April 04, 2024

Charles Hampden-Turner on Mobius leadership, reconciling paradoxes, dilemma strategies, and conscious capitalism (AC Ep38)

“Conscious Capitalism suggests that if you do good by accident, why not do good deliberately? Look at the accidents and start doing them on purpose.”

Charles Hampden-Turner

Robert Scoble
About Charles Hampden-Turner

Dr. Charles Hampden-Turner is a British management philosopher, business consultant, and co-founder of consulting firm Trompenaars Hampden-Turner. He is the creator of dilemma theory and the author or co-author of numerous influential books, including Maps of the Mind, The Seven Cultures of Capitalism, and Mastering the Infinite Game. He is received many awards, including Guggenheim, Rockefeller and Ford Foundation Fellowships.

What you will learn

  • Exploring the genesis of “Maps of the Mind”
  • The power of paradox in understanding the human mind
  • Reflecting on a career; tying together themes of management and leadership
  • The Mobius strip as a metaphor for solving complex problems
  • Addressing societal polarizations through integrated thinking
  • The role of conscious capitalism in today’s business world
  • Visualizing paradoxes; the use of imagery in comprehending complex ideas

Episode Resources


Ross Dawson: Charles, it’s an honor and delight to have you on the show.

Charles Hampden-Turner: Well, good to meet you. And if I can help you let me know.

Ross: Thank you. So I first came across your work when I was in a bookshop in Geneva, Switzerland 1981 or 1982, it must have been, and I saw on the table, this book, which had maps of the mind, and it was immediately resonated with me, because what is, you know, the basic exploring all of these different models, what the mind is, and how we think and be able to not just explain those, but also to have a visual representation to show us what they were, and I’ve still got it, I still refer to it. And it really influences my thinking. It is so useful to have these maps of the mind to help us understand the way we think to bring that to life. So I’d love to just hear the genesis of maps of the mind and just some reflections back from quite a few years later on, on those wonderful projects you did.

Charles: Well, I knew Mitchell from Mitchell Beasley, and he was always producing encyclopedias, including the joy of sex and other things. And he said he wanted to do something on the mind. So I approached him and said, I could create 60 visions of the mind, all of which I, I loved and asking myself, why did I love them? It’s because they were consistent because they had something in common. I hadn’t in those days worked out what they had in common. But once I finished, I began to see what they have in common. What they have in common is that all paradoxes starting with Freud’s ID and superego are about as different as you can get and Jung’s collective unconscious and libido etc. And if you go all the way through the book, you’ll find every map has a duality. And every map has a reconciliation of that duality. But I only realized that in retrospect, and I longed to add a chapter, explaining that the whole book is often a piece is part of an overall pattern.

Ross: I think your selection of the models in the book actually reflects that as in many of them are quite explicitly about paradoxes, such as Gregory Bateson or artie Lang or others that you chose. So I think that framing and the choices you made already, implicitly suggested that you had the pattern in your mind already.

Charles: Yes, I did. But you don’t know what your subconscious is doing.

Ross: So you’ve written many books on management, cross cultural leadership, around the you know, essentially what it is that drives the value in organizations. And more recently, you are working on a book which ties you’ve said to me all of your life’s work together. And so how, what is what is how, how could you tie together or pull together all of your threads of this marvelous work through your life? 

Charles: I was thinking about the German mathematician and Mobius. And he created the well known Mobius strip. And you give just one twist to a paper loop. And when you give one twist, suddenly, the sides disappear, there is no there is just one side, you can take a pen and draw all the way around and you will end up where you started. And there won’t be any part of the loop that doesn’t have a line on it. Or you can take an edge. You can follow the edge run with your finger and you will finish up where you started. It has gone from one strip with two sides and two edges to a noop. With one edge and one surface. And essentially you’re moving in between. It’s like yin yang, which has been Chinese folk wisdom for Centuries, and is probably partly responsible for economic progress. And, and it’s also by its ying yang, but it’s also like to you, you, you’ll see red, you see green, but you’ll never see red, that is not about to become green. And you’ll never see green that is not about, but to become red. And if you turn opposites into contrasts, and constantly move between the contrasts, then there is almost no problem in the world that you can’t solve. I mean, it still takes great skill, a genius, but at least the problem is solvable. You are tough on problems, and tender on the people who have the problems. And you can take almost any dichotomy you like, and give it one twist, and it becomes one continuous process.

Ross: So want to come back to how this applies to businesses and value creation, the economy, but I mean, the apps one of the most obvious questions to arise is that we live in a world of polarization, particularly of political polarization of your certainly, economic polarization of polarization of wealth, and augmented by a whole series of factors. So this model of the Mobius, in perhaps integrating or bringing together paradoxes or polarities, how can this be applied in resolving the polarities we are experiencing in society today.

Charles: But it’s already been, it’s already been applied. And with great success, W. Edwards, Deming visited Detroit and tried to get them to use his error correcting system, but they all turned him down. So he went to Toyota, and taught them and Toyota now produces almost a million cars a year, and is larger than the entire American automobile industry. Nearly all thanks to W. Edwards Deming. So you, inevitably when you try to do something, it’s imperfect. And so you start with an error, and then you correct it. And in other words, you give it the middle, upper half, twist, and glue it together, and you get errors, really leaving corrections. And now comes the important part leading to continuous improvement. So the more errors you make, the faster and quicker you get better and improve and improve and improve. And if you don’t think you’re making an error, then raise your aspirations a bit. If you raise your aspirations a bit, you’ll soon start making errors again, and you’ll correct those, and you get better and better and better. But this is true of nearly all businesses, this is true of the invisible hand. You want to make money for yourself. And you can do that if you satisfy customers better than anyone else can. So you succeed in you, you succeed in communicating and cooperating by competing, competing and cooperating are really two contrasts like the lights of a dog, and together, they spell safe driving or good business.

Ross: So as you say, you’re applying this to value creation, as in value creation being mutual, you can’t, the only way to create value for yourself is to create value for others. 

Charles: That’s why Quakers made so much money. Yes, because they were constantly helping other people in their society, and they weren’t allowed to go to Oxford or Cambridge. They weren’t, they weren’t allowed to. They were barred from major professions, and they helped each other. And Quakers in Britain in the 19th century, created 40 times more wealth than their numbers allowed 40 times more wealth than their numbers, personally, and that’s by helping other people, and thereby helping yourself by guiding yourself.

Ross: So over the last couple of decades, and moreover, there have been some very powerful forces which are reshaping business globalization, of course. The Internet and the connected world give the ability to create value across domains, the rise of platforms and other things which have come from telecommunication. So, do these change the nature of value creation today? What is where we sit today in terms of value creation and this model?

Charles: Work is important because it means that customers, not only contact the supplier, but they contact each other. And, things go viral. In other words, suddenly things catch fire, because customers are telling each other how good it is, and they trust each other more than the supplier, the supplier is going to make money out of them, but they trust each other. So anyone who’s not on the internet is losing a hell a hell of a lot of money, it is a great accelerator of business and everybody needs to be on the net. So the net effect is what happens when customers talk to customers and talk to you.

Ross: So using this metaphor of the Mobius strip to know a world where businesses are more global, more and more value happens across organizational boundaries, more partnerships. I mean, how does this guide leadership and how organizations are structured in terms of how politics are structured?

Charles: You mentioned the word metaphor. And the metaphor is itself a paradox a reconciled paradox, because a metaphor is the likeness of unlike characteristics, okay? The ground was blanketed in snow. And in some respects, snow is very like a blanket. But if you snuggled down under some snow tonight, you wouldn’t be very comfortable. So snow is both like a blanket and a blanket. And metaphors are heuristic devices that there are ways of finding out reconciliations. I’m all for metaphors. Scenario planning was when it was invented in the shower by never gonna use the metaphor of a southport rider. You see the waves coming towards you, you get ready for them. And you don’t know which wave is going to hit you. And you get ready for each one.

Ross: Yes, yes. So speaking of that, scenario planning has been a thread through much of your work, I believe.

Charles: Yes, I joined Shell in 1981 and worked as an in-house consultant for three years. And it made such a great influence on me. And there were 60 or 70 people in the department, you won’t find a planning department in the world with 60 or 70 people. 

Ross: one of the frames which you bring in thinking about Mobius’ leadership and that of conscious capitalism. So how is it that we can both, you know, apply these models to be able to make the capital which we apply to create value or, you know, the choices we make to be more conscious as an organization?

Charles: Well, the irony is that, you know, everyone thinks business is selfish, and we celebrate selfishness. But the truth is quite the opposite: capitalist countries have better education, better health and a lot longer life. Capitalism bestows upon us enormous advantages over the non-capitalist countries. And so we have to, we have to face this ridiculous dilemma that business is all about self interest and selfishness. And yet, it’s probably one of the greatest sources of benefit to humanity. 

And the reason is actually quite obvious. And the reason is that when you do something for somebody else, they reciprocate, and they come back to you and do something for you. There are many examples, UPS hires young teenagers to drive its trucks. And in America, it gives money to college scholarships to every mile. The kid drives. So if you’ve driven 20,000 miles, you get $5,000 towards a college scholarship, you think, how on earth can UPS afford to do that? I mean, it’s ridiculous, you, you can’t give away the store, you can’t start giving away? Well, can’t you if you have a choice between services between different courier services, and you knew that your son or your daughter, or your friend’s son or daughter, or that your nephew or niece had been helped by UPS? Which courier service would you choose for the rest of your life, and which courier service would the recipient choose for the rest of their lives, they get a college education, they’re going to get a good job, they’re going to use about 700 careers during their life, or more. And so when you appear to give away you don’t give at all, people reciprocate. And you get it back and you get it back in spades. And there are lots of examples in a book called What’s it called? Conscious Capitalism, that if you, since you do good by accident, why don’t you do good deliberately look at the accidents and start doing the accidents on purpose.

Ross: So one of the challenges of capitalist structures is, so called externalities, where people can be part of a system and they have mutual value creation. But there are things which are outside the system outside the system that is measured, or outside, people looking at so most obviously, in terms of pollution, or carbon impact, or other ways in which, it’s not customers or people that are directly there, but they are, external to the system was as it is accounted for today. And so that’s where the conscious part comes in. I think we’re in a way, as you’re describing some of these benefits can be raked, you know, as you say, just by accident, as it were, or beginning to be conscious about.

Charles: You have to make the externality, internal. Economics can’t ignore virtually every value and that makes life worth living. And we live on a hospitable planet that has its blessings upon us. And in 200 years, we’ve got we’ve come close to wrecking it in certain respects. And if when you do something, you improve the environment, then that makes your work worthwhile. It reconceptualized your work in something important and something in something moral. Suppose you make carpets there’s nothing to be ashamed of in making carpets, they’re useful. And interface carpets in America, the bed carpets and Ray Anderson reached the age of 60 and read a book on Natural Capitalism and suddenly realized that he was wrecking the environment. The carpets are made of nylon, nylon comes from oil, etc. So he pledged zero emissions by 2020. And suddenly his people had a new idea to work for. Is it better to make carpets or to save the environment? If while making carpets you save the environment. This makes your work far more worthwhile, far more exciting, and you have something to leave your grandchildren. I’ve left your world that is still beautiful because I helped make carpets in a non-polluting way.

Ross: You’ve worked with many leaders of large organizations over long periods. And I’m sure that there are some who are more and less receptive to these kinds of ideas. So how do you engage with some of the leaders who are perhaps more skeptical? When you start to discuss this kind of concept, how do you start to shift their thinking? What’s that journey?

Charles: Well, I start with a crisis, I start with something that is going wrong for them. And after all, they wouldn’t be talking to me unless they wanted something. And then if a business faces a very serious crisis, and comes to me and says, This is going wrong, people are lying, the thing is corrupt and things like that, then I think I can intervene, but problems vary from person to person. But if you start with a dilemma, or you start with a crisis, it will start with some I want this, but this gets in the way, then you’re, then you’re onto something.

Ross: So there’s nothing like a good crisis.

Charles: But in every crisis, there is an opportunity. If the world is indeed, if we’re on the edge of a tipping point, when the world is no longer hospitable, where people try to migrate, other people stop them with guns. And we already have a crisis, and people crossing the channel, and people trying to make political hay out of that, we could be on the edge of something very, very dangerous. Anyone who saved us, that is not simply making a useful product. God dammit, they’re saving the world, saving us, saving all of us, they’re saving themselves, they’re saving their children. So any crisis gives us vast opportunities to be of help.

Ross: So you mentioned that came from a dilemma, which of course, you know, is a paradox. And from when I was younger, I was thinking, is this idea of making the paradox more extreme? So rather than trying to start from the start to resolve the paradox, you actually push the polarities out in order as a mechanism perhaps to be able to as a path to resolution. 

Charles: That’s quite a good technique. I use that a lot. When I’m consulting. Somebody says, the trade unions really got it in for us. Yeah, they’re giving you trouble. So we should walk, we should wreck them, we should undermine them, we should take them to court, we should. And you make this longer and longer with more and more data threats. And he will say, ‘Well, I can’t do that. So you can’t do that.’ So you’re going to have to solve it. And then you give your suggestions. So yes, if they see a dilemma, if they exaggerate the dilemma, then you go along with them, and they will want to take pills, oh, well, I can’t do that. I will end up in prison.

Ross: So which goes to this idea of the mindset, how can we prime our minds to be better at resolving paradoxes? I mean, we have always lived in a world of paradoxes, as you’ve suggested, I mean, even more today, the world is full of paradoxes and polarities and dilemmas. So can we nurture a frame of mind that enables us to move more readily towards resolution?

Charles: Well, I think so I, what I do is give lots of examples. Things we already believe in our paradoxes, for example, the marketplace, people who worship the market. When things get scarce, prices go up. And when prices go up, you can make more profit by supply. So buy supplies arrive and the prices go down. So in the marketplace, prices go up and down and they are self regulating. And lots of people see this as a sort of Calvinists God, punishing the slow fall and rewarding the thrifty. And, but it is a simple paradox. So you just increase the number of examples of how we already use paradoxes. In our understanding, the invisible hand is a paradox you, as I mentioned earlier, you follow your self interest. But in order to do that you have to satisfy a customer better than that, and other people can. So paradoxes are everywhere, you have to make people excited and interested in paradoxes, at the moment that they are afraid of them, because they’re afraid of contradiction. And they’re afraid of appearing irrational. So everyone wants to be rational. And to be rational is to decide what comes from that in de se do, to cut off. So you have either or, and you cut off, what we’re talking about is a choice combination, that either all or both and, and coming together, they solve all manner of problems.

Ross: Yes, the So you’re suggesting is becoming more familiar with the fact of paradoxes in our world, and the fact that they include the resolution within the paradox. And as we see that, and make that visible to ourselves more, that makes us more able to see that and other paradoxes that we come across.

Charles: Very much. Agree. 

Ross: So what’s the core of the impact you want to have from here in terms of taking this thinking forward? How can that be disseminated to take them forward into the, to the leaders or to all of us in being able to understand and to engage so that we can?

Charles: Well, I think we have to create a few heroes, and somebody who creates wealth, meaning, substance and aspiration, and success for a company needs to be admired. And we put all this we put all this time to intuition. But paradoxes are the logic of intuition. And I keep trying different things. But what I’m trying at the moment is to get Paul Polman. At the moment, he doesn’t answer emails. I mean, he’s so well known, he probably gets 100 emails a day, and he doesn’t reply to hundreds of people he doesn’t know. And I don’t blame him, I probably have to do the same thing if I was that famous. 

But I would like to get Paul Polman to say yes, I was 10 years with Unilever. And this is the logic by which I proceeded. And so he’s not just a brilliant intuitive leader, whose memory will fade with time, he is the author of a new logic of management, or a new logic of leadership. And that’s one way to get it across. And the other is to just to keep writing or to create a podcast creatively filmed, create a video to it’s highly visual. So if we, I sent you some some PowerPoint presentations, you can see that it’s easier to visualize than it is to talk about, yes, it is a helix and I have a dot that goes up a curly helix that moves first in one direction and the other direction and first, and knits the two together. So you create a helix that joins the two together.

Ross: And indeed, yeah, that’s which takes us back to the maps of the mind where the visuals help us to understand. And yeah, there are some wonderful visuals which have been used to illustrate how particular paradoxes are resolved with Mobius structure in your visual, so I very much look forward to seeing that come to fruition in the book in another work. Good. Thank you so much for your time and your insight and all of your life’s work has been an inspiration to me throughout.

Charles: I hope it helps. I hope you are attracted. I’m running out of time. And thank you very much for talking to me.

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