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A Human Business Primer: Overcoming Trump’s Fear-Driven Capitalism, Part 1



Photo sources: “Joy“: https://flic.kr/p/7usYCr. “Fear“: http://tinyurl.com/y8gtw3wj.

Photo sources: “Joy“: https://flic.kr/p/7usYCr. “Fear“: http://tinyurl.com/y8gtw3wj.

This is not another attack on Trump.  Actually, I don’t really care too much about Trump.  What I do care about are the implications of his policies, ideology, worldview, decisions, moods, and, believe it or not, at times his tweets.  And yet, it is not about Trump as a person.  Last week, former President Obama rightly stated that Trump is not the cause but a symptom for a lot of things that have gone array these days in business, society and the world.  And, indeed, Trump is a strong symptom, an excellent and exemplary figure to represent capitalism of the old ages.  The problem is, we no longer we live in the 19thor 20thcentury that were heavily shaped by traditional capitalism Trump loves so much.

Traditional capitalism at its “best”

Traditional capitalism rewards those who seek short-term gains, maximize profits regardless of whether or not business generates value to customers, workforce, business or society.  This capitalism treats humans and the environment as resources, cost factors and numbers in balance sheets.  It thrives in an atmosphere of mistrust, tension, fierce cutthroat and winner-takes-all competition, selfishness and anxiety.  Exploiting or polluting the environment is considered collateral damage and, hence, not evil.  The dividing and widening gap between rich and poor is dismissed as a distraction that can be fixed – by the free market. While proponents of traditional capitalism don’t negate the fact the world is becoming ever more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous they are not really concerned about it because they believe that the established business principles, processes and rules can handle these challenges, too.  And, if there were a problem it is probably because some people, organizations or governments neglected these established principles.

Capitalism is not dead. It is outdated in its traditional form

I am not a critic of capitalism per se (how could I, having been trained as an economist?). Fact is that traditional capitalism leads to a dead-end, does not answer today’s challenges in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world, widens the gap between rich and poor, exploits and threatens to destroy our environment and thus our own planet. This is not a call to end capitalism – this would this too simplistic.  And it would be plain stupid for capitalism is a core element of business which we, people, need to survive and thrive.  What we need is a different, a new business paradigm that not only helps find solutions to today’s problems but can also serve as guidance to sustainable business in the 21stcentury.

The Human Business Paradigm

The good news is such business principles already exist. They constitute the Human Business Paradigm.  These principles can serve as a new compass for doing business in the 21stcentury.  Let me summarize its key principles:

The Human Business Paradigm
1. Human business is holistic and human-centered, i.e., it focuses on serving and delighting its customers, workforce, business, and society.

2. The purpose of human business is to generate and add sustainable value to its customers, workforce, business, and society.

3. Human business promotes diversity in the workforce, reflecting an open society.

4. Human business advocates cross-functional and self-organizing teams.

5. Human business nourishes joy and happiness in its daily operation.

6. Human business practices and nurtures conscious leadership of enablement and empowerment.

7. Human business cultivates open and learning organizations that embrace change and thrive for continuous self-improvement of products and services, processes and people.

8. Human business provides and shares guidance for responding to rapid change in business and society.

9. Human business understands profits as a means to fulfill its business purposes; i.e., human business is purpose-driven and not profit-driven.

10. Human business advocates a circular economy, in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.

Walking the Talk. Building a Human Economy

During the next couple of weeks I plan to dwell into each of these principles and share concrete stories of companies, organizations and projects that practice these principles.  At Motivate2B and The Art of New Business we walk the talk; and there are many other businesses that do so already.   I invite you, too, to join us and share your stories.

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Posted in: Agile, Creative Economy, Future of Work, Human, Human Business

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Planning is Fear. Instead, Work with Life and Joy.


I have worked in professional project management for quite a number of years. Over the last years, I have moved away from classical project management and one of its core activities: planning. There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, I believe that classical planning is rooted in fear for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Or, planning is afraid of reality and life where volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity are central elements.  Hence, classical planning is misguided and consequently often a waste of time and energy. Let me explain.

The myopia of classical planning

Foto © by A. Dreher | Pixelio.de

Photo © by A. Dreher | Pixelio.de

In classical project management we are expected to have a solid, validated project plan that lists major milestones, work packages and activities. Ideally, all work packages are linked with each other so that it becomes possible to predict the final delivery date of the project.
I have drafted numerous such project plans. And actually I enjoyed it for the most part. It gave me a sense of control and security. And the final plans looked great on paper. Alas, there were and are some major flaws with this: A plan is first of all a piece of paper. That’s it. No more, no less. Yes, of course, it can denote the important phases of a project and create the false impression that everything is under control. People tend to believe that a plan gives them security and certainty, reduces risks, prevents surprises and much more. Unfortunately, this is misguided and distracting from reality. Fact is that most project plans change the minute you “finish” them. President Eisenhower once said that a plan is worth nothing, planning is key. Well, I agree to some extent and add that planning is worth nothing if you don’t understand what’s behind it. I call it agile ‘planning’.

What’s behind agile ‘planning’?

If you start planning because you want to overcome volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, STOP right there. Planning will not help you achieve this. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) have nothing to do with planning. They are rooted in reality whereas planning is just a tool.

If you want to get a grasp on volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity understand their nature, what causes them. And find out why they bother you in the first place. Given that they are core elements and characteristics of reality you may as well ask yourself what bothers you about reality. In other words, find out what bothers you, period. What’s your problem? Or, if you like to phrase it more positively, what motivates you?

Contrast this to your vision of an ideal situation and see the gap between the problem (or motivation) and your vision. If this gap really bothers you, causes some form of pain, think about concrete steps how to get from point A to point B. This is what you could call agile ‘planning’. It is different from classical planning as it addresses the groundwork or foundation of our activities.
Planning without acknowledging and accepting your motivation and vision is just a shallow distraction from reality and a futile activity as it ignores reality, your reality.

Agile ‘planning’ can be joy

Photo © by Jörg Kleinschmidt | pixelio.de

An agile approach to ‘planning’ does not erase volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. This is not its purpose. It accepts them as a matter of fact. And it embraces them and explores ways and means to work with them to get closer to your vision or at least your interim goals. This is the opposite of fear. It is working and playing with joy. Doing so introduces lightness, creativity and inspiration to your “planning”. It sparks life into your planning process.  You don’t generate a product or service in one bug shot but you develop and deliver it in small, iterative increments. Just as you don’t reach your vision in one big step but in several smaller steps, one at a time.
Contrast this with classical planning that is guided by fear and the urge for control and certainty. Life and reality are not static, lifeless machines that can be easily replicated. Life is ever changing, complex, uncertain, and ambiguous. Corollary, agile ‘planning’ ought to reflect life. It can become a game, a dance, an art and thus an element of the art of new business.

Posted in: Agile, Centeredness, Creative Economy, Human, Sustainability, Tools

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Orientation for Shaping the Future of Work


How can you shape the future if you don’t even know how it will look like? Even more so if the present situation is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous?” – These were two questions that were addressed during a workshop I facilitated with my business partner Dawna Jones on January 17, 2017. The by invitation only workshop took place in a beautiful chalet in Klosters, far away from the noise and distraction of a bigger city. The six of us came from different backgrounds: the medical profession, business consulting, digital marketing, cultural training, leadership training, and yoga.

The key to shaping the future of work is ORIENTATION

Photo by Plumbe|Pixelio.de

Photo by Plumbe|Pixelio.de

As different the backgrounds and viewpoints were we agreed on one thing: That in order to make sense of what is emerging in the world of work, it is essential that you have an orientation about where you are coming from, where you are now and what you would like to do. Admitted, this is a simple insight. But then it is an insight lots of companies and organizations don’t even have. Fact is most companies and organizations either don’t have time or don’t take the time to reflect their purposes and visions because they too busy handling present challenges. They are so busy that they may not even realize the many ongoing changes around them. This goes well until they are faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, e.g., an increasing turn-over rate in their workforce, new competitors entering the market, disruptive innovation destroying existing business models, etc. Trying to cope with these challenges with established tools of the past may work but are is likely to be doomed given that these tools and processes have prevented to embrace change in the first place.

Rapid change

Photo by Dr. Stephan Barth | Pixelio.de

Photo by Dr. Stephan Barth | Pixelio.de

The market place and world of work are changing at a rapid and increasingly faster pace. Technology does one part and yet it is only one out of many factors. Especially millenials are less likely to stay at a company for their whole working life. They want more than just a job. They demand jobs that have meaning and they can identify with, where they can make a difference, and a job giving them enough space and time for other activities. Change is a natural, it is a given and they may even got accustomed to this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. At the same time millenials as well as everyone who is aware of the VUCA world needs orientation. And this is the chance for companies and organizations to shape the future: providing orientation for its people.

Business fundamentals will not change

However, established working and business models do not offer the answers to these challenges anymore. With growing uncertainty and volatility in the market it is increasingly difficult to plan the future. On the other side, there are at least three fundamentals in business practices that are unlikely to change. These are that a company or organization

  1. has to to serve its customers and clients,
  2. needs people that help achieve business goals, and
  3. has to generate some form of profit or benefit.

Business has to re-adjust its focus on PEOPLE

Business fundamentals don’t change. Unfortunately, most companies and organizations seem to have forgotten them. For the fundamentals reveal something deeper. Let’s have a look at this.

Photo by Peter Draschan | Pixelio.de

Photo by Peter Draschan | Pixelio.de

  1. Customers:

Customers are better informed, have a greater variety of products and services to choose from and consequently have greater influence than ever before. Companies and organizations that want to generate and keep their customers and clients need to delight them. For this to happen, they have to understand their needs and desires, whether they are apparent or still developing. The market is no longer exclusively business-driven but becomes increasingly customer-driven, too.

  1. Workforce:

As mentioned above people are less likely to stay at one company or organization for their whole working career. But it is also a fact that people are more likely to stay and perform at a very high level, if they are happy at their job, if they identify with the purpose, vision and goals of the company or organization, if they can contribute to success and their contributions are seen and acknowledged. In other words, people don’t want to be treated as resources but as people, as human beings. This requires human-centric leadership.

  1. Profits:

Profits have always been, are and will be important in business. This will not change. However, it is crucial to understand that profits are a result of good business practices, are the means to do business. What matters more than short-term profits is overall business value. Short-, mid- and long-term goals and profits have to be balanced. Corollary, an incentive system for managers with only short-term profit goals is myopic and may harm business in the long run. Focusing on the outcome of good business practices as reflected by profits only while neglecting the prerequisites for business success, i.e., delighting customers and the people workforce, undermines the foundation of a solid business.   Unfortunately, this concept seems to be as foreign to lots of managers of companies, especially publicly traded corporations, as is snow in the deepest jungle.

Good business is human business
Good business practices focus on people – their customers, their workforce and business value which benefits business, their communities and society.

Business fundamentals can shape the future of work

I am not worried about the future of work because we already have the ways and means to shape it by revisiting, understanding and living good business fundamentals: delighting customers, treating people in the workforce as people and building an environment where they can unfold their potentials and, last but not least, ensure and sustain business value.

Living these fundamentals not only gives an orientation for the present and future, it can also be a driver for the future and grasping the many opportunities that lay ahead of us.

Policy makers should learn from business fundamentals

The outlined business fundamentals are not limited to the world of business. They are applicable to the public sector, too. Indeed, I believe that policy makers have to understand these fundamentals and live them.

People demand orientation for the present and future. But, they are sick and tired of the old rules of the establishment where there seems to be no place for them. Populists such as the right-wing party AfD in Germany, politicians such as LePen in France or Trump in the US know way too well how to fill this vacuum. They cry out simplistic slogans, promise a better world, a break with the establishment – and all they really want is power and control. Their visions are based on the past. They would like to hold back time and maybe even go back to the times when the world was more secure and easier to grasp. And it is true that the past was less volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. But the past is gone. Hence, using the past as an orientation for the future is misleading and dangerous because it does not help solve any problems but instead raise fear and distrust.

Photo by Daniel Stricker | Pixelio.de

Photo by Daniel Stricker | Pixelio.de

What we need is an orientation for today and the future. Policy makers need to understand the needs of our people. And they have to work with them building a vision of a future which is worth living for and which gives hope and orientation for today and tomorrow. However, any attempt of policy makers to offer the same old same old, established programs and empty promises will lead to nowhere and will be exploited by populists which withhold people from unfolding their potential.   What we need is orientation which focuses on us.

Posted in: Future of Work, Human, innovation

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Tango and Life. Or, how I found flow


Last week I finally went to my first Milonga (Tango Argentino). Was I nervous? Yes, I was. I only started to learn Tango only a few months ago, consider myself an absolute beginner (I am), didn’t want to make a fool of myself , didn’t want to hurt anyone on the dance floor (it is crowded), could only do a few moves (compared to what the semi-pros on the dance floor showed), …, and the list goes on and on. Today I know that it was and is a list of excuses, lame excuses that is.

726882_original_r_k_by_joachim-kant_pixelio-de

[Photo © Joachim Kant | pixelio.de]

So, how was my first Milonga?

Well, especially in the beginning I felt more like an elephant on ice. My brain was mush, no, empty. It seemed that I had forgotten everything I learned in my dance classes. I felt like a rock in a storm, not able to move one inch. At the same time my head was full of, well, I don’t know what it was – void, heat, concerns, fear?

Breaking the ice

Luckily, I was not alone. The first dance with my wife was actually passable. Both of us were nervous. And yet we survived. “Time to sit down and rest, recuperate, refresh”, I thought. But the minute I sat down a friend of mine asked me to dance with her. Ooops. Here it was again, fear crawling up my stomach, my brain turning into mush.

On the other side, my dance partner was very understanding and encouraging. I think we did ok; at least, nobody was hurt. 🙂 The first ice was broken.

Going for flow

Time went on, was flying. Soon three hours passed. I still felt “foreign”, but not like an elephant on ice anymore, maybe more like a dog on ice.

And then there were 3-4 dances when time stood still; when all of sudden I let go of all pressure, concerns, thoughts, and all I did was listening to the music and dance with my partner. Our steps and moves flew naturally. It was smooth sailing. And with it came joy, relaxation, big inner smiles and grins. Both of us were stunned and perplexed. Amazing.

Ok, 3-4 dances out of 20 or more is not that much. But it was more than enough to motivate us to plan our next Milonga. And we are really looking forward to it.   Will it be better? Possibly and probably, for this first Milonga revealed something magical.

The secret of flow

I realized that I still have to learn a lot. Technically? Yes. But more so about letting go, relaxing, listening to the music, going with the flow, looking for and moving into free spaces, being in the moment. Letting go and being and going with the moment seems to be, no, is the key to experiencing joy and flow on the dance floor.

This was and is the outstanding insight of my first Milonga – about Tango as well as life.

Tango and life

People say that Tango is a reflection of life. This is so true. And it is not the Milongas, it is also the Tango lessons, the learning experiences bringing excitement, motivation, joy, frustration, depression, worries, concerns, fears. Tango can teach you a lot about your attitude and practice in life, about your partnerships, your love, your outlook, your flow (or the lack therof), your being. It drastically reveals your state of life.

If Tango doesn’t flow quite yet, check your present life style, your family life, your friendships, partnerships and professional environment. Are you limiting your thinking, are you trying to structure, plan and control it? This may work at times and yield satisfactory results. But, if you truly want to dance in your flow, you have to let go of limiting thoughts, concerns, fears. Jumping into the cold water, showing and expressing who you are in this moment. Could very well be that it is not “perfect” in the eye of some beholders and the greatest critic (which is probably you yourself).

Motivation to be human

We are human with imperfections which make us perfect; we are not machines. Ripping yourself off false expectations and just go and play like a kid is refreshing and rewarding like nothing else. Because it helps you be human and find and be yourself again.

So, what are you waiting for?! Go out and find your Tango and Tango along!

Posted in: Centeredness, Happiness, Human

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