Evolving as Human Beings to Use Capitalism for the Greater Good with Common CEO Mark Eckhardt

COMMON Foundation combines the power of an incubator with philanthropy and social entrepreneurship to support, promote and develop non-profit ideas and organizations in the US and abroad for the benefit of people, planet, and peace. Prior to becoming the CEO of COMMON LLC, Mark Eckhardt was a principal at UFUSE Visionary Strategy Management, a global consulting firm devoted to unleashing creativity and helping entrepreneurs produce outstanding results through innovative business strategies, organizational design, and alignment of partnerships. Mark is also a Zen Buddhist Priest who has dedicated his life to transforming the nature of capitalism through social and environmental entrepreneurship. Mark joined us at Cause and Purpose to share the lessons he has learned through an entire career of conscious impact-building within capitalism.

Mark grew up as a brown kid raised by a white family. As he put it, it wasn’t an average American household. But he grew up in a hippie town with a big academic presence, Claremont, CA, and it was pretty ideal for a childhood setting. His parents were educators and cared deeply about offering equal opportunities for all children. Even as a kid, he had a deep sense that he was in the right place to make a big difference for people.

The first person who taught Mark how to make a difference was his drum teacher. He was a student of life and taught Mark how to focus and be effective with his time and energy, as well as how to treat people right. The first time Mark stepped into the world of organization was with his own foundation. He had benefited from great mentors coming up, which had led him to a great music career, and that led him to creating the Be Music Foundation in the 90s when he was only in his mid-20s himself. It was dedicated to raising money for youth coming from underserved communities who wanted to get a 4 year degree in music.

One of the big lessons he learned running his first foundation was crushing. He was organizing his first gala and bringing in amazing young musicians to perform at it. On the way to the event, a family member of one of the musicians was murdered, which resulted in additional tragedies, leaving the foundation’s board with an unmistakable taste of the real world underneath the shine of the foundation’s work. With the whole board resigning, the foundation folded six months after that event, and Mark began searching for the next vehicle to make a more effective impact.

This led him to discover Buddhism. With a big hole in his heart and a lot of questions about who he needed to be in order to make a real difference, Mark met a Buddhist priest who introduced him to the ideas of really understanding oneself, self-mastery, and the exact qualities he had admired in his mentors. The Santa Monica Zen Center was where he trained and practiced Zen Buddhism, which had an amazing lineage in the world of Zen. This is where Mark learned about the challenges of teacher student power dynamics and how to understand the political chaos unfolding in the U.S. at the time. However, he also learned to understand the distinction between what is real and what isn’t. He learned how to work with people with very different interpretations of what the world is, a skill he uses today in his current venture. About 8 years in, he took his vows to become a priest. 

“All of us are seeking the same thing and it can be articulated as having the experience of love, being loved, knowing that you matter, that people care, and that you actually have a path to realize about what you are supposed to do here with your time.”

What came out of his time at the Buddhist center led him to creating his current venture, Common Foundation, which uses a strategy called maniacal business attack. Organizations hire his foundation to respond to a challenge: a change in their market, an internal culture challenge, pursuing a new opportunity, etc. Common creates a space to bring groups of strangers together with the client’s team, with very different backgrounds and points of views, in order to create a breakdown that results in revealing what has been preventing a massive thrust forward in the organization. It’s a powerful process that creates incredible results and is unlike other business strategies.

“I see business as a vehicle for expression and as a vehicle to pursue what matters to you.”

Very early on in Mark’s work, he saw that as soon as a group or individual crafted a vision for the world that was huge and aspirational, it would just pull them over the cliff with its magnitude. They would freak out and be overwhelmed. Instead, he learned to see vision as an experience that you can engineer and amplify to allow people to incorporate into their own self-narrative. It becomes part of who they are and how they want the world to see them and interact with them. This led him to the world of brand and storytelling and his passion for it.

In Mark’s eyes, the world of capitalism is an invitation to anyone with an idea that will be meaningful to create a powerful solution. It can be beautiful and it can be brutal. It can be bigger than oneself and create amazing scale and impact. The results largely rest on the leadership of a company and their values. While the pandemic has revealed the fragility of capitalism, it has also shown us the impact of capitalism on our environment. Founded on the idea of neo-liberalism, capitalism has run us aground by going unchecked for too long.

“Wait a minute, maybe we do need to start taking account . . . for the externalities of what it means to bring a product all the way to market.”

The three things Mark believes are critical to turning around capitalism are these: one, we each need to develop our ability to make sense of the world around us as accurately as we are capable of. Two, we need to develop the ability to really sit with other people’s experience. Three, we need to continually develop the ability to be self-aware. That means catching our own biases and preventing ourselves from engaging in harmful behavior. As a summary, we need to evolve as human beings. 

Key Questions and Takeaways:

How Mark moved from a Zen Buddhist priest to a consultant for better capitalism

What needs to change in capitalism to save us from ourselves

What non-profits can learn from for-profit businesses about building trust

How the shift in social justice during the pandemic has impacted Mark and the BIPOC community



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Episode Transcript:

Mark (00:00:03):

Our former capitalism today is the response to what happened in world war II. And it's, you know, really predicated on, you know, individual freedom, you know, autonomy, all those kinds of things. And it is the dominant economic narrative that runs our, our world economic. And the problem is, is that it has run us a ground

Mike (00:00:26):

Welcome to Cause and Purpose, the show about leaders, innovators, and change agents working on the front lines to solve some of the world's greatest social challenges. I'm Mike Spear and today's guest is social entrepreneur, musician, and Zen Buddhist monk, Mark Eckhardt, as you might imagine from that intro alone, mark is one of the most dynamic and interesting people I've met in my career. He has a unique perspective on the world, the social sector, and on the nature of capitalism its future and its role in our society. I've had the pleasure of getting to know Mark through his role as CEO at a creative accelerator program called Common and through our work together as board members of an early stage agri ecology startup called Thrive Lot. We have a ton to talk about and I can't wait to dive right in.

Mike (00:01:09):

Well, first of all, Mark, thanks so much for doing this. I can't tell you how much I've been looking forward to this conversation, uh, for a variety of reasons, but thank you very much for being here and, uh, really I'm looking forward to the insights and expertise you're able to share with our audience, curious to learn a little bit, just to begin with about Mark Eckhardt as a kid, I'm curious what you were like, who you were, what your family dynamic was like, and ultimately, you know, what did you wanna be when you grew up?

Mark (00:01:34):

I'm a brown kid, or was a brown kid. I'm a brown dude who was adopted by a white family. Uh, so from the get go, my life has not look like the traditional life for African Americans or, you know, families across the country. For that matter. My family are all educators, parents met in graduate school, fell in love, traveled to the east coast, uh, lived in New York for a while. And that's where I was adopted. Soon thereafter, we sit back to the west coast and I grew up in a little, little town called Claremont, California, which is a mile east from Los Angeles. Perfect tiny little college town. That's seven square mile small. So I like to refer to it. It sits at the base of Mount bald, so we could get up to the ski slopes and 30, 40 minutes after school.

Mark (00:02:20):

And it's known as the city of the trees. And it has a handful of a powerful little powerhouse, private universities from Pomona college pitcher, college, Harvey, mud, the Claremont graduate school, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So I grew up in this kind of hippie town at the base of the mountains that had this huge presence and influence of academia and art and culture, and it was safe and I could ride my bike and me out and not get in trouble and not have my parents worry about where I was. It was pretty ideal to be quite honest,

Mike (00:02:50):

What did your parents do for work?

Mark (00:02:52):

So my father was the head and psychologist for our school district in Claremont. And my mother began as a school counselor and then she kind of upped her up her way up into being a principal. Very, very successful elementary school principal

Mike (00:03:07):

Was social impact and sort of contribution to causes, you know, part of your upbringing or, or was that something you came to later in life

Mark (00:03:15):

From the beginning? I mean that even traces back to why my, my parents adopted me. So they adopted me as a stand to ensure that all children, especially those who were deemed hard to place because of ethnicity and race had a family in a home that was loving and cared for them. So that's was just infused from the beginning for me, but my entire family, especially my mom's parents. So, and my grandparents have always been focused on education, engaging in the world, doing good, making a difference and being the best you can be. So I don't know anything else.

Mike (00:03:51):

So did you know from early on that, that's kind of like how you wanted to direct your career? Uh, or did it take a, a different path at first?

Mark (00:03:59):

I can't remember it was eight or 13 years of age, but it was either one of those two where I was sitting on the grass, uh, in a local park about two blocks from my home, staring at the, the clouds kind of drifting around in the sky. And I was just overcome with the sense of, wow, I'm really supposed I'm here in supposed to be working with people in organizations to make a difference. So I was a little kid and for whatever reason, I just had that experience wash over over me. I had that moment of clarity and I kind of pursued it ever since it's been a windy road, but the through line is make a difference fulfill on that sense of purpose that showed up for you in that one day,

Mike (00:04:39):

What was the first sort of program or organization that you were a part of that furthered that path for you?

Mark (00:04:44):

So I'll, I'll go back to my drum teacher. So certainly not an organization. So I'm referring to an individual, his name is Roy Burns. You know, here's a guy who at the age of 18 traveled from Kansas city, his hometown to New York city with $300 in his pocket. And his first gig was taking over the drum seat from Generou and Benny Goodman's band, the biggest band in the world at that.

Mike (00:05:09):


Mark (00:05:09):

Kidding. But Roy Roy was a master, a master teacher and, and yes, he taught me the techniques of drumming and shared everything. He knew about that, but he was a student of life and he was a student of, you know, how to focus and how to be effective with, with your time and your energy in how to touch people through your own self expression. And so I was, I got to be very good at that and in a rapid rate in a rapid way, and was fortunate to have a career in music for many, many years, you know, then there's other individuals like, uh, Jan Robertson, who's an African American concert pianist and, and music director and conductor who taught me about mastery and excellence. And he was very, very devoted to both faith, but making a difference. Gary Soto, gentleman of Hispanic dis um, member of the LGBTQ community, very, very successful, powerful educator, same thing from him.

Mark (00:06:05):

And then I would say kind of the first time that I kind of stepped into the world of organizations was with my own foundation. And that was just kind of a manifestation of all of the influence and inspiration that I had benefited from and derived from those relationships with those really important mentors in my life. And so the be music foundation was formed in 1996 and we were dedicated to raising money and, uh, distributing them in the form of scholarships for youth coming from underserved communities who wanted to get a four year degree in use sick.

Mike (00:06:38):

Hmm. How old were you when you started that?

Mark (00:06:40):

Maybe I dunno. 23, 24, definitely. In my twenties.

Mike (00:06:43):

I'm, I'm curious, you know, what, what the inspiration was and why you chose to start something new rather than partner with something else that was already out there.

Mark (00:06:50):

I attended UCLA and I, I participated there and studied there within their music department. And at UCLA, I was selected to be a mentor, uh, and, uh, a group of students, part of a group of students that went down to George Washington, preparatory high school in Inglewood to provide music lessons. And it was there that I was blown away at the conditions that these kids were somehow kind of thriving in lack of proper, you know, equipment. So the saxophone players, the re players needed to share instruments, um, to, I mean, just one challenge after another. And it just became abundantly clear that, you know, there was a huge need. Uh, and I was for whatever reason was moved to try to fulfill some of it

Mike (00:07:38):

Were some of the early success lessons learned, you know, challenges that you sort of became aware of in the space as a result of that project.

Mark (00:07:45):

Uh, I'll kind I'll get right to the biggest lesson and it was crushing. It was crushing. And I think it, it, it is one of the big reasons why I'm doing what I'm doing today. So, um, pull together were a board, we've raise some funds. We're now in position to have our first annual gala we're gonna, where we're gonna award our first scholarships. So we go out and we find these amazingly talented young musicians. I mean, these, these folks actually, Michael, to, um, Lisa Harton, I mean, gone out and played with Smith, ashing, pumpkins, and, and Neo. And I mean, just really, really great kids, very, very talented, but on the way to that event in Bellaire, California, the sister of one of our recipients was murdered. She was living away from home, uh, attending school. And she was living with a family who had had a room and the son of the family murdered her brother knife, Michael Sheridan's father was incarcerated.

Mark (00:08:53):

He got released about a week prior to the, the gala, uh, within 24 hours, he tracked down Michael's mother killed her and then turned the gun on himself. And in a flash, Michael was alone without any other family members to take care of him and on and on and on, it was just one incredibly powerful, painful strategy after another. And so there we were, uh, we managed to pull together the, the gala and we had it, and it was both beautiful and very, very painful and hard to, to go through at the same time. And then within six months after that, every member of my board resigned and it, and my conclusion was they had just gotten hit with a dose of the real reality that lives and exists underneath the shiny layer that we had applied on top of it in the form of a nonprofit that was doing good and giving scholarships to underserved youth who needed it, the real work showed itself, the real dynamics that are in play, that, that, that, that hold the level of suffering and in trauma in place couldn't be denied.

Mark (00:10:07):

And it was more than anyone was prepared to deal with was more than anybody could cope with. And it was more than anything. I, I believe the, at any one of my board members felt that they could impact. And we folded six months after that, I shut it down six months after that. And I began searching and searching for the next thing, the next vehicle that would have the potency that, uh, to be more effective. I didn't get, I didn't directly, it didn't take me directly to capital, but it ultimately put me on a path to finding capitalism as maybe a more powerful vehicle to make an impact.

Mike (00:10:43):

You know, how did you respond to that personally, you know, the months after you shut it down? I imagine it was a quite a period of reflection for

Mark (00:10:49):

You. It was incredibly painful. Um, I had felt, I felt abandoned. I felt that I been kinda lied to, I felt like I had been somewhat of a, a, a vehicle that our board members had used to to feel good and to look good, but ultimately they weren't there in the way that they said they were going to be there. And, um, I got bitter and I got, I became cynical. It wasn't, wasn't fun, I guess, that bitterness and that cynicism hardened me a little bit, um, and, and made me, and I ended up even more resolved to keep doing the work that, that I knew I was supposed to do. Just didn't know what form it needed to take.

Mike (00:11:37):

Yeah. Very understandable. What was that next step?

Mark (00:11:40):

The next step was towards Buddhism. Yeah. So of course, you know, I was working and earning a living and, and being a, you know, part of a functioning part of society, but I was really left with a big hole and, and a number of questions that were specific to like, how, how can I make a difference here and who do I need to be? And what do I need to cultivate myself in order to increase my efficacy, couple that with a, a series or a handful of bad relationships, that tank pretty hard culminating in ended actually, I mean, just totally torpedoed. And I was in a place where I had gone from really successful music career to standing up a foundation that I was excited about and won awards as a result of the work that we had actually done, uh, to going what happened?

Mark (00:12:31):

You know, what, where am I, and, and who am I and what I'm gonna do. And fortunately, I met a man, um, who was training at the Santa Monica Zen center to be a, a Zen Buddhist priest at the time. And I heard my pretty sad story, and he just said, you know what, we're having an introduction next Saturday. It's a half a day thing. If you got six hours come down and check it out, you might find what you're looking for. I walked in the door that Saturday, I think it was 19 97, 19 98. And within a matter of minutes, I knew that I had found, found my home or what was to be my home for a long period of time, there something about the priests and the way they operated, the way they interacted with me and the contribution to the conversation that we had over those six hours that just resonated and, and, and just had a quality of mastering, you know, really understanding one's self, developing skill, developing character, developing capability. And those are all things that the mentors I spoke about previously provided me with and supported me in, in explore and understanding. So it felt, felt very familiar to me,

Mike (00:13:39):

Feel free to dive into the actual experience if you'd like to, but through that process or, or elsewhere, how you've sort of come to this place of, you know, divorcing the goal and the spirit, the impact of what's, what's actually there, the value of what's to be learned from, from

Mark (00:13:52):

The shift,

Mike (00:13:53):

Some of the pain yeah. From the, from the, of like, yeah, the storm. I mean, absolutely

Mark (00:13:58):

The Santa Monica Zen center was a very unique place to train and practice Zen Buddhism through Zen training, you develop the ability to really understand the distinction between what is real and what isn't, there's a specific CU it's called co study that you can elect to participate in. That is all about deepen your understanding about what real what's real and what isn't. And then around that, to support that, you know, there's training and meditation, there's training in all the different rituals that are honored and respected in main around how a Zen center operates that are just all, all designed to just raise awareness, to help you be even more and more present to right here and now. Um, and then there's very specific skills for interacting with people. I was fortunate. I was for whatever reason, kind of on a faster track than most, and that ultimately put me in place to, to take my first set of vows, to be a priest at about eight years in nine years in. And I completed that about a year later, but I was able to do interview with other students at the end center that were less senior or newer. And that's where I kind of exercised and developed my chops to working with people. And I'm applying that to this day over a common,

Mike (00:15:19):

You know, if you, if you do wanna be more specific actually about, you mentioned this process gave you a greater understanding in most of some of the forces that are unfolding in, in the us yeah. At this stage. Do you wanna on that a little bit more?

Mark (00:15:32):

Sure. Um, how about a vote for Obama is a vote, uh, evil.

Mike (00:15:38):


Mike (00:15:40):

Well, it's the, and now it's not just Obama. I think that was very true at the time, but now it even extended to Biden of like, you know, vote Democrat. It's, you know, you're with the communist and it's evil, and you're bringing about the end of the world of essentially

Mark (00:15:52):

Exactly. I, I would say it's the opportunity and the challenge, they're both one and the same is how can you be effective in relationship and interacting with people that have, uh, uh, a very different philosophical underpinning for how they experience the world and interact with the world. And, um, how do you interact with folks who just have a very, very different sense or interpretation of what the world actually is and how it's unfolding and playing out in real time? That is a very, very challenging place to have to stand I and have to be in. Yeah, but at, at the end of the day, it really is the work that we all are, are being challenged to step into. And it doesn't matter if you're a business person or, you know, you're doing something other than that. Our country is so divided at the moment that each of us are being called to kind come to that place and air and do whatever we can to, uh, you know, get to the point where we can comprehend the experience of another person that has a very, very different point of view and platform that they're operating from.

Mike (00:17:05):

What are some techniques that you've used, even your, just your philosophy on it in terms of reframing the conversation,

Mark (00:17:10):

Kinda speak a little more to the softer side of things. So the answer, your question, uh, it's my experience that all of us are seeking the same thing, and it can be articulated as, you know, having the experience of love, being loved, knowing that you matter, knowing that people care and that you actually have an opportunity and there's a path for you to realize whatever it is that supposed to do here in your time. Um, and so if you can enter conversation and interaction with that place and then, uh, from that place, um, and then create experiences that actually return people over and over and over again to that, um, then something magical happens every time. I mean, I've seen it in all of the design processes that I've run around the world. We call 'em AIA business attacks and where we bring people together. And sometimes they're not getting along well at all, but if you can return to that place, I just described, then, you know, what gets created out of that is really powerful and pretty magical without being too lofty about it. And if, if you're operating from there, of course, there's people that are never gonna agree with you, and they're just gonna wanna fight. But most people you can, you can get to in some, some way into some degree,

Mike (00:18:30):

Can you talk a little bit more about maniacal business attack

Mark (00:18:34):

Organizations and corporations will hire us to help them respond to a challenge? And a challenge could be something that they're seeing that's changing, um, in their industry, in their market. It can be a challenge internally. Maybe they need to have, uh, you know, evolve their culture, address some dynamics that are holding them back. Maybe it's, uh, you know, they're inspired and want to pursue an opportunity to create new products or put together new services. I mean, it runs the gambit. Um, and what we've been very good at over the years of doing is to, you know, creating the space and setting the stage to being groups of strangers together with very, very different backgrounds and points of views and expertise, and mashing them up with the client and taking them through a series of conversations in the form modules that produce very certain, you know, specific deliverables in the end.

Mark (00:19:30):

But the, the key to them is actually precipitating a breakdown. So in every one of these maniacal business attacks kind of like, there's always one thing that emerges and comes to the surface that is preventing a massive thrust forward. And so they're engineered and design to illuminate and bring that one thing to the surface. And so we precipitate a breakdown in a healthy, safe, appropriate way. And once we work through that, then the creativity that shows up is insane. And so we can spend up dozens and dozens of new ideas in a very, very short period of time, uh, each of which have their own potential efficacy. And then, you know, the steps after that is, okay, what are we actually gonna choose to do? What kind of testing method methodology are we gonna apply to find the best ideas? And then how do we deploy them over time? Gotcha. But they're transformative experiences. I mean, everybody's in tears.

Mike (00:20:31):

Can you talk about, you know, that, that love of brand and how this, this feeling of love is expressed through that and the importance of brand to brand and good marketing to the social sector? Cause I think it's something that's often overlooked.

Mark (00:20:43):

Yeah. I think there's two answers to the question. They, they seem relevant. Hopefully they are tell me if they're not and I'll I'll course correct. So there's how I view business, like my definition of business and what it, what it can be, uh, dedicated to. And then there's this whole notion of vision and what is a vision and how, how, how do you pursue it? And so, um, you know, I drive a lot of people insane with this, but I see business as a vehicle for expression and as a vehicle to pursue what matters, uh, to you and, and you know, what happens in order to realize that is that we pull together structure as we develop systems and processes, we incorporate tools and resources in order to, in a repeated fashion, engage in and fulfill on the behaviors that allow us to make the impact that we wanna make while attracting resources ideally.

Mark (00:21:43):

And, you know, sometimes I've attracted resources and many times there have been very little resources to around. I have to say, you know, it, hasn't always been huge, you know, and common still remains a, you know, a small business, but, um, you know, that's, that's how I see businesses. Uh, then there is vision and what is a vision. And, um, very early on in my work, I realized that as soon as a group or an individual crafted a vision for, of the world, that was huge and aspirational, they would go, it would just pull 'em over the cliff. They would freak out, you know, because as soon as you put, you know, that period at the last, you know, the LA after the last word and the last sentence or the phrase, you sit back and you go, there's no way I'm gonna fulfill on this and people freak out.

Mark (00:22:30):

And so I got, I started thinking about it. I'm like, well, wait a minute, maybe, maybe we have our construct for a vision wrong. What a vision is actually an experience that you can engineer and amplify that have done effectively enough and powerfully enough people will actually take that experience. And the idea of that it's rooted in and then incorporated into their own self narrative. So it becomes part of who they are and how they want the world to see them and interact with them. And so that, to me, those two things are kind of like how I arrived and, and brand and storytelling and, and why I, I love it so much. And then couple the fact that I've been, I'm very full, fortunate to be part of common. And that's put me in a seat right next to Alex BKI. Who's considered to be the Steve jobs of advertising. At least he was during his, his heyday. He's somewhat retired at this point, but I've had the privilege of learning through conversation with him and having him advise me and guide me and direct me and support me

Mike (00:23:32):

In my opinion, it's really that it's, it's, it's finding what somebody is really passionate about the vision they have for the world. And I align it with your work. It is, it's probably the same thing for most investors, maybe not VCs necessarily, but if you're looking for investment for yeah. A small business, you know, somebody's just getting started, you know, it really should start with a shared vision.

Mark (00:23:49):

Yeah. And, you know, Mike you're somebody who represents the ability to help people articulate that and create that experience and then continue to fulfill on it, you know, through, through the systems and processes that, that get built in, in, in fueled and supported. So, and mean it's, it's all, it's all, it all needs to be connected. And you're one who has the rare ability to do that.

Mike (00:24:10):

What is common, you know, first of all, and what made that really compelling for you as a, a next career step?

Mark (00:24:16):

So they got to a point of the Santa Monica Zen center while where I initiated and the led the charge to shut it down. There was that much controversy and we were no longer fulfilling the vision for the center, which was tragic because we were pretty kickass for a long time. Um, we were just to give you a glimpse of that. We were committed to the work to end in the world, end hunger and, uh, supported the hunger project. And over a very short period of TA in time, we became the largest donor in Southern California, out of all the other organizations that were donors. Um, and, and, you know, we were just a group of volunteers, 80 people strong at that point, but we generated a ton of resources for the hunger project. And so we were effective, but unfortunately, um, you know, the tension and ultimately the drama that ensued because of the political divide in, in, in, in strife, it just became clear that we needed to shut it down.

Mark (00:25:13):

So I led that effort. It took about three and a half years and four years to do it. And I was, and as that was coming to an end, I had, uh, to make a choice. I could have continued down the Zen path and completed my training and become, you know, get authorized, to teach and start a Zen center of my own or do something else. And it became very clear to me that the Buddhist world is Edward world while cool and potent and powerful was very small and considered to be very fringe. And I didn't want to be that far out. I just felt called to be part of the mainstream. And so I chose capitalism. It's as simple as that. And I've been in capitalism working to fulfill in my vows ever since.

Mike (00:25:56):

What does capitalism open up for people in terms of being able to create an impact and fulfill on, on those visions they have for the world? Yeah,

Mark (00:26:05):

I really do believe in spite of its flaws, its design flaws in capitalism is probably one of the most powerful things that's ever been invented. I mean, let's acknowledge it for what it has done, where it has brought us to in society and in the world. And certainly, you know, accompanying that there's some huge problems that are existential in their nature at the moment. But we'll get to that a minute. Again, I think capitalism business is an invitation to anybody. And we're speaking about entrepreneurs who has an idea and a thought about a way to create something and provide something that's gonna be meaningful for those who, who, who have, have needs that are relevant to that. I think that's really cool. I mean, I really think it's cool and it, and it is all encompassing. I mean, I can't think of a better, a better course for personal development than being in business in many ways. I mean, it's been incredible, but it's also been brutal and it just, it is unrelenting and it doesn't hide anything.

Mike (00:27:09):

Yeah. It's very, it's very confronting, you know, leadership wise, character wise work ethic wise, you know, it calls on you in, in these different ways. Yeah. And it can be, you know, maybe this is a little bit of a segue too, but it can be very zero sum. It can be very extractive. Yep. But, but I think it's done well, it's also, it also can be something that is bigger than oneself, that if it does have a positive purpose, uh, and it is able to hit sustainability and scale that it can be something that helps fulfill a vision and a mission for the world that will exist, you know, long beyond one's interest or ability to work there.

Mark (00:27:48):

Yeah. Yeah, totally. I think I speak specifically to folks in the world of social enterprise and impact. I mean, to be a little crude about it, like, uh, many of us, our good portion of us, if not all of us have kind of got our teeth kicked in and the challenge has been bringing for this movement in the context of traditional capitalism, that basically, if you look at the six forms of value, it reduces everything down to money. When you're an entrepreneur that is trying to build a model that accounts for and registers for all forms of value, it could look like you're constantly failing because you're not necess really measuring up to, uh, society's expectation of what a successful entrepreneur or businessman or business woman looks like from a financial point of view. Um, and it's taking time for these models to really, you know, sink in and start to operate more effectively and efficiently.

Mark (00:28:47):

So, you know, I could just go on and on and on about, you know, people who've just like showed up on my doorstep and saying, I'm getting killed out there. You know, my family's pounding me because they don't get what I'm doing. You know, my friends don't get what I'm doing and, you know, I'm being told, you know, I'm being declared a failure over and over and over again for, for being adamant about trying to, trying to, uh, offer a different way of, of going about business, you know, and 10 years ago was really brutal. And, but now, you know, we have the, uh, fortunate, unfortunate happening of a, a pandemic and people are going, wait a minute here, you know, agility of capitalism is abundantly apparent. And the reality of, of, of climate change is finally getting to the point where people can actually get their heads around what it means. You know, if you look at the series of fires, the intensity of fires in the state of California, if you look at, you know, just the, the changing weather patterns, if you, if you just start looking about, you know, sea rides in Miami and in different parts of the east coast where they're already seeing the negative effects, it's just like, okay, wait a minute. Maybe we do need to start taking account for what Buckminster fuller said and accounting for the externalities of what it means to bring a PO product all the way to market

Mike (00:30:05):

You've expressed to me in, in a few ways over the past year, your view of capitalism and economics, uh, and sort of the, the old model versus, uh, this new paradigm that, that many people yourself included are, are, uh, working very hard to create. Yeah. Can you break that down a little bit for us?

Mark (00:30:23):

Our current version of capitalism was founded on neoliberalism and if you're an entrepreneur or even a professional business person out in the world, and you haven't studied neoliberalism and its origins, you have a huge hole in your understanding of what you're participating in, what you're contributing to. So that's the first thing I would recommend that you do is just go, go do your reading and come to understand that our former capitalism today is the response to what happened in world war II. And it's, you know, really predicated on, you know, individual freedom, you know, autonomy and all those kinds of things. And it is the dominant economic narrative that runs our, our world at the moment. And the problem is, is that it has run us a ground. And so, you know, we are facing, and Michael, we talked about this, uh, I think at our last conversation, you know, those four generator functions.

Mark (00:31:17):

And so I'm gonna go right there now. And so these are the effects of capitalism run on unchecked versus destruction of biosphere, the biosphere and the damage to the climate and the environment. The second is the effect of exponential tech. And so right now, for example, if you look at how fast drone technology is evolving, or if you look at, uh, CRISPR drives in the be able, and the ability to modify genetics, you know, the cost of that, those materials and that capability has come down significantly. And so now you have state and non-state actors who have access to that stuff. That's not good. And that's brought us to a place that we've never been in or at, uh, throughout history. Then there's rival risk dynamics, the whole win lose. There has to be a winner in a, a loser dynamics that get played out constantly.

Mark (00:32:08):

And it, it happens to center and galvanize around this whole notion of ownership and IP. And as soon as you start messing with that, people start to freak out and they call you a socialist. But if you look at all of the, the conflicts throughout the world, they pretty much come down to what people have declared you their own. And other people who say, I want what you supposedly say you own. And then the third is the war on sense making or the damage that's been done to the information commons as a result of, you know, algorithms and how things are playing out on the internet and social media. And so we've done such damage that, and you alluded to this at the beginning of the, the con conversation, Mike, that what is reality and what is the shared reality that we're all going to agree on that will allow us navigate to some degree in sync in our society. And all of these four generator functions are the result of capitalism for the most part.

Mike (00:33:07):

It's amazing. You know, we, we've talked about this in a few ways, I think already, but it's amazing how much some of these ideas, uh, get wrapped up in personal identity to where you're defending, you know, this construct without, you know, historically and what it means to you and everything without actually looking at what's, what's the actual thing we want to create. What's, what's the result we're trying to produce and how do we get there?

Mark (00:33:31):

Exactly. So you're topping, you're talking about MEIC propagation, you know, MEIC is, or Masis is imitation, so that's, MEIC propagation. And so you just think about all the people that you you've been paying attention to on social media for the last year or so, especially around the election and all the things that have been thrown out. And it's just like, you're just propagating this thing. It's just like, you're actually being used by somebody who dropped that into this ecosystem here, knowing that they know more about you than you about yourself. Like, it's pretty scary to realize that if you're at the point where an algorithm can predict what you're gonna do better than you can, you're in trouble, we're in trouble. You know, going back to you remember when Trump was elected and I'm not trying to get into politics here, but remember it was soon after his inauguration.

Mark (00:34:22):

And all of a sudden there was like an alternative set of facts. You remember that what's that controversy totally well, fast forward to last week, I was listening to a podcast and, and the guys who were, you know, in discussion, there were just talking about a reality and how you can actually take a subset of information in, in reality or something that's true. And you can put it out there and it isn't necessarily wrong, but it's not entirely right without the entire context or the rest of information that it's associated and, and related to. And so that's happening and it's insane.

Mike (00:35:00):

How do we get people around to thinking for the common good and challenging? You, you know, what they hear critically and, you know, digging a bit deeper and figuring out how to contextualize some of these things.

Mark (00:35:12):

Totally. Uh, so I have an answer to that. Yeah. But I'm gonna, I, I want to invite your listeners to conduct an experiment on social media. So for the last several months, I've not been very active on Facebook. Well, social media in general, but face book, I'm just gonna focus on. And man, it is crazy to see my feed now versus what it was. Let's say back in October, as, as I started to see it clean out, I was like, oh my gosh, I'm just as guilty as anybody else, man. Like the stuff I've been putting out there has been so tweaked to, you know, the algorithms understanding of who I am like. So I've been used by it and you know, my agendas and my intention to influence people because I think I'm right. Um, you know, applies just as much as anybody else coming from a different perspective.

Mark (00:36:04):

But so, so gang just take a moment in like for two months, just like lay low, like dial down Facebook and see what happens. You'll be amazed at how boring it is and how many pictures of people's kittens and cats show up in your or feed. Yeah. And then you'll get an understanding of the degree to which you're contributing to this cycle that we're also concerned about and complaining about, but it's hard to identify how we're actually a part of it in contributing to it. Okay. So to your question, what do you do the truth is who knows? But I do think that three things are critical. One, we, we each need to work to develop our ability to make sense of the world and things around us, as accurately as we're capable of doing two, we, we need to develop the ability to really, really sit with, uh, other people's experience.

Mark (00:36:59):

And three, we need to continually cultivate the ability to be self-aware and to catch our own biases when they're, uh, in play and to prevent ourselves from engaging in, in fulfilling on harmful behavior. So it's a tall order. I mean, I think the solution is, am I gonna kind of say in a big way is the, that we need to evolve as human beings. We need to, uh, increase our understanding of how we're wired and how we're designed to function naturally and how that works against us and only fuels it exacerbates the dynamics that really have us up against existential threats. It's really legitimate question about whether or not the human species is gonna survive or whether or not America or other kind of political and governmental structures are gonna make it through this kind of pressure cooker. Now, obviously we look back in time and a number of societies and civilizations have gone down and there have been Romans and there have been Mayans who lived after their structure. The societal structures have collapsed, but you know, it's very different after you lose the thing that you're part of. And I don't think we wanna do that. And then we certainly don't wanna go out existence and go all the way over the edge. That would be well, that would be embarrassing to whoever's the aliens are watching. Yeah,

Mike (00:38:21):

Exactly. I don't think it's it too much, you know, to say that the future of the human race may be, may be involved here.

Mark (00:38:31):

Oh my gosh, it's crazy that we're even saying that.

Mike (00:38:36):

Well, it seems like such hyperbole, but it's not anymore.

Mark (00:38:39):

It's not, it's really not, uh, new version of capitalism. Uh, it's certainly regenerative, it's inclusive, it's diverse. Um, it's equitable and we can get into why I am being specific about diversity inclusion and, and equity. And it has to operate on an entirely different system of accounting. We have to account for the different forms of value that consumed in, in bringing something to market. Um, we have to, uh, address rest the distribution of proceeds and who we define and, and I regard as a stakeholder in all matters. So there's a huge push right now for, for nature to be, have a representative on, on boards, every board and even animals, um, because those parts of our whole system just have never had a voice. You know, how, how we're governing is needs to change, how we're helping people develop, moving from kind of top down hierarchical systems to semi autonomous teams and individuals.

Mark (00:39:53):

I mean, there's just a, there's a whole range of what falls into regen or resilient orgs. That is the front line in the emerging line of capitalism. About six months ago, we had the good fortune of wor working with Rebecca Henderson, who is, uh, one of the world's leading economists and her book, everybody should read it is called reimagining capitalism in a world on fire. And she outlined the processes that she has kind of built her, her point of view and approach on in a, a really superb way. Everything down to, you know, do the hard work design, new models, challenge your competitors to match you to better you on and on and on. And of course she's working, talking to bottom administration, she's, you know, you know, part of the, you know, consulting, you know, members of the round table and, and where she says that she's getting stuck is at, at the level of what are we gonna do about the tax situation in America?

Mark (00:40:53):

You know, and that's, that's the one area, the conversation where people are still not quite ready to go, and we know how much money would be generated in taxes, if, if, if there was some reform in, in that part of our, our laws. So here's something you guys, uh, you and your, your, your listeners may find really interesting. So I think Aman with an a, I think that's right. So every year they release their trust bar. And so for 2021, you guys are not gonna believe, uh, who or what is trusted more than anything else. It's not the government nonprofits are not even the most trusted entities or structures in the world, nor is the media, which that's not a surprise business is now the thing that people say they trust the most. And it's based on perceived ethics and capability to address and solve these essential threats. That's the first time ever that I've ever heard anything like that.

Mike (00:41:54):

That's such a switch,

Mark (00:41:56):

Huge, huge switch.

Mike (00:41:59):


Mark (00:42:00):

Cause all the other options are gone. I don't mean the pop poo nonprofits. I mean, they, they play an important role, but they're just not perceived as having the capability to get it done. The ethics are there for sure. But the, the fire power apparently is missing based on what this survey reported by.

Mike (00:42:18):

What do you think is lacking and what do you think nonprofit organizations can do to be perceived as more trustworthy and more effective than they're?

Mark (00:42:26):

So here comes a sweeping generalization. So call me out on this game, but you know, folks working in the world of NGOs and nonprofit aren't necessarily the best marketers and communicators in the world. OK. So we don't hear, uh, enough about the amazing work that is being done. And we hear too much about the overuse or the misuse of funds that are appropriated and all those kinds of things. So that's part of it. I also think, uh, a degree of the challenge is the result of, you know, nonprofits are seen as these kinda leftist, you know, liberal hippie organizations. And so they don't necessarily receive the same kind of respect that the business world receives by default. And I think overall, we pull way, way back to a middle level to cycle K gang, if you're so effective at solving these problems, why is the world going to? Like if you were really a badass at solving climate change, wouldn't be farther down the road. But the, the answer is yes, this people that are incredibly talented and knowledgeable and capable, it's just that the, the dynamics of the system that they're in, um, has constraints and hasn't garnered enough and, and overall alignment to get the job done, nonprofits, compete for funds.

Mike (00:43:42):

What compels you as an individual to donate to a cause or not?

Mark (00:43:48):

I don't think I've ever asked anybody that I've donated to, Hey, you know, what percentage is going to salaries? I, for me, I don't care. My criteria is, are you, are you being effective? Are you learning more as a result of doing the work that you're doing? Are you more capable? Are you better year over year? Do I think you're gonna solve the problem alone? Probably not, but you know, what are you contributing overall to the largest solution that's needed?

Mike (00:44:16):

But there, there just is this fear and this culture of fear around, around those questions and, and this assumption that, you know, that that organizations should present themselves as being miserly in how they pay people and in how they look at overhead.

Mark (00:44:32):

Well, I, I can remember being in Yakima, Washington and a Republican Senator. I don't know why this keeps coming up. I really am more, more open and collaborative than I may coming, but I just, I'll never forget this. We were running a mania business attack and we brought in a Republican Senator to, to, uh, participate in a panel discussion. It was for a nonprofit and he was hammering them for the art that they had on the wall. And like, it's just like when somebody finally asks, it's just like, should, should we get rid of all the art and replace the knife, soft couches and cushions that make people fill at home and comfortable with hard plastic chairs. And he was like, yeah. What, so just a huge gap, huge gap. Yeah.

Mike (00:45:18):

I I'm curious. So what, what is common? And then also, you know, as you guys were thinking about doing this, um, you know, did you, or how did you go about that design process to hone in on unique value proposition and customer value?

Mark (00:45:32):

So common we're approaching our 11th year. I think that's the accurate, the real number. So I'll talk about the origins, but succinctly in two and a half words, um, we're a collaborative community and accelerator for socially responsible businesses, organizations, products, and ideas. And so our job is to do whatever we can to help entrepreneurs and people who do see capitalism as a vehicle for doing good to, to be effective. Um, you know, and, and sometimes we do a great job of it. Sometimes we miss the mark, but the great thing about calm it is that we're all coming together and we're values aligned. And, and that is a really, really powerful thing. And it allows us to maintain relationships, uh, and to continue to find ways of working together. If the form that common currently offers isn't isn't necessarily the, the most, most effective or the right one.

Mark (00:46:24):

So we have members in 21 different countries, they're working across 27 different industries, our largest members traded on the lending stocks exchange. And that spans all the way across the board to visuals who have ideas that they're working to validate and bring the market. And what I do and the team tries to do on a daily basis is just to, you know, offer our services and our direct capabilities and make them available and leverage them. And while at the same time, reaching into the community and helping people connect, um, to invest that we're able, we're able to do so. So it's fun. And I get to work with people around the world who are doing really, really interesting things, um, from, you know, people who are making films about endangered species to people like Jessica Murray, who's building games to, uh, you know, arm and equip, uh, a whole, a whole movement, young activists to reduce violence and, and violent conflict to people who are making gin, uh, in order to save the oceans to education platforms, technical platforms, consultancies, et cetera, et cetera. It's really, really cool.

Mike (00:47:32):

Great. Uh, and the origin story kind of how you guys honed in on the need and, uh, what this would eventually look like.

Mark (00:47:39):

Sure. So, uh, I was working for yuse at the time that they landed Alex Bagu and Rob shhe as clients. And I just happened to be the guy who has picked with one other gentleman to lead Alex and Rob through the process that resulted in common. And so I was there as it was being born. And as both of those two amazing men were really wrestling and coming to terms with their choices to in Alex's case step out of the, the top agency in the world at that time. And to step out of being heralded as the creative director of the decade and the Steve jobs of advertising, and, you know, Rob shhe was moving out of his, um, experiential and activation company and having done a ton of amazing things. And so there we were in five for five days, having conversation about what mattered to them, where they saw the need, what that need was, why it was important.

Mark (00:48:42):

And the thing that would be ultimately become, be the vehicle to, to address the need. And that became common. And so that was in 2010, common was launched in 2011 and it was originally envisioned to be an umbrella brand that people could license and operate under. So just think of Virgin Virgin, you know, Virgin, mobile, Virgin airlines, all that kind of stuff. So it was common coffee at first, it was common bikes in the whole idea was to on law brand and brand value for small progressive companies who would never be able to AMAs the resources to build a globally recognized brand. So the guys launched that I joined shortly thereafter and we realized immediately that a new brand didn't have any value to the entrepreneurs we wanted to embrace it.

Mark (00:49:35):

Oops, oops. You know, oops. It happens. Yeah, it, it happens. But fortunately the vision and the values that are common and were infused to common were, are powerful. And at the time they were spot on for the zeitgeist. And I still think we are to a significant degree. And so thousands of people came, came to, came to us and landed on our doorstep. And then through a series of years and failures and iterations, we eventually re recognized that while we had been effective on the consulting side of the business and the advising side of the business, what was missing was a way or a system or model do that consistently. And from that came the community.

Mike (00:50:18):

If the vision and the values are sound, you know, you can do back flips with the business model and the core operations. And it's still, yeah. You know, you still are working towards it.

Mark (00:50:28):

Yep. And there's been some really high times, and there's been some dry times, man. I've gotta acknowledge my wife here. Like she has gotten me in common through, and more ways than you could ever imagine.

Mike (00:50:38):

How did you know you'd hit product market fit? When did you realize like, and what was the indication where you're like, okay, this is run something. Now this is what we need to do. Moving forward.

Mark (00:50:46):

Everybody just started saying, yes, that's a very simple answer. Internally. The shift was, I found it very, very easy to communicate what it is that we had created and were now offering in the form of the community, in it embodied and included all the things that we had heard entrepreneurs share about their challenges and the things that they were needing. And I, we started with grandfathering, a bunch of folks in, and just kind of running them through, you know, our idea of a process and it was effective enough. Uh, and it was raw enough in authentic and true enough to feel good about. And then we started charging and people said, yes. And when we started hearing people say, you know, $99 a month, are you really, how are you doing this? Or why would you do this? We knew that we had just found something, uh, but also look, there's several hundred thousand new businesses that are started in America every month. So we knew that there was never going to be a short supply of people who could be potential members. We knew that we were on the right side of doing the right thing in terms of our values and why we were in business and we trusted our ability to communicate effective. And, and that was it. And then I guess the other indicator was this, people started sharing it with other folks that they knew or know and started, you know, referring them to us.

Mike (00:52:21):

Yeah. Seen a lot of that. Certainly. Yeah.

Mark (00:52:23):

Yeah. And the LA I see the, the very last thing I'll, I'll, I'll share, uh, I think this is as important. So, you know, for many, many months, few years, I was really deep in my head trying to figure out the model. But when we, when, when it actually came, became clear, I was in a car with Christian by who's the co-founder of bright products. We were up in San Francisco for a series of meetings that I had coordinated for him. And as we were in the car, heading back to the airport for me to head to LA my home, uh, Christian leaned over as he was driving, he says this, I can't believe, you know, four years later that commod is still delivering so much value to bright products. It's this incredible, you just arranged these meetings. And not only that, you flew up to San Francisco to help facilitate them. For me, this is incredible. And it was just in that moment that it became clear that the community model is something that we could stand up, but it was so simple. It was surprisingly simple. And it was, it was, it, it, it is essentially the things that we were already doing and doing well, which just didn't realize

Mike (00:53:29):

I've read good degree a few times. And one of the things that always stands out, you know, from that book and something I try to apply to my consulting work is, you know, what, what's this hedgehog concept, like, what is the one thing, the one piece of value that, you know, you can add better than anybody else. Yeah. And how do you just focus on that?

Mark (00:53:45):

If our commitment to all forms of value in our ability to recognize people for how they've contributed and what they bring above and beyond is being a $99 month subscription. We wouldn't be here if that's all you were to us. And so if just anything I convey could convey to your listeners is that get to know what these different forms of value are and how they're functioning right now, and everything that you're doing and build the capacity to register them because they will, they will ultimately render relationships that can move in and out of different forms as you work together to pursue a better world and a bigger impact that you wanna make,

Mike (00:54:27):

The form can change, you know, all the time, like the, you can come up against all kinds of struggles and impas, and blockers and things that are existential threats to your organization. But if you're continuing to, you know, if you maintain that laser focus on the values and the ideals that what you're trying to get to, yeah. That's how you get resiliency.

Mark (00:54:43):

Yeah. Yeah, totally. And it's needed now more than ever. Like, we can't be so thin skinned, uh, given that we're confronted with real threats to our wellbeing and future and safety. And, and so it's just like abandoning relationship is really not an option for me. It's just not,

Mike (00:55:05):

How has COVID I impacted, um, common and its its member organizations. What have you seen?

Mark (00:55:14):

Um, we we've been unfortunately, but fortunately blessed to meet a lot of new people. Uh, so we've, we've experienced and continue to experience a surge of people who are applying and requesting to be part of the community. We didn't have the capacity to process all of them in a way that would maintain integrity and maintain quality overall. Fortunately, the majority of those folks have understood. And so we're working to catch up on that right now, we had marked 2020 for significant growth and we work with Justin West to the UNO. Well, and you work with too, you know, he's done a great job of building our system for marketing and advertising online and it's effective. And it's working to this moment in ways that I'm so grateful for. But when, when it became clear that the pandemic was gonna be incredibly disruptive and threatened the existence of so many of our members, we really threw ourselves all in to supporting them.

Mark (00:56:13):

And so over the course of, you know, March to mid-December 2020, you know, close to a thousand advisory sessions, um, just incredible volume of, of hands on support involvement, and that doesn't even include the impromptu and spur of the moment phone calls that we would take, or the calls or request to participate in board meetings are very critical decisions for being made about team, about staying in business or not. And I'm very proud to say that for all of members who chose to fight through it, they're still in business to this day, which is incredible, you know, and how people get PPP loans and all, all that kind of stuff. Um, so that, that, that was our focus. You know, let's just take care of the community members that we care about. Um, now the pressure isn't quite the same, although COVID is still very, very serious. Um, now we're kind of looking at systems and processes and figuring out ways to remove constraints. And I typically end up being the log gem.

Mark (00:57:18):

How do we yank me out of there? So we can take care of invite 20 people into the community at the same time, as opposed to one, two or three. So I'm, I'm very optimistic. I'm always blown away by the quality of the people who join and the work that they're doing. You know, we really believe that, you know, if it's a million businesses that are designed or somehow come through our ecosystem, whether it's for a long period of time or a short period of time, that we're just very honor to support that work and that flow and ultimately know that it's going back out into the world to do good things.

Mike (00:57:51):

How do you guys think about and quantify the impact that you're having?

Mark (00:57:55):

Yeah, so because our aperture is so wide open, like we're not specifically working with people in climate, for example, addressing climate change. Uh, we look at the number of, uh, businesses that identify as socially responsible or impact driven. So the more that we see out in the world, the more we see ourselves as contributing to that success, we're looking at the conversation in politics about the laws and the regulations that pertain to corporations. You know, again, I would love to see some reform there started with taxes would love to see some form of incentives being enacted that would really inspire people to, to, you know, stand up structures and systems of governance that are truly for people in planet, et cetera, et cetera. And then there's just down to, you know, the metrics of measure, how are we impacting the amount of carbon in the world? How are we protecting people in different parts of the world who are critical to supply chains in the coffee industry and things like that? So that's basically, that's me pointing to the different metrics that all of our members are using to assess their own efficacy and then kind of just like bringing them into a sum total.

Mike (00:59:09):

Gotcha. Must be a big effort, uh, to get that impact report together at the end of the year.

Mark (00:59:14):

It's almost impossible.

Mike (00:59:18):

It's almost, do you feel like you're leaving impact on the table? Like there's stuff you're just not gonna be able to talk about cuz it's too hard to get to

Mark (00:59:24):

That. And there's the stuff that we don't even know about that's happening. It's, it's pretty crazy. Um, you know, and, and maybe a future iteration of common, we'd be able to build some, some, some platforms tech technology that Rhode Iowa to, to get that information more easily, but it's usually usually just phone calls and emails. Hey, what did you produce? What did you do this year? And then we'll, we'll, we'll try to present that and kind of analyze it and sum it up in, in some fashion form.

Mike (00:59:52):

It's been an incredibly challenging year for a lot of reasons. Uh, obviously COVID but race relations as well. And I, I'm curious to the extent you're comfortable to share, you know, some of what your experience has been over the past year. So I'm curious about, uh, your experiences here in America and, and how that contrasts with some of what you've seen and felt in other parts of the world that you spent time

Mark (01:00:11):

In just to address my experience directly. I'm gonna go back to 2017, 2018. Again, here I go. You know, uh, calling out conservatives number Republicans, I don't mean to do that. It just, it just happens to be relevant and, and good for orientation. So under the Trump administration, I started getting chased in stock in my neighborhood. Literally had people drive by me, yell, roll down their window and yell at me, you know, Hey Niro, Hey, you don't belong in this neighborhood. Get outta here and mold multiple occasions. I would be pulled over in my car, taking a phone call and the police would approach me or the private security personnel in, in the neighborhood would, would approach me. And each time they'd be like, Hey, you know, we got calls that you were here. And I'm like, I live three blocks from here. Like this is my, a neighborhood.

Mark (01:01:03):

This is my home. And so it, as, as that started to happen, I just knew something had shifted in the country and it hadn't shifted for good. And so I picked up the phone and I called a bunch of my friends who are African American and people of color. And I'm like, Hey, are you experiencing the same thing I'm experiencing? And they're like, yeah. And then cases, it was just like, you know, we just had a, a cross burned on our front lawn or my teenage scientist got beaten up or my family member was in a grocery store and, you know, God got approached and accused of stealing. I mean, it's just so there's certain a surge of this stuff happening. So that just captured my attention. I was paying attention and then, you know, fast forward to SEP, uh, let's see, Martin Luther King's holiday 2020.

Mark (01:01:50):

So a year ago I wrote a post, um, on Facebook that went viral. I mean, it was cool that it went viral, but what really the takeaway was that from it was the, the shock on surprise, uh, the responses and comment and people who are not black or who are not. And, and, and it was, it was those reactions that really kind of knocked me off my feet and led me to conclude that we've got a bigger problem here than I'm even aware of fast forward through succession of murders. Um, culminating, what happened to Mr. George, you know, George Floyd, you know, at day two of the protest and I'm like, I need to, I need to do something. So I just reached out to friends and the result of that, um, has become 1 million truths, which is, uh, you know, a platform to basically invite of black Americans to show their experience with racism and to build an archive that can be used for educational purposes and reference purposes going forward, and ultimately hoping that it will contribute to some kind of reconciliation throughout the country and some kind of future that we can all feel good about and safe about, and, and know that we haven't left anybody behind.

Mike (01:02:58):

What have you seen as commons role in encouraging, uh, additional inclusion and diversity within your own ranks, but also, you know, with the businesses that you support?

Mark (01:03:06):

Yeah. Well, it just happens to be a good thing that I'm a brown guy in the pictures than I am. Sure. And, and so that, that puts me a few steps down the road. The conversation is, is an open, ongoing conversation. We don't shy away from it. We don't shame anybody who, uh, might have, uh, some blind spots that need to be addressed. And the one thing about our community is that people are very committed to kind of stepping into the uncomfortable stuff. And so I haven't felt the need to strong arm, anyone and people are, are taking action and they're, you know, whether it's revising their governance or, you know, making statements that they're, that, you know, kind of put themselves out there in the form of commitments, uh, that they need to follow up on. I'm really, really pleasant, pleasantly surprised and, and delighted, but people's the seriousness, which that they're receiving what's going on and, and their response to it for common overall overall 1 million truths is, is what we're doing. It's a mechanism by which that enables us to pull in and activate all of our capacity in a number of different people in the community. And so it's a community response to racism and bias and bigotry in America. And, and that's pretty cool. And you see the generosity and, and the tenacity in the right kind of way of our members is, um, humbling, but also emboldening too, both

Mike (01:04:36):

For the content as well as just the storytelling piece of it. I think it's, uh, it's, it's really a dynamic beautiful piece that you guys it out.

Mark (01:04:42):

Thanks. Thanks. We've got some big things, uh, that will hopefully come to fruition very soon. Can't quite talk about 'em, uh, fingers cross. It we'll be able to soon.

Mike (01:04:53):

Yeah. We'll come back and, and share once it's ready.

Mark (01:04:56):

Absolutely love to do that.

Mike (01:04:58):

I'm curious, just to sort of bring it full circle, you know, as a, as a young musician and someone worked in the music space for a long time, but is now focused on entrepreneurship and capitalism, what's the role that music plays in your life today? Have you kept that up?

Mark (01:05:11):

Well, I don't play much at all. I'm kind of like an all or nothing guy, and unless I'm in music a hundred percent, it's just like too painful to do it. Um, and, um,

Mike (01:05:23):

Her being good at something, I guess,

Mark (01:05:25):

For sure, for sure. Um, uh, but I listen constantly, um, and that's my go-to place when I'm thinking and I'm, and, um, I derived incredible, you know, very deep, profound inspiration from music. It always returns me to where I want to be if I'm going through a hard time. So it's, it's, it's a wonderful vehicle in that sense, you know, actively in terms of how it shows up in my work, just listening you musicians have a very, very finely tuned E here in the ability to listen and then respond and be in, in relationship, in, in dialogue in real time. And that really benefits me. And then there's this practically, like, you know, on Mondays during our virtual planning sessions, I'll pull out a tune and I'll play it. Ill people are organizing their work for the week. And that seems to have an effect too,

Mike (01:06:16):

Assuming you, you did didn't end up doing common. What do you suspect is the path not taken? Like what, what would you be engaged with professionally, if not, uh, for this,

Mark (01:06:24):

I don't know, but I do know that it would be, I'd be working with, and part of groups of people that are trying to solve big, gnarly, important problems.

Mike (01:06:33):

What, in your opinion is the most, uh, important cause humanity can be tackling right now?

Mark (01:06:38):

I think the biggest issue that we all should be addressing and facing is, uh, I'll kind of say it in Buddhist terms, perceived separation, you know, again, the way the human system and the nervous system is designed, you know, in order to survive, it's important that we have this sense and have an experience of ourselves over here and those folks over there, you know, based on my experience and observation at this, at this point, that, that dynamic, that part of who we are is really at the root of all of our problems, you know, and we have designed systems and processes and societies, um, and ways of surviving based on that. And it's not serving us. And, and it's manifesting in form capitalism that is, is really struggling right now. The deterioration of our, our political system damage done to our environment in our biosphere in, uh, it is a result of economic disparity.

Mark (01:07:48):

It is the result and the cause and the fueling of white supremacy and extremism right now. I mean that whole thing of I'm over here and you are over there and somehow I need to find a, so I'm gonna basically do whatever I need to do to ensure that, that, that happens. That means I'm gonna, I'm gonna dehumanize you. I'm gonna de declare you to be subhuman, unqualified, somebody who doesn't deserve to be here or should be here. All, all those things that go into this modern society, which is so cool in many ways, but also so destructive. So that would be a perceived separation and understanding what that is and seeing it playing out within yourself and doing something about

Mike (01:08:34):

Looking back on your career, you know, a couple years in the future, hopefully 20, 30, 40, 50 years in the future, what will you like to have accomplished? Like, what's one thing you want to be able to look back on and be like, we, we did something here. This was meaningful.

Mark (01:08:48):

I would like to look back and go, I helped a large number of people, figure out how to contribute to the world in a way that took care of themselves and others at the same time. And if I extrapolate that out, I would like to see a world where, and this is me going right to my vision and our vision at common, a world where all of humanity fearlessly per to fairness and balance. I mean, wouldn't it be cool if we could actually do that? And what would the world look like if, if, if that was actually so and true

Mike (01:09:27):

In a way that works for everybody and not just a handful of us,

Mark (01:09:30):


Mike (01:09:32):

What's on the horizon for you and for common,

Mark (01:09:34):

I'm really, really focused on the surge of white supremacy and extremism at the moment. I think it's critical. Like while DEI work diversity equity, inclusion work is important and necessary. Cannot pull back on the gas. There, I'm deeply concerned by the rise of white supremacy in violent extremism. And so the surge on the capital in January 6th, this revealing in so many ways, it means that you've got a group of people who reject government. We've got a group of people who are rejecting us democracy. We have a group of people who are operating based on exclusionary philosophies, and we've got a group of people who are, are kind of live by and thrive by conspiracy theory. And there's a lot of overlap there. And there's also people who kind of occupy one, one of those four domains. And so the research is coming back from who actually showed up at the capital on January 6th. And it's deeply concerning to me, 98% of the people who were arrested and there's information that can be reviewed based on that arrest are not part of white supremist or extremist groups. 98% are not part of white supremacist or extremist groups. They are doctors, they're lawyers, they're teachers, they're groceries, they're trainers at the gym on and on and on the

Mike (01:11:00):

Law enforcement. Some

Mark (01:11:01):

Of them absolutely absolutely CEOs, so on and so forth. And they're not necessarily all located in red states or states that Trump won. The majority of them are living in regions of the country that Biden Harris won in the election. It is just deeply concerning that we have that festering in growing and thriving. And it's such a concern that the top peace building organizations, which Jessica Murray has been a part of for many years of her life and career are now setting up operations in the United States. So these are us headquarter, very large nonprofits who deploy and dispatch people into the most violent parts of the world. They're now saying, wait a minute, we need to stand up operations in the us. We need to bring people from a broad back home because a level of threat and the potential for extreme is so high. And so that's really where my focus is.

Mark (01:11:58):

And so how does that inform a work at common? I'm having this conversation with our entrepreneurs and members and saying, you need to be thinking about these things and educating yourself about these things, because it informs and should informs the design of your business. What does it mean to design a business that is aware of these dynamics in play and these challenges and what can you do to, and minimize the chances that you're exacerbating them? Who are you hiring again, just as goes back to those three levels of awareness. Can you make sense of the world around your reality around you? Can you really step into another person's shoe? Can you check yourself and are you aware of your own biases? You know, as an entrepreneur apply that to what you're designing, and I'm not saying, you know, go hire people that, um, are gonna be problematic, but I'm saying check yourself to make sure that you're not automatic defaulting to choices that lead to putting gas on the fire when it could be avoided.

Mike (01:13:01):

It's a hiring problem, as well as culture as where as, as well as values and how you're nurturing people within the organization.

Mark (01:13:07):

Exactly, exactly. You know, and it's so interesting. I was on a call last night, um, you know, the really, really great guy. And he was, you know, so you look at social justice work, you have a people who historically have a case, you know, for the things that they're advocating and fighting for. And then you, on the other side, you have people who do not have historical case of being victimized, who are incredibly fearful. Like how do you reconcile that, you know, what needs to be created around that? So there can be some progress made, and these are, I think these are issues and questions that entrepreneurs are. I think it's an imperative that they're thinking about.

Mike (01:13:48):

I think with all this stuff, we're, we're at a reckoning point, right? Environmentally, as well as economically, you, you talked a lot about the tax structure, all those things, but, you know, we've been missing important pieces or overlooking important pieces, and it's becoming clear what some of those are and urgent that they need to be addressed for sure. Yeah.

Mark (01:14:08):


Mike (01:14:09):

How can our audience engage with you and, and learn more about common and, uh, support what you're doing or, or become a member?

Mark (01:14:18):

Common.is WW. common.is, is our website. Go there, check it out. You can always email me at it matters at common dot. I get in touch happen again on a call video chat, and here are, you're doing and share how we can help you. Uh, we're on social media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, so on and so forth. And tell a friend,

Mike (01:14:39):

Thank you very much, mark, for coming on, uh, the program, thanks for sharing your time and your insights wi with me and with our audience. Um, and I, you know, I, I, I'm incredibly grateful for your contribution to the show. Well, as you know, the ability to call you a, a friend and a colleague and, and in a lot of ways, honestly, uh, a mentor. So, uh, thank you very much for your, your time and who you are showing up in the world and what you're doing, uh, personally, and, and through comments. So, uh, it's been a pleasure to have you on and look forward to hopefully having you on again, at some point in the future, and maybe to talk about some of these upcoming things that aren't quite ready to, to be discussed by.

Mark (01:15:15):

Thanks, Mike, for sure. Let's definitely do this again.

Mike (01:15:22):

That's our show for this week. Thank you so much for listening. You could learn more about mark and his work by visiting common.is, or through the show notes on our website at causeandpurpose.com. Please join us next time when our guest will be the president and CEO of Hope Lab, Margaret Laws. Margaret is a dynamic leader, impact investor and lecture at Stanford business school. She's passionate about developing science based technologies to improve the health and wellbeing of teens and young adults, as well as finding innovative ways of pushing the entire social impact sector forward. I'm excited to bring our conversation to you in the next episode until then, cause and purpose is of production of moonshot.co on behalf of myself, Mark and our entire team. Thank you so much for listening and we look forward to speaking with you again soon.

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Prior to becoming the CEO of COMMON LLC, Mark was a principal at UFUSE Visionary Strategy Management, a global consulting firm devoted to unleashing creativity and helping entrepreneurs produce outstanding results through innovative business strategies, organizational design, and alignment of partnerships. Mark is also a Zen Buddhist Priest who has dedicated his life to transforming the nature of capitalism through social and environmental entrepreneurship.

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Cause & Purpose Podcast

Moonshot.co is home to Cause & Purpose, a podcast about leaders in the social impact sector. Hear their stories, successes, failures, and lessons-learned from lives spent in the trenches, tackling the world’s most important challenges.

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