Sustainable Business Learning Community Conversations, September 2013 - October 2013

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October 24, 2013 Topic: Assessing the Value of a Product or Service

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Detroit Massage and Wellness - Hannah's story:

Figuring out a fee schedule for her massage services has been challenging for Hannah. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • The massage industry has a high rate of turnover and the quality of the work is often mediocre to poor. Therapists are not being taken care of in many businesses and are frequently overworked.
  • Hannah knows that there are many aspects to the massage experience that are important and that speak to the quality of her work: how a client is walked to the table, the atmosphere of the room, the level of light, the level of sound, the time on the table, how the therapist finishes up with the client. All of these things must be valued.
  • Clients often don't understand the difference in quality of service. Therefore, many people are not willing to pay very much, even for a highly skilled massage therapist. Many customers doesn't know how to value the product or service - they don't have enough knowledge or experience to know what they are really paying for.
  • Working in the city of Detroit is a factor as well. Here, the average cost is around $60 for a massage, the top ranging from $80 - $100. Hannah recognizes that, being in Detroit, there is an economic factor to consider and she wants to make her services affordable, but also wants to be fairly compensated for her time and expertise. She started out charging a lower rate for her services and it took her a couple of years to raise her rate to $100/hr. This is the minimum that she feels she can charge and really want to come into work everyday. If she weren't in the city, she would probably charge considerably more.

More is Better? Our culture has taught us that more is better. But we're beginning to learn that this is just not true. Many people are moving away from big cars and big homes since they are just too expensive to run and maintain. Remember: The Best Deal in Town doesn't mean the best deal in town, it just means cheap and low quality. Some people value quantity over quality and that is a reality.

So what should we think about when setting a price for our product or service?

  • We need to be able to educate our customer so that they can understand why the product or service costs what it costs. The price will make sense to them if they know what they are getting.
  • We need to understand what our customer values. What are they looking for? What do they want to get from the service or product?
  • Competitive pressures vs. what's the value to me? How do I value my own services? How much do I need to make to feel that my time is valued?

How do we learn what our customers value?

  • Build relationships - create community - this is where learning can happen.
  • Listening and conversation
  • Be OK that not everybody is going to be, or should be, your customer
  • Do what you do and people who value your work will become your client
  • Community organizations can play a role in getting businesses in touch with each other so that you can learn if there's an interest in what you are selling.

Other thoughts:

  • Women have a particularly hard time valuing their own service. Perhaps it's how we are raised as women; we don't want to seem too greedy, arrogant, or pushy. But we need to recognize that our skills have value and we should charge for them.
  • Recommended: Women Don't Ask
  • Charging a fair and good amount motivates you to do your best work.
  • Assert the fact that you are the expert - value what you are bringing to the table.
  • Market research is necessary to get an idea of demand and standard fees.

Minjung on translation:

  • Any job that translates into English or Spanish is priced very low because it is common and competitive.
  • Translating into less common languages can bring a higher fee because there are fewer people who do this work.
  • Lower priced services sometimes don't give best quality work.
  • People who do specialized translation in areas like health care, engineering or technology may charge more, especially if they have a high level of expertise.
  • For MJ, her per hour rate really matters, so she has to be careful what she picks to translate, taking care that it doesn't take her too much time per page.

Kim: You have to be really connected to the "seed" of your work that and you must place a value on that. These values are what are going to draw your customer. Listen to your customer, to the stakeholders, have a lot of conversations.

October 10, 2013 Topic: How To Talk About Sustainability

Comments from the group about last week's topic: Setting the Priorities of the Day

  • Change locations from time to time in order to refresh yourself and refocus on your work.
  • Avoid bringing in other stimulation so you can better focus on your work. Give yourself permission to NOT pay attention to other things while working on a task.
  • Project into the future, live (and work) intentionally; know what you want to be doing in the long term.

The accumulation of the daily things that you do can lead you to a future that you want to have.

  • Know when to say yes and when to say no. This is particularly applicable to Detroit right now because it is both good and bad that there are so many opportunities available in the city. So you need to know what to say yes to and what to say no to.
  • Recognize what your work is all about: what's your big battle? Stick to that and don't distracted by other activities that may not really pay off for the time you've invested.

How do we talk to others about sustainability?

Today's topic: How To Talk About Sustainability?

How do we talk about sustainability and sustainable business with people who are unfamiliar with the topic?

  • Talking about sustainability needs to be a continuing conversation. It can take many conversations to really communicate this effectively, so it's probably not possible to do in a single conversation.
  • Education is key: Keep on talking about it, keep on showing your face and sharing your knowledge and information with people. Marsha notes that children often pick up on the concept of sustainability more easily than the adults.
  • Kimberly has noticed a very different culture between CA and Detroit with regard to environmentalism. Differences in understanding of the issues can certainly be regional, and people may be further along in one part of the country versus another.
  • Chris: Hard to believe but there will always be people who don't seem to care about the greater good until it affects them, so it is hard to have a conversation about environmental sustainability with them unless you can demonstrate a direct benefit to that person.
  • Marsha notes that 60% of children in Detroit have asthma . She is able, then, to talk about pollution reduction and improving air quality for children, and people will listen to her message. Give people a tangible benefit to attract them to the idea of environmental sustainability.
  • Josh: People also react to things that they see or hear about. Al Gore's movie (An Inconvenient Truth), projects in Midtown, etc. Many people need to be able to relate to a clear example of sustainability at work.
  • Just try to get the conversation on the radar, exposing people to more holistic thinking showing how everything is connected. If you don't have a lot of time, at least you can sow a seed.
  • Sustainability is a way of thinking and living. It also provides a competitive advantage, which many people are unaware of.
  • Many people recognize the need for change in how we live and work. It's just the HOW of it that they are unsure of.
  • It's all about relationships. Only through relationships can you really communicate your message. Find out everything you can about the other person - where are they now? where are they going? where are their stresses? Then you can identify areas to work on and improve and you can help them to move forward. Once they have made one change, you have built the bridge and you can then tackle the next area of change. Stay on the task level, where that person is. You don't need to tackle the whole problem of global warming.
  • Minjung notes that paradigm shifting is already in motion in our community but that this is really a worldwide problem and we need to shift from a consumer focused business model to a sustainability focused business model. Unless you change the mindset of the whole economy, it will be difficult to get everyone worldwide on board.
  • Marsha: Sees a resistance to change. A few mental obstacles to overcome.
  • Shawn: There is a stereotype that goes along with sustainability and environmentalism and these issues have, sadly, been co-opted by political ideology. It can be uncomfortable to have a conversation about these topics when you know that what you're about to say will be unpopular with the other person and will lead to a political discussion.
  • Remember:
    • Small is big. We don't have to change the whole - we are not responsible to change the whole, nor is it possible. So, just take the next small step.
    • Surround yourself by a supportive community.
    • Know that you're not trying to change others, just yourself. Be an example that others might imitate.
    • Remember when having conversations that nobody wants to be told that they have to make big changes.
    • Litmus test: Am I doing this with joy? No one will want to follow you if you are doing something with anger or frustration.
    • Don't become offended by ignorance. If people make fun of you or insult you, remember that that comes from ignorance.
  • Suntae sees another layer of challenge in our business schools. There is a real challenge of incorporating the idea of sustainability into B school curriculums. Business schools still tend to be stuck on profitability as the entire purpose of business. Sustainability is often used as just a marketing tool to attract customers and make more money. It goes back to metrics - business leaders want to be able to measure everything, and measuring a business's impact on community or environment is a little trickier than measuring profit and loss.
  • Business people look at financial performance as a basis for creating wealth. But what constitutes wealth? Is it only money or can it also take into account things like health, happiness, well-being, happy employees, etc. Many companies have failed because they ONLY focused on money and money led them into trouble.
  • Some people can't change until the future is proven, and by the time the future is proven, it's too late for them to change.
  • The challenge of language: When we are trying to develop leadership in a new area of learning, the language that we have been given is not enough; our language fails us. We are then required to develop a new language, and this new language will likely still be behind what is actually happening on the street. That's why even stumbling conversations are really important, because this is the process through which new language develops. Having strong and healthy relationships helps us to get through these stumbling conversations.

Tom recommends the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. Be sure to look at the video on the front page of the site called "Global Warming's Six Americas".

October 3, 2013 Topic: Setting the Priorities of the Day

Comments from Bob's workshop on Measuring Profitability:

  • A tutorial on the spreadsheets might be helpful. There is a lot in there and they can be a bit complex.
  • Perhaps in the future do another session on Profitability based solely on examples of questions that people have put to Bob.
  • Fully 1/3 of people who want to start a business have never calculated profitability for their product or service. This is a really important issue for start up businesses.
  • Calculating profitability might become much more complex when you have multiple products/services. How much of your overhead is attributed to each product/service? Insurance costs? Administrative costs? etc.
  • Your products/services might be ever-changing. Need to change with the business climate.
  • You do these profitability calculations to what end? What questions do you want answered? Question isn't how much should I allocate to each product or service, but, for example, should I continue this product line or not? These are the kinds of questions you will have to answer throughout the life of the company.
  • Those who can't control their personal finances won't be able to run a business successfully. Chaos in personal life will spill over into your business. Try to get control of the chaos before attempting to start a new business.
  • Core to any system is to start with discipline. Be consistent in your work. If you don't do things consistently, then trying to measure what you have done will result in bad information.
  • Know how much it costs for producing each product. Also time yourself as to how long it takes you to make a single item. (Curt)
  • Data must be consistent. Different people in the company will have their own information based on the work they do and what they know, but how do you integrate all that information into a single report?
  • Terms: COD, Paypal take a certain percentage of your profit. Payment terms matter to your profitability. You have to really be aware of payment terms: - who is financing your business?

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Today's topic: Setting the Goals for the Day

Question put to the group: What techniques do you use to set your goals and priorities of the day? How do you allocate your time, recognizing that the decisions you make today affect the future of your work and your business?

  • Good to have a system of some sort. Chris uses Outlook Calendar. He prints his calendar each week and then reviews it each day, highlighting what needs to get done that day. Whatever didn't get done that day is reprioritzed. He keeps a weekly list from which he pulls stuff off on a daily basis. He looks at what wasn't done or what was added to the list during the week, and then re-prioritizes for each new week. This helps him to not forget things and to keep track.
  • Kimberly makes a daily list in the morning when she thinks more clearly. Because she has responsibilities in different spheres of her life, she wonders how she will allocate her time in each sphere. She feels that she's going to need to move to a weekly instead of a daily schedule because she has so much going on. She also makes sure to respect her personal rhythms: no energy after 6pm means no work after 6pm.
  • Curt organizes everything by project or context. He does what makes the most sense at the time based on how much time or energy he has available and where he is right now with each project. He reviews throughout the day (see David Allen: Getting Things Done)
  • Productive procrastination: A technique that works for some people (but certainly not everyone). As your stress level increases (since you put everything off until the last minute…), your productivity level increases as well.
  • Kevin: He reports that he takes on more projects than he can handle and then sees what he can get done. He needs to be multitasking (maybe 3 projects at a time) - that seems to be how he likes to work. He recognizes that he requires other people to be involved in order for him to keep structure in his work. His teaching job is an example. His students need a more structured environment and the class he teaches is naturally structured, focusing on a specific skill each day. He reports that when he works alone, he feels like he is less focused, less in control.
  • David Broner: He sets a theme for each day: SCORE one day, school stuff the next. He says "no" when it is necessary, when he might not have the time or the inclination to do the work someone asks of him. He makes exercise a priority and will never change that part of his schedule. Also, he makes no plans after 5pm.
  • It's really important to know what you want to do and to know when to say NO. Do you really need to answer that phone? Being interrupted in the middle of work can be very disruptive and cause you to get off track.
  • Bob: There is a difference between goals and tasks. Also, you have to recognize that there are "seasons" to your life that will affect your work, energy seasons, emotional seasons, etc. So look at goals more holistically, in context with the other aspects of your life - work, personal, spiritual, etc. When you understand this, it tempers your goals for that time.
  • Kimberly prioritizes self care (health, spirit). Her advice: There is ALWAYS work that needs to be done, but know where your boundaries lie. Make sure to schedule time for yourself. You must first honor yourself before you can honor those you work with. If Kimberly is going through a busy time, she always makes sure to schedule some time off to keep herself in balance. She also recognizes her need to do what she loves. If she's bored with something, it will take her much more energy to do that thing than she wants to expend.
  • Doug writes things down the night before in order to make sure he doesn't forget. Writing tasks down helps take it out of your mind so you don't worry about it - it takes it out of your head.
  • Josh: He looks at which conversations he wants to be part of in general, and which he wants to be in today. He knows that if there's something he really doesn't want to do, he does everything he can to postpone it. He doesn't like to waste energy, so if he finds that he is wasting energy, he tries to redirect that energy somewhere else.
  • Putting things off: If you have a tendency to put things off, ask yourself, is it likely to get easier by delaying a task or will delaying it make it harder to do? When you put off doing something, are you really prioritizing? Will there be a negative impact?

September 12, 2013 Topic: Forming Sustainable Partnerships

Comments from last week's conversation about Motivation:

Important take away from this conversation:

  • What motivates people is really a big question.
  • Focus on positive, avoid being buried by the negative.
  • Focusing on the good things that are happening and driving those things can help you to maintain motivation.
  • Try not to let problems and negativity diminish your motivation.
  • Don't let mundane tasks overburden you and keep you from doing the really important work you need to do.
  • Matt D: Planning, thinking, building, designing are all energizing to Matt. Mundane tasks can take up a lot of his time and keep him from doing the work that he loves, so he tries hard to minimize the amount of time he has to spend on those types of tasks.
  • Make sure to give yourself time to tackle the big picture stuff rather than getting all caught up in busywork.

Recommended reading: Your Brain At Work by David Rock

Josh: Sees motivation as a kind of hunger; what drives our hunger? We do things because we know we have to in order to live.

A sense of justice motivates many people to do certain work. Knowing people are suffering is enough to motivate people to try and effect change, help end suffering.

Money motivates many, many people. People imagine that money might simply be a tool to gain freedom, but then when people acquire a lot of money, they realize they don't have all the freedom they imagined. (Tom mentioned studies that show that people aren't, in fact, very motivated by money)

Money as a vehicle to attaining something else; so what is it that people want money for, what is the underlying motivation?

  • Freedom
  • Acquiring material possessions
  • Maintaining an image - keeping up with "the Joneses"
  • Ability to assist others?

How much is our motivation an illusion and how much is real? You can be motivated to act or make a choice, but then that choice could result in something that is different than you thought it would be - it's an illusion, a fantasy.

How do you form truly effective partnerships with other people or businesses?

Topic for today: Partnership: How to form sustainable partnerships with other businesses

When you form a business and you have some capabilities that you need to move to someone else or to another business, it can be tricky to build a truly effective partnership.

Matt D's Story from Final Five: At the time that Final Five was in process of evolving, another company came along and was able to form the perfect relationship with FF at that time. Now that company has indicated that they want to be more of a transactional partner rather than having the really deep relationship FF wanted. They are trying to grow in breadth rather than in depth like FF wanted. So Matt D is trying to figure out if he is going to keep working with that company. Matt is now talking with another company and they both seem to be looking into many of the same questions, and so might be a better fit.

This process for Matt has required him to get clear what he is really looking for in a partner. He's laying out the layers in the relationship, figuring out what is critical to that relationship. He wants the other partner to be "speaking the right language."

Matt didn't start with values when hiring partners. He was thinking only of time, productivity and billing. But then he started working with people based on shared values and figures they can work on the skills stuff as they go. Also, this has attracted customers to them because they recognize shared values.

Other thoughts on forming health partnerships:

  • Sometimes having a transactional relationship with a partner is really enough - it may be all you need.
  • Get crystal clear what you want in a partner business so you will recognize them when they show up. You can learn a lot from having those "crash and burn" relationships.
  • It's a lot like dating: When you first meet someone, they appear to be one way and may say the right things, but as you date longer, you figure out who they really are and what they really want in a relationship. Tom remarked to Matt D, as his first business partnership started to go through a change, that "it seems like you've exited the dating stage" of that relationship.
  • A partner has to come along at the right time. What if the right person isn't around at the right time? Then you just move ahead with what you have.
  • A good partner business cannot necessarily meet all your needs (it would be nice, but it isn't realistic to expect). Sometimes the partner will do things outside of their core competency area because they want to continue working with you and truly want to help you out. It's better to keep things simple. Only work with that partner in the area in which they have a real competency, where they can be of real help to you. Then, you may need to bring in another person/business to cover the additional work that the first partner cannot do.

Curt's story - Red Panda: Curt has plans to move the soldering work for Red Panda to an outside company. His options were to hire and train people to do the work, or hire an outside company to do it for them. To begin with, he did all of the soldering work himself. It was important for him to gain a competency in soldering so that he could evaluate those he would pass this task to. Also it allowed him time to refine the process, and make the job as easy as possible before he passed it on to the manufacturer. When you pass work onto a partner company, you want to have a good understanding of how long the work should take so you can tell if they are up to speed or struggling. Rather than hire and train a new employee, it seemed a better idea to hire someone who is an expert in soldering and who can handle the larger volume of work.

Question to Curt: How do you ensure that the quality of your work will be maintained when you bring on a partner business? A: By doing it all in-house and establishing the blueprints of your product, then you can feel more sure of the manufacturer you send your work to. Also, you can do quality inspections to monitor the quality level of the product as it is being produced or at the end of production. (Curt and Eric continue to do quality control).

What else is there in the partnership thing that has to be dealt with?

  • Price
  • Quality
  • Meeting deadlines
  • Response Time
  • Is it convenient to work with them? Are they in China? Brazil?
  • Can your partnership evolve with changing conditions? (You put in all this work up front to get the whole partnership thing worked out, and wouldn't it be great if the world didn't change, but in fact it does change and then you have some new problems to deal with. Can your partnership evolve?)

September 5, 2013 Topic: What Motivates You?

Comments from last week's conversation about Maintaining Your Vision:

Tom's observation on vision: Tom doesn't believe people truly have a real vision. What people say they envision, and what that vision becomes in the end don't sync. People may have a direction they are going in, or a loose outline of what they want to see or create, but no one ends up in a place that is exactly what they envisioned in the first place.

Thomas Edison: Was he really a visionary? Tom believes it wasn't so much vision as process. The first incandescent light had already been invented by Englishman Humphry Davy in 1802 and Edison just refined it after many, many failures and accidental successes.

It's less about vision and more about just having the courage to try something new.

How do you know if the reality feels right despite how it differs from the vision? How do you reconcile the vision and the reality?

Jeff asks, what's the difference between vision and intention? Is it just a question of semantics? He views intention and vision as the same thing. Vision can have attached to it the idea of a destination while intention is open-ended, but defined as well.

Jeff sees vision as something you may never arrive at completely, you just have to enjoy the journey. If he ever arrived at his destination, he would be bored. He would need to expand his vision in order to having something new to strive for and not be bored.

Vision needs to be a little more specific and concrete if you're designing a product.

For Eric, vision is a combination of foresight and objective. Once you reach your objective, you might become stagnant, so how do you stay motivated? He would always be needing to find that next objective in order not to stagnate.

Language is important: how are you defining this word so that I can communicate this clearly in my conversations with others?

Heather's thoughts: Vision is an orienting set of imagery, not specs. Her vision is what she believes is possible for human beings. It's more of a belief statement of how she wants the world to be.

Maybe a better word would be aspiration rather than vision.

Suntae's thoughts: If your intention is grounded in yourself, then if everything changes around you, your intention need not change. He has noticed that as people go through the incubation process here, their intention or aspiration was, in fact, strengthened by the process.

What motivates you?

Topic today: What motivates you?

Heather: She has one grounded belief in what motivates people: Creation and Community, that is, creative work and relationships. Creative work is what brings you alive, it's what you want to contribute to the world. Community is all about relationships. Meaningful human lives are made of both.

We as human beings naturally have to be challenged, because frustration comes out of this build up of energy. The mind needs challenge, something to work on.

When you reach a level of comfort, you start to create new challenges to keep your mind occupied.

Diversity motivates Kimberly, connecting to people who have different experiences and are dealing with different challenges feeds her energy.

Community is important; connecting to other peoples experiences and ideas - extremely motivating for Michael.

Diversity: In almost any context, diversity is associated with health. (Permaculture) Lack of diversity is boring for some, and the presence of diversity can be inspiring and motivating.

Learning motivates Kimberly, and diversity motivates her to learn. It's a continuous growth.

Sometimes we may not always want to seek diversity. Jeff says he frequently looks for people who share similar values and ideas. For example, he wonders what the world would be like if everyone was on the same page with regard to sustainability and environmentalism? But then he wonders if that would really be such a good thing - what about the law of unintended consequences? If we all shared the same values, what would that lead to?

Jeff sometimes thinks he would like to be in a spot where things are running smoothly and he isn't being challenged, but then he realizes that he would lose his edge. He needs to be looking for the next challenge. With challenge comes frustrations and difficulties, but the way he approaches these can produce growth.

There is a difference between contentment and complacency. You can be content and still move forward and find motivation, but you cannot be complacent.

Dissatisfaction: The principal motivation for sustainable business comes from dissatisfaction with the traditional way of doing business. This dissatisfaction produces the motivation for many people to pursue a new way of doing things.

Making a difference: Kimberly's desire to look back on her life and recognize that she did something that really made a difference motivates her to do her work. Having seen a lot of preventable tragedies , she truly believes she is here to do something constructive, to make a difference. She maintains a positive outlook by being in contact with community and with people that help to motivate her work.

Positive focus: It's important to maintain a positive focus. Focusing on the suffering of the world can create anger and frustration, and although it can motivate in the short term, it can wear you down. It's better to focus on imagining how to fix things, and on what the world could be like. Try to effect change based on positive models, not negative. This can give you direction and motivate you when you see what good work others have done.

Being motivated by past success: Doug is noticing a lot of New Yorkers moving to Detroit because they have already seen the improvement that has happened there and they know that the same thing can happen in Detroit, too.

People do the same thing for very different motives. If we are all doing something, we may not be doing it for the same reasons. We may have common values, but do we have common motivations? When we started GG, we had to be open to the variety of reasons that people chose to get involved.

If you don't ever get to a result, it's always out of reach, you risk losing your motivation. Just acknowledging that you something, even something small can help to keep you going. Recognize that you are in the middle of a process, just where you should be, and that this is part of moving forward.

Good communication is important. You can discern others' motivations and values through conversation.