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Will McInnes

Notes from WorldBlu Live, San Francisco

I’m not long back from the best conference of my life, and I’ve been to a few.

WorldBlu Live is the annual meeting-of-minds for those interested in democracy at work. This year’s was in San Francisco – my first trip to that city (and that continent!).

I was there to represent NixonMcInnes and collect our WorldBlu award for the third year running (shameless plug!), to share our experiences on the topic of Transparency – one of WorldBlu’s 10 principles of democracy at work, to meet other people with the same values, and especially to LEARN.

It was absolutely inspirational. Here are my quickfire takeaways:

We are not alone

In creating a different approach to running a business, I have often felt completely isolated within and completely at odds with the wider business community. It’s pretty hard to not know anyone else making the same mistakes or taking the same unconventional approaches – in the end I’ve often ended up wondering whether it’s all just impossible and stupid (on the bad days!) to try at all.

But at WorldBlu Live I met incredible people and heard the stories of amazing companies facing very similar challenges, trying to achieve very similar outcomes, wrestling with the same stuff we do.

Organisations that spanned the gamut of organisation size (see below) and across many different countries and continents (see also below).

When I was putting together my personal development plan for the last two years I remember getting some suggestions from people I really trust and respect and a couple of the courses or events were CSR-type stuff. I just remember saying to Pete and Lasy, ‘but these are not my people’… They had some of the values, but not the same business-y-ness. It was almost one or the other.

Coming away from WorldBlu Live I feel like I’ve found my people. People like the excellent guys behind Podio, Alex the Chief Happiness Officer, Ayden from the conducter-less Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Blake from Namasté Solar, Matt and Roberto from Nearsoft, Mark from Brainpark, Cari, James and Mark from Future Considerations, education activist Sam Chaltain, John and Elissa from Frank, and many, many more.

We are not alone. Quite the opposite in fact :)

This stuff scales

A common challenge from people I meet and also in my own confused lil’ head is ‘sounds cool, but probably won’t work in a big organisation’.

At WorldBlu Live the charming, funny CEO of WD-40 Company explained the culture and principles in that business.WD-40 Company is a big business, yet has had a fantastic year and maintains an employee engagement of 91.8% (and a whole raft of other metrics).

We had a video presentation from the CEO of DaVita, a Fortune 400 company employing 35,000 with revenues of $6bn where they used a new democratic organisational approach to turn the business around from near-bankruptcy to market-leaders in a high-stakes medical market.

And we heard about HCL, the Indian systems integration business, with 85,000 employees and $2bn in revenue, with its own unique approach to managing culture as captured in the very readable ‘Employees First, Customers Second’ by CEO Vineet Nayar.

I would like, one day, to participate in the scaling up of a progressive business culture that instils democratic working practices. To go large. I think that would be fun.

Global movement

Over the two and a bit days I spent time learning from people from:

  • Denmark
  • Mexico
  • Canada
  • UK
  • And all over the USA

Personally, I love hearing from different people with different experiences. As this thing grows, it’d be great to see more European organisations coming out of the woodwork too!

And so it rolls

So thank you to Traci, Miranda and the whole WorldBlu team that put blood, sweat and tears to make this happen! Thank you.

From here, it’s onwards and upwards.

This week I’ll be taking our team through a longer, deeper run through of the extensive notes I made.

Additionally a few of us Europeans have some plans – there’s talk of both a specific event in Copenhagen in September that I’m likely to be participating in, and another plan to put on a freer-form event here in Brighton to invite people curious to learn as well as those curious to share. More of that another time.

Now back to work – there’s lots to do.

This post was filed under Events, Not for profit, Working culture Comments are currently closed.


  1. Lorne


    Great to hear your tale and to feel your inspiration.

    I think it would be wonderful to be able to help other organisations ‘be’ what you are pioneering.

    We tried at my previous gaff, but so often the same ol’ bull raised its ugly head and took us back down to the grimy level of command and control.

    Many of the organisations I have worked alongside from big global corporates to wee charities express a similar desire to be ‘democratic’ because they know it makes sense at all levels….but they just cant do it.

    Maybe it is because they don’t know how. Could you/we help them? Could it be that they need to do certain things 100% to qualify, or accept that they are not ‘democratic’, never will be and shouldn’t pretend anymore…


    Posted 25th May 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink
  2. Hey Lorne, thanks for chipping in :) I hear what you’re saying, and it is going to be hard to make these changes because we’ve all been raised to take this stuff for granted – at school, at every workplace.

    But we really want to do it, and feel that we are in small ways so far. But would love to do more of it!

    And yes, one of the things I took from WorldBlu is that there’s no template, no pure and perfect version, and it is a continuum and a journey.

    Posted 31st May 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink
  3. Tom Nixon

    Whoop! thanks for writing it up Will. Would have loved to have been there as well and it is great to see you so fired up. GO LARGE. :)

    Posted 10th June 2011 at 10:17 am | Permalink