How do we move towards the light?

Charmian Love of B Lab UK thinks that, despite challenging circumstances, there is still room to be positive.

I recently came across a new word. Heliotropy.  It doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, but what it represents is an attitude that I’m going to embrace this year.  It is a term in botany usually referring to plants that grow towards the sun (Greek helios = sun, Greek trepein = turn).  The plants literally turn and strengthen in the direction of the warmth and light of the sun.

The principle of heliotropy was first introduced to me during an Appreciative Inquiry process. This is a facilitation format which focusses on bringing out the best of people – wrapping conversations in the warmth and light that comes from focusing on the positive rather than being bogged down with what doesn’t work or won’t work or can’t work. In short, heliotropy is about people growing stronger and more creative by focusing on points of light rather than dark clouds.

What does heliotropy look like in practice?  In the case of Grant Thornton’s Vibrant Economy, an initiative by the consulting firm that is encouraging ideas to accelerate inclusive economic progress, it looks like 200 people from across the community coming together for a day to explore ways of mobilising around a bold and ambitious question.  

During these LiveLabs, groups work together to understand the open question, dream up radical new realities, design ideal states to make these dreams come true and finally create the ideas that can help make it all happen. Does it work? Over 600 ideas in a day – ranging from the immediately practical to the wonderfully sublime – provide evidence that this way of thinking can unlock huge waves of collaborative creativity and innovation.

Where is the puck going next?

Why is this important for 2017?  Wayne Gretzky, known as ‘The Great One’ of Canadian hockey, once said that what makes players truly great is not that they skate to where the puck is, but where the puck is going to be. If there is one thing that 2016 taught us, it is that the unexpected can and will happen. So where is the puck going to be next? I’ll put my money on it heading in the direction of hope, positivity and sun through a true and deep revolution in the role of business in our society.

Which is why I’ve found myself basking in the radiant glow of the global B Corp movement. B Corps are businesses that operate to benefit both stakeholders (people, communities, the environment) as well as financial shareholders.  These organisations take many forms – they range from circular economy accessory makers like Elvis and Kresse to crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, from education providers like Laureate Education to venture funds like Bridges Ventures.  

Despite their many differences, B Corps are united by their stakeholder values and their certification by B Lab; each represents a powerful example of how business can be used as a force for good.  It isn’t just about being a profitable business, nor just about doing good. It is about doing both in order to create a virtuous cycle where when you have a deeply embedded positive purpose in your business and the more profit you make, the more you are able to fulfill this purpose.

And this isn’t just about B Corps. There are many movements that focus on the role different organisations of all shapes and sizes can have in embracing both profit and purpose. This rich spectrum includes social enterprise, government, big businesses and many other stakeholders in the system.

Making a Quantum Leap

Let me be clear.  I don’t underestimate the seriousness of the times we live in, nor the heavy lifting that is on the horizon as we learn to embrace the consequences of decisions made in 2016 and set new mindsets and behaviours for the future.  Perhaps the ultimate step we need to take is to a place where we can hold multiple states in our consciousness simultaneously.  

Let me explain: just as more businesses are exploring ways to embody profit with purpose, people must learn to handle complex concepts and emotions together. And I have hope that this is possible. In the early days of the impact investment movement, Antony Bugg Levine, founder and chair of the Global Impact Investing Network and the man credited with coining the phrase ‘impact investing’, called for a ‘rejection of the binary’ – that you’re either for profit maximisation or purpose and never the twain shall meet.

Today we need to take a page from the technology playbook and recognise that the future exists beyond a traditional binary of 1 or 0. In technology this new horizon is called a ‘quantum’ state – where 1s and 0s can coexist.  A business can generate profit – while simultaneously solving problems. The quantum leap we all must make is to embrace opportunities to be hopeful, and yet not shy away from our fears. We can recognise the dark and still grow towards the light.

So – stop. Turn off the news for a moment. And think. Think about the positive things you see in the world.  And then think about falling asleep, dreaming for 10 years, and waking up. What does the world look like that builds on these positive strengths?  And then, what do you need to do today to help get the world there? Welcome to the power of heliotropy.

Like a dose of business sunshine?  Take a spin through the B Corp database and check out one of the 2,000 businesses around the world that are creating this kind of light by harnessing the power of business as a force for good. Charmian Love is the co-founder of Volans, co-founder and co-chair of B Lab UK and innovation advisor to Grant Thornton

Photo credit: Elijah Hail/Unsplash