On “Capabilism”: Chris Kneeland Speaks at the 23rd Annual Raj Manek Memorial Banquet

Proteges and mentors of the annual Raj Manek Mentorship Program banquet (February 7th) enjoyed a keynote talk from Chris Kneeland, CEO of US-based “Cult Collective” (a marketing firm that reimagines how brands can engage both consumers and employees: http://cultideas.com) and a Co-founder of Communo (an online company that helps small agencies and solopreneurs find work in marketing: https://communo.com).

Kneeland held marketing roles early in his career at the headquarters of John Deere (with a $7M marketing budget) and, overnight, at The Home Depot (with a $70M marketing budget). He co-founded “Cult Collective in 2010 and “Communo” shortly after. He and his family lived in Calgary for eight years (Calgary), but prior to and after that period have been based in the US, where Kneeland is from. 

Borrowing from marketing guru Don Sullivan, Kneeland referred to a capacity that entrepreneurs need, as “capabilism,” or a combination of both “capability” (“the power or means to do something”) and “capitalism” (“an operating system whereby individuals can excel within a free marketplace”). He said that the neologism “capabilism” refers to entrepreneurs’ ability to thrive by exploiting their own unique talents and ambitions.

What’s “aspirational” becomes also “attainable” if we thrive, whereby we rise “to a level of which you’re capable.” Kneeland said that money is not itself the issue, but it is needed to buy us the freedom from having to worry about money.

Aspirational plans might involve living someplace warm (by contrast to SK’s winter!), participating in recreational activities more often, and being free from having to negotiate with an employer when we can take time off.

But Kneeland warned against entrepreneurs living beyond their means in the rush to succeed, whereby we take on extra work to pay our bills and ultimately become re-enslaved to the working world we earlier left.

He also suggested that entrepreneurial success is driven by ambition—not just doing what we love and what we’re naturally good at, but finding a way to practice it, so that we can excel at the work and with the money it earns us.
While he studied a first-class and innovative MBA degree from Northwestern (going into $100K debt, to finance it), Kneeland says there are more pathways to entrepreneurial success than mainstream, academic study.

For instance, he spoke of regularly calling on a panel of experts to advise him, even 20+ years in the field. He also recommended that we stop viewing retirement as a date we’ll stop working, when our work should bring us joy to continue, long after age 65. (Remember that life expectancy is longer than in previous generations—so that it’s not unreasonable to expect to live and work into one’s 80s or 90s.) If we don’t relish that prospect, Kneeland recommends a change in career or direction.

The skill of self-awareness is most needed by any business venture, Kneeland concluded, since fear of complacency should be far greater than our fear of failure. This is because only failure (and not resistance) enables us to learn from our mistakes.

These are some of Chris Kneeland’s best insights as the 2019 Raj Manek keynote speaker on February 7th.

And now it’s your turn:  Do you agree with the “take-away” insights that Chris Kneeland shared?  Would be be interested in learning more about the Raj Manek Mentorship Program? Please write back on the “contact” page of my website. I’d be delighted to extend this conversation.