Paul Skinner on shifting the stories that we live and work by

What value do we lose when economics reduces communities to markets?

How can investors not just be seen as check books?

And if suppliers are not just simply seen as delivering to a contract, what else could that relationship look like?

Today Paul answers some big questions. All rooted in shifting the stories that we live and work by.

Paul Skinner is the author of The Purpose Upgrade: Change your Business to Save the World. Change the World to Save your Business. He’s also the author of Collaborative Advantage: How Collaboration Beats Competition as a Strategy for Success. Through his consulting practice The Agency of the Future, Paul helps clients to drive purpose-led change and better mobilize stakeholders for lasting success. And he also founded MarketingKind, a non-profit professional membership community that brings business leaders, marketers, and change-makers together to address our most pressing problems.

Today Paul explains how collaborative advantage is a radical alternative to competitive advantage.

We talk about what a purpose upgrade is and why we need to elevate purpose now more than ever.

And Paul gives us a beautifully articulated solution to substantially increasing the ceiling for success for any enterprise. And it’s easier than you think.

We talk about economics.

Why only focusing on profit isn’t good for business.

And how purpose can be our most adaptive capacity as humans.

Paul then finishes by explaining how we can avoid being puppets of our prior intentionality and instead the true authors of our own future change.

You don’t want to miss this conversation.

So, grab that favorite beverage or throw on those running shoes, and enjoy this conversation with Paul.

And please don’t forget to let us know what you think of this episode, leave a review and subscribe.

00:00:02:05 – 00:00:27:03
Philippa White
Welcome to the show, where we unearth new ways of looking at ever evolving lights around the world. Seen from a number of different industries, cultures and backgrounds. But there’s one thing that unites everyone I speak to. They all want to do their part to make the world better in their own unique ways. It’s a uniting passion. Whether they’re from the commercial world, third sector or public sector from the Global North or the global south.

00:00:27:15 – 00:01:05:10
Philippa White
My name is Philippa White and welcome to TIE Unearthed. How does collaboration beat competition? Are things really moving away from companies only focusing on maximizing shareholder value? And if so, how are things changing? And what is a purpose upgrade? Hello and welcome to episode 69 of TIE Unearthed. Today I’m speaking with Paul Skinner, author of The Purpose Upgrade Change Your Business to Save the World.

00:01:05:24 – 00:01:45:01
Philippa White
Change the World To Save Your Business. He’s also the author of Collaborative Advantage How Collaboration Beats Competition as a Strategy for Success through his consulting practice. The agency of the Future Paul helps clients to drive purpose, led change and better mobilize stakeholders for lasting success. And he also founded Marketing Kind, a nonprofit, professional membership community, bringing business leaders, marketers and change makers together to address our most pressing problems.

00:01:45:10 – 00:02:15:01
Philippa White
As marketing briefs in disguise. So knowing me and knowing TIE , I’m sure you can understand why I’ve been so looking forward to this conversation with Paul. One that’s not only full of fascinating thinking around purpose, business opportunities and leadership, but the examples he shares of companies that have got it right and thriving as a result beautifully illustrate that there is another way.

00:02:15:16 – 00:02:29:12
Philippa White
So grab that favorite beverage or throw on those running shoes. And here is Paul. Hello, Paul. Thank you for joining us. It’s really wonderful to have you with us today. Tell me, where are you right now?

00:02:29:23 – 00:02:54:09
Paul Skinner
I’m in the UK and I’m just so excited to meet you at last. I think the stories that we tell ourselves have such an influence over our lives and work and everything that you’re doing at TIE to strengthen the way that the marketing profession and creative people who can improve these stories could hardly be more necessary. So I’m really grateful for the opportunity to join you in your mission today.

00:02:54:11 – 00:03:14:06
Philippa White
Wow. Well, thank you. Gosh, I’m here to talk about you. And it’s very nice for you to have kicked off talking about tie. So thank you. I really appreciate your words and I’m really looking forward to learning more about you and your work. Obviously, I’ve read your book, which I thoroughly enjoyed and I’ve been wanting to know more about what you have been up to for so long.

00:03:14:10 – 00:03:32:17
Philippa White
We just haven’t had a chance to have this conversation, so I’m looking forward to doing both, obviously having this podcast, but obviously learning more about what you’re doing. So before we get into the purpose upgrade and all the other stuff, let’s just back up a little bit because I think it’s really nice to just learn about who I am speaking to, both for me, but also for our listeners.

00:03:32:18 – 00:03:34:15
Philippa White
So just tell us a little bit about your background.

00:03:35:02 – 00:04:17:13
Paul Skinner
So I have a few hats as so many of us do these days. I run the agency of the future through which I help leadership teams to select, define and mobilize around purpose outside the business as well as inside the business and the founder of Marketing Kind, which is a community, a membership community of marketers and change makers who believe that because the world’s most pressing problems depend for their resolution even more fundamentally, really, than on technology or on finance, on forms of human cooperation, we can also choose to read them as exciting and important marketing briefs in disguise.

00:04:17:13 – 00:04:45:21
Paul Skinner
And so we come together every month to upcycle our marketing skills in support of pioneering charities and social enterprises, and build a portfolio of social and environmental impacts. We coach and support each other in becoming more purposeful and systemic leaders in the day jobs. And we also work with some of our real heroes in exploring how we can change some of the biggest stories that we live and work by for the better.

00:04:45:21 – 00:05:14:18
Paul Skinner
Working with people often from well beyond the world of marketing and supporting important change. And then, of course, I write my books that listeners won’t be able to see it. But as you can tell from the view behind me, I’m a reader more than a writer, but I’ve written two books. The first came out in 2018 Collaborative Advantage, and was based on the observation that the most important problems we have to solve in business are usually not problems we can solve on our.

00:05:14:24 – 00:05:36:20
Paul Skinner
So I propose collaborative advantage as a radical alternative to competitive advantage. And most recently, my book, an audiobook The Purpose Upgrade Change Your Business to Save the World. Change the World to Save Your Business came out based on the premise that a lot of our problems have got more severe in recent years. So perhaps we need to not just forge shared purpose, but really to elevate that purpose.

00:05:36:20 – 00:05:52:24
Paul Skinner
And in that book I really dig into purpose as potentially our most adaptive capacity as humans, our most renewable resource for enterprise, and that a purpose upgrade can be and always available an event for any organization in any sector.

00:05:53:01 – 00:06:16:04
Philippa White
Amazing. Gosh, you’ve just covered up a lot of things that I’m really looking forward to. Digging deeper to kick off, I think with the collaborative advantage because at TIE we also talk a lot about the importance of collaboration. It’s kind of one of our pillars that we refer to when talking about how people can really start to act and do things differently.

00:06:16:04 – 00:06:35:18
Philippa White
And and one of them is collaboration, the other is broadening horizons, and the other is unlocking potential in people. We are going to be talking about the purpose upgrade, but I would love to just understand about the collaborative advantage and you touched on it very briefly, but just talk to us about that in a little bit more detail.

00:06:35:18 – 00:06:41:18
Philippa White
And why is collaboration better and beats competition as you as you explain?

00:06:42:12 – 00:07:02:18
Paul Skinner
So there are so many ways we could go into this, but you’ve picked up on human potential and human agency as being about taste. So I want to dig into that a little bit. Essentially, writing the book Collaborative Advantage gave me the chance to dig into the history of competitive advantage and that concept was developed entirely really by financiers and economists.

00:07:03:11 – 00:07:34:20
Paul Skinner
The principle being you line up the resources you own, manage and control, create a superior value offering that you deliver to your stakeholders who are presumably pathetically grateful for bestowing that superior value on them. And of course, in a way our management ideas derive from economics. A lot of the problem is not in their internal logic, it’s in the things they leave out now, economics assumes away in the phrase, all things being equal human context, human nature and human relationships.

00:07:35:02 – 00:08:01:23
Paul Skinner
When, of course, what we know as marketers is that value is created three relationships and three the active agency of all of our stakeholders. So, for example, economic logic reduces people to consumers. But let’s say we were having this conversation in Starbucks. The reason I would be there would be the conversation with you and the warm brown liquid given to me by Starbucks would be playing a relatively trivial and supporting role.

00:08:01:24 – 00:08:24:15
Paul Skinner
Economics tends to think about colleagues. It reduces those humans to resources when of course, the magic of colleagues is when they bring their discretionary efforts and talent to bear on their work. Economics reduces communities to markets, which is a nonsense, really. I mean, I don’t know if you could point me in the direction of the soft drinks market, for example, but I certainly have never stumbled into it so far.

00:08:24:15 – 00:08:56:23
Paul Skinner
And of course, you know, that means we overlook so much value when when Unilever saw rural villages in India as a market, it was a very poor market because they couldn’t reach them with advertising. They weren’t exposed to Indian, they couldn’t afford to buy their products in the first place. When Unilever saw rural communities as closely knit communities of people working to solve their problems, working to improve annotation, working to fight the spread of infectious diseases, they realized that there was some value creating potential to tap into.

00:08:56:23 – 00:09:31:23
Paul Skinner
So they recruited women in rural villages across India to distribute Unilever products made commercially accessible in formats and sizes that were affordable in those communities. And without having to spend on advertising and recruiting women as micro-entrepreneurs rather than just employees through something called Project Shakti, they contributed in the end, not just to improving conditions of life in rural villages in India, but making a significant contribution to the revenue of Unilever in India.

00:09:31:23 – 00:09:52:06
Paul Skinner
And of course, similarly, you know, we do have to see investors as working checkbooks. They can help us commit to and live up to our future partners and not just suppliers delivering to contracts, but can co-create that future. And a shared home isn’t just an asset to be exploited, but is the thing that makes living and working in our communities possible to begin with.

00:09:52:24 – 00:10:12:09
Paul Skinner
Once you see a business not as the deliverer of value, but as an enabling mechanism that enables all of its stakeholders to come together and use their agency to improve each other’s lives through the nexus of the enterprise. Then the ceiling for success can be lifted substantially.

00:10:12:12 – 00:10:38:16
Philippa White
I love this and it brings me beautifully to the next point that I want to ask you about. So I studied business in Canada and I remember in so I graduated in 2001. So in 2007, 2000, I remember sitting in this big sort of auditorium and we were all on our laptops and we were all told to chant, The main goal of business is to make money.

00:10:38:16 – 00:10:58:01
Philippa White
And I knew that, you know, I was I was still quite young. I hadn’t I hadn’t started working it officially, but I just didn’t feel right to me. And then I got into the world that, you know, I went into advertising and then I started to kind of get into the world that I’m working in and have been for almost 20 years.

00:10:58:01 – 00:11:20:21
Philippa White
So in your book, The Purpose Upgrade, you talk about it being common thinking until recently that maximizing shareholder value must be the sole focus of business, and that’s it. Now things are changing. I’d like to think things are changing, but I’m just keen to know. Talk to us about where we were, where it has got us and where we need to go.

00:11:22:01 – 00:11:56:10
Paul Skinner
So that’s a huge question. Now, is it so happens that the goal of maximizing shareholder value, which of course was substantially influenced by the work of the economist Milton Friedman, really emerged shortly after the idea of competitive advantage and we can see them as being closely connected. Now the idea was born in response to something called the agency problem, where as businesses were becoming more globalized, there was a distance accruing between the investors in businesses and the leaders of those businesses.

00:11:56:19 – 00:12:22:16
Paul Skinner
And so the question emerged of how do you align their interests when they don’t see and talk to each other when they’re much more remote from each other than they might previously have been? And so the concept of maximizing shareholder value to do that, in a sense was logically quite a neat idea. In some ways, I would cut Milton Friedman a lot of slack for the idea because it is ostensibly elegant and simple.

00:12:22:16 – 00:13:01:21
Paul Skinner
The challenge, however, is it’s not necessarily great for leaders because it doesn’t give you any sense whatsoever of how you go about doing that. It doesn’t tell you what line of business to enter in the first place or how to go about it. It turns out evidence suggests it’s not actually good for business because if you only undertake activities that you know in advance to be profitable, then you miss out on the majority of opportunities to be useful to your stakeholders, many of which will yield opportunities for profitability that simply get screened out before you’ve even conceived of them.

00:13:02:03 – 00:13:30:11
Paul Skinner
If you’re tightly wedded to the goal of profit maximization and really in common with that notion of competitive advantage, the finance led strategy has caused us to be overly inward looking and self-directed in our goals, rather than rooted in solving the important problems facing our stakeholders that we can support them in overcoming. Now, of course, there has been a response to this, I guess an early wave of response.

00:13:30:16 – 00:13:54:03
Paul Skinner
You know, I should also say bad for society, of course, in terms of the huge externalities that accrue from profit maximization, particularly in the short term, most notably, of course, in terms of driving the climate emergency and ecosystem collapse on the one hand and extreme inequalities on the other hand, both of which threaten the whole future of human development.

00:13:54:06 – 00:14:22:06
Paul Skinner
Now, of course, there has been a response to that. So the idea of CSR, which can be an important way for a business to contribute it but doesn’t necessarily change the business model that an enterprise is based on. So is only a peripheral solution. You have ideas such as sustainability and ESG, environmental sciences and social governance. Of course these are important as well, but just because something can be sustained doesn’t mean it’s solving important problems.

00:14:22:06 – 00:14:48:12
Paul Skinner
And you get anomalies, of course, such as companies like British American Tobacco being listed on some listings as third best ESG stock in the world. If you change purpose, then sustainability risks becoming a technocratic exercise in justification and incrementalism. And you have the notion of stakeholder capitalism, of course, which is also important to balance the needs of different stakeholders.

00:14:48:21 – 00:15:10:20
Paul Skinner
But unless you’re putting a generative of purpose at the heart of an enterprise, then that too often becomes, you know, a bit like achieving a work life balance. It might be good for work and for life, but it’s not actually changing what you do while you’re working. So far, our thought has really stopped short of helping us really think about core purpose.

00:15:10:20 – 00:15:35:13
Paul Skinner
And where I come to that is particularly through the lens that so much of our thinking on purpose is fixed and reductive and actually what we need to do at the level of human civilization, at the level of individual economies, at the level of individual enterprises and other organizations, is in the light of our radically changing world, we need to repurpose so much of our activity.

00:15:35:13 – 00:15:51:14
Paul Skinner
And there are very particular psychological and other difficulties that face us when we try when we need to reprioritize and repurpose. And so a lot of that is what I lean into in the book. The purpose upgrade.

00:15:51:17 – 00:16:00:24
Philippa White
So beautifully segway to where I’d like to go now because talk to us about what is purpose and what is a purpose upgrade.

00:16:01:06 – 00:16:27:09
Paul Skinner
Mm. So let’s start with the human. So I would say purpose is our, it can be our most adaptive capacity as humans. During the book I describe as extremely positive, purposeful man, or I think the female equivalent would be feminine opposite. But I’ve never yet been corrected on that. And why I see that is that, you know, we evolved our brains to be able to move with intentionality, but so did other creatures.

00:16:27:09 – 00:16:50:02
Paul Skinner
We’re not going to outsprinted jaguar. We’re not going to navigate a migratory bird. But human cognition allows us to think about where we are, where we’ve been, and where we might get to. Which of course was the core premise, your previous question. And we can think about these in much more flexible ways than other creatures and ultimately human language means.

00:16:50:02 – 00:17:21:16
Paul Skinner
We can define those three things as the beginnings, middles and ends of our stories. And it’s really our ability to tell ourselves stories of purpose that help us not just move with intentionality, but transcend our present circumstances all together and forge more imaginative pathways through life which distinguished us as a species. And which is why, unlike other species, we haven’t just evolved as magnificent as evolution already is, but have also developed from generation to generation in ways that you don’t see in other species.

00:17:21:18 – 00:17:48:15
Paul Skinner
And so human purpose can be our most adaptive capacity. However, of course, past performance isn’t a guarantee of future success, and the very purpose that has transformed our lives in human development in such magnificent ways could start to work against us. Where we’re not able to renew that purpose is that environmentalist Mike Berners-Lee put it to us that marketing kind, you know, humankind is an extraordinary position today.

00:17:49:01 – 00:18:18:06
Paul Skinner
You know, throughout most of our evolution, there was nothing we could have done to destroy our hope with the invention of nuclear weapons. There was something we could do to wreck significant portions of it if we made a grave mistake. Whereas today we are in a position where unless we bring substantial change to how we live and work, we will continue to make substantial portions of the Earth uninhabitable and conducive to human life and flourishing.

00:18:18:06 – 00:18:40:21
Paul Skinner
So we need to repurpose at a civilization wide scale for it to remain an adaptive capacity rather than something that we’ve used to effectively shoot ourselves in the foot. And a purpose upgrade is really born of the notion that these stories of purpose that we tell ourselves are always imperfect, and a science cannot tell us if there is a meaning of life.

00:18:41:04 – 00:19:06:11
Paul Skinner
But we use these stories to live lives of meaning, and those lives in the human world are always susceptible to the stories governing them, are always susceptible to upgrade. And so I describe a purpose upgrade as an always available event, always available because our purpose can always be elevated, but an event because if we are constantly changing direction, all you do is turn around on the spot.

00:19:06:11 – 00:19:24:15
Paul Skinner
So we need to balance repurposing around changing circumstances with making progress, leaning into our most pressing problems as they emerge. And in so doing, at an organizational level, of course, we make purpose a renewable resource for enterprise as well.

00:19:24:18 – 00:19:43:19
Philippa White
Yeah, reading your books, I think Simon Sinek talks about understanding your why and many companies have discovered what their purpose is. But when you talk about the North Star, I love that example and how many people you know, yes, it’s our North Star. It’s what we do. And I talk about that, too, how I think it’s really important for people at a company.

00:19:43:19 – 00:20:01:11
Philippa White
If you’re working at a company to have that North Star, my partner, he’s a professional sailor. When things break on the boat, if it’s all the mechanics on the boat break, the only thing you have are the stars. Actually. And that’s how you do navigate. And it is something that when things are a little bit all over the place, you have that fixed point.

00:20:01:15 – 00:20:23:10
Philippa White
But what I loved about your questioning of that was, but it is movable. You have to be looking at what is happening and you have to be willing to adapt and to upgrade, to reflect on what that purposes. And actually, I spoke with the with the head of Impact Whitney at Patagonia and she’s been at Patagonia for ages.

00:20:23:10 – 00:20:43:06
Philippa White
And so she’s been really involved with how Patagonia as a brand has evolved. And I mean, they recently have changed their purpose. Statement used to be one, and it’s actually changed to another one because of the climate and because of what’s happening. And they’re they’re constantly looking at what their role is and what is important to them and like you say, can be changing all the time.

00:20:43:06 – 00:20:57:07
Philippa White
But you also have to be willing to do that and then obviously articulate that. And I just that to me the purpose upgrade and being willing to but also understanding the importance of adaptation and upgrading when necessary, I thought was a really important lesson.

00:20:57:22 – 00:21:26:21
Paul Skinner
Can you give one example of that, that everyone will have been, you know, watching with so much empathy much earlier in the invasion of Ukraine? President Zelensky said in one of his speeches, Ukraine didn’t seek greatness, but Ukraine has become great. And one of the inspirations behind the thinking in my book was I happened to have done quite a lot of work with leaders operating in the field of disasters and emergencies.

00:21:26:21 – 00:21:55:23
Paul Skinner
And of course, communities can often be at their very most purposeful, not when things are going according to plan, but when they’ve been hit by something completely unanticipated, completely disruptive, and they’ve had to reprioritize all together. And I felt that that was completely overlooked by so much of our conventional thinking on purpose, which is born of a linear mindset that is no longer adequate to the nature of our macro environment.

00:21:56:03 – 00:22:09:12
Philippa White
Yeah, I really like that. So you also share in the in the book, you share a quote and a case study from and I might not be saying his name correctly, so please tell me if I am saying it incorrectly.

00:22:10:06 – 00:22:13:04
Paul Skinner
Fake fake esi bismuth.

00:22:13:04 – 00:22:47:23
Philippa White
Thank you. If I could say obviously yes. Honourary Chair and former CEO of Royal DSM. And in that he says companies should think about how they can be meaningful in the core of their business, in their core competencies, in their core business model and core revenues. If you don’t do anything good for the world with your offerings, you should ask yourself if you’re futureproof, if the world doesn’t really need you, your investors are increasingly likely to find this out even before you do.

00:22:48:02 – 00:23:14:12
Philippa White
Now, I love that and I know why you included that in the book, but you actually in your intro, you also mentioned fizzy drinks. And I love this thinking and it is the ideal situation and I too am an optimist and I am somebody who has given my life to fighting the good fight. But we do know the power of ego, of marketing, of consumerism and of options available to us.

00:23:14:12 – 00:23:23:16
Philippa White
Everything is still wrapped up in plastic. We still buy plastic bottles at birthday parties. People still give kids Coca Cola. What are your thoughts on all of that?

00:23:23:16 – 00:23:41:04
Paul Skinner
I just think that’s so massively relevant to the need to repurpose. And I think one of the things I tried to do in the book is also cut some slack to the people who are behind the things that went wrong in the first place. Because if you if you take a historian’s perspective often, there was good reason for people to do what they did.

00:23:41:04 – 00:24:02:15
Paul Skinner
So you mentioned fizzy drinks, for example, not growing up my supper every night as a small child was a food, sugar, cherry cake, a mars bar, and a packet of prawn cocktail crisps. Now, my mother gave me those three things every night just before bed, and she did it because she loved me. Now, today we would see that it is borderline child abuse.

00:24:04:01 – 00:24:28:21
Paul Skinner
And so I think that that’s the kind of lens through which we need to understand. The fact is repurposing is difficult because the way that our stories work, once we formulate a purpose, that’s a story. And of course, the human mind can only entertain so many data points at the same time. So in order to pursue purpose, we relegate that story to our subconscious so that we can get on with fulfilling it.

00:24:29:04 – 00:25:04:01
Paul Skinner
The challenge occurs when, yes, the solutions to yesterday’s problems become today’s problems when circumstances change and render our prior purpose obsolete or counterproductive. That’s the difficulty, because, you know, in that situation we become the puppets of our prior intentionality rather than the truth as of our own future change, or as I put it in the book, where our purpose was previously a valuable conscious lens to focus on perceptions and direct direction, it becomes a dangerous set of unconscious blinkers.

00:25:04:11 – 00:25:27:09
Paul Skinner
It’s why we often don’t take action that becomes necessary in change circumstances if it sits outside of that scope of reference, say, to give a really tangible example, there were more excess fatalities in the Twin Towers from people walking too slowly down the many flights of stairs because they didn’t really perceive the risk then from people panicking and knocking each other out the way.

00:25:27:10 – 00:25:51:01
Paul Skinner
I think this explains how many even very successful businesses fail to turn themselves around because they turn out to be surprisingly fragile in the face of the psychological effects of their sunk costs, the brand continuation biases of their leaders, and the progress traps through which the actions that gave rise to today’s success may be the very things creating tomorrow’s failure.

00:25:51:09 – 00:26:17:02
Paul Skinner
During the famous example of Kodak, Kodak did not fail. Is this because somebody else invented digital photography? Kodak invented digital photography. They were just unable to repurpose around it. And of course, we know that whole human civilizations have fallen when they’ve been unable to renew their purpose and bring new stories of purpose to bear in overcoming important social and environmental challenges.

00:26:17:02 – 00:26:40:10
Paul Skinner
Whether it’s the ancient Sumerians who were unable to win themselves off the agriculture they’d grown to love when it was destroying their soils or or the Roman Empire that was unable to maintain its unwieldy model of slave labor dependent growth when it simply became sort of too large for that to be manageable, quite apart from horrific in every possible way.

00:26:40:10 – 00:27:03:07
Paul Skinner
And so today that is our challenge is how do we overcome the momentum of the past? How do we overcome vested interests trying to hang on to their assets and to stop them from becoming stranded? And how do we wake up to new stories of possibility for how we live and work that can actually meet the nature of today’s challenges?

00:27:03:07 – 00:27:05:16
Paul Skinner
And that’s where we needed a purpose upgrade.

00:27:05:18 – 00:27:32:17
Philippa White
You know, as I was reading your book and I was just thinking of, you know, fizzy drinks and thinking of plastic, you know, you look at the grocery store and rice, everything is in plastic. And so you say, okay. So then it comes back to the main goal of business is to make money, right? Because okay, well, another solution is all grocery stores have bins like, you know, you go to the bulk buy place and they have all the rice and you have everything and you just, you know, to put it in paper or your own containers.

00:27:32:17 – 00:28:01:03
Philippa White
And why is that not being done? I think what comes into play our challenges around cost, challenges around loss, profit, but yet we need radical change and we need decisions to be made by companies that just aren’t willing to make them. I mean, as I say, my my partner, he sales he was coming into Europe recently from Brazil and he said the amount of plastic in the ocean off the coast of Europe.

00:28:01:15 – 00:28:25:11
Philippa White
He said he’s never seen anything like it before off the coast of France. It’s such a disposable culture in the north, you know, everything everything is lettuce, everything is packaged in plastic. I don’t know if you have a response to that, because I just think where does this change come from? I agree that it needs to be a purpose upgrade, and I agree that the companies need to see that it’s almost it needs to be policy.

00:28:25:14 – 00:28:26:22
Philippa White
No.

00:28:26:22 – 00:28:56:11
Paul Skinner
Well, a lot of it is overlooking context. So when an objective is purely financial, the number is reductive and excludes the story around the number. You know, any the most money only exists as numbers on servers and that those numbers depend however, on the ideas, trust and relationships underpinning them. And so if we pursue a financial logic overlay, then what happens is you end up with efficiency at the expense of effectiveness and you talked about costs.

00:28:56:11 – 00:29:18:15
Paul Skinner
And so it’s a lot to do with efficiency because from a financial perspective, you want the orange, you don’t want the PR problem is what we know is that it’s the people that protects the orange and allows it to grow in the first place. And so we need to move from a financialized logic of efficiency to counterbalancing that with a narrative based logic of effectiveness.

00:29:18:15 – 00:29:44:19
Paul Skinner
And that begins with actually putting context back in. So it begins with what are stakeholder as most important problems in context and then taking that as the starting point for purpose. And so ultimately an overly financialized view becomes extremely fragile because working capital, not years, becomes working capital wasted. And then when there is change, the whole systems can collapse overnight.

00:29:45:09 – 00:30:06:21
Paul Skinner
Give one example in the national health system in the UK due to efficiency pressures, you know, a metric that the NHS was proud of was having a very high rate of bed use. Now not having empty beds means no money is going into empty beds, means all the money is going into patient care, which sounds good. But then a pandemic hits and you suddenly need many more beds.

00:30:06:21 – 00:30:49:13
Paul Skinner
And actually that led to people freeing being discharged from hospital inappropriately into care homes that were not capable of preventing the spread of COVID and led to perverse numbers of excess fatalities. Guiding ourselves with stories has a longer history than capitalism, and I think that’s something your listeners might resonate with. I fear that in marketing we’ve allowed our narratives to become we’ve acquired a sort of Stockholm Syndrome with regards to finance, where the narratives are there to serve internal priorities that have become disconnected from the real priorities of the people and community of the people we serve in the communities where we live and work.

00:30:49:13 – 00:31:14:23
Paul Skinner
If you look at any numbers for a business, if in reality the stories, the businesses, stakeholders are telling themselves are collapsing and trust, then however good the numbers look today, they’re going to crash. And however bad the numbers lurk, if there is a resurgence of stakeholder engagement, support, trust and optimism and belief in that business, then whatever the numbers are today, they’re going to skyrocket and say, we need to remember that.

00:31:14:23 – 00:31:41:01
Paul Skinner
I mean, one analogy that occurs to me is if you don’t really get them anymore for good reasons, but in the days where circuses had animal acts, where you had a lion tamer performance, the tamer is that the lion is more powerful than the tape. The audience knows that the lion is more powerful than the tamer. The reason why the lion remains controlled in the way that it is is because the lion doesn’t realize it.

00:31:41:01 – 00:31:51:13
Paul Skinner
And hopefully through things like Tai, through things like marketing kinds, things like my books, we can wake up the real power of the narratives that can shape how we live and work.

00:31:51:16 – 00:32:18:02
Philippa White
To that point, just you’ve given me goosebumps. I had a podcast with one of the most inspirational women I’ve met. Her name’s Asma Ebrahim, and she has grown up and lives in Iraq, and she is a psychotherapist for adults, women and men, but mostly women who have been terribly traumatized by ISIS violence. The stories that she tells are just extraordinary.

00:32:18:02 – 00:32:43:17
Philippa White
But stories of hope and and empowerment and the power of self-awareness. And she said the oppressed give power to the oppressor. She said, all we need is for people, the women specifically, but the oppressed in Iraq to understand their power and to understand who they are and to bring that out because they have that we have a much more powerful nation.

00:32:43:17 – 00:33:13:14
Philippa White
And I thought, God, coming from someone who comes from a background, that is not an easy place to be. It was extraordinary to hear that. So talking about turning things around and new beginnings back actually to the royal DSM case study, because I really enjoyed that and I loved that being something other than, you know, other famous companies that everyone kind of talks about when they when they refer to a purpose driven company and a company that has managed to do something that’s extraordinary for our listeners because they won’t even know who they are.

00:33:13:14 – 00:33:28:08
Philippa White
And I keep talking about Royal DSM, what you’ve been talking about. So can you summarize in a few words what happened there? And can you tell us what leadership had to do with the success of that company?

00:33:28:18 – 00:34:01:12
Paul Skinner
So we’re actually one of the leaders of DSM, not focus here, Bizmeter, who I was so worked with with the book as well as the current CEOs, the executive who leads DSM in North America described DSM to me as the most successful business that you haven’t heard of. DSM is a spectacular example of a purpose upgrade because DSM was originally a coal mining company and DSM originally stood for Dutch state mines and it was literally as a business born from digging coal out of the ground and delivering it to people’s homes for heating and illumination.

00:34:01:13 – 00:34:20:07
Paul Skinner
But now, of course, DSM has become a sustainable food business. But just that’s well, for a moment on the fact that it was born as a coal mining business, which today we think of as deeply problematic. But of course, at the time it was a really useful, respectable endeavor. That’s the thing that we shouldn’t overlook. DSM has reinvented itself as a sustainable business.

00:34:20:07 – 00:34:56:15
Paul Skinner
They take the acronym DSM, at least informally now to stand instead for do something meaningful, and they pursue new business targets, such as closing the micronutrient gap of 800 million people, improving the livelihoods of over 500 million, smallholder farmers, and reaching 150 million people with new plant based alternative proteins, supporting the immune systems of 500 million people, achieving double digits on farm reductions of climate emissions, tackling obesity with natural alternatives to sugar.

00:34:56:15 – 00:35:32:03
Paul Skinner
And so they are making serious commitment to addressing some of the biggest problems with the world’s food system. And I think, you know, as I love DSM because it is powerful, an exemplar of how yesterday’s right thing becomes today’s wrong thing. But it is possible to turn today’s wrong thing into tomorrow’s thing. And I think we all have to learn a lot from that in terms of, you know, as our current patterns of living and working become increasingly viable, how do we ever overcome that in terms of leadership?

00:35:32:08 – 00:35:59:03
Paul Skinner
It is both top down and bottom up. So I’ll come back to Faker, but just taking it back to that human level where we were earlier in the conversation, you know, human purpose and repurpose. So purpose involves a top down executive functioning or our internal leadership where we think something through and make a decision. But of course, it also then gets revised in the light of our bottom up sensory processing systems.

00:35:59:03 – 00:36:29:01
Paul Skinner
You know, if you decide to walk into a room and then you smell smoke and start to feel the heat of the flames, you may very well redirect yourself and leave the room similarly. And in business, you need the top down approach of leadership that achieves consensus, builds a shared vision, and identifies priorities and action plans. But you also need the bottom up ability to repurpose from the culture of that business that is, fostering relationships.

00:36:29:01 – 00:36:54:09
Paul Skinner
It’s building peripheral vision and identifying the needs and opportunities to renew. And unless you have both, you know, you are unable to maintain purpose as an adaptive fit. In the case of DSM, it’s had multiple generations of inspiring leaders. I mean, perhaps most notably of all psychotherapists who you quoted who went through an immense journey himself. You know, he came CEO at a young age.

00:36:54:09 – 00:37:19:05
Paul Skinner
He’d been taught to maximize shareholder value and business school, but thought there was a bigger picture than that. He listened to the head of an African state at the World Economic Forum saying We’re given carbohydrate food in aid packages that keep people alive but not productive. The people supplying these programs are part of the problem, not just part of the solution.

00:37:19:20 – 00:37:46:08
Paul Skinner
And so, you know, he really saw the opportunity to root dsm’s progress in actually developing nutrition solutions to the world’s the food systems, most important problems. You know, when visiting a World Food Program partnership that DSM led, he met a woman in Bangladesh who asked him to take her infant home with him and he asked why. And she just said, you know what?

00:37:46:11 – 00:38:29:10
Paul Skinner
And he knew that her fear was that if he were to revisit in a few years without having done that, that her infant might no longer be alive. No, he saw the opportunity over not just to be a meaningful aid to himself, but to transmit that. You know, we all have to have our own internal stories that we live by and so at DSM, the face great value in giving individual staff members the opportunity to create their own stories, working on initiatives that are fully aligned with their purpose, even if they sit outside of the functionality of their day job or participating in partnerships where, for example, they build the capacity of food system businesses

00:38:29:16 – 00:38:46:03
Paul Skinner
in developing economies and ultimately create partnerships that have degrees of local ownership. That is partnerships. So that they are empowering food businesses to supply in their own markets rather than being reliant on foreign imports alone.

00:38:46:07 – 00:39:13:22
Philippa White
That’s interesting. Just can we full circle because just talking about collaboration and you know I don’t believe that there’s one person, one sector, one company, one country that has the answers to everything. Of course, we need people to have exposure to different places and different people and learn how to work with different people. One, because it’s the only way that we can find the innovative solutions to what’s happening, but also just understanding, you know, talking to the locals, understanding what’s happening in other places around the world.

00:39:13:22 – 00:39:38:21
Philippa White
And I mean, that’s why these types of initiatives are so important. And it’s visionary leaders that can understand having their people understand what is happening in other parts of the world, in order to create those relationships, but also to find other solutions, because it would be the people on the ground in those places that would have the answers, rather than people sitting in another part of the world somewhere having the answers.

00:39:39:08 – 00:39:54:23
Philippa White
Now you finish your book with a quote from Aristotle along the lines that all enterprises must begin with philanthropy and all philanthropic activity must end in enterprise. As we wrap things up, I just wonder if you can share your thoughts.

00:39:55:09 – 00:39:58:11
Paul Skinner
Yeah, it was slightly reworking the thought from Aristotle.

00:39:58:12 – 00:40:05:17
Philippa White
Yes. So I tried to actually find the actual thing that you were looking for it. I couldn’t quite, quite find it. So I just want to bring that to you.

00:40:06:03 – 00:40:33:10
Paul Skinner
So. So what I was getting at there is two things. First of all, from an enterprise perspective in the tenets of classical economics, since Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, we have largely been taught to believe that if we pursue self-interest first, then we’re meant to end up with collective good as a as a happy byproduct. People have been increasingly quipping recently, I’m not sure who was the first to say it that maybe the invisible hand is invisible because it’s not really there.

00:40:33:10 – 00:40:59:13
Paul Skinner
But we certainly know we need to up game from that. And what empirical research now demonstrates as well as logic from first principles is that actually if we flip that on its head and seek to contribute first to improving people’s lives, we can then actually we’re better placed then to derive our own self-directed reward as the byproduct. So a business is much more valuable for the long term if it roots its activity in a spirit of contribution.

00:40:59:13 – 00:41:26:01
Paul Skinner
And then the other half of the equation giving can really be a purely one way street, because ultimately that becomes depleting. Ultimately, in most instances of philanthropic activity, we can best see that becoming sustainable and self-perpetuating when we talk, when we think in terms of empowering human agency, you know, for example, you think about there there are increasing numbers of refugees year on year.

00:41:26:01 – 00:41:45:06
Paul Skinner
One of the most memorable things I’ve ever heard a refugee say is, I don’t want charity. I want somebody to invest in me. And increasingly, if you’re fleeing conflict, these conflicts tend to be protracted. You’re not going back anytime soon. So you need to end up in a place where you can contribute to the society and the economy around you.

00:41:45:06 – 00:42:15:17
Paul Skinner
You can think of programs, social enterprises that train prisoners and then give them a job to go to when they leave prison. Now, great for the prisoner, but also that dramatically reduces recidivism. Then it’s a huge benefit for the economy and society. And so most philanthropic activity in the end is best when you don’t just see it as, Oh, this is a one way street, but when you see it is about empowering and activating human agency for the benefit of everyone.

00:42:15:17 – 00:42:33:06
Philippa White
God, I love that. I couldn’t agree more. And it’s funny when I reflect on so many of the organizations that we work with, when we start conversations with organizations, it’s funny how always the first answer is, you know, how can we help you? And it’s always, we need more money. And you say, okay. And then you kind of have that conversation.

00:42:33:06 – 00:42:49:09
Philippa White
You start to dig down and then you start to realize how you can help them help themselves. That’s where the power is, for sure. Well, we have come to the end of the podcast, but before we wrap up, is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you’d like to tell our listeners?

00:42:49:11 – 00:43:16:18
Paul Skinner
Maybe I can leave listeners with a question instead. So since you’ve put some questions to me in Buddhism, there’s a concept of a current, which is a question that provokes people out of one story and helps them see the potential for the next. So one question I’ve been asking leadership teams recently is now what if instead of trying to lead the best businesses in the world in your sectors, you shifted to trying to create the best businesses for the world.

00:43:16:20 – 00:43:47:18
Paul Skinner
What new opportunities might that open up for your stakeholders? What might implications be for your business? And other than that, I would say come back to my opening comments. Really, we have never needed to pay more attention on shifting the stories that we live and work by. Marketers are in a particularly important place to do that because we scaffold these stories with value propositions and meaningful exchanges that make these stories more consequential and actionable.

00:43:47:19 – 00:43:59:01
Paul Skinner
And so I would say to all of your listeners, get involved with time, get involved with marketing kind. We need to come together to achieve a purpose upgrade for marketing itself.

00:43:59:06 – 00:44:20:12
Philippa White
Beautiful. Now I will include all the links to this podcast. Some I’ve seen the blurb as well as to the link where to get your book, which definitely is another way for people to just open their mind and see things differently. So thank you for your time and thank you for your work and your ideas and your incredible articulation of everything.

00:44:20:12 – 00:44:21:13
Philippa White
So thank you, Paul.

00:44:22:01 – 00:44:22:23
Paul Skinner
Thank you, Filippa.

00:44:25:02 – 00:44:46:16
Philippa White
Hey, everyone, this is Philip again. I hope you enjoyed listening. Now this is your chance to get involved with Thai. If you work in the commercial world, whatever your profession, your position or your experience, then TIE could be for you. You may have been in business for decades, but have always felt there’s another way. Or you may just have a few years experience but want to do more equally.

00:44:46:19 – 00:45:14:07
Philippa White
If you want to create game changing employees and see your company impact the world, we’ve got you covered. TIE has never been more necessary than right now and you can be a part of it. Reach out to me at Philippa at the International Exchange, Skoda UK and I can tell you more or join the TIE accelerator intercession for more information apply dot TIE accelerator dot com better leaders, better companies, better world.

00:45:14:20 – 00:45:33:11
Philippa White
I’m your host, Philippa White. This podcast has been co-produced by Beth Navarra and Me Music by Ben Chavira and artwork by Kelp Spice. I hope we’ll meet again soon.

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