Just a (not so) quick one here to say MERRY SHIFTMAS, one and all!
Tis the season for gratitude, so I’d like to take this Christmassy opportunity to say loudly that we’re grateful for you, without which Future Shift would be but a figment of our imagination.
I thought it would be nice for Future Shift’s friends and family to hear our story over the last two years. If you’re reading this, you’re likely to be someone who’s played a part in shaping us. So for that I say thank you from us all!
Within the walls of Future Shift HQ, we’ve had a year of meaningful collaboration, learning and intense discussions about the future we want to design. But let’s go back to when it all began.
In the winter months of 2020, Will and I sat down and made a plan for what Future Shift was to become, each year, for the next five years. The first two years of this plan were to be our ‘Launch period’. This meant creating a brand we were proud of and a mission. Beside this mission were a couple of services we would design to uphold our founding principles.
So, what did our ‘Launch’ look like? Well, we started off in Future Leap, in the heat of lockdown, and talked to people who we believed were doing the kind of things that we would like to be part of in the business sustainability space.
We reached out to the wonderful network of UK B Corps and listened to the learnings that had been made on their way to becoming more sustainable businesses. This is where our first consulting service, Shift B Corp was born and, along with our first client Creative Revolution Group, we designed a platform-led consulting approach to support businesses on their certification journeys. Today, we are proud to have supported a new wave of B Corps with this service.
In the early months of 2021 we moved into an abandoned Costa coffee shop in the middle of Bristol’s old town and set up shop, sandwiched between two squats, acting as guardians of the property in return for cheap rent. We enjoyed an excited range of visitors who’d pop into the office from time to time and absorbed the revolutionary atmosphere created by the various pop-up anarchist shops and political flags draped from the windows of our neighbours – there was never a dull moment in our six months on High Street.
In September 2021, we took our reclaimed desks and Gumtree-freebie office equipment to 31 College Green, our current office. This was a big step up for us in terms of professionalism, being able to open up a space where some serious innovation could happen, we could take clients and begin building a home for ourselves. Here, with each new client (and all-important paycheck), we made copious trips to Ikea to buy plants, lamps and mugs for the office, one by one with each penny rolling into the Future Shift bank account.
Around this time Will and I could start paying ourselves ‘real money’, move out of our parents’ spare bedrooms and live lives like our friends were. This was a big ‘this is getting real’ moment for us.
Not long after, in summer 2022 we were included on a 12 month project which gave us something we had never experienced before: some form of stability. This meant we could plan 1, 2, 6 months into the future, and that future included employee #1. So we set out to hire the first of the ‘founding employees’. We looked through some 300 applications for a ‘junior consultant’ role and out of the dozens of interviews and many hours reading cover letters, we found Tom.
Tom is an important one. Not just because he’s a brilliant mind and was already strongly aligned with our mission, but because he represented the departure from a business that was effectively two consultants trying to make ends meet. Now we were closer to a firm, with diverse, complementary skill sets and management structures. This was a big jump from us that we are still getting our heads around.
It’s quite clear from our experience that when multiple people work together, emergent properties like culture and innovation begin to bubble up from sharing our collective experiences. We have another team member coming on in early January 2023 which we are all super excited about. Our ability to interpret the world, as an organisation, gets that one bit deeper, allowing us to make better, more equitable collective decisions.
So that’s us over the first two years of Future Shift. Thanks for listening to our story.
As I write this at the end of 2022, I can confidently say that everyone at Future Shift is excited to witness what 2023 has in store for us. We’ve worked hard to create conditions of innovation and collaboration, guided by an undertone of revolution, gratefully instilled into us by our anarchist neighbours all those months ago. Now it’s time to establish the principles developed during our two-year launch in our next phase: growth.
Kind regards, Merry Christmas and have a wonderful New Year,
I’m very proud to announce that we can introduce the next member of Future Shift. We’re privileged to be at a point where we need more hands on deck to keep up with the amazing work of our clients in pushing the sustainability agenda forward.
Tom Jackson is joining us as a Junior Sustainability Consultant and employee founder. Our decision to get Tom on board (from an initial fear-inducing 320 applicants) was an easy one. His heart is in the same place as ours when it comes to redesigning what sustainability means to business from a position of frustration with the status quo.
But enough from me, over to Tom.
I’m passionate about people and the planet, and right now, feel incredibly lucky to be joining the team at Future Shift.
But how did I get here?
Well, I’m glad you ask; I’ve spent four enjoyable years studying the likes of Chemistry, Climate Science, and Policy at Bristol University, seasoned with a touch of philosophy for good measure. But that’s not just it. I’m also here because I share the same passion as Oscar and Will for looking after people and our planet.
Sure, that’s nice, but what made you so passionate?
Well, again, thanks for the question. I’ve always been passionate about people, I think that’s how I am wired, but my appreciation for the planet began in 2016 during my first gap year.
During this year, I worked in a Zimbabwean Agricultural college for six months, teaching English and Maths, mentoring students, and learning how hard manual labour is! (Really hard) My year out was a formative time for me; I made a ton of friends and learned a lot from the students on the farm. Agriculture is an industry vulnerable to climate change, a fact not lost on my new friends, and they taught me to be mindful of the resources I was using and respect the earth. These humble interactions began a conviction to pursue sustainability, a conviction that has come to dictate my career path six years later.
So now what?
Now I’ve begun working for Future Shift. I hope to make an immediate impact here and further the great work already being done by the company. I want to combine my technical expertise with my long-held passions, and reimagine how businesses can serve to empower people and regenerate the planet.
I appreciate these goals may appear ambitious, but at Future Shift redesigning sustainability for businesses is our everyday mission, and we are determined to dream big.
… And if that’s not exciting enough to keep me motivated, I have only to remember the 320 other (fear-inducing) applicants! (yikes)
Consulting involves harnessing the talents of skilled, knowledgeable individuals to provide advice and support.
A product is something that solves a problem by increasing the ease or standard by which something can be done.
Product-led consulting, then, is solving the problems that can be solved with a product as a starting point, and then addressing everything else (the interesting stuff) through consulting.
Think about it like cleaning a dirty oven. The product we’re leading with in this case is the oven cleaner that you spray onto the grime and let sit for a few hours. Consulting is the manpower to wipe things up.
See, if you hired a professional oven cleaner to clean your oven, and they came with no tools for the job; started wiping away at the grill, dry as a bone. After a few hours of sweaty work nobody would be too impressed with how things were going.
Now if this professional oven cleaner came with a toolbox of sprays, foams and wire brushes, you’d (both) be in far better stead. A quick spray and lather of the right cleaner on the grill and the cleaner can spend the next hour or two getting stuck into the microwave or showing you how to clean the trickiest spots – i.e. using time for the useful stuff.
On the subject of cooking, think Walter White episode 1 vs Walter series 4. Of course we’re going for the superlab meth (product-led consulting) over the RV meth (productless consulting) – especially if the superlab meth is cheaper than the RV product!
How do we use product-led consulting?
Right now, we use a platform (our product, see image below) to cover the simpler bits of the B Corp accreditation to create a simpler, better managed and more time-efficient journey to certification. We then use our consulting time with clients to do what we like to call ‘dreamwork’, where we talk about the interesting things like transitioning an organisation’s missions, high-level management of sustainability issues and business resilience.
Snapshot – a company about 20% of their way through B Corp certification using our platform!
Why product led consulting works for companies?
It’s cheaper. B Corp consulting usually costs between £500 and £800 per day of a consultant’s time (not us though!). Through the use of our platform we can offer 6 months of engagement and support for experts for under £2000 (just a few day’s worth of a normal consultant’s support). For startups and companies where money is a barrier to getting proper support, organisations can receive support for £49/month. We will always be accessible to all businesses.
It’s better. The Shift Platform allows our clients to access the tools, templates and best practice examples from across the internet, as well as a concise step-by-step guide to completing a specific task that has been assigned to them. Because we’re an online platform, we are constantly improving our content, adding video tutorials, better best practices and updating our calculators to match the latest scientific standards.
It gets the whole team involved. Using a platform to consult business sustainability projects like B Corp means that a lot of new doors open for management. We can easily manage a team of 4-10 by assigning tasks on a 1:1 basis. This ensures that B Corp-related tasks can be performed by someone in a relevant department and encourages that all important culture shift that B Corps are always talking about.
The start of the year’s cycle brings feelings of new beginnings, aspirations and resolution. So I thought this would be a better time than ever to share some reflections on the first year of Future Shift and the astronomical learning curve we’ve faced in the last 12 months.
A few years back, Howard T. Odum started my thinking about how ecological systems describe the things we as humans do very well. Odum talked about how the laws of nature can be used as a tool for criticising and ultimately progressing human society. There are two advantages to looking at things the way Odum does. First, he’s right that we are undeniably part of natural systems and their laws. Second, it gives us 3.5 billion years of experience to guide our actions.
I’ll be calling on some of the lessons from these past years of life to explore why Future Shift will be working towards mediocrity. I will share my reflections from the last year of building Future Shift and how this has led me to believe that businesses are best thought of as living systems.
Let’s look at forest succession. Succession here is the process of change in a forest like we see in the UK, from bare land to climax forest.
One: We start small.
All things must start small. If they start big, they’re prone to large imbalances because they require artificial, external forces to get there (like large amounts of investment for businesses or petrochemical-based fertilisers).
Two: We start simple.
This has been a big lesson for Future Shift in our first year. As much as we wanted to deliver every idea that came to mind we would find ourselves burnt out at our desks at 9pm with no focus on what simple things were the lifeblood of our business. It is simply a fact of nature that almost every complex system has been a simpler system before then and an even simpler one before that etc. etc. until you get to an idea (in the case of business) or a seed (in the case of a forest). For those in the ‘seed’ stages of startup development, I would practice simplicity like a mantra. Don’t get caught up in complexity but practice focus on the simple things. Complexity is a state that you will arrive at without knowing it – it’s a fact of nature.
I think of a Future Shift example of our internal consulting methodology and actually how that has become more simple over time rather than more complex. But I am wrong here. The simplicity that I’m talking about here is subjective simplicity i.e. how simple it is to me in my head. The methodology is still as complex as it was before I thought to be simpler, I’ve just managed to visualise something equally as complex in my head. This is the process of learning I suppose. The two diagrams below describe the same things but with vastly different complexities.
Three: We grow for a while, but not forever.
When the forest reaches the end of its growth, that is not the end of the forest. It’s just getting started. Climax forests are set to provide services to the entire natural world for thousands of years (unless someone comes along and cuts a third of all global forests in just a few hundred years). It’s a similar situation for businesses. Nothing is meant to grow forever, not even Apple dogecoin. There are limits that exist as laws of nature that will make sure that a single individual doesn’t grow larger than an entire country. Little can be said for our laws of humanity.
Steady state is the ultimate state of nature, and this is something that we (hopefully) get to think about at Future Shift within the next few decades. This is age old thinking for people, as well as nature actually. Adam Smith (considered the father of economics) was pretty sure that nations will settle at a steady state – just look at us now.
I wasn’t sure whether to go with balance, equilibrium or mediocrity for the name of this final lesson from nature. Balance seems to be something that is achieved by people who are spiritual, equilibrium by the scientific but mediocrity, we can all do that. I for one actually excel at being mediocre at all sorts, and this extends to what I do in Future Shift. It used to stress me out, but the big difference between me in 2022 and me in 2021 is that now I’m being mediocre on purpose.
Let’s just clarify what I mean by mediocre. Doing things in a mediocre way means choosing the middle way. No extremes, straight down the middle. It means accepting that you are not going to be extremely good at everything as a default position which, for me at least, diminishes a lot of the dizziness of freedom I experienced in Future Shift’s first year.
My mediocrity argument is this: if you, as a person or business, do many things in a way that is neither extremely good or bad, you will before long witness your system achieve balance/equilibrium. This condition of granular mediocrity and systemic stability will enable the emergence of innovation.
In short, stable systems succeed. A good example of this in nature is in the recent episode of Green Planet, where David transports you to an ancient forest. This forest has been in equilibrium for millenia, free from biological extremes of any sort. The system is infinitely complex: every plant, insect, fungus and animal plays it’s part to ensure stability. The subject of the video below is the Corpse Flower. As you watch, notice it’s extraordinary complexities and remember: this plant is the product of a stable system, where every job by every ant, bacteria and orangutan is done with sincere mediocrity.
If anything you just read hit home, the Open University is giving away big plant posters in collaboration with Green Planet. Get one sent to your office to remember some of the lessons for our wisest teachers.
We were very proud to share our new logo with you all a few weeks ago. The starting point for our new brand was change. Change because that’s the reason we come into work in the morning and leave at night satisfied and hopeful for tomorrow. And here she is:
Ultimately, this is a nice shape that has elements of a leaf, an F and an S, is cyclical and green so can be interpreted in many ways but is always going to be a logo that suits a sustainability company with the initials F. S. This blog entry however is a deep dive, so we will be going into the logo’s symbolism (and beyond).
The logo shape is inspired by the Greek letter delta, used in maths and engineering to denote change. I used the uppercase letter delta (the triangle below) a lot in thermodynamics calculations and always loved how active the shape was: one, it’s an arrow and two, it sometimes looks like a door or portal which your numbers would step through changing state. We settled on the lowercase delta because it holds dimensions of our initials. The lowercase is still used in calculus to denote change (Wikipedia).
The two shapes contrast nicely with the uppercase representing structured, methodical, human change and the lowercase representing cyclical, chaotic, natural change. It’s an obvious choice to go for the lowercase symbol because true sustainability must conform to nature’s rules of order.
This ramble is to do with how we see the world only in the context of human understanding, especially in maths, engineering but most importantly in economics and business. We do this, I presume, because we’ve never been very good at calculating anything that is changing – there are just too many added complexities. In a very similar way, we simplify almost everything into heuristic models (tools for thinking) that we can easily wrap our brains around.
I heard a great example of this in a Reith Lecture (1967) called Only Connect by anthropologist Edmund Leach (pictured above in an early mirror selfie) about jellyfish and watches. This bizarre comparison was made to explain that our society: businesses, institutions, governments, fac**ook groups, are understood within our human brains only in ways that we can fully grasp, not in ways that are necessarily true. That is, when we think of a watch, one can imagine the cogs and springs fitting together and ticking along nicely. But when we get to a jellyfish – whoah! There is absolutely no way that anyone can configure all of the connections that allow that jellyfish to tick… or pulse rather.
We then see businesses (and I’ll keep to this example as a section of society) as ‘well oiled machines’ and ‘ticking like clockwork’ and never a ‘well fed or energetic jellyfish’. We, and our interactions, are of course far more complex than clockwork and it is to dumb down the true beauty of human society to put it in the same category as springs and cogs. We are dynamic, flexible and utterly resilient, and this is something to be admired and remembered, especially in the context of societal projects like climate justice and biodiversity regeneration.
“All the way through I have been urging you to keep on remembering the total interconnectedness of things as distinct from their separate isolated existence. But there is more to it than that. In most cases the connectedness is dynamic, not static” Edmund Leach (1967)