Here are six things I heard at B Inspired that have lingered in my thoughts over the last month, and I thought worth sharing, late as they may be.
1. The purpose of business
Colin Mayer from University of Oxford so eloquently summing up what I believe to be the fundamental problem with our current state of capitalism – the key thing that so many entrepreneurs and business school grads seem to have forgotten:
“The purpose of business isn’t to profit, it’s to deliver profitable solutions to the problems faced by people and planet”.
That’s a line I’ll definitely be putting to use in the future.
2. A life saving example
Colin went on to give an example of a business who’s been successfully doing this for decades, and an example that was movingly close to home for me: Novo Nordisk, the manufacturer of the insulin in my pocket, keeping me alive 24 / 7.
The pivotal role of their purpose (“to eliminate diabetes”) and their ownership structure in helping them to thrive as a business, while doing good for both people and planet, created an inspiring example of how business can be a force for good.
And with that in mind, it’s considerably easier for me to stomach my absolute dependence on their product. A business built on such strong foundations of trust, responsibility, and purpose is likely to be around for a while.
3. Personal history
After lunch, my diabetes was brought back to mind when John Alexander of the New Citizenship Project asked us all to answer this:
“What in your personal life has shaped who or where you are today?”
For me that’s simple: my diabetes. Of course, being diabetic has huge downsides, but it has also taught me a lot, and for that I’m grateful. In particular, it’s taught me about the importance and challenges of behaviour change, and as I reflected a few years ago, that’s played a big part in Do Nation’s success.
Diabetes has also taught me the power of perseverance: you can’t just give up on diabetes, and no matter how shit it makes you feel at times, you always know that you’ll feel better soon, once that insulin kicks in. Having that perseverance built into my blood has definitely helped me through some tough times with Do Nation.
4. People power
Tom Rippin from OnPurpose left us with another great story – that of a group of employees with a passion for the environment, unhappy that their company’s business was manufacturing oil-based products.
Eager to drive change, they lined up a meeting with the company’s Chair to discuss its environmental impact. He didn’t show up. But they left a book on his desk, the Ecology of Commerce. He now claims that reading that book was an epiphany, and soon after he went on to change the entire business model of the company, now famous for being a pioneer of the circular economy.
That company was Interface, the chair was Ray Anderson.
It goes to show the power of a few passionate employees using their voice.
5. Be the change
Hearing from a representative from Extinction Rebellion gave me time to reflect on the protests, which I’d joined the day before. What I realised is that all the people I know who’ve participated in XR are already working in social or environmental impact, in one way or another. They’ve been pushing for change for years, and have been driven to protest after getting fed up with the pace of progress.
I’d be interested to know how many of the protestors that is true for. Because at the end of the day, if you’re joining the protests but aren’t pushing for change through your day job, at whatever level that may be, you’re protesting against yourself.
Here’s a handy – very low-tech – tool I sketched earlier in the year to help people in that situation to find their climate impact.
6. But can we do it?
Finally – reflecting on all of this, the question lingers: Will we really be able to create the scale and speed of change needed – to our communities, businesses, industries, and economies? Is that future even possible?
Speaking as a pro, Kresse Wesling from Elvis & Kresse succinctly answered that:
“The only way to prove that there’s an alternative future is to deliver one”
On which note – enough with talking, and back to delivering…
PS – Huge thanks to the team at B Lab UK for putting on yet another fantastic event, and for the photos. Total heroes.