Minter Dialogue with Paul Skinner
Paul Skinner is an entrepreneur with a marketing flair. He’s founder and Director at the Agency of the Future, he founded and runs MarketingKind and he has also written two books, “The Collaborative Advantage” and most recently, “The Purpose Upgrade, Change your Business to Save the World. Change the World to Save Your Business,” published by Little, Brown Book Group. We dive into what purpose is and means. How to approach creating a purpose that drives greater value and growth, the purpose business case, what does it mean to upgrade your purpose, the notion of what constitutes “better” in making the world better.
Please send me your questions — as an audio file if you’d like — to email@example.com. Otherwise, below, you’ll find the show notes and, of course, you are invited to comment. If you liked the podcast, please take a moment to rate it here.
Further resources for the Minter Dialogue podcast:
Meanwhile, you can find my other interviews on the Minter Dialogue Show in this podcast tab, on Megaphone or via Apple Podcasts. If you like the show, please go over to rate this podcast via RateThisPodcast! And for the francophones reading this, if you want to get more podcasts, you can also find my radio show en français over at: MinterDial.fr, on Megaphone or in iTunes.
Music credit: The jingle at the beginning of the show is courtesy of my friend, Pierre Journel, author of the Guitar Channel. And, the new sign-off music is “A Convinced Man,” a song I co-wrote and recorded with Stephanie Singer back in the late 1980s (please excuse the quality of the sound!).
Full transcript via Otter.ai
purpose, business, marketing, story, people, stakeholders, change, world, book, enterprise, starbucks, good, profit, sought, life, great, create, tribesmen, narrative, support
SPEAKERS: Paul Skinner, Minter Dial
Minter Dial 00:05
Hey, hey, hey and warm welcome to Minter Dialogue, episode number 543. My name is Minter Dial and I’m your host for this podcast, a most proud member of the Evergreen Podcast Network. For more information or to check out other shows on this network, go visit evergreenpodcasts.com. So, this week’s interview is with Paul Skinner. Paul is an entrepreneur with a marketing flair. He is founder and director of the Agency of the Future. He founded and runs MarketingKind. And he’s also written two books, “The Collaborative Advantage,” and most recently, “The Purpose Upgrade: Change your business to save the world, change the world to save your business,” published by Little Brown Book Group. In this conversation with Paul, we dive into what purpose is and means how to approach creating a purpose that drives greater value and growth. The purpose business case, what does it mean to upgrade your purpose, the notion of what constitutes better and making the world a better place and a whole lot more, you’ll find all the show notes on Minterdial.com. If you have a moment, I urge you to go over and drop in a little rating and review. And don’t forget to subscribe to catch all the future episodes. Now for the show. Paul Skinner who would have thought, you know, we’ve known each other a few years. I can’t say it was a sustained relationship throughout that, but we really rediscovered one another at the Business Book Awards where your last book was a finalist for the 2023 Business Book Awards. And great to connect with you again and to have you on my show. Love to dig in on who you are and what you do. Paul, in your own words, who’s Paul Skinner?
Paul Skinner 02:07
Yeah, and of course, I just wanted to start by saying this is such a special moment for me, you were inadvertently one of the people who modeled for me the possibility that you could conceive of a type of marketing that you could pursue as a vocation. And that went on to have a lot of implications. And it’s always a fun moment to reconnect with somebody who intentionally or accidentally had an influence over you years later, a bit like going back to a university reunion or something and comparing stories since then.
Minter Dial 02:45
Most kind to say that!
Paul Skinner 02:50
It was in terms of how the stories unfolded since and where I’ve taken that? Well, I guess, one of the things that, that you in some of the people around you had modeled was the sense that a brand or a marketing narrative could contain at its heart a bit of a worldview, a way of understanding and reading the world around us that foregrounded certain possibilities over others, for example, and I guess the Polsky center of today has taken that suggestion and run quite far with it. So, everything I do really is around the narratives that guide how we live and work and what the possibilities available to us, and how we might elevate those narratives and change them for the better. So, I have three hats that might be of interest, primary interest to the people who watch or listen to your show. First of all, I run the Agency of the Future through which I support clients’ leadership teams in selecting defining and mobilizing around purpose outside as well as inside the organization. Secondly, I write my my books, which hopefully make my ideas useful to a broad audience and have a couple of them behind me. So, my first book came out in 2018, “Collaborative Advantage, how collaboration beats competition as a strategy for success.” And in that book, I have sought to recognize that the nature of the problems that we were primarily facing in business was that there were problems that we couldn’t best solve an array but had to solve them through our relationships with others by forging a purpose that could be shared and so I developed a model of collaborative advantage that sits as a fundamental alternative to the conventional goal of creating competitive advantage. Then more recently, in the autumn, my book and audio book for people who like to listen, the purpose upgrade, change your business to save the world, change the world to save your business came out. And in that book, I sort of sought to wreck recognize that in the intervening four years, the nature of our problems is that they have not only remained interconnected and interdependent, but possibly become a good deal more serious. And so, in that book, I seek to help us explore ways to elevate our purpose to make our purpose more adaptive, to better fit the changing needs and problems of the circumstances and operating environments we face, and then perhaps of greatest interest to your audience. I’ve also founded a nonprofit membership community called MarketingKind, where we believe that the world’s most pressing problems depend even more fundamentally for their resolution on human cooperation than they do on say, technology or finance a loan. And therefore, we can choose to read them as marketing briefs in disguise, particularly if we have this sense of what marketing can be used to achieve. And so, at MarketingKind, we come together every month to upcycle our business and marketing skills in support of a different pioneer in charity, or social enterprise. We coach and support each other in becoming more purposeful systemic leaders in the day job through your MarketingKind, and our digital fireside gatherings. And of course, we were lucky to have you, in one of these just recently, looking at how AI might make us more human. And then we have our exchanges through which we explore some of the bigger stories that define how we live and work and how we might change those stories for the better, we just looked at changing the story of democracy with our guest, Andy Burnham, Mayor of Manchester, for example. And in the in the 20. In the in the new year in 2024, we have plenty of things for people to look forward to if they’d like to participate in ambitious conversations.
Minter Dial 07:05
Well, well, well, a lot to unpack. And as if that weren’t enough, I was devouring your LinkedIn profile. And I also raised my eyebrow, heavily when I noticed pimp my cause that is ongoing as well, tell me about pimp my cause.
Paul Skinner 07:24
Okay, so my cause is a free matching platform that can enable any marketer to connect with a charity or social enterprise to offer their marketing skills in support of that charity or social enterprise. So, I created that well over a decade ago now. And I maintain it through MarketingKind, but it is a volunteering platform that is available to everyone, not just MarketingKind members. So, it’s sort of the online dating of pro bono marketing. And when I launched it, pro bono, essentially meant pro bono law, pro bono week in the UK was run entirely by law firms. At the time, it wasn’t easy if you were not a lawyer to identify opportunities where you could take the skills that you were developing in a commercial context and apply them for profit, as an additional activity and say, Repent, my cause has been running ever since. I think we’ve seen quite a transformation in the intervening years. And now, you know, there are so many ways that people can connect with good causes to offer their pro bono support. You can, I think there’s a guardian listing, there’s LinkedIn volunteering, you know, pro bono is widely accepted to be not just for, for lawyers. And, you know, tapping back into a power of marketing conversation. I remember before launching my cause. Going to an event where that was all around volunteering, where the organization hosting the event with hundreds of participants were saying, Well, if you could have support from any department in our business, which department would you choose, and almost everybody chose marketing as the kind of support that they would want. And say the name my call is, of course, because in a sense, in the film industry, you’ve got something called high concept pitching, where you compress an idea into a really tiny space, when it’s something people haven’t come across before and often pitched one thing in terms of another. So, speed, for example, was pitched to investors as Die Hard on a bus, and it just gave them in one and a half seconds a way to think of what it is that was being proposed to them. Given that when you’re pitching a film, you’re literally pitching something that does not exist and investment comes in and say print my cause. is the sort of the Pimp My Ride of charity marketing, which gave the causes a sense that they could access a world of marketing that would have usually been well beyond their budgets, particularly given how budgets are skewed in the charity world so that the vast majority of charities have the tiniest levels of funding. And for the marketers, it gave marketers in a commercial role, maybe they were working full time client side on detergent brand, for example. And that gave them a useful but also a bit of a narrow focus on life. And so, being able to put in some extra time working on human rights working on international development, working on raising the profile of particular illnesses that were not very well known, helping protect young people from the influence of gang violence, knives, and so on. All of these opportunities have been very exciting to marketers over the years. And some of the experiences of running that platform, of course, led into the thinking in my books and the creation of MarketingKind where we take a much more systemic approach now that in the in the intervening period, far more organizations have got to grips with the fact that they need to also contribute something useful through the day job, and through their commercial brands. And that are different worlds are just coming so much closer together, that the business world needs to learn a lot about social issues, from the kinds of organizations and marketers we’re supporting. Just as those organizations need to get much better in terms of their innovation, redefining how they engage with their stakeholders and bringing some of the creativity of marketing to bear in improving their stakeholder outcomes.
Minter Dial 12:01
First thing really poor, it sounds like at some level, print my calls is about facilitating a side hustle, or some kind of greater fulfillment alongside your day job. Whereas MarketingKind is making the side hustle, the main hustle and allowing for a kinder, or more fulfilling job on the job.
Paul Skinner 12:27
Yeah, yeah, I think that’s a good way of putting it.
Minter Dial 12:31
Yeah, so let’s just talk a little bit more a way about you, when you say on your LinkedIn profile, I work on changing the stories we live and work for the Better Work buy for the better. i One of the things I’ve often liked to look into is what Does better mean? Let’s say if I start with, you know, let’s do a better marketing campaign. Well, typically, that’s about higher conversion rates and make the world better well, that inevitably has a personal or subjective skew. Because how are we to know what is better? And I feel like in today’s world, and maybe part of what you were talking about, when you said that there have been so many changes in the way businesses have to operate? How do we qualify better today?
Paul Skinner 13:26
Yeah, and of course, there isn’t a single perfect answer to that question. I mean, you can’t, you can’t. Science can’t tell us if there is a meaning of life. At the same time, as humans, we can’t help but live lives of meaning. Because its meaning that we use to map the world around us and to plan our journeys to better. So, you know, maybe I started if it’s not too philosophical with an evolutionary perspective. So, our brains first evolved, it turns out to enable movement with intentionality. Now, other species also evolved brains. And we can’t necessarily move better than all other species. I mean, that swift for example, can fly for several months uninterrupted by eating insects on the wing, by bathing in the rain. And by sleeping without landing. So, we can’t necessarily out navigate or outmaneuver over species. But as humans, you know, if you want to move with intentionality, you need to know where you are, where you’ve been, where you could get to, and as humans, our human cognition enables us to conceptualize that as our past our present and our future in quite flexible ways. If you work for the Office of National Statistics, for example, then even the past can turn out to be a surprisingly unpredictable place. And then our human language enables us to narrate There’s concepts as the beginnings, middles, and ends of our stories. And almost anything we ever say, is going to have one of those components to it, you know, the past, the present or the future. And so, we can’t help but live lives of meaning. And it’s that meaning that enables us not just to pursue more ambitious literal pathways, but to navigate more ambitious sort of journeys through life than any other species and is ultimately why as humans, unlike other species, we haven’t just evolved as magnificent as that is, but have also been able to develop from generation to generation in ways that have so spectacularly accelerated over approximately the last three human lifespans. And of course, I think as your question implies, any story has a shadow. Every human story will reveal itself to be imperfect. You know, when grownups tell stories to children, they often end them happily ever after. I haven’t come across one of those stories yet in real life. But the stories that children often tell adults often end with the line. And I woke up and it was all just a dream. Now, I’m not saying that every, all our stories are just dreams, but most of our stories end up having a shadow side, which means that we can’t be too fixed and rigid in our pursuit of purpose, but need to be able to adapt it as we go. In a sense, I’ve often thought leadership maybe in a sense, Shakespeare was wrong, in the sense that To be or not to be, it’s not really a question. We didn’t choose to be born. And we can’t at least yet choose not to die. The real question isn’t whether to live but where to go with our lives. And better is at any point in time, our story of the better that we choose to pursue, the better that we invite other people to step inside of while recognizing that as a human narrative, we wouldn’t ever have the ultimate definitive answer. And any philosophy that tells us there is an ultimate definitive answer usually ends up in something really unpleasant.
Minter Dial 17:21
Well, it, I think, worthwhile talking about all’s well that ends well. Another Shakespearean play great stuff. Well, in just a for people who are intrigued by MarketingKind, tell us a little bit more how that works and how can people join in?
Paul Skinner 17:41
Yeah, it’s a membership community, people can find out about membership and access a complimentary first month of membership if they would like to at MarketingKind.org. If people would like to sign up their whole team, then corporate memberships are also available. And we have a variety of activity streams. So, first of all, people can create a portfolio of their own direct social and environmental impacts through our monthly coffee with a cause, gatherings where they’ll get to work firsthand in a small group with usually the pioneering founder of an inspiring charity or social enterprise and support them in elevating their growth strategy. We usually have working groups that follow for people who want to roll up their sleeves, and particularly support that individual cause. We give people the chance to become better, more purposeful, more systemic leaders in the day jobs by coaching each other and in adapting around some of our best ideas, whether it’s, you know, fostering a portfolio of extracurricular interests, whether it is looking at how writing a book can change your view of the world, whether it’s getting to grips with how we can harness AI in a positive way, rather than a negative way. And then, of course, they can participate in hosting in working with some of their heroes through our exchanges. So, in our exchanges, we’ve looked at how marketing can improve the world with Seth Godin. We’ve looked at how we can forge a path to climate compatible living with the environmentalists Mike Berners Lee, we’ve reimagined capitalism with the Harvard economist Rebecca Henderson. I mentioned before we’ve explored how we can change the story of democracy with Andy Burnham, Mayor of Manchester. In the new year, we’re looking to look at how migration could be the overlooked route to more sustainable living with gay events. We’ll be exploring how to be more solution oriented faced with today’s sustainability problems with solitaire Townsend and be looking at how we can stop messing things up and hopefully went public life in a better direction with the economist will happen. So, a whole range of exciting things for people to get involved with at MarketingKind.org.
Minter Dial 20:11
Fabulous stuff. Definitely tackling some large topics, Paul, and very inspiring in that way. So, let’s talk a little bit more about your book, which I have in front of me. Here we go. And it’s got a really fascinating title, the purpose upgrade. And then the subtitle split into two, like it before and after almost change your business to save the world changed the world to save your business. The whole thing oriented around purpose. So, let’s say that that’s not an uncommon topic on our on my podcast. And yet, I think it’s an uncommon topic Properly speaking, in boardrooms, and in companies. It’s still a vague term. So, what is purpose? And can profit be a purpose, Paul?
Paul Skinner 21:10
Yes, of course, of course, of course it can. So, purpose. So, let’s separate it out. So, purpose, first of all, is a story of better that we choose to pursue that we invite others to participate in. And that might relate to something small, but in this case, significant. So, my purpose this morning is to have a stimulating conversation with you. Or it might be something bigger, it might be, you know, this is how I conceive of my vocation for the next several decades. In organizational life, you can have corporate purpose, which is often taken to be the reason why an organization exists. But of course, I think we need to understand that purpose alongside the purpose is included in the stories of all of our stakeholders every day. So, we’re surrounded by a different intentionality, just as much as we are surrounded by human minds among our colleagues among our investors, among our customers among our partners. So, purpose is operating in all of these levels, there is a second part of your question, which temporarily escapes me.
Minter Dial 22:22
Oh, it’s just can profit be a purpose? Yeah, no, of course.
Paul Skinner 22:24
So, Milton Friedman famously said profit is really the exclusive purpose of business. And the phrase maximizing shareholder value has been associated with him, although it was far more popularized by private equity firms in the in the 1980s. And of course, you can have the intention of pursuing profit, I think it’s often helpful to put things back into a human context. So, the goal of maximizing profit could be very interesting as an experiment, it could even be quite useful if a few businesses took it on. But if you imagine an individual person who’s subordinated every single decision they ever made to maximizing the self-directed, specifically self-directed financial gain, then of course, they will be a psychopath. And there are some limitations to maximizing shareholder value. I want to cut a little bit of slack to Milton Friedman, in the first instance, in that he developed this idea in the 1960s, around the time that competitive advantage was becoming popular as a concept. And it was specifically to solve what was beginning to accrue as the so-called agency problem, whereby businesses were becoming more globalized. And there was a far greater distance between investors in a business and the leaders of those businesses. So, how do you align their interests so that the leaves of the business and not just empire building, but are actually doing something that’s going to be useful to shareholders? And so, I think Friedman’s views his doctrine was smart. It was simple, it was clear, and it was responding to a problem of his times. But there are real limitations. First of all, the goal of maximizing shareholder value does nothing to tell an individual leader for their enterprise in their context, how to go about maximizing profits, so it doesn’t have a narrative guidance to it that can take us in a fruitful direction. In practice, maximizing shareholder value has been linked to the creation of negative externalities which have become truly devastating on a global scale. And so, there is a huge weakness there. And circumstances change you know, Purpose is an affordance of the environment. You know, purpose is partly about the parts available to us pursuit to pursue in changing circumstances. And so, I think we need to think far more adaptively about purpose far more dynamically about purpose. And in my book, I develop an understanding of purpose as our most adaptive capacity as humans, therefore harnessable as our most renewable resource for enterprise. And that specifically in relation to your first question, because there isn’t a happily ever after story, you know, we can only apprehend the world on a probabilistic basis, and yet our decisions are frequently binary. And so, a purpose upgrade can be an always available event always available, because the world is not going to stop changing. So, our optimal pathway will always be fluid. But any event because many of our necessary decisions require us to develop a fixed view at a particular point in time. I mean, today, for example, we agreed to this conversation, but I imagine because we both thought the probability is that it would be a fertile conversation. But it wasn’t one that we could know in advance with certainty to be the case, you could have turned out to be a complete bully on your show only for me, and not for any of your prior guests, it’s at least theoretically plausible, and make the decision to do the show on the basis of probabilistic inference.
Minter Dial 26:40
So I have a thought that I have been writing about over the last decade, which is a scale of purpose, such that there are some purposes that are big, and that are some purposes that are rather prosaic, as in well, we need to survive. And that’s our purpose. And that seems like an honorable purpose. Because if you aren’t surviving, then you serve no purpose whatsoever. And yet, it feels like a very sort of base starting point. And then there might be a purpose to do something a little bit bigger, maybe, you know, whether it’s personally or come in for a company that’s beyond just you and your own financial bank account, it could be your family’s bank account, so it’s bigger than me, I’m trying to help my family, well, who is my family, maybe my family is my community, and so on. So, we could go on the way up to saving the planet, world poverty, and so on. And it feels like the Milton Friedman approach is a little bit of a clipping of the wings of that scale, to the extent we must remember to still be profitable, to exist to define a purpose.
Paul Skinner 28:07
I think that is, right. I mean, in a sense, another aim in the book, you know, for since Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, you know, classical economic thinking has suggested that, if we pursue self-directed benefits, first, we’re meant to end up with a collective good as the happy byproduct, you know, an increasingly people have quipped in recent years, that maybe Adam Smith’s hand was invisible, because it wasn’t really there. But I think that, first of all, you’re right, that in different circumstances or intentionality is different, you know, in a, in a, in a plane crash, the advice is, or if, for any circumstances, you know, the masks drop down on a plane, the advice is to breathe first and then help the person next to you because if you’re dead, you’re not going to help the person next to you. And so, I think that what you’re saying makes absolute sense. And, you know, maybe Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is not uni-directional. You know, as your circumstances change, you may, as a as an individual human place yourself in a different place up and down that that scale. But reason and evidence suggests that actually, by and large in enterprise, if we take Smith’s logic and turn it upside down, and instead seek to benefit others first, we can then derive our own self-directed rewards is our share of the far greater overall not wealth of change, not Wealth of Nations, but wealth of change, that making an enterprise a channel for something bigger than itself can unlock. And I think part of the rationale for that would go back to my first book and that strategy has been led since the 1960s by finance and has looked at an enclosed view of the firm and looked at the resources you own manage and control to create a competitive Vantage. But actually, business doesn’t deliver value to the world of pathetically grateful consumers, whose only role is to diminish the supply of whatever resource you’re pumping into them. But actually, you know, our customers create more value than we do. And if we’re having the conversation in Starbucks, the economist might say it was the barista the franchisee, the landlord, or the brand creating most value. But I’d say it’s the customers because the draw for me would be the conversation with you and the one brand liquid that goes with it would be pretty ancillary. So, our customers probably create the most value of all at any point in time. But humans are not just resources, their colleagues bringing their talent and discretionary effort to bear partners don’t have to just be suppliers delivering to a contract, but can co create a future with us. investors don’t just have to be working chequebooks, but can help us to live up to that future. You know, there’s no such thing as the abstract notion of a market, if you can tell me where the market for soft drinks is, I’d be interested. But we do have communities that make doing business worthwhile, we have a shared home, that makes doing business possible in the first place. And so, if we see a business as a Nexus, it not just a contractual necklace. But in any enabling mechanism, enabling all of these stakeholder value stakeholders to better fulfill their lives, then we’ll end up with more success ourselves as a byproduct. And I’d say that that can take place in in difficult turbulent times as much as it can take place in good times. In fact, I would probably argue that in turbulent times, it’s turbulent times that require enterprises to be most purposeful in the first place, it’s the very fact that we have very serious problems. To solve that we need to think about. business that is contributing to being the solution rather than rather than the problem. All in Missoula. Like it was in 1927, the Wall Street banker wrote in the Harvard Business Review that we needed to go from a culture of business that focused on needs to a culture of business that focused on desires. And you could say that the whole marketing profession and consumerism, was born from that kind of observation. I’d say that today, as our problems become more serious, we almost need to turn that upside down and transition marketing from being about making the attractive necessary, instead to about making the necessary attractive, and their businesses that will thrive or be businesses that are genuinely useful to their stakeholders, and weren’t the support of all their stakeholders, because they are bringing a net contribution to life as we know it, whether that’s a serious one, a trivial one, whatever the tone of it may be, but making a useful and valid contribution, rather than an extraction.
Minter Dial 33:06
A lot there to unpack, Paul, really interesting stuff. I mean, it this notion of going from needs to desire and now going back from desire back to needs, it kind of feels like the reversing of Maslow’s pyramid all over again. And I was I was listening, just sort of a couple of comments and get we’ll move along. But the Starbucks, I always thought about Starbucks and I’ve had the chance to chat with the former CEO and still Chairman Schultz, on Starbucks. And my feeling was Starbucks. And brand marketers and brand thinkers could also maybe use this as some sort of stimulation, which is that Starbucks isn’t about selling coffee. It’s about creating a safe regular place for people, especially women to convene. And, and therefore the concept is what brings the value there. Somehow the everyone participates in making it a safe place, including the location that you put it, the baristas who are there and of course, the Pete the customers who participate. But and then the other thing is, where’s the market? There’s no locus for the market. And I was thinking in soft drinks. Well, I think it’s in the bubble. But then that’s just for humor sake, I want to get back to this idea of malleable…
Paul Skinner 34:34
I just want to pick up on the bubble if you mean it in a literal sense, because I often in when I was talking about my first book, I use the example of coke in that when you take a bottle of Coke and you carbonate it, you don’t change the flavor. You don’t make it easier to digest and you certainly don’t make it more nutritious. But what you do is you make it considerably more obvious when you go to the fridge, come back to your desk and you open it and you get the set. And suddenly everyone all around you was completely fine. And working happily until that moment is suddenly thinking, oh, yeah, I could really fancy a coke. And so, it’s just an example of how a customer can actually be a far greater influence in terms of product adoption on the people around them just through their modeled behavior and making that more tangible and visible. So, I think you’re right. And on Starbucks, of course, that’s a legendary strategy. And I think, you know, one of the questions is, do they go far enough. So, in China at the moment, Starbucks in there is quite competition with other premium coffees often that are sold, not to say rip offs, which often sold, not with that environment. And I just wonder if Starbucks could go even further in terms of having more in store activities for people to participate in a greater level of engagement with their communities. But certainly that recognition that what is happening is you’re not just pouring something into someone, you are creating an environment where they can do the valuable thing, because the reason their friend is there is because they are they’re not because they’re cappuccino is fractionally better than the one across the street,
Minter Dial 36:21
or Frappuccino really better. Silly, silly. Good stuff. And so, going back to this idea of purpose, and you right? That purpose can be as malleable as our imagination. And you put a hammer or you hit this idea of a fixed North Star topic that I have much talked about. And this is very interesting for me, because I often talk about a North Star, I think of it as a journey or not as a destination. So, inevitably, maybe the malleability is in the approach to the North Star. But I wanted to ask you about this idea of the malleability of purpose because I think of, for example, values, which underpin your purpose, and ethics, and which should also be about your how you do your purpose, in terms of establishing good and bad values, can they change? And how do you warrant a change of purpose? If it’s been your sort of guiding principle for a certain amount of time, as you were talking about, like with Starbucks?
Paul Skinner 37:37
Yeah. So, So I guess there’s two questions there in terms of can you change things like values? I mean, you bring to mind a line by the comedian, Groucho Marx, those are my principles, and if you don’t like them. And I think we have a natural sense of if values change too quickly, then what’s going on there. But I would say that every aspect of an enterprise is susceptible to upgrade. I mean, we’ve seen Patagonia upgrade its ownership in terms of making it owned by a Fund for Nature, a startup might upgrade its ownership by giving a stake to somebody who is very highly trusted and highly regarded in that industry. And in terms of values and principles. To say that they’re locked in stone, I would say, would be the antithesis of a growth mindset. I mean, I have no doubt that the values you have today, Minter, have evolved since when I briefly got to cross your path, in law in my law realities. I’m sure they’re different when you were at school, and I am fairly sure that you’re not finished yet. And when you look back on your life as a whole, and maybe write your own biography, you have a biography is touch already, of course, then you may well have further elevated your, your values, and I think of a value is what do you choose over something else? You know, if a value doesn’t mean that you value this thing more than you value that thing, then it’s not really a value. And so, I think that all of these things are susceptible to improvement. And then you’ve said, how can you kind of justify it? And I think it’s the nature of our changing circumstances. So, if we take the notion of innovation, for example, you could see if you aren’t good at making suitcases, make the best one you can. If you’re making the best one you can, why would you ever change it? And of course, Coca Cola for a long time, you know, had this sort of internal mantra that new product development is for the lazy marketer, you know, a talented marketer can keep going with what you’ve got. And the reason of course, we learned to innovate was not because it’s easy, not because we always get it right and not because we always want to, but because an invite argument of change made it necessary to get better at incremental than disruptive innovation. We learned to transform our organizations with the arrival of the internet and digital communications technology and reimagine how we operate as an organization. And in the book, I argue that we may now be entering a new era in the evolution of enterprise adaptation, and that we need to adapt not just at the level of innovation and transformation, but that we are entering a macro environment with so many exogenous variables that is so interconnected in its opportunities and interdependent in its risks, that we need to get much better not just at innovating and transforming, but fundamentally repurposing our enterprises and simply repurposing individual activity streams within our enterprises, to better meet the changing priorities and intentions of our stakeholders on a more frequent basis, then then an a more profound basis than we might have done previously.
Minter Dial 41:07
So great. I am, I was wondering, you know, when you look at the state of, of businesses, you’re proposing this idea of a purpose upgrade. And yet, there aren’t so many examples of companies who truly are succeeding with great purpose, it feels for me as I read your book that there are more examples of negative cases or purpose downgrades, if you will put in another term. And it brings up this idea of, how does one argue for a having a bigger, better purpose? In a business case? How do you convince some private equity owner or some financier shareholder or, or some generally just hardheaded business, the business guy who’s here just to make a living, get my widgets through the door so that my story continues to succeed?
That what, how do you
Minter Dial 42:12
get that activity to move from a place of shareholder business profits? So on into a purpose mindset?
Paul Skinner 42:21
Yeah, so this three parts. So, first of all, I think in terms of purpose downgrades, I think there are two reasons for that. One is all of a lot of the conceptual thinking the lenses through which we think about purpose are overly rigid and incomplete. And don’t give us an adaptive purpose to pursue, which is something we could come back to think secondly, changing circumstances running a successful organization is a fragile thing, it can go wrong at any point. And if circumstances change, maintaining an adaptive fit isn’t easy. So, it’s not surprising, just as no human life is sort of biology trying to resist is evolution trying to resist the force of entropy from physics. And similarly, in business, it’s not easy to run a successful business in terms of making the business case. Individually, we succeed or fail, according to our narrative competence. And you know, the how we read a situation, how we mobilize the people around us to achieve a shared goal, which is beneficial to us. And similarly, an enterprise, an enterprise that has a higher level of narrative competence, and brings people on a more ambitious journey of meaning and purpose, that means something to them is going to succeed over one that doesn’t, and might tell a little story about Wild Hearts on that topic. But I want to just know, the harder business case, which is empirical evidence shows that businesses that create more social value, .i.e. create more value for this stakeholders ended up being more profitable as a byproduct. And the reason for that, it turns out is that if a business that is seeking to be useful to its stakeholders, is capable of perceiving a greater range of opportunities to be useful stakeholders, a subset of which ends up being both profitable and outside of the vision of an organization that is seeking exclusively to profit maximize. And so, by and large, and you know, any businesses think we’re thinking about probability and activity in the future that can’t be guaranteed. But what the evidence shows is that overall, on average, if we seek to create social value first we ended up being more profitable as a byproduct. And this becomes stronger if we follow three principles, which is and these principles come from one of our guests that MarketingKind Alec segments who takes a highly empirical approach to purpose and his sort of looked at this and assembled meta analysis of the relationship between purpose and profit, and it perhaps to a greater, greater degree than anyone else alive. And three requirements are, first of all, if you’re my stakeholder, and I’m going to give you an extra 20 pounds worth of value, then that will make me more profitable. If a, it costs me less than 20 pounds to give you that 20 pounds in value, if be that 20 pounds of value is materially relevant to the nature of what I do. And if see that 20 pounds of value is more, I can give you that 20 pounds of value more effectively myself, than if I simply ask somebody else to do that for you. So, there needs to be a comparative advantage. And with those three conditions met, creating more social value, the business case is it will make you more profitable as a byproduct. But you can only do that and get it right. If you are genuinely wedded primarily to the purpose and secondarily to profit.
Minter Dial 46:21
Yeah, this notion of genuine and the pragmatism that therein lies, you did mention a story you wanted to tell us.
Paul Skinner 46:30
Oh, so I think this was wild hearts. So, Oh, yes, narrative competence. You know, I think that one of the reasons why purposeful enterprises do so well is that they tell a much better story of business. So, Mick Jackson, Dr. Mick Jackson is one of our members at MarketingKind and he went on a mountaineering expedition to broad peak and Ketu. And he was already a successful entrepreneur. Now on that expedition, a young French boy was tragically found dead in the tent ahead of their Expedition. helicopter was sent for, and his body was removed from the mountain in a body bag that was sort of suspended from the side of the helicopter. And then a few hours later, the Kashmiri tribesmen leading his expedition, lost consciousness and became ill. By coincidence, the Bulgarian Minister for Health was in the expedition behind them and was still a practicing doctor and examined him and said that his knee was able to engage at that point, but he was the Bulgarian Minister able to identify that one of his lungs had collapsed and that within a few hours at that altitude, he wouldn’t be alive. Now the there was no question of a helicopter. And make assume that this was to the authorities that somehow a good Westerner was still more valuable than a living tribesmen. So, the tribesmen folded his arms across his chest, and it was just ready to wait for death. But I was not ready for that. And he galvanized the group and they agreed to make the attempt to carry the tribesmen down. From memory, it took them four days to do it through the biting code. And they were all you know, coughing blood by the end of it, it was very difficult circumstances. But it did end up being life saving for the tribesmen and ended up also being life changing for Mick. He had a Celtic background, he had grandparents who had lived very hard lives, in Ireland and in Glasgow. And he felt that in other circumstances, he could have been somebody who was just left to die in the cold. And so, he sought to create a different relationship between business and people. He sought to redirect and repurpose his own entrepreneurial endeavors to make them to put them in the service of alleviating poverty. And so, he relaunched his activities as Wild Hearts beginning with a stationery brand as an office stationery, but that he would use to fund microfinance initiatives in developing parts of the world. And, you know, his tells his staff, even a bad day at the office can save lives. And he is able to make pitches to procurement managers, the likes of which they’ve never seen for Office stationery. And literally during the period I wrote the book, he reached and changed over 2 million lives with those microfinance initiatives zero countries where he effectively owns the largest development bank for that A country in Zambia, for example. And his activities have spread beyond office stationery and all sorts of exciting ways that people can find out more about in the book or by checking out. But I think the point there is that narrative competence is so important in behavior research shows that in many instances, we are more drawn to a good life story even than we are to a good life. Because while a good life is a happy outcome, a good life story is a tool that we can use to confer it confers real adaptive advantage, enable us to engage with a group to have a sense of who we are to have a sense of what we can offer to enable cooperation that helps us meet our needs. And so, to an enterprise, and I think one of the greatest gifts of an adaptive purpose is that it gives a business a better story, to tell, not just in its marketing messages, but a better story through which to engage all of its stakeholders to achieve something much more interesting and ambitious.
Minter Dial 51:06
Well, great story, Paul. Time is running out. But it makes me think, you know, with wild hearts, it’s the first stationery company that is evaluative, as a moving just a play on words, wanted to talk more about storytelling, but time is up your book is a great read, really inspiring and, and one of the chapters are the parts of it that I really enjoyed the most was the whole piece around storytelling and story editing, which is a really interesting concept. And I feel like it that piece, the story editing piece is probably the one which is most intriguing and powerful for me. Why? Because I think that most people’s stories that they run in their heads today are lacking in meaning, rather than I mean, they may be mean finding training for it, but they’re not getting it. And so, I have a particular philosophy or thought about that. And what companies should be doing is encouraging their employees to find how the story of the company will somehow overlap, in part, at least, with the story of the individual. And if you can find an overlap in that story editing, which means you kind of have to be intentionally looking for that, as opposed to oh my gosh, of course, that’s what it is. Because it ain’t gonna come to you like some Thunderbolt. So, I don’t know if you want to have a last comment about that before we wrap up. Yeah,
Paul Skinner 52:40
Tim Smit. I think, in any situation, I mean, so here with framed one way, we’re having an interesting conversation for the benefit of your audience framed another way, what if I had to find something in our conversation that changes my whole future trajectory? Now we can approach any situation any dialogue as he would put it? Of course, in that way, if you’re mentoring somebody, what if the most valuable lesson to be learned is what you can learn from the person that you’ve offered to mentor and support? In terms of professional activity? Everybody is seeing themselves through the lens of what they’re doing. The question is, how intentional can you be? And so, my closing thought, I’m gonna take the idea from Tim Smit, who is one of the endorsers of the book, and I wrote a little about the Eden Project in the book. And Tim says that he has told me that he doesn’t necessarily believe in the stereotypical marketing message that reduces everything to three words that you consistently repeat infinite, ad infinitum, but actually has a different take on storytelling, that if you can get enough people to believe in something, and see themselves as part of that thing, and how to make it reality that you make it possible. He describes that as the Tinkerbell effect, if you can get enough people to believe it, and in enough ways, it becomes true. And he, of course, credits the fact that he was able to take a disused quarry in Cornwall, and somehow present this as the world’s greatest tourist destination in waiting. But he credits the Tinkerbell effect with the fact that he has been able to do that and Eden Project has now brought well over 2.2 billion pounds worth of tourism to Cornwall and replicating it all around the world in really exciting ways. So, stories, that there is that notion that we’re in a VUCA, environment, volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, but that implies that there is something there to be understood. And what we always have to remember is the narratives through which we understand things are themselves an intrinsic part of the picture. So, reality today is there to be negotiated. And if we want to live in a better world, and whatever that means specifically for us and the people around us, we negotiate that through, in the broadest sense the stories that we share with the people around us and how we can reframe them to get better outcomes.
Minter Dial 55:15
Yeah, in the book, you talk about the post VUCA world. And anyway, lots of great things in there, Paul, I’m going to put as many of these as I can in the show notes, the links to Wild Hearts, the project and of course, what are the ways that people can reach you and follow your work? What are the best links and of course, get your book The purpose upgrade?
Paul Skinner 55:37
Yeah. So, and you can get this still interested in the festival and collaborative advantage, you could get both of those Waterstones, Amazon most good booksellers, and probably most not very good booksellers. If you’d like audiobooks, you can also find me on Audible with the purpose I’m not narrated by you, narrated by me, then they asked me to take that on. And I enjoyed the process and learned a lot from the process actually. People can find MarketingKind at MarketingKind.org and access to complimentary month of membership. Next, gathering is looking at using humor to create intentional change. And people can find that or if they’re not in time, they can find a recording of that with Tom fishbone. And there’s some very exciting things coming up for next year. People can find my advisory work www.theaof.com As in the Agency of the Future.com There is a book website purposeupgrade.org. And people can find me on LinkedIn in or very rarely on Twitter.
Minter Dial 56:45
Formerly known as Twitter, the ex-Twitter. Yeah, ha!
Minter Dial 56:53
Hey Paul! Thank you so much for coming on. It’s been a great pleasure to listen to you to learn from you in this conversation. I look forward to carrying on.
Paul Skinner 57:01
Wonderful and thank you so much for your support MarketingKind and for letting me on your show after all these years.
Minter Dial 57:12
So, a really heartfelt thanks for listening to this episode of The Minter Dialogue podcast. If you liked the show, please remember to subscribe on your favourite podcast service. As ever, rating and reviews are the real currency of podcasts. And if you’re really inspired, I’m accepting donations on www.patreon.com/Minterdial. You’ll find the show notes with over 2100 blog posts on minterdial.com on topics ranging from leadership to branding, tech and marketing tips. Check out my documentary film and books including my last one, the second edition of “Heartificial Empathy, Putting Heart into Business and Artificial Intelligence” that came out in April 2023. And to finish here’s a song I wrote with Stephanie Singer, “A Convinced Man.”
I like the feel of a stranger
Tucked around me
Precipitating the danger
To feel free
Trust is the reason
Still I won’t toe the line.
I sit here passively
Hope for your respect
Anticipating the thrill of your intellect
Maybe I tell myself
There’s no use in me lying.
I’m a convinced man,
Building an urge
A convinced man,
To live and die submerged.
A convinced man,
In the arms of a woman
I’m a convinced man
Challenge my fate
I’m a convinced man
A convinced man
In the arms of a woman.
And struggle to see
Live for the challenge
So life’s not incomplete
What’s wrong with challenge
I know soon we all die
I’m a convinced man
Practicing my lines
I’m a convinced man
Here in these confines
A convinced man
In the arms of a woman.
I’m a convinced man
Put me to the test
I’m a convinced man
I’m ready for an arrest
I’m a convinced man
In the arms of a woman.
I’m a convinced man… so convinced
You convince me, yeah baby,
I’m a convinced man
In the arms of a woman…
Minter Dial is an international professional speaker, author & consultant on Leadership, Branding and Transformation. After a successful international career at L’Oréal, Minter Dial returned to his entrepreneurial roots and has spent the last twelve years helping senior management teams and Boards to adapt to the new exigencies of the digitally enhanced marketplace. He has worked with world-class organisations to help activate their brand strategies, and figure out how best to integrate new technologies, digital tools, devices and platforms. Above all, Minter works to catalyse a change in mindset and dial up transformation. Minter received his BA in Trilingual Literature from Yale University (1987) and gained his MBA at INSEAD, Fontainebleau (1993). He’s author of four award-winning books, including Heartificial Empathy, Putting Heart into Business and Artificial Intelligence (2nd edition) (2023); You Lead, How Being Yourself Makes You A Better Leader (Kogan Page 2021); co-author of Futureproof, How To Get Your Business Ready For The Next Disruption (Pearson 2017); and author of The Last Ring Home (Myndset Press 2016), a book and documentary film, both of which have won awards and critical acclaim.
👉🏼 It’s easy to inquire about booking Minter Dial here.