Nathalie: Perry, one of my favorite people. Thank you so much for joining me in conversation.
Perry: Wow, that’s nice. You’re one of my favorites, so it’s back at you. But yeah, thank you.
Nathalie: I’d like to dive in by asking what I usually ask my guests, which is, from your perspective, what do you think is happening in the global human psyche right now?
Perry: Wow. Separation, confusion and people, I think, are a little bit lost about a number of different things like the reason they’re here, who they ally with, who’s got the answers, and that the world is facing some pretty significant issues and problems. And whilst that sounds quite doomy and gloomy, and there’s a lot of good within it, I think that’s the overriding sense that I think a lot of people have carried around with them for a while and is now probably even heavier.
Nathalie: I think you’re right. Obviously, I’m asking this now and we’re in December at the end of 2020, and this episode’s going to be coming out with the launch of the book in September of 2021. So if I were to ask you what you might hope would be happening in that period in the human psyche, what would be your response?
Perry: Well, I think we’ve had a shock to the system and it’s caused a lot of evaluation and re-evaluation. So my hope is that as we start to restore a sense of order and confidence in the future, which at the moment is obviously lacking with the new virulent stream and then the vaccination program being rolled out and some political changes across in the US, we’re probably not quite daring to believe that we could emerge from this with strength and conviction and a new hope. But by September, I am hoping we’ll have had at least a couple of months where we’ve started to see our reaction to this.
I never use the phrase new normal, because it’s horrible, but the reality and the future trajectory, I suppose, would start to become a lot clearer by then, financial hardship, notwithstanding. I think we’ll start to see what we’re hoping to come out of this, which is a renewed sense of connectedness, togetherness and I guess forging ahead more to create the solutions to the problems that are still there and perhaps have been there pre-pandemic and now newly cast post-pandemic. So I’m expecting the autumn of 2021 to have a little bit of an uptick in optimism.
Nathalie: You are actually one of the most passionate and, dare I say, unorthodox leaders in the world of HR. And I imagine that with all the extraordinary disruptions that businesses have been facing, your skills must be in high demand. I wonder, from your perspective and your work and with your experience, how you conceive of resilience and what qualities you believe businesses need in order to thrive in the face of uncertainty?
Perry: I guess I’ll start with a little bit of an overarch, really, that I think resilience has probably taken on a new meaning since the pandemic and will do post pandemic. Which I’m really glad about, because I think up to now, resilience has actually become a bit of a cliche. I think there are lots of people who are pointing to it and they’re adopting the, “Well, if you can’t stand the heat, get out in the kitchen,” type approach, and I don’t think that’s fair. I think we’ve transferred a good spirit in resilience onto people and say, “If you can’t manage yourself, then there must be something weak in you.”
But I don’t think that’s right. I think it’s been distorted and I think actually bizarrely, this pandemic will reset it. So I think even people who had described themselves as supremely resilient have been tested to the absolute pill on this one. So I think we have a different view on it. So that’s good, I like that it’s being reinvented for that reason, but, how do I conceive it? Then I think it’s about not crumbling when things get tough, and being able to find reserves in energy, spirit, cognitive capability, imagination, decision-making, graft, application, focus and ultimately resolve.
Because I think resilience sometimes comes from resolving the fact that you can or can’t influence something, if it’s beyond your control, but you can make a start or you can do things near to you. So I think some of it is about knowing where to deploy your energy and your thoughts, and then being able to shift through the gears in order to make that happen. If you’re not particularly resilient, you’ll always be in first gear, whether you’re going uphill or not, and that just revs the engine to high and ultimately it’ll force a collapse. So I think it’s how you manage that flow and those things that you have at your disposal, but that you need to assemble uniquely for you in the circumstance.
Perry: I think that rhythm is resilience in the way I’d like to think I can see, even use it.
Nathalie: I like this idea of personal resilience and not being stuck in a first gear. Also, it connects with our ability to contribute to a larger system of resilience. I’d like to weave in the fact that you lead the London chapter of Responsive Org, which is an organization that seeks to create a fundamental shift in the way that we work in organizing the 21st century. With the view to this thread of resilience, can you tell us a bit about the vision that it holds and maybe what shifts we need to help foster?
Perry: So I think the term Responsive Org came out sometime ago, bizarrely in and around the realms of Yammer and Microsoft in the early days of social networks. But I think it’s come to mean something beyond simply a networked and platform-based connected force of people. And I think a resilient organization is now talked about in the same realms as perhaps Peter Senge’s MIT work for a learning organization. I think the two are intertwined really. So a resilient organization, I think, is agile, responsive, it’s tuned in, it does learn, it has adjacent opportunities, it has white margins to work in.
It’s essentially not a really stuck and rigid and an almost caustic organization. So it’s softer, pliable, all those kinds of things, yet still has strength and conviction and determination. So talking about it as a human spirit, I guess we can use those kinds of factors. I guess firstly, what people need to do is find that spirit in that thing. So the organization, a brand and structure and legalities has a spirit and an essence. So for example, if you work for the NHS, there’s a spirit there of care and so on and so forth. So loads of people attached to that more than they do the platitudes on the wall about whatever it is the NHS’s mission at that time is.
So find the essence and the spirit connect to that. I think a resilience organization then needs to create excitement in people. That’s not some positive way of dressing up a challenge, but it’s about enabling people to feel really risen to the energy that’s needed to tackle complexity and uncertainty. So instead of just looking at it with fear, we look at it with excitement about the challenge and the opportunity that lies within that. And then I think there’s something about how we then loop that back into personal growth, personal satisfaction, personal fulfillment.
I think those three elements, the essence of it, the excitement you can create about the challenges and then loop back into, “What does this help me become as a human being?” I think those are the three essential parts of a responsive organization.
Nathalie: I love this looping back in to the personal-purpose-driven aspects. And also conceiving of a business if something which has some vital essence to it. I’m wondering, in terms of the perspective of changing behaviors that we’ve seen, whether it’s the consumer behaviors that were a result of the pandemic’s impacts or the behaviors that were already beginning to shift prior to the pandemic. I’ve seen some really fascinating studies suggesting that we’re undergoing some interesting shifts in what we value from the consumer perspective, to our individual lives, to our roles as employees and as business leaders. And some of these, I wanted to float to you to get your take on it.
Early on in 2020, Kantar did a COVID Barometer and they found that 25 to 34 year olds, so the millennial group, and also 18 to 24, which has Gen Z, held brands to higher account compared to other generations. And they wanted them to be more proactive with society and its citizens. There’s another study that found that nearly 40% of millennials would accept one job offer over another due to a company’s environmental credentials. And another third insight was that nearly half of this group have also spoken up publicly in support or criticism of their employer’s actions when it comes to key societal issues.
And of course, during the pandemic, we saw a lot more amplification of and focus on Black Lives Matter movements and issues around inclusion, etc. And so, given all of these fairly interesting and fundamental shifts that we’re observing, if we knit it back into those three elements that you described, how do you think these relate? Do you think we are actually starting to see some sort of awakening where we’re wanting to connect our individual sense of purpose with the essence of companies with the people that employ us and how we do business?
Perry: I do have to be careful what I answer this because I’m so close to a lot of businesses that are very conscious and that are very purpose led and oriented towards those things that I might be part of the echo chamber, I guess you’d say. And there are lots and lots that aren’t, but in answer to your question, genuinely, putting that aside, that’s a known bias and I’m now reflecting on it more widely. Yes, I think there is an awakening gently starting to emerge. The Business Roundtable’s Declaration in 2019 that it was shareholder value, no it’s stakeholders’ value, I think it was pretty symbolic.
And some might say, “Yeah, but nothing’s changed since then.” It takes a while for this stuff to permeate through into the system to then start to shift how people’s perspectives are. But I’ve spoken to clients recently in finance, retail, science, banking, local government, and they’re all talking about the kind of things that we’re talking about today, and they wouldn’t have been even a year ago because I think they’ve recognized how important it is in holding the attention and the focus and the commitment of their people. And that’s not some bizarre recruitment tactic, not at all. It’s about performance, it’s about collective innovation, I suppose, and it’s ultimately about survival.
So I think they’re starting to realize with the advent of, let’s say, challenger banks and online retailers and all sorts of other things, that there are entities out there with a different spirit that are capturing, not just attention, but also business and are looking at sustainable ways of operating, and they are all the focal point of those companies people talk about as heroes and desired, employer contracts. So I think it’s shifting through both competition and realization. And you’re right about the Kantar research that has identified that group of people in that age category as wanting that as almost like a default. And I think there are a lot of career transitioners in their 40s and 50s that are also saying, “I’ve had enough for working for the soulless entity. And I want something that gives me a greater sense of fulfillment for those that follow me.”
So I think it’s rippled out even beyond the age brackets you’re talking about. Now, that gives me heart because they’re potentially already in leadership roles, and so they can recalibrate how leadership is immediately and then the next generation come along and take over those roles and they were already there. So it’s a sort of an accelerating upward spiral for a change. So yeah, that sounds optimistic and it sounds perhaps a little bit idealistic still, but I’m hearing it and seeing it and picking it up. So yeah, I think the research is hitting on an important element that business is also for good as well as for profit and viability.
Nathalie: Yeah. And I wonder that in terms of where these changes are coming from, as you mentioned, people who are also in their 40s and 50s. It’s not just the younger generations who have a deep desire for this, I think it’s just potentially more a question of a much keener, sharper awareness that the crises that we face, including the environment, including the economic systems, these are all so closely interlinked, and that for the younger people, these are going to be impacts which they face within their lifetimes. And maybe that tangibility of the situation creates more of a motivation to act now.
Perry: I agree.
Nathalie: And so I wonder then, what do you feel are some of the biggest changes that you’re witnessing within the culture and maybe connected with the leadership of organizations?
Perry: Yeah. And I think the pandemic has accelerated some of this. Leadership and those transitional age groups we talked about just now are, I think, now starting to see that forced change has enabled a wider set of options. So for example, there were a lot of people who were worried about environmental pollution and who had to commute for their work and now don’t have to, because of what’s happened. They’re like, “Right, I’ve got a choice now. I am not going to be a pollutant.” So they’re starting to create almost like an individual Paris Agreement, they’re saying, “I’m going to opt out of this because I can.” That wouldn’t have been possible without a pandemic, which is bizarre.
But I think that’s got the attention now of leaders who are now saying, “Oh, okay. So I can offload some expensive real estate. I can start to think about people working more flexibly in a way that actually gives me potentially sundown-to-sundown coverage on things,” that they will be more responsive to changes in the dynamic of the work we ask them to do. And what’s not to like about that. So I think the enlightened ones, whether they are ethically on the green agenda are now starting to come into tactical decisions and strategies that will by nature, help the green agenda.
So yeah, I think there’s this shift going on in leaders, in decisions, in setting strategies and tempos, and that’s got to be then translated through so that everybody applies it in organizations, it starts to infiltrate perhaps even community and society structures. So if you don’t have to commute and be almost like invisible in your community, you can now stay around and perhaps be more visible in your community and start a grassroots movement because you’re around more. I think all those things are going to snowball out from not having to be vacant from your domicile and just present in your employer. When the two are combined, I think good things can come around communities and localization.
Nathalie: That sounds super exciting.
Perry: I know. I love the thought too. But it didn’t occur to me either. It didn’t occur to me. I was quite happy to just jump on trains and planes and go where the work was. Now, I don’t want to do it, and therefore I’m thinking, “Oh, that gives me more space around me to do things in the proximity of where I live.” So, yeah, even I’ve started to shift that.
Nathalie: It’s an interesting one because you and I have both shared stages in various countries, and there is a desire to want to be in person in front of people and connecting on a more tangible basis. It’d be lovely if we could having this conversation over a cup of tea in the same room together, but of course we’re having to do the next best thing, which is have this conversation remotely. And so there is that balancing act of taking the best of what we have and what technology has to offer and aligning that with the way in which we want to live so we can be more physically present to our communities. And then also finding ways to connect with the people that we work with, with the culture of the organization.
And so here, I’d like to ask you a bit about your second book that came out in April, 2020, called The Energized Workplace, which explores human energy and organization design. And I’m curious, with remote work being a reality for so many of us in various different forms, how do you believe we might bridge the virtual gap and find ways to thrive and create energy and create some kind of workplace, virtual or otherwise, given that we are now more dispersed?
Perry: Totally right. Yeah. And it’s a challenge. So when I wrote that book, the workplace was still the focal point of it. And then of course, as it was released, then the workplace became this dispersed thing. And so I did question the relevance of that. A lot of people have said since that actually it is more relevant because energy is something we are now acutely aware of, whereas before we were only marginally aware of it, bizarrely. So I think there’s got to be some clever thinking in how we can stimulate the connections that people have in-person and through screen to screen type stuff.
And I’ll give you a really relevant example of something I’m just about to enter into, which is a virtual office. We are a remote team anyway, there’s eight of us across different time zones and places in the world. But we’ve always acknowledged the fact that we’ll connect through Zoom and Slack and so on, but it’s still not quite as good. But we’ve now got a place, a virtual place where we can log into, we have a desk, we sit at it, we connect outside to the world, we connect internally through screens, of course, but it feels like we’re there. And so we’re going to conduct a bit of a social experiment to see if that feels better than the dispersed way we were working before, I think it will.
And then that leads me onto the second part of that equation, which is people who used to work together in a physical place and don’t do so, so much. Is that an effective compromise for the one or two or 10 days a month that they are in physical proximity with people, but they’re virtually connected and can still chat and do all the water cooler moments, which I think is rubbish anyway, but those kinds of things, serendipitous innovation, if you want to call it that, and connections and have a chat about the fact that they’re thinking about getting a dog and all that stuff? Because I think the social fabric of the workplace has been slightly romanticized and over-played, but I’m not denying that it is important.
And I think something needs to bridge the gap between sat in your own space and having people on your team you need to trust and believe in and help. So the virtual space, I think, will create something. Local working hubs, I think, are going to come into prominence so you can still stay local, but you can also then mingle with people who perhaps worked for different companies, but you can strike up relationships with, and then still have some time with your team a bit like the guys at Automattic do four times a year, they travel from wherever, spend some time together, bond, and then they go back to their dispersed way.
So I think Stoboy puts it that off-sites have now become on-sites. I think that’s how it will go.
Nathalie: I like the idea of off-sites becoming onsite. I’m also thinking as you describe the possibility for having high quality contact with your teams, that maybe if you choose to spend specific time together, physically present with one another, and we design those experiences intentionally, then there’s also the space for engaging in much more meaningful connection and dialogue, and then it becomes something which is rich and qualitatively different to everyday common humdrum office life.
Perry: I would agree with that.
Nathalie: Kind of like, a couple of my friends moved away from Barcelona and they have bought this gorgeous place in Menorca and it has lots of land it’s beautiful, and they don’t see their friends as much, but they did say, “Now that we’re on the island, when people do come and visit, we’re there together for a week, we get to spend much more time immersed in one another’s company. And it really has heightened the quality and the depth of the relationship.” And I see echoes between that on an individual basis and what might happen with organizations. What do you think?
Perry: Yeah, I can too. I think we have to accept that there are adjustments that we wouldn’t naturally make, but are forced upon us, however, we still have a choice about how we make them enriching and deep and meaningful in the way you just described. I’ve been able to keep in touch with a lot more people through the pandemic than I used to whilst I haven’t seen some people in physical proximity. But that feels like I’ve chosen to do that rather than just accidentally come across a load of people. Now, I like that deliberateness, you used that word and I like it, that it’s like, I can go deep with who I want to, not just who happens to be around. I think that’s a lovely thing we should hold onto.
Nathalie: Yeah, agreed. I wonder with so many people adapting to this kind of remote work, do you think it’s had an impact on structural changes within organizations? So I’m thinking here maybe about the hierarchies that were present, any kind of silos or ways in which people lead?
Perry: I do, because there are also all sorts of artifacts and symbols of hierarchical power presence, and so on in the physical workspace that are completely flattened by the virtual workspace. So yeah, I think there’s something that we’ve seen leveling, in some respects, of access. A leader is just another face on the Zoom block in gallery mode. And so, yeah. It’s interesting that we’ve taken the Roundtable spirit, almost, of nobody’s at the apex. That’s quite cool. I quite like that. And I’m again, drawn to nonhierarchical setups, partly because I can see the distortion it sometimes has on people when they get given power and unbridled accessibility to certain things.
So I quite like the equalizing effect of us all being in it together. So those things have quite profoundly helped us reimagine, “Hang on, what is this all about?” And I do think there’s a ripple effect now that people will say, “Well, actually, how we had it before was based on certain rules that are no longer around, so therefore, can we rethink how things happen?” So I hope we’ll see much more of those team of teams type spirit, where people forge together voluntarily to solve the problem and are quite happy to then dismantle and forge ahead with another group of people on a different problem and think nothing about it.
And that means the hierarchical control of that is less needed, and therefore it adds less value. So therefore, I think that will naturally diminish. So I don’t think we’ll see a hierarchical erasure overnight so quickly, but I think we’ll see the gradual, I guess integration of people who’ve got certain skills and elements and expertise who will hold leading roles situationally, but then that won’t always be the case that they’ll be dominant over a group of people. And I think that’ll be quite nice. There’ll be people who will naturally emerge as coaches and duty of care kind of people, they’ll have their followers and their clan, I suppose.
And then there’ll be others who are technical geniuses that will be drafted in whatever it’s needed, but who don’t need a team. So I think we’ll get over that. You’ve got to be a manager to get promoted, I think we’ll probably start to see that diminish. And that’s again, I think a good thing because we’ve promoted experts into management roles often at their detriment and that of those around them. So we might equalize some of the ills of the hierarchical forced nature through this more networked way of working.
Nathalie: It also sounds to me as though there’s a possibility here for changing the way that we value people’s contributions.
Perry: Yeah, I’d agree with that significantly because you’re not present in this real-world sense that you can high-five everybody and have a big celebration, so you have to do it in a different way. So I think that means data becomes more important and a story to tell that can go across screens is more important. I get the sense that in order to feel fulfilled and in order to show that you are working in a flourishing way, your achievements will need to be much more valid and data validated, and therefore, that’s how we’ll grab attention and get the right kudos for the efforts and the outcomes that we’ve achieved.
So yeah, I think the whole performance and assessment and celebration side of things needs a real good look at, because I don’t think it’s the loudest voice and the one who plays the politicking game so much as data-led, achievement-based, outcome-oriented success and sustainable impact. Yeah, I think that’s the calling card of how we will prove our worth, merit and sense of achievement.
Nathalie: Do you think within that there’s also the greater possibility for intentional collaboration as well?
Perry: Yes, definitely because I think it has to be. So I think we have to think more wisely about how we bring the right people into the, I guess, you’d say squad or a team that we’re assembling to look at something, and whether we need them there as the binding force, or we need them, their situation lead to add value in a specific area. So I think we will create much more of, I suppose, a fluid nature to our teams rather than just bolting eight people together and just hoping it works. I think we’ll be a lot more deliberate, intentional, and we’ll know why people are there and they’ll want to step in and learn and challenge themselves.
So yeah, I can see learning happening more in that, and I can see much more acutely well-selected teams that will include diversity and very different thinking as much as it will include experts and people who’ve got the stripes and the hours under their belt of running projects, because we’ll have data and methods to do that, and the construct digitally means we can quite literally go to all four corners if that’s what we need to do rather than just those who sit around there.
Nathalie: Yeah. It’s an interesting one, this possibility of hiring people based on their skillset from wherever in the globe has sufficiently robust internet connection to be able to allow people to work remotely. Personally, I keep thinking what this will mean for where people end up physically locating themselves, things like tax implications and residents, et cetera, which is going to require a massive overhaul at some point. But from the perspective of what attracts people to work together, say it does create an equalization of a geographic equalizer, let’s say where people can apply to work with a company from wherever they may be.
Then it seems to me that if an organization wants to attract the best talent, the best fitting talent, then one of the things that’s going to be really attractive and that’s going to help them to create a much more robust ecosystem is going to be their ability to identify, articulate, and then abide by a very clear set of values that will inform not only who it attracts, but how it relates to its employees, partners, customers, society, etc. How do you see values as working both in terms of internal stakeholders and employees? What are your thoughts? it’s quite a big question, I feel like I’m throwing you maybe 10 questions in there.
Perry: Yeah. That is all right.
Nathalie: But can you speak to values and its importance and how it works in terms of HR?
Perry: We’ve definitely seen a shift. It’s okay. This is an area that I do think about a lot, so I’m like you, I find myself getting sometimes lost in it, but generally, the thrust has been to use values in a much more determinable way. So I am seeing lots of people now recruit to those values, they’re saying, “Look, the way we will find the right people for us of whatever diverse origin is that there is a really strong alignment between what we stand for and what they stand for.” I don’t see anything wrong in that. What I don’t like though, is where people know the power of values and they use them, but they aren’t really there.
There’s almost like a little veneer, that’s the word I’m looking for. There’s a veneer of values, but it hides a multitude of sins. That’s where we’ve got to watch out for it. Now, this is where I think values are underpinned or even influenced by principles. So what I think we’re starting to perhaps unravel is that values in themselves are great, but sometimes we just need a set of principles to start with or to articulate them in a way that people go, “Yes, I believe in those principles and that principle.” And so sometimes we try and attach a values statement to one word, so we’ll say stuff like honesty, and it’s like, “Well, you don’t want to say you’re dishonest, are you?”
But if you have a principle of we’ll talk truth to power and we will want candid feedback at any given time, we’re safe, a place that you can challenge and people start going, “Huh, those principles, I totally get.” So I think that’s what we’ll see. I think values will still be perhaps an outward projection of something, but I think the principles are going to be the crucial thing that helps you find, develop, retain, deploy, the people who are best for you, and it is best for themselves because their principles are really strongly aligned to yours.
So yeah, I think there are shifts now going away from, suppose you’d say, glamorous or technical statements of intent and going to much more like, “We’re principled in this way. So if that lines up with yours, then let’s have a chat because you might have the skills and imagination that we’re after.”
Nathalie: I love that idea of the values principle relationships. So from my understanding of what you’ve just said, and please correct me if I’m wrong, it sounds as though the values are like an outward projection, a sense of higher order ideas and ideals that we might subscribe to. And the principles are perhaps more tangible, concrete, guidelines or outcomes?
Perry: You’ve got it perfectly. Exactly that. For example, at PTHR, we have a number of principles, one of them is that we will be known for our difference. And so we talk about democratic, inclusive, and kind leadership, and service of the people that makes the organization viable. That’s a principle of ours. So when people talk to us about leadership, they know that’s what we’re there to help them do, be more democratic, inclusive, and kind.
Nathalie: In terms of breaking those things down, if you were to work with a company that said, well, we’ve got values of, let’s say, our sense of benevolence towards people, you could say, “Okay, well, I’m someone like you, Perry, who wants to support others. And I want to be benevolent, not just to humans, but to other forms of life.” If that’s the overarching value, what might you suggest to a company a principle that sits within that domain of universalism and benevolence.
Perry: I think it will manifest itself in things like their choice of supply partners and material acquisition, as in where they get their parts from or their raw materials or whatever it might be. So you would be able to look along the line of how they’ve applied that and how they are safely going into contracts and looking at how they look after those people in that extended operations. So they’re not personally liable for them, but they recognize that without those partners who are upholding high standards and they’re ethical, and they’re not involved in slavery or child labor or any damaging environmental aspects and so on, you would, you would look for those sorts of things in that relationship.
So I think that universalism would mean that you go beyond what you are contracted to do, and you show a degree of connection, and empathy, and help, and surety in that way. That’s maybe one example. And then in the recruitment area, how you present your company to the world, how you then go about people applying to come and work for you, how you make sure that you’re removed from bias and you’re doing all the things that you would expect to a universalism-based approach to be thinking about, cultural sensitivity and so on and so forth. So I think it manifests itself in the things you do, as much as the declarations that you have.
I think that kind of transparency is what people, going back to your earlier conversation about the expectations, I think that’s what people would want to do. They would want to be able to go, “I need to audit you first before I even think that you’re the worthy company for me.” And that’s a bit of a shift from how it was in the past, where it was people were glad to have a job somewhere. I think we’ll see a lot more clout and credibility on how people stand in those values, through the actions, the deeds and the things they have contracted themselves to do.
Nathalie: And in terms of the connection between values and maybe one’s ethics, what role do you think ethics plays in successful business?
Perry: It’s almost like the honesty thing, but it’s got to mean something, isn’t it? So let’s start with what HR could do, which is the closest professional discipline to that, which I practice in. There is a role where it acts as almost like a steward or a voice of conscience to the organization. So if they are having high attrition, because they’re toxic leadership is creating mental ill health with people, they don’t just keep recruiting people, they actually go back and go, “Hang on, what’s the ethical breach here in how people are either deployed, supported, or enabled in their work?” And if they find it, then they stand in the space and go, “That’s not humane, that’s not good enough, that’s got to change.”
And then they have evidence to back it up. So I think ethics are great, but you’ve almost got to create a compelling case sometimes to stand in that ethical space, to convince others who are less ethical, that there is a problem to resolve and how to do it. I think it comes back also to the principles that I talked about in there. Your principles can very strongly exemplify and mandate the ethics that you want to be part of. So if that is about child labor and slavery in your supply chain, if that is about digital data utilization, whatever it might be, your declaration that comes from the principal is then ethically tested in where you go, what you do, who you rely on.
And that I think has the sense that you can then stand in the space and go, “We are as clean as we can be. We’re as protective as we can be.” And all those things, I think, give you the confidence to then go, “Yes, we are abiding by a set of ethics. We will always do the right thing by whatever it might be, people, planet and so on.” But I think increasingly, that should become almost like the score card for businesses, not just what their market value is, but almost like an ethics index. I know Justcapital.com try and do this by asking American consumers what they value in a company. And then they test that against a range of companies, but I think it needs to go beyond that.
It’s almost like, who are the saints in the world and have an index published on those. And everybody ought to clamor to want to get on that list because that’s where you show your integrity and that’s where you, hopefully, you can create sustainable businesses that are clearly doing the right thing all the time.
Nathalie: That’s fascinating. It’s almost like an idea of ethical accountability.
Perry: That’s it.
Nathalie: I love this idea of the ethical index, and I will check out Justcapital.com. One of the issues that I think we face, especially in this moment in time is on the one hand a desire to be more outspoken in the values that we uphold and to be more woke and to make sure that we’re able to walk the talk and we’re not just virtue signaling. So there’s that desire to be doing and seem to be doing the right thing. And on the other hand, there’s also what a lot of people talk about as cancel culture and no platforming and the desire to shut down people who are seen to be for good and for bad or whatever end of the spectrum, going against what is perceived as ethical or liberal or whatever it might be.
And so I wonder with these two extremes, wanting to be doing the right thing, but being limited in how much one can express or what one is able to express, in what direction and what way. It’s quite tricky to find a path forward. How do you think whether it’s brands or individuals, we can find ways to genuinely express oppositions or concerns in a way that’s truthful, in a way that’s generative, and in the face of potentially being shut down?
Perry: Now, whilst the whole fake news thing, cancel culture and everything else has emerged perhaps out of the utter manipulation of people’s views using technology and media mouthpieces. The adverse reaction to that is that you counter it and yeah, I can understand that. And then people say, “Well, but the facts don’t matter because people don’t listen to the facts, they just listen to how they feel.” It’s like, “Well, yeah.” So what you have to do is you have to counter the outrageous declarations that are clearly aimed at manipulation with a softer, but still very persuasive feelings based in sentiment led approach that says, “Here’s what’s really going on here. And here’s how you prove what’s really going on here.”
You might want to go check that one out and just see what that’s based on. And so I think we need to intellectualize the argument a little bit more without alienating people who some might say don’t have the intellect for it. So in that respect, then we can avoid treading to care for the line by saying, if we look a bit too liberal, then we’ll just get all the right-wing fascists who’ll just throw mud at us. And there’s a bit of me that goes, “Well, why should you worry about that when actually you’d still be doing the right thing?” It might look like to some people, it’s on a particular agenda.
I think we can counter it by making sure that we’re always offering something to people wherever they are on that spectrum. So that could be data presented in an incredibly consumable way, it could be a story and a narrative that is an illustration of something that actually you know will cut across certain divides. So I don’t think it’s as thin a line as some people realize it is. And if it is, we’ve got to thicken it to stop it from being an inhibiting factor of what we project and what we talk about and what we put out and what we ally with. So I really like those companies who are bold enough to just go, “Do you know what, that racism stuff is just not something we’re going to say is bad, we’re going to say we’re anti it.”
And we’re going to say, we’re going to do things about it and we’re going to stand with it. And so I admire people who do that because they almost don’t need to prove that, but I think there are ways that you can still give people something when you’re doing that. And I think if you’re offering something to people, I don’t mean good, I just mean like stimulated, intellect, comfort, whatever it might be, then I think we’re getting into the realms of how we navigate through that and avoid feeling like we’re coming down too hard on either side. It’s like, don’t worry about the sides, create a thicker, sensible ground between them. And it doesn’t matter how far, right or left it feels like it’s leaning, people will be able to go, “Oh, I get that.”
Nathalie: Yeah. Because I think one of the things that I find really deeply saddening actually is that in the history of humanity, there’s always been a range of opinions, a range of positions to be stewarded, whether you’re at the end of the spectrum that is high on openness to change or you’re on the other end of the spectrum towards conservation, this is a balance and a dance that is there for a reason. And it makes me think of, there is an amazing woman who I admire greatly, her name is Krista Tippett, and she runs the On Being Podcast and Projects.
And she also engages in a project called Civil Conversations and Social Healing, in which she aims to bring people together from all kinds of different perspectives, moral perspectives, religious perspectives, ethical perspectives, liberal conservative. And it’s about creating a space in which we can have these sorts of generative conversations, where these different positions that we steward can be seen for their value and their worth. And hopefully, the things that are less useful about them can be set to the side for the purposes of having a constructive debate. And I wonder if that’s really the core for us now, is how can we find ways back to one another to discuss what we can hold in tradition and what we can move forward and open and change?
Perry: Completely agree. And so often I checked myself and think, “Do I just want everybody to be the same?” And my answer when I think about it is, no, I like difference. And I think we need difference, otherwise, we will get stuck in our Logan’s Run type of scenario. And I don’t want anybody to have that, but I do think there’s something about, but where is it dangerous? And I think we need to start thinking about how can we bring it back from the edge of danger into constructive debate. Exactly that. And I think at the moment, there are too many things that are too dangerous, both to the planet, people, psychologists, society, you name it.
And so some of that danger, we need to bring it back in so it’s safer and we can explore the difference and go, “Okay. You can hold the view then that the earth is flat, but actually we’ve brought you back from danger, which is where you are also ally in it to all sorts of other things. And you now don’t believe they’re true and you can see the sentence and other things.” Because I guess politically, we’ve gone through a number of different convulsions, I suppose you’d say, communism and then the failure of that, and then capitalism and somewhat arguing the fail of that. So what next?
And that is an interesting thing I think we ought to engage people in more. It’s like, “Okay, don’t worry about which side you’re on, what’s the next converging point then? Let’s go towards that. So yeah, I agree with you, the difference is absolutely something we need to understand more and Krista’s work sounds brilliant because it is more of the conversational approach, I think, we need to have. You know Meaning Conference because you came there once and I left the statement that’s on the wall there every year, which is conversations are the smallest unit of change. We just need lots more conversation around the world that can help people learn, understand and to get away from danger, get into difference meaning something.
Nathalie: Wonderful. And that phrase conversations are the smallest units of change is so poignant and poetic.
Perry: Yeah, It’s lovely, isn’t it? I totally abide by that.
Nathalie: Yeah. Given everything that we’ve touched upon in this conversation, what do you think or hope the future will look like?
Perry: I think the construct of jobs is increasingly coming into question for the conversation we talked about earlier on, but the conversation needs to adapt to a conversation about work, work to be done, not necessarily in the confines of a job. So I think we’ll see a little bit of disintermediation, I guess, and perhaps a little bit of a vaporizer to the concept of a job. And then we’ll all start to think about work we do, who fall with and what. I’m not saying it will be everybody freelance, but I think the construct will be different.
So work will emerge out of that less about jobs. And I think people will naturally incline towards start, middle and end projects on whatever it is they’re doing, so much more of the agile mentality of come together, do something, then go and forge into another thing. So the fixed team I think is over, and I think the future will see us working in much more of a fluid way. And there’s a couple of things I think we will start to really value. And some of that is about planetary regeneration, we have to. I think we’ve now got to a point where it’s so critical, we’ve got to think, can we turn industry from exploitation and pillaging of the resource of the world to start to regenerate, repair and recover?
So I think we’ll see that green new deal type thing in some shape or form, and I think the future has to be about that. And then as a consequence, I think we’ll see technology as a utility not a tool. So I think we might start to see digital connectivity whether it’s the breakup of the Titans or what, I don’t know, but I think it will become more utility than tools. That’ll be an interesting evolution. And then the other evolution, I think, that creates is an evolution in education because I think the pandemic has proven just how difficult it is to disperse the current model. So we’ve got to have a different way to educate, and I think we’ll start to see a little bit more of the seven generation philosophy of the Iroquois nation, that what we do now has an impact in seven generations.
So rather than pillaging for industrial profit, we will start thinking about what we’re doing and the actions we’re taking long way down the line. And that will almost become like our artistic philosophy on life. So, yeah, I think mindsets models and just generally the whole nature of what we call work and life, I think are in a sense of flux at the moment and could be reassembled quite differently by the time we get to, say 2030, 2035.
Nathalie: That’s such an exciting prospect.
Perry: I hope so.
Nathalie: And if you had one thing that was absolutely vital to the long-term success of a business, what would you suggest it is?
Perry: I’ll use the word, and I might need to explain it a little bit, but virtuousness. That the more virtuous an organization is, the more likely it will last the term. So by that I mean, ethical, good, and all those kinds of things, but it has to show its virtuousness in everything it does. So it’s pricing, it’s distribution of profits, it’s looking after employees, it’s giving back to the community, it’s about planetary regeneration. So I think there are a number of different elements to being virtuous as an organization, but to me, that’s the long term success of it, how virtuous are you will determine how successful you will end up being. So yeah, that’s the one thing I think is key.
Nathalie: Wonderful. And on a personal level, what kind of world do you want to build?
Perry: Wow. I love the question. I do subscribe to that whole regenerative concept, but that isn’t just about planetary repair and stuff, but the fact that we can regenerate communities, individuals, our society, I think there’s something about using what we’ve learned to then put back into create better that somebody else learns that better and makes it better themselves. So this really repeatable cycle of regeneration, I think, is what I would like to get involved in. So I would like to impact on education, work, society, community, planet, because I think it’s in its most fragile state since living memory. So therefore, we all owe it to do a bit of regeneration, not just environmentally, but in everything that sits on that.
Nathalie: Wonderful. And if you were to suggest maybe one thing that we can do to help us get there, what comes to mind?
Perry: I think if I go back to the values and principles thing you were talking about earlier on, I think understanding what your values and principles are is absolutely the first part of that process. And we don’t spend enough time doing that individually. So we almost need an individual manifesto to ourselves, and that might include that you become like an individual version of the Paris Agreement. And then that manifests itself in where you put your effort, energy and attention to either work with, lobby against or fight for. And I think that’s what we need to do. So values and principles of us that we can then go now, where does that help me direct my energy and focus to work with, fight against, and stand for.
Nathalie: And if you’re listening to this, either in your personal capacity or representing a business, that actually lends itself very peacefully, that last answer to a project that I’ve been working on, which comes out with the launch of the book, which is called The Values Map. And you can check it out at thevaluesmap.com, and it helps you to map out based on a set of higher order and lower order values and a set of questions where your values lie, what that means for you as an individual, what that means in terms of how you are in relationship with yourself and with others and with business, and what you can do in terms of how to use your values to create a business that’s in alignment with those to help you achieve certain desired outcomes that feel as you would say, virtuous.
Perry: I’ll add to that, Nathalie, that I didn’t know that was the case. So I totally led you into that one without knowing.
Nathalie: I wasn’t even going to add it in and I just thought, “Oh, I haven’t plugged this yet. I need to talk about this.”
Perry: There’s definitely a kind of synergy there that’s good.
Nathalie: Thank you. Well, I like my guests to have the last word. So is there anything you’d like to end this conversation with?
Perry: I guess the Margaret Mead quote about a small group of people changing something, always comes to mind, but I suppose the other one, the other quote I really love is the Howard Thurman quote, which is, “Don’t ask what the world needs, ask what brings you to life and go and do that because what the world needs is more people who’ve come to life.” Again, keeping with our final comment, but that Howard Thurman quote, what brings you to life, just keep that in mind.