to feel like an entitlement. I’m sure that it is a motivator but I’m not convinced of the long-term value of it. But it’s part of a mix that’s working for Mindvalley so good luck to them.

Oh and if you’re thinking that all of this wacky stuff is fine for a company whose average age is 24 but not for a ‘grown up’ business, then just remember that these ‘Generation Y’ people are the senior leaders of the future so if you want to have them developing in your company then you need to create the right environment for them NOW.

Using Maslow to create happy employees, customers and more

Chip Conley’s book ‘Peak: How successful companies get their mojo from Maslow‘ is brilliant for two reasons. Firstly it’s an amazing turnaround story of a business (The Joie de Vivre boutique hotel group) on the brink of failure; and secondly it provides an incredibly simple but powerful framework for thinking about what a business offers to its key stakeholders.

Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you can think of each group as having a pyramid with three levels. The base needs of a stakeholder group at the bottom, working up towards delivering self-actualising, transforming experiences for them at the top (what Chip calls ‘Peak’ experiences.) Once you have got the base needs covered, it’s these Peak experiences that can truly set a business apart and will lead to success.

For example, the base needs of an employee are to be paid a living wage and have a safe working environment. Working up to the second level they have the human need for recognition for what they do and have good relationships with colleagues. Then above this, right at the top are things like opportunities for mastery of their area of skill and working towards a higher purpose which they truly believe in and transcends both themselves personally and the company.

Any business can expand on these three levels of the pyramid with specific policies and practices, but the key thing is that once the base needs are covered, it’s focussing attention on the higher needs at the top that creates the magic.

For customers, the baseline is a product that satisfies their needs at an affordable price; then moving up from here we have things like listening to and responding to their wishes and right at the top we have experiences that are beyond the customer’s expectations and meeting new needs and wants. Think Apple creating the iPod in the age of the Walkman or a time when a business has really treated you like a VIP and gone out of their way to help you (doesn’t happen too often, sadly, and this is an opportunity!)

Chip goes on to explain how you can use this same principle for investors too and I also think that the same can apply to suppliers and the local community although Chip doesn’t cover this in his book.

I’m working on a new business plan at the moment and have found it a really helpful framework to have a pyramid for employees, customers, investors, suppliers and local community and fill in the three levels for each to show how the company will deliver real value, right up to Peak experiences. It’s a very exciting process as you begin to see how your business steps up from the ordinary to do very special things. I also found that thinking about the top of the pyramid sparked new ideas and made me think bigger and higher about how the business can be awesome.

As an experiment you could try creating a pyramid for each of your company’s stakeholder groups and filling in how base needs, right up to Peak experiences are being delivered at the moment. You’ll probably find some gaps which can be filled in, and you can also reflect on how you’re allocating your energy – whether it’s purely to satisfy base needs or deliver truly transforming experiences. It’s no co-incidence that Zappos – the online retailer bought by Amazon.com for $1BN and famed for its incredible happy working environment and delighted customers has Maslovian pyramids on its walls, and makes Chip’s book required reading for new employees.