shiftalliance blog

2011 In2:InThinking Forum – seeing things differently

shiftalliance was part of the Tenth Annual in2:InThinking Network forum in Los Angeles earlier this month. Formed in 2001 by students of W. Edwards Deming’s system of profound knowledge, In2:InThinking Network aims to make thinking more conscious in order to create better perception of the “relationships and interdependencies in human endeavors” and “to make those endeavors more valuable, more satisfying, and more joyful”.


The theme of this year’s forum was Exploring Opportunities: Imagine… Define… Lead…In2IN2011ForumBrochureA. shiftalliance team members Jay Barnes, Wes Furstew, and Elizabeth Topp led a session titled: Meaningful Business Design: In Service of the System.


Here is a video clip of shiftalliance’s impressions from the conference.



Here’s a description of our pre-conference session.


The PREMISE: Every company, organization and even organizational division has a business model, whether explicit or not. Business model frameworks provide a lens that allows us to see businesses and organizations as interdependent systems. 


Our session introduced the shiftalliance business model framework, m2∞, a software that supports Meaningful Business Design. Using the m2∞ framework, we helped particpants to:

• clarify their organization’s business model, beginning with a defined purpose;
• see their own role within that system or subsystem, and;
• consider how they might be more consciously in service of the purposeful system or make their contribution to the system more meaningful.


Participants at the session considered business models for start-up business opportunities, divisions & departments of large corporations, and civic organizations. Here’s what one participant had to say as a result of applying our m2∞ methodology to her workplace:


It’s a simple and ingenious tool that provides insights into what we do, why we do it, as well as how my coworkers and I fit together, and allowed me to see where I could focus my time to better support my team.  The process was invaluable in helping me step back and gain incredible insights.  I’ve referred back to the model several times since my return from the conference.

C.M. Austin Energy


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B Corps: the capitalist version of social investing

read shiftalliance’s comments on a recent Harvard Business School Working Knowledge article on Searching for Better Practices in Social Investing



As non-profits move to become more growth and results oriented, there is another form of institution rapidly on the rise: B Corporations. Certified B Corporations are a new type of corporation which uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. All of this is another indication of the graying of the line between non-profit and for-profit organizations. Non-profits are emphasizing stronger values around effectiveness, efficiency and results-driven success, while for-profit organizations are adopting stronger values around purpose and social responsibility. Wisdom is defined as “pertaining to both means and ends.” Both types of organizations seem to be broadening their focus to include both. I take this as a sign that we may be becoming wiser. Thanks for the article, and may we see more venture capitalists and philanthropists funding more B Corporations too.


Elizabeth Topp

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shiftalliance at In2:InThinking Forum April 28 in LA

shiftalliance presented with partners Elizabeth Topp, Jay Barnes and Wesley Furste at the In2:InThinking Forum in LA on April 28. If you haven’t read about Jay and Wes, below is a brief introduction to two integral members of the alliance.

Jay Barnes
Jay earned his MBA in Sustainable Business from Bainbridge Graduate Institute, the first school to offer such a degree.This education and life in general have left him with a heightened awareness of how truly interconnected our world is, leading him very naturally to a systems-oriented perspective. Jay is also a champion of the unrealized human potential which exists within most organizations. As he sees it, no organization can hope to legitimately thrive in the new business era without carefully considering the psychological sustainability of its people and taking a deeper look at the value which is being delivered to stakeholders, then developing a wise and actionable strategy based on that information. This perspective and his background made him a natural fit as member of the Shiftalliance consulting team.

Jay brings with him experiences in the areas of consultative sales, business operations and process analysis. He is passionate about helping organizations and individuals explore the ways in which they could be delivering value which is more meaningful to their stakeholders.

Wes Furste
Since his first introduction to shiftalliance in 2010 Wesley Furste was quickly taken with the methodology. Before making his way to Seattle Wesley earned his B. A. in Economics from Boston University and will always have a special place in his heart for Beantown. Wesley grew up in Columbus, Ohio and while he did not attend The Ohio State University he certainly bleeds scarlet and grey. He’s busy every Saturday in the fall watching OSU battle it out on the gridiron for their next victory. At shiftalliance Wesley is involved in developing the m2∞ software, business development and facilitating client engagements which is where his heart is. He believes in the 21st century and beyond if businesses want to continue to be successful they will have to proactively provide a more meaningful experience for their customers or they will lose them to a business that is. Wesley is an active cyclist and would love to talk about what his vision for the future looks like either over a cup of coffee or the most meaningful mountain bike ride of your life.

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poetry & business

This month at shiftalliance we’re celebrating National Poetry Month by sharing daily poems through the Academy of American Poets and by reflecting on the question of how poetry relates to business.


At first glance, it might appear that poetry and business have no relationship at all.
But history is full of closet poets who spent their days in suit and tie and many more business men and women with a deep love of verse, even if they never penned one.
In fact, work and business have been the subject of many poems and, why not? Afterall, the majority of our waking hours are spent in the workplace, what better place for poetry?


We’re aware of the shift in business, the “desire to inspire greater creativity in organizational life….through nurturing a sense of ‘soul’ within the office (source: small business notes). Poetry is an increasingly viable means of exploring and developing the creativity, expression, and soulfulness so often missing from the modern workplace (for more on The Role and Soul of Work, check out Elizabeth’s Sustainable Industries article).


Enjoy the poems. If you find yourself inspired to write a 9-5 haiku, we’d love to read it.
And stay tuned for more musings on the poetics of business and the unlikely but compelling relationships between poets and entrepreneurs.


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leadership shift


shift happening – 03.26.11

shiftalliance is excited to announce that co-founder elizabeth topp, phd will assume leadership of the company effective May 1, 2011. co-founder tim parsey has accepted a position as Yahoo’s senior vice president of user experience design. congratulations, tim! read more here.

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shiftalliance & DHAT: service & leadership part III


day three: the message

Traveling with the Duty Honor America Tour, shiftalliance learned new things about Helping. There are many forms of Helping, but the first principle if you really want to help is to ask about what would REALLY help.

With that new learning, shiftalliance would like to put out a CALL for HELP for the DHAT tour. This trio is traveling every day to a new location to raise awareness for veterans, military, and military families. Witnessing the daily routine of preparing Doug to cycle 60 miles and managing the maintenance of an RV, a towed vehicle, a bike, and a 60 mile/day + travel of the entire rig, these guys clock an easy 14-16 hrs/day 7 days a week. When asked what would REALLY help, these guys had a clear answer: they need a volunteer or volunteers to help spread the word. While they could use many volunteers to support the mission, this is the one that would REALLY help the most. Please consider helping out if you or someone you know has experience with media relations. The tour goes for another 7 months and as they draw closer to the finish it’s the perfect time to get them on the radar across the country.


People often believe that they don’t have any special skills, talents, or wisdom to offer. Deb & Doug disagree. They believe that even the simple gift of listening could change a veteran’s day. Other simple gestures anyone can offer: “thank you for your service”.

Deb & Doug think of ways to help in terms of time, talent, and treasure. If you don’t have money (treasure) to donate, you can give your time by helping out at a shelter or soup kitchen. Of course, talents like medical or dental training are of great value to veterans, too. (see big 2-day events where vets can get services from volunteers)

The idea that everyone has something to offer goes both ways. Part of the mission of the DHA tour is to change the image of veterans in both the public and veterans’ own eyes. As Doug explains, We want to shift the image from Vet as Victim to Vet with a specific set of skills and experiences that are unique.”

Doug’s message is simple and it applies to all of us, in all areas of our lives:

Their call is for civilians to enlist in the mission of uniting around the care of veterans and veteran families who can be overlooked when it comes time for recovery and adapting to civilian life. For the Duty Honor America, they believe their mission is to highlight and magnify good things that are already happening, identifying what’s working rather than starting a new organization or program. They want to enhance existing current efforts such as the projects lead by first lady, Michelle Obama to raise awareness for veteran support and Sally Fields who sponsors the Wounded Warrior Project.

We’ve spent two years (and two days on the road) drawing inspiration from the integrity and wisdom of Deb & Doug’s message. Their firsthand knowledge of leadership and service has taught them to be effective by paying attention to what REALLY matters. It’s an essential life lesson with all kinds of possible applications.

As I stepped down from the RV, I thought about the road ahead. For all of us. Deb and Doug’s call to action is simple: get help or give help, or both. Service can be simple: it may only take a small gesture to change someone’s day or even someone’s life.

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shiftalliance joins the tour: service & leadership part II

on the road with the Duty Honor America Tour

Deb, Doug and Daisy are touring all 50 states as Doug cycles 60 miles per day to raise awareness and gain support for veterans and military. You can’t miss them or their message wrapped around their RV and car: IF YOU NEED HELP, GET IT. IF YOU CAN HELP, OFFER IT. Their call is one of unity for US citizens, military, and veterans to come together and help each other.


Elizabeth riding in the rig.

Sunday morning after seeing Cher’s last concert in Las Vegas (thanks guys!) Deb and I left the luxury of our 35th floor condo and went to fetch Doug 60 miles East of Barstow. He beat us to his destination but seemed happy as ever to see us as he polished off his second meal of the day. (A Belgian waffle on the side was the appropriate choice for a man trying to consume 4000 calories a day.) We heard of the headwinds he faced the entire route, but never fear, Doug’s spirits were good as always. He was more concerned about wind conditions the next day since his ride would be mostly uphill. On the drive back to the RV we talked about their goals for the tour.

One of the most important lessons Deb & Doug teach is to pay attention to what REALLY matters. They offer simple, practical, effective strategies for helping others. Here’s just one example.


Questions like “do you need help?” or “what can I do to help?” are well-intentioned but not effective. It’s too easy for someone to shrug off this type of question or respond from a place of pride: “no, I’m OK. i don’t need anything”. Even asking “how can I help? may be too vague and general to elicit a response from someone in need.

Deb suggests getting specific: “What’s ONE THING that could help and really make a difference for you?”

This pointed question helps the individual or organization think about specific needs that could be met, rather than grappling with the yes/no question of needing help. Getting specific also allows the person offering help to learn what would really be helpful rather than making a potentially incorrect assumption.

Sometimes what looks like help to one person may actually be making things worse. Learning to ask the receiver what they really need can save time, effort, money and avoid hurt feelings.

Start considering all the ways you’re “helping” others, then test your assumptions. Ask those you’re helping to name ONE thing that really matters and would be helpful to them. You may discover that making a difference is easier than you think.

That night we returned to Barstow and slept in the RV. Monday we got the rig ready to head toward Vegas again. Living in an RV is pretty nice when you’re as organized as this trio. Daisy has her special pillow, and when you don’t mind hanging in close quarters it’s like camping, but with two tvs.

The next morning we dropped off Doug where he ended the day before, and off he went: almost all uphill. Deb and I grabbed a bite before jumping in the rig and I again got to absorb more wisdom from my friend.

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shiftalliance on the road: service & leadership part I

part one: Deb, Doug, Daisy & the Duty Honor America Tour

What do you do when you wrap up a 30-year career in the military after leading reconstruction efforts in Iraq among other things? shiftalliance decided to find out. so, we made a pit stop in Vegas to see Cher’s farewell show in the company of Deb, Doug, and Daisy – an unstoppable trio on a mission – then joined them for a couple days on the road.

Last June, shiftalliance helped retired Colonel Debra Lewis, her husband, retired Admiral Doug Adams, and their chihuaua Daisy prepare for one of their most challenging deployments yet: the Duty Honor America tour. The tour consists of Doug on a bike, cycling through all 50 states over the course of a year with support from Deb, the CEO (Chief Everything Officer) and wingwoman. Deb drives the RV and manages all the non-cycling details, with Daisy shotgun.

Deb is an alum from the first West Point class to include women. As Central District commander and district engineer in Iraq in 2006-2007, she was responsible for engineering and construction management support of deployed forces and Iraqi reconstruction in Baghdad and Al Anbar provinces, Iraq. The total program for Central District represented over 1800 projects valued at $3.3 billion. As a woman, there were many men who refused to even shake her hand.

Using their own military experience and continuing their commitment to service, Deb and Doug designed the Duty Honor America Tour to raise awareness of veteran’s issues. Throughout their bicycle tour of the United States, they are learning and sharing ways to help and change the perception of veterans. Join us as we follow and learn from this fabulous trio who knows a thing or two about selfless service & leadership. Helping and making a difference just might be a bit different than you imagined.

Doug Adams cycling to raise awareness for veterans.

part two: shiftalliance joins the tour

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guest blogger – the InThinking Network on Social Comparison


Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and the InThinking Network host FREE monthly Ongoing Discussion thought leadership calls that will improve your thinking and challenge your assumptions about organizations and leadership.

click here to join todays call. there’s still time to get involved with most of the session:
Consider attending their annual Forum in Los Angeles in April. shiftalliance will be presenting.
contact Bill Bellows if you would like to receive the monthly newsletter and access to these invaluable calls:

Recently, we had the chance to hear from Gipsie Ranney, a regular contributor to the wealth of knowledge and wisdom found in this group. Here is the description:
Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne’s InThinking Network welcomes Gipsie Ranney, from Brentwood, Tennessee, who lead our first Ongoing Discussion of 2011 on January 27th and 28th (and our 133rd session since we began in January 2000). She selected “Lake Wobegon and Other Places” as our topic of the month, in our annual “what-better-way-to-begin-the-New-Year?” conversation. Gipsie previously joined us as a Thought Leader in January 2010, on the topic of “The Trouble With Incentives; They Work,” as well as in October 2007, on the topic of “Motivation in the Workplace.”
We think you will greatly enjoy Gipsie’s Thought Piece (“Lake Wobegon and Other Places.”), which is all about the “above-average effect” – “the tendency to believe that one is more “athletic, intelligent, organized, ethical, logical, interesting, fair-minded, and healthy – not to mention more attractive – than the average person…” Gipsie explores this human phenomenon with humor and insight, and a sense of genuine inquiry.
She writes: “To me, the striking thing about the above-average effect, as well as the below-average effect, is the object of comparison. Am I comparing myself to others or am I comparing myself to myself at an earlier time? Is my focus on improvement and learning, or is it on social comparison? Of course, questions by psychologists that ask people to compare themselves to others will automatically bring answers that involve social comparison. How much social comparison do people actually do? How much do they need to do? Is there a need for social comparison to build self-esteem? Is this need a characteristic of all humans?”
When you hear Garrison Keillor’s line about all the children in Lake Wobegon being above average, have you ever paused and thought about yourself? Are you above average? In intellect? In height? In driving skills? In physics skills? In ability to deliver a joke? In foul recognition on a soccer (football) field? In leading a team? How about the person in the next cubicle? Is he or she above average? Would he or she agree with your self-assessment? If both of you are above average, where are those below average folks? What questions do you have about how we measure and rank ourselves (or our children)? What’s your mental model about comparison? To what extent does one’s culture affect this mental model? How do our mental models affect our attitude toward change and improvement?
As for skills as a physicist, Stephen Hawking delivered a 90-minute presentation at Caltech earlier this week. His session, titled, “My Brief History,” included commentary on his neuro-muscular dystrophy, and his reflections on being diagnosed, while still in graduate school;
“When you are faced with the possibility of an early death,” he said, “it makes you realize life is worth living and there are lots of things you’d like to do.”
His lecture ended with questions from three students. The last one, from an undergraduate student, asked Hawking to comment on a story of a noted physist who once compared himself to Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton on a scale of physics intellect. The student wanted to know where Hawking would place himself on this same scale. His quick reply offered insight on his mental model about comparisions; “people who rate themselves are losers.”

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Designing Your Meaningful Life: Purpose & Balance for Professionals

m2∞ Leadership – 8-week teleclass

Elizabeth Topp PhD and Susan Fox offer an opportunity to reflect on your meaningful goals and aspirations, and architect your meaningful leadership model at our Designing Your Meaningful Life: Purpose & Balance for Professionals – Program I. With the support of a small community of peers, this is a moment to stop, reflect, and get clear about what’s important for you and your success: meaningful success.

Elizabeth Topp is a Co-Founder at shiftalliance and creator of the Presence Based Coaching model. Susan Fox is an NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) executive coach and yoga teacher . The two have been collaborating with for over a year. NLP and the Presence Based Coaching methodology are a fantastic marriage. Together they provide a framework, methodology and practical skill set to support you to envision and nurture a meaningful professional life. Juggling various roles is not always easy, but when we can find and connect with deeper meaning, we gain both perspective and energy to endure and even thrive.

The purpose of their course is to establish a 5-year leadership vision and mindset to understand how meaning can support professionals in their various roles in order to live well. There are typical coaching activities like envisioning, addressing and overcoming obstacles, building steps & strategy or planning, and committing to action steps from week-to-week, but Mindfulness and reflection establish the foundation from which they work.

During the second half of the series, the coaching program includes the development of a personal leadership model using the shiftalliance m2∞ software adapted to address the individual’s life (whereas the software typically examines an organization’s life). Participants establish the direction or purpose that guides their activities including their vision, life mission and values, then consider their “stakeholders” or circle of influence, assessing the various areas of support that can ensure meaningful engagement with those most important.

This is a fantastic, meaningful and inspiring program. The weekly teleclasses support groups desiring structure and accountability for taking the necessary steps for making changes, pursuing goals, and exploring what’s possible. It’s also an opportunity to give yourself the gift of time to examine what’s working & not working, and begin to make the shift.

Email: or call 310-773-7679 to inquire about custom-designed programs for your organization.

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