Let no-one else’s work evade your eyes
Remember why the good Lord made your eyes
So don’t shade your eyes
But plagiarise, plagiarise, plagiarise
Only be sure always to call it, please, ‘research’

Tom Leherer, (humorously) attributed to world-renowned mathematician Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky

Outlandish is often described as being an innovative organisation which, as far as I can tell, means that we steal our ideas from further afield than most organisations. We feel that if we can learn from others faster than the market changes around us then we’ll survive and thrive. We stole that idea from Peter Senge and, like most of our best stolen ideas, it came via Pete Burden – the larcenist who’s made it his life’s work to collect good ideas that others won through adversity and pass them on to those that need them.

Pete Burden has introduced me to some of the most important concepts that we use at Outlandish:

  • sociocracy (a non-hierarchical decision making system developed by some Quakers)
  • management (helping people do what they’re good at rather than telling people what to do)
  • non-aggressive communication (with the Observations, Feelings, Thoughts, Needs framework)

He’s also been a huge help to me personally:

  • while Abi was away having her second baby Outlandish was a busy place and I found myself with a lot of the business side of things to manage: Pete acted as invaluable coach, confidante and counsellor
  • helped me find out where I end and Outlandish begins
  • helped me be ok with becoming less and less central to Outlandish instead of more and more
  • helped me find inner peace in Taoism, after I got carried away with a conversion from atheism to pantheism (initially planned as a way to win more arguments with religious people!)
Pete has been described as a cross between consigliere Tom Hagen from The Godfather and counsellor Dana Troi from Star Trek

Pete would be the first person to say that he’d not brought about any of these changes – changing yourself is nearly impossible, but a lot easier than changing anyone else (he says). His approach is to listen, enquire what you need, and be ready with a load of (mostly other peoples’) ideas. A classic example would be

PB: How’s it going?

HR: It’s a nightmare – no one is doing what they’re supposed to

PB: Traditionally companies have a concept of management to help people do what they’re supposed to

HR: I’m an anarchist – I don’t believe in management

PB: But you believe in leadership?

HR: It’s one thing for me to do something, and for people to join in if they want – it’s not coercive – but management is different

PB: What does management mean to you?

HR: Telling people what to do

PB: I see. I’m not in favour of telling people what to do, not because I’m an anarchist, but because it doesn’t work

HR: What does management mean to you then?

PB: Well, I don’t really know [he always says this before telling you the answer] but there is a book that might interest you by Buckingham and Coffman who analysed a million questionnaires to find out what makes a good manager and it’s quite surprisingly simple

HR: Oh yeah, what did they find

PB: They found traditional management didn’t work

HR: And what did?

PB: Helping people to do what they’re good at. Would that be coercive in your view?

HR: I suppose not. What’s the name of this book then?

PB: First, Break All the Rules

HR: Sounds like my sort of book…

And, indeed, it’s a great book – the product of a million staff surveys by Gallup and vast quantities of follow up quantitative and qualitative research. I’d never have found it on my own amongst all the management drivel out there, which is one of the reasons that every company should have a Pete or two. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him, maybe you can hire Pete. If you can’t find him or can’t afford him, you can try his excellent book – Leading Mindfully – which explores some of his own experience of business and the lessons he has learnt.

Or maybe consider one of these…

Honourable mentions

I don’t rely on Pete for all my stolen ideas – I steal some of them directly (though I suspect they’ve all been stolen before). Other good sources of ideas include:


Outlandish and CoTech both owe a huge amount to Josh Vial, Kate Beecroft, Susan Basterfield, Mix Irving, Derek Razo, Alanna Krause/Irving and all the other fabulous Enspiral team. They brought us Loomio, CoBudget, our three tiered membership system, the idea that distributed network of autonomous companies (e.g. CoTech) was achievable and useful, and many other things. I’m sorry to say I think we’re still rather in their debt and are still looking for ways to give back effectively. They’re now pushing on the international co-operative of co-operative co-operatives. Another idea we’ll no-doubt ride their coattails  on.

James Richards

The founder of Chromatrope and long-time collaborator has been an invaluable influence on Outlandish since before it even began. We worked together at the BBC doing digital innovation. He went off to do all the fun ‘helicopter thinking’ and I was left the arduous work of building stuff. If we ever need a fresh pairs of eyes, ears or nostrils, James is our man.

Sion Whellens

The go-to expert on anarcho-communism, printing and co-operativism. Helped set up Outlandish as well as many of our CoTech sister agencies. The UK worker co-op scene would be a very different place without him.

Patrick Butterfield

Fantastic and unassuming public speaking trainer. An expert on the physiology of nervousness as well as the techniques of the great orators of the past.

The Brief Therapy team

We’re all about effective communications – and we love the excellent not-for-profit counselling and training service from Brief Therapy. If you’re having trouble talking, perhaps you should all become trained cognitive behavioural therapists like us!

Many others…

We get help from so many people that we can’t list you all in this blog but… if you feel you deserve to be listed here email and we’ll see what we can do.