I woke last saturday morning before 6.00am as I’m in the habit of doing nowadays. After a great Ethos week I inevitably found my head full of Ethos thoughts and “buzzing” with synthesising feelings (the weekends are much needed time for me in this respect) and thoughts that seem to emerge several days after the actual experience. These are often my most important thoughts.  In a sense, that makes me a very “slow reactor”; people that know me well will laugh at that thought.
On Thursday this week, Ethos helped to deliver the second “Joining the dots” event in Reading which was amazing and demonstrated the possibilities that are so simple to come by when you really do join the dots and give people “permission” to solve problems at a human level.  We’re producing a short film and I’ll update this blog when we have it.  
First off, let me explain the big idea in Reading. A new form of Value Exchange (VE) is being explored between the system of Reading and each organisation. That value exchange is broadly about “How can I maximise (or increase) the benefit my organisation brings to society in order to reduce demand for public services”.  (I’m thinking that Reading could become the World’s first Social Value Marketplace.)
Any Value Exchange needs to be concrete. It needs to demonstrate that by focusing on this VE, core organisational value is increased, enhanced, released.
That’s exactly what IKEA are doing.  If you and your organisation are NOT doing this I suggest that you give it some “think time” rather urgently.  Desperately urgently, in fact.  
IKEA have done this fabulously well and we were privileged to be invited “back stage” to host our latest “joining the dots” business event on 5th October.  
At Ikea, each and every facet of how the company exchanges value with its staff and customers is spelt out on the walls, and in the narrative of their culture.  Including their business plans!!  It tells everyone why the community and people are central to their purpose and organisation.  They live this stuff. From the moment they first thought about the new store in Reading to each day of their working lives, they live the community. Like John Lewis (better than John Lewis?), this cooperative is thriving. Something they are doing is going very well for them.
 
The “proxy” for the Reading society in our experiment is a new initiative called “Joining the dots” and we have a small multi-agency team/capability called the “Portfolio Office” to run it.
I believe that our Reading ecosystem has the potential to grow faster and further than any Ethos ecosystem we have so far developed.  I keep asking myself “why?”  I have an idea but no real proof yet…  The idea seems to be around my own experience and the concept of “permission”. In my head. In the heads of others.  That “permission” level in the Reading system (culture, anthropology, sociology, whatever) seems to be at a slightly higher place in Reading than in other (town?) cultures we are moving.
I was led to think of my own experiences from childhood to corporate to social entrepreneur and what’s made the difference for me. I found myself reflecting on a mentoring session I had last thing on Friday whilst mentoring someone from Santa Cruz, California on how to build geographic ecosystems. In one word, one might put it down to permission.
My mom, who is still alive, always gave me permission as a child.  So warm, loving and caring I could never do anything wrong I believe in her eyes. I like to think I didn’t abuse that trust too much. Though I’m sure I did just a little at times!  My father, who is not around now, was a towering and dominant figure who shaped our patriarchy with his very strong character and work ethic but I can’t remember many “NO!” occasions from my childhood. He challenged me strongly  and gave me a good path to follow via his own moral compass and work ethic and his support for me was, in the end, unwavering. I guess my natural DNA is one of challenge and change but long story short much of my corporate life has been spent in “the land of NO!”. Of risk aversion, processes, bureaucracy, power and politic. In sum organisational life is: “let’s not rock the boat”.
So here we are as a global society with some pretty big systems issues and we’re not doing a whole lot to grip these issues and move forward.  We need good change desperately but it seems like we’ve forgotten how. Or did we never know? For me the system change comes through our own personal change – one person at a time. It’s not slow if one can think about systematizing that change.
I’ve worked and known Annabelle for many years and she used to introduce herself to others when we worked together with words similar to: “I’ve worked with Rob for many years and he’s ruined my life” or words to that effect. With a smile on her face, this message, in sum was about “once I got the idea into my head that the future of my work was really under my stewardship, I could not unlearn that belief” Or in other words I gave Annabelle permission.
More recently I’ve stolen that idea and have beaten her to it and introduce myself ahead of Annabelle by saying that she has ruined my life by believing in me and my dream that we can make a difference and live more closely with our dream of making a difference.
To make change happen you firstly need permission. For yourself and to others. The difference is permission.  Saying yes to yourself and to others.  To have self-belief and to support others in developing theirs.
Don’t misunderstand me.  Challenge and inquiry, doubt and risk management are all great things but don’t confuse those with permission and belief and what i’m talking about here which is the ability to move the agenda on.  To act and not to just to think and talk.
Each week we have an Ethos Coordination meeting which lets all Ethos partners just talk about what they did last week and what they will do this week (in a very structured way).  Last Monday saw a huge report of engagement up and down the country.  New events, new experiments, new ways to engage people.  Enthusiastic Ethos peeps pushing themselves and others in ways to connect that were getting results.  Our own ecosystem. Experiments. People. Who have given themselves permission.
So my life in Ethos is mainly about finding people who are able to say yes and who can act consistently on their instinct and who demonstrate that through their behaviors they move things on.  They make change happen.  It’s not about where you are in the “system”. What level. The hierarchy or wiring diagram.  There are many people in Reading who do that.  More than in other places. But even Reading needs many more.  
You can give people permission (just say the words “you have permission”. You will be surprised about how very easy it becomes). You can give yourself permission (“How would I behave if it was simply impossible to fail?”. “Realistically, would it be better to try this and then not quite get what you’d hoped for but to achieve some of your goal?”. “What’s the alternative? Let others decide your fate and that of the planet ultimately?”)
Your journey though has to involve others.  It’s that contact and connection between you and the rest of the world that makes this real (participatory value through engagement?).  It’s not an internal narrative. You need to “work out loud”.  To tell others how and who you are giving permission to (go and tell your boss, for example that you agree with one thing they are trying to change – assuming you actually do of course!).  Tell you staff, your friends, family, children. Enemies. Strangers.
So here’s a public shout-out for all those who have said yes to me.  Here’s an even bigger public shout-out for all those who have said yes to themselves.  
And finally (thanks Margaret Mead) “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Author

  • Founded Ethos in 2010 with Tony Clarke . Have been working on networked business models since the late 90's. Living a dream: playing on both sides of the fence! Institutions and networks.   Bragging rights: ‘My work is my hobby. My profession is being a father!’