The Cult for a Conscious Economy

It’s going to be the second post in a row where I start off saying that this week has been pretty intense in terms of learning and reading 📖 . I realize, this is bound to be there norm for the remaining 3 weeks and I’m glad, even though sleep has been scarcer.

This week in D.C was definitely a turning point for my CPA experience (yes, another one 😅). I attended the full day of activities that Felipe and his team (and dad 🤩) prepared us.

The takeaways seem too many to list. I filled out 4 pages of my notebook with tidbits of knowledge, experience and concerns that resonated with me 🤓. As I write this post, I’m being intentional about not having my notes in front of me so I can just let out and reflect about what’s already digested , be aware of what is still needing to settle in to articulate properly and what will need additional reflection and reading before becoming part of my mental models around CPA and the goals. The takeaways were as follows:

  1. Radical Transparency as a way to add value, regardless of outcomes.

    I recall this point first emerging from Felipe himself (multiple times over the course of our conversations, but it landed differently this time.
    Sheila and I also spoke about this at length during our walk to the school for the annual meeting.
    Even though Felipe spoke to this point at the speed of an Eminem rap solo 😛, the general way a meeting could go is as follows:
  • Start the conversation centering around values and building relationships
  • Size them up and get key info regarding the scale of their operations
  • From there, begin sharing what you’ve seen works for others, what they can pay, what discounts can be achieved, what businesses can be supported and all the benefits/opportunities available to them.
  • Once their interest has been piqued and they get that there’s a real opportunity for them here, ask them for their invoices, what vendors they like and which don’t they like. Begin gathering information with a real aim to add value for them. (note to self: you can also enlist another member to share their experience or invite them to a peer support group to hear it from “someone like them”)
  • Finally, you can ask them: who else would benefit from this? Who are 3 other administrators you know from other places that you know are struggling with (some) contracts.

We tied all this back to his our culture has given itself the right to dictate what we can and should ask about and what we can’t (taboos). Things like how much you earn, pay for a given good or service, death, sex, these are all topics that our culture has oftentimes deemed disrespectful to even ask about. In professional spheres, these taboos extend to what is “sensitive” information (like what you pay for anything/anyone, what you charge in B2B cases, etc.).

The whole point Felipe was making was that, by sharing your knowledge openly, you can immediately assert yourself as an ally and add value to many organizations for whom their facilities contract can be a burden. Then, regardless of whether they join you or not, you’ve added value and that makes the whole conversation worth it, in my book.

2. We are not just a mash up group of random (and surprisingly tall 😱) people implementing in geographic silos, we’re a carefully curated network made to support each other to collective success.

This became evident to me in several ways: My conversations with The Pauls (Hazen and Alexander, Hi! 👋) about the perspectives of institutional administrators, the Essicas (Yessica and Jessica 😻) on values-based purchasing and business modeling respectively, Michelle on my story of self/now and the need to juxtaposition between having all the steps mapped out before making the first and proper planning, Carrie and Tony on our growth as professionals and people over fancy coffee (😋☕️), Merald on what honesty, vulnerability and success look like (and what they don’t), Boris and Joe on origin stories leading to work on climate change and so much more. I wish we would have had more time to connect with everyone, but these interactions were enough to make me realize this is a wacky bunch, but interlinked by a shared vision for what could be.

3. Successful realization of this work is as much personal transformation and team building as it is planning, having the right tools and execution.

I notice how sometimes I have come to resist the notion of “the entrepreneur” as the center figure for change or creation. Anyone with practical experience knows that it’s all about the team (and team of teams).
Having said that, when we look at Felipe’s experience with CPA, I’m reminded of the sheer magnitude of momentum a single person can generate. This is both empowering (if he can, we can) and conflicting (ugh, will I end up not relying on others to drive this and not just “support”).

Regardless of what the answer is, it’s helpful to remember Felipe’s starting point is different than ours in ways both beneficial and detrimental to us. That, coupled with the flexibility, support, potential funding and other aspects that compose our individual context and circumstances will be supremely useful to the extent where we, as people, are willing to transform ourselves into those who can make the best use of them. Each of us knows (or will have to figure out) what success looks like for us and our regions and by when. Are we the ones to make it happen? What is it going to take in terms of commitment? What fears do we know we’re going to come up against? Are we willing to face them this time around? If not, how can we work around it? Who can handle those fear-conjuring milestones for/with us? Transformation can start with the answers to these questions.

4. Sheila and I will benefit from patience and practice before tackling the big anchor in our sights.🤫

This also came out of our conversation outside the school before the annual meeting, when we also learned you’re not supposed to loiter on elementary school property as an adult 😅.

We’ve been playing detective for a couple of months trying to figure out what it would take to get decision-makers within a big anchor to sign on to our vision, which could be catalytic for our endeavor. During our conversation and the workshop session, we figured we should practice understanding and working with the smaller anchors first to develop an expertise and muscle memory of what/how can be done. Given that the big anchor is such a critical relationship, we definitely want to get it right with them. I reckon we could be both seen as experts in this work pretty quickly, but the daunting task of getting this anchor on board can also be an excuse to avoid making progress in quicker work streams that could trigger the momentum we could benefit from to enroll the big anchor.

what do you think? 📝

5. Even though the model (and the services they provide as hooks ⛓) can seem like a no-brainer for many member institutions, there are still important barriers to adoption, as expected. 🧐 Now I’d benefit from hearing the perspective of an organization that chose not to join, or has kept their participation on the lighter side.

I came to this further realization after speaking to 2 founding members (Sandi and Paul) and a couple of newer members at the annual conference.

In my initial conversations with Felipe, I happened to just voice a laundry list off the top of my head of all the objections I could think of for these institutions NOT joining CPA, ranging from indifference and avoiding perceived additional work by administrators to cultural, values, bureaucratic, and intellectual reasons (I’ll admit, I was feeling particularly cynical that day because of some now insignificant developments in another project 👻). Not only did Felipe echo back to me that many of those were the precise challenges he’s come up against in the past, but now I got a glimpse of it in person. As I write this, I think a quick one-pager on Typical objections from admins and rebuttals would be pretty useful. I’ve seen this technique used in sales a few times and, when you think of it, this is an exercise in sales with a strong values perspective.

As I read through this list over and over again, I notice how many of these takeaways are “soft” in the sense that they’re not technical. For a very large portion of my life, I was indoctrinated in the notion that technical prowess is critical, that complexity is king and that finding the best solution was the ultimate measure of success (I’m looking at you, engineering school 😒)

Over time, I’ve learned that the best solution is not the most technical of complex, but rather the most practical to implement. That technocratic solutions often fail because most people don’t understand them or how to implement them. Similarly, when dissecting the real reasons why projects fail, I’ve seen that 9 times out of 10 the root is in the soft skills gaps that were made evident during implementation (I’m pretty confident most would agree with me on this 😬), but it’s funny how traditional case studies which we were educated with don’t often highlight this. They lean on some random technicality that supposedly blew the whole thing up, without taking into account that connected, committed, well-supported and high-performing teams are often capable of finding workarounds, adapting, pivoting or mitigating the effects of unforeseen technical gaps. Nevertheless, I spent a few minutes doubting my most evident takeaways because there weren’t enough technical items. I guess that’s the result of growing up in a culture that makes you think that smarts equates to success.🤐

Alright, turns out I was able to regurgitate a lot more info than I expected in one sitting with so little cumulative sleep. Can you tell where I ran out of steam? Hope you enjoyed the read! 🙃

Reflection Script.

Alright, this reflection is all about elegant next steps, key identity traits from my past lives that I plan to make good use of in this work, and foreseeing key differences for anchors of different scales.

Elegant next step for the MVP: get an institution to say: we want in. This would be the very first threshold to surpass and I’m confident it can catapult my level of trust in myself to carry much of this work forward.

Parts of my identity I want to carry over: As an engineer, I want to be rigorous and thoughtful. My engineering training has taught me about being rigorous in terms of how we experiment and what we consider to be an adecua result based on tangible outcomes we can measure. In a way, it calls me to avoid the tempting excuses of what can be called an intermediate success and focus on creating results that matter.

As an entrepreneur, I want to be oriented towards value added and contribution to the world. In this sense, I want to be focused on how the work we’re doing can be a before and after for an entrepreneur, family and a community. That the project only makes sense and will be successful if and only if the value is there for everyone. This includes members, vendors and community at large.

Finally, about key differences between small and large anchors. I think that they’re critically different but the practice towards generating the relationship and getting a grasp with the larger aspects of the work is very transferable between the two, in my eyes.

3 thoughts on “The Cult for a Conscious Economy”

  1. Juan Francisco. Wow. Once again, I’m humbled by the depth of your response, the integration of the learning with who you are and the technical formation you have.
    What’s one elegant next step that you can take to keep moving the ball forward on all of this?

    Or another way to ask this might be, what’s the minimum viable path forward to making progress on CPA Miami while you have so many other things going on?

    For example, I know you could meet with the head of PACT and many others. However, what if you imagine it’s New Year’s eve and you’re looking back over the past year (and the past 8-12 weeks) and thinking about the year ahead…
    What’s the one thing that will give you the most confidence about your ability to move forward along the critical path?


  2. Hi Juan Francisco! As always, I so enjoyed following you along your self-questioning and reflection! Your curiosity and love of learning are really infectious and energizing (love the use of emojis, too!). I can also relate to some of the characteristics you cite in relation to entrepreneurs and engineers as I identify as both. One very intentional process I have had to go through the past few years is that of unlearning what I’ve learned – not in the technical sense (I am not doubting laws of thermo), but rather, in the constructed social sense that was baked into my education and interactions. I’m still very actively unlearning, admittedly. So, my questions to you this week are – it seems you might be going through some unlearning too, if I intuited correctly; what do you think is valuable from those identities to hold onto, that can benefit you in this new journey? I’m sure I can learn from what you share…. and second, when you ask for feedback on the approach you propose to learn first from smaller anchors and then from larger institutions, what is the risk you really face by starting with both big and small? Since you are open to learning and iterating your approach, do you think getting your feet wet with small anchors will necessarily compare to the dynamics from a larger one? Are you anticipating key differences?
    Hard to tell where you ran out of steam because the post was full of enthusiasm until the end! 🙂


  3. I missed my window for comments (apparently once the the first deadline shifts everything shifts with it) but just wanted to hop on even post RS to say I genuinely appreciate getting to walk along this reflection with you. I think you, Paul and I latched on to similar themes of “just start” or the “caminante no hay camino” sentiment. I appreciate that resonance. I don’t have a follow up question, but look forward to having you join us on Tuesday.


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