This lofty statement was on the website of Enspiral when I first stumbled across them in 2011. I showed up to the community really wanting to write a book (but not really sure how). As I got to know more about Enspiral I found many more lofty, inspiring, compelling ideas about changing the world and doing business differently so I got more and more involved.
Now, nearly a decade later, the book I wanted to write is finally out!
Working on this project has felt like an example of how this community has made that lofty statement real. This blog is a reflection on how and why we made this happen.
Finding something worth writing about.
Whatever your job is, whatever you care most about, no matter where you live or whatever you choose to believe, things are heating up on Planet Earth.
Everyone alive today will live the rest of their lives against a backdrop of The Anthropocene and a radically changing society and environment. We know our collective future will be full of unprecedented levels of wildlife extinction, mass migration, technological advancement, stress on natural resources and changing social fabric. We are also the most educated, connected human population that has ever existed. Together we face brighter opportunities, more urgent challenges and hold greater potential for global transformation than at any other time in human history.
What work is most important? Where do we start? What is worth writing a book about?
After nearly a decade ‘doing entrepreneurship’ with the Enspiral community I’ve started and shut down companies that tried something ambitious but just didn’t work. I became obsessed with the idea of scale. I got lost and confused. I went broke. I helped to launch conferences and consultancies. I setup and delivered accelerator programmes and climate change crowdfunding challenges that have directly and indirectly supported hundreds of new teams and startup projects. Over this time many big, blurry ideas slowly condensed into a ‘focused enough’ theory of how Enspiral might change the world — and finally (with alot of help!) I managed to work out the time and resources to write and produce a book.
Or in short, it took nearly 10 years, I got really distracted, learned some stuff and eventually, I knew what to write about.
The ‘what’ is a ‘how’
I think our society desperately needs more people to have more power and agency in their lives. I think we need to rethink how the collective structures in society enable and disable people to influence the world around them. I think we need to zoom out and look at the systems we adopt, knowingly and unknowingly to distribute money and power. I’ve slowly come to realise that the workplace can be where we start doing this work. Shifting power in society can start with ourselves and our livelihoods, our teams and the organisations we work with.
Regardless of what we do and where we work, the workplace can serve us better as whole human beings (not just units of labour), so in turn we can serve the world better.
Changing the workplace must go beyond creating feel-good events once a quarter, being ‘flat and bossless’ because it sounds cool, or having better employee perks that the competition.
For the workplace to really serve us better, we need to surface and challenge some of the rules of the game that lie under the surface. “Better Work” needs to address how governance, ownership, funding and control works. It needs to address how funding decisions get made, where profit gets redistributed and how decision-making happens. It has to go to the very heart of what words like ‘owner’ ‘employee’ ‘shareholder’ ‘investor’ ‘capital return’ and ‘manager’ really mean. The cultural change must go hand in hand with deeper structural work. Or in other words, the good vibes need some legal teeth that bite.
OK. So…. How do we do that? What does it look like? How can any of that actually happen?
The community is the business
As a community of entrepreneurs Enspiral has seen some success making impact in the world. People are building livelihoods growing mission driven companies like Dev Academy, Optimi, Fairground Accounting, Greaterthan and Loomio. Collectively we have supported hundreds of people to develop projects and grow in many seen and unseen ways.
However, this book is not about growing Enspiral into a giant, profitable platform that supports tens of thousands of people and ventures, or about building the next ‘Uber for X’ disruptive giant company.
I don’t think individual Enspiral companies or people will carry the story of our highest collective impact — I think there is a bigger story to this work well beyond all the logos we’ve created.
I believe the story of our greatest impact will be through the tools, processes and practical blueprints for organising and supporting ourselves to work together differently — as a community.
Telling this story means sharing the learning that has happened by simply putting big ideas into daily practice. It is about how we think together, run meetings, work in our teams, organise gatherings, share money, make decisions, and develop fundamentally, structurally different kinds of organisations and workplace culture. It needs to ask the question: Could these ideas and patterns seed and grow anywhere? Are they useful to others?
I think how we work better together is a challenge that all of us must face. It does not matter what institution we work in, what startup we are building, what organisations or movements we lead in whatever sector. Better Work Together aims to create a signal that something different is possible in the workplace, and to make Enspiral’s learnings as replicable and adaptable as possible.
We know many people are out there trying to work differently already. We know many people are out there trying to build companies that change the world. We wantto support as many people as possible to change their teams and organisations. Maybe, if this movement grows our contribution will help accelerate the wider transformation of power in our society and economy.
That maybe is ultimately why I wrote this book.
Better Work Together
There is no one perspective that binds the Enspiral story, and there are plenty of (strong) conflicting opinions about what works and what is a distracting waste of time. So, since a good community is a safe container for plurality, a book about community should be too.
As a result, Better Work Together is woven from a dozen perspectives of co-authors and supported with input by many more contributors. Susan Basterfield, the co-producer of this project, and I pulled together content to form a book from different essays, resources and practical guides. We needed to provide a collective view of many organisational and cultural experiments. Practically this covers broad ground, including:
Using the principles of entrepreneurship to grow stable, independent livelihoods and work on the projects you care about most.
Understanding power in teams and organisations: how it accrues in many different forms and how to make it more transparent, evenly distributed and useful.
Developing practical models for the structural decentralisation of governance, ownership, and control in organisations.
Surviving challenges and supporting people through failure in the entrepreneurship school of hard knocks.
Recognising and understanding diverse forms of leadership, and how best to enable them for the benefit of all.
Growing resilient, compassionate, working relationships that outlast projects and care for the whole person — not just their productive output.
Learning to manage ourselves as flawed humans, dealing with our own bullshit together with a community of support.
Challenging the obvious to dig deeper and find ideas that can actually make a systemic difference, versus just feeling good, looking slick or aligning with funding objectives.
How to make effective decisions together online as a group — without killing each other or self-destructing.
Zooming out to recognise and connect with the wider collaborators around the world using similar principles to solve these types of problems.
Fostering a professional culture where everyone can be enabled and supported to fulfil their potential (hint, it’s not about free coffee or ping pong tables, but may involve sourdough bread).
These threads (and many more) weave into a fabric that points the way towards a different kind of workplace, that will take us to a different future of work. As the project grew it also opened a much bigger, longer journey that becomes obvious now that the book is out.
These are blueprints to copy, improve and share.
“Enspiral is not a business that builds, protects, and sells intellectual property. It is not a startup trying to disrupt and claim a market for the benefit of shareholders or investors. Enspiral is a way of organising and working together. It succeeds when we all make the world work better for everyone.” ~ The open startup, by Anthony Cabraal. Better Work Together.
Now that the first book has been published, it is clearly an unfinished story.
It is an incomplete answer to a bigger question: How can we use the power of community to transform how we do business?
The answer we need is bigger than what the Enspiral community can offer. So this book is also an invitation.
If these ideas leap from the page and you are doing similar work and asking similar questions, then please join us in the enquiry.
Please take these starting maps and guides to avoid some of the sinkholes and traps we have found. Copy us and move faster to find the things that work. Do the work better than us and share the improvements. Let’s keep making work better, together.
As people working in service of a healthier, cleaner planet and a fairer and more peaceful society we all have plenty of work to do. Our job isn’t to compete with each other, it’s to help each other win a much bigger game. So this project remains a vehicle for the original invitation and spirit of Enspiral.
If you are working to improve how work gets done, I genuinely hope this book contributes to your ongoing success.