Sustainable Business Learning Community Conversations, July 2015 - Aug 2015

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Sustainable Business, Aug 27, 2015 Topic: Leadership

Comments from last week’s seed design case study:

  • It’s important not to get caught in the trap of a particular question – look at the bigger picture.
  • Map the business idea back to social, environmental and economic drivers.
  • Relationships are at the heart of business. Business is about creating/having a web of health relationships.
  • There is a difference between the work of nurturing/running triple bottom line (TBL) businesses and the work of an environmental activist. The activist wants to educate and change the world. TBL businesses just want to find enough energy to do business and grow. This taps into a natural process.

What do we mean by Leadership?

Today's Topic: What do we mean by leadership in a triple bottom line business?

  • There are different types of leadership: thought leadership, visionary leadership, inventor, mentor, project manager, truth teller (whistle blower), moral leadership, heroic leadership (especially in a crisis), servant leader (Mother Theresa), mother/father as leader, political leaders.
  • Is leadership of a sustainable business different from other sorts of leadership?
  • It’s important to have respect for the people following you. You grow as a leader when you grow your people.
  • Many people report that it’s rare to work for a good leader. A good leader needs to be highly ethical and a good project manager.
  • Is leadership an innate ability? Do people need to be in the right place at the right time? Leadership is a combination of both intrinsic and learned capabilities.
  • Education counts but you also need to be able to adapt to changing conditions.
  • In some businesses (consulting, for example), all we have is people. Leadership development then is key.
  • There is always a change in a major project (maybe 9 years in) – important things change and the leader must recognize that and adapt. Some leaders do not get over the bump and the project fails. There are many excuses (did the best we could, not enough resources, wrong environment) – but to get to the next level one needs to understand that there are often not enough resources and they need to find ways to create an environment that will optimize the task.
  • The leader needs to understand the environment around them, especially dynamic environments.
  • The relationship to truth is a big thing.
  • There is a need to work on leadership every day. Martin Luther King worked on his leadership all the time – see letter from Birmingham jail, sermon at Riverside Church.
  • Be a lifelong learner – what books are you reading?
  • MLK said that to be true to yourself you have to go inward. True leadership is a mirror of your interior self.
  • You also need to listen and let things unfold.
  • Be open to bad news – don’t shoot the messenger.
  • Sometimes a leader determines that fundamental change is needed – this is huge. Does any one person have the power to cause fundamental change? Yes and no.
  • The leader needs to be clear about goals. Here’s a hill we need to take.
  • A great leader may also be a great teacher.
  • A leader can have vision based on the past and the present and then see ways that possible futures can open up.
  • A leader does not have to know how to do everything. Example: Tom spoke of a leader in a consulting firm who knew nothing about programming but understood human motivation. He was able to motivate someone who had been unproductive for a long time to solve the programming problem by offering the right reward (Red Wings tickets in this case). Problem solved.

Sustainable Business, Aug 20, 2015 Topic: Seed Design for Collision Repair Shop

Per a request by community member, Mike Shesterkin, the Sustainable Business group took a look at a case study of a collision repair business seeking value in the triple bottom line.

What does the ecosystem of a collision shop look like?
Triple bottom line chart

  • Mike Shesterkin gave an example of a prospective client whose business is to assess, rate and provide support services that help collision repair shops comply with regulations and standards for environmental and safety issues. A bump shop in California has been doing some initial work on sustainability using ISO 26000 standards, but asked Mike to monetize the value of triple bottom line (TBL) improvement to make the “business case” for sustainability.
  • Tom took us through a “seed design” journey to think of this question in a new way:
    • We have been trained to think in closed systems (there are a few variables but everything else is constant), but in fact, our world is an open system with many variables which interact with each other in multiple ways. We need to expand the scope of what we’re thinking about.
    • Open systems have the ability to interact with the world around them in healthy ways. They can gain energy from the environment around them (see Quantum physics). Changing the agenda means it’s not just about the money.
    • Closed systems need energy inputs from the outside, usually money (investments).
    • Work with the natural energy in the ecosystem around you (see chart above). This ecosystem includes many actors such as parts suppliers, government bodies, customers, nearby businesses, waste haulers and recyclers, the natural environment (air water, plants, etc.), insurance companies and many more.
    • Look for the parts suppliers that are interested in the triple bottom line and Green – there is no need to convert those who are not interested.
    • Build an ecosystem of relationships with people who can add energy to our business idea. These are people who are not fearful and don’t see a tradeoff between people, environment and profits. ** Many people want to work together to create something new. It is better to enable people to do something, rather than prevent them from doing something.
    • Start small – when you start a campfire you look for small, dry sticks for kindling. Big logs come later.
    • When someone says “I need return on investment (ROI) of X” – ask “at what risk level?” Triple bottom line design reduces risk.
    • This can be a meaningful personal journey for people who want to find meaning in what they do for work. Not everyone is pulling for this – but enough are. ** People often are willing to pay more for green services.
    • Look at the big picture; if you don’t see the world beyond your sidewalk, you’ll be hit by the bus!
    • This is just the start of a business design – you still need to figure out what creates value for this business in this ecosystem. Do you need education, certification or marketing or something else? What is critical to make this work? Who could benefit? What exactly is the business? Base the design on a few things (maybe 4) that generate energy. This process does not unfold overnight.

Sustainable Business, Aug 6, 2015 Topic: Energy Efficiency in Low Income Housing

Comments from last week's conversation on Communication in the Digital Age:

  • Young people seem less interested today in learning to drive at age 16, perhaps because they are always in contact electronically.
  • Too much media can lead to poor health – like junk food or empty calories.
  • The unsend moment – when you hit send and then realize what you left out or shouldn’t have said. Gmail has a setting for a time delay after send so that you can unsend and make corrections.
  • Some kids would rather text than call or talk face to face. There is less parental knowledge or involvement. Human beings actually crave one-on-one interaction – but some people don’t even know they’re missing it.
  • 80% of communication is non-verbal.
  • A mentoring program at a university teaches students to talk face to face in a business setting. This may need to be learned.
  • How do we make business commitments to other people today?
    • Can a new relationship be formed solely electronically? People today can agree to do business together without ever having met. Is this OK? Can you run a distribution network through Instagram?
    • Are written contracts going away?
    • Auctions of tax foreclosure properties can be as big as they are because of the internet. People can impulse-buy real estate they have never seen and may not understand what they’re getting into. Things can go wrong – real estate listings are not always accurate and there are multiple systems in Detroit/Wayne County that may not match up. Co-signers don’t have to be present at a closing – and may not know that their name is being used. Can someone be held responsible for a contract they didn’t actually sign?


Today's Topic: Energy Efficiency in Low Income Housing

  • Energy Efficiency is about science, and we need to gain an understanding of what energy efficiency is actually about.
  • Education is needed about building science and energy issues and we need to get information out to people so that they know enough to ask the right questions. So what information needs to be shared, and how do we bring in people competent to share that information?
  • Someone could take money to insulate your house – but how do you know they actually did it, or did it properly? The biggest problem with windows, for example, isn't the window itself, but how it is installed and caulked.
  • Large buildings may be imbalanced with heating and cooling – too hot here and too cold there. Energy Efficiency needs to be thought about on a community level. If you achieve energy efficiency you can save money and improve comfort.
  • Split incentives: If renters pay utilities, there is less motivation for the landlord to make energy efficiency improvements. Because the renters don't own their space, they don't want to invest the money either. In Detroit, most renters pay their own utilities.
  • There are basic energy saving retrofits that could apply to almost any building. Different experts or sales people push various approaches – windows, insulation, caulking. What is the best approach?
  • Buildings are put up all around the country with no thought as to the climate it is in. After construction, the builder leaves and doesn’t care about the energy bill. Someone should stay around to maintain the improvements.
  • How about an outdoor summer kitchen to keep the heat out of the house? We have been pushed indoors and expect certain comfort levels.
  • Detroit has aging infrastructure, water leaks, outdated power grid, non-insulated buildings. But Detroit also has an enormous amount of vacant land that provides us a unique opportunity to develop and build the right way, in a clean and energy efficient way.
  • It’s hard to be well educated in energy efficiency. We have gotten away from critical thinking in our education system.
  • Maybe there could be an app with free tips for various topics like how to use natural ventilation and keep a building secure.
  • Why is there is no legal requirement for an owner to provide energy data about a house they’re selling? NYC now has a database for energy usage of commercial buildings - this allows setting energy benchmarks. There are privacy issues about seeing people’s utility bills.
  • Utility induced foreclosures are at least as big a problem as mortgage induced foreclosures. An inefficient building can have a huge energy bill and still be freezing cold in the winter. With race to the bottom wages, how can people ever pay a $2,000 a month utility bill (not uncommon in Detroit)?
  • The University of North Carolina report says that an energy efficient home is 34% less likely to have a foreclosure (this is based on newer construction and lower levels of poverty than exist currently in Detroit).

Sustainable Business, July 30, 2015 Topic: Communicating In Our Digital Age

Digital communication.png
  • There have been huge changes in communication in recent years. Some of us remember composing a memo, which was typed by someone else, put into a manila envelope and sent by inter-office mail. People usually would respond; most of the time something would happen. Now we send an email and often there is no response. If something falls below the fold on email or twitter, it gets lost.
  • Sometimes a phone call works better.
  • The best way to get a response is to meet face to face.
  • Know your audience – ask someone to tell you the best way to contact them. For some audiences (music scene) it’s good to use text, twitter or Facebook direct messaging - which can be like a conversation.
  • Email is like snail mail to some groups. There are generational differences. Some millennials enjoy getting handwritten letters – special way to communicate.
  • When responding to a text – don’t just say “OK”. Sounds cold. Say “cool” or “great” – exclamation point or smiley face can make it warmer.
  • Email provides good documentation.
  • Some companies won’t allow access to Facebook on work computers.
  • Long ago before the internet, it took resources and significant time to produce a letter and communicate. Now anyone can easily throw out ideas – maybe half-baked ideas.
  • Digital communication is 24/7. We should be respectful of people’s time – sending an email is less intrusive than a phone call.
  • A good email format is: brief subject line with topic; quick summary at top; then details; restate the issue; close with what the reader needs to do now. Don’t say it’s urgent unless it really is urgent. Assume people will take a day or less to respond. Write so that it is easily readable and skim-able.
  • Do students learn good writing skills these days? Proper college level writing may be a lost art.
  • With social media people can be very connected but feel really disconnected and lonely. If you’re constantly connected electronically, does it lead to a lack of presence in your own life? There may be a link between too much media and triggering mental illness.
  • Some adults think young children need social media and some think it should be restricted. Mom who sets limits on electronic media has a good point but can expect push back.

Sustainable Business, July 16, 2015: Topic: The Culture of Busy

Comments from last week's discussion about storytelling:

  • A good way to start a sales meeting is to ask salesmen to tell about the biggest fish they landed. Small stories lead to other stories. Better to condense a story.
  • In marketing, authenticity matters. People distrust brands and marketing with buffed, shiny edges. The Chrysler ad with Eminem got a lot of attention. The ad was originally made for a different model that was manufactured in Canada. Luckily someone realized this before it was too late, and the model in the ad was changed to one actually made in Detroit. Getting the details right counts.
  • For authentic stories you need to reach within. Why do you think your business is important? How did you get here? What are your values? Why are you here? Who are you? It can take a lot of work before the story rings true.

What does "busy" mean to you?

Today's Topic: The Culture of Busy

  • Our American culture says you need to be busy to be of value. But if everyone is very busy all the time, you can’t do the kind of thinking needed to address deeper, complex problems. When very busy with a short attention span, you can solve simple problems. But it takes 15 to 18 minutes of uninterrupted focus to get to deeper issues.
  • People's abilities are different: Some people are great at juggling 20 different things while others may feel very busy with fewer tasks. Too much to do leads to being overwhelmed. People are different – don’t be judgmental.
  • Too many meetings is generally a waste of time. Focus on the end goal and limit time spent in meetings.
  • There is such a thing as good busy and bad busy. Some people’s version of busy is based on chaos. Good busy involves dealing with what is constructive and productive in a timely fashion. Some people seem compelled to stay very busy and make everything dramatic – someone may panic when looking for a lost purse – self-inflicted busy-ness and drama.
  • Someone reflected that when they want to avoid something they get really busy – and the first thing they lose is their creativity. When you wind yourself up, that saps your energy. We can be workaholic, compulsive and unproductive, but very busy. You need to free yourself to release creativity.
  • Detailed time keeping can be a waste. When self employed, it can be hard to find down time. What there is to do expands to fill the time available. Sometimes we say yes too often.
  • The US has much less vacation time than other developed countries. This says a lot about our cultural history – the rugged individual, "pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps mythology. This heritage can make it hard to relax.
  • Sunday used to be a day of rest. Some workers had a 2 hour lunch to go home, be with family and relax. This is more common in Europe. In some cities, we now seem to be pushing for a 24/7 lifestyle – is this bad busy?
  • Students need quiet time to think and talk to each other. Sitting and thinking is productive. Some college buildings are being designed to encourage collaboration or space for quiet thinking.
  • Going for a run can help your mind go deeper. Sleep can also help you deepen thought. Busy-ness and sleep are related. Too little busyness and some have trouble sleeping.
  • There is a difference between mentally busy and physically busy. A good level of busy (mental and physical) makes sleep come easily. Bad busy causes stress – our mind whirls and we can’t sleep. May be linked to too little physical exercise.
  • Comment from one in the group: When I’m “on” I do as much creative work as possible. When I have to do something that’s hard for me, like marketing, I feel blocked.

Sustainable Business, July 9, 2015 Topic: The Power of Storytelling

The Storyteller: Anker Grossvater, 1884

Comments from last week's conversation about being stuck:

  • Being stuck not necessarily a negative thing.
  • If you have the habit of being busy all the time, being stuck and unproductive is uncomfortable.
  • Sometimes we feel guilty for not always doing something - it's a cultural thing. Taking time to do nothing is appreciated in Paris; you can sit at a café and watch the world around you for as long as you want.
  • Sometimes you keep butting your head into a wall. Persistance may need to change to re-evaluation.
  • May need to play around, learn a new program, shift focus in a new way.

Topic for today: The Power of Storytelling

  • Storytelling is very important for a small business.
  • What would the story be - X years in the future if your hopes came true? Write it down, let it sit and think about it.
  • Good stories are a very robust tool for marketing.
  • People will take the trouble to do things more sustainably if they buy into the story.
  • Someone found it easier to learn about the laws related to foreclosure by working with case studies. Real situations can bring dry legal issues to life.
  • Stories are how we make sense of our world. We often remember things that affect us emotionally.
  • We buy things based on gut feelings – then we look for evidence that supports what we already want.
  • A therapist may ask you to tell the story of your life – when there’s a part of the story that doesn’t make sense, that’s a good place to start.
  • You can lose touch with your inner voice.
  • What is the purpose of a given story?
  • Sometimes changing the language a bit can help you bring more allies to your cause. If potential allies care mostly about money, telling the story of financial benefits can help catch their interest.
  • Some people/organizations don’t understand the power of story. Our culture wants us to have the answers before we start down the path. Sometimes we are more like a child – take action, learn something from mistakes, and act again.
  • Bible stories can mean different things to different people. The best stories have multiple interpretations.
  • A story with depth can move in different directions and can trigger discussions.
  • What makes a memorable story?
  • Gossip tells a story.
  • When teaching history, you can use story to find richness of the past.
  • People remember personal stories.
  • Being able to think, speak and listen in narrative is a valuable trait – and can be learned.
  • Receiving stories means really listening. This takes work and can be exhausting.
  • We make ourselves available to be changed by the story.
  • In Maine, the culture is that family stories can be told over and over and no one complains.
  • Stories about climate change are much more powerful than dry facts and figures. Need to make it relatable to humans.
  • Shorter narratives about a business are more effective. Try for 30 to 40 words. A seven minute talk is too much.
  • Children who hear stories about their families are more able to weather the stresses of life. The Family Narrative Lab at Emory University does research on this.
  • Stories with emotional resonance are powerful.
  • Story is relevant when it reflects something larger.
  • Does a story have to be true to matter?

Sustainable Business, July 2, 2015 Topic: Stuck

Comments from last week's discussion about the sharing revolution:

  • Good to share out of abundance – tools, found materials, maker spaces.
  • Teachers can let students figure out what they need to know. Now we don’t even know what we are preparing kids for when they are old enough to work. We need to help people grow – not just pour knowledge into them. School can stifle someone as a child – being labeled “not good at math” can stick with you, and maybe its not correct.
  • Sharing can sometimes be labeled as cheating. Latino students tend to help each other learn and do things together. Some who don’t understand the culture say that’s cheating, not sharing.
  • Maybe sharing is not appropriate if taking a test, but in other circumstances sharing is a good thing.
  • The more sharing, the more sustainability.
  • Sharing was common and powerful among African Americans during slavery times. It was prohibited and seen as a threat by those in power.

Topic for today: Being Stuck and Getting Un-stuck

At some point, we all get stuck
  • It is very common for people to say they’re stuck – especially people starting small businesses.
  • What if it’s natural to be stuck? Sometimes we get to a comfortable place in our life and then become aware that we need more. Try doing something differently – drive down a different street, skip or jump in the park.
  • Being stuck is the level where new learning can take place. We grow new neurons in our brains every day.
  • The creative process includes an incubation period. Sometimes we can put an issue on the back burner, put on some music, do something else – and then, without trying there may be an A-ha moment. Some people get discouraged and quit before that moment. You need to have faith that you’ll get the insight.
  • When we get stuck there can be an open space where we stand still and can look around. What meaning do we assign to this? Some people in Japan value this kind of space and tell you to look around you, all 360 degrees, and be still. It is a time of great opportunity; you can move in any direction. Maybe try a different path, even go backwards. Really good things can happen if you let them. Stillness is different from being stuck. The world is in motion even if you’re not.
  • Everybody has a blind spot. Someone else needs to reflect back to you the view from your blind spot. We need to be open and flexible.
  • Some leaders are not open to new viewpoints. This can be a very high risk style of leadership.
  • Letting go and being stuck are very related. How do you know when to let something go – admit that it’s just not going to work? Persistence is important – but you can have too much or too little. Something that used to work for you no longer works well.
  • As we get older it’s hard to transform. We have years of habits.
  • Resiliency is something easier to learn when you’re young. Later on in life there are more obstacles to learning resiliency. You need to have natural curiosity.
  • Exercise can help if you are stuck. Things like yoga, biking, walking. Breathing is a natural way to release negative tensions.
  • Holding onto expectations can create stuck-ness, especially if you ignore reality. Some experiences can break one’s expectations of what is reality.
  • Who in our life pressures us toward meeting expectations? Sales people can promise things that may not be really possible to deliver. Although the small run of prototype gloves turned out bright red, by the time they were scaled up into mass production, the color was muddy, no longer bright red. When a product is scaled up –does quality go out the window?