Sustainable Business Learning Community Conversations, November 2013 - December 2013

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December 5, 2013 Topic: What Do We Mean By "Customer"?

Fundamentals from our last conversation about Building Community:

You are your community:

  • If you don't know and aren't intentional about your community relationships, you don't know yourself.
  • If we don't have a way to talk about our community relationships, we don't have a way to talk about who we are.
  • These community relationships define who we are - it is what we do.
  • Your balance sheet and income statement are not your identity; your identity is found in the community that you form around you.

Comments from the group:

Ownership: Curt decided that there would be no people who were purely investors in his business. When you bring in investors, it is no longer your business. Financial relationships will have consequences to your business.

Boundaries: How do you encourage some amount input and participation without letting others get too much influence or power over your business? The ideas of others can be helpful, but how do you go about setting boundaries? It all comes back to the seed of your business - your seed contains the non-negotiables of your business/mission. That allows you to establish boundaries.

What determines who is a customer? What do we mean by that word?

Today's topic: What do we mean by the word "customer"?


  • What do we mean by the word customer? Do we even need that term?
  • There should be a word for the people in the community with whom we have a relationship. What is that word?
  • What determines who is a customer? Is it solely a financial relationship? People who contribute to your business without any exchange of money for goods or services - are they a customer?
  • What about the flow of ideas? How valuable is that to your business? Are people who supply you with ideas customers? What do we call them?
  • Should we have a broader view of all the people who form a community around our business?
  • No doubt, there is a need to have financial relationships with people. However, they shouldn't be the only people you should be concerned about.
  • When we are growing a sustainable business, we need to consider all the flows of energy in and out of our businesses that affect us.

Curt (Red Panda): Doesn't value the transactional (financial) customer relationship any more than all the other relationships that he has with people through his business. It's important to not forget the importance of the end user. The user can make or break the image of your product. Don't separate customer and user.

  • Some of the users of his pedals make videos that they send back to Curt to show him what they do with the product - a new way of connecting.
  • The financial transaction is not Curt's main focus.


  • On branding: If you don't brand yourself, you will be branded. You have to effectively present your own image of who you are.
  • If you brand yourself properly, you will service more than just your transactional customers.


  • She is more people focused - focused on building relationships.
  • She doesn't think about people as customers.
  • This person-to-person focus takes away the power differential - she is just a person talking to another person, rather than a business owner talking to a customer
  • She thinks in levels of relationships - friends, associates, etc.
  • Walmart calls their employees "associates" Is this patronizing? When a business says, "We value our customers", should they even have to say that?


  • Memories of growing up in Detroit - always about the relationships in the neighborhoods
  • You never heard the word "customer" - you always knew who you were doing business with.
  • There was a lot of trust - but this was based on relationships that were well established over multiple generations.
  • Now, Detroit is trying to rediscover what those relationships were - how to rebuild that trust within the community.


  • Takes a degree of vulnerability and authenticity on the part of business owners to create authentic community, to build trust and relationships.
  • Sometimes we don't understand the impact that trust and relationships have on other people. What people share with us, their authenticity, willingness to be open can have a huge impact on others.
  • Not everyone will embrace this level of openness and sharing, but many will.

Jeff (Mt. Elliott Maker Space):

  • There has been a history of inauthenticity and lack of trust in the city of Detroit.
  • It takes a bit of work to get people to learn to trust again
  • His business is very personal - he needs a strategy to make it personally sustainable in order to build trust and relationships with a diverse community of people.


  • You invest as far as you can.
  • There are people who will support your business financially, others through ideas, etc.
  • Tunde considers the potential of building relationships with community members who he knows will never come into his restaurant.
  • He understands that there are those who can inform his business, but realizes that he can only invest in them as far as he can but not beyond.
  • Do we put too much trust in others or in institutions?
  • He believes that trying to create processes around relationships between people is very artificial, lacks authenticity.


  • Perspective on work: focusing on those you serve - those you care for through your business - is most important. It defines the purpose of your work. Joyfully serve your "customers".


  • Accessibility: being accessible allows relationships to be nurtured and form into community


  • Avalon is an example of a business that has focused on building relationships rather than just having customers. Ann has always been very accessible, even before she opened the bakery. She's been feeding people in the community for a long time and established long-term relationships.
  • These relationships is how Avalon has sustained itself for such a long time as a successful business.


  • Community is less about geography, and more about those you connect to through the operation of your business. Community can be geographic and non-geographic


  • Green Garage uses the term "Business-in-residence" instead of "tenant" because they are in a relationship with these people, and do not have a purely transactional, financial relationship.
  • Tom feels physically held up, supported by the community, the neighborhood around the GG. Maintaining the energy and relationship flows is vital to the health of the GG

November 14, 2013 Topic: Continuing Discussion on Community Wellness

Continuing the conversation on building community wellness

Questions: How do YOU know that you feel part of a community? What is your experience of community in a public setting? How does that work or not work?

  • Darryl: Has been trying to build community through storytelling. In their initial efforts, they didn't have turn out they expected. However, they have been working in collaboration with others to put the word out there and know that they will eventually have larger groups. They already have more requests to do storytelling again. Reactions have been extremely positive with great interaction with the audience. This has been building great community energy.
  • Be aware of how they can use technology to spread the word about events that are happening.
  • You never know who's around you who can help you with your business. The resources that we need to get it done right are right around us. You don't need to look too far. If you believe that, you will start to think about people in a different way and you find what you need. Just believing is a big deal!
  • Maintain the right frame of mind. Being open allows community to form around you rather than being closed and uncommunicative.
  • People take their cue from what you bring to the table, from the attitude and tone that you project. Positivity, energy, moving forward ripples out from people who lead. Conventional incubation can be very stressful and that's the culture that they are taking to their businesses once they've launched. The positive energy of the GG incubation process is very different from the conventional incubation process.
  • Community can change how you think about things - can inspire you to do things you might not have tried on your own. Also, community shares their culture and energy with its members.
  • We need to discard the scarcity mentality that theres not enough; there really is enough for everybody.
  • In the theatre world, competition exists during the audition process. Once a show is cast, community and camaraderie form easily. Everyone is working together - cast, crew, designers, marketing people, etc.
  • Presence is a huge part of building community. Caring - do you care about community? About others? Caring can have as much or more influence than even taking action. Sometimes all you need to do is to listen and care - you don't necessarily have to solve everyone else's problems. People are perceptive and can sense that you care about them, and that might just be enough.
  • In distressed communities, people will challenge you to see how much you really care. They've been ignored before and seen people present in their community in only a superficial way. Once they see that you do truly care, they embrace you. You need to really build trust.

  • What is your community like?
  • Curt (Red Panda): Many business at the GG interact directly with their community of clients or customers, but Curt's community of customers are all over the world - it's an online community. To him, people hanging out on Twitter and Facebook are like little neighborhoods, so he tries to be there for his customers. He builds community through social media and email. Feedback for him is indirect and it can be hard to measure the impact he's making on his customers. He recognizes that you don't have to be physically present to build a community - through technology, people with obscure interests can find each other around the world.
  • Non measurement piece: who are you in Twitter? Curt makes choices that creates his identity on Twitter and Facebook, and those choices attract similar thinkers to his online community. He tweets information that has value and if that information is retweeted, then those tweets have value.
  • The community you develop around your business has to reflect who you are. Those who can relate and value what you do will form community around you.

Where are our individual/community boundaries?

  • You don't need to appeal to everyone - you can be very small and focused - and since you can reach people all over the world, you can build a community around your narrow focus.
  • The right community will form around what you do, around your interests. Conversely, people will filter themselves out of your community if it is not the community for them. Not everyone has to be your client.
  • Learning and sharing builds community: Because someone buys your product or uses your service, doesn't mean you have a community of customers. If all you do is sell something, but there is no exchange of information with others, you don't really have a community. Customers buy Curt's pedals and then make videos of what they can do with the product. Many large companies are trying to build community (Apple Forums, e.g.)
  • Nobody wants to be coerced into joining a community just because they make a purchase. Likewise, you don't have to have made a purchase to be part of a community.
  • People who do relationships well allow the other person to make their own choices. Businesses must do this as well - there has to be some back and forth. If there's no choice involved, there won't be a sustainable community.
  • On line communities: their relationship to you is in their imagination - who they think you are.
  • Be aware of how you are connected to your community. When you connect yourself to the neighborhood community solely at an economic level, when the economy crashes,you will go down, too. But if you're connected to community on an interpersonal level, you have a better chance of survival because the community will be there to support you in hard economic times.
  • Community implies a sense of belonging. People gravitate to where they feel safe and wanted and develop a sense of ownership with local businesses.

November 7, 2013 Topic: Ways That Our Businesses Promote Community Wellness

Promoting community wellness

Questions for the community:

  • When we talk about community well-being, what do we mean by that? What does that look like?
  • What have you experienced that represents an improvement in community well being as it relates to your business?
  • What do you think improves the community that you're involved with?

5 things we have identified that are foundational to community well being:

  1. Relationships
  2. Learning
  3. Access
  4. Health
  5. Purposeful work

Comments from the community:

  • Curt: Simply by working and doing business in Detroit, he shows his neighbors outside the city that there is value in Detroit.
  • Increase in communication - more of a conversation going on, whatever that is
  • Increase in collaboration: when true collaboration isn't happening, competition is happening. Collaboration works well when there is a mutual respect among the group and people are open.
  • Earl on collaboration: Collaboration can sometimes be tricky because competition and risk aversion can get in the way. It is important for a company to have an awareness who they are, what their purpose is and an understanding of the larger social context in which they are operating- just being able to do that is a contribution to community wellness.
  • Do organizations filter their decisions thru their SEED? Do they remember what they're all about? Don't lose sight of what you're supposed to be about. Are you here to help the community at large? Don't limit yourself or close yourself off.
  • Allow yourself to take a risk. The moment that you stop taking a chance and reaching out is the moment that you stop having a positive impact on your community.
  • MJ: Many people just start out having fun. Many community contributions come just by people who want to do something just for fun - no money involved. Fun = positive energy. Doing things naturally (not programatically). Doing something for fun means that there is passion and a gift there, and sharing. Something that is fun gives you immediate feedback.
  • There ought to be an element of joy in the work you do. There should be a steady enjoyment of your work if you're going to have well rounded success. Joy provides a sustainable flow of energy that nourishes and sustains you. You will quickly burn out doing things you don't enjoy doing.
  • Simple things can make you feel better and help make your community better and healthier. Just cleaning your street, for example, can have a marked positive impact your community and can lead to a ripple effect of positive action.
  • What you do for yourself you are also doing for your neighborhood. People are very encouraged when someone comes into a neighborhood and fixes up a home. A clean neighborhood says that people who live there care and this can result in less crime. (The Green Alley is an experiment in this idea)
  • Ripple effect: When someone starts contributing to a community, others follow and the effects ripple out. One little thing can be a message that things are changing - a "quick win" - a simple thing that will have a big impact.
  • Change can and should come from within a community, often from a core group of people. People from the outside can sometimes offer a fresh perspective, but real and lasting change will come from the inside.
  • Try to prevent a community from isolating itself. Recognize that people can be pretty tentative about change coming into their community and it may be stretching things a bit to begin doing things in a new way.
  • The power of presence - just BE THERE: Your contribution and presence within a community can create respect from other community members. The indirect impact of your actions can be so much bigger than your actions themselves.
  • You have to believe in what you do.
  • Most powerful way to impact a community is to live by example.
  • Change opinions by building trust

How do we establish trust in relationships?

    • You need to grow both emotional and intellectual solidarity.
    • Make your intentions clear
    • Listen to others and hear their needs
    • Consistency: Build trust be treating people well consistently, by being consistent in you work and relationships
    • Have integrity - be reliable
    • Transparency
    • Ask how can you help - it's an invitation to collaboration.
    • Ask for someone else's help. It is disrespectful to come into a community and say that you're here to help without accepting anything in return from the community. It puts the community at a deficit - they need to feel that they can help you and themselves as well.
    • Understanding and empathy - asking permission to get to know others ideas and work.
    • Be comfortable in yourself - being your authentic self will make others feel comfortable.
    • Meet people where they are; respect that and be patient enough to allow a relationship to build.
    • Can we define the boundary of self reliance so that we can build a community and help one another?

Jane Jacobs on Trust and Community (via Kimberly):

Jane Jacobs quote.png

December 12, 2013 Topic: Ripple Effects - Fostering Interactions Within Our Community



  • How can you foster interactions within your community, even if they are outside your business?
  • How do we encourage/nurture interactions between members of our community?

Some comments from our community:

  • Don't try to force things; trying to artificially make interactions happen doesn't work.
  • Allow for or create a space for interaction to happen (Friday lunches at the GG, social media, are good examples), and be responsive. You can choose to be part of the conversation, or not.
  • How do you initiate conversation in a new space? What if no one shows up, participates?
    • Community needs to exist first before you can expect to nurture interactions within it. It will evolve naturally.
    • Ask those you already have a relationship with to help you get conversations started within the community.
    • In order to nurture community, you have to give to the community. You have to be out in the community, sharing and giving before people are going to participate in your public spaces.
    • Authenticity: If your interactions with the community are authentic, then you can enter into interaction with people naturally.
  • Best marketing you can do is to share helpful information that is not all about you and your business. That can start building connections; it doesn't have to be a sales pitch all the time.

What attracts people to internet sites?

  • People just like to talk to each other.
  • There is a certain anonymity that appeals to many.
  • There is a great need for validation from one's community.
  • Internet is a great way to attract like-minded people to your business.
  • Mass social skill set - curating: showing people what is cool so that other people buy or use a product.
  • As a business, your internet reach may be much larger than just your buying customers. Many people are on-line just trading stories.
  • It's easy to build an advocate for your business on the internet without there being any kind of monetary exchange.

The more weird, quirky specialized info is on the internet, the more people become interested in it.

Does social media devalue the kinds of person-to-person communities that we try to form? Are they less real, less authentic? Is a virtual community even sustainable?

Views of the group:

  • When we hide behind technology, so much is lost in real relationship.
  • On-line community can be very transient.
  • Think about ways we created and nurtured community before the advent of social media.
  • There is a community that already exists for what you do - communities form around share purpose/interest. By simply doing the work that you are passionate about, you will attract those people to you, whether through word of mouth or social media, either way is valuable.
  • Building community can contribute to the evolution of the business in that people want to support what they are part of creating.

Flexibility: Business shouldn't be static, but should be able to evolve according to the needs and wants of the community.

Important to develop and nurture relationships and interactions between other community members, even outside your business, because you want that community to continue on even if your business comes to its natural end. In the right setting, a community will continue to sustain itself.

Think of community as "seasons" - seasons come and go, and we just pass through them...

Do what you really love, set up you work and then get out of the way and allow people to experience it.

Recommendations for Matt S:

  • Set up a forum for the caregivers of the elderly that gives them a place to share and work through the difficulties that they are all going through.
  • If a forum like that already exists, encourage people to join it.
  • Matt and Jessica could join that community and talk about their work.
  • Talk to the people they serve and ask how they would like to have their stories told (perhaps a newsletter for those who aren't on-line).