New Zealand: Fairness, Sustainability and Entrepreneurship

We just returned from New Zealand and I fell in love with this country again. After two weeks in middle earth. (Get a taste of their cool factor by watching the Air New Zealand Safety video), there is so much to share about this country. We traveled to the South Island (we were on the North Island last year) and had a great adventure. Here’s what stands out from the experience.

Fairness: The United States and New Zealand share three similarities: they’re both open societies, democracies, both were born with British colonial origins. Yet, the differences are bold too and they hinge on values. New Zealanders have organized their society around fairness, a principle that arguably divides Americans. The timing of New Zealand’s industrialization has a lot to do with the societal values. Fairness is defined as “not taking undue advantage of other people” and should not to be confused with equality. Providing resources and conditions to create fair access to opportunity and shape people’s choices. This is the essence of the country. For example, everyone is insured against accidents — regardless of fault or cause (hence you find a lot of people walking around without shoes, at least in the university town of Dunedin)

There’s a very interesting book (although long) written by David Hackett Fischer called Freedom and Fairness: A History of Two Open Societies, New Zealand and the United States that spells out the journey and differences that created the countries we know today.

20150223_141032_resized

Conservation and Nature: The country has a strong sense of place, wonder and often undisturbed and protected. It is sparsely populated (the country’s population is between 4-5 million according to different quotes and sources). This means natural beauty is on everyone’s doorsteps and unexpected adventures too. From Te Anau, Fjordland (the Doubtful Sound rocks!) to Wanaka, Queenstown to Curio Bay, the Catlins (these are all places we visited). We stayed in a sparsely populated coastal town in a studio, beautiful views of Hector dolphins’ playfully swimming in the ocean. Hector’s dolphins are endemic to the coastal regions of New Zealand, they’re the smallest dolphin on earth (approx. 1.2 meters) and there are approximately 7000 left in the ocean. We went to bed with the sun and woke up all throughout the night to the squeaking, cackling, crying, whaling sound of the hoiho, i.e. yellow-eyed penguins that nested under and around the studio where we stayed. They are one of the rarest penguins in the world with an estimated total population in New Zealand of between 6000 – 7000. They’re distinguished by their vivid yellow eye band. We saw them at a nearby beach but not up close and personal. We only heard them very loud and clear. An unforgettable experience.

Entrepreneurship: New Zealand consistently scores high on the World Bank list. The country was recently identified as the second best country in the world to do business. It is easy to start a business in New Zealand. It is reportedly a great place to test products or products because of their openness to testing technologies. For example, Shuttlerock, was launched in New Zealand. It’s a platform that allows brands to aggregate socially sourced content on their own websites. They have great ideas and ambition. They push boundaries (think bungy jumping!), those people we met were very friendly, ambitious and curious, not super egotistical. Qualities that make a great partnerships work, build successful leaders and teams.

If you’re looking for a holiday destination, playground for new ideas or a new adventure, New Zealand may be your calling. I’d move there in a heartbeat if the opportunity came around.

20150219_134157_resized

Appealing to Employees’ ‘Purpose’ Sweet Spot

Our WE team of ambitious, passionate colleagues (before our 24-hour pro-bono marathon)
Our WE team of ambitious, passionate colleagues (before our 24-hour pro-bono marathon)

In December, two of the 2014 trends about corporate societal engagement by CECP resonated as we reflected on Waggener Edstrom’s second annual CreateAthon event. The post highlighted that companies are paying closer attention to their culture and how it aligns company values with employee values because employees are looking to work for companies that share their values. Alignment between the values accelerates business performance. Second, employee engagement continues to evolve. There is a link between how companies support employee engagement and invest in communities. Both factors contribute to creating a meaningful culture that attracts and retains talent.

It has been three months since WE’s event, and the shared joy, camaraderie and connections that employees experienced are still palpable because CreateAthon speaks to employees’ aspirations and expectations in three ways.

  • Something Greater than Oneself: Employees are not driven solely by their own achievements or the company’s goals as an end in itself but by the world around them and how they better society. A 2014 article in Inc. magazine highlighted the results of a Deloitte study that stated 73 percent of employees who say they work at a “purpose-driven” company are engaged, compared with just 23 percent of those who don’t. CreateAthon builds new communities within companies that work toward clear outcomes that have a far-reaching impact. This is inspiring to employees.
  • Focus on the Experience: In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” People seek fulfillment in their everyday lives. Employees have a desire to create and participate in experiences in pursuit of greater happiness. Experiences like CreateAthon stay with people, they have emotional longevity and can be relived. Research indicates that experiences define a person’s sense of self more than possessions.
  • Opportunity to Thrive: CreateAthon is a social learning experience. During CreateAthon we build an equal playing field regardless of job title, experience or skill-set. WE employees valued having the opportunity to try out a new skill. Studies have shown that younger generations tend to feel uncomfortable in rigid corporate structures where information is often siloed. The CreateAthon experience is a microcosm of the types of workplaces that companies are being challenged to deliver at scale. Being in an agile, flexible and fun environment gives employees the perfect opportunity to thrive.

The Power of Simple

Colorado, USAIn our patch work world of busy social calendars, family functions and professional demands, complexity is an outcome of life that we confront most days. Our world of complexity is  powered by technology, an over-abundance of information and high expectations. Deliberately embracing the notion of simplicity or simplifying our ways is refreshing; I’ve learned that its a strategy to live a more meaningful life.

The Oxford Dictionary defines the adjective simple, “Free from duplicity, innocent and harmless, honest, open and straightforward.” The word suggests greater clarity because if we spend time focused on simplifying a situation, task or priorities, there is a greater likelihood that we have a clearer focus and understanding for why we are doing something. The idea of taking some time to pause and process the reason for why we’re doing something , as opposed to jumping frantically from one task to another raises our consciousness about the choices we’re making which means we can focus on quality of activities versus the quantity of items that we’re checking off the to-do list.

Simplicity breeds gratitude, higher productivity and greater fulfillment. Undeniably, the idea of simplifying is an aspiration every day. If we remind ourselves frequently, train our brain to be deliberate and focus, we will be more intentional and happier.

Live simply.

What I learned from going sleepless in Seattle

This blog originally appeared on November 5, 2014 on http://createathon.org/. Two years ago I wanted to find a new way to engage Waggener Edstrom employees and have a social impact. A dash of creativity, risk and some rubber arm twisting resulted in WE’s participation in a CreateAthon event which was a hit! Read about our most recent CreateAthon experience.

Our WE team of ambitious, passionate colleagues (before our 24-hour pro-bono marathon)
Our WE team of ambitious, passionate colleagues (before our 24-hour pro-bono marathon)

During global Pro Bono Week (#PB14), Waggener Edstrom celebrated its second CreateAthon experience. Twenty-four ambitious and energetic employees filled up on protein, energy drinks and delicious food — but no sleep — to create and deliver storytelling campaigns, marketing materials, PR plans and new brand identities to help support the missions of five amazing Seattle-based nonprofit organizations. Our Bellevue office space was lively for the full 24 nonstop hours, and energy levels hit a steady 8 or 9 on a 10-point scale around the clock (except for a lull between 7‒8 a.m.).

The delight of our clients this week confirmed the success of the event and the value of pro bono initiatives to help dedicated but resource-scarce groups. I was amazed to reflect on the overall performance and productivity of a team with lofty goals and a finite amount of time to achieve them. The team’s success can be attributed to embracing the following principles.

  • Be courageous. Every team member brought a variety of skills and experiences to the projects. Similarly everyone felt some vulnerability and uncertainty because they hadn’t worked together before. Participants embraced the diverse perspectives and focused on everyone’s (hidden) talents to get the work done. Be courageous, bring your whole self to the task and jump in to meet the need regardless of experience or job title. In the words of Dale Carnegie, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit around and think about it. Go out and do it!”
  • Embrace creative chaos. Each five-member team worked together to establish a clear scope of work and goals for their project. This was an easy and smart step. Determining how the tasks would be divided and how the work would get done was more complicated. Generating ideas for the clients was challenging too. Visiting the Boys & Girls Club of Bellevue’s club house, taking a walk in the park and listening to music inspired great ideas. Taking breaks, experiencing new or different environments, listening and honoring each idea, and brainstorming spontaneously with everyone and anyone available surfaced the most fun, surprising and winning concepts for our clients. Everyone’s creative chaos looks different, but you’ll know the winning idea when you see it.
  • Break rules, challenge assumptions. Every company and team has written and unwritten rules. These rules have purpose and value; for example, they help create order. Rules can also hinder flexibility, which limits our creativity and thus our ability to solve the problems that confront us. During CreateAthon, time is limited. We need to remove needless issues, concerns and hurdles fast. Trust the values of the common culture to ensure that you represent the company consistently. Challenging assumptions and breaking the rules of how to tackle a typical task is encouraged and feels really good. Let it go!
Our WE team of ambitious, passionate colleagues (after 24-hours of hard, fun and rewarding work)
Our WE team of ambitious, passionate colleagues (after 24-hours of hard, fun and rewarding work)

The success of our CreateAthon projects will be partly measured by our impact on building capacity for these pro bono clients and how much we further their business goals (for example, by increasing donations or recruiting volunteers). In the professional services industry, achieving excellence, innovation and results are at the heart of our success. When we open our minds, show passion and find purpose in our work, we can live these principles every day.

How to Connect with Socially Conscious Consumers

Go Green 1Every day companies are introducing sustainable, socially conscious products and services, engaging in public-private partnerships and working to alleviate social and environmental challenges to fulfill business commitments and goals (financial, environmental and social). Research indicates that more and more consumers aspire to align their purchasing decisions and lifestyle with their values. This is commonly referred to as ‘conscious consumption’. At the same time, employees’ values are showing up more prominently in the workplace. Environmental Leader recently reported that corporate social responsible (CSR) activities have been proven to improve job performance. As employers compete aggressively for talent, they’re learning about the importance of creating compelling experiences that match individuals’ values such as flexibility, shared responsibility and transparency.

Last year Sustainable Brands reported on Nielsen’s findings that 50 percent of global consumers are willing to pay more for socially responsible products. Deloitte’s Millennial Survey 2014 indicated that Millennials are disappointed in business and government leaders, and expect improvement in CSR. Sixty-three percent of Millennials donate to charities and 51 percent—more than any other generation surveyed—told Nielsen they would pay extra for sustainable products. As more and more digital natives show more interest in buying socially responsible brands and the number of micro-audiences increase, organizations are facing a more daunting or complex task of engaging and influencing consumers.

Renee Lertzman, Ph.D.,  author of The Myth of Apathy, keynote at GoGreen Portland #GoGreenPDX (October 2014)
Renee Lertzman, Ph.D., author of The Myth of Apathy, keynote at GoGreen Portland #GoGreenPDX (October 2014)

At this week’s Go Green Portland conference, Renee Lertzman, Ph.D.,  author of The Myth of Apathy shared insight about the challenges of engaging and motivating communities of stakeholders in sustainability. She advocated the value and importance of getting smart about the psychological and social dimensions of the stakeholders that we connect with. Assuming that most people share the desire to have impact there is more to consider besides people’s values, beliefs and opinions.

Lertzman explained the complexity of everyday decisions and how people relate to environmental issues. We face dilemmas each day. Think about a person’s decision whether to work from home to reduce their carbon footprint. If a person stays at home they may spend less time emitting carbon on the roads, however the power and energy to warm their home may equal the carbon emissions of a commute. Which option minimizes the impact on the environment? Lertzman argued that people’s capacity to understand issues will directly affect the appropriate engagement strategy to reach these people.

Instead of only focusing on appealing to individuals’ behavioral motivations and triggers, Lertzman pointed to the value of focusing on the emotional and experiential dimension of engagement.

  • Meet people where they are: Capitalizing on the energy that exists, mobilizing people to co-create and discuss solutions can help audiences rationalize their situation and negotiate dilemmas and conflicts.
  • Show compassion: Knowing that every human being has a fundamental need to have an impact, yet deals with anxiety in decision making, positive reinforcement and compassion breeds understanding and lends itself to promising outcomes.
  • Listen: Listening and being inquisitive helps us from jumping too quickly to conclusions and making assumptions. If people aren’t engaging its often because they are overwhelmed. Its often nothing to do with the fact that they don’t care or aren’t motivated. Listening to people, understanding their circumstances can be more effective in driving change, as opposed to pressuring individuals.

General Mills’ Position on GMO

I’m an active consumer. I selectively engage with brands via email, social media, phone or by chatting directly with team leads or store managers when I have something to share – complaints and compliments alike, which has often resulted in action or positive changes. When I read this post on Linked In: General Mills speaks up about state GMO labeling laws; I was intrigued to read their position on this hot topic. The author, Debra Atlas provides the verbatim reply and concludes, “If they are in favor of a national labeling act, why assiduously fight every state – and with so much capital expense – to defeat any mandatory labeling? Do they truly want consumers to know what’s in their food, or are they simply blowing smoke? It has to make you wonder.”

I give credit to General Mills (GM) for providing a pretty thorough reply. Their position to support national legislation is pretty consistent. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt that they support giving consumers the information that they want. After all, they’re a brand that generally has a good handle on transparency, they understand the power of consumers and their demand for greater clarity (likely born out of horror stories over the years about food supply chains).

I have read that the state by state GMO labelling will create a cost and could very likely create confusion in grocery stores (The Shelby Report posted an excellent summary on this topic here). I’m inferring that GM realizes that every stakeholder group will pay some price if the piecemeal approach continues. The state by state strategy is positively increasing awareness of GMO, however I’ve also read that the details in the state by state proposals are very vague and don’t serve consumers very well. The topic is complicated and not a topic that consumers deeply understand. Most of the legislation focuses on how the food is put together but not what it contains.

If GM doesn’t believe that piecemeal legislation addresses the core issues of GMO’s that matter to stakeholders then their strategy makes sense and it is likely cost efficient to fight states. I’m most interested in learning about GM’s proactive strategy for nationwide legislation if they believe this is the right road to transparency, this would provide a true-up picture of their desire to respond to consumers.

Entering the Real-World of Social Enterprise

This weekend, I’m wrapping up a 9-month Business of Social Innovation certificate program with Impact Entrepreneurs, at Portland State University led by Cindy Cooper and Jacen Greene – two gifted business professionals and academic coaches. I have a wealth of gratitude from this experience, more than I can capture here. Its been an episode of deep learning and exploration. It is the most hands on university program that I have participated in during my fifteen year career (at this point, I could move forward to carry out a thorough business plan to raise funding for my proposed social enterprise). I’ve continued to learn about myself, especially my desire to excel as an entrepreneur or intrapreneur (the latter is a better fit right now). The experience further validated my love of purposeful learning and desire to use my business background to be a changemaker or wavemaker (not the squishy, feel-good stuff but the real, long term kind of self-sustaining change).

IMG_5197 IMG_5236IMG_5244

While this was primarily an online course, in the past two week we spent three-days visiting social enterprises in the fashion, coffee and IT industries and more.

  • Central City Concern has demonstrated the innovative and persevering leadership in transforming the lives of people who ,
  • My Street Grocery, Amelia Pape has built a platform for community led food access.
  • Seeko Designs has an amazing story about empowering women and bridging communities between high and low income countries while raising the integrity of fashion
  • Sustainable Harvest demonstrated the systemic, sophisticated innovation behind supply chain for some people’s favorite beverage.
  • Grammen Intel is delivering, sustainable locally designed and adapted IT solutions to improve agricultural yields, economic development and maternal health into low-income communities.

Practicing my listening skills, increasing my understanding of the real social business world was an outcome I sought at the start of the course which I achieved. I also added new tools to my toolbox (more to come on the business model canvas), met friends and future entrepreneurs who I’m confident with catalyze change. My head and heart are full contemplating the possibilities.