The end of countries

World Passport

It’s right up there on the list of questions NEVER to ask at a dinner party: ‘Where do you stand on immigration?’ If you have two guests with opposing views on this then the night is pretty much guaranteed to be ruined for everyone. But hey, this is a blog, so let’s dive in…

I’ve been travelling for the last year or so and crossed various borders around the world. Fortunately I’ve never had to bribe anyone, although I have had an Ecuadorian anti-narcoticos guard try on my sunglasses and ask me if he looked cool.

It’s always felt so strange to cross a border with someone from a different country and reflect on the different rules that apply, depending on the ‘nationality’ stated in the little book we all have to carry. In Latin America, citizens of the US seem to get the worst deal, having to pay visa fees on entry to most countries whereas I, as a Brit, get my passport stamped for free. I met a Chinese guy who told me that there are many countries he would be refused entry into, and if you have ever visited Israel – no matter where you’re from – then there are certain other middle eastern countries who won’t allow you entry.

Nationality seems so real when you’re in your home country, but completely arbitrary when you’re travelling. It’s all down to what flavour of passport you’re holding – something you have little or no choice about. There seems to me to be something inhumane about treating people differently depending on where they are from.

Borders, visas, immigration rules and even the basic notion of a ‘country’ is a result of centuries of wars, revolutions and treaties. International borders with their immigration guards seem so real and fixed, but a border is just an imaginary line on the shfting rock of a tectonic plate, on a plant spinning round the sun which happens to be inhabited by intelligent creatures descended from apes. There’s nothing natural about a country or border.

Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder is taking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. A building that is agreed to be territory of Ecuador, thousands of miles away. There are police outside it ready to arrest him if he leaves but protocol dictates that they will not simply walk in and retrieve this wanted man.

When I was in Ecuador myself, I met a guy who had renounced his US citizenship, and just set off on a big trip to explore the planet. As a human being walking the earth he didn’t feel that he should have to have a particular ‘nationality’ based on where he happened to be born. He didn’t want to immigrate to another country either. He saw himself as a free man.

I asked him how he was able to travel without citizenship, and he explained to me that against his will he was forced to have a US passport in order to be able to leave the country. That’s right, in the land of the free you are not free to leave unless you sign up as a citizen, even if you have no desire to return.

As far as he was concerned, his US passport was a necessary evil to get him out of the country and to move around a world where the dogma of nationality is so fixed. But then he showed me what he considered to be his real passport. Issued by the ‘World Government of Citizens‘ it was a passport not attached to any particular country yet had the familar feel of a standard travel document.

I thought that this International passport was a cute idea but I wondered how, in reality, you could ever expect it to be accepted at a border. He was ready for this question and pulled out a copy of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948. Most nations in the world have signed up to this declaration (notably, not the US), and article 13 states:

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

In theory, any country signed up to the Declaration of Human Rights has to let you in, and apparently after leaving his home country on his US passport, he had managed to enter Ecuador using the international document. It seems others have had successes travelling on the World Passport too. Perhaps the notion of a country and nationality is more fluid than we are all led believe.

So where does this leave us on immigration policy? Usually the debate centres around short-term pressures like the affect on the labour markets and welfare if immigration is loosened, or the affect on genuine asylum seekers and human rights if it goes the other way.

What I always feel is missing from the debate is the long-term goal for the planet. What kind of world are we trying to create? My view is that where we need to head is a world where any human being, no matter where they were born, is free to travel, work and live wherever they like without the old concept of nationality restricting us, because it means that all humans would be treated equally no matter where they were born.

I’m not suggesting that this can happen overnight. There would be chaos if borders around the globe were suddenly opened. There are enormous challenges to overcome, like managing natural resources and figuring out how public services and law are managed in a world without borders. But if you look at Europe as an example of a continent at war 70 years ago, to the peaceful cooperation we see today, in spite of the current economic problems. It might take 50, 100 or more years to achieve a completely open world, but I believe that this is the ultimate goal we should be working towards. We need political parties to commit to this vision, and then form short-term policy that paves the way towards it.

The vital missing stakeholder in your business plan

When you’re creating a new venture or planning a project within an existing business, thinking about stakeholders – groups of people who are affected by the project – is a useful way to work through the impact of what you’re going to do.

A typical list of stakeholders is: employees, customers, investors and suppliers. Sometimes ‘community’ is thrown in by more socially conscious businesses too. Companies are encouraged to listen to and ‘engage’ all of their stakeholders to reach good outcomes for everyone.

The crucial missing stakeholder from this list is future generations. These people have no voice today because they’re not born yet and so cannot be ‘engaged’ in any way, but they are completely beholden to our decisions, actions and the legacy we leave them. This is particularly true of the environmental impact of business today, the outcomes of which affect future generations far more than they affect any other stakeholders today.

Assessing the environmental impact of a project is nothing new, but there is something powerful about putting a human face on it. For me it becomes more powerful to talk about outcomes for future generations than something abstract like ‘carbon footprint.’ This is especially true because every single one of the other stakeholders will one day come out of the future generations group, so if a business is to survive long-term then looking after their interests is essential.

Take waste for example. Our planet is a closed system. Except for the odd spacecraft, nothing leaves the planet. There is no such thing as throwing waste ‘away’ because there is no ‘away.’ When we burn waste and add carcinogenic heavy metals into the atmosphere or bury polluting waste in landfill sites we’re simply leaving it for future generations to deal with. This is as unacceptable as dumping it in the front gardens of people living today but of course we’d never do that because it would affect us right now, and people today have a voice and would rightly complain. Future generations are powerless today and can only be treated fairly if we consider the impact on them today.

Next time you’re working on a stakeholder analysis, try adding future generations to the mix. The base level is reducing harm to them down to zero, but a whole world of possibility opens up when you consider how you could actually enhance positive outcomes for future generations just like you try to create positive outcomes right now for the other stakeholder groups like employees and customers.

There’s a wonderful vision of the future in the iconic design book Cradle to Cradle. The authors envisage a future where homes and other buildings are more organic and actually purify and enhance the environment around them. They use the analogy of buildings being like trees and cities like forests, with air and water coming out cleaner than when it came in. Further, in the future we could design products that can be endlessly ‘upcycled’ into equal or better products (rather then recycled which generally means ‘downcycled’ into lesser products until the materials can be reused no more.)

Sounds far-fetched? Big companies like Ford, Herman Miller, Nike and Walmart are taking the Cradle-to-Cradle philosophy seriously and whilst they have a long way to go, they are on the path towards realising this future. And it all stems from thinking and caring about the voiceless stakeholder group of future generations.

Happy IN work vs. Happy AT work

I had an email from a reader who gave me permission to anonamise it and share:

[After working in sales and feeling something was missing] I moved into the care sector, retrained and was running the company after 3 years. He’s where it differed, there was and still is very little margin in the sector for any financial rewards. Care practitioners are on slightly more than minimum wage and do not have a reasonable fuel allowance. In domestic care they are accountable legally for the care/support they give and must attend quarterly supervision (by law) and have to retrain yearly. They work 24/7 365 on a rota.

Last year I moved to a new company and had to explain to 300 staff why their duties would expand due to ward closures, their area of travel would increase, but I wasn’t or rather couldn’t pay them any more. They were not happy. As qualified care practitioners, they were on less than staff on supermarkets check-outs.

I had of course checked the budgets, asked the directors for an increase and took another look over the council contract, where I realised that the contract was worth less than the previous year. When I queried this, I was told “carers do it because they care, not for the money“.

How about that for assumption. I handed my notice in soon after…

Classic management screw up, making an assumption about their people ‘they do it because they care, not for the money.’

The huge flaw in that logic is not understanding the difference between being happy IN work and happy AT work. The carers were happy to be IN work in a profession where they had real meaning and improved people’s lives, but it´s impossible to be happy AT work if you’re paid so little that money is a huge, pressing stress and you’re worried sick about paying the bills.

This is all too common in the charity sector where employers believe it’s enough for people to be working for a cause they feel passionate about and so don’t pay people enough or create a good working environment. At best, this is de-motivating, and at worst it makes great people leave and take their talents elsewhere.

Conversely, in many corporate jobs, including sales much of the time, the opposite is true. You get paid really well and have a nice comfortable life so you feel happy AT work but if you feel like you’re just being paid in order to make even more money for shareholders then there’s very little to make you happy IN work. And again this can cause great people to lack motivation or leave.

The key therefore is to create organisations with a very clear, higher purpose that people believe in and want to be a part of, and to ensure that you pay people enough to take money off the table as an issue so that they can focus on work. Once these base level needs are met you can then work up to higher levels of human satisfaction through recognition, social belonging and mastery of their craft which will take their motivation and performance to soaring heights.

10 crazy town ideas for extreme organisational democracy

Crazy Frog

Here are 10 ideas that take the principles of organisational democracy to the extreme. In the context of mainstream business today they seem far-fetched but there are organisations in the world who are pushing the boundaries of democracy every year. If you think that these ideas are just too radical for your business, imagine how you will attract and retain the very best employees if you have a competitor who is bold enough to do these things. Will you be able to stand out and remain relevant when someone in your market is doing this? Welcome to the world of extreme organisational democracy.

1 Purpose and Vision

The radically democratic company has a vision and mission that transcends itself and its people. It describes a world that is richer not just for its shareholders but for all of humanity, and the planet. How about a soft drinks company that sets out to alleviate the problem of thirst and water shortage in all of its forms for every human and animal on the planet. Now that would be a real purpose.

2 Transparency

Radical transparency can build an incredible level of trust both within an organisation and with the outside world. It shows you have nothing to hide and beyond that you invite criticism and input into your business. How about publishing every single line item of expenditure in the business? How about turning the 20th century wisdom of ‘secrecy and closedness unless there’s a very good reason to do otherwise’ on its head and publish every item of income, profit, loss, remuneration and even decisions by default – available to all employees, and anyone else in the world including competitors to see. Opening a pandora’s box? Certainly. But who wouldn’t trust an organisation brave and open enough to do this? And what new insights would the company gain from having their inner workings opened up for others to analyse?

3 Dialogue & Listening

What would happen if you invested in training every single person – from the cleaners to the CEO in an organisation – to a professional level as relationship counsellors? OK it might fill you with fear to think of a business full of shrinks and endless meetings on comfy chairs with tea and biscuits. But what would the outcome be when you have truly professional standards of listening and understanding other human beings and a deep ability to forge and maintain great relationships. What would it be like to work somewhere like this? What would relationships with customers and other stakeholders become?

4 Fairness & Dignity

Decisions that impact fairness happen every day in businesses, from allocating work to setting pay. Typically its people with power (managers, directors) who make these decisions and others have to live with being treated fairly or not. How about having a rule that states that any decision made in the company which could impact feelings of fairness or dignity to a group or individual must be scrutinised by a peer-selected group of their colleagues. Yes, it will slow down some decisions, but the gains in loyalty and the removal of the politics of favouritism or discrimination will more than make up for it.

5 Accountability

Democracies are not soft. As Worldblu puts it, ‘they are crystal clear about who is accountable to whom and for what.’ In most businesses, employees are accountable to their managers. In an extreme democracy, people are accountable to everyone they work with or even influence indirectly, AND the outside world. 360 degree reviews don’t go far enough, especially for senior managers. People need to be able to hold anyone to account where necessary, regardless of who they are. Local communities and even activists can be brought closer to the organisation to create deeper accountability with the outside world. But accountability isn’t about blame. In extreme democracies, accountability creates a tight support network.

6 Individual & Collective

Google and other companies famously have ‘20% time’ where they are able to work on projects of their own choosing for one day per week. How about upping this to, say, ‘100% time’? In other words, employees choose ALL of their tasks and projects. To get this right, the collective mission of the company will have to be not just well-defined and understood, but genuinely bought into so that all work supports the mission. You also need to have good accountability in place from peers.

7 Choice

Throw away the rulebook for dress code, working hours, work location, pay reviews and holiday entitlement. Take a punt on assuming that employees can be trusted to make decisions that are fair to them, the business and their colleagues and customers. Crazy right? Not really when you think that this is how millions of freelancers and self-employed people work. Many of the most talented people in the world opt out of the corporate world because they have more choice by going it alone. It works because they are ultimately accountable and have direct alignment with the purpose of their 1-person business. But if we can create this alignment and accountability in a larger business, then why not give them this freedom and choice? The business that is brave enough to do this may never lose a talented employee to a competitor again.

8 Integrity

Google started a change in the corporate world with their mantra ‘Do no evil.’ But that’s just the foundation. ‘Extreme integrity’ is about doing GOOD in all your actions, not just avoiding evil. Imagine a company that has a set of ‘values’ that are more than just filler on the boardroom wall. Values that were created by, and truly believed in by every person throughout the organisation. What if in your culture, every decision and idea is checked against these values as a matter of everyday routine such that it becomes instinctive and automatic. Could you build extreme integrity such that a company can be trusted as much as a close family member or friend? Businesses are made up of human beings with the capacity for enormous integrity so I believe they can.

9 Decentralisation

Do away with the ‘centre’ or ‘top’ of an organisation altogether. A network structure is the ultimate in decentralisation. It is possible to create an organisation that has no ‘top leaders,’ board of directors or even any sort of legal entity. In the extreme democratic future there will be large organisations with the power and impact of large publicly listed companies today that are a mesh of individuals and relationships. The network can swarm together around projects and customer needs, then disassemble and re-form as needed. No formal ‘lines of responsibility’ or control, just agreed roles, responsibilities and accountability that are completely dynamic. Networks are incredibly resilient. That’s why it’s hard to fight al-Qaeda and BitTorrent because there is no ‘head’ to cut off.

10 Reflection + Evaluation

Why not reverse the current trend of business needing to become faster, faster, faster and instead spend more time reflecting and evaluating than actually ‘doing?’ Sounds hopelessly inefficient? Well how about all of the rushed, high-pressured years of ‘doing’ that led to the effective collapse of the global banking system? What would the world look like now if more time had been spent reflecting and evaluating? Perhaps sanity would have prevailed. At Mindvalley, a company in Malaysia, they already hold group meditation sessions to envision the future and reflect on what they are doing. Sounds almost cult-like, and it’s uncomfortable to expose our souls at work, right? But imagine the wisdom and breakthroughs that could surface if we slowed down more, and became more mindful. Perhaps not so crazy after all.