Business Seed - Workshop

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It all begins with the Business Seed.

  • The Seed is the source of everything that the business will become.
  • The Seed is alive.

Since we're talking about a living thing, this requires a shift in language. We have traditionally talked about business using mechanical metaphors as a throw back to the industrial revolution (running like a well-oiled machine, firing on all pistons, get it in gear, etc). It wasn't until 1960 with Douglas McGregor's The Human Side of Enterprise that someone began to talk about the human side of business - up until that point, business had been all about machines, not people. If business is alive, how we think about it and talk about it has to be different. Our language has to come out of the natural world and this new language is now evolving. If you have a naturally formed business, work will flow naturally from it.

  • The Seed starts with an Idea

Why is the Seed Important?

  • The Seed is a source of renewable energy. Every time you return to the Seed, it will give you energy. Belonging to a natural business feeds people, the community and the environment.
  • The Seed contains the business Photosynthesis. Business can take energy in and transform it into something (guitar pedals, for example) Money is just stored energy that can get released when it is spent. If we get the seed right, we have a source of renewable energy. Often, people get burned out because they expend energy but don't taking any energy in.
  • The Seed creates a focus, your "North". Without a clear focus, without understanding what direction you're heading in, all energy will be dissipated.
  • The Seed is generative: Everything grows from it, literally unfolding. The "unfolding" represents the transitions that you go through as your business evolves into something new.


Components of the Business Seed: (See plant diagram)

  • The Person is the steward of the Idea.
  • The Idea (It) is the "DNA" of the business.
  • Core Relationship: A relationship exists between the Person and the Idea. For this relationship to be healthy, there has to be both love for the Idea (It) and competency. You may love what you do, but if you can't bring a level competency to the work, then you don't have a business. Also good habits are essential; if you don't have the habits/discipline to do your work well, your business will not be successful.
  • Deep Root: All of the above sits on a deep root, a kind of foundational life experience, ethic, belief, which you must be able to identify. Adrienne's deep root for her animal care business is animal ethics, for example. Her business might take many different forms, but there has to be animal ethics or her business has no value or meaning to her. For the Siteks (Pill Pouch), their deep root was their relationship with their grandmother. In general, people who have a purpose in life seem to have a deep root that is identifiable.

Seeds grow in Ecosystems:

Living Organisms: We consider businesses as living organisms which exist in living ecosystems consisting of other businesses, organizations, government and members of the community. If you take the Seed and put it into its natural environment, you can then see how it might grow, and what it might affect and be affected by. Remember that ecosystems are alive and changing. If you took FOODLAB out of the picture, the ecosystem in which is functions would still exist without it. Traditional businesses don't consider ecosystems except in the form of competitors to their business.

Relationships within the Ecosystem: When you look at the ecosystem within which your business exists, you can begin to decide who you want to develop deeper relationships with. Energy flows between members of the ecosystem - they feed and support each other - and it becomes less about competition, more about cooperation. Business leaders today are just now beginning to talk about business ecosystems (

Trends: This is an area where working within a community can be very advantageous. Members of your community can help you to identify trends in the ecosystem. Start to think about how you might work with those trends, go with the flow, and let that energy feed your business.

Triple Bottom Line Yields:

Just like a crop that is planted, triple bottom line businesses produce yields in all three areas of impact; economics, community and environment.

Economic Yield - It's important for any healthy business to be financially viable.

Community yield - A triple bottom line business will improve and uplift its community by increasing the numbers of healthy, productive relationships within that community. If another business says "we are better because of our work with you", they will work on your behalf because they want you there.

Environmental yield - In conducting its everyday business, a 3D business should have a positive impact on the natural environment through reduction of waste, toxicity, energy use and water use.

We are trying to get a triple bottom line yield, not just for ourselves, but for those we work with.

Business Seed Case Study: Detread - Audra Carson

IT: Getting tires out of neighborhoods - clean up, detoxification, reduce mosquito infestations, etc.

Deep Root: Empowerment (It took about 4 months to find it for Audra). She wants to empower neighborhoods so they can grow enough capacity to get the tires out. If they can do that together, as a community, what else will they be able to do?

DNA: Solution: new products made from old tires. She may work with Ford Motor Co. In addition, Ford is in a position to help Audra with clean up through employee volunteers.

Competency: Audra has developed a huge competency in tires and is a self taught expert now. When the state had questions about tires, when the Brightmoor neighborhood wanted to clean up the dumped tires, they all called Audra.

Here's what we've learned:

Learning Process - This is a process of discovery; you learn as much about yourself as you do about your business.

Very Personal Outcomes - Your outcomes are unique. They will be reflective of you as a person, of your ideas, of the relationships that you build.

Develops Naturally - This process develops naturally, taking as long as it is going to take, adhering to no strict time schedule. Bob says: Most business models would be found in the fiction section of the library. When people develop a business model, they are trying to get it all done within a time restriction and usually end up making things up.

Stewardship - Be aware that stewardship takes a lot of energy

Community input = Power. You will find immense power in the community that you are part of.

Just the Beginning: When you create the SEED, you're really just at the beginning of the process of building a business.

Discussion Portion - Comments from the Group:

This model (growing businesses naturally) vs. the traditional business accelerator: If you want to create a business and flip it quickly, then the traditional business accelerator might be the model that will work for you. Making decisions just to puff up a business and make it look good to sell may benefit you in the short term, but it won't help the workers or community or the environment. Growing a business to last, that benefits you, your community and the natural environment around you requires more thoughtful and deliberate work. This way of growing a business is not for the impatient person. You should not move faster than your comfort and the nature of the business allows. This process takes as long as necessary, and this can be a long time. There is a personality type that works well in this environment and it has to be a good match for you.

Your original business idea may change significantly as you move through this process. Adrienne's initial thought was to form a small pet retail business, but it has evolved into something that might end up being more of a consulting/service business. She has also, in the process of developing her business SEED, formed new relationships with the Michigan Humane Society and Purdue University for research.

How does an existing business, which is trying to become more sustainable, change gears? Bob: Any business has to recognize a need to change and be under a certain amount of stress in order to be willing to go through a change. The stress puts into focus, and allows you to acknowledge, the need to change and to transition to a different paradigm. This gives you a chance to identify what you really want to do and what you don't want to do. You also have to have leadership in order to effect any successful change.

Finding the deep root can take some time; keep looking, keep evaluating until you find that unchangeable, immovable thing.

  • Audra: empowerment
  • The Siteks, Pill Pouch: Stella's story
  • Adrienne: animal ethics
  • Matt Dibble: Being able to work ON things instead of getting caught up in the busyness of everyday tasks. He recommends "Growing a Business" by Paul Hawken, who shows that a successful business is an expression of an individual person and that the purpose of business is not to take risks, but to get something done.

You need different people to balance a business - accelerator and slow moving

Money is not the focal point of this business development model. Money is certainly important in order to be able to move forward, but focusing too much on money might distract you from other opportunities that could be more helpful, healthy and lucrative.

Being purposeful in your work can be hard to do. You need to figure out how you will spend your time, what you will and will not do to move your business along. Maybe you shouldn't answer every email, for example.