“White guys won’t work here anymore.”
“What? What do you mean?” I said to a friend of mine who heads talent for a multinational technology company. I was shocked to hear that, as her company had a great reputation.
“This month, I had two white guys from Texas turn down great offers because the company wasn’t diverse enough. I never thought I’d see the day when white guys in a job search, and in a recession nonetheless, are saying they need women and people of color on their teams.”
“Holy cow! I just got chills.” I exclaimed.
“I’ve been harping on this for years,” she replied. “I’ve been telling our CHRO that the time would come that we’ve fallen too far behind in creating a place that attracts diverse talent.”
That time had obviously come, as now 90% of white men place some value on DEI, with 42% who believe it is very or extremely important to them (Center for Talent Innovation, 2020). Unfortunately, 55% of all employees (and 45% of white employees) believe that racism at work has damaged their relationship to their employer. Now, 4 in 10 white employees avoid employers who don’t take a stand against racism (Edelman, 2021), far exceeding the 25% tipping point threshold (Centola, 2020) required for a belief or behavior to penetrate an entire population.
"I know... that change is gonna come. Oh, yes it will." Sam Cooke
As older workers retire and hand the reins to younger ones, and as frontline managers, new hires, customers and end users are increasingly more diverse, companies must be places where everyone feels like they belong, that their contributions matter and that they can thrive. If that's not the case, news travels and it becomes hard to fill roles, e.g., half of younger employees (aged 18-34) now avoid employers who don’t take a stand against racism (Edelman, 2021).
Historically, attracting new diverse hires meant recruiting at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), providing mentorship, forming ERG’s and paying living wages. Today, these are simply table stakes. Deep down, today’s workers want to be a part of something that matters. They want to join mission they can easily find on Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy or the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and to be on a team where all people belong and can do their best work.
Of course, these concerns have always mattered to women, and people from the LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities. Now, it matters to almost everyone. If the table stakes aren’t there, which we can easily tell from industry gossip, the company’s website and Glassdoor ratings, we’ll keep looking. If the board looks like a yacht club, we’re moving on. If we don’t get the sense that there isn’t a powerful mission, and a culture of inclusion and warmth on the team, we’re out.
Companies have tried to fix the symptoms of a culture that lacks purpose and belonging with individual interventions like apps, free food, mentorship, and volunteering opportunities. Ultimately, these tactics fail to produce substantial and sustained results because the way of the eagle has not been rooted out. From the underlying biases (privileging whites and men), culture (profit principle/quarterly earning reports, always on, impress the boss, similarity bias, no purpose activation), and systems (performance reviews, quotas), work generally dehumanizes and separates people.
We are experiencing a whole system failure, but few companies recognize it. Most companies still think that more individual interventions are the answer to the ongoing systemic failure. We can’t ice cream social our way out of a toxic culture. We can’t app our way out of anxiety. We can’t pill our way out of a crap boss. We can’t hire our way out of turnover. We can’t blog our way out of racism.
We can’t deck chair our way out of a hull breach.
We need to think holistically about the problem.
It’s time for a new way.
There is no such thing as an individual human - like the bison, we are a herd species. We exist by, for and through each other. We need each other and always have. The neuroscience of empathy has proven that when one of us suffers, we all suffer (APS, 2017). Although we all have freewill and a unique purpose, they exist within the implicit wholeness and connection of our families, communities, ecosystems and species. As such, all internal people activities now must be re-imagined with a holistic and social approach.
A few innovative companies, such as Coursera, are seeing that DEI, L+D, wellness, talent and culture have much more in common than they differ and that each needs to be reimagined and inform the other. For example, wellness strategies need to be informed by DEI, as it is well-established that systemic racism is a public health issue (CDC, 2021).
How can any of us be truly well when one of us is suffering?
Accordingly, Coursera is dissolving HR silos and is actively crafting new ways to care for the whole person and community. Wellness initiatives will now be informed by and amplify priorities of DEI, CSR, Talent and L&D. L+D will now adopt an inclusive/ social/ wellness/ culture-forward pedagogy. Talent, workforce planning, policies for hiring, performance management, promotion and compensation will be driven by culture, DEI and learning goals. DEI strategies will address more than biases and behavior change, but are also woven into product development, marketing, culture, learning, and wellness.
It’s still too early to tell the results, but at least they are asking the right questions and thinking holistically, systemically and socially. Before we explore the particulars of the new way of developing people and culture, let’s do a thorough audit of where we’re starting from.
Although HR folks are, in general, incredibly thoughtful, kind, self-aware and compassionate, the systems and culture in which they operate are paternalistic, individualistic, allopathic and dehumanizing, echoing the condescension, disgust and paternalism that European settlers had towards First Nations people.
Employees are regarded selfish, interchangable children who leave everything important to them, e.g., their love lives, souls, families, communities, faiths, and nation, and that impacts their life, e.g., ongoing socioeconomic dynamics such as flat wages, skyrocketing housing and transportation costs, police brutality, climate change, income inequality, political corruption, and systemic sexism and racism, at the door to the office.
Eagle HR has spent the last 30 years attempting individual interventions to address collective failures. It assumes that if we’re uneducated, we simply need to learn information from superior beings - experts and trainers. If we’re unwell, a pill, program or app is the answer. It assumes there is nothing unique about any of us, that we are tabula rasa, a blank slate, without any purpose, meaning or mattering.
This results in insecurity about our worth and value to the company. It has us hedge our bets, play cover your ass (CYA), put in face time and withhold our best ideas and dissenting opinions for fear of losing our income, housing and healthcare. It has us see our efforts as insufficient, our emotions as bad, our failings as moral and personal versus, and ourselves as always needing to work hard, or at least maintain the appearance of working hard.
As you might imagine, a people strategy so deeply dehumanizing and disconnected from our true bison nature, does not serve us well and is marked by high levels of stress, burnout, disengagement and employee turnover.
Let’s get out our magnifying glass and see what’s going function by function:
Eagle Learning and Development
Eagle L+D treats us as individual students who learn from experts in live or virtual classrooms. We are given information and are tested on it. We pass or fail and sometimes we get a certificate or badge to put on our intranet or LinkedIn profile demonstrating we’ve passed. Unfortunately, we forget 90% of everything we have learned within 7 days (PLoS One, 2015), so it is fair to say that a great portion of the $446B global L+D industrial complex (Beroe, 2019) is wasted.
Further, eagle L+D allocates resources in an elitist fashion, with cheap and boring e-learning for frontline employees (who are typically more female and diverse) and expensive training programs, off-sites and 1:1 coaching for executives and high-potential leaders (who are typically more male and white). As such eagle L+D edifies existing inequities.
Eagle Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Eagle DEI typically includes hiring quotas, mentoring, ERG’s, anonymous reporting systems, and one-time bias and discrimination trainings. It separates diverse populations into ERG’s, creating insular personal networks (MIT, 2021) and edifies the pattern of othering, secrecy and mistrust between groups. It also typically has the same ethos of treating people like children who are behaving or performing poorly. Underlying assumptions include:
While mentoring is desired by, and impactful for, diverse candidates, it actually reduces their tenure (MIT, 2021). Eagle DEI does indeed educate people, but because it is not centered in purpose, folks don’t see inclusion as an expression of their purpose, but rather as something exogenous to it. Because it also doesn’t create high-trust connections between diverse people, it creates conscious and unconscious resistance to diverse groups and DEI initiatives.
As we’ve explored, the $8 billion DEI industrial complex (McKinsey, 2017) has resulted in neutral to negative outcomes over the last 2 decades, wasting $8B and hundreds of thousands of hours of people’s time every year.
The eagle way of developing culture is not to develop culture. It’s frequently ignored and when it is acknowledged, it is an afterthought or deprioritized. Sure, ice cream socials, holiday parties, volunteering, townhalls and happy hours do have some benefits. They are excellent opportunities to take a break from the routine, and when done well, are a great way to recognize people’s contributions. However, these rarely involve intentional relationship development beyond ice breakers like “two truths and lie”, treasure hunts, three-legged races and bingo.
But relationships do indeed form at work and culture does indeed develop - “wherever two or more are gathered”. All you have to do is stand up on a chair at your next company event and watch who is talking to who. White sales guys talking to white sales guys. Asian engineers talking to Asian engineers. Black customer service reps talking to black customer service reps. White HR ladies talking to white HR ladies. And those with the most power talking amongst themselves in the corner.
This is because, people generally strike up conversations with people who they have something in common with, and generally based on age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, education, politics, department, etc. This results in a culture of disparate tribes, resistance to change, and edifying existing exclusionary power dynamics (Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, 2002).
Moreover, culture is typically not part of anyone’s title, so it gets assumed by folks, and frequently lower status white women, to add onto their already packed schedules and unbalanced workload. Without any time, staff or budget to think it through, at best it gets done quickly and edifies the tastes (food, music, activities) and unconscious biases of the white women in charge, further edifying the dynamic that culture doesn’t matter because it’s done poorly and driven by someone with relatively low status, and it doesn’t include everyone. At its worst, this approach becomes an opportunity for those with little status and power to exercise power and “lean down” on diverse employees, such as allocating budgets for Fourth of July activities, but none for Juneteeth or Pride, for Christmas and Hanukkah activities, but none for Diwali, Eid or Kwanza.
The ethos of eagle wellness is “Work is hell. Eat some broccoli, exercise, take a pill and get back to work, loser.” It is reflective of our allopathic sickcare industry, that addresses the symptoms of our atomized, micromanaged, soulless and dehumanizing workplaces. It labels and stigmatizes mental illness, psychological languishing and physical illness, and produces a culture of denial and victim-blaming.
It treats the crisis of connection and fulfilling work as an individual failure. It assumes if we are not healthy and happy, we are broken, unable to take the pressure of the always-on, soulless, dehumanizing workism of the modern corporation. So, it doles out tips, tools, podcasts, apps, hacks and pills to get us back on the job, but doesn’t give us what we actually need to cure our malaise, burnout, loneliness and languishing - purpose and belonging.
Research shows that individual interventions designed to increase happiness and improve mental health may actually make us more lonely (Mauss, et al, 2012) and unhappy (Mauss, et al, 2011). In this way, eagle wellness is indistinguishable from a veterinary pharmacy. Like a agricultural veterinarian, its job is to make us just well enough to be exploited for burden or slaughter.
As work and money are the top causes of stress (Statista, 2017), it should be no surprise that few turn to their abuser for comfort. Despite 97% of us being unhealthy (Mayo, 2017), and 84% of us being stressed (APA, 2021), and the great need for support, only 24% of employees make use of wellness benefits (Gallup, 2015).
Although a handful of great, award-winning wellness programs exist that are part of a holistic culture of purpose, transformation, connection and health, most wellness programs face the sysiphean task of marshalling comparatively little time, power and budget to combat the effects of an eagle culture.
The eagle way doesn’t work, and likely never has. To make matters worse, the pandemic exacerbated many of these dynamics. According to a June 2021 Gartner study (Gartner, 2021):
Of course, like nearly all dynamics in our nation, women and communities of color were disproportionately impacted, e.g.,
Of course, as I mentioned, most HR folks are generally kind, inclusive and heart-centered, and there are multiple bison-shaped bright spots emerging in L+D, DEI, wellness and culture. So this isn’t an indictment of HR professionals, but rather an indictment of the manner in which the eagle pervades our business logic, our corporate structures and people processes. It’s an indictment of the logic that says systems are not to blame for systemic issues. It’s a rebuke of victim-blaming that results from throwing apps and intranet tips at systemic problems. This is a call to end the madness.
If we didn’t have a noble purpose to be a beacon of flourishing, equity and unity for the world, we could avoid responsibility for this systemic oppression and chalk it up to “man’s inhumanity to man”. But we do indeed have a noble purpose, so treating people in this way, both lacks moral imagination and is out of integrity with our nation's purpose.
It’s time for the bison.
Instead of treating people like selfish children and then blaming them for perishing in a toxic culture:
Instead of driving people apart through elitist and ineffective L+D approaches that presume there is nothing unique about people and ignores the transformative power of purpose;
Instead of driving people apart through ERG’s, anonymous reporting systems, paternalistic mentoring programs and one-time compliance trainings;
Instead of driving people apart by allowing similarity bias to form tribes and destroy culture; and
Instead of driving people who suffer mentally and physically into shame and isolation by telling them they are on their own to fix their broken selves with apps, pills and therapy,
Let’s treat them like adults with souls, families and communities; let’s bring them together and empower them to activate their purpose at work.
The bison way is generative and specific. It gets at the source of what people need to flourish. People need to be a part of a healthy culture where they can activate and fulfill their purpose and enjoy rich connections with each other. e.g.,
“... what employees need is a more personal sense of purpose. When employees believe that their work is personally relevant, there is a 26% increase in the likelihood of the organization to sustain workforce health. Employees also need to feel connected to one another… Highly cohesive teams have a 37% higher likelihood of sustaining workforce health.” (Gartner, 2021)
The last 30 years of breakthroughs in neuroscience, psychology, social learning and integrative health has revealed a coherent picture of how to develop and scale a thriving culture:
A. put people in small, diverse groups of peers,
B. empower them to activate their purpose and values at work,
C. and share their experiences with each other over time.
The results of this approach are that 95% of people complete the programs, 90% can apply the concepts, 85% take new actions and 76% form new daily habits. Further, 98% of people experience respect from their diverse peers and 96% of people experience empathy, 96% discover alternative perspectives to their challenges, and 94% feel comfortable discussing their anxiety and fears that distract them from work with their diverse peers (ion Learning, 2020).
Guided by the bison, all functions come together to serve an aligned vision, the details of which we’ll explore in the next few chapters. Cross-functional teams are charged with common goals and objectives, and a large amount of trust and autonomy to deliver on them. This means multiple business and people metrics. No single business unit or function can address belonging and inclusion or productivity or flourishing or innovation or wellness or employee engagement or attraction/retention. They all must align in order to create true systemic and culture change.
With this orientation and the powerful mechanism for unleashing purpose and belonging at scale (small, diverse peer group learning, over time and in the flow fo work), let’s imagine how the bison way could look and feel by people function:
Bison Learning and Development
Work is a source of community, self-discovery, fulfillment, and professional growth. People view their organization as a place where they activate their purpose, belong, continually learn, do their best work and develop authentic relationships with diverse peers. Learning is sourced in purpose and values, happens in the flow of work versus at an offsite or in a classroom.
It’s delivered in an egalitarian fashion, where people at each level in the organization, in the office or at home, come together to activate their purpose and values at work. Because it is delivered over time, the concepts and skills are reinforced, build upon each other, are translated into action at work (85%) and are retained in the relationships as norms, habits (76%) as institutional knowledge in each small, diverse learning group.
Work is kind, compassionate, inclusive and forgiving. It doesn’t punch white people on the nose and label them racists. Rather, inclusion is baked into everything the company does, from people development to culture to product development to sales to finance to marketing. As purpose, empathy and inclusion are the foundation for diverse relationships, collaboration, hiring, development and promotion, diverse peers learn skills together, share their experiences, purpose and values, empathize with (96%) and respect (98%) each other and form diverse, lasting and authentic relationships.
Work is a fun and authentic community. People feel like they belong, can bring their whole self to work, and genuinely like the people they work with. Peers across differences and departments regularly learn together and develop a sense of the organization’s mission, history, structure and the interdependence of the various departments and geographies.
They each activate and share their purpose and values and find their unique connection to the organization’s mission and values, resulting in a 333% increase in alignment with the organization’s mission (Kumanu/Harris, 2021), 50% more meaningful work relationships (Imperative, 2016) and 7.4 month increase in tenure (BetterUp, 2019). The result is a dynamic culture and 3x return to shareholders (McKinsey & Co., 2020).
We recognize the transformative power of relationships and community. We nurture relationships as the foundation of leadership, learning, inclusion, culture, and health. We cherish our relationships and lean on them, as they are an endless well that heals many forms of suffering. They are the foundation of our joy, growth, comfort and laughter.
Work makes us happy and healthy. Research suggests that nurturing thick culture through connection, caring and contribution is the key to social and emotional health (Ford, et al, 2015). When peers develop high-trust relationships with each other, they share their fears and anxieties (96%), and discover new perspectives on their challenges (94%) (ion, 2020). The deep connections and check-ins in their peer groups empower them to complete their stress cycles and avoid burnout (Nagoski & Nagoski, 2019).
Especially in light of the trauma related to the pandemic and racial justice movement / white backlash, it is likely that group / interpersonal interventions are a powerful driver of post-traumatic growth (Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 2021).
By activating their purpose, they improve their emotional regulation (+538%) and resilience (+529%) (Kumanu/Harris, 2021) and have 32% fewer doctor’s visits and 61% fewer hospital overnights (Harvard, 2014). These diverse relationships also empower social integration, a powerful driver of longevity resulting in employee life spans that are 10% longer, and increasing the likelihood that employees reach the age 85 by 41% (Journals of Gerontology, 2020).
When combined with the 7+ year longevity bump from purpose (Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, 2008), small, diverse peer learning groups centered in purpose and values, may be one of the most promising solutions for human longevity and vitality in existence.
Guided by the Bison
With a powerful, dieable why, a clearly communicated vision, a culture of purpose, belonging and autonomy, work now has the potential to re-humanize us and drive national renewal. Guided by the bison, we shape business units as communities. We develop roles and souls. We build a legacy via product and customer success. It begins and ends with people - people on purpose and in deep relationship to each other and the power to create and experiment. It is mutual concern and common cause. It is recognizing that for any of us to win, we all have to belong and co-create.
Before the pandemic this may have sounded like warm fuzzy platitudes, however in the stark relief of the pandemic, the bison has revealed itself as essential, as food for our souls and the soul of the nation. With this picture of where you and your organization might be headed if you choose to be guided by the bison, let’s take a deeper dive into the twin drivers of flourishing: purpose and belonging.
“Maybe that works for y’all out in California, but we’re sitting on a powder keg right now.”
I was talking with a friend of mine who is the head of DEI of a 300,000+ person global technology company.
“How do you mean?” I inquired.
“We’ve got All Lives Matter MAGA folks here. Good people who do a great job, but who create this constant political hostility and resistance to anything DEI. We can’t put them in a training with people of color. It’ll re-traumatize folks. They’ll leave, I’ll miss my DEI targets, and then I’ll have to leave. I’m already seeing disproportionately high early retirements and leaves of absence for women and people of color. If we start a big culture change effort, I think it will only get worse.”
And she was right, it was July of 2020 and the political tension and racial unrest was at a fever pitch. She knew she had to do something beyond providing mental health resources and public statements, and that even a public statement was going to kick the All Lives Matter hornets’ nest.
This is because no American likes being told what to do or what to believe or how to feel, especially by the wealthy and powerful. Historically, DEI, with its unconscious bias trainings, anti-discrimination trainings, anonymous reporting systems, employee resource groups (ERGs), and hiring quotas, has had an elitist, corrective and shaming feel. This has resulted in many white folks consciously resisting or tuning it out and subconsciously deepening the sense of feeling attacked and the need to settle a score. As we explored, the field of DEI has failed to deliver positive outcomes in hiring, retention and promotion of diverse candidates.
So introducing new or expanded DEI efforts at any time, given this history, is a giant risk. In the wake of multiple videos documenting the murders of BIPOC people by police, a summer of protests and one of the most consequential elections in American history, that risk just expanded 10x. However, there is hope.
If there is any silver lining in 2020, it is that it shook the tree of liberty, and a bunch of aspiring white allies fell out to defend it.
That certainly happened to me and Mike, my conservative CEO friend. We were part of 2020’s bumper aspiring ally harvest. Many of us deepened our learning, reading “White Fragility” and “How To Be An Anti-racist”, formed book clubs, joined ERGs as allies, took allyship trainings, joined our local SURJ Chapter (Showing Up for Racial Justice), donated to organizations like Black Lives Matter (BLM), National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP), and the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and took to the streets alongside our BIPOC friends and family.
Unfortunately, much of this allyship harvest rotted on the truck. Most of it was performative and short lived. Public support for Black Lives Matter jumped dramatically to 67% in June of 2020, up from 43% in 2016 (Pew, 2016). However, it then fell to 55% by September of 2020 (Pew, 2020) and then 50% by March of 2021 (USA Today / Ipsos, 2021).
Equally illustrative is that only 60% of people believed George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin in June of 2020, and that number fell to 36% by March of 2021 (USA Today / Ipsos, 2021). This means that by March of 2021, 64% of people who had seen and/or still had access to the footage of the actual murder, said it wasn’t murder. Just as disturbing are the empty promises of corporations. They promised to spend $50 billion on racial justice initiatives in 2020, but by March of 2021, less than $250 million (0.5%) had been spent or committed (FT, 2021). Further, the USA Today / Ipsos poll suggests that support for racial justice among white people may have already fallen below 2019 levels.
While some white folks opened their hearts and began the journey to allyship, many dug their heels in. What’s telling is that support for BLM is at 88% among white Democrats and 16% for white Republicans (Pew, 2020). What’s telling is that 91% of all Democrats say black people face a lot of discrimination in American society versus 42% of Republicans (American Survey Center, 2020). This suggests that the topics of diversity, race, equity, and inclusion are likely to ignite these deeper racial/partisan identities and further aggravate the wound. My friend was right, DEI is indeed risky business.
Death to the Tyrants!
Unfortunately, these aren’t just caddy clicks and scornful frowns. Many believe that the other side should suffer and die. 54% of us believe our fellow Americans are the biggest threat to our country (CBS News, 2021). 33% of us now justify the use of violence for political gains (American Enterprise Institute, 2021), with 15% of Democrats and 20% of Republicans believing it would be a good thing if a bunch of folks on the other side just died (Kalmoe, 2019).
This is the powder keg my friend was talking about. Workers who feel culture, race and/or politics play a role in them being passed over for promotion or in their dismissal could resort to violence. Of course, this threat wouldn’t be such an issue if AR-15’s and ammonium nitrate were not so easily accessible. This is way more than a business risk. It’s more than people not getting along, or not wanting to collaborate with or promote diverse colleagues. This deep tear in the moral fabric of society is a risk to our bodies, minds, souls and democratic institutions.
In the summer of 2020, my wife and I wanted to show solidarity with the BIPOC community in San Diego. Like many folks, we painted our windows and put up a Black Lives Matter sign in our yard. After a few weeks, our sign was defaced, so we fixed it. Shortly thereafter, we learned that a neighbor had taken a photo of our home and posted it along with our address on the Instagram feed @DarkNightSD. He had public discussions about bringing death to the tyrants and forming a militia to take us out, along with the other homes in our area voicing BLM support. Let me repeat - he wanted to take us OUT.
I called the San Diego Police Department to see if a crime had been committed and to file a report. I had proof of @DarkNightSD being linked to the personal account of my neighbor, which also showed him marching at Trump rallies without a mask. After I told the dispatcher what had happened, and described the evidence I had in my phone, she said, “So what did these Black Lives Matter people do to you again?” I was shocked. Had she not heard anything I said? How could she think this white supremacist had anything do with Black Lives Matter supporters?
Three hours later, two units showed up and I told them what had happened. I offered to show them the evidence in my phone and they declined to look at it. Instead they invited me to take down the signs. They told me there is violence and intimidation on both sides of the issue. Both sides of what I wondered? Then it clicked for me why the dispatcher thought it was BLM supporters who were suspected. It was clear that SDPD viewed BLM negatively, and it was likely that their sources of information were the same ones painting BLM as a domestic terror organization - which is literally the opposite of what it is - an organization to mobilize support for stopping the domestic terror rendered upon communities of color by police and white nationalists.
I was advised to report the incident to the FBI, which I did. A friend at the Department of Justice talked to her friends working on domestic terrorism (covertly of course, as the Trump administration officially ignored it and allocated no resources to stopping it). I learned that politically and racially motivated domestic terror incidents are popping up all over the country, such as the blue dots spray painted on the curbs of Biden supporters in Roseville, California (Independent, 2020) to the lynchings in Palmdale, California (NYT, 2020) to the nooses in Connecticut (NYT, 2021). She also told me that nothing was going to happen about it unless there was a change in the DOJ’s policy on domestic terrorism.
Luckily for us, a new administration was elected.
However, there is only so much the government can do. And as the surveys reveal, many of us likely have family and friends inclined towards the use of violence, even if they’ve never said anything about it to us. We also are clear that this is the beginning of something far worse. 51% of us expect an increase in violence (CBS News, 2021), 71% of us believe democracy itself is in jeopardy (CBS News, 2021), and 93% of us recognize that our hatred for each other is a problem (Civility in America, 2019). We are perhaps in what Boston University professor and former Reagan administration State Department Official, Angelo Codevilla, has called a “cold civil war.”
We need only recall the Rwandan genocide to see how quickly things can escalate from disinformation and hate speech to genocide. There were months and months of vitriol on the radio, while tens of thousands of machetes were quietly distributed. Then the long-waited for cue, “Kill the cockroaches”, came over the radio. Within the next 100 days, 500,000 to 1,100,000 Rwandans were dead.
It wasn't that long ago that our nation tore itself apart over our differing views on race. 750,000 of us died in the Civil War, representing 2.5% of the population. If 2.5% of our nation died today, that would be 7 million deaths. Was the 1/6 insurrection a dry run for Civil War II, like Hitler's 1923 failed coup? It is hard to say. But what is clear is that polarization and racial animus aren’t just harmless societal trends.
Nor do they operate independently from the economy. They are enmeshed in the economy. These people are our investors, employees and customers. Many of us see the news, and assume this is only happening to other people, or in other states, not to us or near us. There are 838 registered hate groups in the United States (Southern Poverty Law, 2020). The odds are good that there is one near you and that your organization counts their members as investors, employees or customers.
These are the people representing your brand, holding your shares, servicing your customers and buying your products. As it turns out, our vicious cycle of media hyperbole, social outrage and political entrenchment, has significant economic consequences as well. According to a Harvard Business School Faculty Report, political dysfunction is the #1 barrier to our nation’s economic competitiveness (HBS, 2016).
It’s clear our approaches to culture, such as DEI, must be re-envisioned in the wake of this deep and increasingly violent tribalism. Like everything else pre-pandemic, pre-George Floyd’s murder and pre-insurrection, how could it not evolve?
As even the words “diversity”, “equity” and “inclusion” raise the hairs on the backs of many white necks, we can no longer address inequity and racism with only a frontal DEI approach, e.g., mandatory one-time trainings, hiring quotas, etc. We can’t keep punching resistant white folks on the nose with it - it just doesn’t work. It never did. We have to treat the problem holistically and systematically. To do so, we must get at the root of the tribalism that endangers our organizations, social and racial progress and is rotting the roots of our democracy.
How We Got Here
It’s a mix of loneliness, hyperindividualism, mistrust and lack of purpose. As we explored in chapter 2, individualism has been part of our identity and culture since the 1800's. However, in 1960’s, we through gas on the fire, each of us coming to believe that we are on our own, and not connected to anything larger than ourselves. As we’ve explored, we have few close friends, we don’t trust our neighbors, and our participation in faith communities is on a multi-decade decline. Because of our social isolation, the eagle / bootstraps / rugged individualist myth and the endless opportunities to disconnect from people to turn to screens, we feel increasingly distant from our friends, families, neighbors, community, workplace, faith and nation. The result is that we are conditioned to believe that we are on our own to get our needs met, to find meaning and purpose, and succeed. And if we fail, it's our fault.
For Boomers coming of age in the 1960’s and 1970’s, this individualism initially came with greater freedom, fulfillment, pleasure, prosperity and self-expression. They no longer had to live like their WWII / Spanish Flu / Depression-era parents, who were bound by duty, faith, prudence, hard work, self-sacrifice and restraint. They could love how they wanted, study what they wanted, smoke a joint, ditch their bras, drive a cool car, listen to rock’n’roll, choose their own path and be far more self-expressed than their parents. While this yielded many benefits for society, it also had a dark side.
By the 1980’s, greed was considered good, big was better, and gas was cheap. More champagne, more coke, more of everything, and it was ok because everyone was doing it. With the exception of the Freedom Riders and a few thousand college kids who protested in the 60’s, nothing really bound this generation together. It was everyone for themselves - liberty in overdrive.
The children of Boomers - latchkey Gen X kids like me, millennials like my wife and zenials like my cousins -, came of age in this individualistic and consumerist culture. With no moral code and no genuine elders (remember many of our Boomer parents are pleasure seekers who take no responsibility for the impacts they have on others or future generations), we grew up watching our leaders burn the planet, raise tuition, kill unions and flatten wages.
Although we have an abundance of choice, we lack moral clarity, common cause, life direction, and the faith that we would have a prosperous future. As mentioned we are not just confused and alone, but 67% of us are unfulfilled (Imperative, 2016), 75% of us are distrustful of our government (Pew, 2020), 84% of us are stressed (APA, 2021) and 97% of us are unhealthy (Mayo, 2017). Amplifying this fear, disconnection, resignation, resentment and confusion is the social media landscape that peels us off into inumerable eddies claiming to explain and blame away our problems.
Initially, this individualism, meaninglessness and isolation was good for business, as the core human needs for purpose and belonging that were traditionally met by family, friends, community service, religion, farm life and war, could now be readily, although not substantially nor sustainably, sold back to us via an ever increasing menu of consumer goods and experiences. However, as we explored previously, it has been taken to a shameful extreme. Combined with the last four decades of flat wages, we have become increasingly unable to buy ourselves back any of the meaning, connection and wholeness that we so deeply need.
Stripped of a social identity, deprived of genuine elders, and a shared moral code, we turn to anything to help us feel like we matter and belong. Increasingly, this void is being filled by racial and political tribalism and easily accesible firearms. Extremists pray on the lonely, poor and marginalized. As Hannah Arendt revealed in The Origins of Totalitarianism, the source of political fanaticism is loneliness and spiritual emptiness: “Loneliness is the common ground of terror.”
Extremists give people a common enemy to blame for their suffering. Grievance becomes common cause. We are experiencing what is called the footballification of culture - my team is perfect, good and divine, and yours is a bunch of immoral, selfish and untrustworthy animals. I will defend my team to the death, even if it means yours.
How We Can Heal
Our last chance against this deluge of danger, despair, disarray, dehumanization, and democratic collapse is the organization. Work is now how many people try to get the majority of their needs met - income, healthcare, meaning, connection, growth and achievement. It is the plow, ale house, church, and hospital rolled up into one. While I think most of us would want it to be otherwise - having a fulfilling career, with affordable quality healthcare disentangled from work, and a shorter and flexible work week with time for friends, family, the outdoors, religion and civic engagement-, it is what is so right now.
As such, work has become the epicenter of all that is good and bad about our nation's culture. Which is also to say that corporate leaders are responsible for what continues to be good and bad about it. And with the clarity about what we know to be missing - purpose, belonging, connection and common cause - we have an incredible opportunity for redemption and resurrection. We have an opportunity to vanquish the eagle, lead our nation into the bison era and establish a meaningful legacy.
In times of peace, as leaders we have to look at the data dispassionately, assess the risk and opportunities and invest our time and resources wisely in accordance with our purpose. In times of crisis, however, we must not only take wise and purposeful action, but swift, substantial and sustained action. This is a time of crisis - we are unwell, impoverished, angry and heavily armed. 46% of us own guns and there are a total of 393 million guns in the U.S. (Small Arms Survey, 2018). We mobilized our economy once to defeat Hitler. We must now do so again to prevent a second civil war.
So how about that dieable why of yours? Do you hear the call? Do you feel responsible for the health, safety and well-being of the people in your care?
Before we dive into how you can transform your organization in service of your purpose, its purpose and our nation’s purpose, let’s get clear on the state of people initiatives - what’s working, what’s broken and what’s next.
“I’d use a 3 or a 4-iron,” I said to Mr. Bernstein, the member I was caddying for at L.A. Country Club.
“Gimme the 4,” he responded.
(thwack) His ball bounced just before the green and rolled to 10 feet from the pin.
“Thank you. Doesn’t always happen that way.”
I handed him his putter for our long walk to the green.
“What sort of work you looking for?” He asked, knowing that I had an MBA and caddying wasn’t likely my dream job.
“I’m not sure yet. I’m trying to find a way to positively impact our culture, so I think it’s in media production, because that is a big part of what shapes us. But I really can’t be sure.”
“Why not just get a job in finance or marketing at a studio and start there? Should be easy for someone with your credentials.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. And I would put a bullet in my head if I was responsible for the next Fast and Furious. It’s gotta make a difference.”
It was the Summer of 2004. I had just completed my MBA at Columbia and was making $15 an hour reviewing scripts and answering phones for a talent agent in an effort to learn the production side of the media business. To make ends meet, I caddied on the weekends. I lived in a 2-bedroom apartment with two other 20-somethings and their 5 cats. My “room” was the living room, where I had a mattress on the floor and my clothes in banker’s boxes, which turned out to be perfect places for the cats to leave turds.
Why would a former country club member, with a background in investment banking and tech startups, an Ivy League MBA and $150k in student loans make these choices? At Columbia, I had taken a powerful self-awareness program that oriented me towards having a career of purpose and impact, and there was no looking back.
Through the exercises, readings and close friendships I developed in that program, I came to the view that my life couldn’t just be about success, prestige, pleasure or acceptance, but self-expression and service. I needed to pay forward the tremendous privileges I had received and the talents I had developed. Unfortunately, I didn’t yet know how to do that. All I knew was that if I followed the money and went back to Wall Street or Silicon Valley, I wouldn’t find out.
I knew there was something inside, that I had a great work within me, but without any wizened elders at my side, I was on my own to sort it out. I needed to find what Dr. King called a complete life, one that had length, width and height:
Over the next several years, I hired therapists and coaches and sat in men’s circles. I participated in numerous spiritual, personal and leadership development programs, read hundreds of books, made trips to India, went on meditation retreats, worked with plant medicines and wandered through Burning Man camps.
It wasn’t until 2011, that I had the good fortune to experience purpose discovery work first hand, and find actual clarity about my purpose, the “why” I would give my life to.
Those 7 years between 2004 and 2011 weren’t easy. There were gurus and charlatans. There was heartbreak, failure, rejection, loneliness and shame. There were false starts in renewable energy, education and non-profits. But something within me kept going. I knew I had a reason to live that was bigger than myself or my family. I knew that my life had to be for something, and that if I relented, if I gave up, I couldn’t live with myself. So I kept putting one foot in front of the next, hoping the next job, course, book, guru or ceremony would crack me open to the path to wholeness, to a complete life with length, width and height.
Since February, 2012, when my purpose revealed itself, I’ve devoted myself to making this journey easier, more accessible, connected and scalable, so that no one will ever need to wander alone again. That’s at the heart of my writing, teaching, community and work in the world. But this isn’t about me.
It’s about you, the reason you’re here, the very thing you will give the remainder of your life to - your dieable why.
You will need a why big enough to change your own leadership behaviors, and believable enough so that others are inspired to join you. Folks need to get the sense that it not only matters to you, but that you are the person to do because it is a source of personal salvation, redemption and service to the greater good. They need to get that you're willing to lose it all in service of an idea or outcome.
Unfortunately, very few leaders are able to do that. 80% of leaders don’t know their purpose (Snook, Craig, 2014) and thus are unable to furnish an authentic connection to their company’s mission. Without this awareness and connection, they cannot inspire and unify people.
People want to see a brighter future, feel a sense of solidarity, and know they are guided by someone who really cares for them, the company culture and their impacts on people and planet. Without purpose, a person is at best a manager. With their purpose and the certainty that connects it to the company’s mission, they have earned the right to lead. Without this connection, the “empathy, community, and shared purpose“ (McKinsey & Co., 2015) required to innovate and transform, nothing will change in your organization.
So what is this “why”? And how do you encounter it? There are several well known instances when the why appeared and the real story of a life and an enterprise are revealed, such as Yvon Chouinard’s awakening to the soul of Patagonia (to empower people to make contact with their true selves through nature), or Ray Anderson’s awakening to the soul of Interface Carpet (to create carbon negative flooring). Volumes have been written on these encounters and the resulting organizational transformations, including: The Soul of a Business (1993), Good to Great (2001), Firms of Endearment (2003), Let My People Go Surfing (2005), Reinventing Organizations (2014), An Everyone Culture (2016).
Notice I use the words “encounter”, “appeared”, “revealed” and “awakening”. A dieable why is not decided upon, nor can it be outsourced to marketing, nor guessed at by an expensive consulting firm. It is an encounter with both your soul and the soul of your enterprise. Although this encounter can be facilitated with outside help, by people who ask good questions and hold space for transformative experiences, it comes from within the leaders’ hearts and souls. It can appear mid-sentence in a meeting. It can just as easily erupt in the shower, on a walk, or over breakfast with your kids.
But it cannot be decided upon. It must arrive as a revelation, as an incandescent truth that was always there right in front of everyone’s noses. When it is revealed, two things happen. The first is that feels a little obvious, like a coherent pattern emerged from the data you've been staring at for years - “of course, that’s what we’ve been doing this whole time.” The second is a religious conversion, of feeling something sacred erupt inside you and those you serve as a call to incarnate the soul of the enterprise in all matters, in how you do business, communicate, develop people, shepherd culture, deliver for your customers, capitalize your company and serve the community and earth’s ecology.
This is why every conversation about culture change begins with purpose, a “why” big enough and inspiring enough to surrender the old ways for the new. My hope is that seeing yourself as a steward of your people’s flourishing and our nation’s purpose, and leaving a legacy you can be proud of is part of your why. My greatest hope for you is that you die a good death…
With gratitude, tenderness, fulfillment and a sense of completion…
With the bone deep knowledge that you did what you came here to do...
Surrounded by those you love, and...
Able to look your grandkids in the eye and honestly tell them “I did everything I could to make this world better for you”.
Your access to your legacy and a noble death is to bring forth what is inside of you and your enterprise, and take it out into the world as an act of service. Numerous traditions have provided us similar guidance, e.g.,
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” - Jesus Christ, Gospel of Thomas
“It is better to strive in one’s own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s own dharma… The ignorant work for their own profit... the wise work for the welfare of the world, without thought for themselves... Perform all work carefully, guided by compassion.” - Krishna, Bhagavad Gita
We need your purpose, right here and now. So what is it?
Before we can be clear on your purpose, we need to know what purpose actually means. I haven’t yet defined purpose, because when properly considered, it should scare the bejeezus out of you. So I waited until now.
Purpose is a megatrend. It's hard to pick up a Harvard Business Review from the last decade and not see the word heralded as a cure for all that ails. However, depending on who you're talking to, they use it differently. Ask a marketer and they’ll come back with a logo, brand promise, style guide and communications strategy. Ask a minister and they’ll say surrender to God’s will. Ask a consultant, and you’ll drown in focus groups and 2x2 matrices. Ask a parent and they’ll say “kids”. Ask your CFO and prepare to discuss opportunities and risk.
In short, don’t rely on anyone who hasn't been trained as a purpose or soul practitioner to tell you what purpose is. And even among trained practitioners, answers somewhat vary. Below is how I hold it.
Now purpose is much more than this, as I’ve explored in my previous book, Planet on Purpose, e.g., its fun and spacious, creative and sensual, etc., but this is the part that matters right now, because without it, you cannot lead your organization into a purposeful future, nor steward the sacred purpose of our nation. So what is it?
We're looking for what is yours to give your life to and die for. As Malcolm X said, “If you’re not ready to die for it, put freedom out of your vocabulary.” Same with your purpose. It has to bleed.
Your access to fulfilling this destiny is through the transformation of your suffering into wisdom, creativity, care and service. You are on the path of “follow your blisters”, as Michael Meade declared, and that means leading from a place sourced in your heartbreak, in your weakness, pain and loss.
You are here to activate your purpose as a leader, and this means standing naked before the largest entity you hold dear, e.g., God, Source, the Universe, Life, etc., with your deepest heartbreak in your left hand and all your gifts, virtues, experiences, capital, and relationships in your right. It’s you saying, “Take me. Use me. Let’s do this. I’m tired of half-measures and simple pleasures. I’m ready. I’m here to fulfill my destiny or die trying.”
It’s likely you already know or could generate a quick inventory about what’s in your right hand. But can you tell me what’s in your left? Before you move any further into this book / your journey as a leader, there has to be something at stake, something you’re willing to change everything for. So what is your deepest heartbreak?
For me, it’s not ever being good enough for my dad. I never felt seen, like my gifts and talents mattered. I received affection and praise only insomuch as I mirrored my father’s values and aspirations. I was denied affection and shamed when I shared the contents of my soul - my creativity, my femininity, my values and aspirations. Well-intentioned as he was, this left me a fraud, a prostitute, a machine who performed for his praise. Behind the facade of good manners and athletic, social and academic achievement, I was deeply unhappy.
I know the pain of spending a quarter century trying to be someone I’m not. I know the pain of getting good at lying to myself and others. I know the pain of being dead inside. So I’m willing to die for soul, for purpose, for the right for everyone to be blessed and accepted, to have their gifts acknowledged and developed. I want every person to be liberated by the dignity of their soul and fulfilled by their purpose.
Of course there are many ways this shows up. Blessing is a thread woven throughout my life. It’s not just in writing books and culture change work. It’s in my marriage, my friendship, my mentees, my racial justice work, my men’s circle, my self-care, the way I relate to children and connect with my neighbors.
In this sense purpose is the one and many, the parts and the whole, a guiding light that is equally useful in a marriage, meeting, and shipwreck.
To move forward with this book, you need to agree that you do have a dieable why, even if you’re not clear on what it is right now.
If you would like some more clarity and certainty, I invite you to journal a few sentences for each of these prompts. Please be warned, answers to these questions will bring up painful memories and might retraumatize you, so check-in with yourself to see if you have the energy and psychic stability to dive in. If you don’t feel ready for it, I invite you to work with a trained purpose activation coach (see Appendix A: Purpose Activation Resources).
Now review what you’ve written. What themes do you see? Any new information about your dieable why? Now, you don’t need absolute clarity on your dieable why right now, nor understand what it means for your career, relationships and organization. All you need right now is the awareness that something is there inside of you, some kernel of passion, aliveness and heartbreak, that will transform your life and the world if you give attention to it.
Once you acknowledge that it exists, you’re ready to see how you can leverage it to transform your life, career, and organization and steward our nation. If you still don’t think you might have a dieable why, the next chapter, “Culture Change is a Matter of Life and Death” might land it for you.
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…”
- Martin Luther King Jr.
Every nation has a dream, a code, a unifying myth, a tradition that evokes our origins, calls us to rise to our highest aspirations and live out our most cherished values. These myths, codes, symbols and heroes orient our ethics and inspire us to serve others.
As we explored in the last chapter, the myth that currently governs life and commerce in our nation is different from Dr. King's dream - it is that of the rugged individualist (and usually white) who was destined for greatness. He overcame the odds, through wit, guile, creativity, determination, privilege (and usually more than is acknowledged), built an empire, made a name for himself and fulfilled is pre-ordained destiny. Elon Musk. Jack Nicklaus. Thomas Edison. Andrew Carnegie. Carl Icahn. Bill Gates. John Rockefeller. We praise men like these - the resource extractor, the champion, the inventor, the financier, the technology “disrupter”.
This myth is best represented by our national bird, the bald eagle, an individual bird of prey (vs. social / herd animal) who sweeps down from on high, hunts and retreats to its perch to savor the feast. Like the centralization of wealth in white families and our foreign policy, the eagle scavenges, hoards and retreats. Like the power and wealth of our nation, the bald eagle is predominantly dark on the bottom and white on top.
“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.
“With all this injustice, he is never in good case but like those among men who live by sharping & robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest…”
- Benjamin Franklin
This is not to take anything away from the bird, an integral part of numerous ecosystems playing an important role in regulating fish populations, and distributing nutrients from lakes and rivers to the forests. This is about how eagle mythos shows up in our nation. It’s about the symbol of getting ahead, sharp elbows and leveraging every advantage to improve one’s circumstances, and minimizing responsibility, expenses and risk.
It's a powerful symbol chosen by several nations and movements, e.g., Rome, Iraq, Russia, Syria, Mexico, Poland, the Czech Republic. The Nazis were also big fans. This eagle mythos carried Calvinism across the ocean into the Mayflower Compact and the Massachussets Bay Colony, establishing Puritans as God's chosen and divine. From the outset, First Nations people were regarded as the enemy, as the devil, as dark, lusty and sinful. As punishment for their sinful existence, Massachussetts and Connecticut began a privatized war to incentivize otherwise peaceful Christians to burn native villages and feed stores, murder them and sell their scalps to the state.
It is important to remember that these first settlers arrived after having been oppressed, marginalized and traumatized by eagle doctrines in their home countries. They survived on Turtle Island in large part by paying forward their oppression, taking the fruits of the labor of the First Nations people (fields, stores, cultivated forests, roads, trade routes, systems of governance), and then through starvation and war, they enacted legal and systematic genocide, resulting in 5-15 million deaths). Their descendants continuted this tradition with the human trafficking / slavery / murder / rape / torture of African peoples (35 million dead Africans). In the 1800's, our eagle's talons turned abroad once more, via manifest destiny, into Latin America and the South Pacific.
In the early 1900's, via the "Second Great Awakening" in Christianity, the eagle set to work on our culture by further perverting Christian theology, morphing it into an evangelical individualism. It was no longer about God's chosen white people, it was now every chosen white person for themselves. Ministers, like Charles Finney and Oral Roberts, put the path to wealth and divinity in our hands, laying the foundation for the prosperity gospel of Reverend Ike's "Fake it to you make it" in black communities and Jim and Tammy Faye Baker's televangelism in the white communities.
This gospel focused on the individual and the individual alone as the source of all good and bad fortune. It equated wealth with divinity and poverty with sin. It bled into our nation's two booming secular religions - consumerism and self-improvement. As we made the transition from farmer and smith to financier and marketer, our deep need to produce something went unattended, so we set about producing the best versions of ourselves. As we made the transition from citizen to consumer via, Edwin Bernays' advertising "innovations" (translating the psychology of his uncle Sigmund Freud into irrestible messages to fill our empty lives with goods) and the legions of Mad Men who followed him, we came to believe that goods and brands were needed for us to stand out, have worth and survive.
According to the gospel of Charles Finney, Oral Roberts, to Reverend Ike, Jim and Tammy Faye Baker and Joel Ostein, the self-improvement gurus like Norman Vincent Peale, Werner Erhart, Tony Robbins, and Oprah Winfrey, and the Mad Men who dressed us for the occassion, we now had only one person to thank for anything right in our lives and one to blame for anything wrong - ourselves. If we didn't project wealth, beauty and boundless optimism, we had succombed to the devil / blue pill / limiting beliefs / loserdom.
Now empowerment is not a bad thing at all. In a cohesive, intact and just society, it's a great source of self-expression, individuation, actualization and community wealth. Empowerment in an eagle society however, goes wrong very quickly, e.g., our two unhealed genocides, a remaining apartheid, gated white suburbs, subsistence wages, climate change, rape culture, etc.
Another problem of the eagle mythos is the likelihood that it will actually bear any fruit. While the media is fascinated by the few eagles who amass gigantic fortunes, e.g., Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and escape to space, most of the time the eagle way ends in failure. 65% of new businesses fail in their first decade (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). Because we divinize wealth and moralize poverty, we blame the poor for their obvious lack of intelligence, creativity and hard work, and when it is us on the ropes we either delude ourselves into thinking that soon our ship would come in, or we give up, and turn to crime or seek refuge in alcohol, drugs or God.
As John Steinbeck once mused about why the labor movement had so much trouble gaining steam in the United States, "...we didn't have any self-admitted proletarians. Everyone was a temporarily embarrassed capitalist." We don't need solidarity with other oppressed peoples or government handouts, we need more hard work and a little luck. To raise the stakes in this eagle game, we gutted unions, public education and our social safety net, which disproportionately impacted our BIPOC sisters and brothers and further equated darkness with poverty with sin.
The eagle way segregated our society and economy in numerous ways. As we explored, the suburbs contain a largely white managerial class of people, who own homes and employ a largely BIPOC working class of people who predominantly rent in the cities and exurbs - to provide them with food, goods and services. Those who live in the suburbs often commute into the cities where they make their income, but do not pay taxes.
The result is that suburbs have become eagle's nests, with well-funded schools and social services, smoothies, sushi, massages, gardeners, golf courses, plastic surgeons and yoga studios. Starved of tax revenue, the exurbs and cities have underfunded schools, are food deserts, and continue the tradition of exiling the poor, dark and sinful to the slums and hinterlands. The necessary revolution doesn't happen, because the bootstraps / prosperity gospel has thoroughly saturated every institution (business, media, religion, education) and offers us only one path to salvation.
It's not unions, protesting or Civil Rights. It's entrepreneurship and hard work. One day our ship will come in.
"The world we live in is not working. We have these multifaceted crises — health crises, economic crises, societal crises, racial crises, environmental issues, geopolitical tensions.
"For me, on the top of my F.B.I. most wanted list are two people. One is Milton Friedman, with his shareholder primacy — the excessive, obsessive focus on profits as the key thing that matters. And the other one is Bob McNamara, with the model of scientific, top-down management — getting a bunch of smart people, coming up with a plan, tell everyone else what to do, put incentives in place and hope something is going to work...
"So much of what I learned in business school was either long dated or incomplete. The definition of madness is doing the same thing and hoping for a different outcome, so for me, there’s this urgent, urgent need to rethink the foundations of our economy."
-Hubert Joly, ex-CEO, Best Buy, Harvard Business School professor, and author, "The Heart of Business"
As the eagle way de-unionized our economy begining with Carter and Reagan, it then off-shored manufacturing to countries that offer dramatically fewer protections for labor, and fewer social benefits and environmental regulations. This resulted in stagnant median wages and job insecurity at home to cover skyrocketing housing, healthcare, education and transportation costs. The eagle way made life considerably less stable, abundant and secure for most people.
And that’s just how the way of the eagle shows up on our soil.
We are also eagles abroad. A reading of the last 100 years of U.S. foreign policy reveals we have done little but preach about democracy, while impoverishing other countries with expensive debt, overthrowing their legitimate governments, assassinating their leaders, installing corrupt dictators friendly to American business interests and then bullying them to sell out their labor and natural resources. By 2021, the eagle has subjugated the will of the people in over 80 countries (Wikipedia, 2021). As a finishing touch, we then appropriate and commercialize their spiritual practices (yoga), cultures (speaker kittens in Comanche headresses at Coachella) and cuisine (kabobs, curries, tacos, etc.), fetishize them as noble and exotic and then use them as props for our vacation selfies.
It’s almost as if Europe’s marginalized and dehumanized classes came over here, didn’t heal any of their traumas, robbed from and exterminated the people they encountered, and then set up interlocking systems to perpetuate separation and suffering. From scalps, to slavery, to sharecropping, to contract lending, to Jim Crow, to surburbs, to congested freeways, to flat wages, to pesticides, to consumerism, to housing projects, to Superfund sites, to privatized healthcare, to rape culture, to pollution, it’s almost as if hurt people can’t do anything else but devise new ways to hurt people.
There are so many wonderful things to celebrate about our country, from our democratic institutions to music to our crafts to our technology and science. However, these things exist in large part because we have taken from and exterminated others, and without remorse or fair compensation. In the same way the gilded palace halls of Buckingham and Versailles are truly extraordinary, and yet also dirty with the blood of war, murder, slavery, torture, rape and oppression, much of what is good, true and beautiful in our society was built on the backs of the enslaved and oppressed, e.g., our Capitol Building and White House. If this make you feel bad about our country, I don’t blame you.
However, feeling sadness or shame is not a bad thing - it’s natural in the face of shameful information. It’s healthy to feel remorse and shame when we and our ancestors have been complicit in hurting others. Let us use this sadness and shame to guide us back into our ideals and moral imagination.
Our history would not bother us if we knew ourselves to be better than murderers, theives, rapists and slavers. If we didn’t hold ourselves to a higher standard reading this would produce no resistance, no knot in the pit of our stomachs. Let us remember the suffering our ancestors caused, the danger of perpetuating it through our inaction and the redemption available to us through reckoning, responsibility and repair.
Let us now complete this chapter of American history and start a new one. Let us put to rest the pattern of dominating, impoverishing, hoarding, bullying, retreating, externalizing costs and avoiding the consequences of our actions.
Let us articulate a new era of collective flourishing, healing, belonging and purpose, one that calls forth our most cherished ideals and symbolizes Dr. King's dream. What symbol calls us into our nation's true purpose?
In a time when culture and politics have devolved into gang warfare, where even our flag and colors are polarizing (NYT, 2021), our country needs a new symbol to guide us into this new era of respect, reckoning, responsibility, and redemption. As the fates would have it, this symbol arrived under auspicious skies and bipartisan support.
“We recognize the bison as a symbol of strength and unity,” Fred DuBray, Cheyenne River Sioux
In 2016, as a result of a bi-partisan coalition in the House and Senate along with the InterTribal Buffalo Council and the National Bison Association, the bison became our National Mammal, but it is much more than that. It is a symbol of strength, redemption, protection, resilience, care, courage and commonwealth.
From the National Park Service:
“After four years of outreach to Congress and the White House, by the Wildlife Conservation Society, its partners the InterTribal Buffalo Council and National Bison Association and 60-plus Vote Bison Coalition members, the National Bison Legacy Act was signed on May 9, 2016, officially making the bison our national mammal. This historic event represents a true comeback story, embedded with history, culture, and conservation.
“To honor such an iconic and resilient species, Congress passed the National Bison Legacy Act on April 28, 2016, making the bison a U.S. symbol of unity, resilience and healthy landscapes and communities. The Act recognizes the historical, cultural, and economic importance of bison. More than 60 American Indian tribes participate in the Intertribal Buffalo Council, an organization working to help coordinate and assist tribes in returning bison back to tribal lands. Also, over one million acres of tribal land contribute to the conservation and cultural efforts of bison. Not only do bison play an important cultural role, but they also have significant economic value. Private bison producers own about 360,000 bison, creating jobs and providing a healthy meat source as well as leather and wool products to the American public. Bison also play an important ecological role, beneficially influencing prairie ecosystems through their grazing patterns and behavior.
“Although the recognition does not convey new protections for the bison, the Act recognizes the great conservation success story and importance of its comeback to Native Americans and rural communities alike. This new and permanent designation conveys a vision of shared values of unity, resilience and healthy landscapes and communities. No other species is so iconic of American history and culture like the bison.”
As we begin the Era of the Bison, we cannot simply say “the past is the past” and begin anew. That has never worked. People remember. People carry the wounds and injustices of the past into the present. Reckoning and reparation are required. We must take responsibility for our actions, and heal and repair the impacts of the last era. For starters, this means giving some of the stolen lands back to indigenous peoples, such as our National Parks (Atlantic, 2021), making reparations to the descendants of those we enslaved (Coates, 2014), ending the preschool to prison pipeline and beginning a restorative justice approach (Restorativeustice.org, 2021), and treating each bio-region / watershed as a living entity with rights (NPR, 2019).
These may seem impossible. They are major undertakings for sure, but not impossible. Remember, we defeated the Nazis, Communists and the Confederacy. Surely, we can pull up our grown up pants, and clean up our messes. We can take responsibility for our actions, make things right and create a future of collective flourishing.
The Bison Way
The energy of the bison elicits something deep in our souls. It connects us to the wide open range, lush forests, rushing rivers, majestic peaks, the rising sun and a starry sky. It calls us into relationship with wild nature, play, community and adventure. It beckons us to be grateful for natural beauty and summons us to care for all that is sacred:
So what does this mean for you as a leader? It means that we allow this myth to work on us, to move through us and into greater courage, generativity, play, interdependence and responsibility. It means we guide our organizations towards greater connection to, and care for, the commonwealth. It means we view the world and each business decision through the lens of resilience and long-term wealth, versus extraction and short-term profits. It means we activate our national purpose, and restore national pride.
It means we must also be vigilant for the remnants of the eagle way in our thinking, marriages, families, and neighborhoods, that we find new ways to communicate, lead and do business. As Hubert Joly continued, "If you think about business by first thinking about how you want to be remembered as a human being, most of us gravitate to the golden rule — doing something good to our people. If you can connect that desire in your heart with the way you run the business, the employees will love the company. The customers will love the company."
To do so means we transform our approach to our people, culture and learning. We no longer view people as an expense to be reduced, but rather as a source of long-term wealth, resilience and innovation. We no longer abdicate our responsibility for culture and well-being, but intentionally develop it. It means that we view each person as whole, with emotions, a soul, a life, family and community. It means we see each person as worthy of dignity and prosperity, that we bless the beauty of each soul, empower each person to develop a connection to their purpose and the opportunity to shape their lives and careers in its image.
It means we are deliberately developmental - seeking to unlock and activate human potential within and outside of our organizations. It means we move labor from a line item expense on the income statement, something to be reduced in service of shareholder profit, to an asset on our balance sheets, something to be invested in, cultivated and treasured. It means we give as much attention to burying our dead as we do celebrating new life, by bringing care to each phase of the employee lifecycle, from new hire to leader to alumni.
It means we stop our paternalistic approach to people, where we view them as selfish actors that need to be reformed, conformed, and motivated with compliance, incentives and punishments. It means we move from an ethos of “culture fit” towards celebrating our uniqueness as a “culture add”. It means we adopt an ethos of empowerment and connection, bringing people together to learn about themselves and each other in a safe and effective way. It means we end our reliance on one-time compliance trainings, and begin ongoing social learning experiences, of learning and authentic connection as part of the normal course of business. It means we stop our extractive and oppressive business models and practices and look to regenerative, cradle-to-cradle approaches to meet customer needs.
This might sound nice and all, but if you tell your boss or board you’re doing this, they’ll fire you on the spot. People will laugh at you and your name will be Mudd. At least some part of you is thinking that. Luckily, you have more than history and bison on your side. You also have the numbers.
There is a solid business case for activating a bison-shaped culture, beginning with purpose and belonging. You can expect to realize more than $20k per person per year in additional productivity and an additional 7.4 months in average tenure (BetterUp, 2018, 2019). Given that the average tenure of an employee is about 4 years, that’s an expected gain of $80k+ per employee. Let’s say you get each of your employees a purpose and leadership coach at $6k a year - that’s a 3.3x return. Let’s say you activate purpose and belonging with small, diverse peer learning groups at $500 a year - that’s a 40x return.
How many investments can you make that yield that kind of return? Economic productivity and tenure aren’t the only priorities you’ll impact by activating purpose and belonging. If you decide to take this path it will improve matters with all your key stakeholders - your investors, customers, employees.
Employee Productivity, Engagement, Satisfaction and Tenure
Before we explore how to build a bison-shaped organization, you're going to need a big reason, one that excites and scares you.
“It’s the only way to treat a white man.”
I was 16 when I heard these words. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I joined in the laughter and nodded in agreement. I had just finished a round of golf at my all male and almost all white country club (except for a few Japanese businessmen with whom we never interacted). As a kid, I enjoyed the game of golf, and at the urging of my father, became a junior member of the club. We were sitting around a card table, smoking cigars and watching sports. Tony, the Cuban bartender, had just brought us our drinks.
A friend of my father then said these lamentable words and we all laughed. I didn’t think anything of it and we continued our conversation.
Business as Religion
In the 20th century, clubs like this one were where business got done in America. The relationships that form in these wealthy white enclaves, from the Harvard Club in New York to the University Club in Chicago to the Olympic Club in San Francisco, have been the engine oil of American capitalism. This is not to say you couldn't do business without belonging to such a club, it was just a lot easier as a member. My dad made his living managing the wealth of many of the club’s members. I was counselled to do the same - hang out with rich white people, ingratiate yourself and do business with them.
And there was no sense of anything lost or wrong in joining or wanting to join these exclusive and primarily white male communities. As the thinking went, what was good for business was good for the nation. As business just happened to be controlled by white men, so white men in business in the 1980's and 1990's were revered and idolized. Men like Michael Milken, Jack Welch and Ted Turner adorned magazine covers, bought jets and estates, offered us a gospel of prosperity, and in so doing, they filled the hole previously occupied by religion.
During my childhood, business was revered as an unqualified good, as what helped defeat Hitler and the U.S.S.R. and put a washing machine in every home and a car in every driveway. There was an implied nobility in it, and it never bothered us that women or BIPOC folks weren't really involved, or that this dynamic was dissonant with our faiths or our nation’s purpose. The "business of business is business" battle cry empowered us to offer a Panglossian dismissal to our discriminatory, anti-labor and environmentally disastrous practices. As far as anyone I knew knew, U.S. style capitalism was the best of all possible worlds.
I, of course, wanted to fit in and followed the path laid our before me. I picked one of the whitest majors (finance), joined the top white fraternity on campus, bartended at the top white bar, dated white sorority girls, played sports, made the Dean’s List and held leadership positions. Like most of my fraternity brothers, I wanted to be successful, and used college as a resume polisher for my destiny - a career in white professional services, a house in the white suburbs, complete with a white housewife, 2.3 white kids, membership at a white country club and white church, and plenty of BIPOC folks to serve us.
Business as Villain
To bring us drinks. Mow our lawns. Clean our houses. Wash and valet our cars. Carry our bags. Raise our kids. Make our food. The weird thing was that no one talked about it. No one seemed to notice that if you squinted your eyes, the Chicago suburbs looked a lot like plantations. Not that there was any overt malice or secret meetings, but the centuries old relationship between white folks like my parents and our BIPOC "help" continued.
While it was working out nicely for us, it obviously wasn’t working well for Black folks. Black men earn $.56 (BLS, 2019) and Black women earn $.63 for every $1 a white man earns (US Census, 2020), and Black families have $.01 wealth for every dollar a white family has (Northwestern, 2020). Although none of us actively sought to oppress and exploit people of color or women, the net effect of our jobs, marriages and our suburban lifestyles did exactly that.
Our collective actions (giving contracts and jobs almost exclusively to other white guys, cutting taxes education and social services that benefit women and BIPOC folks) and inactions (ignoring the rising poverty, addiction and crime in BIPOC communities) ensured that we kept the power and wealth for ourselves, while women and people of color made a lot less money serving us. Our kids are now making us feel more uncomfortable about it, but nothing has really changed.
Granted, we do have increasing diversity in boardrooms, media and political leadership and overtly racist attitudes have subsided. Unfortunately, our country remains segregated, geographically, politically, racially and generationally. As anyone who has ever been to grade school knows, its not just white people finding new ways to oppress non-white people, its everyone trying to oppress everyone else.
Since the first ships of oppressed, dehumanized, and traumatized Europeans arrived, we’ve inculcated an ethos of dominance over nature, natives, women, and each other. This is not to romanticize indigenous or African peoples - they also had politics, fierce warriors, injustices and skirmishes. However, what they had and we Europeans did not, was an intact culture, where war, peace, spirituality, economics, culture, love and friendship existed in relative harmony both between tribes and with the earth.
With a few exceptions, this ethos of dehumanization, dominance and oppression has driven us away from each other and into homogeneous tribes. Whether we look at ourselves as a country of 2 political parties, or 3 lifestyles (urban, suburban, rural), or 5 distinct generations or 100's of ethnicities we are divided. Or whether we view ourselves as George Packer does, as 4 distinct nations - Real America, e.g., Sarah Palin, Free America, e.g., Milton Friedman, Smart America, e.g., Sheryl Sandberg, and Just America, e.g. Angela Davis (Atlantic, 2021). Or if we examine the 12 distinct socioeconomic tribes, as Dante Chinni and James Gimpel do in Our Patchwork Nation (2012). As a rule, we isolate ourselves from those who are different, diminish and dominate others, and come together only in the face of special circumstances like an economic depression or a genocidal maniac.
The net result is that 74% of us don’t have any friends from different ethnicities, 69% of of us don't have any friends from different generations, 63% of us don't have any friends with different levels of education, 62% of us don’t have any friends who vote differently and 56% don't have any friends from different income brackets (Barna, 2015). And it is getting worse, as our education system is increasingly segregated along the lines of race, class and politics (PBS, 2014). Over half of our children now attend deeply segregated schools (NYT, 2019).
These divides in many cases overlap and enforce a dynamic of “Christian white male ableist heteronormative supremacy”, or for short, “white supremacy”. Today, being a part of a white supremacist system doesn’t just mean lynching and burning crosses, although there are a few thousand white nationalists still actively perpetuating in domestic terrorism. It means that we participate in an interlocking system that keeps wealthy white men on top, and deprives others of their rights, dignity and the fruits of their labor.
It is no longer a conspiracy by overtly racist white folks, but continues as a symptom of our lack of moral imagination and our failure to activate a vision of shared prosperity. Without moral imagination and a vision of collective flourishing, we turn on one another. We dehumanize each other. White supremacy just happens to be the main way we do that in the United States, and it runs through every institution in our nation - every church, company, school, non-profit and local government. It is in every American heart. Yours, mine, everyone’s.
It is the water we swim in. It's why luxury cars and strip clubs exist. It's why Jack Welch boasted about culling the bottom 10% and why women live in constant fear of sexual assault and why we've clear-cut, monocultured and poisoned our land. It continues largely unabated to this very day. There is so much dominating going on, we can take our pick of folks who started it - the media, the other political party, "kids these days", capitalism, white men, immigrants, etc. Unfortunately, when blame each other, we miss the deeper dehumanizing narrative of our nation's history. We think it’s the nearest sheep dog or shepherd who is responsible for the culling of the sheep and not the system of exploitation and culture of dehumanization.
This is not a persecution nor an exoneration of the sheep dogs, e.g., academia, media, corporations, politicians, clergy and police, and the shepherds, e.g., wealthy white families, just a metaphor that explains the power dynamics in a country rich in resources and poor in moral imagination. Without the guidance of a shared vision and our "better angels", we do the only thing we have been trained to do with our sharp elbows, e.g., pay subsistence wages, beat the competition, find the angle, maximize return, plunder nature, “get the girl”, capture market share, “make it rain”, etc.
Since 1619, white supremacy has evolved from the genocide, rape and torture of native people and the genocide, slavery, rape, and torture of African peoples, into gems like the ⅗ compromise, broken treaties, Black Codes, contract lending, Jim Crow laws, payday loans, redlining, policy brutality and the preschool to prison pipeline. The mechanisms of white supremacy have evolved, but the outcome remains the same - white men on top.
“Racism is like a Cadillac, they bring out a new model every year.” - Malcolm X
What else can explain why Black families only have $.01 of wealth for every dollar a white family has? Either we’d have to say that there is something deficient in Black people or their culture, which is both explicitly racist, and factually incorrect, as it can be argued that much of our nation’s finest writing, music, athletics, art, spirituality and cuisine came from the minds, bodies and souls of our BIPOC brethren, or we admit that our system creates better outcomes for white people as a function of the system, not as a bug in the system. If we admit the latter, we at least can be factually correct.
Now comes the hard part. We then must acknowledge that we, white people, continue to benefit from white supremacy, and that “staying out of it” or doing nothing is a vote in favor of it. Remaining neutral ensures hard working BIPOC folks, no matter how hard they try, will not succeed, and eventually will be forced by the market to serve us in some fashion. Further, staying out of it is fundamentally anti-American, as anthropologist Margaret Mead observed…
“One characteristic of Americans is that they have no tolerance at all of anybody putting up with anything. We believe that whatever is going wrong ought to be fixed.”
While it’s understandable to not want to face the music, it is not honorable to make the inquiry itself wrong, e.g., ignore it, ban it, deflect, engage in doublespeak or cancel people. That’s the work of cowards. A courageous person is willing to have the discussion, accept the facts, admit his wrongs, face her accuser, and make satisfactory amends. Yet, few leaders are willing to answer this call.
Answering the call is a hard and long road, which makes it tempting to ignore. Due to the volatility and competition in our economy, and the great fear of screwing it up, it is tempting to lower our sights on what is possible. It’s easy to snack on small, surface-level wins like diverse TV shows, board members, entertainers, Olympians, politicians and scholarship winners. It's easy to comfort ourselves by saying it's not as bad as it used to be. It’s uncomfortable to face the reality that little has changed. Although racist attitudes of white people have dropped remarkably over the last 100 years, life is considerably less free and equal for BIPOC folks today than it was 50 years ago (Putnam, 2021).
If we continue to ignore, and thus damage, our twin purpose, we do so not just at the expense of the flourishing of our multicultural commonwealth and our biosphere, but at the expense of white flourishing as well. White people also have trouble sleeping. White working moms are also stretched thin. White people are also hustling for subsistence wages and struggling with obesity, addiction, and lack of education and healthcare. Had we decided to activate our shared purpose and made our society and economy caring, inclusive and equitable, and continued the social and economic policies of the 1950’s and 60’s, we would all have been better off.
We would have generated an additional $16T in our economy over the last 2 decades (Citigroup, 2020). This is because the policies that liberate our BIPOC brothers and sisters from oppression and empower them to make their highest contribution, such as those that guarantee access to the basic necessities of life - living wages, affordable healthcare, family leave and education, safe communities -, also benefit poor and middle class white people. More white Americans would get what they need to become healthier, wealthier, more fulfilled, and more productive. This would mean there would be less incentive across the board to turn to crime to provide for oneself and family, and we would end to the preschool to prison pipeline that is currently laying waste to 2.2 million of our nation’s souls.
Our founding documents speak to a powerful purpose - a deep call for equality, justice and liberty, to welcome and treat everyone with dignity and respect. In 2021, our purpose means a living wage, which is $25-50/hr and less than a 30 minute commute, depending on the area (MIT, 2021). It means affordable healthcare (<5% of income). It means a safe, loving, stable and inclusive community. It means clean water, air and soil. It means healthy and affordable food. It means small class sizes. It means sustainable and affordable public transit and housing (<25% of income). It means we are free from oppression and have the right to vote. It means we do not get murdered by the police during a routine traffic stop.
Our nation’s purpose means that no matter what color your skin is, who you love or worship or who your daddy is, you deserve dignity and respect. You deserve equal treatment under the law. You deserve the opportunity to discover, live and prosper from your purpose. You deserve to belong and realize your full potential in your life and career.
Unfortunately, help isn’t coming. The very people we hire to ensure that our rights, dignity and purpose become reality are on the take.
Landmark research at Princeton University on the state of our democracy has revealed that we are a democracy in name only. We are an oligarchy, ruled by largely white, wealthy, male and corporate interests who ensure their power and wealth expand at the expense of the well-being of our nation’s diverse citizenry (Gilens, Page, 2014). And this isn’t some left-over vestige from long ago, some antebellum hangover working itself out. These mechanisms are still being actively implemented by our elected officials. 389 restrictive voting bills in 48 states have been introduced since the 2020 election. As of June, 2021, 17 states have enacted 28 new voter suppression laws (Brennan Center, 2021), the majority of which are designed to suppress votes in diverse, urban populations.
In other countries, when these dynamics exist, we call it what it is - an apartheid. Here we just offer heartless quips like "May the best man win", “You make your own luck”, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, “To the victor, the spoils”, etc. But the secret is out, and unfortunately our government seems unable to listen, feel or do anything about it.
Business as Savior
As a result, many of us have stopped believing in our nation’s promise. Black and white folks alike who have spent decades trying to achieve some level of security increasingly believe it will never happen, as over half of Americans now believe it is unattainable (One Poll, 2020). As such, it is no wonder that our trust in government has fallen dramatically. Only 24% of U.S. citizens trust the government, down from the high of 77% in 1964 (Pew, 2021).
Well, at least we have each other, right? Nope.
In the struggle of our poverty and the growing shame and resignation that we will not achieve our dreams, we suffer alone. Only 47% of us belong to a spiritual community, down from 70% in 1999 (Gallup, 2021), 61% of us are lonely, up from 46% just a few years ago (Cigna, 2020), 33% of us have only 1, 2 or 3 close friends and 17% of us have no close friends, double the number from 2013 (American Social Survey, 2020). 41% of us don't have a best friend, up from 23% in 1995 (NY Post, 2021). Perhaps this is due to us not liking or trusting one another as we did in the past, as trust in our fellow Americans has fallen to 32% from 57% in 1968 (Vallier, 2020).
Further, this dynamic seems to be impacting men disproportionately, in what has been called a "male friendship recession", the number of men reporting zero friends has increased 5x since 1995(NY Post, 2021). Given that we laugh five times less when we're alone versus with others (Proveen, Fisher, 1989), the argument can be made that more alone we are, the more our "pursuit of happiness" is unrealized. This points to an age old truth - money, screens, drugs, alcohol, and consumer experiences don't give us what we need, acceptance, belonging and connection. Individual experiences cannot replace social experiences. To fulfill on e pluribus unum and our pursuit of happiness, most of all, we need each other.
There is hope.
Business is in the perfect position to intervene, as organizations are the only place where we have sufficient diversity across gender, ethnicity, ability, sexuality and age, with 5 generations now intermingling in the workplace (Purdue, 2021). Although religion, non-profits and academia are well-regarded and highly trusted, the diversity in most of these organizations reflects the aforementioned geographic, political, economic, and racial segregation of the nation, and thus they are insufficiently diverse to nurture the necessary empathy, trust and belonging across differences.
The substantial and sustained time commitment that is required to build authentic relationships and for the transformation of beliefs and behaviors is low in religious, civic and neighborhood organizations (50-500 hours/year) and high in organizations (2,000 hours/year). Because organizations are already in action training and developing their people, spending $80B per year in learning and development, $8B per year in DEI and $6B per year in employee wellness, we also have existing channels and budgets, through which we can develop individual and shared purpose and create belonging.
As such, the responsibility of realizing our purpose increasingly falls upon the enterprise. While it may seem counter-intuitive, as business leaders are overwhelmingly white, wealthy and male, business is the only institution regarded as both ethical and competent, with 72% of us trusting our employer to do the right thing (Edelman, 2021). There is even greater trust in small businesses (<500 employees), where 47.3% of us work (USSBA, 2021), as 94% of us trust small businesses to do the right thing (Gallup, 2020). Further, 68% of us expect business to fill the government’s leadership/trust void (Edelman, 2021).
To change behavior and beliefs, people need a reason, a commitment worth changing for, such as the impact of one’s work, the love of one’s craft, or simply the impact of one’s paycheck on one’s family - these things are unique to the workplace. Culture change isn’t a matter of learning new information, but rather a sustained commitment, requiring self-inquiry, modelling, practice and support, and the network redundancy (Centola, 2020) that organizations amply provide.
What this means is that to effectuate any change in beliefs and behaviors, the mechanisms of change must come from multiple people in a network, versus top down, learned in a class, sent out in an email or painted on a wall. They must be continually modeled, developed and expanded over time. The good news is that once 25% of a population adopts a belief or behavior, it soon becomes the norm (Centola, 2020).
In a sense, an organization is like a sovereign nation, with its origin stories, values, mission and vision; its own economy and culture, with its own education and healthcare and environmental functions. From the CEO to the new hire, organizations are fertile gardens for the cultivation of thick culture, comprised of strong ties (close friends) and weak ties (acquaintances), criss-crossing a company and sometimes an industry.
You are likely aware of organizations in your industry who have gotten the memo, e.g., Thomson Reuters, AirBNB, LinkedIn, Patagonia, Ford, Johnson & Johnson, PwC, etc., and have invested heavily in robust purpose and belonging initiatives. They know that culture eats strategy for lunch. They know their cultures cannot serve only 25% of the workforce (Christian, heterosexual, able-bodied, cis-gendered, white men). They know that 70% of people want to live their purpose at work (McKinsey, 2021). They know how much better they perform when 100% of their employees feel safe, like they belong, can grow, activate their purpose and do their best work.
Imagine each employee you work with being connected to their purpose, bringing that sense of belonging and fulfillment back home, impacting the health and resilience of their families and neighborhoods. Imagine the culture and economy of a nation where this is the new normal. Imagine 330 million souls alive, activated, curious, creating, caring and connected. Imagine the sense of fulfillment you will have in helping bring forth this future.
These ripple effects are what can make America’s sacred purpose real, and not just words. Just as our nation's business leaders rose to the challenge in the 1940's to ensure our survival, mobilize the economy and defeat Hitler, we are being called upon again to activate our purpose and liberate our people from oppression.
And so the question is, is your organization going to activate purpose and belonging, or will you let other players attract diverse talent, innovate, capture market share and fulfill on our nation’s purpose? The deeper question is, "Knowing the stakes and what's possible, will your last breath be bitter regret or tearful pride?"
Before you answer this, let's explore the deeper truth of who we are as a nation, and claim a new future for ourselves, one that is a victory over our white supremacist past and present.
“Hey, Mike. Good to see you.”
“So, what’s up with Black people?!”
(Pause. Shock. Squirm.)
I was speaking with a CEO after a multi-session anti-racism program his organization just completed. We developed a connection during the training, and I offered to meet with him about my own journey towards allyship. To hear these words from him after the powerful experience we all just had together made me wonder what feelings he had about Black people before the training.
It was the summer of 2020. Black Lives Matter (#BLM) protests were sweeping the globe, and companies were scrambling to both demonstrate support for #BLM, and giving serious attention to inclusion, diversity and equity (DEI). DEI budgets ballooned and by September of 2020, there were over 100,000 open DEI positions on LinkedIn. In part, our engagement at his organization was a result of George Floyd’s tragic murder and the moral awakening that men like us had after witnessing it.
My first conversation with Mike following the program was very enjoyable, with each of us talking about our lives, purpose, values, families, faith and careers. He must have felt very safe with me, because at the outset of our second conversation, he opened up with “So, what’s up with Black people?!” Which of course is a hell of a way to begin a discussion about allyship.
I would discover, over the course of that conversation and more, that he wanted to make sense of the racial unrest, the impoverished state of many BIPOC communities, his commitment to inclusion, his conservative politics and his role as company leader. He was looking for coherence and a path forward to be an ally to BIPOC folks without abandoning his conservative values. He valued individualism and personal responsibility, and was having trouble squaring it with the new knowledge of the role that systemic racism plays in tilting the tables against African Americans.
He was also a consumer of state and conservative media that had been painting #BLM as a violent, lesbian, socialist domestic terror organization, and suggesting that Anti-fa supporters were both lazy libtard snowflakes, and also, magically, a dangerous domestic terror organization. All of which are completely untrue, e.g., 93% of 2020 protests were not violent (CNN, 2020). To activate one’s allyship and reconcile it with the 2020 edition of conservatism is a heroic choice. It would be far easier to look the other way.
More importantly, he was beginning to see how a lack of inclusion was morally abhorrent to him as an American and a man of faith. Nowhere is it written in the Bible, Torah, Quran, Tao Te Ching, Bhagavad Gita or Upanishads, that a human life is unworthy of dignity, acceptance, and opportunity. Indeed these sacred texts say the opposite. I could feel the tension in his heart and mind. On one hand he wanted all the #BLM stuff, the protests, the riots, the lawsuits, etc. to just go away and on the other hand he knew it couldn’t until justice was served and equity was achieved.
And he felt deep down that leading inclusively was a personal expression of his Christian faith and values and his citizenship. He was called into service on this front, but unsure how to square it with his conservative beliefs, and the expectations of his board and pressure from investors.
Of course, he’s not alone.
Many American leaders heard the call to lead and activate America’s purpose in 2020, however few answered it. In light of the prevailing over work / meritocracy / always on / rat race ethos of America’s work culture, the endless pressure from board members and investors to beat earnings estimates, and organization inertia, it’s understandable to ignore the call.
It’s understandable to want to look away from the fact that if success was only about hard work, then the executive suite would look like a Benetton ad and 1st generation immigrants would rule the world. Unfortunately, the leaders who courageously answered the call to create inclusive cultures, and activate the twin purpose of the United States, were also not effective.
For example, the last two decades of DEI (hiring quotas, mentoring programs, employee resource groups, mandatory bias trainings, anonymous reporting systems, etc.) has failed to produce results for our BIPOC, female and LGBTQIA+ team members. The now famous Harvard Business Review study of 800 organizations’ DEI efforts revealed that , on the whole, the field delivered neutral to negative outcomes (HBR, 2016). And this is after sinking $8 billion a year into DEI (McKinsey, 2017).
In part this failure was due to the moralizing and compliance-driven nature of these trainings, making people in power (mostly straight white men) feel attacked. And what do people do when they feel attacked? They resist and fight back. And they did. So leaders are right to be skeptical of playing God with their cultures.
And yet, this is the tension. Leaders know that culture matters and they can no longer stay silent on social issues, as 62% of adults now demand that companies take a stand on social, economic and environmental issues (Accenture, 2018) and 87% of consumers believe business should put just as much attention on social issues as economic results (Edelman, 2017).
They’ve also seen culture issues torpedo M+A and other critical strategies, and be at the source of scandal and corruption. They’ve seen the resulting missed hiring, retention and performance goals. They’ve seen top talent flee for startups and organizations with inclusive cultures, great Glassdoor ratings, and B Corp designations.
Leaders are stuck between taking the laissez faire approach to culture ensuring the same white guys get hired and promoted, resulting in lawsuits, missed targets and customer and employee churn, and actively crafting culture which will take a bunch of time and money and is unlikely to succeed. Until recently, this was an unsolvable tension.
In 2020, as VP of People Science at ion Learning, I co-authored a research study in partnership with Golden Gate University, to measure and assess a unique culture change method with a global biotech company with 50k+ employees. This method involves forming small, diverse peer learning groups who learn something together over time. We saw outstanding results: 95% course completion (vs. 5% industry completion rate, Jordan, 2015), 85% behavior change and 76% new daily habit formation rates (ion Learning, 2020).
Further, 98% of participants experienced respect from their diverse peers, 96% experienced empathy from their diverse peers, and women and BIPOC employees reported increases in organizational commitment of 11.3% and 13.6% respectively.
When this method is used to activate employees’ purpose and values, both people and organizations thrive:
There are new tools and approaches now available for leaders to achieve their performance goals and reduce risk and employee turnover by activating purpose and belonging in small, diverse groups. In so doing, they also activate our nation's twin purpose. Before we explore this proven pathway, we’ll look at why organizations are the front line in the fight for our nation’s purpose (Chapter 1).
In short, America is deeply segregated racially, economically, geographically, generationally and politically, and it is only at work where we connect across boundaries and have a shared commitment to learn and grow together. We’ll also look at a unifying mythology to activate the common bond between leadership, investors, employees and customers and among all people of our nation, and then lay out the robust purpose and belonging value proposition (Chapter 2) and the key trends driving the business case (Chapter 3).
We’ll look at the skin you will have to put in the game to realize this return (Chapter 4) and how the fate of your people and our nation depends on it (Chapter 5). We’ll explore how the old way of doing Learning and Development, DEI, Wellness and Culture is a huge waste of time and money and actually creates greater division and disengagement, and how the new way - building authentic, high-trust and diverse relationships across an organization - delivers better results and enables unprecedented productivity, innovation, information transfer and organizational commitment (Chapter 6). We’ll conclude with a roadmap (Chapter 7) of how to activate a culture of purpose and belonging in your organization, and a vision for our shared success as a nation (Chapter 8).
Author’s Note #1: Who this book is for
This book is for the emotionally fluent, intellectually curious, and hopeful servant leader who thinks they might have a bigger role to play in the world. If you know that climate change, inequality, polarization and the knowledge that Black people are regularly murdered by police during traffic stops, mean that something new must happen, both inside of you and the world, you're in the right place.
As such, this book is a bridge. It spans two worlds, one that is oppressive, exploitative and violent, where wealth, power and freedom are concentrated in the hands of the few, to a world that is purposeful, connected, just, creative, peaceful and prosperous. If recent events in our nation have made you more curious about who you are in the face of this chasm, you'll be well-served by this book.
This book for leaders in organizations and those who aspire to be a leader. As I am a heterosexual white man, and heterosexual white men are over indexed in leadership positions, you will notice that I often speak directly to the explicit and implicit whiteness and maleness of leadership, capitalism and our nation as a whole.
This is not to say a leader who identifies as a woman, or is from the BIPOC or LGBTQIA+ communities will find nothing of value here, just that I won't always be speaking inclusively of all leaders. My goal is not to exclude anyone, but rather to call in everyone, specifically those who currently have the most power and influence.
Author's Note #2: Why I wrote this book
In February of 2012, I completed my initial purpose discovery journey, left my career in Silicon Valley and began to live a markedly different life, one driven and enchanted by my soul’s purpose. Over the next few years, it led me to write books, guide others on their journey, help build a global community of purpose practitioners, travel internationally giving keynotes, and deliver purpose programs for organizations like LinkedIn, Johnson & Johnson, Stanford and the United States Marine Corps. I was living proof of the power of purpose. I had meaning, romance, impact, success and a deep sense of fulfillment.
However, a persistent unanswered question remained in my heart. Where is home? I thought my soul should have that answer. I was in regular dialogue with it about how to live and serve and it was typically generous with guidance. But on this question, it was curiously quiet, resulting in me being unable to feel fully at home and at peace.
At the end of 2013, I had just moved to Berkeley, California and had gone through three rough romantic breakups in as many years. I was living in a town where I knew virtually no one and so the question loomed large. Where is my soil? Who are my people? I was from Illinois and had lived in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, but none of these places felt like home. And here I was again, starting over in a new town feeling adrift and disconnected.
In retrospect, I was newly encountering the collective aspects of purpose. Purpose isn’t just about me and my gifts, but it also shows up in how I relate to my family, my community and my soil. Soul and soil share an etymological root in the way human and humus do, and natal, nation and nature do. To be human is to be ensouled, born of the earth, of the humus, to belong to the living soil. And yet, I was a human without soil. An airplant of sorts, miraculous pulling in what I needed from the air and sun, but alone and longing for a shared history and belonging.
To inhabit one’s soul or one’s purpose is to inhabit one’s place on the planet and one’s role in community, society and the economy, in the way other species inhabit an ecological niche. They thrive in certain climates and altitudes and perish in others. In this way, to be a human and not feel at home is disturbing and unsettling. Indigenous tribes, such as the Maori and Dine (Navajo), bury their placenta ceremonially to mark this sacred connection. There is a tribe in Mexico whose phrase for “where are you from?” translates to “where is your placenta buried?” The Welsh offer a word that illuminated my uneasiness - hiraeth, a spiritual longing tinged with soulful grief, an unspecific homesickness, a nostalgia for ancient times and places to which we can never return. Perhaps these are times and places that never were. (BBC, 2021)
At first, I tried to distract myself from this question with my work, dating, hiking, and festivals. I thought I would eventually learn to love living in the Bay Area and believed it would be where I would marry and start a family.
In 2016, Stephanie, my then girlfriend and now wife, and I started receiving upsetting news - our closest friends were leaving the Bay. They had little ones and elected to move closer to nature and family and not be buried under the Bay’s notoriously high housing costs. As the majority of our work could be done virtually and a good portion of our community had flown the coup, we found ourselves asking the question together, “Where is home?”
We wanted a place where we could put down roots, build community and start a family. We wanted a place where Steph could be warm and surf. We wanted a place that felt real, connected, permanent and less of a bubble of inequality, disconnection and transience. We considered the Southeast, Southern California, Spain and Central America.
When I sat with the option of leaving the United States, I just couldn’t picture myself doing it. For all of our nation’s problems, and as much as I like sangria in a plaza and fish tacos on the beach, I couldn’t leave. There is something of my soul in this soil. Midwestern lakes, corn festivals, street fairs, baseball, barbecue, the blues, Jeeps, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. Each had claimed a piece of my soul.
This much I knew. However, it seemed like at least once a week, I learned something about how my home was falling apart. As it turns out most of our national family is struggling:
And we’re not just sad, lonely and broke, but increasingly find ourselves at odds with each other. We have beefs between conservatives and liberals, Boomers and Millenials, Whites and BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ and cis-gendered heterosexuals, rural and urban. The list goes on and on, and points to a clear lack of integrity. Our twin purpose “E Pluribus Unum” and “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” are increasingly not the reality for the people who live here. We are not free, healthy, happy or connected. And we’re pissed. One in three American believe violence may be necessary for our political goals (NPR, 2020). Beyond being pissed about our politics and differences, we're pissed at the system. We're pissed at the lie.
We were all sold the lie - that in the United States, with hard work, anyone can carve out a middle class life of comfort and security. With income mobility at historic lows (WEF, 2020), each day more of us are waking up to the betrayal.
In light of this, how could I leave? Leaving is what cowards do. Our shared purpose means something to me and it enrages me that we aren’t living it, when we all know it’s possible. I knew I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I jumped ship. So we decided to stay, and also experiment with a new part of the country.
After we married in the summer of 2018, we moved to San Diego, a diverse, but segregated 2nd tier purple city (about equal parts conservative and liberal). Steph would be warm and close to the beach, and we’d have our chance of building a life, family and community in a place with unspeakable natural beauty and rich diversity.
We moved to a working class neighborhood near the ocean, enjoyed the beach, margaritas, yoga, and burritos. As I started to connect with my neighbors, I saw good people working their butts off, just about every damn minute of the week. One neighbor drove a cab at all hours and struggled to fit in an hour or two a week to kick the soccer ball around with his sons in the alley. I talked to another who worked at Home Depot. He had been there 5 years and made $12/hour. When interviewing cleaning services, I asked how much the cleaners made. Rarely was it higher than $15/hr.
Now outside of the affluent bubble of the Bay Area, I was face-to-face with what it meant to live and work in a regular city. My heart broke. Almost everyone was hand to mouth. The living wage required to support a family of 4 was $40/hr (MIT, 2021), yet few jobs paid more than $15/hr. This meant most households had extended families and multiple incomes.
For those who weren’t part of a solid family or community, there was the street. With plenty of cheap crack, meth and oxycontin and warm weather, San Diego was brimming with folks who had opted out of the struggle/subsistence wage cycle.
Although we certainly had plenty of inequality and poverty in the Bay, it hit me differently in San Diego. Perhaps I had found our nation’s pain in San Diego. Perhaps it was because something had opened up in my heart. It’s hard to say, but the effect was shame and betrayal. Each struggling parent and street kid felt like a personal failure to me.
San Diego gave me a unique view into our hourglass-shaped economy (Salon, 2011), with my San Francisco and New York white collar friends making $200k/yr+ and posting photos of vacations in Vail and Bali and my San Diego community scraping by and barbecuing in the park.
How could I call myself an adult, a citizen, and be ok with this? I certainly couldn’t ignore it. So I let it in. Throughout 2019, our collective suffering began to teach me. It showed me how the vast majority of us (even the wealthy ones) were living lives of quiet desperation. It showed me that I was not alone in feeling betrayed by our nation’s promise.
As 2020 began, I thought I was through the worst of my heartbreak. After all, I was working with great clients building cultures of belonging and purpose. Steph and I moved to an awesome home in a walkable community. We were making friends and were excited about starting a family. Ha! Enter COVID-19.
Like most folks, we masked up, sequestered, and helped keep our local businesses alive. The transition to work-from-home was harder on me than Steph, as I love being in the office with my colleagues, giving keynotes and mixing it up at conferences, karaoke bars, street fairs and festivals. With these normal social outlets closed down, all of my attention poured into our nation’s crisis of soul.
For me and I reckon many of you, early 2020 was a cascade of soul-piercing heartbreaks. The impeachment, chaotic pandemic response and Democratic primaries revealed how much hatred was in my house. We were falling apart. My family and friends either avoided the topic of politics or avoided each other. When we did engage, we talked past each other, each inhabiting wildly different worlds, each with different facts, beliefs, conclusions and visions for the path forward. As if that wasn’t enough...
On Tuesday, May 26, 2020, I watched the last 8 minutes and 46 seconds of George Floyd’s life. I spent the next couple days horizontal, on the couch and in disbelief. It felt like 1995, the year my brother, Carson, died in a car accident. I remember multiple times a day I’d ask myself if that really just happened. Was he really gone? Is this real? Am I awake?
George’s death hit me in a similar fashion. Did I just witness a white man calmly kill a black man? When a grown man calls out for his dead mother, does that not signal something is wrong? Did his body going limp not suggest he should stop? Did seeing him evacuate his bowels not signal a change to the restraint approach?
Derek Chauvin’s facial expression is burned on my heart. My wife and I were frequent protesters in the Bay, and were well read on our nation’s twin genocides, slavery, apartheid and the mechanics of systemic racism. We had engaged in inclusion and diversity trainings. And on the surface, George Floyd's was the latest name added the long list of unarmed BIPOC people murdered by police, such as Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Auhmad Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.
What was new to me was Derek’s face, and its unflinching steady commitment to murder. His face is white and middle-aged, just like mine. It is the face of a man who most of the time believed he was serving the common good, just like mine.
How many times have I hardened my heart and turned away from the suffering of my Black, Latinx, Indigenous and Asian friends? How many times did I tolerate racism, sexism and homophobia? How many times did I join in by telling jokes and poking fun? How many times did I let the love drain from my face like Derek’s, as I justified the suffering of others as natural, normal and just the way things are?
And then it hit me. Now I know why I don’t feel at home in the U.S. and why I can’t live in another country - the fulfillment of our purpose is my responsibility. As an adult, as a citizen, I can’t just take the blue pill, put blinders on and try to live a normal life in Illinois or New York or the West Coast. I can’t feel at home or at peace when this bullshit is happening in any room in my house. I can’t feel at home or at peace until we activate our sacred purpose and fix these problems.
The Holy Trinity of Our Nation's Civil Religion
All men are created equal - We hold this truth to be self-evident, that all people belong here, have dignity, rights and a clear path to fulfill their potential regardless of their gender, skin color, sexuality, what they look like, how able they are, what they do, how much money they make, who they worship or love or who their daddy is.
E Pluribus Unum (from many, one) - We perform the sacred task of activating unity in this diverse nation; to actively and continually transform pluribus into unum; to no longer be content as a mixed salad or melting pot, but to weave a diverse tapestry of belonging and celebration, where our open hearts value and love every life and culture; to celebrate this diversity as we bind ourselves together "...indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness - We constitute ourselves and institutions to ensure everyone has ready and affordable access to the basic building blocks of life - healthy food, clean soil, air and water, healthcare, education and housing (life); to ensure each of us is free and liberated from the constraints of systemic oppression, limiting circumstances and beliefs (liberty); to ensure each of us is fulfilled by discovering and activating our purpose in our career and life (the pursuit of happiness).
That’s the heart of this book. This book is the declaration: “not in our house”. We do not have the right to call ourselves adults or citizens, if we are not in action bringing healing, justice and flourishing to our people.
As I mentioned, this book is also a book for leaders. You. We live in a multicultural society that requires new leadership skills. To be a leader in almost any organization is to be one who leads diverse teams. And to lead diverse teams effectively is to play a critical role in activating the purpose of the United States. This book presents a vision for what it means to be a leader in the 21st century.
Luckily, as the fates have it, we have at our fingertips a proven pathway to do all of this. Yes, there are many things our governments, religions and schools have done, are doing and can do to fulfill on our sacred purpose and heal the soul of our nation. This book is not about any of that. It is about what each of us can do to activate purpose and belonging and fulfill our sacred national purpose at work.
It’s a guidebook for leaders who want to harvest the rich meaning in their careers, activate their purpose, and enjoy soulful connection, kinship and belonging at work. It’s a resource for leaders who want to fulfill their legacy, activate the higher purpose of their organization and play a critical role fulfilling the purpose of these United States.
Author’s Note #2: Reasons Not to Read This Book
If you're someone who wants to read a regular business book by written by a pedigreed expert who pours old ideas into Venn diagrams and overly simplified case studies, you're going to be disappointed. I hate business books as a rule. I find them to be largely a collection of capitalist fan fiction written by folks who never really understood capitalism's central narrative, or own and take responsibility for its history. Thus, a basic business book cannot address capitalism's deep flaws, nor see the power and possibility of capitalism done right. If you'd prefer to stay away from capitalism's troubled past and present, this book won't serve you.
I do want you to read this book, but only if you are ready to examine every single assumption about your life, career, capitalism, citizenship, worth and legacy. Unless you're willing to bring courage to this book, you're better off paying 7 figures to McKinsey to tell you what you already know. As they say, no one ever got fired for hiring them.
But something tells me you're here for another reason, that playing someone else's game isn't enough for you anymore, and at least some piece of you is ready to find out why that is. Some piece of you is no longer content with your 401k, respectable market share and good enough culture. Some piece of you is ready to bet the pot. That's the piece of you that I'm speaking to. If you don't like that piece to be spoken to so plainly and directly, there is a sea of mediocre fan fiction awaiting you elsewhere.
Although I write books, I have trouble writing normal ones. Planet on Purpose (2018) was equal parts memoir, research review, leadership pathway, philosophical musing on the purpose of the cosmos and political treatise. This book is no different in that regard - it's part memoir, part leadership book, part white reckoning and part battle for national redemption. If that's a little too out there, I don't blame you.
If you saw the subtitle of this book and wondered, “Wait, what? We have a sacred purpose? I don't have time for this nonsense.”
Especially, if you’re just trying to hang onto your job, keep your organization alive, or are experiencing grief or confusion watching the world being remade each minute by viruses, politicians, technology and market forces, diving into a book like this might not be a good use of your time.
Or maybe you’ve had it with our nation. Maybe you are sick and tired of it bullying, drone-striking and occupying other nations to secure cheap labor and resources. Maybe you’ve had it with our preaching democracy and freedom abroad, while leaving two genocides (5-15M Natives and 35M Africans) unacknowledged and unhealed, while enacting a de facto apartheid at home, such that African American families have $.01 of wealth for every dollar of wealth European American families have (Northwestern, 2020), and are regularly murdered by police. I get it. You have every reason to tune this idea out.
But something tells me that deep down you actually do love this country, or at minimum its ideals. I think you would have left already if you didn’t. However, we can't love something if we don't know it, feel it's pain and see its possibilities. Loving something is not just about celebrating what is great, but critically examining what is unhealed, hurting and standing in the way of its destiny. It's adopting the sentiment of Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." album, celebrating her richness, glory and freedom, while remaining soberly aware of her failures, pain and the need for healing and restitution.
What ails us, ails the world. Extremism and authoritarianism are not just on the rise in our nation - they are global (New York Times, 2021). We may be tempted to say that the rise of autocratic and right wing regimes in the UK, Brazil, India, Italy, Germany, Russia, China, Turkey, North Korea or Sweden are not our concerns. We may say that our founders’ words mean nothing to the rest of the world. But rest assured they do, even if they don’t recognize it. The United States is a proving ground for what is possible.
It is on us to live our purpose, to solve for unity, equity, prosperity and belonging. We can show ourselves that we have the medal and grit to deliver on our founders’ words. We can show the world what is possible. I know that in your heart, you want to see our national purpose fulfilled - to liberate human potential, to create a prosperous and equitable multicultural democratic society, and to show all of humanity that, yes, such things exist and are possible.
Once we fulfill on this sacred purpose as a nation, we not only prove we're not full of shit, but regain the right to co-lead the world and pave the way for planetary unity. Alliances and coalitions, such as the Paris Climate Agreement, NATO, the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals, OECD, etc. are merely the beginning of what is possible for planetary thriving. When we harness our collective potential, imagine how much more goodness, truth and beauty we can enjoy.
Unfortunately, 85% of the world’s workforce is disengaged, phoning it in, and resulting in $7T loss in productivity (Gallup, 2017). Now consider all the amazing things the 15% of us who are engaged have created. Now multiply that by 6. That’s what’s possible when we ignite purpose, belonging and flourishing worldwide. Imagine 8B fully activated souls making their highest contribution, exploring the unknown, celebrating the wonders of nature, mining the depths of our wisdom and unleashing our unlimited fount of creativity. But first, we have to get our shit together as a nation. Then we can show the way. It begins with us.
There is a place in every human heart that is rooting for the United States to make it and light the path. There is a reason Bruce Springsteen sold twice as many albums internationally as he did in the States. There is a reason President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in the first year of his Presidency, despite having accomplished very little. He wasn't a notable humanitarian, nor an accomplished legislator.
President Obama won the Presidency and Nobel Peace Prize for the same reason. Deep down, in every human there is a place that wants us to live up to our ideals. President Obama is the embodiment of the American promise and our civil rights movement. He is living proof that a nation of immigrants and the formerly enslaved, of people from all corners of the globe, could constitute themselves according to a sacred idea, where anyone, no matter their skin color, who they love or who their daddy is can fulfill their destiny and belong. Truly belong.
He is also an incredibly talented orator, who assumed the mantle as the high priest of the democratic civil religion. Through his words, he transmuted pluribus into unum, which he began 4 years before his Presidency in his now famous 2004 DNC Convention speech:
"...there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too: We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States, and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq...
"It's the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs. The hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores. The hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta. The hope of a mill worker's son who dares to defy the odds. The hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him too. Hope! Hope in the face of difficulty! Hope in the face of uncertainty! The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead."
And continued in his 2008 victory speech:
"And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios... our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared... Tonight, we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.
"For that is the true genius of America — that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow...
"...that fundamental truth that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can."
All people are created equal. E Pluribus Unum. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
If these words do not inspire you, if you don’t see the good, true and beautiful in these sacred words, give this book to someone else. You won’t find anything here of use to you.
“...one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of it’s creed.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
"Somehow we've weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn't broken
but simply unfinished...
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside...
But while democracy can be periodically delayed
it can never be permanently defeated..."
"To turn individuals into a covenental nation, they must build something together." Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
"I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
Table of Contents:
Author's Note #1: Who This Book is For
Author's Note #2: Why I Wrote This Book
Author's Note #2: Reasons Not to Read This Book
Ch. 1: Business as Religion, Villain and Savior
Ch. 2: The Bison Way
Ch. 3: A Dieable Why
Ch. 4: Culture is a Matter of Life and Death
Ch. 5: The Science of Culture Change
Ch. 6: Principles and Emergence
Ch. 7: The Fifth Estate: Purpose Work Nation
Appendix A: Purpose Activation Resources
Appendix B: Social Learning Journeys
Chapters will be published each week. Subscribe below to receive an email notification of newly available chapters.