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

Via Cameron Burgess
on Sep 2, 2009
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A follow-up to How Do You Eat an Elephant, Part 1 — reinventing

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…

Waylon Lewis

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.

elephant journal

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.

Waylon Lewis

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.

Waylon Lewis

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

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


About Cameron Burgess

Cameron Burgess has been founding, catalysing and advising sustainable ventures for more than fifteen years; he is a sustainable venture strategist, founder of @uncompromise & @connect_well, co-founder of @w1sd0m_net, a speaker, facilitator, writer, agitator and fierce angel. Currently on Australia's East Coast, Cameron is a digital nomad and moves from location to location, country to country, based upon his own personal interest and the needs of his clients. If you'd like to find out more about Cameron, visit his website here


9 Responses to “How To Eat an Elephant, Part 2: The Hero’s Journey”

  1. I enjoy every word of your intimate heartfelt blogs.

    And, as a 30 year software entrepreneur myself, I can relate in a very visceral way to all your ideas.

    However, to be as honest and open as you're being, at this point I'm starting to be concerned about Waylon's seeming inability to grasp what you're offering him here.

    You are perhaps too forgiving of his apparent unwillingness to take you seriously and commit himself and his staff to this mere two days of eye-opening exploration. Beyond some point, all standard entrepreneurial excuses aside, this in itself becomes a critical weakness that you can't overcome from the outside, no matter how much you care.

    I hope very much that your next report is more hopeful and shows at least some slight signs of interest on Waylon's part.

    (Gee, Cameron, can you tell when I've taken off my Ommy Yoga Philosopher hat and replaced it with my hard-driving achievement-oriented Software Entrepreneur hat? Can you sense the subtle shift in my tone? I hope this doesn't piss Waylon off too much when I put my other hat back on!)

    Bob Weisenberg

  2. Is there any reason why we can't hear from the hero himself on this?

    It occured to me at 5:30 this morning that he might have some very legitimate reasons for resisting your advances.

    Perhaps I've been unfair to our valient Waylon!

    Bob Weisenberg

  3. uncompromise says:

    The process that Waylon and I have discussed is one of being completely exposed …. hence the nature of the blogging.

    It takes a certain type of person to be willing to let the world see them this way – and given that my posts are going to Waylon and he's uploading them unedited, it seems we're both enjoying the process of discovery.

    What's happening is not unusual in my experience (as I've mentioned in the posts), and I'm not being deliberately forgiving either. I suspect that he would agree with my assessment of the situation, and hopefully as we get deeper into it, he will write things up himself so that we can gain a more comprehensive picture.

  4. Great answer! I'll stay tuned.

    I also greatly admire Waylon for even allowing this process.

    Bob Weisenberg


    There's a lot to respond to in this latest comment, as well as a couple of useful clarifications, so I'm going to bullet-point my answers (otherwise my response might put Tolstoy to shame):

    1. I'm Australian, so forgive my Queen's English spelling (mostly 's' instead of 'z')
    2. the suggestion to 'pay' Waylon to take time out was mine, and in no way stimulated by or suggested by him (it just struck me as a useful way to 'cut the Gordian Knot' – )
    3. I'm not entirely certain who the core elephant team is – Waylon would need to clarify; all I know is that this meeting was certainly going to consist of more than Waylon, Lindsey and myself – and that their involvement was considered important for the reasons below …
    4. involving the balance of the team in the process was determined to be useful so that we were providing significant employees / contractors with a forum to provide 'filter-free' feedback (not being heard is frequently the greatest cause of resentment and obstruction during the process of organisational change; stakeholder buy-in at the start minimises the effort required to mitigate against these influences later)
    5. by extension, blogging about the process was determined to be useful for getting stakeholder buy-in from the 70 000+ unique website visitors, 8000+ twitter followers and 1500+ facebook fans (although the stats show that they are more interested in 'the top 25 dance hits of 2008' – 52 000 views – than anything to do with the Dalai Lama ….); I'm curious to see if they become more involved with the process as we move forward (the general absence of commentary thus far on this process seems telling about how deeply engaged with elephant's future most site visitors really are)


    6. elephant's model is to consistently update the website multiple times daily – deviating from this model without such a deviation being informed by a strategy would represent an unnecessary risk (would it make any difference to visitors, traffic, advertisers? no idea – but if we can't definitively answer 'yes' then we shouldn't risk it)
    7. the need for interns, or a singular intern, is simply to ensure that a decent quantity of quality relevant content can be uploaded during the course of the days; I suspect that Waylon has a group of people who could meet this requirement (and he could also post at the beginning and end of the day if he felt it was useful; although posting about the process itself would probably be the best thing he could do in my opinion)
    8. the contributions requested, as mentioned, are to eliminate the objection (which, on the surface seems reasonable) that elephant's content model not be interrupted to go through this process; how much is required would be up to Waylon to determine – although I suspect $500 – $1000 in total would do it
    9. there are always different ways of running a process – however, in more than ten years of running this process with companies and organisations of all sizes, I've found that nothing beats a two-day (or in some cases three or four day) intensive. Messing with this process, in my opinion, is a little like taking the ten day silent Vipassana retreat and breaking it up into a twelve month course, once a week for two hours. There is a synergistic result that occurs through deep contemplation and enquiry. We know the process works, so we don't mess with it (I also have extensive experience in both NLP and Advaita which informs how I work)

  7. I have tried four times now to post a response to the above, so am going to break it down into smaller. individual chunks in case the length of the post is the issue …..

    If you feel to respond to any of the total response, please do so after the third part (will just make it easier for all concerned)

    As an addendum, Waylon and I have discussed breaking the process up into three days of approximately 6 hours each – am awaiting confirmation of dates today


    …. will be added one the response thingy starts working again ….

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