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565 Article, Ogilvy

If You Want to Change Business for the Better, Don’t Think Like a Sheep

A framework to help you bring the purposeful enterprise to life and an introduction to Populist, some friends who are doing just that.

As I approached the barn door to let the sheep out to pasture on my farm, the familiar morning greeting was noticeably absent. Hillary, so named after Sir Edmund, for her unique propensity to climb and explore, was always there stretching her nose up the gate as if to say, “good morning”. I would often linger a moment before freeing the latch, and immediately she would bolt past, thundering out into the pasture and angling to claim the largest share of the measured allotment of grain that awaited the flock in the feed trough each morning. But now Hillary (on the left in the photo) was gone, her brief life from orphan lamb to prized and much beloved ewe abruptly ended by her own insatiable greed for more. Hillary had fallen victim to a bonanza of surplus – a well-meant but ill-advised load of old cabbage tossed into the pasture – and driven by her own passion for “more, more, more,” she had quite literally eaten herself to death, poisoned by the acidity of pounds and pounds of cabbage fermenting in her gut. Such silly animals sheep are. Over the years, their own excesses have claimed far more of my flock than any threat from without; disease and predatory coyotes included.

[That’s Hillary on the left.]

I wonder if this story of Hillary’s premature demise is an appropriate reminder in the midst of our own fears about having to cope without growth atop more growth. A chorus of Handel’s Messiah rings out, “all we like sheep have gone astray,” and perhaps the comparison is apt. We may have limitless intellect compared to the sheep in my barn, but with alarming frequency our human condition and the actions we undertake seem to make this metaphor seem not so far fetched after all. Indeed there is a morsel of collective human wisdom to be gleaned from this barnyard tale: “more” is not always a good thing. Yet, again and again we try to pick up the cudgel of growth and bludgeon our planet and ourselves with further stimulus and ramp up production of more. Perhaps our seeming inability to secure repetitive annual growth rates like we aspire to deliver is in fact a gift, not a denial – the proverbial surplus of harmful cabbage dumped in the compost heap, inaccessible, instead of tossed over the fence into the pasture, triggering a free-for-all? If we keep thinking like sheep, our pursuit of “more” profit with the tool of business will deliver ruin. If nothing else, this lack of growth seems to be pushing us to innovate in other areas likely to provide more resilience and longevity than simply stoking an engine that burns the fuel of production growth and churns out economic profit. Spurred by bursts of creativity and increased efficacy other facets of business like sustainability and waste reduction, alternative energy and transportation, technological innovation, workplace culture, and deeper connection to and understanding of customers, business is undergoing a gradual but inexorable transition to once again become a multi-use device to solve the unyielding human problems we face, rather than simply a one-use tool to produce economic profit. As I have laid out in these blogs my thesis around what I call Telosity, I have been asked recurring questions on the theme of implementation, and have often gotten requests for more concrete frameworks and management theory. “Chris,” I often hear, “how do I change the business where I work for the better? What should I do in my job to make this stuff real?” Recently, I have tried to share more practical applications to help you affect the kind of changes you desire, intertwined with stories and characters that inspire and encourage. So many of the hundreds of business cases I once encountered almost daily during my MBA assume the perspective of CEO or senior leader, and yet few of us have such scale of influence – most of us have but a small part of the bigger organization that we can influence. What is the marketing analyst, or an account team leader, or a model builder or HR specialist, or supervisor or in customer support, or sales, or digital anything to do? “How,” you might be thinking, “can I make a positive impact to leave the world a better place and help accelerate my organization toward doing the same…while still keeping my job?” Indeed, with all change comes risk. The truth is, no matter who you are, there are things and people at your fingertips who can help bring purposeful enterprises to life. The only way business has ever changed for the better is when real people had a change of heart and mind (metanoia) and decided to make use of the assets and connections they had at their disposal to pursue change. If you think you might be one of those kind of people, here is a model that may help you think more clearly about how to bring forth positive change and spur on your organization toward becoming a purposeful enterprise. It shows the relationship between the triad of behavior change – aspiration, choice and embodiment, and the corresponding external triad of purpose, strategy and leadership. Sparked by a change of heart and mind that leads to the aspiration, these three steps are the primary mechanisms for driving change in any organization, and true modification to the system will occur at scale as, person-by-person, changes of heart and mind occur and others join this transformation path and bring their unique gifts to bear. Unfortunately, in real life this path does not follow such a linear trajectory – it is a good deal messier – but nonetheless these are the thresholds we must pass as we work to bring purposeful enterprises to life. As I have worked over the last few years to create and share the thinking and these stories with you, I hope most of all that they will help us all transform business from a single-use tool delivering economic profit into a multi-use device to help us solve difficult human problems and promote human flourishing, and thus avoid in our businesses the same consequences that befell Hillary.


I would like you to meet Grant, Samantha, Debi, Rachel and Marie-Claire and their many friends at Populist. A few years ago, they started to dream about putting marketing skills to use for others. They decided that their strategy would be to serve marginalized people through existing organizations by making elite marketing services available to the non-profit/social enterprise sector. Quickly, Grant and friends recognized that this dream had legs, and they could leverage their marketing skills and creative problem-solving capabilities. Theirs is a story I want to tell because, as Grant puts it, “risk is better shared” and real success stories about positive change taking root can help connect us together. Over the chapters that follow, I hope we can together explore some inspiring and yet very practical “on the ground” ways that real people making use of the assets and connections they have at their disposal to change business for goodness’ sake. The truth is, no matter who you are, there are things and people at your fingertips who can help bring purposeful enterprises to life. That’s all Grant and his colleagues had, and so they began to try to turn their aspiration into reality. Only later (after many conversations, a little luck, and a lot of hard work) did Populist emerge to do the good work it is now engaged in. In the coming chapters, I’ll share the story of Populist as Grant and his friends traced this journey. I expect it will be inspiring and encouraging – it certainly was for us! I hope, most of all, that this thinking and these stories help us all transform business from a single-use tool delivering economic profit into a multi-use device to help us solve difficult human problems and promote human flourishing, and thus avoid in our businesses the same consequences that befell Hillary.


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