Arianna Huffington asks a question I have rarely seen asked in the discussion of the corporate world.
What if women who decide to give up work or promotions for childcare aren’t just doing it for lack of opportunity? What if, to some extent, women are actively opting out of big business because sufficient meaning, enticement and justification in the modern, leant-in, corporate world simply isn't there?
It is a controversial one. I have been in big business. I have seen many friends passed over for promotions or pay rises. I have also seen them shrug their shoulders, not really wanting to play that game. Perhaps there is a reason that we are seeing more women setup their own businesses than ever before in history. It may not be that women don’t want to be Managing Director, but rather, that they know business can be done a different way.
And don’t for a second think Huffington is writing just about women. This is equally true for growing bands of disillusioned school leavers and university graduates, men wanting to find more balance, be healthier in mind and body or be able to be home more for their families or loved ones too.
People who realise that perhaps the dream for the top or the endless hustle isn’t really living the dream at all and maybe we could all be more efficient, more effective, more ‘successful’ in very different ways. Perhaps we could once and for all stop the glorification of stress, pressure and lack of sleep that drains not just our own health, but ironically, the health of our businesses too. Right down to the profit line to the tune of millions (or billions) of dollars every year. Not to mention the drain on our planet, our relationships and our own aims and aspirations.
The question that Huffington is asking, is it time for a revolution in business?
What would this revolution mean? What steps do we take to find greater wellbeing? And whose responsibility is to bring this revolution along?
If you feel business could work just as well (or perhaps better) in a completely different way, Huffington shows you are not alone and there are ways that we can bring back our focus on life. Which might, if we need it to, just improve our profit lines too.
I on my own probably can't do much. But what if we, the collective consumer could? What if all of us together could take the billions we are already giving to multinationals everyday, and make better choices to help impact those living without access to basic human rights?
This is the essence of Chapter One, written by the co-founder of Thankyou, Daniel Flynn.
Flynn tells the first chapter of the story of Thankyou, a business that has found its way (that probably is a little simplified in recognition of the process) onto everyday supermarket shelves, providing top-notch products to the mainstream market, where the profit from every product, gives back. Providing clean water, food or health projects to people in need.
It is wonderful in its detail and transparency. Flynn recounts not just the tribulations and failures (there seemed impossibly many) but the incredible level of volunteer support from far and wide. He recounts the years of hard work that it took to build the brand (thus far), the tongue in cheek marketing campaigns that won supporters and perhaps enemies too.
Now the question for any business donating 100% of its profits, and anyone believing in that brand, is what does that actually mean? What is the actual impact? What goes on above the profit line? And what happens to the funds next?
Flynn answers these questions openly, admitting trip-ups and issues and how they check and monitor themselves and track their real impact. He opens discussion on what is going to be a mammoth issue for business going forward, who want to give back. How do you prove that what you are doing truly has an impact and goes beyond green or fair-washing and actually does good? This is the transparency that all businesses need.
It is a wonderful book that focuses on how much power we each have, and just how long it takes to build a business particularly when doing something far out of the norm (hint: it’s not overnight. Or perhaps even 1001 nights) and the incredible amount of (largely volunteer) effort it takes, not just from the couple who envisioned it, but hundreds of people, customers and supporters who helped along the way.
Who doesn’t love magic?
Well, I admit this book may not be for everyone (my husband being one of those people) and it has some theories that Gilbert herself claims to be entirely out-there. And that is part of the point.
I believe that the ideas behind it can change the world, simply by setting people free to start creating, or create more often, or create without thinking if this time they will succeed or perhaps, if they will ever live up to the pressure of their last success? What incredible changes and ideas are we missing out on in the world, if people are too afraid to create and try new things?
Gilbert's ideas have much greater resonance than the well known entrepreneurial mantras of "get comfortable being uncomfortable" or "fail fast and fail often". This isn't even about finding a way to success. This is has nothing to do with success at all. Which is the most wonderfully freeing path to take. One I believe could take the world to incredible places.
In a world where success and reputation and consumption seem to dominate, Gilbert reminds us of our ability – everyone’s ability – to come up with brilliant, or decidedly non-brilliant, ideas. She also reminds us, that whether it is brilliant or non-brilliant is fairly irrelevant anyway.
More importantly, Gilbert gives us all a virtual permission slip to change our own world in whatever way we see fit. To dedicate our time to things that make us feel alive. Not necessarily to quit our job or move to Palawan, but simply to give ourselves permission to do the things we want to, be they artistic or musical or physical expression, or medical or scientific, without the burden of actually feeling those creations or actions need to really be recognised or acknowledged... or even, any good. Doing things for the love of creating.
But the power of this book, is it reminds each of us that we have the ability to act on ideas. To question, to do things differently. To pursue them way we want to see them done, even if it doesn't gel yet with anyone else. And that freedom, I believe, can truly change the world.
It's a cookbook. A great little Italian one with some incredibly (deceptively) simple recipes that make you feel entirely legit. (I once walked into Carluccio's and asked for avocado on my toast, being a good little Aussie. I was reprimanded sternly.) The good news is, we all still have the chance to learn what real Italian food is.
But how does that change the world?
Well, while this last one might seem a little tongue in cheek, I believe one of the most critical things we need in the world right now, is to go back to the important things in life.
You know that feeling we all crave, in the hills of Tuscany, on a warm summer night freely throwing our hands in the air as we chat the night away and eat crusty bread and olive oil and drink four Euro bottles of wine. Full bellies, the smell of the soil, the comfort of good conversation and even better friends.
At the end of the day we all need more of that.
Not in Tuscany, but in our own homes, communities and businesses. We need to remember the value of good food, the joy of cooking for others, the joy of eating food someone else has, with great love and care, cooked. We need to remember the value of the land that produces it and the work that goes into that.
We need to remember that, most likely, all that we have is already enough. That we can solve some pretty big problems sharing a big bowl of warm pasta, even if we do put truck loads of sauce on top and betray our lack of any real knowledge about Italian cooking at all.
We can enjoy a bit more, focus on the simple pleasures and every so often, remember to cook a hearty, nurturing meal for ourselves and for someone else. I don’t want to get too political here, but for all over the world it seems to have become the year of the fences. So perhaps there is one thing we need to remember, getting back to basics and the important things in life:
When you have more than you need, build a longer table. Not a higher fence.
Or, with the help of this book or a recipe passed down, or Google or any other book like it, focus on the simple joys of a wonderfully simple pasta sauce. In the most unexpected places, you can find world-changing stuff.
(1) I want to make this list 10. So please tell me your top picks and why so that we can add them in.
(2) Audiobooks. Do it. If, like me, you find reading a distant memory because you never seem to have time, then please look into audio books. They have changed my world (touché!). Books travel around with me all day in my pocket, making commutes, housecleaning and I admit endless rounds of duplo, that much better.
(3). How to fold a fitted sheet. If you really must, this is how you do it. But I hold no responsibility for the chaos that ensues at your home the next time you go to find a fitted sheet.