Book Review: Shift; Indigenous principles for corporate change by Glenn Geffcken

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership, Book Reviews

I am “always” on the lookout for interesting models for corporate governance, ethics and/or change. So when the publisher for Geffcken’s book, Shift, briefly described the content and asked me if I’d be willing to review his book, I accepted the request. After I purchased the book, it sat for a while so that I could finish the books already in the lineup. Once I got to it, I was rewarded with a rich metaphor to add to my business models.

The author is no stranger to the business world. According to his biographical sketch, he is an accomplished executive with a background in sales, large-scale event production, publishing and sustainability. In addition to this, he became fascinated with the Indigenous People’s way of life. He studied predominantly the North American Indigenous people, but he notes that the term means, to him, any truly “earth based” cultures. Geffcken spent many years learning about the ways of the Indigenous American tribes’ cultures, practices and principles for living.

At some point, he started making the connection between the quality of life individuals enjoyed when living by those principles and how organizations enjoyed the same high quality of “life” as well as the effects on sustainability for the organization. Geffcken identifies 12 principles in Part II of his book:

  • Connection to Earth
  • Everything is alive
  • The elders
  • The four directions
  • Patience
  • Intentionality
  • Roles of men and women
  • Seventh generation unborn
  • The oral tradition
  • The way of Love
  • Integrity
  • The Spirit world

The thirteenth principle is Integration and is explored in Part Three of the book. Each of the principles becomes a chapter that comprises one or more stories and a suggestion of how the principle might apply to modern lives and organizations. I found some of these to be a bit of a stretch, of course, and that is often true of analogies and models. Additionally, by the end of the book, it becomes clear that, to me at least, Geffcken did not keep his promise to keep the wording and stories “secular” to appeal to the broadest audience. However, if the reader can look beyond the author’s quite genuine love of the Indigenous way of life, then there are valuable lessons that can be applied to modern organizations.

Whatever core values you or your organization adopt, the author makes it clear that espousing those core values with words, teaching them through posters, and advertising them through organization brochures may well be necessary but is not at all sufficient. Instead, the core values of your organization must be lived and demonstrated throughout the organization by all leaders and all team members. With that I wholeheartedly agree.

One other valuable piece of information the author pointed out was how many states are moving to implement laws for “Benefit Corporations.” This legal entity allows for the company charter to include doing good work in the community so that there is less chance of activist shareholders forcing the company to do that which focuses only on the profit motive. Again, I am in full support of this movement. At the time of the book’s writing, nineteen states had adopted “B-Corps”: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, Washington DC, and most recently Delaware. I hope this trend continues and accelerates.

I recommend that anyone interested in learning how to provide purpose for an organization consider the model that Geffcken puts forward in Shift. It is a fun read and for those of us in the U.S., it provides a very valuable insight into the Indigenous culture of our country.