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Walking the Talk
"Do What You Love":
Inspiration and Insights from Conscious Capitalism 2013

The Conscious Capitalism 2013 conference, which took place over the weekend in San Francisco, saw a host of inspirational and motivational talks about the potential of business, large and small, to change the course of the world for the better.

The Conscious Capitalism 2013 conference, which took place over the weekend in San Francisco, saw a host of inspirational and motivational talks about the potential of business, large and small, to change the course of the world for the better. The overriding themes — do what you love, play to your strengths, and find a purpose and embed it throughout your company and its culture — were emphasized and reinforced repeatedly by a who’s who of thought leaders in the space.

Emceed by executive producer Jeff Klein, day one of the event featured affecting talks by Conscious Capitalism CEO and former Trader Joe’s president Doug Rauch; John Mackey and Raj Sisodia, co-authors of Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business; Casey Sheahan, CEO of Patagonia; and Roy Spence — chairman of GSD&M Idea City, CEO of The Purpose Institute, and author of It's Not What You Sell, It's What You Stand For — to name a few.

Rauch pointed out the need for changing the narrative around business from a story of me to a story of we (the difference btwn “illness” and “wellness”) in order to reinstate consumer trust: At present, when we put the word “big” in front of “business,” it is seen as something that extracts value and needs to be regulated and controlled; “small” has the opposite effect, as something that generates value.

Spence espoused the virtues of playing to our strengths: “Don’t spend a second of your life trying to become average at what you’re bad at — focus on becoming great at what you’re good at.” He also emphasized the importance of encouraging kids to do what they love instead of asking what they “want to be,” which will foster entrepreneurship: “Where your passions and strengths align with the needs of the world, that’s your vocation.”

Fedele Bauccio, CEO and co-founder of Bon Appétit Management Company, described the journey of the company, which provides café and catering services to corporations, colleges, universities and specialty venues in over 500 locations in 32 states. Bauccio said the idea for Bon Appétit was born when he was working in the restaurant industry 25 years ago and realized we were “losing flavor on our plates” due to the nature and length of the typical restaurant supply chain, and a lack of focus on fresh, local food. He has spent the ensuing years cultivating relationships with farmers, creating a code of conduct for growers and creating the premier food-services company to take its socially conscious procurement model to scale.

Method co-founder Eric Ryan testified to the importance of company culture. Showing one of the company’s ads, featuring a cast of Method employees and their children, Ryan described the playful, family-like atmosphere of the “people against dirty,” saying, “The bigger we get, the smaller we act.”

During his speech on Conscious Leadership, Mackey, co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, advocated the work of seminal servant leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr, Mahatma Gandhi and Buckminster Fuller, and encouraged attendees to embrace servant leadership as their modus operandi in the world.

Sheahan espoused — if you’re going to shift or evolve or transform a company, the shift has to begin with you. And Tom Gardner, CEO of The Motley Fool, pointed out that 70% of the workforce is unhappy or unengaged, which creates a huge opportunity for companies to engage these workers.

Day two saw breakout sessions on a range of topics including business functions, leadership and stakeholders. Free Range Studios’ Jonah Sachs led a workshop on “Crafting Breakthrough Stories,” describing how in the twentieth century, marketers stopped talking about their products and started telling stories and myths. Sachs asserted that while values are key, they alone don’t make a story — storytellers must create a relationship between themselves, their audience and their values to inspire connection and action. Storytellers who speak to higher values (perfection, wholeness, uniqueness, justice, simplicity, truth), he said — using Nike’s “Everything you need is already inside” campaign as an example — make consumers feel empowered instead of lacking and in need of their product.

During a follow-up conversation on conscious leadership, Mackey and Ed Freeman, Professor of Business Administration at the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration and creator of the stakeholder model, discussed the need for the emergence of different kinds of leaders — self-actualizing people with a higher degree of consciousness, emotional intelligence and systems intelligence. Mackey asserted that leaders have a moral obligation to grow – one can’t have a business that’s more conscious than its leaders — and the importance of prioritizing the needs of all stakeholders, including competitors, equally.

In a breakout session on “Serving Society,” Suzi Sosa, Executive Director of the Dell Social Innovation Challenge, and Teju Ravilochan, CEO & co-founder of the Unreasonable Institute, discussed some of the most effective approaches for business, especially at the start-up level, to tackle so-called BFPs (Big F’ing Problems). They asserted that poverty persists because of continued reliance on the charity-based model of NGO that keeps people dependent on aid rather than empowering them to make change, the fact that many solutions are not tailored to problems due to lack of on-the-ground knowledge of the BFP, and the underestimated value of bringing fresh eyes to the problem.

Sosa shared advice she gives to many of her entrepreneurs who are having trouble getting past the idea stage of their venture: Start with what you love — you can always tie in social impact of your venture if it’s based on what you’re passionate about.

Mackey, who was in attendance, seconded the idea, using Bauccio’s story about the genesis of Bon Appétit as an example: “He didn’t start out to solve any BFPs — he had a simpler mission initially, which was he wanted to sell quality restaurant food institutionally; he saw a hole in the market. But as he got into that, he [thought], ‘Well, I gotta get the freshest food — I gotta get local.’ Then he starts looking into agriculture and sees, ‘Oh my god, there are serious problems here.’ The point is — everything is connected; when you start working on any problem there are these systems effects on it. The innovations occur as you become a master of this area of knowledge and you begin to wrestle with the problems. So a lot of times, it’s just getting going on it and figuring it out.”

Mackey offered further insights during the session on the subject of scale: “Sometimes being bigger isn’t necessarily better. Start asking: In order to fulfill my dream, what size should this organization be? Is there a size that’s too big, where we begin to compromise our values, where we’re no longer able to fulfill our purpose? And then you’ll start thinking about it differently.”

The next Conscious Capitalism event, the CEO Summit, takes place October 8-10 in Austin, TX.

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