Max St John

Trying to find better ways of organising ourselves, living and working together for a future fit for everyone.

Consultant at NixonMcInnes, interested in technology and participatory leadership, behaviour change and organisation design, helping all kinds of formal and informal organisations get digital and become more social, from the inside out. These are my personal chunterings.

Recent Tweets @maxwellinever

Today, one in five U.S. children—by some measures, one in four—is growing up in poverty.

In many high-poverty schools, up to 60 percent of children experience stress levels that can impair functioning.

Under stress, the brain triggers a surge in cortisol, a hormone that produces the “fight or flight” response and inhibits the ability to absorb new information and to connect emotionally with others. Stressed children are anxious, tuned-out, emotionally volatile, and have diminished energy, stamina, and memory.

The result is a vicious cycle: Students experiencing trauma at home come to school unprepared to learn and unable to forge trusting relationships, leaving them more isolated and subject to failure, which further increases stress levels.

Empathy has long been seen as key to effective teaching. Addressing the host of unmet social and emotional needs that students carry into the classroom demands that teachers be able to look below the surface and understand what’s driving a particular set of behaviors.

Extracts from ‘Unleashing Empathy: How Teachers Transform Classrooms With Emotional Learning’

It explains how empathy is being used/taught in schools to help children develop social and emotional competencies that the current, predominant systems do not.

Given most of us aren’t explicitly taught these skills and that many adults are in high stress work environments, or are struggling with financial and emotional pressure thanks to growing income inequality, the case for more empathy in the workplace, to me, is an obvious one.

Read the full post here:

Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don’t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.

Tradtional vs emergent leadership and what’s valued in Google’s culture according to Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations in a recent interview for NYT

The emergence of soft skills - humility, collaboration, adaptability - that would have been considered weaknesses in/before the 90s, is proof that women leaders have had a shaped business for the better, says Sally Helgesen for Strat + Biz 

It’s no surprise that in my experience of participatory leadership teaching and in practice (where these soft skills and stepping back to lead from the edge are critical) women are so prominent and successful.

We still have a very long way to go before equality in the workplace (and beyond), and it may be an over-simplification and generalisation to pin the rise of emergent leadership simply on gender, but Helgesen’s work shows that many women leaders are creating incredible progress in a shift to more non-positional and non-hierarchal leadership.

On international #womensday, I’m thankful for this.

The sick, twisted legislation brought about in Russia that prevents people from living their true lives is something we didn’t want to just sit back and not have an opinion on. Our core beliefs are freedom of expression, freedom of speech and a dogged (no pun intended) passion for doing what we love. Thus, we are donating 50% of the profits from this beer to charitable organisations that support like minded individuals wishing to express their own life choices freely.

Loving this purpose-led yet very tongue-in-cheek marketing marketing from Brewdog.

Check out the full details

When you defend idealism, you defend imagination. You defend possibility. You defend the world of ideas. The argument against idealism is the wish to be “practical”—the wish for an evidence-based world, the wish for proof. Idealism affirms the place of mystery, not knowing, and caring about things that are [immeasurable].

So I always see the argument against idealism as the argument against democracy, the argument against love, the argument against justice and equity, and all the things that our culture has abandoned in the name of privatization and economic well-being. When someone accuses me of being idealistic, I just say, “Thank you. I was afraid for a while that I was getting too practical”.

There’s no world out there. It’s all narrative. It’s all fiction. It’s all a story we create to try to make sense of our experience. For somebody who says, “I’ve tried idealism, I’ve lost it, and I’m feeling defeated or exhausted.” Well, you’re trying to make sense out of your experience. That way of making sense out of it is one way, but it’s not true. It’s just a way. And I want to support them in their suffering.

In defence of idealism - one of many great insights from an interview with Peter Block on “Freedom at Work” for Sounds True. Transcript here

“Often businesses will think about the stress-reduction aspects of (mindfulness),” she said. “But there is also an effectiveness boost when you practice it.” It can lead to employees working more creatively together, she said, because practitioners are taught to drop judgment – about others and themselves – and to approach people and projects with a more open mind. Mindfulness encourages respect, for one’s own needs and limits as well as the ideas and needs of others.”

With the scarcity mentality, things become a zero sum game. If somebody else wins, then necessarily you must lose. Therefore, you must always be on your guard.

When I take a breath, I am in no way denying you of any oxygen. I can have as much as I want, and you can have as much as you want.

In other words, our breathing is not a zero sum game. There are no “losers”. There is such an abundance of oxygen that we need not be concerned with competition.

The abundance mentality is a simple frame for rethinking our worldview and how it shapes our actions.

It’s essential reading for anyone looking to create a more positive culture at work, to break patterns of negative behaviour and poor decision making, or just to 

The highlights for me were:

  • There’s always enough of anything for everyone, so give it (money, praise, power) away when you can but live within your means.
  • Take full responsibility for your life and problems, spend less time with people that complain and give their power away.
  • Question your own stories to see the bigger picture, and find inspiration where ever you can.
  • Teaching others is always the best way to learn and practice anything, so once you think you get it, go explain it to someone else :)

The complete guide to the abundance mentality

Here is Edward Bear (later named Winnie-The-Pooh), coming downstairs now, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping a moment and think of it. And then, he feels that perhaps there isn’t.

I’ve got a two-year old son, and together, we read alot of stories.

Tonight we started Winnie the Pooh again (I got fed up of reading the same five-page books over and over - there are only so many times you can read ‘Clever Cat’ without starting to grit your teeth) and this quote on the first page made me smile.

It reminded me of myself at my worst, too stuck inside my own patterns of stupid behaviour to consider that anything else was possible.

Sometimes because I’m too scared of trying something different or the perceived cost of just stopping to step back and consider what’s happening. Sometimes because I’ve lost sight of the fact that I’m the one that’s in control of my life, not my emails or someone else’s idea of ‘urgent’. Every time, for all the wrong reasons.

It also made me think of bigger systemic problems, the kind that many of us are trying so hard to fix - the borked capitalist system that creates ever-more productivity, while levels of homelessness and poverty and global income inequality rise - or the food system that farms what we eat to the point where it’s creating an environment that’s unable to feed anyone in the long term.

Systems that in many places, are too stuck in the patterns they know, too scared of the cost of trying something different - to take a step back and look at how to break them. 

Luckily, just like me finding my own ways to stop, think and break my own unproductive or destructive patterns, there are loads of great people doing the same with these monolithic systems – helping the people within them to reflect on how they can be different and to do something about them (think Finance Innovation Lab or the Sustainable Food Lab).

Anyway, just a thought from a bear of very little brain, prompted by another. Here’s to less bumping down the stairs.

Thanks Pooh.

I’m starting to think that the sum of human experience and possibility is about awareness of and ability to meet needs.

Thanks to NVC (non-violent communication) and learning about Peter Koenig’s Source thinking (thank you Tom Nixon and Charlie Davies), it’s become clear to me that needs are at the core of everything we feel, think and do.

Everything that constrains and confounds us about our individual happiness and fulfillment is either a lack of understanding of our own needs or an inability to know how to get them met.

The same thing plays out across relationships, families, businesses, communities and societies. Where we lack the language and toolkit to see and share what we really need to feel safe and fulfilled, we get into ever decreasing circles of judgement, fear and conflict.

One of the things that holds us back is that we’ve been conditioned to feel unsafe talking about our feelings and needs. We feel awkward, or grasping. Vulnerability and authenticity is something we’ve learned to be scared of.

The irony is that without this we are trapped - never able to realise the very things that will help us be who we want to be in the world.

And without every individual being able to realise and share this awareness of needs, we can’t begin to find ways of compassionately defining ways of meeting them together.

But there’s an alternative - whether it’s using toolkits like NVC or simply by focusing on building more positive, trusting and open relationships, and feeling brave enough to talk about what matters to you, it is absolutely and completely feasible that we can all be more happy, together and create the future we all need.

Right now, if I was to try and create a formula for human happiness, I would sum it up as:

  • needs - knowing what I need to feel safe and secure 
  • purpose - knowing how my needs can lead to feeling fulfilled
  • agency - knowing that I have the freedom to realise my needs and purpose
  • connection - creating the relationships that will support me to meet my needs, purpose and building sense of agency

What do you think?

"Meditation practice can help business to suffer less. That is good already because if your employees are happy, your business can improve.

"Meditation can calm your suffering and give you more insight and more right view on yourself and on the world and if you have a collective wisdom, then naturally you will want to handle and conduct your business in such a way that will make the world suffer less."

A quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, an 87 year old Buddhist monk visiting Google and 20 other Silicon Valley CEOs this week.

He first went to Google in 2011 and was the inspiration for their mindfulness programme ‘Search inside yourself’. Apparently there are now meditation rooms in some of Google’s offices.

We might not all be ready for meditation at work, but the popularity of mindfulness at work, and particularly Thich Nhat Hanh being so influential in these big tech companies is a good sign that mainstream business is heading in a positive direction.


This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.

A wonderful perspective from George Bernard Shaw on Alexander Kjerulf’s blog.

Something I could do from reminding myself of now and again. Thanks Alex.