Clive Wilson on how to design a purposeful organisation: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris


Wilson, Clive

Clive Wilson is a writer, speaker, facilitator and business coach. He is a director of Primeast, a learning and development company based in the beautiful town of Harrogate in the county of North Yorkshire in the United Kingdom, some 220 miles north of London.

Primeast works primarily in the oil and gas, power, pharmaceutical and technology industries as well as with the United Nations and other agencies in Southern Africa to facilitate the sustainable development of some of the world’s poorest nations.

He has spoken or facilitated workshops worldwide on strategic alignment and talent leadership, and his clients have included Exxon Mobil, Novartis, and Celgene, a biotechnology company located in New Jersey. In recent years, with his passion for purposeful change, he has facilitated workshops and spoken at conferences in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Middle East and Australia.

Clive’s latest book, Designing the Purposeful Organization – how to inspire business performance beyond boundaries, was published by KoganPage (February 2015).

Here is an excerpt from Part 1 of my interview of Clive.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing Designing the Purposeful Organization, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth and professional development? How so?

Wilson: There are a number of people who have influenced me. From business writers such as Marcus Buckingham, Daniel Coyle and Jim Collins through to world leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. However, the people who have influenced me the most have been the plethora of clients with whom I have worked to help make their organisations more purposeful and consequently more effective, often from a clean sheet of paper.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Wilson: In the 1990s the electricity industry in the UK was privatised. I was responsible for a number of change programmes and quickly realised that the most difficult aspect of change was evolving the culture. I went to the US and spent time with Human Synergistics learning how to measure and manage this phenomenon. After applying my new knowledge, I resolved to support organisations with such challenges and have been doing so for nearly twenty years now.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Wilson: My formal education extended late into my career. I was awarded my Master of Science degree by the University of Bradford as a 40 year old. I actually find structured education difficult, preferring to follow an intuitive learning journey. Whilst writing Designing the Purposeful Organization, I took several sojourns into unusual places such as stem cell biology, fractal mathematics, quantum physics and biomimicry, as well as more obvious places such as business leadership and psychology. Thanks to the Internet, I got to attend classes taught by some of the world’s greatest thinkers. I had people like Bruce Lipton and Greg Braden speaking to me right in my living room.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Wilson: To be honest, I have to say “nothing”. My greatest learning has been starting out on the journey with little knowledge or experience and learning from the people I have worked alongside over the years. Especially from those who provided me a relatively safe space to fail and grow as a consequence.

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Wilson: Probably not the answer you’re looking for but I really enjoy adventure films such as Braveheart where the “hero’s journey” is enacted. The hero is born, is taught, discovers their quest and from that point has no option but to make the hero’s choice – to do the right thing. In a way, business is like that. Every organisation and person in it is looking for their purpose and those who discover it and follow it diligently have rewarding careers. When people know who they are and have a curiosity about their context, feelings arise which steer them on an amazing journey.

Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Wilson: The one that springs to mind is No Destination by Satish Kumar, the editor of Resurgence Magazine. It tells of his life story, his sense of purpose. It tells of how he came out of a monastic life to be involved in land reform in India and then to walk without provisions from there to Moscow and beyond to discuss nuclear disarmament with world leaders. And much more. An inspiring and sincere journey. A life of meaning and adventure.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Wilson: This takes me back to your earlier question about who I learned the most from. It is through meeting people where they’re at and sharing the journey with them that we learn the most. Not in the arrogance of knowledge but in the humility of common quest and mutual insight. In such circumstances the illusion of duality dissipates and the truth of oneness and growth manifests. In such circumstances, no one person can claim personal ownership of the gain.

Morris: From Howard Aiken: “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”

Wilson: I’ve never worried about people stealing my ideas. My sole purpose is to play a small part in developing an increasingly purposeful world. If my ideas have any merit at all, I will be happy to see them turned into action.

Morris: From Richard Dawkins: “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”

Wilson: I’ve never been an orthodox thinker. I dance creatively with the challenge of a better future. I awake in the night with new thoughts and explore new ways of doing things. I have met skepticism and been reassured to discover much of my thinking becoming the norm. Such was my response to the divisive talent management strategies prompted by the “War for Talent” in the 1990s. When I first started to suggest that talent management needed to be inclusive and cultural, I was one of a few voices out of kilter. Now this thinking is becoming the norm and my head is into “what next?” By the way I conclude that the “what’s next” is that the ownership of talent will be firmly with individuals with organisations creating the conditions in which it can flourish and managers being skilled facilitators. But that’s a topic for another text I suppose.

Morris: From Isaac Asimov: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s odd….’”

Wilson: Absolutely! “Eureka” is the end of a quest (or at least of a chapter). “That’s odd…” is a new beginning. Providing we take the baton.

Morris: From Thomas Edison: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

Wilson: A few years ago I was sitting with a colleague outside a cafe in Malawi, where we do a lot of work with the UN and various agencies that are trying to change the world. I heard the word “Dzukani”. It is a Chichewa word (of the Malawian people) that means “wake up”. I stole the word and drew a process that describes how feelings arise when a person is placed in a context. The feelings provide a sense of direction from which a vision is formed. But the vision is meaningless without a commitment (and follow through) to action. In taking action we channel the energy of a context (positive or negative) into a better future. Thus is the act of creation.

Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Wilson: Exactly – which is the whole point of my book. Everything we do should be truly purposeful. Losing touch with purpose is negligent and wasteful. Purposeful leadership, in my view, is the only meaningful leadership.

* * *

To read all of Part 1, please click here.

Clive cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Designing the Purposeful Organisation Amazon link

Kogan-Page link

Link to additional KoganPage resources

Primeast link

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