September 2, 2009

How To Eat an Elephant, Part 2: The Hero’s Journey

A follow-up to How Do You Eat an Elephant, Part 1 — reinventing elephantjournal.com.

It’s not my style to show up to a client meeting in combat pants, boots and a t-shirt — regardless of the fact that it might be my daily attire (so much of my work is done over the net that most of my clients often only see me from the shoulders up). I had misplaced my tentative lunch date with the elephant team, and left home prepared to bang out a series of reports for clients both here in the US and back home in Australia…

Sigh… clearly I had forgotten my hard-learned boy-scout motto “be prepared.”

I thought about riding home to change (branding is essential, after all) but I figured that, here in Boulder at least, surely I could get away with it.

And of course you can…

So no burritos this time — instead we connect at Hapa, but instead of the whole team, a few don’t make it…only Lindsey Cash comes in addition to Waylon.

Obviously, this is not optimal, but some is better than none, right?

Well, not really…

So here’s the deal — this process we’re going through is something that we’ve run with dozens of businesses over the past ten years. Projects pay well for this kind of service because it provides them with perfect clarity (yes, perfect) — and saves time, money and grief down the track. It ensures that all of their outputs (branding, web, copywriting, advertising, day-to-day business activities) are being checked against a strategy – and the strategy is being checked against a compelling vision.

It takes them right back to the beginning — to the inspiration-crazed conversations that kept them up until sunrise, viscerally reassociating them with their vision, blasting out the detritus of what’s considered possible and reawakening their inspiration.

Only this time it’s done with a high degree of values-aligned commercial intelligence guiding the conversation.

I’ve written elsewhere about our process — Vision, Strategy & Output. It represents the levels of activity within all enterprises — and we’ve noticed over the year that entrepreneurs are generally very strong on vision — yet frequently the vision is amorphous at best, and ambiguous at worst.

Further, the values and vision of the entrepreneur are enmeshed with the values and vision of the enterprise. Whilst this is often where entrepreneurial journeys begin — and many enterprises benefit from the presence of a charismatic leader (think virgin & Richard Branson) — teasing apart the entrepreneur from the enterprise is frequently an essential first step.

Why? Because if we don’t — to bring it back to elephant — if Waylon is temporarily or permanently disabled (touch-sustainably-harvested-FSA-certified-wood), so is elephant.

Not a particularly useful outcome for an enterprise that has at it’s foundation a commitment to bringing together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society.

So back to lunch, and the realisation that pinning Waylon down for the required two days is going to be easier said than done.

Why? Well, we’ve got past the first hurdle — actually getting together and getting the process moving; but now we’ve come up against the inevitable hurdle of doing work “pro bono” — ensuring that it’s treated with the respect it would warrant if dollars were changing hands. That’s when an organization typically does everything it can to wring every ounce of value from the process.

It’s not that Waylon’s not committed — his passion and dedication are evident in the amount of time he spends online every day — reading, reviewing, commenting. Elephant journal came into the world solely due to his vision, and is sustained by his willingness to keep renegotiating with his bank, to suffer the uncertainty of knowing whether or not his mortgage is going to be paid, to live on brown rice and miso (at times) and to forego many of the niceties of modern living that those in stable employment take so completely for granted (the entrepreneur’s journey is the Warriors Journey).

Of course, that’s not just Waylon. That’s just about every visionary who wants to transform the world.

Unfortunately, running a “for-profit” enterprise in this space is something that is frequently frowned upon. Surely we should all be working together through non-violent-communication-consensus-decision-making to ensure that the wealthy are taxed highly as part of a transition to a utopian society where a transsexual atheist can be elected to our highest office. Shouldn’t we?

It’s this kind of thinking that is frequently at the root of many of the “social entrepreneurs” problems — an internal conflict between making money and doing good.

Now I’m not going to get all “The Secret” on you — I have no interest in eschewing practical action in favor of metaphysical inaction. Nor am I going to dig into some sort of ill-advised pop-psychology analysis of greenpreneurs.

So let’s get straight about something. We’re all looking for money or power or both. Simple. Whether we want money for bling or philanthropy, whether we want power to control, or to influence change, we are all looking for the same thing. All of us. The Dalai Lama and Ryan Seacrest both.

The trouble, as I mentioned in the last post, is that entrepreneurs get so wrapped up in their enterprise that they are rarely, if ever, looking past the next year — and when the national economy needs CPR, they are rarely able to see past the end of the week. To make matters worse, they are frequently victim to their own hype, coming to believe in their own infallibility, and their mastery of the commercialization process.

After all, everyone seems to be a “marketer” these days; I commented on twitter recently that:

There’s a special place in hell for “marketers” who aren’t strategists

(and watched all of the Acacia Berry toting, twitter-follower-expanding, digital marketing ‘consultants’ abandon me in droves).

So Waylon’s issue is not that he’s not committed, it’s simply that he’s wrapped up in the day to day running of his business and, frankly, is deeply concerned about what will happen if he takes two days out from blogging to actually focus on the vision of what he’s trying to achieve.

For him, for you, for all of us.

So here’s a thought to those of you who really believe in the value of what he’s doing.

Pay him to take two days off.

Pay him so he can pay a couple of interns to take over the blogging for two days.

Pay him not because you are necessarily going to get anything out of it — a blog post, an advertisement, an acknowledgement even. Pay him because, in a world of increasing centralisation of media resources — and the acquisition and homogenisation of independent media — elephant’s voice is more than a “breath of fresh air” — it could be one of the few remaining sources for informed and democratized discussion about living the mindful life.


Cameron Burgess is a recent Australian addition to the Boulderverse.

He is the CEO of a group of companies incorporating uncompromise, icologi & wellnessconnect that provide commercialization, strategic development, marketing & digital services purely to the health and sustainability market.

Cameron is also a core-team member of w1sd0m – a global network that helps organize the flow of intellectual, social, human, & financial capital to strengthen Global Social Enterprise.

A speaker, workshop facilitator and agent provocateur, Cameron can be found on twitter @uncompromise

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