Coming Fall 2021
Chapters published here each week for comments in advance:
Opening Quotes & Table of Contents
Ch. 1: Business as Religion, Villain and Savior
Ch. 2: The Bison Way
Ch.3: Purpose First
Ch. 4: Culture is a Matter of Life and Death
Ch. 5: Bison @Work
Ch. 6: The Twin Drivers of Flourishing
Ch. 7: Principles and Emergence
Ch. 8: Bison @Play
“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.
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, as trust was assumed among members within each club, and between the members of these clubs via reciprocal guest agreements. My dad made his living managing the wealth of many of our 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.
Business as 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. Friedman's "business of business is business" battle cry empowered us to pursue wealth as a moral good. It also meant, all was fair in love and war, sanctioning our discriminatory, anti-labor and environmentally disastrous business practices, with quips "It's just business", "Gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette". As far as anyone I knew knew, U.S. style capitalism was the best of all possible worlds.
What I did not know was that because business had become the driving force in culture and politics, that it had become the theater for the soul of our nation, between the desires of the individual (the energy of the eagle - the solitary hunter and our national bird) and those of the commonwealth (the energy of the bison - the tender of the people land and our national mammal), between capital and labor, between matter and spirit
For every new product and and service created, a large eagle fortune was made, and often at the expense of the people and planet (bison). This gave rise to new social and environmental movements, protections and institutions, e.g., child labor laws, the weekend, the right to organize, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Organization (EPA), Medicare, National Parks, Bureau of Land Management, etc. I did not know that the business environment I grew up in during the 1980's and 1990's was the result of the battle between individual freedom and collective responsibility, between the eagle and the bison.
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 I was privy to 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, biases, 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 within First Nations, between them, with the earth and the great spirit.
With a few exceptions, this eagle 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:
It appears the eagle is winning. We seek to amass wealth (eagle) to protect us from the cold realities of the market society, versus seeking solidarity and shared prosperity (bison). 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 to stave off 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). It appears that white folks are the most segregated, as 92% of people in the networks of white people are white (American Survey Center, 2021). 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).
Many of these divides 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 all participate, regardless of whether we lean towards the bison or the eagle, 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 bison-led 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%, 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 eagle at play, we turn on each others and can take our pick of folks to blame for our suffering - 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, or 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 a "forever war" against native peoples, including their genocide, rape and torture, into the genocide, slavery, rape, and torture of African peoples, and 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, legislation, science, technology, 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, regardless of our racial, ethnic, religious and sexual identity, that we depend on white supremacy to survive, 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 wealthy whites. Staying neutral is both a vote for further oppression, also dissonant with our wild-eyed, rambunctious nature. 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 sacred 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 vice to escape and numb, and crime to provide for oneself and family. We could 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, a healthy marriage of the eagle and bison, a commitment 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). 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. It seems individual happiness (eagle) depends to a large extent on our connection to each other and the land (bison). This points to an age old truth - money, screens, drugs, alcohol, and consumer experiences don't give us what we actually need - meaning, 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 U.S. 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 is still regarded as the most ethical and competent sector, 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). In part this is due the the immense power of business. Business knows no borders, has vastly greater resources than any other sector, is unencumbered by term limits and the need to constantly engage in media spectalces. People expect business to step up, because it can do so much good in the world.
It's needed and it's time. As you'll explore in the next chapter, your employees, customers and investors now demand it.
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 and health insurance on one’s family - these things are unique to the workplace. Culture change isn’t a matter of merely learning new information, but rather a sustained commitment, requiring self-inquiry, modelling, practice, 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 entire industry.
You are likely aware of organizations in your industry who have begun to integrate the eagle and the bison, e.g., Thomson Reuters, AirBNB, LinkedIn, Patagonia, Ford, Johnson & Johnson, PwC, etc., and have invested heavily in robust purpose and belonging initiatives. They have embodied the wisdom in Peter Drucker's adage, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." 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. Especially as artificial intelligence (A.I.) makes the rote and analytical, cheap and easy, if there is to be any hope for our nation and species, we must remember and unlock what makes us uniquely human - purpose, creativity, our bonds to each other.
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, liberate our people from oppression and create a shared prosperity that is on the whole, greater than anything we have seen.
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 one of shameful 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.
Ch. 1 Summary:
Ch. 1 Reflection Questions:
“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 - which of course was not true, as 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. 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). Although, of these 42% who deeply believe in DEI, many simply do not know how to support it. Less than have of these true believers have ever confronted anyone about an exclusionary comment or behavior, and most have not voluntarily joined an employee resource group (ERG).
Many have 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 evolutionary leader who knows that business as usual is broken and that they have a bigger role to play in the world. If you know that chaos of climate change, inequality and 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 chaos and the great chasm between it a flourishing future, you'll be well-served by this book. This book for leaders who want to sleep well at night, who want to be proud of how they are showing up.
Also, as I am a white man, and 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 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, employees and employers, rural and urban. The list goes on and on, and points to a clear lack of integrity. Our purpose - "all [people] are created equal", “E Pluribus Unum” and “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” - is increasingly not the reality for the people who live here. We are not free, equal, 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, hiking 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 in a nation with two unacknowledged and unhealed genocides (5-15M Natives and 35M Africans). I can't feel at home in a place that calls us to to kill, oppress, rape and then forget any of it happened and continues to happen. I can’t feel at home or at peace until we activate our sacred purpose and fix our problems.
We are a nation of ideas and laws, constituted by the world's peoples, not a singular people, faith or nation. At the heart of this constitution is framework for cooperation, a set of principles by which a country of immense beauty, wealth, diversity and imagination may find guidance and refuge.
Our sacred purpose: equality for all, unity in our diversity, flourishing
All [people] 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, how 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; not to be a melting pot, nor a mixed salad, but a weave, a diverse tapestry of belonging and celebration, where our open hearts value and love every life, contribution 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 build 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).
However articulate, our nation's purpose has yet to be consecrated, made sacred, enduring and real. It must be ministered, shaped into form, function and experience. It has to be seen, felt and measured. If we are to live it, to call ourselves citizens, we must also atone for our failure to consecrate our purpose, heal the impacts of this gross negligence, and ensure our purpose becomes real for all citizens. This consecration will require baptism, atonement, ongoing ritual and an entirely new way of conducting ourselves as a society, government and economy.
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, much less leaders, if we are not consecrating our purpose and bringing healing, justice and flourishing to all our people.
Further, we live in a multicultural society that requires new leadership skills. To be a leader in any organization is to be one who meets the world as it is, warts and all, plants a flag in the future and declaring what it must be. They then lead a diverse team to achieve it. As such, this book is a resource for leaders who want to do just that, to fulfill their legacy, activate the higher purpose of their organization and play a critical role fulfilling the purpose of these United States.
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, although you can explore what a sector by sector theory of change could look like in Appendix C. This book 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.
Author’s Note #3: 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 new data over old ideas, 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. Do I have your permission to question your most deeply held beliefs? If not, then put this book down.
But something tells me you're here for it. Something tells me 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, political treatise, and philosophical musing on the purpose of the cosmos. 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.
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 our settler colonialism at home and our resource imperialism abroad - our bullying, drone-striking and occupying other nations to secure cheap labor and resources. Maybe you’ve had it with our preaching democracy and freedom to the world, while leaving two genocides 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 posture of Aretha Franklin, U2, or Johnny Cash celebrating her richness, glory and freedom, while remaining critical of her failures and advocating for healing, justice and restitution.
Although this is primarily a book for leaders in the United States, it is for the world. 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 regimes and right wing factions 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. Some part of every heart believes 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. 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 do more than 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 will be possible.
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 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, there is a place in each person that wants the United States to live up to its purpose and promise. President Obama is the embodiment of the American promise. He is living proof that a nation of immigrants, descendants of the formerly enslaved, and the survivors of genocide, of people from all corners of the globe, can constitute themselves according to ideas, a sacred archetypal idea, to become a place where anyone, no matter their skin color, who they love, how they worship or who their daddy is can fulfill their destiny and belong. Truly belong.
President Obama re-ignited our desire to belong. 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: Bison @Work
Ch. 6: The Twin Drivers of Flourishing
Ch. 7: Principles and Emergence
Ch. 8: Bison @Play
Appendix A: Purpose Activation Resources
Appendix B: Social Learning Journeys
Appendix C: Purpose, Sector by Sector
Chapters will be published each week. Subscribe below to receive an email notification of newly available chapters.