Tom Rippin founded the pioneering training and development programme, On Purpose, in 2010 and has been working with purpose-driven organisations ever since. With a Ph.D. in Biophysics from Cambridge and a passion for novels, Tom’s spent a lifetime absorbing science and literary books but only recently began reading those on economics and entrepreneurship.
We caught up with the social entrepreneur to find out what he’s reading now and which books helped him along on his journey…
ShelfTaught: As CEO of an organisation that believes in putting purpose before profit, which book would you say is required reading for someone building a business that combines social and commercial ways of working?
Tom: “The book I’d recommend is The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson. It’s a fascinating book that shows the correlations between inequality and factors like crime, suicide rates, and obesity. It shows how the more unequal a society is, the worse these indicators are.
“You might think this is obvious, because you think that in an unequal society the people at the bottom of the distribution worse off. But, actually, it turns out that in an unequal society the people at the top of the distribution scale are also more obese, unhealthy, unhappy and so on. So in an unequal society everyone is worse off. I thought it was fascinating as it just shows that equality is such an important thing, and in many ways a much better measure for societal progress than GDP.”
ShelfTaught: Wow, that does sound fascinating! And is there a business book you’ve read recently that you wished you’d read earlier in your career?
Tom: “Yes. I’m currently reading Reinventing Organisations by Frederic Laloux – and it’s opening my eyes to some really interesting ideas and concepts. Laloux talks about having organisations that self-managing– and I wish I’d read it earlier on when establishing On Purpose. He looks at how organisations have, over history, evolved. So you have hierarchical organisations, such as the Army, where you do as you’re told, which is how many organisations used to be run, whereas now you have more value-based organisations, where so long as everyone is doing things according to a set of values, you can almost do what you want.
“And then there’s the next emerging stage, which is what his book’s about. And this talks about organisations that go beyond that. So rather than have a strict hierarchy, decision-making is undertaken by those who will implement and be affected by those decisions. So people become more empowered and autonomous, and people higher up don’t necessarily have more responsibility, but are rather helping and coaching others and possibly coordinating. The whole idea is that in these organisations people have much more fulfilling roles and are happier in the workplace, but also, these organisations can be incredibly efficient and productive.”
ShelfTaught: Okay, great. So what about other books you wish you’d read earlier? Which book would you hand to your 15-year-old self and say, “read this now” – and why?
Tom: “Probably The Origin of Wealth by Eric Beinhocker – which isn’t such an easy read! The first part of it though is fascinating in that it takes these economic concepts that we grow up with, and everyone seems to think, almost ideologically, are the case, and shows that if you try and test these against facts and information they don’t stack up. It shows that the models we use are wrong. The reason I’d give it to my 15-year-old self is to make him more aware of the topic of economics – because with hindsight I should have thought about studying it!
ShelfTaught: Okay, and what about the one book you’d again before you die, what would that be?
Tom: “The His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman. It’s pure escapism which I love. I’m one of those people who reads every night, even if it’s just a couple of pages. In fact, historically I always read novels, it’s only in the last two or three years that I started reading more popular economics.”
ShelfTaught: … and can you recommend one bonus book?
Tom: “Yes I can! Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist, by Kate Raworth. She talks about a switch to an economy that’s more inclusive and that works for all. She takes seven standard economic principals, such as supply and demand, and shows how they should be replaced with much more effective and realistic economic approaches instead.
“So, for example, she looks at what underlies the so-called ‘trickle down effect’. The idea being that we should let rich people get very rich in society because ultimately if we have everyone creating a lot of wealth at the top that will trickle down to the people below and everyone will get richer as a result. And that’s not really worked. So she looks at how to build redistribution into your economics from the start and how to build more inclusive ways of creating wealth.”