The Way of Business

by Stephen J.M. Bray

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On July 20th, 2000 I found myself the Keynote Speaker at the launch of an ambitious enterprise to connect the business customers of a major high street bank together in a self-organising network of relationships. I had in mind the kind of ‘Shamrock Organisation’, which Charles Handy describes in ‘The Age of Unreason’.1  The Shamrock Organisation is a kind of ‘club culture’ in which the specialist functions of the business are handled centrally, with smaller organisations, or divisions networking whilst pursuing their own markets. The difference in the concept that I was suggesting was that the bank would facilitate the central resources, (such as money, meeting spaces etc); whilst small businesses, rather than divisions of the same conglomerate, got on with the task of generating profitable projects.

And so it came to pass I found myself on Brownsea Island, in Poole harbour, Dorset on the historic campsite where the world-wide community of Scouting and Guiding started. I was to address a bemused group of small business owners and their bankers. This article is based upon that keynote address.

Our Changing World

Our world is changing rapidly, more rapidly in fact than at any time in its past history. Discoveries that we take for granted would have been considered as ‘magic’, or ‘witchcraft’ just a few hundred years ago. If you had discovered a way of sending information electronically by radio waves through the air in the Dark Ages you would have almost certainly have been burned at the stake by the church authorities. Most of your local village community would have agreed with your sentence and come out in order to watch you burn. History tells us that advanced ideas, ideas before their time are frequently dismissed, rejected or are unpopular. Shooting the messenger can be a problem for those of us possessed with foresight.

Foresight is the name of a United Kingdom Government Programme launched in 1994 in order to provide a basis for building a sustained, national long-term competitive advantage and improving quality of life by:

Identifying market drivers, threats and opportunities beyond normal commercial time horizons and informing decisions taken today;

Building bridges between science and business – getting people who understand the possibilities opened up by advances in science and technology to communicate effectively with people who understand consumer needs and requirements;

Pooling knowledge and expertise – within sectors and across sectors and disciplinary boundaries – to increase national prosperity and well-being.2

You can find out more about the work of this group by logging on to the Foresight Knowledge Pool at where there is full up to date information about Foresight’s activities. The Office of Science and Technology takes the issues that I am presenting today very seriously.

On 10th June 1999, the Bank conducted a Business Forum with the purpose of determining what kinds of banking services customers want.

A number of small business customers attended Through its Customer Forum the Bank sought to:

Establish what is important to business customers

Learn best how to manage customer expectations

Ensure the best possible long-term commitment between customers and the Bank

There was some discussion at that Forum about customer service and how good customer service from the Bank would add value to the customer’s business as well as that of the Bank. The Bank acknowledged that the days of Jack Jones the butcher going ‘cap in hand’ to a ‘Captain Mainwaring’ style bank manager are long gone. Poor Jack Jones now has much more to consider than the allocation of a few extra sausages to augment hungry families ration coupons. Today he will need to be versed in consumer legislation including issues of public health, safety and insurance and his business banker will need to understand his problems even if not an expert in solving them.

Some of the other topics discussed included:

PC banking

Delays in servicing ‘plastic’ transactions

Centralisation of services

How does the customer ‘know’ how the Bank regards them?

How might banks make investments in its clients?

Throughout the dialogue there was a demand for more personalised contact with bankers. This contact to be professional and confidential on the one hand but also one in which a customer and banker would have greater opportunity to know each other better. Paradoxically in Captain Mainwaring’s Warmington-on-Sea community we were much more likely to know the strengths and foibles of our heroic bankers than most of us know of Bank’s staff today. Warmington-on-Sea had a human scale, and I believe that we all know how to cope with being in a community of that human scale. Its only when our relationships become too complex, or too demanding that we start to feel besieged and on our own.

In order to launch such a community it is essential that customers and bankers meet as equals, or partners. On the one hand this is an artificial concept, because ultimately a bank has the power to foreclose on loans, when a business is in difficulties. On the other hand a network of customers may be seen as a ‘user group’, with more ability to put pressure on the centre, when needed. I acknowledge that in the world of human relationships conflicts occur all too frequently, but my aim in July 2000 was to minimise these by improving communication between the Bank and its customers.

The Internet has already changed a lot of things. We now belong to Virtual Communities somewhere ‘out there’ in something called cyberspace. Sometimes cyberspace can seem very personal as those of you that belong to e-mail discussion groups will know. But there is something lacking, something qualitatively different between paying ‘hard cash’ into a banker’s hand, and transferring ‘virtual money’ with a few taps of the finger on a computer terminal. We cannot go back, I do not advocate that we do so. I believe however that it makes strong economic sense to preserve face-to-face contact between us in order to root ourselves in a grounded sense of a ‘flesh and blood’ as well as a ‘virtual’ community.

As vital partners the community of customers, in which the Bank is central must represent each other as if they represent their own businesses. We must trust that each of us will go an extra mile in for the other in times of trouble. We know that by thinking and acting together that we are more creative, more responsive and more versatile than we could possibly be on our own. It is not always easy but it is mostly exciting and enjoyable.

I prefer the term Vital Partner to ‘strategic partner’ for this important reason ~ Life! Let me explain:

When we think about associations to the word ‘strategy’ we tend to come up with words like: war, chess, game, tactic, plan, compete. These are interesting words and many would argue that the business environment is fiercely competitive and that metaphors of warfare and competition are appropriate. This is so ingrained by experience, education and training that they can only think in this way. They may be wonderful entrepreneurs, they may get things done, but often their accomplishments come at enormous personal cost in terms of health and personal relationships.

The word ‘Vital’ it holds totally different associations. Some of us will think of a ‘vital organ’ the heart is a vital organ it circulates life-giving oxygen throughout our bodies, in the same way that money must circulate within a community if that community is to prosper. Our sexual organs are vital, they are life-giving they enable something that is ‘us’ to continue beyond our personal lifetime. In exchange for unconditionally pleasuring another person we experience ecstasy in the present moment and bring ‘life’ into the future. Suppose business could be like that? Suppose business could be sexy? What would it look like? What would it feel like?? What a metaphor! How could business be more vital than this?

When wars break out great creativity and community spirit accompanies great destructiveness. Co-operation operates to support overcoming an enemy with little or no compassion for that enemy. Yet experience tells us that within a few years that self same enemy may be our ally.

During the peaceful Edo period in Japan (1603-1867) various warlike practices were renamed from bujutsu, meaning "martial skills or arts," to budo, "the martial way" or "martial path".

In adopting a ‘martial way’ or ‘path’ during this peaceful era, the Japanese warrior was committing himself primarily to following a path aimed at spiritual development through martial training … Thus, the combat skill of ken-jutsu, the sword art, became kendo the way of the sword; naginata-jutsu, the art of the halberd, became naginata-do, the way of the halberd, and so on.3

In Japan today the heads of the largest corporations meet regularly and they share information with each other, even though their products are similar and are competing for the same markets. The purpose of these meetings they say is to improve the quality of their products and also to improve the lives of those that work in those companies.4  I suspect that these business leaders have also discovered within their community that The Art of Business is best achieved by regarding it as The Way of Business. They can work in this way because they identify themselves as belonging to a common community rather than as competitors, indeed the Japanese regard these meetings as vital.

The Internet is a wonderful tool for making new friends, exchanging information, even transferring virtual cash. It is causing all banks to re-evaluate themselves and the services offered to customers. Technological advances such as the Internet are causing chaos in the commercial world and from this chaos new patterns will emerge. No one knows where it ends, but banks certainly have to rethink plans and practices. I applaud banks for launching their e-banking services on the World Wide Web.

It makes sense that cash may be safely transferred with ease from one business, or country to another. The other day from Assos on the Aegean coast of Turkey, (where I sometimes run courses in creativity near the site of Aristotle’s first Academy of Philosophy), I was able to monitor my account and pay bills in England using the Internet.

It’s a wonderful modern miracle that the Internet enables me to send information and to keep in touch with colleagues and with clients. The Internet is a very efficient postal system. No one, however, has devised a way to send manufactured goods or raw materials across the globe using the Internet. This is a major problem because if the Internet promotes world trade then there will be a demand for more transportation in the future. We can’t really afford this.

James Womack and Daniel Jones in their book Lean Thinking5 trace the pathways of a can of English cola:

"The can itself is more costly and complicated to manufacture than the cola. Bauxite is mined in Australia and trucked to a chemical reduction mill where a half hour process purifies each ton on bauxite into a half ton of aluminium oxide. When enough is stockpiled, it is loaded on a giant ore carrier and sent to Sweden or Norway, where hydroelectric dams provide cheap electricity. After a month long journey across two oceans, it usually sits at the smelter for as long as two months.

The smelter takes two hours to turn each half to of aluminium oxide into a quarter ton of aluminium metal, in ingots ten metres long. These are cured for two weeks before being shipped to roller mills in Sweden or Germany. There each ingot is heated to nearly nine hundred degrees Fahrenheit and rolled down to the thickness of an eighth of an inch. The resulting coiled are wrapped in ten-ton coiled and transported to a warehouse, and then to a cold rolling mill in the same or another country, where they are rolled tenfold thinner for fabrication. The aluminium is then sent to England, where sheets are punched and formed into cans, which are washed, dried, painted with a base coat, and then painted again with specific product information. The cans are next lacquered, flanged (they are still topless), sprayed inside with a protective coating to prevent the cola from corroding the can and inspected.

The cans are palletised; fork lifted, and warehoused until needed. Then shipped to the bottler, where they are washed and cleaned once more, then filled with water mixed with flavoured syrup, phosphorus, caffeine, and carbon dioxide gas. The sugar is harvested from beet fields in France and undergoes trucking, milling, refining, and shipping. The phosphorus comes from Idaho, where it is excavated from deep open-pit mines – a process that also unearths cadmium and radioactive thorium. Round the clock the mining company uses the same amount of electricity as a city of 100,000 people in order to reduce the phosphate to food grade quality. The caffeine is shipped from a chemical manufacturer to the syrup manufacturer in England.

The filled cans are sealed with aluminium "pop top" lids at the rate of fifteen hundred cans per minute, and then inserted into cardboard cartons printed with matching colour and promotional schemes. The cartons are made of forest pulp that may have originated anywhere from Sweden or Siberia to the old-growth, virgin forests of British Columbia that are the home of grizzly bears, wolverines, otters and eagles. Palletised again the cans are shipped to a regional distribution warehouse, and shortly thereafter to a supermarket where a typical can is purchased within three days. The consumer buys twelve ounces of the phosphate tinged, caffeine-impregnated, caramel-flavoured sugar water. Drinking cola takes a few minutes; throwing the can away takes a second. In England, consumers discard 84% of all cans, which means that the overall rate of aluminium waste, after counting production losses is 88%. Every product that we consume has a similar hidden history, an unwritten inventory of its materials, resources and impacts."6

Each delay, each stage of warehousing, and each time the aluminium needs to be reheated represents inefficiency and a loss of energy. Let me say at this juncture that I am not an eco-warrior. My aim in giving this example is not in order to encourage you to no longer drink cola. I like cola and I enjoy pulling the tab from cola and also cans containing more interesting and inebriating contents.

At last the hidden costs of complex global products are starting to be factored into the accounts. We can no longer afford this waste, and perhaps more importantly we cannot afford the developing world to adopt such wasteful policies as they become more industrialised because air and water pollution are no respecters of national or federal boundaries. In the future there will be treaties and these will inevitably limit wastage. New industrial installations in the developing world will have to be far more efficient than those that we currently think of as modern state of the art miracles here in the United Kingdom because of a globalised policy of self-preservation.

Where in the United Kingdom when I go to a retailer such as W.H. Smith and find walls filled with racks of the latest films on video release; in Istanbul I can go into a modest shop, or a booth in one of the indoor markets and will find the same film on DVD but no videos are to be seen at all. The DVD technology has not supplanted the video market in Turkey; the video market was never fully established in the first place. The industrial progress of the developing world will follow a similar path, sidestepping the development cost and inefficient wastage of our familiar processes and therefore providing leaner more efficient manufacturing conditions. The new high-speed system for digital transmission for India is thought by some to be much superior to BTs ISDN system for the United Kingdom.7

At the beginning of the talk I spoke of a tendency for people to shoot a messenger bringing bad or unpalatable news. For my own protection I reassured that group on Brownsea Island that the news is not all bad. Improvements in automobile engineering and carbon fibre technologies will lead to more vehicles being manufactured from lighter materials making them more economical, and having less mass they will cause less damage if they go out of control. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute for Technology has developed a small device using plasma. It can be mass produced at an economic price and will convert fossil fuel, and other substances such as soy bean derivatives into hydrogen making it possible for power plants to emit water vapour as their sole emission. Fuel cell technology also is advancing rapidly and this will mean that in the future your electric car will be plugged into the mains when you are not driving it, not because its fuel-cell needs recharging, but because you will be selling power its spare generating capacity to a power supplier. When it’s garaged at home, it will of course help to supply your home. The technology is here the future is about to change dramatically and we must be prepared for it.

The United Kingdom Government’s Foresight Group that I mentioned earlier is about:

Identifying market drivers, threats and opportunities beyond normal commercial time horizons and informing decisions taken today;

Building bridges between science and business – getting people who understand the possibilities opened up by advances in science and technology to communicate effectively with people who understand consumer needs and requirements;

Pooling knowledge and expertise – within sectors and across sectors and disciplinary boundaries

I would like to see these aims implemented at a local level by my bank.

The Future

The future demands not just foresight but also a different kind of banking service. One that is informed and also responsive to change. Like those Japanese heads of industry that I referred to earlier we must feel within ourselves a sense of community. If we developed such a sense of community then each of us would feel ourselves to be engaged personally in The Way of Business rather than simply being technicians operating as cogs in a complex imponderable machine. People running small businesses frequently feel isolated and do not know where to turn for advice because they lack a sense of presence and belonging. A bank and its Small Business Community have the potential to act as a valuable Vital Partner for people who previously would have experienced such a sense of isolation.

This means that we have to invent new ways of communicating including customer-to-customer, customer to Bank, and Bank to customer. Communities such as the one that I propose here in Poole will respond to local need; the Bank providing facilities for members to meet face to face, in social meetings, workshops and seminars. In addition to face-to-face meetings Internet forums and discussion groups may be used to disseminate information and develop ideas enabling the Bank to be aware of concerns and take initiatives in providing appropriate locally based services.

In short I propose that banks must become the centre of a ‘villages’ of local business people, co-operating together as Vital Partners in order to build a stronger local economies and communities that sustain and support a calm quiet quality in our domestic and business lives.

Had I remained resident in the United Kingdom, no doubt I would have continued working on enriching the ideas discussed here, with the Bank concerned. But my process took me into another region and realm of endeavour. I still receive email from many of those whom I met through this project though. The idea of community is alive and well :-))

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[1] Handy, Charles (1989) The Age of Unreason. London: Business Books Limited.

[2] Scase, Richard (2000) Britain in 2010.  Crown Copyright London: Capstone.

[3] Reid, H. and Croucher, M. (1983) The Fighting Arts. New York: Simon and Schuster.

[4] Shelton, Charlotte (1998) Quantum Leaps: 7 Skills for Workplace Re-Creation. Woburn MA: Butterworth Heineman.

[5] Womack, J. P. Jones, D. T. Roos, D. (1996) Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation. New York: Simon and Schuster.

[6] Hawken, Paul; Lovins, Amory B. and Lovins, L. Hunter (1999) Natural Capitalism: The Next Industrial Revolution. London: Earthscan.

[7] According to a programme on broadcast of the Discovery Channel via DigiTurk 30th June, 2000.


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Stephen Bray was born in Dorset and educated at Blandford Grammar School, and Universities in Plymouth, Manchester, Santa Cruz and London. He currently lives in Istanbul. Trained in the arts of dynamic therapy, family therapy, gestalt, process oriented psychology and NLP, he now spends his time supporting those who wish to help others. Details of his work and his contact information may be found at