We all care about people.

Well, those of us that aren’t psychopathic anyway.


We genuinely want others to do well and succeed and we want the rest of the biosphere to continue to operate and generally do well.

But we get lost in the details. We argue.

How you do something matters.

Who you spend time with and how you spend time with them determine how you experience life. How happy you are. How productive. How engaged. Even how healthy, wealthy, and even wise.

You know this in your gut. And research is telling us more and more each day that this is true.

Your job, your church, your school, your social group — even your romantic relationships — are life and death decisions. They create your life and can help extend your lifespan. Or shorten it.

It’s important to be careful and deliberate about who you spend time with — and how you spend time with them.

Before taking a job, joining a group, or getting into a relationship ask yourself if you want to become like those people. And ask yourself if you think they really want the best for you and are willing to support you in becoming your best.

We become like the people we hang out with and we also will change to confirm their expectations of us. So make sure they are great people who want the best for you and believe you are capable.

But this alone is not enough.

Small informal groups like a gathering of friends or a family can do great things with individual kindness and good intentions.

But if you want to do great things in the world. Build something that matters, do research, change something. For big things we need other people. Sometimes a lot of them.

And then you need systems, structures, collective habits and culture. But you’re too busy focused on what the group is doing to pay much attention to how they are doing it.

You spend money on perks and benefits and more money on hiring great people. But don’t do a great job at the connective tissue of the organization. This is understandable because this connective tissue is made up of things that at first blush are not at all like each other. There are tools, habits, rules, documents and more.

If you get too rigid you move too slow and encourage people to check out mentally and even leave physically.

If you get too lax though you get the organizational equivalent of a civil war. Armed factions working against each other when they should be collaborating.

But get your system right and you’ll make yourself a better person and find it easier to hire and retain great people too. They’ll be more motivated, get more done, and — perhaps most importantly focus on the right things and get the right things done. You’ll have an organization that is effective, not merely efficient. That takes valuable action rather than just doing stuff (e.g. activity).

This is the foundation of a great culture. Not your fucking snacks, offsites, and christmas parties.

This is what makes an organization great.

And you can’t afford not to have greatness as a goal. Because your competition does.

And we, as a species can’t afford to have shitty organizations. The costs are too high, and the opportunities are too immediate.

Five Whys

I help make organizations better.

Because much of who we are and our experience of life comes down to who we spend time with and how we spend time with them. Other people matter — as the Positive Psychologists say and where do we encounter other people? In organizations.

I care about making the world a better place and feel like much of the improvements we are making are misguided attempts to “increase it’s speed” rather than improve things that really matter.

I think we are naturally — and appropriately — scarcity minded as a species. That at one time this was an incredibly useful trait. But collectively we’ve generated a lot of abundance but this mindset keeps us from distributing it well. And this leads to trouble for us all. Both the haves and the have nots.

We see the world as a zero sum game but economics and business doesn’t work that way. We’re creating a society that’s out of balance with itself (e.g. concentration of wealth) and with nature (e.g. unsustainable systems). The next phase of human development is deeply connected to our ability to relate to each other and organize in ways that operate well in times of abundance. And the time is now to start.

Because now that a significant portion of our economic power has moved from atoms to bits and bodies to brains there is immediate economic benefit to treating people like people — it improves engagement, productivity, retention, and innovation. And there is long-term benefit for our species.

Besides it’s just the right thing to do. Our ways of organizing and taking collective action have increasingly little biological value. That is we are organizing less and less around biological traits like family and race. We are expanding our sense of who is a full and deserving human and who is the “other.” Many are even including non-human in groups deserving of rights.

This sense of care and empathy is one of our most valuable traits evolutionarily — it’s what allows us to form many different kinds of groups and this in turn gives us a strong evolutionary advantage. But we’ve been so successful that we now need to be able to show collective care for each other and our ecosystem.

Raising consciousness is a great goal but if it’s not backed up by action then it becomes empty. We need to develop organizations that:

  • Build better people: that encourage the best in us making us kinder, more generous, and smarter.
  • Take better collective action: behave in kind and responsible ways towards other groups of people and the biosphere.
  • Can learn and take corrective action: that are not only able to see the results of what they do but to change their behavior and take new actions based on the feedback. This is self-awareness and self-efficacy at the organizational level. There’s also a piece about organizational resilience in here. That it can take a hit and respond.

BOB GOWER | Clarity from Complexity