At a time when the impacts of our businesses are often greater than the sum of our intentions and expectations of businesses are evolving, the HOW of business is more important than ever. Host Lauren Sinreich talks with business leaders about methodologies that uncover power dynamics, new ways of identifying effective metrics, creating the conditions for achieving more rather than just doing more, the most critical skills organizations need moving forward, how values are now a competitive advantage, and more to help guide entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs as we create the world around us through our businesses.
10 Jennifer Brandel on Engagement as a Business Model, the Importance of Process Over Product, and Alternatives to the Unicorn Model of Business
Jennifer Brandel is Co-founder of Hearken, a people powered process and technology that enables organizations to better engage and collaborate with their stakeholders, as well as the Co-Founder of Zebras Unite, a network creating a more ethical, inclusive and collaborative ecosystem for mission-based startups. For her work in journalism and entrepreneurship, Jen won the prize for “Best Bootstrap Company” at SXSW and won the News Media Alliance Accelerator Prize. She received the Media Changemaker Prize by the Center for Collaborative Journalism, was named one of 30 World-Changing Women in Conscious Business, is a Columbia Sulzberger Fellow, an RSA Fellow, AND a member of the Guild of Future Architects and the National Civic Collaboratory. Jenn and I talk about building a values-based business, why process should come before product, alternatives to the unicorn model, so much more:
How combining the philosophical underpinnings of business and working with the Bahai faith taught her an effective way to impact journalism and plant the seed for starting Hearken
How changing the process of reporting fundamentally changed the dynamics and results of the newsroom
Why and how Hearken preserved optionality as it has grown over the past five years, and the options that are opened by maintaining sole ownership
The zebra company as her response to her disillusion with the silicon valley model and exponential growth and monopoly market
Why engagement is a strategic business model, and how Hearken is thinking about a more relational engagement model that expands possibilities for peoples lives
How Hearken approaches helping companies transform, and why they focus both on what is being left behind and what is newly being built
How Hearken designed a system with different moments of feedback loops at major decision making moments and how they deliberately think about the dynamics they create for 1:1 and 1-to-many interactions
References and resources:
You are more powerful than you think: A Citizen's Guide to Making Change Happen by Eric Liu
Community Centered Journalism: Engaging People, Exploring Solutions, and Building Trust by Andrea Wenzel
Design Justice Network
"Just by tweaking the process of how news stories got made, we ended up creating a different sounding and differently consequential journalism. Other newsrooms started asking us about it, and I knew I would regret not trying to help others make it work, because I do think it is universally applicable process that makes the world a little bit better."
"I feel like what we're trying to do is maintain the mission, and the money follows if you center the public. But the operations and the way the operating systems of news rooms have been set up is completely counter to this, so the work of doing this change while it might sound so simple on the surface is surprisingly more challenging because of the way they're optimized for speed, efficiency and distribution, not for listening, relevance and trust. So, there are a lot of changes that need to happen inside an organization first on a mental paradigm level, and then a workflow and tooling and schedule and business level. This tiny idea ends up changing a lot."
"I ran into the tension of what seemed like the Silicon Valley pattern recognition and it felt inherently impossible to build the kind of company I wanted to in that value system in place and that structure. If I want to build a company that lasts a long time and has these kinds of structures, why am I focusing all my time on making a small group of people very wealthy who aren't who I'm trying to serve with this work? I was always pushing back on the 10x unicorn model, but I didn't have the language for what I wanted instead.
"That was a tension that was hard, just the tradeoffs along the way of trying to find aligned financing and again hearing people say 'We'd invest in you if you only tweaked it this way or that way
09 Dave Inder Comar on Corporate Culture and Law as a Creative Force
Dave Inder Comar is an attorney and Founder of law practices Comar Mollé and Just Atonement. He has an amazing ability to humanize law, approaching it with creativity and empathy to make policy something people can use that helps them navigate the changes organizations face today. He’s a bold leader, having led a case against George W Bush Administration for illegal acts of aggression in the Iraq War, getting so far as the 9th circuit where it was acquitted due to the immunity provided to high ranking officials by federal law. In this episode we talk about law in business and the workplace, and how it can be a creative, generative function for businesses:
The dual-entity structure of his practices and how it enables him to be flexible and creative in his practice.
How a social science background has helped him break the mold of law firms and humanize law.
Why process is an important complement to making policies and laws work for people and organizations, and how meeting human needs can avoid unnecessary legal risk and costs.
Why compliance and the culture and processes around it are critical for business success, retaining institutional knowledge.
How and why companies need to implement policies that address the changes we’re seeing from compliance to the move to remote work and online infrastructure.
Inder’s thoughts about the role of the Chief Ethics Officer.
Why he recommends clients struggling to retain employees and clients should re-manifest with values into a more values-explicit and innovative company
Whythe most rewarding parts of being a lawyer is the human impact.
References and resources:
Tao Te Ching
“We’ve tried to create a nurturing space where lawyers who share those values can come and have an economic foundation and have some economic security from the practice, but we also want to give people freedom to do the things that they wanted to do… I think that’s something that not a lot of firms can not say, and so as a result, we’re able to attract some really awesome lawyers.”
“We’ve created at the firm our own ecosystem where we’re cultivating those values. And those values start to emerge in the lawyers themselves. So that is a really important product of the firm itself, that type of professional development is something I’m most proud of.”
“Culture is the river, and the rules and regulations are the dam. You can impose some structure, but the culture is the river, and ultimately a good lawyer will know how to inspect the culture and come up with a set of documents that people can actually use and will be incorporated into the company’s culture.”
“A lot of times people just want to be heard. A lot of people get a lawyer because they haven’t felt heard. And so if you provide a mechanism where people can feel heard, you might be able to resolve it before it gets miscommunicated and misconstrued in different ways.”
“I think compliance is evolving. That would have been a surprise to me years ago to predict that. I think there is an understanding that there has to be some dignity at work.”
” I think that’s something every company should do and it starts from the board all the way down, and that’s create a culture of compliance.”
“Like everything in life, there’s a psychological bias that it isn’t a problem until something terrible happens. As lawyers we can see the things down the road that are coming… I do think lawyers can have a lot of value in terms of compliance, and also creating the culture of compliance where any person can feel comfortable saying I dont actually know if this is compliant with our internal policies.”
“People should feel safe at work. And if the workplace doesn’t feel safe, that’s a terrible indictment of the company.”
“The ultimate value should be, in my view, creating a place for human dignity to thriv
08 Emily Schildt on creating an innovative business model based in an understanding of the customer
Emily Schildt is the founder of Pop Up Grocer, a traveling pop up grocery store that lies at the intersection of exhibit, retail store and grocer. She's also a brand communications and marketing consultant, and previously was the director of digital engagement at Chobani in its early days. Recognized as an innovator in the retail space, AdWeek named Pop Up Grocer "Best Pop-Up" in its first annual retail awards . In this episode we talk about:
How her experience as a brand communications and marketing consultant informed her strategy for Pop Up Grocer, and why she forewent market research and created a brand that was what she wanted to see in the world.
How she created an experiential company at the intersection of exhibit, retail and grocer with a business model that aligns more with being a media company than a retail company.
Why it's critical to educate and communicate thoroughly when doing something very different and innovative.
The challenges and complexity introduced by looking for traditional marketing metrics when moving commerce into experience that is both geographically specific and online, and how Emily differentiates indicators of performance from sales.
Why its companies' responsibilities to support causes in line with their values or the times and how there are many ways of doing that beyond just monetary support.
Why curation and trust is important in the attention economy.
References and resources:
Pop Up Grocer
Company of One by Paul Jarvis
Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together by Pamela Slimm
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k by Mark Manson
Table Manners with Jessie Ware
"Especially when you think about the current time we are living in and how that might affect peoples shopping habits, I think they definitely want to make decisions that are grounded in values and missions and interests and activism of the company, so that's something we certainly think about in our product selection."
"You dont know from a tomato jam on shelf that it's black owned, or that its growing its tomatoes through specific harvesting; it's up to us to relay that story and ensure the person visiting our space understands the reasoning behind our selection. Also, that's what distinguishes us in this discovery space from a traditional grocery store or retail space, is that generally speaking you dont have an opportunity to get a sense of that contextual information."
"I think in terms of sustainability, I think people care about that and want to care about that, but they care about other things first: what something says about them and their own identity. To have something be cool first and foremost and then if it just happens to house all these things that are sustainable, for example, it benefits everyone, because I think its a much stronger motivator than just wanting to do better for yourself or the environment."
"I felt every food company when approaching how to create its brand was hanging its hat on the fact that they source their ingredients responsibly and they're 100% clean and non-GMO. Those are stock standard things that people expect. What else is interesting about you? I approach our brand in the same way."
"If you sell things that's a total bonus, but what we're offering you is exposure and visibility. And just like any form of advertisement, newsletter podcast influencer, access to our audience of early adopters and other influential people comes at a cost. And its a pretty insignificant cost." (Of the PUG business proposition and market value)
"In the forming of my career and me as a professional woman, I learned at Chobani for example, that giving back should just be ingrained in your business model... I think its the responsibility of businesses. When I was developing our business model, that was a part from day one."
(On the move to e-commerce) "If everything wasn't happening as it is, I think we probably would have waited longer,
07 Satsuko VanAntwerp on Designing Human-Centered, Equitable AI
Satsuko VanAntwerp is a design researcher and service designer working on creating human-centered AI. Having previously founded a social sector design consultancy for government agencies, you'll hear how she brings her experience in business and the social sector to make more just and equitable AI. In this conversation we talk about:
why she sees large scale AI as an opportunity to shift until recently invisible power structures
data and its implications for businesses and customers
how a cross functional AI product team balances desirability, feasibiliy and viability
what happens when you optimize from a biz/tech lens and how to optimize from a human lens and why it generates better results
why AI needs to have ongoing learning from humans, making it important to have humans in the loop
the critical but distinct roles that tech and design play in developing explainable AI
how the micro and macro social contract within a company and of a country impacts the adoption of AI
Compass recidivism rate research
Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble
Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O'Neil
Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code by Ruja Benjamin
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez
Satsuko VanAntwerp on LinkedIn
"Design, what I'm representing, is the desirability. What does the human want, how do we make this usable? Does this make sense for society, and is it humane and responsible?"
"In the end, AI is just a tool, but it has the opportunity to do a lot of good if we can get our values in there. Tech is not neutral, right? And so I'm most excited by AI, enterprise level AI, AI that has the opportunity to be used by a lot of people, because it's just another slice of society that we can actually embed values that are good for all people."
"Values that are good for all people like equality, fairness, accountability, safety, privacy, all of these things. If we dont intentionally embed this into the technology, it's not going to happen on its own."
"As a design researcher, in the end we really believe the user is king or queen. My client may be a cosmetics company, but who I really think of as my client is the end user society, humanity."
"AI can be problematic if we dont highlight some of these issues and deal with them. At the same time it shines a light on everything that has already been going on that's not working in society."
"What's so helpful about the AI technology, now we have the proof, the data. And now we can't ignore it. Now we have to do something about this. Yes, it's problematic, and it's all of our collective responsibility to act and do something."
"It's so granular. I think one of the things thats interesting about AI. I think people think of it as Ex Machina, or HER, or Westworld. And we think of sentient beings, we think of it being very powerful stuff. In the end AI is often very narrow, it's applied to mundane tasks."
"Tech is not neutral and what AI can do, what's exciting about it, is that it can shift power. It can rebalance a system. There's so much potential for using AI to create a more just world, the kind of world we want to see. If we just take the data as is, the historical data, we'll just keep perpetuating all these disparities and discrepancies and biases we have until now. But now we do have a chance to rebalance that and to shift power. That's the most exciting part about AI."
06 Sarah Judd Welch on people-driven innovation
Sarah Judd Welch is CEO of Sharehold, a people-driven innovation agency, and started one of the first community agencies when the concept of community in tech was just getting started. Sarah and Lauren talk about:
The need for creating a new set of competencies and capabilities and value systems that allow businesses to serve their customers better.
How your customers goals can serve as really effective metrics
Why Net Promoter Score (NPS) is limited in measuring the success of community
Why systems design is so important for serving your community and customers.
Why research and other methods of listening to customers is critical skillset for organizations moving forward
How design research helps you identify whether you're focusing on the right opportunities and identify the worthy mountains to climb in business
Reframing the presence of conflict as an opportunity for progress
Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World by Dr. Viveck Murphy
Building Brand Communities: How Organizations Succeed by Creating Belonging by Carrie Melissa Jones and Charles Vogl
Just Enough Research by Erika Hall
"The capacity to listen to customers, I think thats probably one of the most fundamental skills a company can develop in 2020 for a competitive advantage."
"That in order for there to be a relationship between an organization and its quote-on-quote customer, there had to be a transaction, and I felt there was a missed opportunity. We should able to provide value that is mutual and reciprocal rather than transactional. And I saw this to be true in my work in technology as well. I saw the power of bringing people together and treating people well and solving their problems as a purpose of the business."
"The role of a business in society is to serve people, therefore you need to be solving the problems of people. And the people who you serve are core stakeholders in your business and that fundamentally drove what my work is today."
"Now the idea of a super engaged, community, true relationship driven business is no longer up for debate, the ROI has been proven, and now we're able to play at a significantly higher level of new value creation."
"The work that you do to support your team also supports your customers and vice versa. These are reciprocal mirrored relationships is that you need to be able to do both well."
"Conflict can be very powerful. In fact, one could argue that progress is not possible without conflict. You need to work through the conflict to progress forward and develop better solutions, and thats part of the reason why diversity is such a powerful asset in any team."
05 Nate Nichols on authenticity and elevating more diverse perspectives
Nate Nichols is Founder of the Palette Group, a Brooklyn-based creative production haus. In this conversation that tears down the silos of the personal vs professional journeys, Nate and Lauren talk about:
Business as a platform to explore one's identity and to self-express
Finding the balance between being authentic and unfiltered but also having it resonate with clients and audiences
How branding is a direct filter and lens for you to do the work you want to do in the world
How the agency business model directly impacts the diversity of perspectives in advertising
Data is driving the future of decentralized advertising, distribution of content and more diversity of creative content
References and Resources:
Ideo: Leading for Creativity
Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman
Run Studio Run by Eli Altman
Freelancer Cyber Summit
Allyship and Action
"There's something in me that when I am self expressed, there is value there."
"When you do set those brand values, if you do that work to design the brand values that you want people to see in your company, you'll attract those people you're speaking about, you'll attract those people in the recruitment process who you'll just immediately get along with because their values align with the brands values. So when they do come aboard, it's just easier to be themselves and be self expressed, because they're fully aligned with the brand values. And thus, your organization will just run way more fluid, way more efficiently because everyones just genuinely happy to be there."
"Thats the beauty of branding, if you're really true to yourself and your values you'll be able to create messaging and language and creative that represents that position and those values. So people look at you and experience you in a way that you dont even have to talk anymore."