Welcome to the Telling of Story Podcast. I’m your host, Storyteller Jewels, and along with my guests, it’s my endeavor to explore the art and science of storytelling, to attract, engage, and retain a business audience, and to unpack why it works for some, and not for the many that try. Listen in as Walter talks about cultural change in organizations.

Walter: When you are Actually trying to achieve a change in the field of sustainability in your organization, when you really try to move forward and that’s sustainability in the way of thinking of an organization, then you are creating a culture change and an organizational change. That brought me back to my field of anthropology and of culture.

Jewels: In this episode, I have the pleasure of talking with Walter Faaij. Walter is a corporate anthropologist and the founder of Green Culture Lab. Walter talks, writes and consults on [00:01:00]sustainability, corporate culture and culture change. Guiding leaders of companies and organisations in embedding sustainability in their corporate culture.

Walter has also researched the social impact of climate change on Greenland. Walter, welcome to the show. 

Walter: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here, 

Jewels: Walter. I know very little about Greenland other than fun fact, Greenland is further north, south, east, and west of Iceland. , look at on, if you look at it on the map, it kind of surprising, but that’s, it’s an actual fact.

Other than that, I have no clue. All much about Greenland. Can you give me a bit of insight as to, I know you spent three months there. What was your greatest learning? What was some insights? What was it like? 

Walter: Well, actually I knew nothing about Greenland either, and that sparked my curiosity, so, I was finishing my master’s degree at university here and I was diving into climate change and I [00:02:00]was trained to be an anthropologist.

So all the facts and figures and statistics and temperature increase 1. 5 degrees, uh, two degrees Celsius. I didn’t feel it. I couldn’t see it. So I thought, where in the world can you go to a place to actually experience Climate change and its impacts on the lives of everyday people like me and like you and like my parents So and besides that I have a fascination for the high Arctic So I spent quite some time in Scandinavia later on and went to Spitsbergen as well But I thought hey, I’m an anthropologist.

I have three months of Precious time to go to a place and experience life over there. So why not go to Greenland? And it was literally a white spot on the world map. So I went there and I lost my heart a little bit over there because it’s a special place, both because of nature and the high Arctic and the.

Still crazy low temperatures, the icebergs, the mountains, the way of living of the people there. So it, it took my heart in a way, but it also confronted me with the impact of climate change. I was there [00:03:00] on, in 2010, so already 14 years ago. And when I was there in Holland, climate change was some, almost a theoretical discussion.

If I over exaggerated, but right there, the impact and the real impact and the everyday impact of climate change was very visible and very tangible. So I focused my research on the impact on the fisheries, because at the time, 85 to 90 percent of the GDP of Greenland was based on fisheries. So. I thought if there’s climate change, which has an impact on nature, fish is also nature.

So how does that impact the way of moving and living of fish? And how does that impact the fishermen and all the people depending on it and the entire society depending on it? And that was very confronting because one of the effects was that all the fish Fish stocks live in certain temperature zones, you could say.

And because of the warming of the temperature, these temperature zones moved up North. And to understand it a little bit [00:04:00] better, how this impacts society. There’s three types of fisheries, and I’m not going into the small details, but one of the types is the big industrial. The fisheries, so they go out for a couple of weeks, sometimes even months, and they come back and they have internal freezes on board and all that stuff.

Then there’s like the coastal fisheries, the boats with four or five people on it, who go out for, I don’t know, a couple of days, three, four, five, six days, something like that. And then you have a very big group of people who are involved in subsistence based fishing. So they go out in their open small motorboat by themselves or with their son or their brother every day, putting out their long lines in the fjords or just outside on the coastline and coming back every day and putting the fish in the freezer to eat it next month or two months after.

And if you have to go. 50 miles farther up north or 100 because these temperature zones move up north. That is super expensive in terms of money for gasoline, in terms of time that it takes, but also in terms of risks because you’re in the, in the Arctic. So [00:05:00] if you fall overboard. That’s very dangerous. So that was one of the effects.

And the other effects was that, that people fish and hunt also in sleds when it’s cold in wintertime, which is about half of the year, but the ice turned, they couldn’t predict the weather anymore, so they couldn’t read the ice anymore. They couldn’t read the weather anymore. So what happens is that in many smaller.

Very small villages that were only reached by by plane helicopter or overseas or with dog sleds Fishermen and hunters they fell under the ice and never came home. So for them, it’s a tragedy But for their family, it’s a tragedy and for that entire community and social system. That was a tragedy too. So Well, I thought it was quite confronting to see the everyday impact of climate change on how that society and the people live there.

So, yeah. 

Jewels: And what sort of time frame did that change occur in? That climate, that reduction or the increase in temperature? 

Walter: It’s a gradual process. And I think it’s a [00:06:00] buildup since our economy industrialized in starting in the 19th century, but I think it’s a buildup of all the CO2 we are emitting and methane and other greenhouse gases.

So it’s a buildup. It’s a gradual process. 

Jewels: Was there a point in time when it became noticeable for those people? So, you know, the ice became softer, the fish started to move. Did that happen maybe 10, 20 years ago? Did it happen 30 years ago? 

Walter: I think it started happening in the late 1900s. So, well, it happened, it started happening before already, but then it became more and more visible.

And it’s, I mean, climate change is a very gradual process and fish stock, they were depleted. And then you can wonder whether what would be the cause and one of the causes what they were overfishing so that this bigger trend of climate change and temperature increase was creeping and creeping and creeping with 0.

1 degree every couple of years, but it crept up and what happens is that climate change at the North and the South Pole so also in Greenland, the [00:07:00] extremes are a bit bigger. So if you would say we are right now, At a path towards, let’s say 7 temperature increase. And if we, well, it depends on the choices that we make, but, but you could say maybe 7 degree.

We already are, we’ve got in our pocket. That’s an average, but on the North and the South of the planets, it’s much more extreme. So it’s not times four or five, but maybe times two, two and a half, maybe even three. So it’s, it exaggerates. And that’s the thing that, and it’s a speeding up process because a lot of Snow and ice reflects the sunlight because of all the very small particles of dust that we are emitting throughout the world.

It gathers on the ice cap of Greenland, resulting in less strict white ice and snow, less reflection, more heating up. So it’s a process that speeds up itself in that area. And the thing is what I’ve found very paradoxically is that the people there, they say, well, climate change for now, it’s a major [00:08:00]problem.

Because we have to turn our entire society, maybe even because it’s based on fisheries, but in the long run. A little bit warmer here. It does make sense because we are in a very extreme environment and we can’t grow our own crops. There’s no forest to grow. So there’s no, it’s quite, it’s not a tough life out there.

Well, a couple of degrees warmer. It’s not that bad. And what’s also happening is that because the ice is melting a little bit and the mountains of ice floating through the seas are decreasing in size and the times of the year are getting smaller. So what also happened at that time? And. And they came back a little bit from it is that the major oil companies went in there and started to explore for oil and also minerals.

Bringing in a lot of money, a lot of people, a lot of ideas. So having an immense effect on society and Greenland is when I was there, they were living about 55, 000 people. So that’s in Dutch compared to how Dutch society [00:09:00] works. That’s a minor town. 

Jewels: Yes. 

Walter: It’s tiny. And the capital was only 15, 000 people. So that’s a village in Holland.

Jewels: Yeah. 

Walter: But at the same time, if there’s a strong influx of people and ideas and of money, that has a well severe, or at least a strong impact on how society works. 

Jewels: So when you went back to Holland, what came next? Where did you use that information? Did you take it somewhere? Where, what was your next part of your journey?

Walter: But what came next was to be very frank and honest was a struggle because first I had to graduate. So I wrote a thesis and that was great. But then I finished my degree and I was spit out of the academic system, but it was 2010. So I was an anthropologist. It was at least in Europe regarding the labor market.

We were at the midst of the financial crisis, which started in 2008, but well, 2010, it wasn’t a great time, especially enough for an anthropologist. Especially not for someone who was wanting to go into climate change and sustainability, which were different topics then than they are now. But I felt [00:10:00]something was going on in the world.

And it was a story of Greenland in my mind at that time. But I also realized it’s not just a story about Greenland. It’s a story that is visible on Greenland. But it’s a bigger story about Greenland. In my perspective, in my opinion about the world and the way it looks and the way it affects societies is different throughout the world, but it’s going to impact all of us.

So I really was looking and searching for a place in that field as an anthropologist. So what happened was the framework at that time of people plan a profit was used wide and often And I was an anthropologist, but I didn’t have my story quite ready. So people thought well, you’re an anthropologist So we put you in the People part of the frame, but it was about Employership about continuous learning about human rights, labor rights, all important themes and topics, but not my expertise and not the major thing that I wanted to work in.

And it took me a couple of applications and rejections. And then I bumped into [00:11:00] someone who said, well, I have a small assignment for you. It was a couple of hundred euros. So it was a very small assignment, but I thought, well, if this gets me started, then this gets me started. So I went to the chamber of commerce and listed my company.

And I started working and I used my company to, to have a lot of coffees with people. I thought they were interesting and kind of, well, I wasn’t doing podcasts, but I was just talking to people to, to understand the world and the field that they were working in. And it took me a couple of years, I think maybe three, maybe four years, something like that.

And the thing that I recall as the turning point was I had done an assignment with a small team of five within an energy service company. They’re another one of the major energy service companies on storage of solar panel energy for homeowners. So whether they could work out a product to accommodate whether there was even a need to build a product around it.

So what we did was very anthropological. We started. ringing doorbells when we saw there were houses with solar panels on their [00:12:00] roof and having kitchen table conversations. And we did some research on the internet and Twitter helped us to find people we could speak with, interview with. So we had a very rich data set of information, qualitative, anthropological, which was great.

So we had a presentation. With, with target groups and it was really received well. And they said, we should move on into the next phase to do some further research and to start prototyping and all that stuff that, that comes with it, which is not my expertise because I’m an anthropologist and I didn’t hear back from them.

So after, I don’t know, a month, five weeks, I called them and I said, well, when are we moving? And because I’m kind of keeping my agenda a little bit open. So when are we moving? And the answer was, we are not moving. And I didn’t understand why. And they started telling me, and while the management thinks it’s a bit insecure and we don’t want to take the risk and the organization isn’t ready and we don’t have, have our processes ready yet.

And all that stuff, all these words, this word cloud came to me and I was really frustrated, but what it brought me, so I’m at that [00:13:00] time I was frustrated, but now I’m very grateful for that moment because I. It got me thinking and I realized when you are actually trying to achieve a change in the field of sustainability in your organization, when you really try to move forward and that sustainability in the way of thinking of an organization, then you are creating.

A culture change and an organizational change that brought me back to my field of anthropology and of culture. And with a massive U turn of, let’s say three to four years. Yeah, I think it was four years actually. And then when I realized that it was about culture and about our behavior and about our choices and about how we organize our organizations, that got me back in the heart of my expertise.

And I took it from there. So this was, let’s say 2014, now we’re 10 years farther down the road. The essence of what I do is trying to reframe the challenge of, of sustainability into a cultural challenge. So it’s not about more technology. It’s not [00:14:00] about more or different policy writing on processes or procedures or about new business cases.

All these things need to be done. But the main realization that I want to bring in the main reframing that I want to do, and this is about storytelling, I think, is that it’s a challenge of culture. It’s a cultural challenge and it’s about people. It’s about mindset. It’s about choices. It’s about behavior and how we do these things collectively within organizations, companies, or entire societies.

So that’s the reframing I tried to do. And then there’s a set of activities and actions and propositions. I developed from that insight, but that insight is what brought me where I am today. 

Jewels: I love hearing people’s backstories because it’s often the struggle that you encounter along the way that creates the opportunity, right?

So often, you know, it’s a problem that you discover that frustrates you, and therefore you realize, hey, this is probably frustrating others, and it’s a problem that needs to be solved. Resolving. So tell me a little bit about is a green [00:15:00] culture lab, which is your company. Is that the, is this the formation of this idea and where you’re, what you’re working on now and you describe yourself as.

A corporate anthropologist. So you might want to just describe that or define that for me a little bit. 

Walter: Yeah. I call myself a corporate anthropologist because there’s a tension between those words, at least in the perception of many people, let’s put it that way in Holland. And when I was telling people in my early days as an anthropologist, I was an anthropologist, they were like, Ooh, you’re trained to be, to be jobless.

You’re trained to be an academic without a job, without work, or very dusty doing research on some far away, exotic tribe, which can be interesting for you, but not for many, and then you write a book on it or dissertation or whatever. And, and adding corporate to it creates a tension because I kind of do those things I just described, but I do them within organizations and companies.

So I study corporate culture or organizational culture, and I don’t just Do this because I [00:16:00] think it’s funny. I do this because I’m contracted by that organization or by someone within that organization to help them better understand their own culture. And that’s where the corporate anthropologist part comes from.

And you could also say organizational anthropologist or even applied anthropologist. So, but I think the tension between the words corporate corporate and anthropologist is, is great fun. And people raise eyebrows and say, well, enlighten me. And that gives me the cue to explain how I understand and how I understand corporate anthropology and how I be a corporate anthropologist, how I am a corporate anthropologist.

And it comes down to applying. That scale sets as an anthropologist into the field of change, the organizational change, the culture change that embedding sustainability brings for an organization. So you could be a corporate anthropologist in any field, in any topic. And I choose to do that in the field of sustainability, because I think it’s a culture change.

[00:17:00] And the thing is. Especially in my early days. And my story wasn’t ready yet. And the field wasn’t as developed as it is today. The main take on this field of climate change and sustainability was very technological, very scientific, very, very also business case minded, very economic. And. Well, that’s where I had to work hard to put in another frame next to it, which turned into doing a lot of keynote working, keynote speaking, I should say by now to tell these stories, to reframe the challenge into a challenge of people and culture and behavior and mindset.

And the things I just mentioned before. So keynote speaking is one of the things that I do from Green Culture Lab. A lot of facilitating of, of dialogue is also something that I do. And there’s a small story behind that or underneath it, I should say. Because as anthropologists, we say nothing means anything by itself.

So there is no universal good. Or wrong. There is no universal, beautiful or ugly. Those are [00:18:00]universal questions. The answers, they differ over time, over place where you are. So nothing means anything by itself. And the way we give meaning to those things is by interaction, by talking about these things, So there is a chance that one point down the road, there are people talking about this podcast.

Well, what do you think about Jewels? What do you think about how Walter was explaining his story? And what they are doing in that conversation is making sense and giving meaning to what they experienced. So nothing means anything by itself. That’s an important realization and an important assumption that, that analyzes.

So. The challenge is then to have very brave, open, honest, meaningful dialogues. So those are things that I like to call campfire conversations. So I facilitate and guide a lot of those campfire conversations in companies to give meaning to challenges in the field of sustainability or circularity or impact or, and the challenges that come with it.

So. Keynote speaking is something I do a lot facilitating those kinds of dialogues and then [00:19:00]also culture scans, cultural researchers, culture assessments. I don’t really like the word, but it’s used often to help a company better understand why sustainability is hard to get in the DNA of the organization and in what way culture helps and in what way it doesn’t help and those kinds of things.

And then I got these culture change programs as well in many different ways and shapes and forms. 

Jewels: Yeah, you mentioned something that was really interesting through that dialogue there where you mentioned that nothing means anything on its own. And two people could be having a conversation about us talking in the future sometime.

And it’s up to their interpretation, right? So there’s a lot of context and biases that will create this formed opinion about whatever it is they hear or see at any point in time. And it’s something that I work hard on from a storytelling perspective, because I think that’s true on any form of communication, [00:20:00]right?

So whenever we communicate, you could, I could be talking in front of, you know, an audience of, of people, you know, let’s say it’s, 50 people in a room, and you can almost bet that there’ll be 50 variations of interpretation of what it is I’ve just said, because of their history, because of what their mindset is, well, you know, it might even be to the fact that they’ve had a, they woke up with a headache that morning, so, you know, they feel a bit grumpy that day.

So, When you’re talking about cultural change, I too see a lot of challenge in that because there’s, comes with it a lot of bias, a lot of history, a lot of, you know, interpretation of the messaging. So how do you combat that in your world when you’re trying to actually invoke quite large change, I imagine?

Some of these organisations, are probably pretty large and they would generally move quite slowly and you’re going to have a lot of people trying to make a decision. [00:21:00] And culture is not something that you can tell people to do or tell people to build. It’s something that forms, right? It’s something that is built over time.

So all of that fascinates me because I think there’s a massive challenge in communication in general because when you’re telling those stories It’s up to the recipient to interpret it to some degree. So how do you combat that in your day to day, in your workings and, and making sure that people are actually hearing and interpreting and then hopefully doing something about it?

Walter: Yeah, it’s a great question. And I feel I fully agree with you with the challenges that you describe. And I don’t have one answer. I have a couple of answers, maybe even in the way of small stories, but I think you say communication, we talk about stories, but I think maybe even words can be interpreted differently.

So if I say sustainability, I might mean something different with it than when you hear me say it. So I think the challenge is to 

Jewels: let alone [00:22:00] in a different language to like you. Potentially in Dutch and in English, it’s going to mean, you know, the way it’s phrased could make the difference in what it means to somebody as well.

All right. So sorry. 

Walter: Yeah, no, but you’re perfectly right. So in Dutch and English or Australian, there’s differences, but also if the guy from finance tells it to the guy from operations and they talk about sustainability, they might be on different levels talking about it. So I think the challenge is to create this space, to have that conversation about very important words.

To give meaning to those words. So what I mean with it, I can say sustainability and you have your own interpretation, but you should ask me what you mean with it and how does it translate and how can I see it? How can I touch it? What is it not? So all those kinds of things you have to discuss and go through and.

And this can be, this can feel, this might feel like a little bit of kind of a waste of time in a silly conversation, but if it’s really important words or if it’s core values or if it’s a word like sustainability, you should take the time to [00:23:00] have that discussion on many companies and organizations.

Those discussions are, well, not had or very, very superficially or majorities impose their own interpretation on minorities or smaller groups or people with less power. So I think it’s very important to. To create that space, to have that conversation about those meaningful things, and then you come down to the communication of those words in terms of story.

And I think. A very important and often overlooked element of culture change and change in general is a narrative of change. So what is the narrative that you invite the rest of the organization or maybe even your clients or your supplier, so whoever is involved and has a stake in it, the narrative of change should invite other people to step into it.

To be part of it to say, well, maybe I don’t even like this change, but I feel why it’s needed. So it shouldn’t be a very rationally complete picture, perfect presentation, but there should also be emotion in it. It should [00:24:00] also be compassionate. It should also be understanding of loss in it. So there should be more elements in it.

It should be much more human than a lot of. These stories I encounter and often even there isn’t even a story and it’s like we’re going to change and the why isn’t even answered with story or in whatever way because someone has decided but that’s a shitty story. So I think this narrative of change is very often very overlooked and at the same time if used properly and if used well and if repeated.

Over and over again without getting like an LP you don’t want to hear anymore, but you should repeat it and not like, well, I told them once, why don’t they do it? No, because it’s, they don’t live it yet. People don’t live it yet. Do you live it yourself, Mr. CEO? So this narrative of change, if there’s a vacuum, then people start.

Creating their own stories and creating their own narratives. And you don’t control the narrative anymore. And you could say, well, do you ever fully control the narrative? But that’s a different discussion. But I think this narrative of change is a [00:25:00] very important and often overlooked part of creating that change.

Jewels: I love where you’ve gone there. And I think the depth of what you’re talking about is super important because I think we do tend to just throw out, you know, the core values of the business, the company, you know, here are our five, you know, core values and everyone just needs to, you know, accept those like, and I don’t think that’s correct.

Right. So. Being able to have those discussions, go to the depth, allow people to disagree and have those conversations and bring their emotion and say why they don’t necessarily believe in that same cause. I love those elements. And you also mentioned just now, that people will make up the narrative themselves if they’re not informed or if they’re not part of those conversations.

I think that’s massive for me because I talk a little bit about that too, where if you’re not clear about what it is you’re trying to do, if you’re not clear about what it is you’re asking people to do, if you don’t engage people and get their feedback, those [00:26:00] kinds of If you leave gaps In any part of your communication, then the chances are very, very high that they are going to fill those gaps with whatever’s going on in their head.

Right. And it could be from a good place. It could be from a bad place. It could be from a place of confusion because naturally people will join their own dots. So if you’re not able to tell the entire story, then they will make up the gaps. They will fill in the narrative that they don’t, that you don’t share.

And I love the idea of, you know, bringing them in, making them part of the conversation. You said something, and I just wanted to question you on it was the, the campfire sessions. Can you tell me a little bit about those? Cause they sounds like a cool name. What does it mean? And what does that involve?

Walter: Yeah, Campfire Sessions, they are opposing the very well known, often used meeting that we have in many companies. We all know this meeting on [00:27:00] Tuesday morning with too many people, a very full agenda, only 45 minutes, some people come in late, other people leave early. There’s, I don’t know, there’s a full agenda, there’s 13 or 15 points on it, and you know, we’re never going to make that.

It’s getting rushed people when it’s not, when the point discussed is not their thing, they’re just scrolling their phone or making shopping lists or all that stuff. And we call those things, transactional meetings, bullet point meetings, and they have a place. But if you are going through profound change, which a new core value or even a new mission or embedding sustainability in your organization is you shouldn’t have those kinds of meetings.

You should have a campfire conversation and a campfire conversation is an idea is a metaphor, and it’s also. A dialogue model with steps you can apply in any corporate or organizational context. But the idea is that it’s a meeting from human to human without the function that we bring without the interest that we normally bring just from you and me looking each other in the eye, even though we might have very opposing or [00:28:00] even confronting ideas or even belief systems, but why, and it’s about creating this space without putting claims on the truth, but about.

Who are you and why is this important for you? And what do you worry about? And while I worry about this and it makes me feel like that. And it’s not just only about emotions, but it’s about, there is a place for emotions and there’s a place for content. And it’s about a very honest place for, for sense making basically.

To give meaning to the topic at hand, whether it’s a change or a conflict or sustainability, or I don’t know your marriage, whatever, you can have a campfire conversation on your kitchen table as well. I think it’s important to have them every now and then. The thing is to make a very small, if I bring my kids daycare, Sunday evening, Monday morning, we have a very small bullet point meeting about who’s going to bring the kids this week and who’s going to pick them up and what, how do we do the things with cooking?

And we do this, we can do it on Monday morning, Sunday evening is a little bit better. What’s the, it’s a bullet point meeting who is going to do what, and it can be a [00:29:00] done deal in 15 minutes, but if we are going to have a discussion about how we want to raise the kids and what do we think is important to give them and what core values do we want to want to give them in life, we shouldn’t do it.

On Monday morning in 15 minutes, then we should sit down, have a glass of wine, light the fire in the garden on a warm summer evening and have a discussion about what do we think is important in life. So if you’re going to a profound change, those campfire conversations are things to be had much, much more often.

And I think in our organization and companies, we seem to have forgotten these things and we, we have conversations through paper or even online. Whereas if we go back to early humankind. We didn’t have any paper, let alone computers. We had oral traditions, so we could talk with each other and we did so.

throughout the day, but also at evening at the campfire and what we did is make sense of our world and we made jokes and we did a lot of things but we also made sense of the world. Another important thing comes with it at these campfires we also [00:30:00] told stories and these stories were at that time ways of Transferring knowledge of transferring meaning, cultural onboarding of new kids.

So I’m reading books to my son these days. There’s a lot of cultural tests and knowledge in those books that I’m giving him with that. So we did those things at the campfire in the early days of humankind. And I think we kind of forgot the strength of. Off that place, but also that state of mind, because if you are sitting at a campfire, you have a different energy, maybe even a different atmosphere is there than when you are sitting at a meeting table with bad coffee and a full agenda and too little time.

Does it make sense? 

Jewels: It makes absolutely sense. It’s a brilliant analogy with the. Children and you know, you don’t make those kinds of decisions. 15 minutes on a Monday morning as you’re rushing out the door. Right. But I think you’re dead right there. I’m not sure I know of any corporate that has what you’ve just described as in as a regular.

Get together where they’re actually having [00:31:00] these deep discussions. I think it’s very driven often by a gender and driven by, you know, output and a desire or a need that needs to occur by this month, next month, next quarter. And so we kind of forget that we are a bunch of humans that do need to communicate.

And if you truly want to invoke change, you, you need to involve people. You need to get their opinions and get those and give people permission. I think one thing was really important there that you’re giving, it’s a safe place. And you’re allowing people permission to have a point of view. in order to get through some of those challenges where you might have opposing views and you need people to get, you know, at least somewhat closer together to invoke the change that’s coming.

Walter: I agree with you. And to add something, you say something important to create this safe place. And I use those words too, but the thing is in many companies it’s being said, well, this is a great idea, Walter, but it’s not safe in our organization to speak up and to tell the things that are important to me.

The thing is that it only becomes safe if we start talking. So, [00:32:00] and of course there’s a big. Me too movement going on throughout the world, which I think is, well, the thing that it’s necessary is not a good thing, but the waking up and the emancipation that comes with it, I think is great. So. Unsafe, unhealthy workplaces are painful, but I think it only becomes safe if we start speaking up.

If we start saying what is important for me, because if I think you might have a very opposing view, but you don’t talk and I don’t talk, first of all, we’re not getting anywhere. And second of all, it’s not getting any safer. So I think that that’s an important realization. So in order to make it safe, we have to speak up bravely.

You could even say. But you also need to listen with an open heart, with the readiness and the willingness to be touched, to change your mind, to change your perspective, to put your own fixed idea of how the world works or how themes work aside and create some space to explore new areas. And then you move a little bit into the field of, of diversity because it’s about.

Allowing for differences, [00:33:00] allowing, make it safe for different opposing views, perspectives, emotions. And if you can do that, then you can step into the collective wisdom of a group of people, whether it’s 10 people or a thousand people. But if you can create that place to exchange ideas, thoughts, and then try to get to a decision, which is best for the collective, not just for one department or one function, but for the collective.

Yeah. Then you’re doing a great job. Yeah. We’ve done so for 10, 000s of years until we started talking with each other through paper through computers and emails and in bullet point meetings. But I think. Humanity has this skill and we seem to have forgotten it a little bit. So what we do as corporate anthropologists in Holland is collect those, not even examples, but practices of having meaningful conversations and translate them into a model of five, six, seven steps that you can apply in a corporate context within, let’s say one and a half, two hours.

And if you’re [00:34:00] very trained to do it, 45 or 60 minutes. So there are steps. That you can use in corporate or organizational context to dumb it down a bit, but to use it and to extract the wisdom of, of humanity, you could say. 

Jewels: Well, you’ve gone there. So I’m going to ask you the question. If somebody is listening to this, they’re a leader in the company, the CEO, perhaps they maybe need to invoke some change.

They’re looking at doing something different. Maybe their culture is slipping a little bit and they haven’t really engaged. Maybe they’re not, the diversity is wrong. There’s something going on and they’re listening to this going. I need myself some of that. I need to start on that journey. And I think you’ve shared quite a lot already about, you know, being open and having these conversations.

Where would somebody start? What are a few steps perhaps that somebody might be able to take in order to start these kinds of conversations? What would you suggest? 

Walter: Yeah, I think there’s a couple of things. [00:35:00] You could do if you’re that CEO or leader, or maybe even professional trying to have this kind of conversation.

And I think it’s important to realize that first of all, that you’re having a campfire conversation and not a bullet point meeting. And that means that you have to do at least two things before we get to the steps you have to take. But the two things you need to do is to create the space both physically, but also in terms of time and in agenda.

To say, well, we think it’s important to have this conversation with our team or for our department or whatever, and then you need to create the safe space for people actually trying to, well, not trying, but speaking up. So you need to create the space both physically in time and also mentally to have that conversation.

That’s the first thing that you need to do. So you shouldn’t push it into an agenda. On this Tuesday morning instead of this normal meeting, because then people are also still fixed in that old mindset of the meeting they always are having on Tuesday morning. So you’ll have to kind of. [00:36:00] Get people out of the groove.

Get yourself out of this, the old groove into something that’s slightly different, but not wildly panicking. Then it’s normally so different place, maybe different time, different atmosphere, different energy. That’s the first thing that you need to kind of stage setting. You need to do. The other thing is that you get.

Need to prepare yourself to carry the session with, there might be confusion because there might be opposing ideas or there might be some, why are we having this conversation for two hours even without an agenda, come on guys, we need to work, we need to get our performance. So you need to, we say, hold the space to carry the confusion or maybe even a conflict or at least the differences and to facilitate kind of this dialogue.

So that’s the two things you need to do to create the space, but also to carry or to hold the space to being that precarious. Place of meeting as humans. And of course you are professionals. And of course you’re running an organization, but you’re also human. You’re more than that professional. And in order to get to the wisest insights or wisest.

Decisions. It helps to tap [00:37:00] into that collective wisdom. That’s the first things that you need to do. And then if you boil it down to steps, you can take there’s five and every conversation I think starts with a question. And I think this conversations work best. If there’s a decision to be made where a leader or a chief or a CEO collects his tribe, collects his people, collects the people who are.

Relevant for this question or challenge and explains why he has gathered them. And then, and asks the question that he wants input on that. He wants to use the collective wisdom on that’s the first step. And I can send this model to you later on if you’d like. But the second step is that people are allowed to question the question.

So what do you mean with this? Because we are not used to having this kind of conversation. And do you mean like. For the short term or the long term, or what’s the budget constraints or how wide or small is your question? So there’s going a little bit back and forth, and then you’ll get to the main body [00:38:00] of this conversation.

And that’s where the chief repeats his question and then shuts up and listens very carefully to. The collective wisdom of the people and it works a little bit exotic, but it works best in this way with a talking stick. And this sounds maybe weird, but many people often say, I think this was really weird upfront, but I think it’s super helpful because you take this talking, if you want to say something, you don’t have to, but if you want to say something, you take the talking stick.

And you tell the things that you want to say to the chief and he doesn’t reply. He doesn’t explain, he doesn’t defend. He doesn’t say, Oh, thank you very much. I’m going to take it. Doesn’t do all these things to keep the space and the bandwidth for everything that wants to be set as wide as possible. And this goes on until.

Well, you could say in a very, in an old school context, this can take four days in a corporate context. Most of the time at one point, time is up. So you can continue this phase for, I don’t know, uh, 45 [00:39:00] minutes, an hour. And if it’s a deep conversation, it can be longer, but you can design it of course. And people just give the advice and give the wisdom to the chief that they want to give.

That’s it without trying to convince him, without trying to convince each others, without getting into minority, majority kind of hassles and voting and all that stuff, but there’s an assumption underneath that the chief, the leader is going to weigh all these, all the inputs and make a wise decision. So if the entire tribe says we should go left, you give us this question.

And from our sincere, deepest insight, we think we should go left and you decide to go right. You need to have a very good story, chief, and you can maybe decide to go right two times, maybe three times, but at one point you lose your credibility as a chief, so it’s not for the faint hearted, but it’s like for chiefs who believe in their tribes, in, in their people, and that they are bringing something to the table that otherwise wouldn’t have come up.

So you hire people because they’re smart, because [00:40:00] they’re clever, because you need them to do something. Well, use it, please. And so this third step, collecting all the wisdom is an important step is where the main body of this conversation is. And then at one point. The time is up or wisdom is up, but most of the time time is up.

The chief can get out. The leader can get out, reflect a little bit on it, but take actual decisions afterwards. And then he comes back and that’s step five. He comes back and shares his decision with the people. And what often happens in terms of decision making in companies and organizations that I work with is that chiefs.

Make like their circles through the company to gather input and to get participation. And thank you and you’ll hear back from me, but you never hear back from them. And then at one point there’s a decision coming out of nowhere, basically. Which is not transparent. And so this is a very transparent, powerful, but also not an easy decision making process because you actually have to make a decision afterwards.

So it’s not for the faint hearted and there’s like a different, you could even say there’s a different social [00:41:00] contract between the chief and his people in this way, because the chief asked this question, believing that his people are going to give him sincere. Input and advice and stuff. And the tribe giving input, believing that their chief is going to make the wisest decision possible.

So that’s kind of a new social contract from where we are in many organizations and companies. So it’s, it’s also a self selecting mechanism, of course, because people who don’t really like this way of decision making or conversation. They won’t go for this way and they won’t hire me or they won’t apply this method.

But if you really believe in the wisdom of your people, then this is a super powerful way to have very meaningful conversations and to give meaning to changes or challenges or even conflicts. 

Jewels: Well, so that is brilliant. I love it. I’m probably gonna steal some of that and please do, but I think it’s very, it makes so much sense.

And I think, like you said, it takes us back to our roots of decision making, right? I think you probably just described [00:42:00] how tribes have interacted and existed for thousands of years, right? Yeah. And so why is this any different? Why is there one leader who makes all the decisions without sort of input into, you know, from others?

No, not that that always happens. I mean, you do get Some sharing within organizations, but I love this idea of being able to question the question to give that depth and understanding. I love the idea of the talking stick and you know, the CEO in particular having to sit there and shut up and listen.

Cause I think that’s hugely important because any, anybody in our senior positions tends to be a little bit more overt in their, you know, they want to talk next, so they’ll often interrupt. I’ve learned that skill. I’ve improved that personal skill, even in the context of podcasting, because in, obviously in podcasting, you need to shut up and listen and allow the person to speak and wait for your turn rather than cause otherwise podcasting becomes [00:43:00] Disjointed because I’ll be talking over the top of you the entire time, which wouldn’t be a very interesting podcast to listen to.

So brilliant stuff. I absolutely love it. Thank you so much for sharing. We could talk for hours. I’m pretty certain on that, but we have to wrap it up at some point in time. Walter, where can the audience or the listener find out a little bit more about you? 

Walter: Online, of course. So if you type in my name, you will find some resources.

My website is mainly in Dutch. We’re working on an English version, but it’s not there yet. On YouTube, we have a YouTube channel, which is called green culture lab. And there you can find us too. And I’ve written a book on anthropology together with two other people, which is translated in English too. So if you want to dive into that a little bit more, it’s called anthropologists wanted why organizations need anthropology.

So those are the things that you can. Dive into and find out more about me. Yeah. 

Jewels: I am fascinated about this concept of corporate anthropologist. I think it’s brilliant. Great. So well done. [00:44:00] Walter, thank you so much. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been a pleasure and hopefully we’ll get to chat again soon. 

Walter: Likewise.

Thank you for having me. It was pleasure. Cheers. Cheers.

Jewels: Walter is a passionate corporate anthropologist. I found it fascinating how he has incorporated his work into the commercial world. I love his reframing that sustainable business is a challenge of culture. It’s about people, mindset, choices, and behavior, and how we do these things collectively. Much love.

Chat soon.

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