Sustainable Business Learning Community Conversations, July 2013 - August 2013

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August 29, 2013 Topic: Sustaining the Vision

Kimberly's questions as she is beginning to define and form her business:

  • How do you define and maintain your vision so you're not distracted and wandering?
  • Where is her focus? What should she give her attention to?
  • There is a level of ambiguity that is just naturally part of the process. This is hard for Kim as she isn't comfortable if she is not in control, so how does she deal with that?

The Seed: Kimberly found that, until she was able to define the Seed of her business, she felt a bit "wobbly". The Seed helped connect her to her core beliefs and values. She found that she could use it as a kind of filter for things that would come up. If something didn't resonate with the Seed, then she was able to recognize that thing as a distraction and discard it.

Ambiguity: Kimberly recognizes that she is learning new language that she's not familiar with. There is still an internal translation going on for her so she feels a bit like a beginner in this process and this causes some amount of uncertainty for her.

How she helps keep herself focused:

  1. Take a deep breath and quiet yourself
  2. Don't panic, just one thing at a time - she got over the concept of multi-tasking which really doesn't work.
  3. Practices self care: exercise, maintaining good relationships with those who understand her vision and can help keep her on track.

Kimberly found this quote from Steve Jobs very helpful: “That's been one of my mantras - focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains."

Curt and the 15 minute distraction: Exercise, sleep, diet are vital to keeping your focus. There is a flow to your mental focus - if you get distracted by something, it takes you 15 minutes to make that switch and then re-focus on your work, so you should try to avoid distractions. See if you can set things up so as to avoid distractions as much as possible.

Adrienne: Sometimes some of her best ideas occur while her mind is distracted or drifting. She advises carrying a notebook around so you can write down things that occur to you during a distracted moment. Then you can return to your original task and not have to think about the distraction anymore. (See David Allen: Getting Things Done (GTD) method)

Motivation: You have to understand what your motivation is. If your motivation is just to make money and nothing more, that may not be enough to sustain your focus/vision.

Why is it so difficult for small business entrepreneurs to get focused at the time when its so important to do so - to be able to work ON your business when it's vital rather than AT your business? Why does it seem that when you have the least capacity to take on something different is when it is most important to do so? This seems to be really tough for people, and rather a common problem for a lot of people starting up a small business.

Doing is easy: Thinking is hard. It seems to be much easier to do work rather than to think deeply about the work you really want to do. Doing work makes you feel like you're making progress and growing your business, but doing the hard thinking about what your business should be or how it should be grown is really hard.

Visionaries and their visions: Some people are visionaries and have a lot of big ideas. Once one idea is expressed, they are already moving on to the next big idea without actualizing the first.

  • It's important to have people around you to help keep you on track
  • There's a natural order to things - seeds have to germinate before they can grow. Vision needs to be broken down into steps along the way so that you can bring people along with you. They need to be able to see each step along the way and see where your vision is leading. Ex: iPod touch came along before the iPhone, and was a useful step to executing the full vision of the iPhone.
  • It's all about competency. What do I really know how to do? Plan on being the best at what you do, and you will find that there will be aspects of that work that will always be changing so you will always be learning something new. If you're not really good at what you're doing, then your business won't be sustainable for long. There are some people who do things very well and don't have a vision. It's just that they have a really deep talent and they are able to stay focused and do well with their business. Red Panda on competency: Curt and Eric kept their work within the area of music. Curt actually puts the pedals together, so he knows what it takes to create a new product. He does everything himself in-house until he's decent at it, and then brings in help as he needs it. Then he understands the work, can speak the language, and can communicate better what needs to be done.
  • Do you love your work? If you're not satisfied with your work it will be hard to keep the focus because you'll always be chasing the next great thing that you REALLY want to do.
  • The type of person you are will be reflected in how you go about doing things and how each vision materializes (ex: introvert vs extrovert)
  • What does vision even mean? We talk about visionaries but what are really talking about is history, about events that unfolded. Lincoln never really had a vision for the country. Things just happened, evolved, and he was labeled a visionary.


The 3 legs of a sustainable business are: Vision - Competency - Joy.

Let your compass lead you: People often come into the GG and ask "when did you have your vision?" Well, we didn't really have a vision, just a compass leading us north. We kept following that northward trajectory to wherever it led us. This challenges the whole notion of the necessity of a "vision." Let the compass lead you: this is going in the right direction - that is not. There is a certain amount of freedom in not having to define or maintain a specific vision. You can be open to new ideas and then can filter the ideas through the lens of your compass. You may know the direction you are heading in without knowing what it's going to look like when you get there. Let you work evolve.

Community: You don't have to have all the details figured out before you start, and it's actually better that you do not. How do you get a community to learn and discover together when you already have a destination in mind? If you do, then you don't need collaborators, you just need a contractor. But if you're working with a community, you have to be open to new and ideas from them. You are all moving in the same direction (compass), but there can't be one person with just one vision that the whole community has to subscribe to. That would never work.

August 15, 2013 Topic: Timing

Comments from last week's conversation on Managing a Crisis:

  • A crisis situation can also cause a crisis within your team. Try to avoid blame, anger, bad feelings.
  • The reality is that every crisis eventually gets worked out. Imagine yourself about 6-9 months from now and then ask yourself, how do I want this crisis to be worked out? What kind of resolution do I want?
  • Also, try not to solve the whole problem at once. The problem might not be what you think it is or not as big as you think it is. You really need to take the time to clearly identify what the problem is.
  • Communication is often a problem in a crisis situation; how can you improve communications so that you can now move forward?


How do you know when the time is right?

Topic for today: Timing

Here at the Green Garage, many people have left corporate life to pursue their dreams. How do you know when it's the right time to make a change? Start a business? Make changes in your business? Hire someone? Timing can be hard to figure out.

Mike's email about a nonprofit on east coast that decided that they will become dormant over the next 3 months so that they can just sit back and observe for awhile.

Comments from the group:

  • The first step of permaculture is observation; you must take time out when the time is right.
  • There are seasons to everything we do and there are times when we need to just slow things down and take the time to observe and reflect.
  • There is a belief that business is about busyness, but that kind of thinking can lead to some decisions that are not sustainable, not healthy.
  • Personal timing vs. business timing: What's going on in your personal life may not allow for changes or action in your business life. Being able to manage the intersection of personal timing and business timing can be tough.
  • Sometimes we are in control of the timing in our lives, and sometimes we are not. If you lose your job, for example, you are forced into change, into transitioning from one job or career to the next. How do we react to forced changes in the rhythm of our lives?
  • Acknowledge and respect the season that you are in. Let things unfold naturally rather than trying to force a schedule or timing on a situation. Let your business idea unfold rather than trying to force its creation in a 3 month period (as many business incubators do), for example. Adjusting to the season that you're in rather than trying to control the season you're in makes much more sense.
  • We have the power to control our schedule but recognize that we can't control other people and their timing/schedules.
  • Let time and intuition direct your actions. Trying to manage a lot of aspects of your life and timing can be really complicated. If you just let time be, and let it unfold naturally, you've taken it out of the equation. You can be more calm about doing your work.
  • Sometimes it's just time to take the sails down, slow things down, stop pushing. Find some shelter, allow the storm to blow over and let things resolve themselves. Recognize the things that are out of your control and find a place that's healthy for you to be. Having good energy within yourself will help you to move through a change or a difficult situation.
  • Tunde: There is a difference between finding something and defining something. Many people are not comfortable with letting things unfold and reveal themselves, rather they have something very definite in mind that they want to bring about. Many people think that the right time is NOW. But the right time will be when it will be. Don't try to impose unnatural time restrictions on your actions.
  • It's not just your own expectations about time and timing that you have to manage, but all those external voices as well (you should be doing this now, you should not be doing that now, etc).
  • Our society imposes a timing to things throughout our lives - you have to go to college right after HS, finish in 4 years, get a job at this age, married and kids by this time. But what works for you? You have to understand yourself and what your needs are.
  • We often do things to prop up our fragile self esteems. This doesn't say anything about who we are really. Many people have, say, a couple of college degrees, but somehow don't feel successful. These expectations keep us busy and may keep us from doing something more valuable, fulfilling for us because we are so busy doing what was expected of us by society.
  • A lot of this imposition of timing might have come out of our industrial culture where everything is timing, schedules, organization.
  • Expensing life vs. investing in life. Many of us are sold on the idea that having more stuff, more money, is what its all about. The result is debt and buying what you don't need. Having less materially is not failure. Invest rather than consume - Facebook is consumption - doing things, taking action is investing in your life.
  • Understand how to deal with failure - it can provide a valuable learning opportunity. Never giving up is a success in itself.
  • Create your own reality vs. letting others define reality for you. Make sure your "bubble" is fortified because it will be butting up against societal expectations. Be strong in your own decisions, ideas and reality.
  • Quiet periods - The timing around talking and language: When you're in a transition period or creating something new, sometimes you don't yet have the language to talk about your work, to create that bridge with people so that they can understand you and what you're doing. As with anything, that language has to evolve. Here at GG, Tom uses the word incubator because that's a term that people understand. It's a way to bring people in and build a bridge. And then when they come here, he can describe to them the work that we actually do. To truly understand the work of the GG it must be experienced.
  • Scheduling vs. Timing: Scheduling something doesn't mean that the timing is right. This happens frequently in business when people try to force a schedule on something. Who's to say if it will take 24 months to start your business? What if it takes longer? A business isn't a machine, but a living organism whose formation will take as long as it takes. It's still important to define priorities, do some work, figure out what you want to do, but timing needs to be more natural. We think we have so many things within our control because we have so much technology, but we really don't have the level of control that we think we do. There can be negative consequences to upsetting the natural flow of timing.

August 8, 2013 Topic: Managing a Crisis

How do you deal with crisis situations?


Chris's story: He and a group of people spent the past 2 years working on getting a disc golf course on Belle Isle. Last week city called and told him not to open the course, to lock the gate and take the website down. Chris acknowledges that much of this is their own fault for trying to work outside the city of Detroit and its system. They tried to open the course without first building a healthy working relationship with the city and this caused the whole project to collapse. He now realizes that he has to go back to the city and try to do it right this time.

Comments from the group:

  • Many times when you run into a roadblock like this, you end up in a better place because you really learn something from the experience, you learn to form healthy bonds. Chris's group will eventually gain a much better understanding of how to work with the city.
  • Don't try to put a perfected idea out there - allow it to evolve and adapt.
  • An important step in crisis management is understanding the consequences of your mistakes.
  • Sometimes when you run into a crisis, the momentum behind your business idea seems to disappear. Managing the psychological aspect of a crisis is one of the more difficult parts of managing a crisis. A change in momentum can be difficult to deal with.
  • Avoid blame or anger with others. Try to identify the root cause of the crisis and work out with others how to solve the problem. Ask yourself, what's the worst thing that can result from this and what can we do to move forward?
  • Some people handle crisis situations very well and others don't. Are you aware of how you deal with crisis? How do you identify when you're in crisis and how you should react. There are those who are in crisis and refuse to recognize it, while there are others who seem to like being in a constant state of crisis. However, this is unhealthily for both the person and the business.
  • It is vital to understand the ecosystem in which your business exists, and how to work within it. Understanding the ecosystem and identifying risks and mitigating factors are a better way to avoid blow ups and crisis. Working within your ecosystem can allow your business to grow and evolve into something that may be different from what you first imagined, something that will be so much better and more sustainable. Let your project evolve - allow it to change
  • You have to be able to recognize the reality of your business environment and be equipped to deal with that reality.
  • Sometimes when you have a bunch of people working on a project, they can become so involved that they lose perspective. Bring in someone from the outside to gain perspective and help clarify vision. They may be able to help you understand what went wrong.
  • A significant event like this is an opportunity for change. Recognize that change may go in a much wider range of directions than you originally imagined. Look down paths that you might not have even looked down before. In Chris's case, it might be something as fundamental as moving the disc course off Belle Isle, for example. Think about getting to the point where you are able to look at a broader range of alternatives.
  • Formulate a plan of action: Have someone in your group become an expert in a certain area. One person could be an expert on working with the city, for example. You can feel trapped when you don't know what to do. But if you have an action plan and someone in your group knows what steps to take, this can go a long way to relieving anxiety in a crisis situation.
  • You have to respect the other people/organizations within your ecosystem. You recognize that you will have to continue to work with them, so always treat them respectfully and allow them to do their job - in fact, do what you can to make it easier for them to do their job.
  • Relationships: As business people, we have to understand the people/organizations we are working with as well as their abilities and their temperaments. Once you understand who it is that you're dealing with, you can begin to build those deeper, healthier relationships that will allow you to do your work efficiently and effectively.
  • Face-to-face is sometimes more helpful than a phone call. Go talk to someone in person; this is the first step to building a lasting relationship.
  • Good communication is essential. Documentation can help keep a problem from becoming a crisis. Knowing how to talk to people, who to talk to, how to follow up and how to put things in writing can help in preventing or dealing with problems. Know what has been agreed to and what has been decided.
  • Any verbal conversation should be followed up with a recap in writing. This is a good way of confirming that you are all on the same page and that you heard the same thing and understand the same thing.
  • Manners matter: If you have done something that has led to this crisis, apologize to those affected and ask them how you can work together to problem solve. This should not be a contest of egos - own your mistakes and move on.
  • Offer solutions to help move things forward - no non-productive complaining allowed.
  • Flexibility of outcome - are you set on your ideas or are you willing to adapt?
  • Find someone else whose been through a similar situation to help guide you through the crisis and help you to problem solve.

July 25, 2013 Topic: Changing Midstream: How to Grow a 3D Business From Wherever You Are

Comments from last week's workshop, The Seed:

  • If you don't build a solid platform, you can't build a solid business (David Broner)

Comments about sustainability education at university:

  • At UM, they use the term "sustainable business" rather than triple bottom line. Term "sustainable" has been overused in recent years.
  • Students today are more socially conscious. They are changing, the world is changing, but B-schools don't seem to be leading the way (subject for future topic).
  • Undergraduate B-school at UM doesn't have many courses focused on sustainability.
  • A lot of university instructors grew up during a time when none of the ideas about sustainability in business existed.
  • People that know about trip bottom line aren't the educators but the practitioners.
  • People have more of a willingness to hear about sustainability than they did in the past and are more open to these new ideas today.
  • Justin D'Atri (former GG intern) reports that he is working with the School of Natural Resources at UM to create a new certificate program in sustainability leadership.
  • The community propels you, and you propel yourself through this process, in a way that feels natural for you. You are actually choosing what you want to do and what you want your business to be like.


Today's topic: Changing Mid-Stream: How to Grow 3D Business From Wherever You Are

  • How do you take steps to incorporate sustainable practices in your business?
  • How can existing businesses think of themselves as a living organism, as integral to an existing ecosystem instead of just in a pool of competitors.
  • How can one develop an understanding of what a business is supposed to be about rather than just the bottom line?


  • Businesses should become aware of themselves, and develop a whole-system awareness. Learning risk management around social and environmental issues could be a first step. Try to take it one step at a time.
  • Business leaders should understand that the things they value in their personal lives should also be reflected in the values of their business. Build a business around who you really are.
  • A business leader may encounter resistance to change in a company. How do you make others see the benefit of a triple bottom line company and impel them to really change how they do things in order to benefit community and environment? As a leader, you move forward and do what you think is the right thing to do, regardless of the resistance to change you might encounter from others.


Constant Improvement:

  • Beard balm (John's product): He's trying to get it made in a factory but has to convince them to get the organic and fair trade products that he wants. He recognizes that these products are more expensive and harder to find. He has come to the realization that as long as he has the mentality that the production is done in the best possible way, even if it isn't the "perfect" solution, then that is still a valuable outcome.
  • Leadership doesn't have to be about seeing the future or being a visionary. Good leadership just has to be encouraging. You have to push yourself and others to do the best you can, even if your best isn't perfect. Strive for constant improvement. When you start to look for economic/social/environmental opportunities, you open up even more opportunities for improvement.
  • Find the starting point, the "fertile field", with someone who is in business, so you know where to plant the seed. With Sebastian (The Social Club Grooming Co) the fertile field was Waste; he started with how to get rid of hair in a sustainable way.
  • You just have to be able to get people to see clearly the effects of what they are doing (How much hair are you throwing away every month? How many thousands of gallons of water will that little leak cost you over time?)


What does sustainability look like?

  • Sustainability is the journey of figuring things out for yourself, finding your own resources.
  • For many sustainability is represented by solar panels, wind mills, etc. But it can be something as small as turning off faucets, recycling, composting. Sustainability can be lots of small steps.
  • Adapting sustainable practices can be tough; all of Sebastian's people had their routines disrupted and he had to take time to get them on board. Learning new routines can be difficult. There can be a lot of human error and, so, a need to forgive mistakes.
  • Power of conversation: In the area of sustainability, action can result from simple conversations ("So what about all that junk mail we're getting?") So we ask ourselves, what are we having conversations about? You yourself are not responsible for making ALL change happen. Through conversation and connecting with other people, you can create the opportunity for change to happen.
  • Warren Buffet says that real value in a company comes from durable revenue. How does that translate into sustainability? How do you create durable community and durable environmental health? We need to start by making it easier for people to do the right thing.
  • When adapting sustainable practices, there are never clean, simple answers. Most things are a really complicated and very layered. Something as simple as compostable cups, for example, should be a good thing. But we learned that we don't have compost piles that run hot enough in our area to break down those cups, so that have to be trucked to another location, using gasoline and adding exhaust to the air. So we just ask ourselves, even if this is not the perfect solution,are we making progress, are we improving?
  • Many people believe that corporations are needed to help promote sustainable practices because that's where the money is. Ex: If Wal-Mart sells organic strawberries, then it will drive down the price for everyone. If anyone can solve the obesity problem in our country, it would be the McDonald's type places who are beginning to serve healthier options, because that is where people are eating.
  • Think of sustainability as an adaptation of what already exists rather than a revolution that replaces everything with something new.
  • One of characteristics of practicing sustainability is observation. Look around you and gain an awareness of what is really happening.

July 11, 2013 Topic: Triple Bottom Line Business vs. Conventional Business

Comments from last week: Competition and Cooperation

The big question: Is there good competition - can it ever be good or helpful?

Big realization is that the role that competition plays in a sustainable businesses is not so much focused on the competitor, rather than on the need that is in the community, and your ability to meet that need and changing/evolving needs in the best possible way. The better you can do that, the better you can compete with other businesses.

Opportunity: Is your business focused on benefitting from short term opportunities or are you thinking about meeting needs over the long term? A sustainable business will anticipate where things are going and what your community's needs will be in the future.


All businesses are triple bottom line

Topic today: Different needs addressed by triple bottom line businesses vs. traditional businesses

  • Traditional business takes advantage of immediate opportunities in the market. Triple bottom line businesses are stewards of a larger need/problem, thinking about its relationship with a particular need.
  • 3D businesses are going after bigger systemic problems rather than immediate short term needs or problems. There is a purpose driven mentality. Traditional entrepreneur might just have a goal of selling more toys, but not meeting a real systemic need.
  • Accountability: Triple bottom line businesses hold themselves accountable for things beyond their bottom line and customer needs. They are accountable for their business's impact on water, on community, on earth, energy, etc. When you only focus on the financial bottom line, the costs can be very large, negative impact. This is where sustainable businesses are different: they have a systems perspective - accountability goes beyond making money.


For a triple bottom line business, sustainability is what they do. It is integrated into the primary action of their business - it is part of what they do everyday, of how they conduct their work. It is not about any philanthropic work that they might do after business hours.

There is an assumption that the pursuit of profit, of a single bottom line, is the most advantageous for shareholders. But there is no proof that this is true and many examples that prove just the opposite:

These pioneer companies, who developed a 3D model, actually began creating a need for more of these companies. Once, single bottom line businesses were acceptable, but they are becoming less and less so today. The 3D approach is actually more profitable in the end and these kinds of businesses are beginning to dominate their markets.


Comments from the group:

  • Nick doesn't see any real difference between 3D and traditional businesses in the sense that all businesses are pursuing needs. But how do we identify and define those needs? Previous belief in the business world was in the existence of the "invisible hand" : pursue profit and everything else will take care of itself - take care of business, make sure it's profitable, and everything else will be ok. But the 3D model says that there is no invisible hand, that businesses must consider the wider context of how they operate and the needs of their community and the earth.
  • We realize that ALL businesses are triple bottom line businesses. Each business will have a financial, environmental and community impact. The question is, how aware, connected or concerned are business leaders with all three of these areas of impact? A good 3D business will recognize this and try to mitigate risk and negative impact in all areas while uplifting all areas.
  • Business now has to benefit society because governments can no longer perform those functions - they have to have a social conscience, and and environmental conscience.
  • Doug: We the people have to take this on. Politicians can't make long term decisions because they simply won't be re-elected. Our society has taught us to think short term rather than long term - we want immediate gratification, no sacrifices, and the politicians who get elected are those who offer that to people.
  • Harvard business review: Average CEO life at a company is only 3-5 years, so they tend to come in and look at the short term - just think about how to boost profit as quickly as possible, they are in and out.
  • There is a shifting set of beliefs about an economy that works for the whole. If we (business leaders) believe something, it will have an impact on our decision making and the actions we take. Story: Woman walks into the GG under construction and says she doesn't know how any business can survive today without taking into consideration the environment. Many people are trying to figure out what this new shift in thinking means to them and their businesses.