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Neil Gaught 

Neil Gaught is best known as the conceiver of Single Organizing Idea (SOI®), a proven approach to organizational management and business sustainability that ensures purpose is made real for the benefit of all stakeholders. Here, Start Your Business caught up with Neil to find out more about Single Organizing Idea and why it is so critical for businesses to place sustainability at the core of their business. 

Thanks for joining us today Neil. When did your sustainability journey begin? 

As far back as I can remember, I have been consumed by a conflict that exists in my heart and mind that pits the way things are against the way things could be. I was lucky enough to find a solution for my frustration in my early twenties through design. Soon after graduating with a degree in graphic design, I founded and led my own design consultancy and for ten years. That scratched my itch for a while but it wasn’t enough and what I gradually realised was that design alone wasnt changing things enough for me personally. While I’m proud to say I had some very satisfied clients and helped create a wonderful sense of achievement amongst my team, I wasn’t satisfied myself. I felt I needed to do something more.  

So, what did you do next? 

I sold my design business and joined the world’s biggest and financially most successful branding consultancy of the time, WPP’s Enterprise IG. Things were initially great, but after a few years, I lost my belief in anything that I was doing was right. The company I was working for was a fee-generating machine churning out generic brand promises, brand values and brand identities with little thought or understanding of what kinds of internal culture the bolting on of such vessels would create or the sharp practices it would make.  

What did you do to change this? 

It took some resetting, but dropping out of the corporate system completely and moving to New Zealand allowed me the time to look with fresh eyes from a distance and consider the way things were and the way they could be. I continued working in the private sector but gradually my work for human right organisations, international NGOs, various parts of the UN, billionaires foundations and sustainability agencies consumed more and more of my time, thinking and reading.  

This led me to come across the term, Single Organizing Idea, in a bestselling business book called ‘Good to Great’, written by Jim Collins in 2001. For some reason, these three words stuck out to me and I realised at that very moment that here was a solution to many of the questions I had in my head.  

This inspired you to write CORE – The Single Organizing Idea and CORE – The Single Organizing Idea Playbook? 

Well it was 16 years later and after working on Single Organizing Idea (SOI) with lots of businesses and organizations around the world to test, refine and prove the concept but yes, the first book explains how businesses can identify and define a Single Organizing Idea and, more importantly, why they have to. The second book acts as a reference to the entire Single Organizing Idea process. It’s basically a how-to manual that provides a step-by-step guide to identifying, defining, implementing and measuring the impact of your SOI.   

What exactly is a Single Organizing Idea? 

A Single Organizing Idea is the ‘guiding star’ that systematically coordinates all the functions of your business with a sustainable concept that delivers economic and societal benefits for all. An SOI ties both economic and social strategies into one single strategy, the outcome of which is not only commercially sustainable, but also meaningful for those wishing to find fulfilment in what the business does. SOI is about total commitment and being organized around a single plan of action the process of which uses unique data assessments to constantly measure and monitor progress more or less in real time. It’s not about ticking a box or having a cheesy ‘doing well by doing good’ style purpose promise. SOI is the practical means to transition your business and ensure it is in step with the demands of today’s fast changing world.  

 How can companies go about developing a Single Organizing Idea? 

Transitioning and putting sustainability at the core of your business is much easier than many people think. A good first step is to read my book, ‘CORE – The Single Organizing Idea Playbook’. It includes the complete SOI toolkit, including over 40 detailed diagrams and step-by-step explanations you can follow immediately to change your business for good. You can also complete our free SOI Confidence Scorecard, which provides you with an instant snapshot of where you are today, and a 16 page report that explains what steps you need to take to accelerate progress within your organisation.  

The vast majority of people want change. Customers, employees, investors and society at large all want to see change happen and increasingly they are expecting businesses and business leaders to take the lead and make change happen. 

 The outbreak of COVID-19 is, without doubt, the most serious event to have happened in my lifetime but it is also an opportunity to really understand that we really need to change if we are to help ensure our children and grandchildren can survive and thrive in the face of some critical challenges. I’m not a doom merchant and I totally oppose that mindset but we must grasp the realities of the world we have created and turn around the catastrophic predictions related to climate crises, continuing discrimination and the entrenched poverty in the name of profit  that are destroying our planet.  

We have the opportunity to accelerate our progress, to apply our extraordinary abilities as a species  to change but talking about it is different from actually doing something about it. We also need the right tools to make things happen, and that’s where SOI comes into play. It is the first end to end solution of its kind designed to help transitioning businesses to create a meaningful, prosperous and sustainable future that truly benefits everyone.  

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