“Ways that I am NOT Going Back to ‘Business-as-Usual’”

A note on my intended audience: for now it is you, my fellow participants, and I (Jon Hokama) hope to lay the groundwork for an article for the Focolare Living City Magazine (or Plough Publishing) to equip small business owners, like those of the EoC, and others with the conceptual tools necessary to articulate and persuade others toward  a shared ownership economy.

When I step back from my life, I find it ironic that I feel a soul-weariness. On the one hand I am seeing how lovely my “business as usual” has been and, largely, still is. I realized how privileged I am. My wife and I have home-based businesses and can still work from home. (Our business revenues have been depleted by COVID but we have sufficient savings to live and have been exploring ways to be of service).  I live in a comfortable yet modest neighborhood on the outer edge of Denver. Our block still has a culture of 1950s neighborliness—most neighbors are on our group-text chat to share news and needs (“Did you hear the gunshot sounds?” “Anyone need hand sanitizer?”). We share ladders and chop saws and have block gatherings like our annual co-op Halloween trick-or-treat party where we provide one-stop treat-gathering for the neighborhood kids. We live are like we belong to a small town within the city. We are a couple blocks from excellent restaurants, our bank and our grocery store. My wife and our two adult daughters  were born at the hospital two blocks away. Even our church is a mere ten minute bike ride away. Since the lock-down began, I am happy we’ve been able to provide space for family and friends who have needed shelter during this pandemic.

As I reflect more on what contributed to my “business as usual” life, I am aware of the depth and breadth of my “wealth.” My college-prep, Episcopal boys’ school and professional-track orchestral training –especially playing in string quartets!– prepared me well for UCLA (B.A., English), Denver Seminary (M.Div.)  and CU Boulder (M.A. economics). I am indebted to the intellectual and social capital I enjoyed from my Japanese American community roots, my multi-cultural life in Hawaii, my medical school professor and mentor Dad, and my church organist Mom. Being a campus minister for an inter-denominational college ministry (InterVarsity) taught me skills in building missional relational communities in dorms and other living arenas—more on this later.

Maybe my weariness is from working past my indifference and becoming sensitized to and entering into the suffering of others nearby. This COVID pandemic is starting to take the scales from my eyes. I spent time with a neighbor on the next block. A week later, first his wife and then he contracted and then recovered from COVID-19. The boyfriend of a young adult friend works at a meat packing plant that was a COVID hotbed earlier in the pandemic; he’ll be returning to Mexico soon to avoid inevitable deportation. We participated in an on-line JACL civil rights demonstration and heard about an ICE facility in our city. A couple weeks ago we visited that ICE facility to learn more about the plight of the incarcerated immigrants to see how we might serve them.

Like my business owner clients, I used to be so busy and entrenched in “business as usual” that I would rarely take the time or luxury to ask meta-questions about their businesses. Occasionally I did get to ask questions like,

  • How does your business support your personal life purpose?
  • Do your employees also get to flourish holistically in their roles?
  • Would you consider an ESOP to transition your business to them?
  • What ESG criteria might best suit your business?

Usually they hired me to deal with a problem employee or create a strategic plan or help them fine tune some aspect of their strategy or leadership and that is what I worked on. Some owners knew their “strategic plan” was a entrepreneurial spasm generated by whatever their strength was—working hard to find new clients, seeing and seizing a market opportunity and taking the first-mover advantage, excelling at leadership and execution of plans, managing cash flow and capital structure adroitly, leveraging expert R&D to create a better widget. But in the current pandemic, none of us can any longer practice “business as usual.” Everyone’s strengths are tested by the disintegration of fundamental business assumptions that now showing the nakedness of the emperor’s new clothes: all the certainties of business context have been disrupted by the mudslide of human behaviors flooding our landscape with the vagaries of COVID. It boggles our imagination to see the jobs created since the last recession evaporate within days after the end of the longest bull market in history. The economic, health and emotional well-being of the poor and POC are a catastrophe that points to social, economic and political structural weaknesses in our society that cannot be ignored.

I’m no longer interested in going back to doing the same business advising with the same kind of clients.  I now intend to work with clients who intend to change their lives, their businesses, to address some aspect of the political/social/economic/planetary crisis. But now I want to build on the vitality of my current relational fabric and the potential of relationships in this group, I am committed to continue practices that I’ve started during the pandemic. I will continue to ground myself in a daily contemplative practice; I intend to take time daily to tend to my vegetable garden. (Like Kentucky poet and farmer Wendell Barry, I will tend to my one patch of ground—taking the care of our home and grounds for the time when we’re able to reopen our business). Wondering out loud,

 

 

Prompt 2: “Really, I’m Not Wishy-Washy”

Hokama Shared Ownership Movement

IFC = Impact Finance Center                              MHM = Mile High Ministries

FPA= Financial Planning Association                EoC = Economy of Communion

B-Corp (CoPeace)                                                   EoFrancesco = Economy of Francesco

ESOP= Employee Stock Ownership Plan          Bruderhof = Christian community

C.U. = Credit Union member            Center for Action and Contemplation = I am a TA there

These organizations in my part of the shared ownership movement cluster around two poles: the religious and business/financial.

Being steeped in faith communities from childhood, I am drawn to both the Alternative and the Personal Transformation models. In order to be an integrated human being, I have always held the conviction that I needed to “walk my talk” by living an Alternative way of life. But whether it was as a campus minister, an executive in a Fortune 50 company, or a business owner advising business leaders I found I was a hypocrite. My own foibles and blind spots made it difficult for me to live as authentically as I wished.  (I’ve been drawn to study the Enneagram extensively and have found it to be a helpful tool to increase my self-awareness, self-compassion, and, I hope, my transformation).

During my work in corporations, I found myself gravitating to the institutional transformational model, insider variety. I sought to be a change agent as an insider and found this posture to be the most comfortable. After ten plus years of trying, I was disappointed at the paucity of my results in bringing about change: I had hoped to deepen the famous “HP Way” of leading and managing people by building an internal coaching network.  The then CEO conducted herself and the business in such a way that human flourishing was increasingly difficult to cultivate as an internal executive coach–especially when one gets laid off. (In hindsight, I was idealistic and my aspiriations grandiose).

That being said, I am not wishy-washy in my approach to social change! While centered in the Personal Transformational/Alternative models,  I am truly excited to learn from others of you about Institutional Change approaches that are not familiar to me—structure organizing and mass protest.

Given my strategic planning bent, I am eager to help a movement create healthy institutionalization.

Footnote:

I love what Mark McKibben wrote in his preface to This is an Uprising:

The jiu-jitsu of unearned suffering lies at the heart of the potential of nonviolence—this is the counterintuitive atomic charge that Gandhi happened upon, though it must be said that Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, seemed to have a prescient understanding of the technique. Turning the other cheek turns out not to be a weak stance, nor does it need to come from a moral commitment to pacifism; the data and experience catalogued in This Is an Uprising make it clear that it is instead the tactically sound choice….

Successful uprisings demand a dozen other features surrounding that alchemical core, of course: enough structure to allow protest to continue and grow, enough messaging ability to avoid crippling backlash, enough discipline to prevent adventurers and agents provocateurs from taking over. 

I have been wondering how the current protests might be sustained until change happens – love together with non-violence seems to be the answer.

 

5 thoughts on ““Ways that I am NOT Going Back to ‘Business-as-Usual’”

  1. Jon – it’s been wonderful to get to know you through the 1-on-1 breakout on our Monday call, our peer learning group call today and this post. The four questions you ask business owners are great ones to ponder. You mentioned this post being the foundation of an article for Focolare Living City Magazine. What is one thing you would like magazine readers to take away from it?

    You mentioned shifting the focus of your business and the clients that you work with. Reflecting on your social movement ecology map, what new relationships might that shift require?

    How do you plan to identify business owners that desire to “address some aspect of the political/social/economic/planetary crisis”? Where will you meet them? How will they find you?

    I love the description in the first paragraph about your community and its “culture of 1950s neighborliness”. How were you all able to build that culture? In this time of Covid and quarantine, I’ve heard many people speak about feelings of disconnection. Are there any tips you can offer from your experience of community about how to build a culture of connection?

    Thank you for sharing this piece and I think it will make a great magazine article.

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    1. I love your question, Jennifer, about the one thing that I want to push readers toward. I think I’ve probably embedded 3 or 4 articles in this opening reflection!

      I love your question about how to find these ideal clients–I am hoping I may find a niche in this network to serve. I know a B Corporation (majority impact investment owners of in renewable energy firms) in Denver that I’m in conversation. I plan to work my impact investment networks, Conscious Capitalism. I’m open to any ideas you may have as well!

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  2. Thank you for the piece. It was insightful and made me think about my own relationship between my faith and my work.

    I’m stuck by how this pandemic has made you redouble your efforts on connecting your work to your values given that the two worlds seemed to have a lot of alignment already for you. What do you think made this experience different?

    I love the questions that you pose to your clients and wish more owners asked these types of questions of themselves. What kind of responses have you seen in the past to these types of questions? Do you think those responses will change going forward?

    “I now intend to work with clients who intend to change their lives, their businesses, to address some aspect of the political/social/economic/planetary crisis.” This commitment is strong and needed today. Do you have a framework that you’ll use to assess businesses against these criteria? How will you keep these concepts alive in the face of challenges or time?

    What attracts you to the Institutional Change approaches? Do you think there is a role for the approach in more business-oriented institutions/structures?

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    1. Thanks Philip for your generous questions–you’ve given me a lot of good questions to pursue in my RS. Some intial answers:
      * This pandemic has exposed many of the fault lines of capitalism, our dualistic political system and what remains of the “public square,” racial injustice, economic and healthcare injustices. I see them as so intertwined that I think our best chance is to allow this Alternative model to emerge and accelerated through this community.
      **I will expand a framework to your question!
      *** I attempted to function as an Insider to work for Institutional Change and found it was often stymied. At one company when I attempted to cultivate more internal clients for our dept it was a particularly precarious time . I was explicitly told by my manager to just stay at my desk and “look busy.” I knew then that I was not a good company man and was relieved when I was the among the first layoffs; the entire department was eliminated prior to the merger less than a year later. How I would love to come along a prospective Insider to strategize how best to be a change agent!

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  3. Jon, great piece. Your comments about your time at HP was interesting. I’m curious in particular about your comment that your aspirations were grandiose and idealistic? What would have happened if had achieved those aspirations?

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