Discipline makes Daring possible.



If you’ve ever started up a spin bike, you know about flywheels.

They take a lot of effort to get going, but once they’re off, the energy you put in is released, making it much easier to keep momentum going for longer.

That’s a pretty good metaphor for building a system for making and keeping promises.   It takes effort to get up and running, but once it is, it can keep going almost forever.

Long after you’ve jumped off the bike.

The Big Picture

The Big Picture

When you’re new to a place the kind of map that’s useful isn’t all that detailed.    All you need is something that can tell you where you are in relation to landmarks you’ll easily find and recognise, so you can see where to head next.

This kind of ‘big picture’ never happens by accident.  It’s not an aggregation of local details.   It’s designed, top-down, on purpose as a guide for strangers.

If your business is your Utopia, why not make a map of it?   Big picture enough to let people navigate safely by themselves, or easily enlist help from a passing stranger if they go astray.

You might find you get fewer pinch points, and less people stuck down blind alleys.

Your turn

Your turn

I tell you a lot about the books I read.   I hope you find that interesting.

I’d also like to know what you read.

What’s your favourite book for:

  • cheering yourself up
  • reminding yourself why you do what you do
  • helping someone else to understand what makes you tick
  • giving as a gift

I’d be really interested to know.

Deferred Gratification

Deferred Gratification

From an early age, we are taught to defer certain gratifications.  “No pudding until you’ve eaten your veg”, “No playstation until you’ve done your homework”.   We learn to put off children, hobbies, family, projects that are dear to us, until the weekend, or the holidays, or till we get promoted, or rich, or retire.

We are conditioned to put off the gratifications of living in the service of work.

On the other hand, we’re constantly being conditioned to gratify some of our wants immediately – chocolate, ice cream, fast food, fast fashion.   Apps and gadgets are constantly being invented that allow us to gratify every consumptive whim in no time at all.  ‘Alexa, did somebody say Just Eat?’

No wonder we’re stressed out.  We’re being subjected to conflicting messages.  Defer this gratification, but not that one.  Put this off, but do this other thing right now.

What if we decided that the process of living was important?  That there’s more to life than the instant gratification of childish wants, the accumulation of stuff, in the hope that it will compensate for the lack of enjoyment of the process by which we earn enough to buy it?

Coronavirus has given us a glimpse of this.  And the world didn’t fall apart.  In fact in some key respects it got better.

Let’s not waste that glimpse, queuing up outside Primark.

Re-distribution – things to learn from Macaria

Re-distribution – things to learn from Macaria

Raphael, the explorer who describes Utopia to Thomas More and his friend, hasn’t only been to Utopia.

“To these things I would add that law among the Macarians – a people that live not far from Utopia – by which their king, on the day on which he began to reign , is ties to an oath, confirmed by solemn sacrifices, never to have at once above a thousand pounds of gold in his treasures, or so much silver as is equal to that in value.   

This law, they tell us, was made by an excellent king who had more regard to the riches of his country than to his own wealth, and therefore provided against the heaping up of so much treasure as might impoverish the people.    He thought that moderate sum might be sufficient for any accident … but that it was not enough to encourage a prince to invade other men’s rights.   He also thought that it was a good provision for that free circulation of money so necessary for the course of commerce and exchange.”

This law is about re-distributing wealth to keep it circulating within an economy, which is where value is generated.

It could equally well apply to responsibility.    Responsbility, distributed and circulated within a business, is able to generate more value than if hoarded at the top.

This isn’t my utopia

This isn’t my utopia

The thing I love about reading, is that I’m always finding new ways of saying things, from people who can say them much better than me.

This midsummer weekend, I finally got round to reading the Verso edition of Utopia, by Thomas More.  It was not More’s words that struck me, but Ursula K. Le Guin’s – in fact not always her words, but words she assembled, interpreted and discussed in the first of her essays included with this book: “A non-Euclidean View of California as a Cold place to be”.

“The activities of a machine are determined by its structure, but the relationship is reversed in organisms – organic structure is determined by it’s processes”*

“The societies which have best protected their distinctive character appear to be those concerned above all with persevering in their existence.”**

“Persevering in one’s existence is the particular quality of the organism; it is not a progress towards achievement, followed by stasis, which is the machine’s mode, but an interactive, rhythmic, and unstable process, which constitutes an end in itself.”

“Since the day of the Roman empire and the Christian church, we hardly think of a social activity except as it is coherently Organized into a definite unit definitely subdivided.   But, it must be recognized that such a tendency is not an inherent and inescapable one of all civilization.”***

I (like Le Guin) found Thomas More’s Utopia unsatisfactory.   It is founded on force and maintained through slavery.   It’s activities are determined by its structure.   It is like most utopias,“the product of ‘the euclidean mind’ (a phrase Dostoyevsky often used), which is obsessed by the idea of regulating all life by reason and bringing happiness to man whatever the cost.”****

Here’s a stab at pulling this all together into something relevant for me as Gibbs & Partners:

  • Most human beings, including business owners, are simply trying to persevere in their existence.
  • Most corporates, built as machines, where structure determines process, are inimical to this.   Which is why people, when they get the chance, retire, or leave and set up their own small businesses, often with no idea of growth, simply as a means of persevering in their existence.
  • What I’m making explicit and to an extent formalising, is an alternative, organic view of a business where process (the making and keeping of promises) determines structure.   An alternative Le Guin might call yin.
  • By formalising this structure,  I’m trying to create a blueprint for documenting the ‘laws’ of a business that enables it to be both a place where people can  persevere in their own existence and a generator of the growth, innovation and profit that will create more spaces for more people to persevere in theirs.  A place where it’s possible to enjoy both freedom and happiness.
  • I’m by no means the only person I know of trying to do something like this.  I’m part of a trend, that recognises the need for humanity to make “a successful adaptation to their environment and learn to live without destroying each other.”****

As Derek Sivers puts it:

“When you make a business, you get to make a little universe where you control all the laws.  This is your utopia”.

Welcome to mine.


*Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982). Excerpted in Science Digest (April 1982), p. 30.

**Claude Levi-Strauss, The Scope of Anthropology (London: Jonathan Cape, 1968), pp. 46-47. Also included in Structural Anthropology II (New York: Basic Books, 1976), pp. 28-30. The version here is Le Guin’s own amalgam of the two translations.

***Alfred L. Kroeber, Handbook of the Indians of California, Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin no. 78 (Washington, D.C., 1925), p. 344.

****Robert C. Elliott, The Shape of Utopia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970)



I’ve written before about multiple stakeholders, so I was pleased to hear what Brian Chesky shared about who he considers to be the stakeholders of Airbnb.

Yes, shareholders.    But also employees (who also hold equity), visitors, hosts, suppliers, partners and the communities they operate in.

What particularly struck me was the way Chesky has designed in consideration for each set of stakeholders into the way the business works.  

Here are his recommended first steps for setting up in business:

  1. Define your core values.
  2. Define your principles – the things you believe to be true that other businesses don’t.
  3. Write down all your stakeholders.
  4. Then, for each stakeholder set, define 2 or 3 promises you make to them that you will never break.

I love this!  It means that a business is a system for making and keeping promises – to all its stakeholders.

Sometimes, its impossible to keep all your stakeholders happy, as Airbnb found right at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.  But it seems that for Airbnb, knowing the promises they’ve pledged to keep has helped them to do the right things, in the right way, as far as they can. 

And in the long run, this is what keeps the public wanting you to exist.

*Freeman, R. & Reed, Dl. (1983). Stockholders and Stakeholders: A New Perspective on Corporate Governance. California Management Review. 25. 10.2307/41165018. 

The best thing you can do for shareholders

The best thing you can do for shareholders

These two episodes of Eric Ries’s podcast Out of the Crisis are rapidly turning into the theme for this week.  Brian Chesky just keeps coming up with gems.

Today’s is this:

“The best thing you can do for shareholders is for the public to want your company to exist.”

How many businesses, enterprises, organisations, large or small, have you supported during lockdown, because you want them to exist?

Here’s a more challenging, perhaps painful question:

How many people are supporting your business, because they want it to exist?

Whatever the answer is, the next questions to ask, are:

Why is that?

What can you do about it?

and hopefully,

How can you thank them?

PS Hofpfisterei is a bakery chain founded in 1331.