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«Big Sur, California, March 24 - 27, 2013 CONFERENCE SUMMARY | 2 Executive Summary In March 2013 a number of CEOs, top executives, and social ...»

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Big Sur, California, March 24 - 27, 2013


Executive Summary

In March 2013 a number of CEOs, top executives, and social change-agents met at Esalen Institute to

discuss the emergence of a new paradigm in the business world called both conscious capitalism and conscious business. They came from an array of companies including: Whole Foods, the Container Store, Eileen Fisher, TOMS Shoes, Geomagic, prAna, Clif Bar, Trader Joe’s, Joie de Vivre, the Energy Project, Berlin Packaging, Tata Management Training Centre, and the IMC Pan Asian Alliance Group.

This spring happens to be a propitious time for this new business paradigm coming fresh upon the recent publication of Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia. According to these authors, a more values-based, purpose driven, socially synergistic (win-win), ecologically sensitive, and people-centered—that is, conscious—form of business practice has been taking hold in several new businesses over the past few decades.

Thus, beginning in March 2011 Esalen’s Center for Theory in Research, in partnership with the Conscious Capitalism Institute (CCI), started hosting this annual series of invitational conferences to help cultivate and connect the leadership within this growing movement and cultivate a growing fellowship. Although many of the attendees have come from so-called progressive companies, in recent years even some Fortune 500 companies have begun to notice that the tenets of conscious capitalism are not simply a morally uplifting way of conducting business but actually result in greater profits and productivity. Indeed, many in this conference commented that conscious practices are rapidly going mainstream, particularly among the rising generation of millennials, who already seem to assume that this paradigm is the norm not the exception. They are readily buying clothes made with organic fabrics and anti-sweat shop labels, and they love to post YouTube spots about TOMS Shoes, thus providing free advertising for TOMS’s one-for-one policy that sends a pair of shoes to children in need every time a pair is purchased at a regular price.

Because the Esalen Institute has often served as a venue where diverse constituents, such as scientists, spiritual practitioners, and thought-leaders, can come together in creative new ways, this conference also included representatives from the Institute for Cultural Evolution, the Pachamama Alliance, the Consciousness Collaborative (in India), and the spiritual teacher Byron Katie (founder of The Work), who creatively intermixed with the business leaders and contributed fresh perspectives to the overall conversation. The following summary captures the mai

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Spiritual Wisdom for Conscious Leaders in the Workplace On Monday morning the spiritual teacher Byron Katie facilitated the participants in a consciousnessraising exercise. If capitalism and business are to be more conscious, then daily or weekly practices that foster greater self-awareness in business leaders and team-awareness in the workplace are

essential. As the process unfolded in the room, a few core themes emerged:

First, our thoughts and beliefs create our perception of others and the outer world, and our emotional responses naturally follow. To foster higher consciousness in business and the workplace, leaders need to model and encourage greater awareness of the ways that thoughts, beliefs, and emotional patterns shape outcomes. We can choose and co-create better outcomes only through the first step of greater self-awareness. A conscious business leader deliberately chooses the thoughts and beliefs that will result in effective outcomes.

Second, becoming a more conscious business leader involves living in-the-moment with less mental projection into a still-evolving future and less clinging neurotically to the past, which can often lead to the recycling of old emotions and mental scripts.

Third, conscious business leaders are not perfect; they are aware they have egos. This self-awareness enables them to be less driven from below by unconscious ego-drives (for greed, power, status, and domination, for example). The conscious leader does not need to be pure saint. Instead, he or she is simply more aware of how to unplug from potentially destructive drives and lower-level motivations.

Fourth, conscious business leaders embody the spiritual truth that there is no “other” because from the ultimate perspective there is only unity. To move beyond obstacles toward business success, the conscious business leader incorporates the “other" (as customers, employees, suppliers, business competitors, and governmental regulators) as an aspect of oneself. This kind of attitude or approach is already implied in the shared fate, or stakeholder, model of conscious capitalism (see below).

Fifth, many of today’s conscious business leaders are integrating timeless spiritual and psychological wisdom into their business practices and overall vision for the workplace. The old dualism between the pure saint and the greedy capitalist is being transcended and replaced with the paradigm of the integral entrepreneur who is motivated by spiritual values as well as by old-fashioned business imperatives.

Spreading the Vision of Conscious Capitalism Though they are still engaged in their inaugural book tour for Conscious Capitalism, John Mackey and Raj Sisodia took pause to participate in this Esalen conference where they shared their latest insights concerning the spread of this new business paradigm. Mackey started by citing some historical vignettes and statistics to support his conviction that modern capitalism has correlated with


measurable progress for many people—less poverty, greater choice, and increased literacy, for example. Because the reputation of capitalism has been sullied in recent years by Wall Street’s excesses and the Enrons of the world, Mackey sees his role to a great extent as simply restoring capitalism to its original vision and purpose. He maintains that, when practiced with conscious intentions, business is still the greatest value-creator in the world. The four tenets of conscious

capitalism are:

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The third tenet is conscious leadership. CEOs and top executives who are motivated by conscious values and embody conscious lifestyle choices are more likely to inspire and motivate their employees to do likewise. Mackey believes that without conscious leadership, this entire approach to business just can never get off the ground.

The fourth tenet of conscious culture has been inspired by the work of centers like Esalen Institute, which have promoted the concept of human potential for decades. Conscious companies foster the innate potential of their employees, not simply because it makes them more productive but because it enables them to lead more fulfilling lives as well. These four tenets are the basis of the new vision, and as the arrows in the diagram indicate, they reinforce one another in continuous and generative manner as conscious companies grow and change.


When a company is driven by the tenets of Conscious Capitalism, investors need not sacrifice high returns. On the contrary, Sisodia’s research has shown that such companies have consistently outperformed others. In his previous book, Firms of Endearment, Sisodia identified 28 companies as conscious, based on a series of characteristics (higher purpose, stakeholder orientation, investment in the community, impact on the environment). Of those 28, the 18 that are publicly traded outperformed the S&P 500 index by a factor of 10.5 between 1996 and 2011.

Mackey and Sisodia added that the dominant narrative about business is not keeping up with the rapid pace of cultural evolution. Society’s values, morals, and lifestyle choices keep moving forward, which means that unconscious businesses will soon be left behind. From this perspective, conscious capitalism is spreading a new ethical vision in the business world that is actually more attuned to where society is moving.

Mackey and Sisodia noted still a few more features of conscious capitalism: First, because customers become so enthusiastic about conscious companies, those customers then become the best marketing campaign one could ever want. This saves conscious companies millions of dollars in unnecessary advertising costs. Second, because conscious companies are more ethical, they often have low to negligible legal costs. Third, because workers at conscious companies are more happy and loyal, there is also very little churn in the ranks of employees, and therefore little need for expenditure on training new recruits.

On an optimistic note, Mackey said that conscious capitalism is beginning to penetrate the traditional business paradigm. The preeminent spokesman of the Fortune 500, Jack Welch, recently invited Mackey to speak at the Global 100 conference. Others at the conference noted that sprawling companies like WalMart are now being forced toward the conscious paradigm simply by the demands of their consumers.

Lastly, Mackey and Sisodia pointed out that the younger generation is readily adopting the tenets of conscious capitalism. The so-called millennials may be the group that finally carries this paradigm fully into the mainstream. Could it be that Fortune 500 companies that do not adopt these tenets become like dinosaurs—too cumbersome and clunky and too maladaptive to survive in the changed ecosystem of the near future?

Successful Feminine Leadership at Eileen Fisher This conference featured a number of comments about how the new paradigm of conscious business reflects the broader historical trend toward the emergence of feminine values, which are now balancing out the predominantly masculine values of the last several centuries. As society shifts and more women become workplace leaders, this trend is becoming all the more noticeable. One example is the clothing retailer Eileen Fisher, which has been run according to most, if not all, of the four tenets described by Mackey and Sisodia. Fisher herself attended this conference series for the


first time in 2013, and she shared some of her personal background, creative insights, and best practices with the other participants.

Fisher started by describing some of her personal journey toward greater consciousness over the course of her life. Though this quest has been particularly meaningful to her, it has not been compartmentalized from the way she runs her business. Instead, she shared that her company features a wellness benefit package that enables each employee to get massages or other healthpromoting treatments. At first, Fisher thought she would just be encouraging the growth of her employees, but it turned out that this had other unanticipated benefits. Her employees started to rave about their benefit package to their customers when in casual conversation on the sales floor. In response, customers started to feel that Eileen Fisher was a conscious and caring company, which motivated them to keep coming back to buy more clothes.

As her company grew from a small family-like business of about 30 employees it became more challenging to keep lines of communication open. Even though Fisher had written out her company philosophy as a series of principles (engage people, speak openly and honestly, mistakes are the secret to success, etc.), she did not know for sure at first how effectively they were being implemented all the way through the various departments, so she hired someone to find out. A survey revealed that within given work teams, morale, motivation, and engagement were fantastic, but between teams and throughout the company, there was a gap. In response, Fisher deliberately facilitated greater connectivity across the company's divisions. Increased cross-branch communication has made the overall company more self-aware. And more friendly: company-wide meeting are now abuzz with lively conversation because employees know each other. The overall result has been more creativity and better decisions.

Fisher spoke next about her interest in new models for structuring power relationships that transcend old masculine-styled hierarchies. Her company is not organized along the lines of an ancient Egyptian pyramid made of hierarchically stacked blocks, but according to a solar system model in which there are various orbits of leadership and authority. Although there is still some degree of hierarchy, Fisher sees the company’s guiding image as overlapping and cross-communicating circles. Each leadership team has a personal coach that guides them and keeps them living and working according to conscious principles.

Like most CEOs, Fisher has been interested in how to conduct meetings as efficiently as possible.

How can her meetings draw forth the most creative ideas and input without over-taxing her employees’ energy level? In this spirit, Fisher has explored and implemented a number of innovative models of communication at leadership meetings, including: Otto Scharmer’s Presencing, the World Cafe process, Christina Baldwin’s Circle Way, and the Native American talking stick. According to the tribal lore of some Native Americans, when there was a conflict the tribe would gather and pass a talking stick around until the troubling issue was resolved through communication. Fisher said that many of the company’s best ideas come forth through such innovative communication processes.


Fisher has found that when there is more feedback contributing to a top-level decision, the company can have more confidence that its implementation will be effective.

After describing the ways she has implemented conscious business practices, Fisher summarized two payoffs: First, conscious communication has led her employees to feel more connected to the energy and intentions of the company. Second, it has also enabled employees to feel less defensive and stuck in their ideas. Overall, the company has become more fluid and spends less time in polarizing arguments.

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