Sustainable Business Learning Community Conversations, May 2013 - June 2013

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June 27, 2013 Topic: Healthy Competition

Comments from last week's (abbreviated) Third Thursday Workshop - Foundations

There will be one workshop per month, so it may take time to go through all of the workshop topics. Having only one per month allows people time to begin to implement some changes and report back to the group.

Flow of each workshop will be as follows:

  • Introduction
  • Case Study
  • Conversation
  • List of References

Today's topic: Healthy Competition

Tom's thoughts:

  • More important than competition is to get to a level of service or quality of product that is exceptional.
  • Focus on your customer/client instead of your competition.
  • It's about trying to get it right rather than trying to be competitive.
  • Studies show that cooperation has had a greater influence on evolution (moving forward) than competition.

Q: What do we mean by competition? A: Beating another business to a goal - traditionally gaining market share.

  • But markets are created illusions - you can dominate a market and it could mean nothing (ex: how much value was there in dominating the buggy market in 1908 when automobile industry was starting to take off?)
  • A goal can have value or no real value to society - a goal is whatever people decide to aim for. Does the goal you set have a real intrinsic value?
  • Whole Foods/Peaches and Greens:

Is Whole Foods in competition with Peaches and Greens? Is it their intention to close down P & G? If P & G asked Whole Foods for help, would they cooperate? Competition is easy and thoughtless; cooperation, especially long term cooperation requires real work, deep thinking and a lot of time, but it benefits everyone in the end.

  • In nature, cooperation shows up as different organisms communicating with each other. We, as humans, should model that communication.

The VISA cooperative: Used to be that you would have a credit card for each store you shopped at. That's how stores held on to their customers. Then in the 60's the VISA card was developed - stores and banks signed on to VISA, agreeing to their rules, and gained access to a much larger pool of customers. The competitive system for credit cards turned into a cooperative system. VISA has no headquarters, just a cooperative of banks.

How does a sustainable business go about setting up cooperation? Can cooperation and competition complement each other?

  • Some robotics events work on a "coopertition" basis, where you're evaluated not only on your design, but on how well you help other teams succeed by sharing design ideas, spare parts, etc.
  • Companies may be able to compete better if they are better at collaboration. Collaboration can also be motivated by existence of competition.
  • Collaboration between different disciplines is a long term answer; competition is a short term answer. But needs change and evolve very quickly, so simply following the competition is not adaptive enough.

Other comments from the group:

  • There is an assumption that a company should go on forever... i.e. Ford: will it exist in 200 years? if so, it will be completely different. Not being around forever is not necessarily bad.
  • Do companies adapt because of competition or because of changing needs? In the future, water & food will be huge issues, so green business is getting ahead of that need.
  • If you're working and living in a bubble, green issues will come as a huge surprise. Recognize that we will have to have energy efficient cars not because of government requirements, but because it will become a world-wide necessity for the health of the planet.
  • We see the need for a sustainable future and set goals to meet that need. Cooperation and competition can be helpful in advancing towards that, but we need to start with cooperation.
  • How do you keep your business in touch with adaptiveness and future needs?

Sustainability gives you a good lens into the future.

  • Stakeholder engagement in better sustainability programs - make things better through collaboration with stakeholders. Can competition be out-competed by collaboration?
  • Look at what others are doing in the path you want to travel, even in different industries. See what you can learn from others. Keep cooperation in the foundation of your work and keep doing what you do, getting better all the time.

June 20, 2013 Sustainable Business Third Thursday Workshop - The Foundation

What do we mean by a sustainable business? For those who want a framework from which to work, Tom uses the Triple Bottom Line as a starting point.

There is a real need to develop skill sets in the area of sustainability.

How do we get information and knowledge out to people? We plan to have one workshop per month to focus on various aspects of having a sustainable business with a goal of giving people an awareness and understanding of what they can do now in order to move forward.

Developing a triple bottom line business can be very complex.

There is much in the news lately about Detroit's financial situation, but Detroit has so much potential and real gifts outside the bottom line, apart from financial considerations.

Triple bottom line chart including topics of focus for monthly workshops

Three pillars of sustainability:

  • Earth
  • Economics
  • Community

Workshop topics:


  • Relationships
  • How to organize - how do you grow from one to two?
  • Managing at the edges - technology, social sites, web sites - how to you manage all that


  • No waste
  • Reduce energy
  • Water wise
  • Detoxing (removing toxin exposure)


  • Profitability
  • Information value - start ups often do not have the information they need to run their business. There is a lot of data, but very little information. We need to develop a process to get from data to information, from information to knowledge, from knowledge to learning.
  • Investments - start with a mind set that you're investing, not spending. You get returns on wise investments over and over again
  • Quality and continuous improvement: So you have quality, what do you do with it? Apply continuous improvement over all 3 areas.

Measurement/metics: you can't measure things that aren't stable. If you effect change on an unstable process, you have an 85% chance of making it worse (Deming proved this statistically)

June 13, 2013 Topic: Building Flexibility in Business

Comments from last week's conversation on Sharing Between Businesses:

Stewardship of ideas: Ownership of ideas is very old-school. New way of thinking is that we are stewards of ideas. Ideas are to be shared, nurtured, served.

How do we execute an idea, interpret that idea, what do we bring of ourselves to that idea?

Naturally It's Clean (Denny's business): They were the first to offer enzyme based cleaners. They realized, however, that they can't "own" the idea of enzyme cleaners, but that they can do it better than anyone else. Can you really ever protect any one idea?

What is our mindset around ideas? The more we protect them, the more we stop ideas from coming in.

Do you honor where an idea comes from when it doesn't come from you? Do you recognize who inspires you? You don't want to make people believe that an idea that is not yours came from you. Sharing has an openness to it - sharing can't work if you are deceiving and it takes energy to not be discovered if you're stealing ideas.

There is positive energy in opening up and sharing which attracts more positive energy. You are what you do: if you are negative and hide and protect what you do, you will have a closed, stagnant, negative business. But positivity breed positivity.

The incredible richness in the arts and sciences that came out of the Renaissance was all about open, high level sharing, open sharing across disciplines.

Relationships have a profound impact on one's creativity - we don't create in a vacuum.

Greenwich Village in 50s and 60s - Bob Dylan talked about how everyone formed a community, sharing environment, so much shared creativity.

Adrienne's live dog vs. stuffed dog analogy: When you close off your ideas, shut others off, you ideas are like the dead stuffed dog that sits by your fireplace. An idea that is shared and nurtured is like the real, living dog.

University of Michigan Business School (conflict of sharing vs. competition)- there are very strict rules for sharing information. The business school is really competitive, so students tend not to share information. But other schools within the university are less competitive, so sharing isn't such a big issue. Competition motivates some people to do better while it can sometimes quash collaboration. The business world is a very collaborative environment, so why are B schools so competitive? People who are too competitive, can end up destroying company - being overly competitive is not feasible, not sustainable. Competitive people can ruin the dynamic of a company.

Learn to become a better leader, one who encourages sharing of ideas and collaboration.

Flexibility in business, as in yoga, must be balanced with strength

Today's topic: Flexibility in Business

Adrienne worked at two different animal hospitals in California. One had flexibility built in at all levels as part of their culture. New ideas and new solutions to problems were encouraged and they were willing to give them a try. Another hospital had rules at every level; everything was rule-driven and rigid making it impossible to grow and adapt. How do you incorporate flexibility into your business allowing it to grow? It takes of really solid foundation to be able to incorporate employees' new ideas, ideas for solutions.

Hannah's observations: Flexibility needs to be in balance with strength. Structures are built with flexible materials (not rigid materials) so that they will be stronger. In her massage therapy business, they have to have some amount of flexibility with things like schedules, and even on a physical level. But the business needs strength as well. She likens it to the practice of yoga which builds flexibility in the body on a foundation of strength. In your business, you can't have flexibility without strength, a strong foundation. That combination can help you to build a stable and highly functioning entity.

Change is a constant: Organizations that don't understand that are not intentional about how change happens, and they can't be sustained. There has to be, incorporated into a business, a way to grow and a way to adapt to change. If there's a large gap between the reality of change and a "rule", the business will not be able to move forward or grow. Change can be incorporated into very strong organizations. Change can create positive energy, and positive energy will embrace change, inspiration etc.

  • Fear of change is not uncommon: Many people fear or are uncomfortable with change. They may have a fear of the unknown or have some level of insecurity with new things or situations. You have to learn to work through that. How do you learn to do that as a company? How do you find a comfort level in the process of change?
  • For some people, routine is a good thing, an innate tendency. But routine that gets in the way of positive change and growth is not beneficial.
  • Allow yourself to be uncomfortable with newness - understand that you are in the process of change. Hannah points out that during massage, we process a lot of the sensations as pain because it is new and makes us feel uncomfortable. We have an initial reaction to newness as pain, but we just haven't created the "bucket" or space for it in our brain for what it really is, which is a new sensation.
  • You can't be healthy without embracing change. It's impossible to hold onto everything and keep things the same forever.
  • Pressure for perfection: We can be very hard on ourselves and try to achieve perfection with every action we take. There is no such thing as perfect, and anytime you try something new, you probably won't be good at it right from the start. Remember: being bad at something is the first step at being good at something. Don't let perfectionism get in the way of embracing positive change.
  • You can't plan forever - you have to eventually begin the work - take it on the road.
  • Cycles are a healthy thing - not every idea/company is forever. Christopher Alexander (A Pattern Language) talks about the worn treads of a staircase: A staircase has a life, it should be used, its treads should be worn over time. Like everything, it has a natural life with a natural ending.

Is there such a thing as too much flexibility in a business? Hannah's response: Yes, and then you end up compensating for an excess of flexibility with other parts of the whole in a way that is negative. For example, if Hannah books someone outside of normal shifts, then she compromises her reliability in other areas. Flexibility has to be in balance with your strengths.

June 6, 2013 Topic: Sharing Between Businesses

Comments from last week's discussion of Utilizing Resources:

  • Essential for a sustainable business to be able to form strong, long lasting relationships with competent people.
  • A lot has happened in Detroit in recent history that has caused people to be very cautious of offers of help - help has been offered, and yet it hasn't been helpful.
  • There is a need to build basic trust.
  • When developing small businesses, their need is so particular - you're down to just one person. How do you connect that one person to the needed resource in a kind of custom designed fit?
  • Sometimes a start up will want to work with another start up (accountants/attorneys/financial folks) so that everyone has the same spirit of growing together.
  • Patience is important: Finding the right people to help you with your work can take some time.
  • There is a really robust informal referral network in Detroit, but nothing formal in place to help connect people with the services they might need. Suggestion: Start a type of Angie's list - a referral network for the city of Detroit.

Recognizing people who can help:

  • A truly helpful person is someone who is willing to tell you things you might not want to hear. This can be the kind of relationship that builds trust.
  • A person who may not be able to work with you but is willing to help you find someone else you can trust to do the work.
  • Someone who can work through tough issues with you - this helps to strengthen the relationship.
  • Level of integrity with which someone handles mistakes shows how well they can be trusted . No one is perfect or goes without ever making a mistake. A trustworthy person will handle a mistake up front and tell you how they are going to deal with it.
  • Triangulation: Ask 3 people for an answer to a problem. If you get the same answer from all threes, it's probably the good one. If you get three different answers, there's clearly not a lot of clarity of that particular issue.

Bike sharing in Paris

Today's Topic: Sharing Between Businesses

The Commons - Space and resources that we share:

Air is common, water is common, earth is common.

How do we form sustainable behaviors around the commons? How can we manage commons in a way that sustains them?

The Tragedy of the Commons: A theory describing how when many people use a shared resource in their own self-interest it may lead to the destruction/depletion of the resource. This is really a tragedy of the unmanaged commons. See Video and Article from Wikipedia

Example: The Boston Commons is a place where residents used to let their animals graze. If the animals grazing in the commons were eating grass at a rate slower than the grass could grow, then the grass would never be depleted. But if they were grazing at a rate faster than the grass could grow, that would lead to the destruction of the commons. Each person bringing their animals to graze is only acting in his own self interest, so how can we manage commons (common resources) in a way that sustains them?

An unmanaged commons is not sustainable, so we have to be intentional about how we share our resources.

Other examples of commons:

  • Wikipedia - A knowledge commons - everyone can contribute and anyone can take something away from it.
  • VISA - the first credit card that could be used in many places.
  • Open source software

All of these commons must be managed or they do not work.

Other thoughts from the group:

  • Should we share ideas? Many people think you have to keep your business ideas secret so that no one else will steal them. But people have a tendency to overestimate the uniqueness of their ideas.
  • Sharing your ideas and putting them out there might inspire the development of some kind of parallel, complementary ideas.
  • The idea is only part of the value of what you have to offer. Just as important is the execution of your idea, how well you do your work, how invested you are, how well you provide service or do your craft. One person might succeed with an idea while others might not.
  • There are benefits to clustering similar businesses. Being in the same area, they can share ideas, resources, etc.
  • Ideas are ours for care, not ours to own.
  • Designers look into the design world for inspiration, not to steal, but to inspire.
  • In a community where there is trust there is inspiration. If you come with the right attitude, working in a community can be an inspiring thing.
  • Many people are really protective of intellectual property (for a reason) but then they miss out on opportunities through not sharing with other companies. Once a business is at the top, they think they stay there by putting up walls, but then they are cutting themselves off and stop growing, learning.
  • Sharing can open up so many opportunities that you might not have thought of.
  • Most people really can be trusted - Share with them unless and until they prove they're not trustworthy. Remember: positivity breeds positivity.
  • Cooperation and Evolution: Some scientists believe that cooperation has had a larger influence on evolution than competition (see Martin Nowak's Five Rules for the Evolution of Cooperation). At the Green Garage, the idea is that sharing creates a space for interchange and for opportunity to learn things that are completely new. Community creates space where new ideas can be born and nurtured, and this leads to learning and growth.
  • Jane Jacobs: All major human innovations have come out of cities, because of interchange of ideas with many people all living together, sharing ideas, problem solving together.
  • A tension exists between collaboration and competition. Scarcity creates competition, secretiveness, etc. It's a lot more rewarding when you share rather than putting so much energy into hiding, protecting, keeping quiet.
  • Opening up and sharing puts you in contact with similarly minded people.
  • Illusion of permanency: What is the real shelf life of any new ideas? A new printer, a new phone? a new computer? etc. Your "True North" may be that you know you want to print something, but how you get there might change a lot over time. How did printing evolve? Scribes, mimeograph machines, xerox machines, Letterpress, etc.
  • Things that are obsolete come back as an art form. Things that were serious come back as ironic.
  • Many people today are trying to bring back quality of a craft rather than producing large quantities; they want to bring back the craft as an art form.
  • Our consumer culture dictates that things have to become obsolete so that businesses can sell us new things. If your car/table/bike doesn't become obsolete, companies can't sell you new ones. Who creates the desire for the new thing?

May 30, 2013 Topic: Utilizing Resources - Forming Relationships

Comments from last week's conversation about Adult Learning:

  • ALL learning should be like adult learning, even for children. Why isn't all education like this?
  • Application of learning comes through experience - understanding how to use knowledge and why it works for you comes from experience (Tunde)
  • Value of education: People who complete formal education demonstrate that they can stick to something long term, stick to a schedule and finish something. Even if we don't care for the educational system as it is, studies show that the brain functions better and ages more slowly in people who are educated, or in people who participate in learning activities and mental exercises.

James Heckman (economist and Nobel laureate) - People who did well later in life are those who finished HS vs. GED. They developed better social skills, learned to do things on time and stick to a schedule, etc.

Fear, vulnerability, lack of confidence: Some people have an innate feeling about learning that is positive, while others don't. Some react negatively to the prospect of having to learn something new, perhaps due to a negative experience with education. Also, it may be that in their social setting it's not acceptable to appear to not know something, to appear ignorant, and so they don't reveal themselves to be in the socially vulnerable position of having to learn something new. We sometimes see this in classes where many people are afraid to ask questions because they don't want to appear stupid. If competition were not a part of our educational system, many people might feel more comfortable bringing their questions forward.

How do find the right people to help us do the work we want to do?

Today's Topic: Utilizing Resources

By Utilizing Resources, we are talking about sustainable businesses forming relationships with other businesses/people/organizations in order to achieve desired outcomes.

With small business owners, this is a huge issue that needs the most attention because these kinds of resources are harder to come by for small businesses; easier for large corporations because they often have all the resources within the company.

How do you begin?:

  1. Understand and recognize what your need is - the other person is not going to take that on
  2. Communicate: Begin communicating that need - form the language around that need - and people will begin to react to you. Example: I need a finance guy: What do you mean by a finance guy? Do you need a financial advisor? an accountant? a bookkeeper? Understand what you need and communicate clearly (what's clear to me is clear to me, but not to the other person)
  3. Educate yourself: Begin reading about the area you're looking for - read about accounting, for example. Figure out what those skills look like. What do great accounting skills look like? Find someone who possesses those skills. If you don't have a great accountant, you might not know what a person with those skills looks like. So you go to someone you trust who you think WILL know what that person looks like. You need to gain a competency in an area that you don't know well - educate yourself and use referral systems. Find out who a person's clients are, and what kind of work they do.
  4. Ask yourself: Can I work with this person? Will I end up learning from them? Are they transparent? Can I trust them? Nothing can get accomplished without trust.

Comments from the group on finding the right people to provide services for you:

  • The number of people who end up working with people who really aren't competent is huge, and the results can be devastating to their business.
  • You have to be able to vet people, find out about them, understand your own needs and who you can really work with.
  • Understand what it is that you don't know and where you need help. Finance - Not good at it? No background in it? Then you need to know who really knows this stuff.
  • If you've never experienced someone with really deep skills in a particular area before, how can you identify a person who is really talented? Someone who is really good at what they do is someone who will explain what you need to know about their work. They'll be willing to take the time to help you understand the work that they are doing for you.
  • Be wary of the person who won't take the time to explain his work to you, who "puts himself above you" as if you don't have the capacity to understand their work. This is always a red flag. No one should make you feel inferior, or spend time telling you how good they are at what they do.
  • Networking is so important in this process. This is how you encounter and build relationships with people you know you can trust. If you act with integrity, you tend to also attract people with integrity, people you can trust, and your network starts to build. Once you know what working with an expert really looks and feels like, you'll search out those people and you'll know when you have an expert or when you don't.
  • If you're working with someone the first time, you might even want to hire a second person (someone you trust) to review the first person's work. It's an extra caution that can be helpful.
  • Learn to recognize characteristics of successful people and look for those characteristics. You have to be diligent about how you find these people. They really ARE out there.
  • The person who is the most experienced (with higher fees) can sometimes be the cheapest because they are so efficient and good at what they do.
  • Before you even meet with someone, ask what their fee structure is so you don't get burned.
  • If you have limited resources, going the cheaper route with the less experienced person is still not a good idea. Delay your work, save the money necessary to hire the more experienced and talented person, and start up later. You'll only need limited time of a really deeply-skilled person. You may pay them more/hour, but pay them less in the long run because of their expertise and efficient, and you've had quality consultation.
  • Remember that some of the most expensive services you will ever receive will be the services you got for "free" - The work will be done so badly that it will have to be redone. When you get something for free, you better be sure you know what you're getting! Also, recognize that the most expensive service is not always the best either.
  • These kinds of problems are going on all the time, and people aren't talking about it. Insurance problems, accounting problems, tax problems, legal problems. If all of these are not set up properly and by a talented expert, you can end up costing yourself a lot of money, or your entire business.
  • Other useful resource: SCORE is the volunteer section of the Small Business Administration. It has 13 thousand volunteers nationwide who help small business entrepreneurs.

May 23, 2013 Topic: Adult Learning


As we work with people who want to run businesses that are sustainable, we recognize that it's all about learning something new; we are all going through a learning process.

Adult learning, building skill and capacity, is different than education.

USDA's short summary of adult learning:

  • Adults need to know WHY they should learn something. This is the most important thing to begin with.
  • Adults have a deep need for self-directed learning. All day long training classes aren't helpful.
  • Important to tap into and affirm the life experiences of the adult learner.
  • Important that learning take place as close as possible to the time the need to learn arises; Just-In-Time learning.
  • Adults learn best through real problem or life-centered learning. A power point list won't work; adults have to work on real problems.
  • Adults are motivated by extrinsic and intrinsic motivators; they want something that they can take with them when the job is done; they want to be able to do something with what they learn.

How would you define who is an adult?

  • An adult learner is someone who learns in a non-school environment
  • Pam (former teacher) notes that 11th & 12th graders learned best when they taught themselves. Circles, not rows worked best. Everyone learns differently, so having round table format seems to be more stimulating. When they feel their contributions are important, they are more motivated to learn and contribute.

Steve Kahn TED talk on self-perpetuating education: There's greatness in every student.

How does learning happen outside of a classroom setting?

  • Learning in community can be very effective. But some people are not raised to think of community as a good thing; rather that we are all in competition with one another. (especially If learners haven't had access to as many resources, they may be less likely to share the resources).
  • People who are better at using resources tend to be more successful in the long run. Heckmann People who form strong bonds with family use resources more effectively.
  • The need to learn: Need fuels an adult's desire to learn something new.
  • Learning can come from relationships we have with those around us. Recognize who you can learn from. Some people can be threatened by others and aren't comfortable working in a collaborative way, but it's important to understand how much others can teach us.
  • Co-learning: Something special happens when you make yourself vulnerable to someone else's knowledge so that you can learn. You make a co-learning space that you enter into with that other person and you are confident that both of you will be ok and both will learn something.
  • Be ready to listen: Come into a conversation ready to learn something new, knowing you don't know everything and don't have all the answers.
  • Understand how you learn:
    • Visual learner - you need to see what it is you're trying to learn
    • Auditory learner - you process new information better when you hear it.
    • Application learner - you need to apply new information in order to be able to learn it well.

If you have a good understanding of how you learn as well as how those around you learn, the sharing of information can take place more effectively.

  • Our educational system makes learning a competitive thing, but true learning should not be competitive. If you don't catch on to some new material right away it may just mean that you need to spend more time, or be taught in a different way. Learning should be collaborative rather than competitive.
  • There is a difference between education and learning: education is an industry; learning is a natural human activity (babies do it all the time through play). All of the stuff around education (i.e., showing up on time, testing, competition) is socialization and not very valuable. The desire to learn is natural - we are all inquisitive, born to learn.

Other comments from the group:

  • Allowing people to come up with their own answers creates more learning, (however, doesn't fit into the education box).
  • Jon Koller recommended this article by Patricia Cohen of the NYT about our cognitive function and ability to learn as we age. He notes that at a certain point in our brain development, we move from being able to learn new things and process new ideas to being able to connect the knowledge that we already have in new and interesting ways.
  • When you are learning to draw, you have to unlearn what you already know, the symbols in your head, in order to be able to draw a representation of what something looks like (Kevin).
  • Finding the right language for something is an important step toward learning _ animal companion - responsible human companion, etc.
  • Reversing the roles of teacher and student can be an effective way to learn. If the student can teach the teacher, he will learn so much more.
  • Having confidence in your ability to learn is empowering. If you're afraid of technology or other things, it will cripple your ability to learn new things.
  • Build capacity for learning new things. Try to understand what makes new information relevant or not relevant. As an adult, you might be more deliberate and intentional in how you process and categorize new information.
  • Public space is great place to learn - interaction and play can take place. It is an environment in which learning can happen and people can share information. Peggy often comments that she misses a newspaper vs reading news on the computer. On the computer, she looks for specific information - in a paper, she is able to browse, and runs into stuff she wouldn't have seen otherwise. Public spaces are like this; you may run into people in a shared space who you might not have encountered otherwise - the "things you find along the way while looking for something". Public space has that potential, allowing us to connect in ways we hadn't intended or foreseen.
  • How do we make an environment more amenable to learning? Engage people's curiosity - make people interested and comfortable sharing. Google is well known for having created workspace that engages its employees and nurtures curiosity, creativity and learning. Employees are encouraged to work at their own pace, in a space that makes them comfortable.

May 16, 2013 Topic: Developing the Workshop Format

Comments from last week - Asking Questions:

  • Organizations that you work in are holding questions. Be able to provide leadership that supports the asking of these questions. What are the really important questions being held by the organization and how do we get the richness of them? What might the possible answers might be?
  • Example: There are many little questions we ask every day at the Green Garage: can we have natural ventilation today? can we compost more? Each of these questions supports the higher level question: how can we be more sustainable today?
  • Perhaps that one big Question IS what you are and your work is to answer that question.
  • Think of the business owner who encourages customer questions because he's learned that many other customers will have the same questions. By finding answers to those questions he finds that he's able to get his business to a place that is beneficial to those he serves.
  • Can questioning and perseverance be in conflict with each other? At what point do you stop persevering and start to question your previous assumptions, or questions you thought you had already answered?
  • Henry Ford failed several times before he successfully establish his car company. Did he every question his ability to run a company, or that people would want to buy cars? Or did he focus on questions that allowed him to refine his business approach? Questions can be about refining and evolution of ideas.
  • Questioning something isn't always an indication of doubt. It can be part of an ongoing process - have I gone deep enough?
  • Revisit and reevaluate your original assumptions: You can start with a set of valid assumptions but then you move forward with your business and the context changes fundamentally, so now those assumptions are no longer valid. The way you calculate and forecast may have to change - a discontinuous change. What kind of fundamental changes might you have to make? You have to know when to go back and question foundational assumptions.
  • Can your fundamental questions be too specific?
    • Ex: Kodak's question: How do we make the best film - but if no one uses film anymore, wouldn't it be better to ask, how do we best capture moments?
    • Ford: How do we make the best cars? If we no longer use cars, then a better questions might be, how do we best transport people?
  • Just because an answer works for one person doesn't mean that its the right answer for you.
  • Businesses fit into natural cycles. Just like living things, not all businesses are supposed to last forever. To fight from going under at all costs might not be the most prudent thing.
  • Not all questions have to be answered, or, at least, answered right away. We get a lot of visitors to the GG and there are some questions that Tom won't answer. The most frequently asked: What's the payback? This is a question that comes from a borrowed paradigm (investment --> payback, all within a pretty short amount of time). But in the conventional sense, that's not the right question to ask. He has to begin with the context first in order to answer this question: what does payback mean?
  • Profit is the primary goal in this country, so if you step outside of that model, it's hard to answer people's questions about what you do. You have to spend time framing the context of the work you do - it takes a lot of time to get people to understand.
  • Questions as a pulse - if Bob's not hearing the questions, then he wonders why. Are people not interested? Are they afraid? He looks for patterns of questions to help him understand how his business is going.
  • It's important to have the person who asks the uncommon questions - value those people who see things differently and ask the questions you never thought of. Those people might actually have better focus on things than you do.

Today: Developing the Workshop Format

People approached Tom asking for information about specific and practical skill sets relating to their businesses. So we decided to do workshop-style meetings in order to work on growing those skills. Workshop meetings will be held the 3rd Thursday of each month. We hope to help those leading 3D business to continue to grow their skills and competencies. Each meeting will last 1 1/2 hours. The first half hour will be for presentation, the remaining hour, one of the businesses will present their situation and the other attendees can discuss and comment. (Case study learning style)

12 habits of sustainable business (falling under the 3 dimensions of a sustainable business):


  • profitability management
  • management information
  • funding capital and ownership
  • quality and continuous improvement


  • energy
  • no waste
  • water
  • toxicity


  • organizing for growth
  • learning organization
  • growing the vital community
  • sustainable relationships

Capstone piece: Leadership - priority setting, project management, intersection between economic, environmental and community

Other topic ideas offered by the group:

  • How do I figure out my break even point?
  • How do I grow? (what if growth leads you to bankruptcy???)
  • How do you value a service - decide a price? discounts?
  • How to develop non-conventional business models?
  • Developing a chart of accounts
  • Managing client/customer relationship systems - processes
  • What does quality mean?
  • Understanding costs, fixed and variable costs
  • Creating and managing data
  • Building good relationships, letting go of the bad ones
  • Point of sale systems
  • Payroll - taxes, pay rates
  • Auditing and financial reporting
  • Loans
  • Environmental impact analysis
  • Flexibility (in systems, equipment)
  • Managing inventory

Next week: Adult Learning