TDi's Reading Guide

Annie, CEO – Annie is a perfectly primed systems-challenger, with experience in starting businesses, community leadership, impact-investing, and commercial business.

I have many favourite reading resources.  I’m thankful that we live in a time where information and ideas can be so freely shared.  I’ve chosen Reinventing Organisations by Frederic Laloux. I remember when I first read this about 2.5 years ago it awakened and gave language to a stack of idea I’d been playing with.  I remember thinking “this is great, but is it really possible?”

TDi has begun its ‘teal journey’ and we have a long way to go, but I now not only believe it is possible but it is the future. We’ll be left behind without this type of thinking and practice.

  

Liv, Principal – Liv leads TDI’s Australian business, bringing an entrepreneurial ‘hack’ and spiritual lens to everything she does, and has an ability to instantly connect with our partners.

How to Lead a Quest: a handbook for pioneering executives by Jason Fox – this book combines entrepreneurial Hutzpah with big systems thinking.  I love that it enables genuine delivery around new strategic thinking.  So often great ideas fail to translate properly to the management plan.

 

 

 

 

Anna, Principal – Anna leads TDi’s business in the Pacific, approaching everything she does with curiosity, generosity and professionalism which means she takes our partners to thoughtful, impactful, long-lasting solutions.

Ripples from the Zambezi was recommended to Annie and I by an Australian farmer, living and working in Vanuatu.  We were sitting under the shade of his verandah trying to translate our work into his context, when he interjected and asked if we’d read Ernesto Sirolli’s book.  Turns out we shared a lot more in common than we’d thought.  Since that time, I’ve recommended this book to everyone who is curious about good development and unintended consequences in social change.

 

 

Isaac, Senior Consultant – as our ‘facilitator extraordinaire’, Isaac has a metaphor, case study, quote, or book reference for any situation an entrepreneur is facing.

Mine is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

A lot of my favourite authors said that this was their favourite book, and they weren’t kidding – it’s a gem.  This book will make you uncomfortable in a good way, and teaches you how to get difficult things done.  When people start to lose momentum in their startup, this is the book I buy them.

 

 

Carlo, Senior Consultant – with a varied history in human resources and operations, Carlo is equal parts passion and profession, and he works closely and genuinely with our partners.

My favourite reading resource at the moment is the Stanford Social Innovation Review – an incredible magazine and blog rather, than a book.  Given my masters, I tend to struggle to sit down with a book at the moment, and so the SSIR is my go to source for cross-sector solutions to global problems and an inspiring world view of the social impact ecosystem.

At TDi we make a conscious decision to see the strengths in systems rather than focusing on the deficiencies and viewing them as challenges or problems. We refer to this as an assets approach. What some people might see as ‘problems’ we view as opportunities to design more creatively and innovatively.

This latest article from SSIR is a wonderful example of why this approach is so powerful for our international and local work:  https://ssir.org/articles/entry/cocreating_with_the_base_of_the_pyramid#

 

Shannon, Platforms Manager – the whole world could be collapsing, and Shannon would keep her cool, which is why she keeps the TDi ship running tight.

Mine is Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead… no surprises there probably!  I've been following Brene Brown and her various books and talks for some years now, mainly from a personal perspective post having children. I apply her techniques and learnings everyday at home as well as at work.

When her latest book, Dare to Lead came out, I was quick to grab it. Her tips around vulnerability in the workplace, 'Paint Done' and giving and receiving feedback are so practical and useful. We are now implementing them as common practise at TDi.

 

 

Erin, Consultant – with a natural inclination to understand ‘why’ and connect with people, Erin is good at getting to the root cause of problem or finding lateral opportunities.

I’ve had to narrow it down to a top two.  Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnerman and Deep Work by Cal Newport.

Thinking Fast and Slow is about how our brain works when we make decisions, which is both interesting to understand, and has also been SO helpful in my work.  Navigating human behaviour is the hardest part of any job, but especially when trying to understand why more people aren't socially and environmentally conscious.  I believe that this book is key to helping unlock social and environmental change at scale, through change in behaviour at scale.

 

I like Deep Work because it presents a work practice that resonates with me in our increasingly distracting world.  I have implemented the tips in this book to great benefit of my work output.

 

Ash, Associate – a proud Aboriginal woman and passionate about working for her people and country, Ash is our cultural conduit and an incredibly passionate program manager.

A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright. It was a lecture series on societal collapse that travelled across 5 Canadian cities. I know from my own personal experience that when you make the same mistake more than once, you start to look at new ways to do business, this applies to life as well. This book is a great example of how we should learn from history and ensure our society doesn't meet the same fates.  It asks us questions that I face every day working in social enterprises and Indigenous Affairs - Where do we come from? What are we? and most importantly, where are we going?

 

 

Elisa, Bookkeeper and Executive Assistant – Elisa uses equal parts heart and mind in her work which make her a grounding force for the TDi team.

I first read Utopian Man many years ago, but it sticks in my mind still today.  It’s a fictional telling of the life of E.W. Cole, the mind behind Melbourne’s famous Cole’s Book Arcade (which operated from 1883-1929).  I think he is a great example of 'Do good and make money'.

His arcade sounds like a place of wonder, with a fernery, musical band, confectionery stalls, monkeys and over two million books all offered at fair prices because he wanted to create an inviting place that everyone could access, not just the wealthy.  However, as a practical man, he made his money from his printing press (which he also used to print thought leadership pieces).

 

I've read elsewhere about how he was able to connect to people through emotion and sincerity which is why he was able to influence. So, I like that he influenced people to think differently through wonderment.  If I had a time machine, I would love to go back and see the arcade!


The art of rule-breaking

From Annie Smits, CEO

 

I consider myself a ‘seasoned rule-breaker’ having dedicated much of my life to challenging systems that don’t work. I spent 10 years as a minister pushing up against one of the biggest institutions entrenched in tradition: the church. What comes to mind for me when I think about Piscasso’s quote learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist is the journey to mastering a trade – from novice, to apprentice, to journeyman, to master of a craft.

 

 

So, what does this have to do with social entrepreneurship and innovation? Well everything!

As social entrepreneurs we desire to break the rules, rearrange the system, and to change how we treat people and planet.  To see the true change in a system, we need to apprentice with the problem before we can shift it or break it.   ‘Apprentice with the problem’ is a saying of the late great Pamela Hartigan.  By this she meant we need to take time to understand the problem before we could truly be of any value as part of the solution.

 

I think a great example that illustrates this for me is how KeepCup apprenticed with the problem of ‘wasteful coffee culture’.  I remember once sitting with Abigail Forsyth, the founder of Keep Cup, who wanted to change peoples’ behaviour around the use of disposable cups.  As a café owner and barista, she spent many years studying people’s relationship and behaviour to takeaway coffee culture – I remember being fascinated by this.  Abigail was confident she could convince people to buy a reusable cup, but that wasn’t the entire problem, it was also continual use of it.  The biggest question she spent her time answering was how do we incentivise people to remember to bring their reusable takeaway cups with them every time?

 

 

Why are we breaking the rules in the first place?

 

For me personally, the most powerful reason for systems-change is exclusion – someone is being left out or not able to participate in a system. I think of our finances system in the West, where bankers and finance experts have created a system of intimidation and closed knowledge that excludes people through the language they use.   I think of equality ‘trade-off’ debate: women can have more power and a voice, as long as it doesn’t leave the guys out.   As a mother of two young boys I don’t want my sons left behind, but I also have a daughter and want her to grow up with equal opportunity in the system.   In fact, some of the most outrageous reasons for exclusion we’ve seen, have been through our work with Indigenous people – for example, laws that don’t acknowledge the rights of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people?!

 

At TDi, much of our work to date has been about helping the excluded to participate in existing systems (for example, our work through YuMi).  But I don’t think in any of these issues its just about helping someone to participate in the current system.   More and more, I’m asking myself the question what if we need to build new and inclusive systems, create a new language and a new centre?

 

If we’re creating a new system, it requires all of us to think and act differently. Who is going to own this problem?  The most powerful place for change is when we own the problem, take responsibility in how we’ve been complicit in that system.  This requires us to be changed as a part of the process, not just a passive expert facilitating someone else’s journey from the outside. An expert comes with all the answers, all the knowledge and all the power. Instead, we need to approach problems from a position of vulnerability, empathy and be open to the process of change, changing us.

 

Be patient grasshopper

Change requires a thoughtful, patient process.  There’s a youthful energy and enthusiasm that comes with rule-breaking that I love, but it also needs to be tempered with patience, to get the long-term or scalable change we are looking for.   We need to observe, participate, practice, practice, practice in a system, before we can make it our own.  There are three qualities that I dig deep for to help me on a patient journey: humility, curiosity and most of all an ability to sit in the messy unknown of a situation before you jump to the solution.

 

Humility: our ability to say ‘we don’t know’ is a constant gift.  It opens space for new ideas, further discussion, and others to contribute to the conversation providing new points of view.

 

Curiosity: our greatest friend. As kids we are born with a great sense of curiosity, constantly asking ‘but why?’ Many of us lose this as we grow older, or it’s considered a childish trait, but I would argue it is through a sense of curiosity that we master a situation.

 

Sitting in the unknown: our ability to suspend judgement is critical to arrive at a solution for lasting change.  At TDi we call it ‘the messy middle’ where we sit in the mess and the unknown before we can come up with a solution.

These three things are hard to do when you’ve got pressure from external stakeholders to ‘have the answer’.  But a true response will take time and thoughtfulness.  This isn’t the easy journey, and might mean that, like Abigail, you sit alongside the problem or behaviour you are looking to change to understand the levers and relationships which affect long lasting change.


The Full Monty the movie, and the next economy

From Anna Moegerlein, Principal

 

The Full Monty is one of my favourite movies. Recently I stumbled across a chapter by J. K Gibson-Graham (2006) describing the film through the lens of the next economy. It took my appreciation to a whole other level.

 

The Full Monty is set in Sheffield in the England shortly after the closure of the steelworks. A group of unemployed men gather each day at the Job Club. Some are looking for work, others have given up all together. Then a male strip show comes to town and a small group of the local men, led by Gaz, decide to put on their own show to rival the Chippendales.

 

Things don’t go so well initially. There’s an excruciating scene where one man is auditioning for a part in the group. He fumbles, stops halfway and runs out. This is followed by a hilarious scene with an older black man who stuns the group with his charismatic dance moves. The film strikes the perfect balance between funny and sad.

 

What Gibson-Graham so deftly point out is that The Full Monty is a story of economic transition that actually goes well. The central characters give themselves permission to embrace a more flexible male identity (that includes vulnerability and creativity), they’re thoroughly successful in their enterprise and are celebrated by their community.

 

In their book, Gibson-Graham talk about how important identity and agency are to successful economic transition, and specifically to an economy that is more inclusive, more equitable and not dependent on fossil fuels. In fact, they suggest that the task of building this new economy is more about performing different economic identities (identities that moves beyond ‘homo-economicus’ to include work/business that integrates purpose, as well our interdependency with the natural world, among other things), than it is about macro-economic planning. I’d suggest it’s both, but the stories we tell ourselves and our national economic narrative is absolutely putting the brakes on change.

 

Gibson-Graham’s book also reminded me of how important community is to any transition. People need hope, agency and the encouragement of their peers. There’s also that point where you let go, step into the unknown and see what happens.


The stories we tell ourselves

If you have ever dreamt of a society with great wealth, distributed fairly and intended exclusively for the wellbeing of its people then maybe you have dreamt of Europe’s first great civilization – the Minoan empire on the island of Crete, 4600 years ago.

The Minoans created a seafaring empire. Their ships sailed to all points of the Mediterranean peninsula for trade. They built well-developed roads connecting 100 cities across the island of Crete.

For 500+ years they lived in peace. The Minoan capital of Knossos had no defense walls and no army. The capital did not feel threatened by the other cities in their domain, nor any of its citizens. Its rule of law relied upon equitable distribution of wealth and strong, connected leadership.

The Minoan palace was the heart of the city. It had 1,400 rooms, which housed schoolrooms, government services, artist workshops and theatres. Wide corridors and large rooms made space for thousands of citizens to come and go.

Archaeologists found impressive multi-coloured wall paintings depicting day-to-day life and the Minoan’s reverence for nature. People, animals and plants were joyously painted in bright colours. It is also clear from these paintings that women had an important role in all aspects of society; if not higher than men, than certainly equal. They competed on an equal basis to men in the athletic games, even in the most daring events.

 

 

The Minoan civilization came to an end in 1630 BC when a volcano on a neighboring island triggered a tsunami and ash clouds. Archaeologists found that the buildings had fallen outwards as they collapsed, presumably full with water.

Today the Minoan society seems quite remarkable. First that it existed and second that it is so little known. A European civilization that was well off and shared that wealth and power among its citizens, and revered the earth’s living systems? Doesn’t seem possible. But it was, and it lasted for 500 years. 500 years of a different world-view, standing in clear contrast to most, if not all, ancient (and many modern) European civilizations that have sought to accumulate wealth and power. It can’t help but inspire optimism… and we can’t help wondering, what might we begin to build if we truly believed in our own wisdom and generosity?


Technology, inequality and the future of work

Image courtesy of Square Up, Australia.

 

Reflections on The University of Melbourne Lecture Series 

Recently, I attended a discussion about the future impacts of technological innovation on Australia’s workforce and economic and social equality, at The University of Melbourne. Tim Dunlop (Futurist) and Tim Lyons (former ACTU Assistant Secretary) debated the likelihood of new technologies widening, or perhaps redefining, the gap between richer and poorer Australians by changing the way we work in the future. In particular, Tim Dunlop's perspective resonated with me, as I share below.

 

The Good:

Dunlop painted a new kind of future in which institutions are self-governing, brave and interested in wealth redistribution, rather than principally driven by profit maximisation for shareholders. Dunlop says that technology can be the enabler for this future if we embrace its power and actively use it to drive equity.

 

The Bad:

Despite our general reluctance to look at alternative options of workforce and working in favour of traditional forms of work, work patterns and hours, change is arriving fast. Our future will be one where machine learning, robotics and automation will radically change the way we work.

Looking at the current labour market, it is easy to understand predictions that much of “Working Australia” operating in unstructured environments and with flexible hours will be the first to face automation. According to a new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), approximately 36 per cent of Australian jobs face a significant or high risk of automation, and it is expected for young people without tertiary education will be most affected, given their higher rates of under-employed, non-employed or low pay. In short: more young people struggling to get work.

 

The Ugly:

Dunlop expects higher paying knowledge roles and lower paid essential caring and healing jobs to remain mostly unchanged.  Rather, he asks what jobs will be created and who will and won’t have access to them?  His prediction is that “Working Australia” will be most impacted by technology and automation, carving out a deeper hole in equality and opportunity. He says that for generations we have rewarded the stewards of extraction far more that the stewards of renewal, and without a significant refocus we are set to continue driving a greater wedge between the “haves “and “have nots”.

 

The Way Forward:

To counter this, Dunlop paints a vision for economic and social equality, that values participation and contribution to society, rather than just labour, which can be enabled by technology. Rather than leaving wealth distribution to the invisible hand and being fearful of the impending change, he says we need to lean into technology. Technology can allow workers to improve their productivity, but instead of lining the pockets of our shareholders with the margin earned from these efficiencies, use the reclaimed working hours to innovate, and create social solutions (or, solve social problems) and increase quality of life.

We've seen this already through the likes of Hire Up providing more choice to customers, OurSay allowing people to participate in local decision-making, or Square Up enabling electronic payment for any business.

Dunlop argues that we are on the verge of a technological shift large enough to impact us as much as climate change.  We need to decide what future we want rather than let history dictate our future.

Of course, this approach requires us to reimagine the way we value our work and a fundamental shift in prospering Australia’s rich (10% of Australians hold 49% of the wealth), which will in no way be an easy task.

These technologies have the potential to disrupt the very fabric upon which we have built our way of working. And these technologies will, on the whole, increase productivity and drive a surplus. So, if technology and therefore productivity is coming, how will you innovate, create or solve with the surplus?


Growing quickly? 5 tips to maintain your startup's culture

One of the difficult challenges facing startups as they transcend the boundary from concept to small and medium-sized companies and beyond, is the ability to retain the familial vibe and “can-do” attitude that makes their organisations successful. While change is inevitable, just like product development, sales, and business operations, cultural change can and should be planned by making it part of your business strategy.

 

1) Your culture is your brand

In every interaction you have, whether it be a sales meeting or interviewing potential employees, the values and behaviours displayed by you and your employees leave an impact on your company brand. Therefore it is important that you are clear and consistent regarding how you want your business to be perceived in the market, what values you want to be recognised for and how you differentiate yourself from competitors…

 

2) Understand what makes you great

By creating and understanding your cultural identity, your business has a framework for making decisions, engaging with customers, setting priorities and working as a team. Whether these are written down as “company values” or a “culture commitment” may depend on the size or the culture strategy of the business. Most importantly, though, is that everyone understands what is in line with these values and what is not.

 

If you are coming up short on what contributes to your culture then ask your employees. Collect feedback or run a short survey to gain a sense of general trends and benchmarks.

 

3) Live your values

When you set your company values – live them. Model them consistently throughout your business (for example, in client interactions, monthly one-on-one meetings and out-of-work activities) and reward values and behaviours that are in line with company strategy, while creating disincentives for those that are not. As leaders, you will initially have the most impact on shaping the culture.

 

Hiring “cultural-fit” (employees who are specifically chosen with the group’s culture in mind) is another way to maintain your company vibe. While experience and professional background is always crucial, seek like-minded individuals who aspire to a similar company vision, beliefs and way of working.

 

4) Communication is king

As a business grows there is the potential for company hierarchy to dilute healthy communication and an individual’s perception of impacting the business through access to senior leaders. For this reason it is important to maintain channels or forums for this type of communication to continue. This might be as simple as an “open-door policy” or more structured methods like scheduling time for employees to share improvement ideas. Maintaining small teams (even if part of bigger teams) will also give members the security, support and manager-access of small business structures.

 

Regular one-on-one meetings are another great way to explore and reflect on:

  • What are we doing well?
  • What could we improve?
  • What things are you looking forward to?
  • What do you need to make your work easier for you?
  • How are your relationships with your peers?
  • Do you understand the business strategy and where you fit in?
  • What makes you stay?
  • How can we support your career interests?

Note that even though your employees may be aligned in culture and values, each of them may have his or her own individual communication style. Try to tailor your style to address these differences.

 

5) Share your vision and its reasoning

Share the vision and strategy, and enable people to understand and have emotional investment in the direction of the business and the decisions being made. Having access to the reasons behind decisions and understanding where their role and outputs fit into the wider strategy of the business show that they are performing meaningful work and contributing to the success of the business as it grows.

 

Summing up

While this may seem to some like time and energy that could be better spent on driving income generating initiatives, in reality this could be no further from the truth. Investing in your company’s culture will reap long-term performance and financial rewards, and help to safeguard your company’s most precious resource – its people.