John Carlisle--consultant in co-operative relationships--is a bit of a dude. The kind of dude who meditates, wears black Levi's and has a business with a turnover of two million pounds. British Rail, Exxon and Shell are amongst the companies who have benefitted from his approach.
Development of people informs all his thinking, and the challenge to create learning situations at all levels is his greatest pleasure. He regards anyone who is willing to learn with respect. Global Express was keen to interview the man who urges young people to `be awake in a society which is putting us to sleep'.
Where did you grow up?
In a small mining town called N'kana in Zambia, Africa, where my life was idyllic.
What did you study? Where?
At Rhodes University in South Africa, where I graduated in Economics and Sociology, and then a post-graduate degree in Psychology.
What nationality are you?
British, by a five-year naturalisation process, and I am inordinately proud of it.
What is a `consultant in co-operative relationships'?
Someone who encourages and assists organisations in the development of a co-operative culture. This brings about better relationships with their suppliers, customers and staff, and, as a result, much greater productivity and quality--including quality of working life.
How do you maintain your integrity in the business world?
By constant meditation and reflection, and the peculiar mixture of socialism (especially social justice) and a real love of business.
How do you cope with a high-powered job and a family?
Badly; but improving, and that is as much due to their coping better with me as it is to my increasing consciousness of the need for balance in my life.
Are most people you work with willing to learn?
No, except for the younger generation, who are just great. However, once the oldies begin to learn, particularly about the power of good relationships, it is a marvellous awakening.
What have you learnt most recently?
To trust my own judgement in my milieu, and stick with it.
Can you account for your success with young people?
Thank you for the compliment. I have asked some young people. They find my topics--co-operation, temperaments, business--intrinsically interesting. I work interactively with them and believe that I can learn from them. My message is `respect others, especially their differences'.
What is your biggest fear for young people?
They do not realise how stunning they are, and they therefore (in Britain) dress drably--blacks and browns on those lithe frames. They sometimes mutilate themselves in the most pointless ways and do not allow their enormous passion and positive energy to flow out into a world which is longing for it. They also do not surround themselves with enough beauty, either in sight, sound or activity. In fact, it is the opposite: they are faced with violent images and harsh language from the media, the Damien Hirst kind of ugliness from the arts, and amorality and selfishness in relationships. Our youth is too good for this. (They should look at how their Eastern European counterparts try to create beauty in their hard lives.)
They must never believe that all this ugliness is right. If they listen to their hearts they will know that they need, like the ancient Greeks: Truth, Beauty and Goodness. Everyone does, and then we can all have the presence of mind to confront things that need confronting when they need confronting.
Is there a lot of Africa in your techniques?
If there is anything African in my approach it is the love of story-telling.
In 1979 you consulted with the then-banned ANC on negotiating successfully with white South Africans. How did that feel?
It felt very humbling. There was a man there called Ishmael Mkhabela, who knew more than I will ever know about the art of influencing without power. All I could do was to bring a behavioural model of the white behaviours, so that the various tactics could be more easily understood and more quickly dealt with. But, my associates in South Africa did go on to do some very good work with training the black youth to negotiate rather than fight (without any help from me).
How is it to have your book, Beyond Negotiation, translated into mandarin?
Tortuous. It has been going on for five years. The Italian translation took only about six months.
Are you hopeful about our environmental future?
No, it will need a revolution, starting right now. We do not live in an Information Age as much as a Chemical Age, as all of us in the First World are ingesting poisonous, man-made substances every day. According to Diane Steingraber (author of Living Downstream) the USA, for example, puts one million tons of carcinogens into the air, land and water every year!!! Corporations and governments have to stop rationalising and act right now.
What do you see as your greatest achievement?
Personal, and most important: Being a husband and father in a family that has stayed together in love for nearly 30 years--very little of which I can claim credit for.
Business: Heading up a business that has grown from a turnover of 'A3360,000 to 'A32 million in four years, carrying out really useful work.
What makes you tick?
Having a purpose! And my gratitude for the great gift of human life on this truly wonderful earth; particularly the privilege of living in England.
Who would you most like to have round to dinner?
Peter Howard, if he were still alive, and Maya Angelou. What a conversation I would be witness to! (Peter Howard was the leader of Moral Re-Armament; Maya Angelou is an African-American writer and poet.)
What things would you most like to be asked about?
a) My faith. It is an `unauthorised' gift. I have always had a deep, wondering love of Christ, which gets stronger every day, and, like King David, makes me alternatively dance and weep for joy.
b) My biggest mistake. To have not tried to keep my marriage as strong as I should have--the memory of which still causes me much sorrow and utter regret, despite the fact that I am more in love than I have ever been.
Interview: The Editors