5 Reasons Why I Joined LIFT

I’m excited to announce that I have officially joined LIFT Economy! LIFT is an impact consulting firm that is helping to create, model, and share a locally self-reliant economy that works for the benefit of all life.

So why did I make this decision? Here are five reasons I am joining the LIFT team:

1. LIFT's Mission / Vision

LIFT’s broader mission is “to create, model and share a locally self-reliant economy that works for the benefit of all life--one that meets the needs for all people everywhere while enhancing and regenerating the ecosystems that surround us and within which we abide.”

This larger mission is incredibly inspiring and aligned with my intention to benefit all life. However, what differentiated LIFT from other companies with an inspiring mission/vision is how LIFT plans to bring about the change they wish to see in the world. For example, LIFT has a timeline with several specific “Phases of Development” to help guide their operations. For example:

  • LIFT 1.0 (2010 - now):  Help existing high-impact businesses grow and scale to become models of impact for other organizations.

  • LIFT 1.5 (2014 - now): Focus on impact investors and connecting social enterprises to growth capital.

  • LIFT 2.0 (next one to five years): Create an “impact accelerator” and incubate 6-10 regionally replicable, next economy organizations.

  • LIFT 2.5 (next five to twenty-five years): Self-funded Incubator. Create a self renewing revolving loan fund for capitalization.

  • LIFT 3.0 (next fifteen to thirty years): Emphasis on transactions between regional social enterprises. Broker relationships to stimulate a robust, replicable regional economy.  Local stock exchange could be feature. Work on replicating in other regions.

2. Community / Accountability

Being a solo practitioner had a lot of freedom and autonomy. It also had a lot of downsides. For example, I didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of, ask for a second opinion, or hold me accountable to achieving my goals. It was difficult to develop expertise outside of my core service offerings. I found that networking at events was less effective (as opposed to having several teammates present).

I realized that I needed partners to help increase our collective social and environmental impact.  LIFT provides me with a group of friends who are like minded, mission-aligned, and want to change the world through business. In addition, we hold each other accountable for moving our respective projects forward. This is an invaluable benefit of being part of a larger team.

3. Permaculture Influence

All three existing LIFT partners--Kevin, Shawn, and Erin--have a deep understanding of permaculture. For those of you who don’t know, permaculture is a framework for using locally available resources, observation, prototyping, and adaptation to help natural systems thrive in a particular location.

While permaculture has traditionally been applied to gardens or farms, LIFT’s partners have used the principles behind permaculture to help entrepreneurs design their businesses for the “Next Economy.” For example, here is a subjective set of criteria that LIFT uses to find examples of Next Economy enterprises:

  1. Need-oriented - goods/services that meet human needs first (i.e., food and shelter before jewelry and entertainment)

  2. Accessible  - affordable, or available to as many as possible

  3. Transparent - clear about supply chain, practices, finances, benefits, cost (e.g., true cost accounting)

  4. Equitable/democratic culture/workplace - could be coops; employees involved in some practice of self-determination

  5. Surplus reinvestment - profits are shared or redistributed

  6. Support of local alternative economy ecosystem (local supply chain)

  7. Zero waste

  8. Ecosystem integration  - whole systems thinking (e.g., stormwater investment, habitat for birds, etc.)

  9. Whole system finances (how they bank, where they received growth capital if any, do they support alternative currencies)

  10. Living wage, Culture (balance, benefits)

  11. Open Source / Growth by Replication

  12. Education embedded into product service  - put yourself out of business

These Next Economy criteria are incredibly fascinating. Kevin even teaches permaculture on an ongoing basis. I am excited to take his class in 2016.

4. Self-Managing, Teal Organization

My decision to close down my independent consulting practice did not come easily. I had planned on being a solo consultant for the rest of my life. As I mentioned earlier, there were so many benefits to being on my own: complete freedom of the types of projects I chose, no accountability to a boss, no communication requirements with a team, and the ability to play any role in the company (e.g., marketer, decision-maker, networker, project implementer, etc.).

However, what if you could have all the benefits of being solo--speed, freedom, variety--but also have the collaboration, shared accountability, and collective potential of a team in one organizational structure?

That’s what I found in the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. Laloux describes how a radical shift in organizational consciousness is currently changing the way that businesses operate.

For instance, Laloux describes how some organizations have started to operate effectively, even at a large scale, with a system based on peer relationships (rather than top-down hierarchies). These companies set up structures and practices in which people have high autonomy in their domain, and are accountable for coordinating with others. Power and control are deeply embedded throughout the organizations, no longer tied to the specific positions of a few top leaders.

The LIFT partnership is designed to allow each partner to pursue any opportunity they see fit (as long as it aligns with the larger LIFT mission and vision). This meant that my fears about losing my independence and autonomy were not applicable within LIFTs flexible mode of operating. Joining LIFT had allowed me to retain my freedom while enhancing the value I could provide to clients.

5. A+ Players I Can Trust

Steve Jobs famously said that you should only work with “A players,” (or people that are better than you in some important way). I would refine Jobs’s aphorism to say that you should only work with A players you can trust. This is why I feel comfortable with my decision. All of the LIFT partners are deeply trustworthy high-performers that bring an incredible amount of knowledge, skills, and experiences to the table.

For example, Kevin started and helped grow several technology companies, raised millions in venture capital, and currently teaches permaculture. Shawn studied nuclear physics, ran a worker-owned cooperative for 13 years, and has a deep understanding of documenting systems and processes to help organizations scale. Erin worked for years as a coordinator for Daily Acts, regularly speaks at conferences, and worked with the Fibershed Project as a contributing author for an economic feasibility study for implementing a bioregional-scale regenerative textile mill in California.


In sum, I’m extremely excited to have joined the LIFT team. If you would like to learn more about our work, please email me at ryan@lifteconomy.com or visit www.lifteconomy.com. You can also click here to sign up for our monthly newsletter and get a free copy of LIFT’s 60 Point Business Design Checklist.



Can B Corps Operate Like Living Organisms?

Published on the Stanford Social Innovation Review:

The B Corp movement is one of the most effective frameworks for using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. The success of many B Corps (including Etsy’s recent IPO and multi-billion-dollar valuation) has shown that its management philosophy—considering the interests of all stakeholders when making decisions, cultivating a values-driven culture, and empowering employees—can create highly effective and highly profitable business models.

After reading the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux, however, it occurred to me that B Corporations now have an opportunity to upgrade their internal management practices to create an even greater, longer-term positive impact on people and planet.

For those unfamiliar, Laloux argues that every major shift in human history (the industrial revolution, for example) has produced a distinct management philosophy and organizational model. He examines past and current models with the goal of describing what businesses that are designed around the next shift in human consciousness will look and feel like. He uses a color system (originally created by philosopher Ken Wilber) to explain the management philosophies and organizational types that arose during each major stage in human development. A quick overview:

Red (Impulsive)

  • First appeared between 100,000 and 10,000 years ago
  • Leaders use fear, threats, and/or violence to keep the organization together
  • Examples: mafia, street gangs, wolf packs

Amber (Conformist)

  • First appeared 1,000 years ago
  • Strict top-down command and control; narrowly defined, formal roles within a hierarchical pyramid
  • Examples: military, most government agencies

Orange (Achiever)

  • First appeared 200 years ago
  • Goal is to beat the competition, maximize profits, and achieve growth
  • Examples: multinational companies

Green (Pluralistic)

  • First appeared 50 years ago
  • Strong focus on culture, employee empowerment, and stakeholders (within the classic pyramid structure)
  • Examples: B Corps, Conscious Capitalism, other social enterprises

Teal (Evolutionary)

  • First appeared 25 years ago
  • Self-management replaces hierarchical pyramid
  • Organization is seen as a living entity, with its own creative potential and evolutionary purpose

What makes Reinventing Organizations appealing and relevant to me is that Laloux is not describing a theoretical, utopian future. He spent several years researching the structures, practices, processes, and cultures of 12 companies (including Patagonia, Morning Star, Sounds True, Buurtzorg, and Sun Hydraulics) that he identified as operating as “Teal” organizations. Each has made three major breakthroughs:

  • Self Management: These companies are like living organizations that operate effectively, even at a large scale, with a system based on peer relationships, without the need for either hierarchy or consensus. For example, Morning Star—a 2,400-person company that produces more than 40 percent of the tomato paste and diced tomatoes consumed in the United States—operates entirely on self-management principles.
  • Wholeness: These organizations invite their employees to bring their whole selves to work every day (instead of a narrow “professional” self). Many Teal organizations, for example, devote regular time to addressing conflicts; avoid the use of job titles and descriptions (to allow the individual to shape their own role); and enumerate core values with explicit behaviors, habits, and norms.
  • Evolutionary Purpose: Teal organizations have their own life and sense of direction. Instead of trying to predict and control the future, they invite members to sense and respond to the shape and larger purpose of the organization. A New Year’s ritual for the company Sounds True includes employees sitting in silence and opening their mind to what the organization wants from them for the coming year. Anyone can share with the group what they have heard.

These interlocking sets of practices, Laloux suggests, constitute an emerging, coherent organizational model—the blueprint of the future of organizations.

High-impact, “Teal” B Corps?

The organizations Laloux chose to research had the most advanced practices from a management point of view—not necessarily from an external social and environmental point of view. It left me wondering: Aren't the two meant to go together? Laloux told me in an interview that he agrees they are. The 12 organizations he researched had advanced internal management practices, but some of them were no more advanced from a social or environmental perspective than your average company.

Without adopting Teal practices, I believe the B Corp movement will eventually reach a ceiling in the amount of positive impact it can create (regardless of a strong focus on culture and values). I believe B Corps have an opportunity create unprecedented impact if they let go of their hierarchical pyramid structure in favor of self-management, and learn to view themselves as a living entity, with their own creative potential and evolutionary purpose.

This is already starting to happen. Several B Corps—such as Mightybytes, CauseLabs, WorldCentric, LIFT Economy, and the Ian Martin Group—have been inspired by Reinventing Organizations to make the leap to Teal. Fitzii, a line of business within the Ian Martin Group, for instance, has made some major changes in the last six months: sharing compensation structures in full transparency, instituting a number of practices supporting “wholeness,” and making plans for instituting peer-based performance evaluations.

These are early days for this new management paradigm. But one thing seems clear: High-impact, Teal B Corps could be an incredible force for good. It’s time to open a conversation within the B Corp community, and within the circles of social entrepreneurship more broadly, about next-stage management practices as a way to accelerate the positive impact we can create in the world.

Why the Future of the B Corp Movement is Self-Managing

Like many B Corps, I am fascinated with the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederick Laloux. This is one the best books I have read since Good to Great. 

Laoux identifies three characteristics of companies that are operating at the highest levels of organizational consciousness:

  1. Self-management
  2. Wholeness
  3. Evolutionary Purpose

For more info on these three principles, check out this useful summary.

There are already several B Corps who are already trying to implement "self-managing"practices (i.e., no formal hierarchy or bosses) in their organizations. If you have questions about self-management, I recommend checking out this article Laloux wrote last year.

Have you read Reinventing Organizations? If so, what was your reaction?

What You Should Know About "Carbon Farming"

For those B Corps who are concerned about climate change, "carbon farming" could be the answer to many of our problems. 

Carbon farming means increasing the ability of our soil to draw (and store) harmful emissions from the atmosphere. 

For example, while energy efficiency, solar power, and raising vehicle emissions standards will help with future carbon reduction, we still have the problem of the "legacy carbon" that is already in our atmosphere.

Carbon farming is a simple, compelling, and exciting method of addressing these legacy emissions.

For more information, check out this article written by John Roulac, CEO of Nutiva (a fellow Certified B Corp). There is also a day-long tour being organized by Nutiva, the Carbon Cycle Institute, Fibershed, and the Marin Carbon Project.

Very exciting stuff!

Etsy's IPO Tests Pledge to Balance Social Mission and Profit

In case you missed it, the NYT wrote a great piece about Etsy's recent IPO (and $3 billion valuation). Etsy is the second Certified B Corporation to go public:

The online craft bazaar Etsy made its debut on the Nasdaq stock market Thursday, signaling the birth of an unusual public corporation — and not just because its employees carry around compost on bicycles, or because its regulatory filings are peppered with phrases like, “We keep it real, always.”

Etsy is one of a growing number of companies, called B Corps, that pledge to adhere to social and environmental accountability guidelines set by a nonprofit organization called B Lab. And Etsy on Thursday became only the second for-profit company to go public out of more than 1,000 companies that have that certification.

Read the full article at the NYT here.

To learn more about B Corporations, sign up for our free monthly newsletter to get tips, advice, and resources on how to become a Certified B Corp and maximize the value of your B Corp certification.

Recruitment a Big Benefit for B Corps

The San Francisco Chronicle just published a great article on B Corps and recruiting. It is increasingly clear that one of the top benefits of becoming a Certified B Corp is attracting and retaining top talent:

Change.org is a B Corporation — a for-profit company committed to social or environmental goals in addition to its financial obligations. Because the San Francisco firm tries to benefit no just its shareholders, but also society, Change.org is an especially appealing place to work for civic-minded job-seekers, said David Hanrahan, head of global human resources.

“As a B Corp, you have a leg up on other companies because you’re focused on something that is exactly what this generation want to be doing,” said Hanrahan.

Click here to read the full article at the SF Chronicle.

To learn more about B Corporations, sign up for our free monthly newsletter to get tips, advice, and resources on how to become a Certified B Corp and maximize the value of your B Corp certification.