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We are entering a new era, one we’re calling the “Entrepocene.” For the last 400 years, the rise of the corporation has amplified what climatologists call the “anthropocene”—an era in which human activity is the dominant force shaping our environment. Soulless corporations have grown to dominate the economic, social, and political landscape, but that system is beginning to fray at the edges. This blog explores what life will be like as conditions begin to favor the small, the local, the agile, the ethical, and the responsive. It explores how to build something that matters with soul.

Entering the Entrepocene

“Dam by dam, mine by mine, farm by farm and city by city [the anthropocene] is remaking the Earth before your eyes.” [^1]

For better or worse, we’re entering a new era. A time when the corporation, responsible for shaping so much of the last four centuries, is both consolidating and fragmenting. At one end consolidating into institutions larger and more powerful than most nations and, at the other, fragmenting into loose networks of smaller companies and a long tail of individuals and small groups working temporary jobs and short term gigs.

We call this new era the Entrepocene — an age where success and failure alike will belong primarily to the small groups and individuals. It is in the context of what scientists, a decade ago, termed the “Anthropocene,” a new geological epoch which recognized that humans had become the dominant force shaping the planet.

We see this period as a time of possibility, where these small groups have powers once held only by corporations or countries, and where human imagination can flourish. But it is not a time of unlimited possibility, as there are environmental and societal constraints — what can be sustained by our planet and its people. Nor is it a time of endless optimism — extinction threatens those cultures, species, companies and communities that are not resilient or adaptable enough. Once lost, they are likely lost forever.

While we have a bias for the small, the quick, the adaptable, we’re equally concerned about the current state of startups. To read many of the popular books and magazines, entrepreneurship is about getting rich. Often at a young age. And often beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. And this narrative is driving a different type of startup. What are the breakthrough products and services of our age? Social networks and electronic gadgetry. What are the business models? Consumables and brands for the affluent. What are the dominant business models? Extractive ones, that harm ecosystems and communities. We are both supporters of entrepreneurship and innovation, but recent results are largely underwhelming. The world needs more ventures that make a real difference.

The Entrepocene offers a chance to reset the rules as they are currently written. The era of large corporations got us to where we are now; and this new age will require different assumptions, different operating principles, different rules and different tools. This blog will contain our thoughts on these assumptions, principles, rules and tools. It will provide examples of organizations doing good work, and, on occasion, critique those who are not.

In the end, our hope is that this blog provokes, cajoles, informs, and, just perhaps, inspires others to intentionally shape their work to benefit society. Whether you are a scientist, aid worker, accountant, artist or farmer, we believe there is nothing more rewarding than to build something that matters, with soul.

[^1]: Oliver Morton, “Welcome to the Anthropocene,” The Economist, May 26th 2011

Eight Design Goals for Going Beyond Sustainability

Much has been written and said about building sustainable companies and organizations. Yet too often, after all the conferences, books and articles, little is done. The big ideas get downsized and bureaucratized.
In the past decade, the two of us have worked with hundreds of new ventures and dozens of non-profits and big companies, all with designs on changing the world through new technologies or new business models.  We love working with entrepreneurs that see something that needs changing, and that will marshall the team and resources to build organizations with impact. It has reinforced our belief that business is a key force to make the world a better place- and that business, done well, provides better products to customers, better work for employees, better performance for owners, and better communities for all of us.
To do this, businesses need to aim at a higher purpose — to improve the conditions on our planet. And they need to aspire to having that purpose last a long time- the law grants a corporation a perpetual life- and a corporation should benefit society for the length of its existence. This driving intention to matter, in perpetuity, is what we call soul. In this post, we would like to share some design goals for going beyond sustainability, in search of soul:
  1. It isn’t just about developing and selling innovative goods and services. It is about developing and selling goods that are good and services that serve.
  2. It isn’t just about being a little greener by conserving a little energy, or recycling paper coffee cups at the office. It is about radically redesigning your entire supply chain — upstream and down — to dramatically reduce waste, or better yet, transform it into an asset.
  3. It isn’t just about beating the competition. It is about shifting the basis of competition to more beneficial behavior, and enabling and encouraging others to follow the same path.
  4. It isn’t just about creating jobs. It is about creating meaningful work; with a fair, livable wage, and preferably, ownership for all co-workers over time.
  5. It isn’t just about giving back to your community. It is about being embedded in your community, and creating deep, lasting commitments to the people, places, and values that make it special.
  6. It isn’t just about creating returns for investors. It is about designing a business model that has impact and, if it requires investors, providing them with reasonable returns, subordinated to the company’s purpose.
  7. It isn’t just about having a vision statement. It is about embodying your purpose in your organization’s structure and processes, and perpetuating it well beyond the current executive team, long range plan or ownership group.
  8. In short, it isn’t just about doing business. It is about building something, that matters, with soul.
This isn’t easy stuff. It’s hard work, and it’s worth doing well.