NIB Q&A: Caleb Dean, Director, Owl, Fox & Dean LLC.

As a part of the City Awake Social Impact Festival, on Tuesday December, 9th Net Impact Boston is is hosting an event Leadership in Any Role: Be a Changemaker in your Organization. It will be a fun, informative evening of speakers, collaborative workshops and networking focused on developing your organization and your career by identifying opportunities and taking effective action for change.

We are thrilled to have Caleb Dean, Director, Owl, Fox & Dean LLC. as our keynote speaker. Caleb is a strategist, designer, coach. Caleb and his team help people develop as leaders and help organizations launch, grow, and change. He has a degree in Environmental Design from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and an MBA in Sustainable Systems from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute at Pinchot, and he believes that we have the opportunity to consciously develop ourselves, our ideas, and our ventures to generate value for people and place.

Caleb was kind enough to answer a few of our questions ahead of the event next week.

Caleb DeanHow did you first become interested in an impact career?

I first became interested in an impact career in high school after taking a human ecology course and learning about the concept of sustainability for the first time. I had absolutely no idea what this looked like nor did I have the language to describe or communicate what I imagined but I knew we had some incredible challenges to overcome and I wanted to affect change somehow. It was through studying environmental design as an undergrad and venturing into business after graduation that I developed a clearer vision to work towards and a language to describe it.

What is the story behind the name ‘Owl, Fox and Dean’ and how would you articulate the purpose of the company?

There are two big reasons that I chose the name Owl, Fox & Dean.

  1. Someone once told me that there are forest people and tree people, those with a high level view of things and those who are on the ground involved in the details. I believe that to be strategic, to design effectively, and to practice leadership we each must be able change our perspective and adapt quickly. The owl and the fox are resilient and live all over the world in many different climates, often going after the same prey but with different approach and perspective. This scrappy nature and ability to adapt and change perspective is core to our organizational philosophy, crucial to the work we do with clients, and super important to solve any systemic problem.
  2. I wanted my company to be playful. There’s a big difference between taking your work seriously and taking yourself seriously. It’s really hard work for people and organizations to address deep systemic challenges, change, and develop – we might as well have fun doing it.

The purpose of Owl, Fox & Dean is to help people and organizations develop their potential to have a generative impact in the world.

What do you think are the qualities that make great leaders for the 21st century?

I’m really glad you asked this question and I’ll share more about why during my talk at the event. For now, the qualities that I believe make a great leader are a combination of the abilities to deeply understand oneself and the complexities of people and systems and then influence those things. These abilities can take the form of and be interpreted as many different qualities that may or may not be relevant to any given situation or context.

Why is it important for organizations to change and why is it often so hard?

Great question! Human beings adapt with culture – it’s our evolutionary tool that allows us to develop as individuals and as groups whether that’s an organization, a community, or a nation. We learn something new and then we share what we’ve learned with others. Because organizations exist in a complex system with variables that consistently change – they need to change, or adapt, in order to survive and stay relevant. If early humans hadn’t changed how they found food or made clothing, they would have died – we would’t be here.

I think change is often hard because no two people have exactly the same experience, perspective, feelings or ideas, etc… We’re complex and it’s up to each of us to negotiate and influence the group to make decisions and adapt based on the opportunities we see. Think about the last time you and a large group of friends tried to decide where to eat and what time to be there and then how you’d split the check. Or, think about the other night when you tried to figure out what to watch on Netflix.

Now, think about figuring how to produce a valuable product, increase profits, keep all your employees happy, execute on everything you committed to this year within the schedule and budget, and plan for the next. I think the big tension in organizations right now has to do with the scale and complexity of the challenges we face and the time it takes to change.

What advice would you give people wanting to affect change within their organizations?

Start where you are with what you have and seek to leave every little thing you touch better than how you found it.

What excites you most about the Boston impact sector?

The energy, enthusiasm, and urgency really excite me. I recently moved back to MA from Portland, OR where my wife and I lived for four years. There’s a thriving impact sector in the Pacific Northwest. The Bainbridge Graduate Institute at Pinchot, where we both went to grad school, is part of a quickly growing and strong impact sector community in Seattle. I believe there’s an opportunity for more connection between these communities so that we can learn from one another and grow together. I’m really excited to be growing my business here in Boston helping this sector develop.

Sign up for Leadership in Any Role: Be a Changemaker in your OrganizationDecember 9th, 6-9pm, at General Assembly, 51 Melcher St , Boston, MA 02210. Look forward to seeing you there!


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