Sustainable Business - Learning Community Conversations

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Two primary questions ...

1) What do we really mean by sustainable business?

2) What kind of role will sustainable businesses have in creating a sustainable future for Detroit?

Additionally... What can we learn from each other? How do we support each other in growing our respective businesses to be more sustainable?

August 16, 2012 Topic: Guilds

Hannah has to think about the training involved in bringing a new employee into her business, so that they can be brought up to par. How does she develop a structure for them to go through? How can she identify the level the person is at in their massage work? How to create standards? Massage doesn't have a guild system, and there aren't a large number of people for an apprentice level masseuse to look up to. People graduate and think they're ready to work, but many of them are not. How to help them they to the next level? How does an employer evaluate them?

Thoughts on guilds:

  • Guilds offer apprenticeship programs through unions.
  • When we talk about learning, we seem only to talk about learning in an academic setting. But this is only a very small part of it. There is a wholeness to work that is missed by only academic learning.
  • There is much more to the process of becoming what you will eventually become than just going to school and getting a degree or certificate.
  • Guilds can restrict by apportioning supply and demand. Some of the work can be highly experiential.
  • Guilds made you proficient in a certain skill set, and historically would probably also have helped you in your business endeavors.
  • Fallacy that if you get a license to do something, you are capable and good at it. This is not necessarily true.
  • Guild system offers you access to experts in the field to let you know where you are in the process of attaining a level of expertise - you are not just evaluating yourself or letting the market tell you how you're doing.
  • Guilds can teach you a set of skills to make a product or perform a service. But what about the skills necessary to run a business? Where is the "whole" beyond the skill set?

Noam: He sees the practice of medicine is a very large guild - you apprentice as a resident. There is also a protectionist piece to it - doctors stand up for each other. But it can be a bit rigid, not allowing for innovation and change.

Tunde: He sees a difference between having experience and being the expert. We give up agency to the expert - we believe what they tell us. Expert has a body of knowledge. The experienced person has wisdom. In his opinion, there is more value to experience than to expertise. Majority of problems we deal with are divergent, so that experience helps to deal with that.

Noam: Hard to predict what will be the turning point for an individual. Everyone learns differently - some from seeing, some from doing.

You might be ready to work, but you have to be aware and honest about what you are ready to work on. What level have you attained with your skill?

Long-term learning: A guild master takes the time to transfer the entirety of his knowledge to the next group. That's how huge bodies of knowledge have been passed down through the ages. Then people add to that body of knowledge thru their own work and experience. Today, we don't take the time to dedicate ourselves to this kind of long-term learning.

Critiquing: Guilds provide a means of critiquing work. A master can watch and critique the work of an apprentice. Today, you might critique yourself. The most successful people may seek out a mentor.

Being the best that you can be: It's not only about learning a skill so that you can make a living, but about making yourself the best you can be at your work. (Sushi chef article). People find joy and satisfaction in doing the best work that they can do.

The dynamic is so fast today that you just create learning communities (guilds) where you are. Where you're at may be fine for today, but how do you make it better? With information technology, after 7 years, everything you know is wrong. If you create a culture of learning, then you will constantly be changing, evolving, adapting. Create an expectation of learning in your organization. Placing a value on learning and quality of work will have a huge impact on employees.

Measuring skill levels: Do we have to measure skills in hierarchical levels? Hannah suggests we think about it more in terms of a GPS map: "where are you on this horizontal map?" How do you identify the different landmarks that you want people to hit on? We're all on different timelines - different jobs and different roles, and it's not necessarily a question of levels - who's higher, who's lower etc. It's nice to think about workers outside of a hierarchical map.

Noam observes that once you set standards/levels, you might be devaluing the innovation of someone new who comes in with "fresh eyes."

Is organizing possible without a hierarchy? Having more specific measurements for going from one level to the next can create a more egalitarian environment. You're not at level 4 because you're better than someone else, but because you've completed the steps to get there and the other person hasn't done that yet. It doesn't have to be all about going up? What about going deeper?

You can only see from where you are so everyone sees something different.

Next week's topic: Conflict resolution with Doug from the Work Dept.

August 9, 2012 Topic: Wisdom From the People Who Inspire Us

Comments from last week's conversation about Saying NO:

  • Gain a personal understanding of your own priorities first.
  • Be clear with people when you say no and explain why you're saying no. Say the best yes that you can, "I can get to that 6 months from now, is that ok?" Then you leave it to the client to say yes or no to you.
  • List your big picture goals - when someone asks you to do something, check to see if it is in line with your goals.
  • Are you in the process of being open to new work/relationships, or are you in the "deepening" process with things you're already working on?
  • Some people say yes to everything because most people don't follow through with what they've asked you to do.
  • Jeff's technique: let me think about it. If people don't allow you the time to think about it, then you say no to them.
  • People often say, "I need it right away" when in fact, they don't
  • Develop behaviors to deflect requests (not wearing scrubs so people won't ask for free medical advice :)
  • We always want to please people, but don't feel guilty that you really can't. It's OK

Today's topic: Wisdom from the people who have inspired us


Walter's story: Walter's mother, a life-long Detroiter lived to 92 years of age. Her life was a tremendous inspiration to him and others who knew her. Born in Hamtramck in 1919, moved back to Poland for a while as a child and then returned to Detroit in 1939, just before the beginning of WWII. She was part of the arsenal of democracy, "Rosie the riveter" in a munitions factory. Married in 1948, she and her husband bought house in Hamtramck. 1948-60 worked for Chrysler and was laid off in 1960. So she went to beauty school and became a hair stylist at Saks in Detroit. Then in 1963 she started her own salon and worked until she was 82 years old. She was VP of the Polish American Lodge and part of the Alliance of Poles. Walter moved back in with her when she was in her 70's and says that he gained so much being with her for those 20 years. She saw a better future for her family and her community and dedicated every day to getting there. She was and is a great role model for what we can do in Detroit - no master plan, just each of us doing our best each day. Do it, don't just say it.

The level of clarity is much higher with individuals and their work rather than when that work "hits the system."

Jess's ex-partner's family who ran food coop is an inspiration to her. They live their beliefs everyday, without judgement of others and without preaching.

It is so important what you do with your feet, not with your mouth. Walk the walk.


John's parents worked as scientists so he never had any exposure to the trade guild system - learning thru on the job training. He has been inspired by people who make things and work with their hands. Learning the process is what is vital to him - how to achieve goals, not what the goals are in and of themselves. For people who make things, their ways of doing are so much clearer to him than people who do other kinds of work (the more in-your-head stuff). "See one, do one, teach one" (great way of learning a new skill).

Tunde left home when he was 16. His father encouraged him to stay in close contact with his family back home. He tries to be open to listening to others and learning from them.

Interesting how you don't realize that you're learning something until after the learning has occurred.

Nic was inspired by his father and grandfather. His dad grew up on farm and his grandfather was a trained mechanic. So Nic grew up making things and developed the confidence to take apart and reassemble his computer when he spilled coffee on it. Also took on the task of redoing his kitchen and bathroom.

Jessica Bruder's recommended reading: Shop Class as Soulcraft - Matthew Crawford _ the mind/body dichotomy - the physical and the digital.

Jessica Sitek - Her Grandmother was also from Hamtramck. Her unspoken lesson: "people are people." As Hamtramck changed and became more diverse, she treated people equally. From her, Jessica learned about the beauty of diversity and the inherent value of each individual.

Bob's inspiration was his mother. She would often tell him, "It's not what you say, it's how you say it." He's used that advice throughout his life understanding that feelings can come through your words.

Tom terms himself a "sponge person", learning continually from everyone that he meets and knows. One of the people who inspired him most was his aunt, Sister Mary Walker. When she would visit people in need, she would take with her cleaning supplies and help them with their housework. She would say, that a child cannot have an ego if they're living in a dirty house, because that is what they'll become - depressed, disorganized and dirty.

Topic for next week: Trade Guilds: Developing deep skills individually and in community.

August 2, 2012 Topic: Saying NO

Saying NO!

Recap from last meeting: PLAY

  • Busyness-play-saying no, seemed like a good group of subject together.
  • Busyness is related to producing and creating economic value- sometimes
  • Play has no outcome, it makes us wholesome, by learning about our world and ourselves, unrelated to getting something done.
  • Rest is also a form of play. riding a bike for a commute can be a form of play when being adventurous, seeing if you can make this tight turn...
  • Play and leadership must be integrated into each other. Essential for creativity.
  • An example by Tom in play and leadership: doing business while walking around the neighborhood, identifying favorite places, and having conversations that lead to a project, or business. * He does not like to do projects as done traditionally.
  • Conferences are also a poor way of learning unless they involve creative activities, and play!
  • Knowing the expectations of a meeting, whether it is diverging and brainstorming ideas (more playful), or converging to make a decision .

TODAY'S topic: Saying NO

  • Saying no is a process of learning. The lack of saying no can be very stressful on a small business, especially when i tis one person working, it leads to a lot of sacrifice on ones' self. It took * Hannah a while to get to "negotiating", instead of going on her day off, she would now say no, and reschedule the next day she is working. It may be seen as a form of compromise and setting standards.
  • Saying no may eliminate rushing, and make more time for creativity and productivity. So say more no and less yes, and only to what you really want to do.
  • Saying an "intentional" no, when you have something else specific that you rather doing.
  • On the other end, Kevin says YES. He wants to do everything, craving new opportunities and feeding his curiosity. It is hard to say no to his own.
  • When saying no, be truthful about your reasons, perhaps bring a human element in, like your one year old is tugging and nagging.
  • Sometimes it is hard to say no when you're building a brand, doing a start-up.
  • When you put a limitation by saying no, you may find that you get more deep into things, like when Jess worked on a small farm.
  • When you get deep into things, you may find a different kind of gratification, and becomes a part of your identity. It is s different than the instant gratification gained from throwing yes around.

How to say NO?

  • "Let me think about it", if not accepted, then it is a definite no for Jeff, because it is disrespectful of his time. If eventually said yes, add "yes, but..."
  • Others may find that the inherent 65% to most things ends up being 25% because the other side does not follow through, so it may not be so bad.
  • Tom talks about an ex-colleague, who's longest email was 5 words. However, he always said to never say no, but make the client do it instead. This can be by delegating, limiting the time spent from his side, so that the client ends up saying no.
  • The Japanese no: Yes (listing all the positive, but...(saying why not: dumbest idea, or no one wants to do that etc)
  • Fear too much yes, especially in a valuable engagement, because you know they won't come through or carry their weight.

other may feel guilt with saying no but learning how to say no is important, by starting with "thanks for your consideration", refer to a better fit.


  • If you do not take care of yourself, you won't be able to take care of others.
  • Say what you're doing instead of you are being asked to do, it will train people to accept such reasons as meditation, vacations, etc. instead of just assuming you must be "busy" with some "busyness"
  • Leadership must be very strong with saying NO, otherwise very detrimental to its community.

Next Topics: - conflict resolution - guild systems - significant mentors: to share wisdom that has been passed on

July 26, 2012 Topic: Play!

Topic for today: PLAY!


Have we turned time into an economy? Are we scheduling our play as well? Does every hour have to have an outcome?

Play doesn't have an outcome. It's just an enjoyable process that may go anywhere.

From a sustainable business standpoint, the 1st 2 stages are play:

  • Stage 1: Playing with ideas for a business.
  • Stage 2: Serious play, something found in play becomes something you want to focus more on.

Most rapid efficient way of learning is play. Babies just naturally play - that's how they learn the most in the shortest amount of time. But we've turned learning into education without the play element. Learning is at the center of play (not really formal learning, but more natural learning)

How do we use play in our typical business week?

Elyshia: Play is getting inspiration, going somewhere new, having a new conversation. Poetry, singing, painting, yoga, rock climbing are also play for her - there's no pressure, they make her happy. . She schedules play into her day/week. Play doesn't have anything to do with her work, necessarily, but she might learn something that she can then bring into her work. It also improves her overall well-being.

Google has "20% time" where 20% of an engineer's time can be spent on play. This is a place where you can decompress, or you might come up with a new idea. Google's work schedules are more goal oriented rather than time oriented.

Mark: One of the reasons he went into business for himself is that he wanted to create his own schedule and work in some playtime. His business allows him more free time and vacation time. This creates a good balance for him - on a rainy day he's out playing. When work is done for the day, he doesn't spend time worrying about his work. He enjoys time with his family, fishing, playing :) Without play time, there's no time for creativity. After play, you can come to work with a fresh mind.

Is there really a distinction between play and work if our play serves our work? Work, at its best, is play with an intentional outcome. Play doesn't have an intentional outcome.

Down time and play in your work are different things for Hannah. Some people like to play with ideas for their business on their personal time.

There are certain times when you just need to play - need some down time - right in the middle of the day. (That feeling that you "just need to dance!") Trust that your work will get done, or your employees' work will get done and give yourself/them space to decompress through play.

Being too intense in sports can take the fun out of it. It takes the play out of playing a sport. Playing piano without lessons - putting the play into playing the piano.

Does everything you do revolve around work? What is the most important thing to you? Is it your work?

Play is a time for us to learn about ourselves. About our wholeness. If everything about us is about the work, then we're just a machine and we're missing a big part of ourselves. When we take time away from play, we're taking time away from our wholeness, our spirit. Play allows us to explore ourselves.

Work is what a person is obliged to do, play what you are not obliged to do. Don't hold onto things too tightly so they can be more playful - allow for maximum flexibility.

Structure: For some people structure gives them more flexibility. Let's say you need a lot of structure, does that mean everyone in your organization needs a lot of structure too? Can you set things up to accommodate everyone's different style. Balance needs to be reached between being intentional and not being intentional Some people don't know how to work without structure, direction.

How do you share playtime with other people when others' schedules aren't as flexible?

Marwa says to take a break from the outside world and listen to the stuff in your head - eventually things will get done.

Play may not be a natural habit for most people, especially if everything is focused on work. Many of us don't think of our lives as having flexibility. Are you your work? Play as experiential: take the time to go somewhere to experience something without any expectations. Some of what you experience may be brought back into your work. Play can enhance your creativity.

Matt S: We remember our play time as a child - unstructured but really fun. A creative time of forts, plays, deconstructing stuff. Many of us lose some of this ability as you move into a more structure environment. Think more deliberately about play and start to incorporate this into your business.

Topic for next week: How to say NO

July 19, 2012 Topic: Busyness

Finding balance

Comments from last week's conversation on Love Languages:

It's helpful to understand how a person receives certain kinds of information, messages. There's a lot going on when you are communicating with someone else:

  1. the way that you form what you're sending
  2. the way that you receive
  3. the way that they send
  4. the way that they receive

As relationships evolve over time, love languages between people can change (marriages, e.g.)

Today's topic: Busyness

We have a culture today that values busyness. If you're really busy, you must be really important, productive. People are in a habit of incorporating busyness in their schedules (personal, business, team busyness)

We can be made to feel guilty because we take time to do relaxing things such as reading a book, watching a movie.

Feeling over-busy, people are over-stressed. Constant stress, too much work, not enough people to do the work, stress spreads to others around you.

Some people never feel as if they're too busy or over scheduled and enjoy being always busy. But we should all take time to schedule down time, find a balance, or develop an efficiency in the way we work.

Tom's busyness warning signal: email. He can spend 2 hours going through email and only manage to schedule a couple of meetings.

Busyness as a form of structure: Tunde likes to attach meaning to the things that he does: will this make me money? Will I learn something? Will I get anything out of this? Busyness is a form of structure for him. He needs things to be happening or will watch movies all day long :)

Some company cultures look down on an employee who spends 20 minutes talking to someone around the water cooler, but that can often be really valuable time - talking over a project, for example. There can be a stigma attached to this kind of socializing in the office but isn't there a value to building interpersonal relationships with your colleagues? In the end, isn't it less important to always "look busy" than to get your work done and achieve goals?

Sadly, the pressure to be busy starts now in childhood - jam-packed schedules.

Ways to combat that workplace culture:

  • As a manager, hold people to their goals, don't manage their time. If they got the job done, doesn't matter how they did it. Don't watch over their shoulders to see what they're doing every minute. People have such different working styles.
  • Put humanness (healthy, personal time) into the calendar along with your obligations. Find a balance between the two.
  • Allow yourself and those who work for/with you to have enough time and energy to take of yourselves. Being under too much pressure makes people angry and the stress can manifest itself in negative ways.
  • Understanding how the brain functions can be helpful. Most people can't stay focused for more than about 20 minutes without requiring a break, so expecting people to work non-stop, long-term is really physiologically impossible.
  • Don't confuse busyness with intensity. Remember that it is harder to think through work and problems than it is to actually do the work.
  • There is a spiritual dimension to shedding the desire or requirement for approval from others about how you use your time. Let go of society's view of what others think of you.
  • When you love what you do, you may not feel overly busy.

What should be eliminated:

  1. Inability to say NO
  2. Stigma about taking time to take care of yourself
  3. Minutia (place value on Mission over Minutia)
  4. Email - try not to waste hours going through email. Put a box around it, that is, schedule some time every week dedicated just to reading email instead of interrupting your work to keep checking it.
  5. Anything that you really don't like to do (for Tom, it's conferences)

Suntae comments that Americans seem much less busy than Koreans who are always working, working, working. He sees more balance between work and play with Americans, but realizes that people are even busy when they are outside work - doing things with friends, family, kids, etc.

Play: learning without producing something, part of the creativity process. In play, you don't have to worry about how efficiently you're using your time. You can't be creative without play because there isn't enough time to think about things and mull things over. There doesn't seem to be much appreciation in our society for play; our society will immediately make it into some sort of competition. Beginning of a business is learning, not KNOWING, because knowing is the end of the process. Zingerman's deli - they don't get into stuff, introduce a product until they have looked into it for a few years.

Children understand the importance of play, but as parents we're trying to fill our kids' schedules with structured activity, when they are happy just to have unstructured play time.

When we're too busy, we miss so much because we don't notice what's going on around us.

Make time for things that you really value.

Topic for next week: PLAY what is it?? How does it apply to our businesses??

July 12, 2012 Topic: Love Languages

Love Languages

Comments from last week's conversation on Team Leadership:

Matt D has begun to implement the 2-week work plan. He's found that letting employees know what is coming up rather than keeping his plans to himself has really improved their work and efficiency. His employees are now helping him to form ideas about projects that are coming up.

2 week planning changes the dynamic of the future because employees get more into helping the future be successful and they even have more a a stake in the business and its success.

Topic for Today: Love Languages

Love languages is a way that you can learn to understand how people are different from one another and what they respond to. They can be thought of as ways of understanding how to better communicate with others and perhaps to motivate them as well. The basic love languages are:

  1. words of affirmation (I love you, you're doing a great job)
  2. quality time
  3. receiving gifts
  4. acts of service
  5. physical touch

Apology language:

  1. expressing regret
  2. accepting responsibility
  3. making restitution
  4. genuinely repent
  5. request forgiveness

Matt D says that has stopped apologizing to clients if something goes wrong and just lets them know how he's going to fix it. It depends on the manager or client whether or not they want or expect an apology or just want you to get on with solving the problem. Sometimes its just about accepting responsibility.

How do you keep the balance between what your client wants (don't want to let them walk all over you) and what you want or can do?

  • Important to maintain your self respect and boundaries. If your client doesn't respect you and your business, break it off
  • Equal business stature - you stand on common ground - no one is above the other.
  • A client walking all over you is unsustainable

Tom: Just be really clear on the kinds of clients that you can produce the best value for. There are fundamental reasons why its sometimes a misfit. Other times its a style and personality issue. Is this a good fit? With a start up, you should be more sensitive to those kinds of relationships because they are taking your time and energy and if your relationship goes bad, then bad energy will get in there and it will take some amount of work to fix that. If the flags are going up but you need the revenue, you could try a test run (30 days?)

Do you want to be the service provider that your client wants? maybe they WANT someone to crab at and yell at all the time. Do you want to be THAT?


  • Believes everyone has all of the love languages to some extent. His are touch and acts of service (thanks for sharing, Matt).
  • Key is finding the love languages of people around you without having to ask them directly or have them take a quiz. How do you figure that out? Simple observation - see how people work and react to others and go from that.
  • When people are really quiet, it's a lot harder to figure out. A shy person may not want to give any feedback on the spot, but will happier given time and allowed to respond later, in his/her own time.
  • However, don't write scenarios and assume you know what makes another person tick.
  • Matt has found that it's rarely about money.

The question: "Tell me your story" is a useful and interesting way to start. People can really reveal a lot about themselves.

Time: everyone's so busy now. what are your priorities? If you have time, you have time to give; important to prioritize your time - time for friends, family, relationships.

Love languages are also about understanding yourself. Even when you're dealing with work relationships, it's vital to understand yourself as much as those you work with. If you understand yourself, then you'll be able to form relationships that jibe with you and your style.

Giving and Receiving:

  • Each of us has a sending part and a receiving part of our love language. We may have a tendency to use praise, gifts, etc. to communicate positively with others, but may prefer receive time or touch.
  • Do you tend to give in the love language that you like to receive? Are you communicating well and hearing or observing what others need/want?
  • Is any of our daily "business" aligned with our own love language?
  • You want to try to arrange your work with your love language. Does your client want what you are comfortable giving? Do you get from your work/client what you like to receive?
  • Learn how to receive what people want to give you, even if it isn't in your love language. Recognize how others give to you and then interpret that into the love language that resonates best with you.
  • Are you giving yourself what you need? Do others pick up on that? Most conflicts are internal.

Find the intersection between what people give to you and what you like. You have to continue to find those overlaps in your relationships.

Next week's topic: Busyness!

June 28, 2012 Topic: Team Leadership

Comments from last week's conversation on Diversity:

  • Keeping a business diverse through diverse perspectives.
  • Food lab is working on next generation food business by fostering kids in the community to bring them up in the food business; important to see mentors from their own culture.
  • Be aware that the decisions you make affects the community as it exists. When you make a decision you're "voting" on the future. You can't take on all diversity issues, but you can become aware that your decisions have implications an that maybe you want to take on a small part of what you see in your community. We make so many decisions without awareness, so try to become more conscious of that and in doing so, you'll get to the cumulative effect of all your decisions.

Topic for today: Team Leadership

  • What tools (software, e.g.) do you use to manage a team?
  • What techniques do you use to manage people and schedules?
  • How do you teach more responsibility, accountability?

Tom's structuring of team/project management:

  • Informal lightly structured teams (students working on a project e.g.)
  • Formal teams
  • Groups of formal teams working on projects
  • Groups of projects forming programs.

General Accountability:

  • Rhythm - what are the regular check-in points? Weekly meeting? Rhythm to that meeting? Jess uses Google docs to keep meeting notes that help her to remember what was discussed and to create a rhythm to her meetings. They also provide an accountability.
  • Jeff keeps a task list (everyone has one) on Google docs so that everyone is aware what the others are doing.
  • Matt D: Set expectations, communicate clearly, set goals. If all members of a team aren't all together and on the same page, it won't work. He is now looking for someone who works like him, who likes to work on the same schedule (same rhythm) and wants to get the work done as a team.
  • Vital for a team leader to establish goals and make sure that the team is all striving toward the same goals.

First form of formal: The two week schedule. Establish the sequence of work; look out 2 weeks and you should be able to say what each person of the team will be working on. Everyone is nervous if they don't know what they're doing next week - they are more secure if they know ahead of time what they'll be doing. A team leader always needs to be thinking ahead (Google doc for planning) so that there is a clear work plan. Then, the team should meet periodically to make sure that everyone is on schedule and on task. If you don't add energy to the system to create order, you will create instead a swirling vortex of entropy :)

If you are working with someone who doesn't work with the same rhythm as you, you have to be able to have enough trust in them that the work will be done well and on time. This might be hard to do when the work is your "baby." How can you bring that personal feeling, your connection to your business, to those working for you? Sometimes you're the only one who can see the bigger picture.

Jess: People have different working experiences and working styles and you, as a manager, have to build their capacity to do the work you require of them.

Hannah made reference to the guild system where people were dedicated to, and took pride in, learning a craft and refining skills.

Jeff: Larger group workshops at the Maker Space tend to fail more frequently than smaller groups. He thinks that example setting might be the more compelling way of achieving something than telling someone how to do it.

Jess: Motivation - Taking on something because you want to and coming up with your own idea is often more motivating than if you're asked to do something.

Tunde: If you understand what it takes to excite people, maybe you can have more success motivating them to do their work well and on time. Passion for doing work is a very powerful motivator. what do you love to do? Break down large jobs into smaller tasks.

Do we assign unfair importance to things? Being on time? How do you share your passion for your work?

Ellen: 3D reporting group: Met to discuss about what makes each of them tick? How they like to work? Make sure they are all working together toward the same goal. What brought them to UM, the GG, what's their passion? What do they hope to get out of the project and how will they take that out into the larger world? They have one deadline and it seems far away, but coming together has helped.

Mike: Sometimes, people that don't perform to expectations need a bit of an iron fist in their leadership. To make them work on time and on task and get the work done.

The Dream Manager: A business parable about how companies can achieve extraordinary results by helping their employees fulfill their dreams. Because a manager really cares about each individual and what their dreams and motivations are, he models tasks based on them. If people care about their coworkers, they'll work harder to help them achieve their goals.

Key is to get to know who you're working with:

  • Set aside the lens you are looking at the world thru and try to understand the "lens" of others.
  • Figure out what motivates people (Red Wing tickets/Tartar sauce - see video)

Bob: All this needs to be in place for success:

  • What are we trying to achieve? - every team needs to articulate this
  • How are we going to communicate? - define how you'll communicate - what tools? - has to be agreed on
  • How are we held accountable? - If you succeed or fail, how does your failure affect others? the rest of the work plan? who do you report this failure to?

The Hawthorne effect: if management simply pays attention to what people say, productivity goes up!

Topic for next week: Love languages (Hannah) understand how people understand love/appreciation. With a special revelation by Matt D.

June 21 2012 Topic: Diversity

Today's topic: Diversity

The word "Diversity" can have a very broad, unspecific meaning. What do we really mean by diversity?

Tom's "bus list" of diversity: religion, race, age, education, economic status, nationality, culture, extraverts and introverts, mentally handicapped, physically handicapped, sexual orientation, people with children or without, women, skills level, creativity. And these are just some of the ways that people are diverse.

  • Personal inclusion/exclusion vs.
  • Institutional or systemic inclusion/exclusion - Most organizations exclude someone whether intentionally or not.

How does the organization that we work in and interact with actively include or exclude others?

Jeff (maker space):

  • He struggles to find skilled mentors for his projects (robotics experts, e.g.). Most people he is able to fine are caucasian - he'd like to find people of color to act as mentors to the local population of young people.
  • Important for the young people at maker space to see people of their own culture mentoring them, not just people from the outside. He places a higher priority on finding qualified mentors from that cultural group.
  • His goal is to connect his kids to people in their own community.
  • This takes into consideration the Community aspect of the triple bottom line, by focusing some of the attention on the PEOPLE you are serving.
  • His goal is to stop the cycle of poverty/lack of opportunity by giving this population access to resources that they normally wouldn't have.
  • Schools are being challenged now in all communities (poor and rich). People from all social strata around the country are interested in what Jeff is doing in trying to develop 21st skills in our young people. Jeff figures that if he can make it work in this depressed area, it can work anywhere.


  • The inherent value in having diversity represented on your team is being able to communicate effectively with different populations and cultural groups around your community and throughout the world.
  • Most companies try to do their best to build diversity but don't always succeed.
  • Ask yourself, what can my company do to help a wider diversity of people be successful in my business?
  • Example: Women in engineering - could my company develop an outreach program to build skills in young female engineers so that, in future, it won't be so hard to find people that they would like to hire? Internal education programs or mentorship within a company to train up employees (women, minorities)?


  • Worked at a Silicon Valley company with a population that was largely asian.
  • A lot of discrimination even within the asian population.
  • Company diversity and culture was very predictable - upper floors, movers and shakers, bottom floor behind the scenes people. Sales team - frat boy culture, Accounting/Finance team - a lot of middle aged asian women, VP of Sales - middle aged caucasian guy.
  • This kind of culture drove away many of the younger employees that would have given the company a broader kind of diversity.
  • The non-profit she worked for was much less predictable - people of all different races, ethnicities working toward a common goal
  • To be an effective leader - have to think deeper - both short term and long term.


  • He looks for diversity in skills and diversity in perspectives in his start ups.
  • Background and life experiences which an employee will bring to their work will mean that they will address problems from a different perspective than others.

Monica (yoga studio):

  • The fact that most yoga studios are white owned (even in Detroit) reflects the history of yoga in our country.
  • She hasn't thought much about diversity as she's been more focused on quality of instruction and making everyone who comes in comfortable.
  • Considering broaching this topic with some friends.

Importance of being Intentional:

  • What we see in business is the result of social/economic systems at work - by trying to make changes, you're taking on the system. Examples: Being a scientist is not as valued in our society as in others. The community around the GG exists with a 40% illiteracy rate.
  • 3D companies need to be very intentional about what systems they are taking on.
  • It's not our job to take all of this on, but just to be aware of what it is around us. Instead, ask yourself what you are uniquely in a position to offer with the gifts you have - you can't take on everything.
  • Some of these problems are non-convergent; we can't solve them, but are we working on it everyday. History is long, systems are in place, but the little things that we do, the experiences we have, and doing something a little bit better can help bring about change.
  • Where and when is intentionality is important? There is a negative cycle that happens so how do you break that cycle? Do we let time take care of it or do we "jump start" the change?

Our social norms and expectations teach us to not trust those who are different from us. For some people, the fact of it being harder to work with someone who is different is reason enough NOT to work with them.

Economic and racial segregation is not sustainable. We need to work toward eliminating them to become more sustainable as a community and region.

Next week's topic: Tools and Techniques for Leading Teams

Future topics: Managing a group and a project Management tools - information visualization tools

June 14, 2012 Topic: Prioritizing Management Time

Comments from last week's discussion of Recognizing Contributions:

People are motivated by different things - some by recognition, some by money, some by the quality of their work.

Important for volunteers to let people know what they will be able to do and contribute. This will change over time - Have to match their work to their time capacity and interest and commitment to a group.

Todays Topic: Prioritizing Management Time:

How do you prioritize and how do you choose what you will do?

Urgent Tasks vs. Important Work:

Prioritizing Work
  • Highly urgent/low importance (most business emails fall into this category)
  • Most important work happens in the Very Important/Not Urgent quadrant (lower right) - working consistently in that area is the fundamental discipline of successful people.
  • As a manager/leader, it's your responsibility to create the foundation for working on those really important/not urgent issues. If you don't work on them, these issues become larger and more complex.
  • Ask yourself: Is this issue going to get worse?
  • Know how to identify the things that are foundational and will mitigate risk - those are the issues that need to be dealt with.
  • Identify the issues that fall into this box both for you individually, and for your people as a team.

Ideas/observations about doing this foundational work:

  • Block out calendar time weekly to do the Low Urgency/High Importance work.
  • Have your calendar send you reminders if you tend to be forgetful
  • Doing the Important (foundational) but not Urgent work means that you are rarely flustered or under pressure. Results in clearer thinking and better quality work.
  • Highest external pressure (from clients, for example) will come in the High urgency/Low importance quadrant. You really should only spend minimal time, if any at all, in that area.
  • Pick a day, and put it on your calendar, to do the things that are important. Even if you're not going to do it very soon, at least that item won't be forgotten.
  • To-do lists and calendar apps can be very helpful. They allow you to clear your mind and not feel like you have to remember everything.
  • Things swirling around in your head while you're trying to sleep at night? Keep a notepad on your nightstand.

When you form a relationship between your business and another entity, you need to figure out where in the chart they are working. If they work in the High Urgency/Low Importance box, they'll suck you into that way of working. Do you really want to be there? Do you really want to work with them? The best firefighters in the business world are usually the best pyromaniacs. These are people who are probably wired that way and get a charge out of working in crisis mode. Really understand your client.

Sometimes it can be a cultural thing: how people were educated, brought up, prior work experience, broader societal culture. In some cultures, people don't things urgently - they might work at a slower pace or be slower to communicate. In NY, the business culture churns at a much faster pace than here in Detroit - everything there seems to be much more urgent, and people who work long hours are highly valued.

In Hannah's massage business, she had identified what is important vs. what is urgent:

  • Important: reconnecting with the clients she already has.
  • Urgent: Connecting with a new client. When opportunities come along to schedule a new client, the window of opportunity is often very small, so this an area of communication that can be more urgent. So this is an example of having to know how to choose clients that fit into the business that SHE is doing.

In choosing clients/projects: Clarify what kinds of projects you want to work on and what you don't. This is complex. You sometimes have to take jobs to sustain you in the short-term while you try to develop the kinds of jobs/projects to keep you going long-term. Do you take on a project that you don't really love just to keep some of your employees busy?

Centeredness of what you're about is what is most important. Remember your compass - you don't want to end up where you don't intend. Have a clear intention of where you want to go and what kind of client you want to work with. When you're clear, then things start falling into place - the natural system starts to work for you - people will refer clients to you because they know what your compass/intentions are. Transactional relationship vs. deeper long-term relationship. Managing clients is tough, but you have to enjoy your relationship with them or it just won't work out very well.

When several members of a group are working on a project together, one slacking member can cause problems when they put things off so long that everything becomes important & urgent. When things aren't dealt with early enough, it turns into a crisis and begins to affect a lot of other people. Resolution now becomes more difficult and complicated.

On To-Do Lists: No more fundamental tool. Some people are list people, others not. They can help to filter out low priority stuff. Everyone has a different level of success with this kind of tool. Some write lists and never look at them - others can't live without them. Some don't list at all. Charlie writes down the near-term important stuff, then has a white board for things that he doesn't want to forget, but aren't that urgent. Jeff prints out his calendar about 4 months at a time so that he can get a broader picture of what's going on.

Everyone has a natural time rhythm that they are most comfortable working with (1 week, 1 month, 6 months, etc) Can be a personal thing, or something related to the requirements of your work. Some people work on many time levels - needing a daily calendar, weekly calendar and monthly calendar.

Next week's topic: Diversity

Future topic: In small business, everyone starts out doing everything, then you reach a critical mass and then you have to start sorting out who is and is able to do what. When to step aside and focus on key things.

June 7, 2012 Topic: Recognizing Contributions; Celebrating Successes

Comments from last week's conversation on External Communication:

Re: Maker Studio:

Step 1: Getting clear yourself (and articulating) what it is that you are doing. Step 2: Conversation - First go through the network of people that you know and begin conversations. Next, invite people to tour the Maker Space, opening up more opportunity for conversation. Step 3: Announcement through Facebook/Twitter (possible future topic).

Topic for today: Recognizing Contributions and Celebrating Successes

  • How to recognize contributions in a team vs. individually?
  • How to identify and recognize people as a team? How to recognize those who contribute more?
  • How to publicly acknowledge efforts? Squeaky wheel gets the grease….

Does everyone HAVE to contribute equally? How do you define effort? What's a full day? What about the guy who works long hours while others keep normal schedules? How do you recognize the members of a team when there is a variation in levels of contribution?

Situations and responses will vary - depends on the business, situation and people.

Recognition often depends on hours worked, quality of work put in, and/or what drives a particular person. In sales world, most of those people in those jobs are driven by recognition, some driven by money, some simply by the work itself. Trick is finding what drives certain people and trying to accommodate that.

Often people associate good work with hours worked which is not necessarily the case. Let's not confuse long hours with hard work, or hard work with results.

Should those not getting recognition speak out? Is it their responsibility? Should manager let people know that they need better results (they're not working hard or efficiently enough?)

Important to discuss up front the roles and expectations within a group. This conversation might have to be revisited every few months or so. If expectations and roles are understood up front, this will change the dynamic of the team (since they will know, for example, that Joe Smith will only be able to contribute 5 hours per week, and Mary can't work weekends).

Deming warned that incentives can be hugely destructive. In general , incentives result in unanticipated behavior and negative consequences that far outweigh any positive results. Weakest form of leadership possible.

What about incentives that are equally available to everyone? Evenly distributed, not contingent on your work? Having these kinds of company perks (free food in the cafeteria, a car available to pick you up if you need a ride, etc.) can make you feel more valued as an employee. They can create a quality of working life that make you feel happy and valued at work - make you feel appreciated. Also, you aren't competing with fellow employees for a "prize" incentive of some sort.

On Volunteers:

  • You really want to make volunteers feel good because you want them to come back and enjoy being at your business. Value their time and contribution first. The reason you get people to volunteer and to continue to come back is because you value their opinion and use their input. Volunteers want to be in a safe/healthy environment and want to know that they can actually contribute. Valuing each interaction is what's important, knowing that you can make a difference in that group or in that space.
  • If your contributions and goals aren't in sync, then maybe you're just not in the right group.
  • Just take the time to ask a volunteer what they like to do - what gives them energy. What are you good at? But more importantly, what do you LIKE to do?

In small businesses, how do you create more enriching environments for employees or volunteers to be in?

  • People just want to have some control and choice in their work environment.
  • Remove barriers and make it easier for employees/volunteers to do their job.
  • Don't assume as a manager that you know what people want. Ask employees what would make a difference, what they would like.
  • You have to clearly define your goals (direction) so that they know whether or not they want to work with you.

If you're going to recognize someone for the work they've done, it needs to come very near to the event - not later. Seize the moment that someone is doing something well and let them know.

Topic for next week: Prioritizing leadership time

Future topics: Facebook/Twitter/Craigslist Healthy diversity

May 31, 2012 Topic: External Communication

How do we find a balance between external and internal communication? How do we share information about our business, successes, failures externally? With modern communications, how much of it is really helpful?

How do we define internal and external communications?

  • Internal communications tend to be private and limited.
  • External communications are more public/and/or more unlimited - open and available.

The "What's clear to me.." point: In any project, there is always a point where you reach a "what's clear to me is clear to me" moment. The language and context of the project is clear to those working on it, but to the person on the outside, what you are doing and the language you use to describe it may not be clear at all. How do you bridge that gap? It requires additional energy to explain your work to outsiders. These moments will happen naturally, and the boundary between those on the inside and those on the outside will change over time, but the gap will always have to be bridged.

Many of us are working on unusual types of businesses and it can be hard to explain them to outsiders. So how do you get external communication happening in such a way that the gap isn't so large and more people will want to become involved with your business, so you won't have to work so hard to bring people in? Tell the "story" of your business - create visual images through the context of your story to make it easier for others to "Picture" what it is that you do. When your external communication isn't effective, you can spend a lot of time trying to explain to others what it is that you do.

What is the new way to organize a business? Lots of people are working on this very question today.

Jeff and the Mt. Elliot Maker Space:

  • Jeff's "open hack night" is a way of communicating what he does at the maker space; example of "porous fringes." Is there a way to do that more effectively? Train another tour operator, for example? Video? Fliers? Volunteers?
  • How does he get the general public engaged enough to even come for "open hack night" or to watch a video? How do you rip a kid off Facebook and get them interested in something else?
  • What has worked best for Jeff in the past? Can he replicate it? How did that happen organically? Word of mouth - Jeff talks a lot :) People that have come spread the word. Maybe he should use the assets that he has (people who are at Mt Elliot Maker) and have them communicate for him - it all goes back to story telling. Does Jeff need to develop his own elevator pitch? Different pitches for different audiences (adults vs kids, etc)? Certainly there's online stuff or media stuff but these might not work.
  • Jeff's not always sure whether he can really do something or not, that is, there is a fine line between chilling and letting things happen naturally and "stoking the fire" a bit and making things happen. Sometimes you just have to go for it and sometimes it's just not appropriate. Have your interaction with the public reflect the reality of your business (Hannah).
  • Many people can do the same thing but for different reasons. You really only need to share what you do, not why you do it (unless they specifically ask) because you want to invite people to do the same work, even if they have reasons that are different from yours. So why does Jeff do what he does? To create future geniuses; to bridge the gap between the capability of local kids and opportunity for learning, improve the quality of their lives. But he could simply begin with, "We're helping kids succeed." The sign on the door has to reflect what's inside: "it has to be accurate, but not complete"

External communication is "here" not "there" - and it's always happening. People who are at the Green Garage everyday spread the message - in their own, unique ways.

There needs to be balance and harmony in what you're trying to communicate about your business externally and the reality of the internal. For example, it was suggested that the Green Garage develop a mobile site, but we're just not mature enough yet to deal with what people might want from us. Another example: Mitzi has taken to twittering for the GG and it's worked very well because there is a natural energy for it. If there isn't a natural energy for communicating then forcing it doesn't work.

Monica owns a yoga studio and people have a very clear picture of what that is. But Jeff's maker space is a bit more difficult to understand for many people.

Next week's topic: Validation of people's work. How do we celebrate successes?

Future topic: Prioritizing one's time.

See also

Sustainable Business Learning Community Conversations Earlier conversations.