Q&A with Lisa MacCallum, co-author of Inspired INC.

By   Hannah Bickerton 9 min read

To start, could you tell us why you decided to write Inspired INC.?

We believe the corporate sector can offer so much more. Where the concept of winning means that everyone wins. But after a long, uninspired profit-as-purpose era across the sector, companies are not wired to deliver on ‘many winners’ business models. As a result, ordinary people do not trust us in business – and they now have the power through social media platforms and other digital tools to do something about it.

After having unique leadership roles and experiences in high-profile brands both on the corporate and foundation ‘sides’, we know how to create brands and organisations that pursue big ideas with ‘many winners’/ We’ve experienced first-hand how doing that builds trust, brand distinction and competitive advantage in ways that leaves your less inspired competitors behind.

Inspired INC. is a synthesis of the uninspired era we’ve operated in as a sector and more importantly answers the ‘so what?’. After five years of investigation, collaboration, intellectual wrestling and stress testing in practice we developed the concept of Inspired Companies, and have now published it in Inspired INC. It’s a framework, building blocks for action and a set of strategies that we can all learn and build from. It’s a roadmap to becoming a company the world will get behind.

Inspired INC. introduces and discusses the ‘New C.E.O.s’ at length – who exactly are they? 

The world of business operates in a radically different operating environment than just a few short years ago. The potent combination of a social media revolution and society-wide trust crisis has changed the game for how to succeed in the corporate sector. Historical assumptions that we’ve built businesses on are no longer true. One of the biggest changes is that power has moved from being held inside organisations, in the hands of just a few, to outside institutions and in the hands of many. These ordinary people are now so powerful we call them the new C.E.O.s.:

  • Consumers
  • Employees and
  • traditional corporate Outsiders.

Consumers rate, record and review your brand openly every day. Employees – anyone who works for you in any capacity, full-time or contract – are now widely known as the most trusted voice to speak on behalf of your company. Not PR, marketing or the chief executive. As for Outsiders, well, we spent the last century building departments to keep them at a distance and manage them carefully: government, civil society, media, investors, unions and industry groups.

The new C.E.O.s are a powerful and growing crowd with smartphones in their pockets, more voice than ever, platforms to amplify and the ability to drive collective action for or against companies faster than ever.

We give the most important title in business to them to signal the profound shift in power and the critical need for companies to rewire themselves to a new set of assumptions to handle it. Or even better, rewire to thrive from embracing it.

Companies that stand for big ideas with many winners, pursue them authentically and deliver ‘good profit’ (in both senses of the word) are the ones poised to have the crowd of new C.E.O.s onside to fuel their success.

If you don’t define a reason bigger than profit to exist, the crowd of new C.E.O.s will assume that profit is your purpose and your short-term wins will be the most expensive wins that you’ll now make.

What do you think Inspired INC. can offer to its readers? 

Inspired INC. frames very simply but clearly the context in which we are running businesses today; how the marketplace dynamics have changed, where power is held in the marketplace and what to do about it.

We took five years to unpack a combined thirty years of experience at Nike; looked across the world and across industry for examples of companies succeeding and failing in this new era. There is an unmatched, almost never-ending collection of bitesize case examples and storytelling to bring the framework and strategies to life – translating theory into practice in ways that will make powerful and immediate sense to business people. Might even inspire them.

While readers will discover that no single company is navigating the power shift perfectly, confidence is built from the diversity and volume of companies highlighted in the book for having parts of the answer. With enough examples and a simple framework, a pathway to becoming an Inspired Company reveals itself. That is what Inspired INC. is: a guidebook, a set of building blocks and strategies to help leaders navigate the new business terrain and become an Inspired Company with the new C.E.O.s onside working for you, not against.

This book has been in the works for a long time, and is the culmination of a vast amount of collective experience in the industry – what was your experience of writing Inspired INC.?

In a world where the opportunity to publish your point of view is instantaneous, writing a book might seem counterintuitive. We did it, however, to set a higher bar for what we have to say. Most of the time, a tweet, a blog post or comment on YouTube is really only about how you’re feeling on that day, in that moment. If you change your mind, hear a better argument or experience something new, you can always update your position – remove the post or at the very least edit it. Once a book is published, however, you can’t edit, delete or update it – so it forced us to slow down and make sure what we were saying was insightful, credible, well thought through and stress tested.

While Emily and I have both written before in various professional capacities, writing Inspired INC., and specifically a whole book, was a very different experience. (Holy Moly!) Collaborating across continents, time zones and schedules made it even more complicated. It took a huge level of commitment, patience and resilience.

Would we do it again?

In a world of high speed communication and ever-present social media where points of view are commoditised – 100 per cent yes. (Not yet though, we’re still recovering and enjoying our weekends.)

Why did you decide to work with whitefox?

We explored a number of different publishing models. From the traditional agent-supported large publishing house model to self-publishing. There are upsides and downsides to both ends of that spectrum. In traditional publishing there is more certainty and process, there are guardrails, established networks and systems. But also creative limitations. We wanted Inspired INC. to have an unfiltered voice; creative freedom in layout and visuals; colour, energy and freedom to choose our own book title! There is a lot of false arrogance in traditional publishing that we also didn’t want to hang out with.

Self-publishing on the other hand felt too scary. We’re experienced enough to know that it pays to have specialised experience to support new ventures. Especially ones that are as important to us as this one. So that path wasn’t going to work either.

Fortunately there’s been significant disruption in the publishing industry. whitefox is a product of that disruption. They sit in between traditional publishing and self-publishing, enabling creative freedom and autonomy of the authors while guiding us with deep experience, passion for books and a working partnership.

Now that the book is firmly on the market, what are your hopes for Inspired INC. ?

Inspired INC. is a first step in the larger mission of Inspired Companies: to transition business to a force the world will get behind.

If it successfully enables leaders across the world and industries to create and sustain more Inspired Companies faster and better, then we will reach a first milestone. It is not a silver bullet nor a checklist, it’s a framework with room to create, evolve, sharpen and strengthen. The book is an open invitation to anyone who wants to champion the very idea of Inspired Companies. Companies we know will create twenty-first century competitive advantage by having a growing powerful crowd of new C.E.O.s behind them fuelling their success.

Moving the sector to a more inspired era is more possible than ever. But we’ll have to do things we haven’t done in the corporate sector for a very long time, or at all.

But that’s why we also know this is the most exciting time in seventy or eighty years to be running a business. Profit-as-purpose is boring. Profitable Inspired Companies are not.

If this sounds like a good idea to you and you want to learn faster and act bigger and better together, grab a copy of the book and join Lisa and Emily. Visit their website here, follow them on Instagram here or even drop them a note directly via [email protected]

And, of course, don’t forget to buy Lisa and Emily’s invaluable book – head to Amazon now! 

Lisa MacCallum is the founder of Inspired Companies. A former Nike vice president, Lisa advises large companies on how to build trust, resilience and brand distinction in a world where customers, employees and a range of other stakeholders have unprecedented power. During her long career at Nike, Lisa held commercial and brand leadership positions in the USA and globally, specialising in long term strategy, consumer positioning and business turnarounds.

As Managing Director of the Nike Foundation she also led the teams responsible for launching the award-winning Girl Effect and DesignedtoMove global alliances. 

Emily Brew is the co-author of Inspired INC. As the Principal of Brew Advisors, she is a brand strategist who helps organisations across sectors to deepen connections, fuel movements and instigate innovation to drive change. As Creative Brand Director for the Nike Foundation, Emily led the creative development of the breakthrough concept, the Girl Effect, which has been featured at the World Economic Forum, the Clinton Global Initiative and TED, among many others. She also led the team that created The Clock is Ticking, which won the TED Ads Worth Spreading challenge in 2011.

Praise for Inspired INC.

Inspired INC. offers a brilliant guide to the new and newly demanding landscape in which companies operate. If Anand Giridharadas’ Winners Take All asks powerful and necessary questions of today’s business leaders, Inspired INC. offers some actionable answers. This is a book many business leaders will have been waiting for, and will benefit from reading.’ Hon. Douglas Alexander | Senior Fellow, Harvard University

‘Business purpose has been the subject of numerous academic dissertations but few have blended the theory with concrete examples and a future-focused narrative. The book by MacCallum and Brew is thought-provoking and inspiring and serves as a handbook for the profit and pitfalls of trying to find a sustainable purpose for business.’ Mark Wilson | Ned Blackrock US

‘Lisa MacCallum and Emily Brew are inspiring twenty-first century corporations, redefining capitalism for the twenty-first century – read this book if you want to be a beacon of twenty-first century business.’ Valerie Keller | CEO and Co-Founder, Imagine 

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.