Wednesday, October 6, 2010 Interview: What is an Integral Business?

Below I am sharing the written answers from my interview with Not all of the questions made it into the interview or the final edit, so I have decided to share them here. When you have a moment, check out the interview on Because of the length of these answers, I have decided to post each separately.

1. I know one of your passions is Integral business. Can you talk a little bit about what Integral business is, what it looks like, and how it functions?

Integral Business is what I am most passionate about right now. I feel business more than anything else currently has the capacity to generate more impact in world and galvanize human change. Almost every single person on this planet is engaged in business (commerce) and everyone is affected by it. It’s no longer a matter of chaos theory: Literally, deforestation in Brazil affects the weather in Texas.

And, in more concrete terms, most people will spend most of their lives working. In a recent Conference Board poll 53% of Americans are dissatisfied with their Jobs, 47% don’t like their immediate supervisor, 48% don’t like their work environment. That’s a lot of unhappiness. And yet that doesn’t cover all that business affects: government, policy, stakeholders, the environment, research, science… the list is huge.

Currently, I think, business is more powerful than any other system on the planet. Business crosses geographic and political boundaries, and business greatly influences and innovates cyber-space. Simply, business is everywhere, and wonderfully it’s changeable.

I have pursued for essentially the entirety of my life how to instigate positive change for others and myself. I began to get really interested in business about five years ago. It was an awakening with universal impact. It was of L.A. Story billboard portions screaming: If you want to create change, look here. And the here is business.

After a lot of consideration, and all ready being a student and member of the integral community, I naturally began looking at what an integral business might look like. And, one thing that I constantly come back to is that the most exciting thing about this work is that no one knows what an integral business really looks like.

I’m not sure a successful integral business exists yet, outside of perhaps a few sole-proprietorships, intellectual property firms, and training and consulting firms – essentially those few consultancy, coaching, training and development firms, and a few very small revenue minimally staffed regional business. We don’t yet have a business that is not in the business of change operating with an integral perspective as an integral organization. We’re a long ways from this.

That said, I am currently building a few businesses with others that are interested in the same. And excitingly, I think we are well on the way to creating this. One of our operations is on track to gross over $1,000,000 in revenue this year. This is a huge and exciting step.

Right now, the majority of work on integral business is academic (Leo Burke, John Forman, Brett Thomas, and Michael Putz’s 2005 paper titled Integral Business), literary (Fred Kofman’s book Conscious Business), and theoretical .

As I said, I am not sure a large-scale, successful integral business exists yet, and I am really passionate about creating them - at least none that I have found. Of course there are inklings and aspects here and there – the work Pacific Integral is doing in leadership, personal development, and organization development and the work Holacracy One is doing in organization design, for example, and I know there are some great people out there exploring progressive business models, like Kevin Clark at Content Evolution. And I don’t feel we have the whole package. Not yet, anyway.

And this is why: In order for anything to be integral, it has to be completely novel – it has to include all that has come before and also be something completely new integrating each component that makes something, well, something (in this case, a business) and this is no easy feat.

Most of what I see coming out of the integral world these days in regards to business is mostly related to leadership development. For example, Kofman says, on the second page of his book, Conscious Business, “My effort is to unlock the black box of leadership” – Conscious Business is really about leadership. Kofman’s Conscious Business is really about conscious people consciously leading. This is great. And it does not fully address business as a whole.

I sense that an integral business will create value in five areas (instead of just profit), and that’s profit, people, planet, progress and principles, and will consider equally, in all it does, the development and motivation of individuals, the actions and outcomes of individuals, the culture of the organization, the effectiveness of the organization’s systems, and the organization’s unique purpose backward and forewords through space and time. When you bring these things together, something novel begins to emerge. An integral business begins to emerge.

The business that I mentioned earlier is an outsource sales and distribution company. We are applying the above principles and awarenesses, and already some amazing things have happened – the organization has a culture like none I have ever experienced in a business context, we are already cash positive after just six months of operating, and, as I mentioned, we’re on track to gross a million dollars in revenue this year. That’s cool!

Though complex, integral business is fairly simple to think and theorize about – the maps aren’t hard – compared to its application, which is very challenging. Consider how hard it is to create a conventional and profitable business. Now take the many essential things that make an integral business and require really developed people to implement while keeping ensuring the organization profitable. This is why I’m so passionate about assisting businesses and people in growth, and creating integral businesses myself – it’s what has to happen.

Follow up: What is the impact that Integral business is having now and what will the impact be once enough businesses awaken to such a thing?

Right now, I think the fully developed impact of integral business has yet to be realized – right now it’s still a vision and a dream for the most part, shared by many people. However, we have been seeing the impact that some of the components have produced. For example, the impact triple bottom line thinking and practice (a value development) has had on both the marketplace and the environment, and the impact social media (a systems development) has had on a company’s orientation to consumers. And, though post-conventional, these shifts in business are not yet integral; they’re birthed from Green Meme consciousness.

I believe that in the future, integral business will be responsible for birthing integral government (Steve McIntosh’s passion), it will integrate spirituality in people’s everyday lives in meaningful and practical ways (what if doing your job was your spiritual practice?), it will care for and protect the environment and the world’s people, and it will become the main force of human development.

Could you imagine going to work to generate your income, engage in your spiritual practice in an explicit way, develop as an individual, care for the environment and for others, while creating and experiencing the life you want to live? That’s an integral business!

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