15 lessons learned from B Inspired London
Updated: Nov 8, 2019
B Inspired took place in London on 10th October 2019 at the Bridge Theatre. The event was attended by over 600 people looking to explore the changing role of business in society.
On October 10th the incredible B Corp UK team hosted B Inspired, an event gathering hundreds of people who genuinely believe in ‘business as a force for good’. Given the state the world is in now, it is critical for such events do more than just inspire the audience. It is time we learn and grow from such events, through building trusted relationships and exchanging lessons learned and stories to make tangible impact. B Inspired created a trusted and safe environment for just that.
I thoroughly enjoyed speaking on the day about how to develop a future-ready organisation. My work at CollaboratEQ is dedicated to guiding organisations on a learning journey to create cultures of continuous learning and knowledge share. As such, I wanted to highlight the value of the collective wisdom and share some of my lessons learned from the day, as I believe they are valuable for everyone. I am forever connecting the dots of opportunity. In sharing the learnings, I have connected the hidden patterns and thematic cross-overs across learnings. I encourage you to share these lessons widely.
Fearghal’s framing of the day was poignant. (1) The Overview Effect is a feeling described by astronauts, when they see planet Earth from a distance. It is a profound cognitive shift in awareness that comes from seeing our planet from afar. The perspective offers astronauts an understanding of the fragile and delicate nature of the planet and the realisation that everything is connected. Astronauts get to see the world as it is. They get to see that there is no Planet B. Fearghal O’Nuallain is incredible. He was the host for the day, he is an explorer and Geography teacher, and spent 18 months completing the first Irish circumnavigation of the globe by bike; 31,000km through 30 countries.
I believe we each have our micro ‘Overview Effect’ moments in our life, a moment of realisation or ‘waking up’ to what is truly important. For me, it was in 2015 when I was working at Uber in London during a period of intense blitz-scaling, I got a glimpse into the future and the impact of technology at pace and scale without consideration of the longer term unintended consequences.
(2) Build bridges don’t build walls, a quote reiterated by Madeleine Edwards Thomas, one of Fearghal’s students from City Heights Academy. Don’t close yourself off from what you consider an issue, work with others. How can each of us operate as bridges to connect to overcome difference and find common ground and common goals between people and organisations?
Patrick Pichette, former Google CFO who retired in 2015 to travel the world emphasised the need to (3) lead with integrity. “People look at you every day and the actions you stand for. We need to lead by example through our actions.” This message is simple yet powerful; many around us are using the right words and external communication, with insufficient or inconsistent evidence and internal actions to support our words. Patrick also asked for us to each consider ourselves as conservationists and minimalists, by caring for the planet and consuming less.
The 600+ attendees, half of whom were B Corp community, highlighted the power of (4) trusted networks. The conversations, introductions, and knowledge share that surfaced during (and after) the event, reinforced the value of a safe and trusted environment. From my experience, the difference between a network and a trusted network is the degree of honesty you can have in the first conversation with a new connection from the community i.e. to what extent can you skip the small talk, and start supporting each other.
(5) To unlock the full potential of trusted networks, we need transparent aligned values. The B Corp ethos and Declaration of Interdependence, along with the topics chosen for the day, all create interconnected layers of trust and mutual respect across the nodes of the network.
(6) We can all be the change. Dedication and commitment to change trumps size. There is no organisation too small. The audience was a rich mix of organisations who have already certified as B Corps, those who are on the journey to certify, and those who are intrigued but yet to start the process. The B Corps in attendance spanned sectors and sizes, from those with a handful of employees like Brad Frankel of Flooglebinder to The Body Shop, whose certification journey was shared on stage by Christopher Davis, the International Director of Sustainability.
(7) Don’t delay, just start. Kajal Odedra, Executive Director of B Corp Change.org UK, shared her story supporting Ella and Caitlin, aged 10 and 8, who started an anti-plastic petition against fast food giant McDonalds. Their petition to eliminate the use of plastic toys in children’s happy meals was adopted by rival Burger King in the UK last month, estimated to save an estimated 320 tonnes of waste annually.
Does that mean we can (8) compete towards business as a force for good? Alexandra Mousavizadeh from Tortoise Media: ‘What I like about an index, is that it creates a competitive race to the top.’ Alexandra has developed a Responsibility 100 Index; the first ranking of FTSE 100 companies measured by their commitment to key social, environmental and ethical objectives such as carbon reduction, gender equality and good business practices.
Colin Mayer, who I had the privilege of working with last year at the British Academy’s Future of the Corporation project, needs to be heard by everyone. He stated “Friedman was wrong. The purpose of business is to produce profitable solutions to the problems of people and planet”. (9) Ownership structures are flawed. We need to re-think ownership, incentives, and corporate governance structures to encourage responsible action from corporations. For further details, there is a wealth of information available here. Across the pond, Mark Benioff, co-CEO of Salesforce, echoed many of Colin’s points in his timely article We need a new capitalism in the New York Times, published this Monday.
Being inclusive is not enough. (10) We need to be visibly inclusive. Amit Gudka, co-Founder of Bulb (a certified B Corp) shared their real-time, in-house data-driven approach to understanding their internal workforce composition versus local benchmarks. To support this approach further, as touched upon in my talk, it is important to have the ‘complete conversation’ linking diversity, inclusivity, belonging, and equity together. Applying a dual quantitative and qualitative lens is necessary to begin to understand your internal culture and identify where there is room for improvement. Bulb is taking this topic seriously, and are bold enough to declare they are learning and improving as they go. Let’s learn from them.
Kresse Wesling from Elvis and Kresse made a bold yet necessary distinction (11) “If you are a designer or a creator for a brand which is exploiting the planet, you are not a creator, you are a destructor.” Kresse’s statement, whilst provocative, struck a chord with many as it captured the urgent need for everyone investing their time and skills for a brand, to take a step back and think about what they’re working towards and to incorporate circularity at every stage.
In a conversation backstage with Tom Rippin, Founder of OnPurpose, I explained my concern that the current MBA curriculum doesn’t reflect the world today and the future skills we need. In particular, the MBA curriculum does not, in my opinion, do enough to develop a social conscience amongst students. This is a recurring theme across multiple conversations. How might we combine the OnPurpose programme with the MBA curriculum to ensure (12) future leaders graduate with a social conscience and a systemic lens to problem solving to build a more sustainable future for us all. A fellow INSEAD alum in the audience later raised the same question.
Andrew Medhurst from Extinction Rebellion discussed the climate strikes and reinforced the need for urgent collective action. He ended with a simplified ask for everyone; (14) “The two biggest things you can do as an individual to help the planet are to fly less and eat a plant-based diet”
Finally, to conclude with a simple yet practical note (15) plastic free lanyards. Anyone organising an event — please take note, this is a simple ask. B Inspired proved this is possible, and I’m sure there is a business cost saving. Can we work to collectively champion plastic free lanyards across all the events we attend?
Thanks for reading. I hope you learned something new. I welcome your thoughts and questions, after all learning is always two-way.
If you are curious and want to learn more or have a chat, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org