2014 has been a great year!

6heads introduced regular monthly events, we’ve had beautiful walks and talks in the UK country-side, we have swung from trapezes to explore liminal space, we’ve played at setting up a festival to extend our knowledge on systems, we’ve found wisdom on the Southbank and we’ve interrogated the narratives that underpin the stories we tell. We’ve met wonderful new people, been inspired, explored new concepts and laughed, a lot.

On the separate, advisory side we’ve continued our work with inspired corporate clients, including Interface and M&S, to explore new ways of doing business. Here, we’ve focused on the circular economy and how to create commercial, restorative solutions through creative use of ‘waste’. In addition, we’ve started working with a number of new concepts to help grow disruptors to traditional business. We’re hoping to see insects as source of animal feed, a vibrant second hand clothing market and organic waste for heat.

As we look towards 2015 and the challenges and opportunities that we face in order to have a vibrant, equitable society on a healthy planet, we have to smile at Oprah’s words: “Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right”. We’’d encourage all changemakers and changeseekers to:

Reflect on the past: There are many past stories of social revolutions that have led to better outcomes for humanity.  We can learn from the past to better drive forward change today. We can look into the transitions underpinning the introduction of soap, the abolition of slavery, the outlawing of CFC’s and the uptake of solar.

Feel gratitude for today: We can celebrate our achievements! We can recognise that – despite the challenges that still remain – we are living at an all time high for health and wellness: Infant and mortality rates have plummeted, diseases have been eradicated. Equity has been improved: Literacy is rising sharply and women (mostly) have a better deal. Within 100 years we’ve gone from the Wright brothers to landing 800 million miles away on a moon! We’ve got technologies now that can power us forward in completely different ways to those from the beginning of the century – we have solar, fuel cells and algae.

Attract a positive future: There are more and more examples of society and (that peculiar social construct) business, operating in ways that are positive and restorative. Let’s shift our focus from trying to reduce, report and review – and invite a rethink to how we can better service our basic needs and those of future generations. How can we get the food, energy, habitats, water and clothing we need in ways that make the world better? Can we wear plastic that has been taken out of the oceans? Can we power our homes on organic waste? Can we live in homes that provide energy back to the grid? Perhaps, the best we can do is to interrogate the work we are asked to do to reframe it against a restorative agenda, to actively seek out those products and services that are centrered on purpose and to keep asking questions.

Perhaps this thinking can lead to fresh, inspired resolutions for a positive, active and generative 2015?

We look forward to learning with you in 2015.

Thank you for being a part of our community.

Best wishes for 2015.


Innocent victims of your story? An exploration into the narratives that underpin the stories we tell


Adam Woodhall, respected friend of 6heads, experienced sustainability consultant and early morning rave dancer, led the most recent 6heads members meeting.  He writes about his experience below.


Why is it important to understand the narratives that underlie the stories we tell ourselves and each other?

This was the question that I posed at a fantastic 6-Heads event which I had the privilege of facilitating.  The workshop was structured using the classic four stage storytelling structure of ‘Exposition’, ‘Rising Action’, ‘Climax’ and ‘Resolution’.

stories 1


We first discussed why we need to understand the narratives we are telling ourselves and being told, particularly the unstated and underlying ones?  It was concluded that this was because this exploration helps us explore the assumptions and ideas which sit beneath the stories we tell ourselves.  It also means that we can be clearer when the narrative has replaced reality.

The next question posed, “Why change?”…

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How to make a difference in fashion?


FullSizeRender_1On Monday I delivered a workshop for 3rd year fashion students at Falmouth University.

The objective was to co-create a view on how fashion – a product, business or idea – could make the world better.

We had a brilliant time!

I’ve embedded the presentation and, below this post, links to some of the ideas and resources that were shared with me before the lecture. Thank you to those of you who sent in ideas.  

The students embraced these concepts and understood that:

  • The existing system isn’t working – from environmental damage, to work-force exploitation, limiting/damaging social values, unsustainable business revenues and higher operating costs
  • Companies and individuals are doing great things to change the fashion system – from Vivienne Westwood, to Patagonia, Rapanui, Elvis and Kresse and People Tree
  • Fashion can cause less harm but more importantly fashion can be a force for goodby acting in a restorative…

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Creating stories as foundations for change: Please join for our next 6heads meetup on 15 October


To tell a good tale requires an understanding of the narrative. Whether this story is for your 5 year old niece or a Chief Exec of a FTSE100 company, being aware and clear on the foundations underpinning a story is important for communication and change.

This interactive and fun workshop will focus on understanding the narratives that we tell ourselves and others about our world. By exploring our narratives we will gain a deeper understanding of how to create powerful stories.  Once we’ve understood more about our own back story, this experiential session will give us the opportunity to generate powerful stories for change.

Please do join us to explore your stories and to meet like-minded sustainability professionals in a relaxed environment.narrative.

Facilitator:  Adam Woodhall is a behaviour change and engagement specialist and over the last 8 years has worked with clients including PwC, Wessex Water, Network Rail, University of…

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Change for Chimps

Every now and then we meet someone  we know will have a significant and positive impact on the world.  One of these people is the author of our guest blog – Aimee Oxley.  Below she tells of her inspiring journey to help rainforest, primates and people – and shares her despair and hope for the future.

if you have ever wanted to ‘save the Amazon’, wondered at our likeness to chimps or wanted to support young people to change the world, please back this amazing change-maker to make a difference. See her crowdfunding platform: www.indiegogo.com/projects/chimpanzees-on-the-edge. And of course – do spread the word…



The mighty Amazon rainforest at sunset. Photo: Aimee Oxley

I first heard about it in school – geography class with Mrs Parker. No sooner had we been mesmerised by the structure and biodiversity of the Amazonian rainforest, we were told that it was being ripped down at an unprecedented rate. That was it. I had to do something. I started a paper recycling programme in school and put a tray for unwanted paper in every single classroom. It didn’t really take off and I ended up policing all 20 classrooms myself, collecting the trays, dismayed at the lack of response my great idea had received.

It took over 10 years from that class until I finally experienced a tropical forest for the first time. I went to Bolivia, volunteering at a rescue centre for wild animals recovered from the pet or circus trades. It was beautiful forest, miles and miles away from any large towns or cities. Wild jaguars, giant anteaters and tortoises roamed freely around the forest. But all it took was to hitch a ride down to the nearest village to realise that everything was far from okay. The roadside is the best place to appreciate the extent of forest disturbance, since once a road is built, human activities usually centre on the road and spread out.

What became immediately apparent was that our slice of jungle paradise was just one small fragment of forest in a sea of farmers’ fields. Either side of our forest patch, local people were growing maize, sunflowers, papaya, rice, or keeping herds of cattle and trucks full of enormous trees would pass by daily. A month after I arrived, fires ravaged the forest. We were working 18 hours days, night long fire-fighting missions in the dark with nothing but a spade and a litre of water, caring for multiple animals, covering each other when people were getting sick and sleeping when we could find an hour or two.

forest ire 1forest ire 2

Left: The results of the forest fire. Right: the effectiveness of the fire breaks we cut in can be clearly seen. Photos: Aimee Oxley

These fires were the result of slash and burn practises used by the farmers to clear their fields.I felt sad. Well, in truth, I felt mad. I was steaming at these human beings who had the audacity to cut down pristine rainforest – the forest and incredible fauna and flora it holds is way more important than a tiny bit of maize, I thought! Additionally, the animals we were caring for had been captured from the forest in the first place, often having been taken from their mothers, who would get shot. The humans were the enemy and the forest and the animals my friends.

Of course I knew that this was a ridiculous stance. I’d studied politics as an undergraduate and was particularly interested in international development and the causes of poverty. The majority of these people were extremely poor and their one field or few heads of cattle were all they had. They needed to survive and even after the harvest of their crop, the financial rewards might not even be enough to send their children to school. In rural areas of Bolivia as much as 80% of the population lives in poverty.

I returned to South America five years later, this time to Paraguay. I was going to study the impact of forest fragmentation and edge effects on small mammals in the Atlantic Forest as a project I designed for my Masters. Now I was much more aware I noticed that the entire roadside during my 6 hours journey from the capital to the field site was no longer natural forest habitat. Soya, cattle and rice dominate Paraguay’s list in terms of the major players in the game of mass forest loss and you cannot but notice as you drive through the landscape. In fact, whilst we were all paying attention to Brazil in the 90s, Paraguay had the highest rate of deforestation in South America and the second highest in the world.

Next was Peru. I worked as a field assistant on a primate project in deepest darkest western Amazon basin. The field site was a 5 hour boat away from the jungle city, Puerto Maldonado, itself a 12 hour drive from anything else. I thought that this would be the most pristine forest I’d ever see, and for sure, once inside it is absolutely out of this world in terms of biodiversity. But as I followed the monkeys down to the river edge I could hear chainsaws. People were clearing the forest even within the conservation concession to make way for gold mining. We stopped the boat on the riverbank one day and had a look around. Everything was gone, the soil dry and, unseen, mercury was impregnating the water.

Borneo. We all know about palm oil but I wasn’t working in palm oil territory. From the plane on my way in I saw the amazing forest I was to work in for the next 16 months collecting data on wild orang-utans and gibbons in the largest chunk of forest left in Borneo. But from the river bank, there was a kilometre or so of sedge before reaching the forest where it had been cut down for timber. Then there were expeditions to the ex-Mega Rice Project. This was an ill-conceived idea whereby a million hectares of forest would be cleared to grow rice in peat, which is of course too acidic to grow rice, meaning that the forest got cleared but the rice never grown. It left what can only be described as an elephant graveyard of the remnants of burnt trees, burning hot from the black ash-ridden soil covering the ground. Indonesia is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, oil palm is spreading like wildfire, over 80% of their timber exports are from illegal logging and fire itself rampages through the country yearly and especially severely in El Nino years.


Wasteland and burnt trees at the edge of one of the remnant forest patches cut down as part of the Mega Rice Project. Photo: Rebecca Purse


It’s been a bleak story so far, incredible landscapes torn apart by human disturbances. But what can we do about it? Do I give up and lose hope? Well of course not. We all have a part to play in the big game of life, which is now more globally inter-connected than ever as economies open and produce is exported around the world for the gain of better lifestyles… orfor those privileged enough to be able to afford them. I’ve decided my small part to play in all this is to understand the impacts of these habitat disturbances on forest-dependent species, with primates being my main focus and interest, in order to help develop the best strategies to protect both endangered species and human livelihoods at the same time. This can’t be done without understanding and, importantly, accepting that a certain level of human disturbance is inevitable and necessary.

Collecting data on primates is not enough on its own. Local people need to be involved, their plights and perceptions need to be understood. There have been several studies investigating farmers’ perceptions of crop-raiding primates in the area I will be working, in and around the Budongo Forest Reserve in Uganda, but surprisingly very few studies looking at the issue from the perspective of the primates themselves. I’m hoping to bridge this gap. I’m not expecting a silver bullet from my research, but I am hoping to shed light on exactly how different human activities – different scales of farming, roads, human presence – impact the species that are now trying to adapt to a new landscape, shared with human neighbours. In the unprotected forest fragments outside the reserve, chimpanzees are living in human-dominated landscape mosaics and forest loss is continuing. With a full understanding of both sides of the story – from humans to the forest-dependent species – I think we can create the most informed solutions for human-wildlife co-existence. I’m feeling positive – there’s no other way to feel or else you’d simply crash and burn or live a never-ending battle that cannot be won – but I know it won’t be easy.

chimps wasteland

A local field assistant collects data on chimpanzees in recently burnt forest. Photo: Kimberley Hockings

I’m running a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to support my research, which you can read more about on the webpage and from the video. My research will directly feed into local conservation strategies in and around the Budongo Forest Reserve, as well as IUCN guidelines on human-great ape conflict mitigation. I’m dedicated to working with both the academic community and conservationists on the ground to ensure that my results have a positive impact for endangered primates living in human-dominated landscapes.

I’d like to ask anyone who feels passionately about this issue to please have a look and support funding this important research on my crowdfunding page at: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/chimpanzees-on-the-edge

Please do share and spread the word too – I’ll keep you posted on how the research comes along, with some good news further down the line I hope….

Will Social Intrepreneurs save the world?


A guest blog from Rob Kyle, current Imperial MSc student

Sosicial entrepreneurship in an organisation has been aptly reclassified as ‘social intrapreneurship’ (SI). These intrapreneurs are described as people within a company that direct an initiative for innovations which address social or environmental challenges profitably.

Clearly intrapreneurship is an evolution from entrepreneurship and holds many of the same characteristics. However there are obvious boundaries and advantages to intrapreneurship; internal politics and lack of support or greater resources and more partnerships, to name but a few.

There are a growing number of social intrapreneurs in organisations around the world, all going against the grain in business to create social as well as economic value. Examples such as Ray Anderson in Interface or Jo Da Silva at Arup have shown that creating social as well as economic value can be achieved. To read in greater depth case studies of successful SI…

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Getting Streeetwise

On a beautiful London summer evening a large group of innovation and sustainability practitioners  wandered through the Southbank experimenting with a new innovation technique.

Street Wisdom combines a meditative state with divergent stimuli to produce new ideas.  It can be used to solve a personal or organisational challenge and may be for new products of services, new ways of thinking or a new direction.  Challenges are varied. In our group some wanted to think about a job change, another launching a new business, a third how to help their mother and another to solve a thorny problem at work.


Street Wisdom works through honing awareness of one’s surroundings.  As hurried Londoners we often miss the beauty and life in the streets around us. Refocusing on our environment made us appreciate it and, of course allowed us to access its ‘universal wisdom’. Many people found this the most rewarding part. 

It asks participants to connect with their environment first – through time alone noticing patterns, people, and beauty. It then allows for participants to ask specific questions and receive stimuli towards answers. 

As an innovation technique, I believe it is particularly pertinent to sustainability as it forces personal congruence – to move into a mindful personal space from which to test and originate ideas.

Feedback from innovation professionals, students and sustainability practitioners was excellent. Some of the comments included:

“I so enjoyed yesterday, both for the innovation approach itself and the whole new look at familiar spaces” Julia
“Thanks for the event yesterday. I had good time!” Ashish
“Last night was lovely. Great to be around such an open gang of treasure seekers (and finders)”  Tiu
“What an absolutely lovely evening! I feel privileged to have been included” Maggie

wise3Working with the Streetwisdom team was a pleasure. They embody openness and inspiration and offer the course for anyone who wishes to participate or teach.

We recommend you look into other Street Wisdom sessions – they can be found on http://www.streetwisdom.org/

Have you done anything similar?  Do you have an interesting technique to share? 

Beyond Brainstorming – Innovation is Everywhere

Bored with brainstorming? Fascinated by mindfulness? We are experimenting with a fresh technique that is effective, collaborative and works with awareness.


I was and went along to Street Wisdom. I did a random tai chi class, met wonderful kindred spirits and discovered an interesting technique to get creative, reflect and solve business and personal issues. Others spoke to strangers, found beautiful architecture and discovered new parts of London.

As an innovation practitioner, it was useful to find a new technique. Changing the context and creating awareness brought fresh perspective. It is particularly useful for the divergence stage of creative thinking.

6heads will be co-hosting a Street Wisdom experience, with the wonderful Street Wisdom team on 16th July. You can learn a new technique, meet some of our wonderful members and enjoy a summers eve on the South Bank. Coming?

RSVP here: Innovation is everywhere

More info: Street Wisdom


Thursday, 3rd July at 6:30pm, Sir Richard Steele Pub, Chalk farm, NW3 4RL 

We are building a network of young professionals interested in investing their money in socially and environmentally responsible ways. We believe investing should be simple and that money has the power to do good. If you think so too, we’d love for you to join us.

If you discovered that your money was being used to finance child labourmilitary weapons, or harmful chemicals – would you be concerned? It is a troubling fact that 35% of savers in the UK have no idea what their banks do with their hard earned money. We are Light Up The Crowd and we want to change this.

We’ve noticed that investment can be overwhelming for first-timers. Yet whether it’s £50 or £50,000, we believe everyone should feel empowered to invest in the things that they care about. That’s why we want to help young professionals like you make simple but well-informed investment decisions that are both good for your wallet and good for the planet

Our founding members event on Thursday, will allow you to learn more about responsible investingshare your input and ideas, and become a founding member of our network as we learn to navigate the middle ground between young people and the financial world.

 We have a fantastic speaker lined up –  Jonathan Maxwell, Founding Partner & CEO of Sustainable Development Capital LLP. At SDCL he has advised on the formation of a number of investment vehicles involving total capital raised of approximately US$600 million. He has also served as an advisor to governments, to the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative and is a director and trustee of the Institute for Sustainability in the UK.

It promises to be a fun evening with drinks, talks, lively conversations and interactive sessions as we explore how we can change the landscape of investment for young people.

There will be half an hour of meeting and greeting, with talks starting at 7pm.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Please RSVP to reserve a ticket.

Can business change the world?

Creating conditions for positive business engagement in society

Leading businesses increasingly recognise the need to go beyond traditional corporate social responsibility approaches and see contribution to societal good as a strategic imperative.

Some are engaging fodeloitte 1r commercial return, recognising opportunities to develop new value. This might be through access to additional revenue from new markets, to solve a problem and/or to build new strategic capability.

Each of these motivations results in different pitfalls for which there are some useful ‘remedies’.

1. Accessing new markets
Most businesses are aware of the value in the bottom of the pyramid. Some have noticed that this segment is also more resilient to economic flux and that businesses that have engaged here have received significant public visibility – all good reasons to develop a new market.

Some companies get this right. Grameeen is the much touted example.  Another example comes from the insurance world. One issue confronting the poor is the lack of any support system – if a child is sick or a shop burns down, there is no access to bridging funds or reparations. In many cultures this is addressed by women pooling funds to support each other through crises. Recently AXA created an initiative to support groups of these women (working through PWDS in India) to access family health insurance. Based on a community verification and penalty scheme, operating costs are kept low. This is a positive example of a company engaging with new markets in a way that is in line with existing structures and which meets real needs.

Other companies don’t get this right. A large water company tried to set up a water purification scheme in India. This provided entrepreneurs with the equipment to purify water, at an ongoing cost for maintenance over a ten year period. This wasn’t successful – it required new entrepreneurial structures, forced communities into long term debt but also, importantly, didn’t address the real problem – prevention of dirty water would be better than cure.

The main pitfall with this motivation is lack of alignment to communities and this is best solved by operating closely and within communities to determine and meet their actual needs.

2. Solving a problem.

Often this is driven by CSR practitioners or corporate philanthropists as a more sustainable alternative to traditional ways of donating. This may take various forms – the Carbon Trust was tasked with creating new businesses to shift sectors towards low carbon alternatives, M&S recently looked at how a new initiative could solve both a growing skills shortage in the food industry and help employ young people.

Both of these initiatives  – like most other initiatives of this type – suffered from a lack of inherent commercial rationale. They were looking for solutions where unmet customer needs (and therefore a commercial value proposition) were not the main focus. This made creating a business case very difficult.

These cases were ‘cracked’ by developing an indirect customer (e.g. suppliers, philanthropic funders), using new business models (e.g. long term equity upside) or finding a value differentiator (e.g trusted brand ).

A solution to a lack of inherent commercial rationale is therefore using ‘extreme’ commercial creativity. 

3. Strategic engagement.

These forward thinking pioneers are actively creating the customers, capabilities or resources for their future. A great example is Interfaces Net Impact programme.  It pays fishermen for old nets and then transforms these into tufting material for carpets. Fishermen from poor communities receive value from a ‘waste’ product. These nets are no longer thrown into the ocean and loss of marine life is prevented. Interface has a differentiated input for its carpets and new capabilities in setting up partnerships and accessing resources. Currently we are working on another Interface initiative to alleviate poverty, create a secondary market for used carpet and develop capability for global recycling.

A pitfall of companies operating with a strategic intention is the negative effect of ‘unintended consequences’. For example by enriching only part of the population resentment may be stirred up which results in domestic violence or tribal warfare.

Uninitended consequences can (often) be addressed by organisations taking a systems thinking approach to any new initiative.

For any organisation venturing into this space three new competences need to be built:
– extreme partnering: bringing together unlikely play mates with different agendas and resources towards achieving a common goal (e.g. AXA, PWDS charity, local women),
– lateral innovation: designing business value in entirely new ways, and
– ecosystem thinking: making sure that supporting initiatives and structures are in place to provide all the elements required (for example
Interface recognised the need for a banking partner for its networks initiative).

There are tremendous benefits for companies venturing into social change. From the bottom line benefits (e.g. new customers or premium products), to risk mitigation (e.g. diversified sourcing) to intangibles (e.g. employee loyalty, customer aw

I’d go further and say that no business can, over the long term, separate itself from the society that supports it – as suppliers or customers. Positive engagement with society is an imperative for business to build a robust and resilient global future. 


This article is an excerpt from a talk Nicola did for Deloitte at a Net Impact event. She is focused on creating new commercial solutions for social and environmental change and is interested in exploring thinking and opportunities in this area. What is your experience in this area? Any lessons you’d like to share? How could your company engage better with society?

Please contact her on nicola.millson@6-heads.com for further information.