What Small Businesses Can Teach Us About Responsible Business

Small business leaders often build tight bonds with the communities they serve and because of that, their civic engagement is driven by the customers and clients they see every day, not Madison Avenue marketing firms, focus groups, or message testing. In a recent study, 72% of people believe locally-owned businesses were more likely than large companies to be involved in improving their communities.

Great lessons on responsible business practices we can learn from small businesses:

  1. Focus on the issues that matter to your community.
  2. Listen to the needs of your constituents before acting, which will help you achieve better results.
  3. Put people first.

Source: What Small Businesses Know About Corporate Responsibility

How to Improve Your Critical Thinking

If, like me, you’re looking for ways to improve your critical thinking and problem-solving ability, Helen Lee Bouygues, founder of the Reboot Foundation, on the latest episode of HBR’s Ideacast, presents 3 Simple Habits to Improve Your Critical Thinking:

  1. Question assumptions
  2. Reason through logic
  3. Diversify thought

TED-ed describes a similar five-step process:

…which Patrick Allan elaborates on here:

  1. Formulate your question: Know what you’re looking for specifically. Break things down to their base level.
  2. Gather your information: Now that you know what’s relevant to your problem or decision, research it. Reach out to an expert, read up on the subject, or talk to people who have experience with the same subject matter.
  3. Apply the information and ask critical questions: What concepts are at work? What assumptions exist? Is your interpretation of the information logically sound?
  4. Consider the implications: Look beyond the short-term and think about how your decision will shape things in the long-term. Something that will benefit you now may not benefit you in the future. What’s at stake? What can go wrong?
  5. Explore other points of view: By understanding other perspectives, you learn more about the subject. You’re also given an opportunity to reflect on the information you have and how you feel.

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The first step in questioning assumptions, then, is figuring out when to question assumptions. Turns out, a questioning approach is particularly helpful when the stakes are high.

So if you are in a discussion about long-term company strategy upon which years of effort and expense will be based, be sure to ask basic questions about your beliefs: How do you know that business will increase? What does the research say about your expectations about the future of the market? Have you taken time to step into the figurative shoes of your customers as a “secret shopper”?

Another way to question your assumptions is to consider alternatives. You might ask: What if our clients changed? What if our suppliers went out of business? These sorts of questions help you gain new and important perspectives that help hone your thinking.

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Being aware of common fallacies can also allow you to think more logically. For instance, people often engage in what’s known as “post hoc” thinking. In this fallacy, people believe that “because event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X.”

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In team settings, give people the chance to give their opinions independently without the influence of the group. When I ask for advice, for instance, I typically withhold my own preferences and ask team members to email me their opinions in separate notes. This tactic helps prevent people from engaging in groupthink.

Source: 3 Simple Habits to Improve Your Critical Thinking

“when they sell a company, it’s not only the financial benefit: they also want to feel good about what happens to the company afterwards”

Curious about worker ownership, including Employee Stock Ownership Plans, or ESOPs, and worker cooperatives? Check out this piece by for Vermont Digger:

NCEO says its research shows employee-owners are likely to have higher median incomes from wages, no matter what their wage level. The group said employee-owners tend to have better access to benefits like flexible work schedules, parental leave and tuition reimbursement, and tend to stay at their jobs longer than non-employee-owners.

Proponents of the worker ownership model say it’s also more likely to result in jobs with dignity and more opportunities for wealth and building skills.

Source: Interest in Employee Ownership Growing

“We can’t control the future, but we can bend it”

A great way to think about the impact you want to have while you’re here:

My hunch is that two things are true:

  • We have much less direct control over the future than we hope, and that it will always surprise us.
  • We have far more ability to make an impact than we expect.

The only people who can change our culture (and thus our future) are us.

We can’t control the future, but we can bend it. And we can’t freeze the world as it is, but we can figure out how to be a part of it.

The work we do every day, the stories we tell, the paths we follow and the connections we make define our culture, and culture determines what’s next.

Source: Impermanence | Seth’s Blog

“The people we surround ourselves with matter.”

I really love this post from Farnam Street. In a few short paragraphs, it:

  • Asserts that the people that we surround ourselves with, either by choice or circumstance, matter
  • Challenges the idea of the lone genius, reminding us that we’re not self made, that the educational system, public projects like our system of roads and highways, and collaborative efforts like the internet all played a part in getting us where we are
  • And beautifully illustrates the importance of teamwork and collaboration, as well as what makes a great team

Stop me if this sounds familiar. There is a person who toils alone for years in relative obscurity before finally cracking the code to become a hero. The myth of the lone genius. It’s the stuff of Disney movies.

Of course, we all have moments when we’re alone and something suddenly clicks. We’d do well to remember, though, that in those moments, we are not as independent as we like to think. The people we surround ourselves with matter.

In part, because we tell ourselves the story of the lone genius, we under-appreciate the role of a team. Sure, the individual matters, no doubt. However, the individual contributions are supercharged by the team around them.

We operate in a world where it’s nearly impossible to accomplish anything great as an individual. When you think about it, you’re the product of an education system, a healthcare system, luck, roads, the internet and so much more. You may be smart but you’re not self-made. And at work, most important achievements require a team of people working together.

The leader’s job is to get the team right. Getting the team right means that people are better as a group than as individuals. Now this is important. Step back and think about that for a second — the right teams make every individual better than they would be on their own.

Source: The Importance of Working With “A”Players

A New Report on the State of Craft Beer Shows Vermont Leading the Way

C + R Research has just released a new report on the craft beer industry. It contains a number of insights:

  • Vermont has the most number of breweries per capita
  • And Vermont also produces the most pints per capita
  • To no surprise to anyone that follows this industry, the number of craft breweries continues to show a steady upward trend
  • And the states seeing the most growth are New Jersey and Kentucky

But I think the most striking figure in this report is the economic impact:

Per capita for 21+ adults, Colorado comes in at No. 1 with an economic impact of $764 per person and Vermont at No. 2 with an economic impact of $681 per person. These numbers represent the overall output of the craft beer industry in each state based on the 21+ population.

via Vermont heads up the field in craft beer | Vermont Business Magazine

Enjoy the ride!

It’s hard to believe it’s over. It all went by so fast.

38914200_1889215644471878_4945278026683252736_oLast August, I packed up a van filled with my belonging and headed north, first on I-93 and then on I-89. I had come to Burlington to participate in a one-year, intensive MBA program. I had resisted graduate school and more formal education for a while, but something about this program spoke to me.

I soon found myself in a room surrounded by people who felt the same. We had come from different backgrounds, different work experiences, and from different areas of the country, a few from other nations.

What we soon found out is that we shared a similar feeling: that business-as-usual was no longer working and that it is time to transform and, if necessary, create businesses to respond to society’s challenges in a way that is more sustainable. That is, we need more market-based solutions to the challenges that face the world today.

In fact, it was a year ago today that I first met the other members of my cohort. They are, and remain, some of the most amazing people I’ve met. And I feel honored to have spent a year in a windowless room with them.

We began the year with a quintessential UVM activity: a trip to the university’s ropes course. In the first of many surreal moments this year, we also took turns looking at the solar eclipse that happened to be taking place that day. Then we played games to get to know each other, followed by other trust-building activities on the actual course. As I walked home that evening, reflecting on the experience and the first day of class, I remember thinking, This is going to be a wild year. Enjoy the ride.

We began by studying business foundations: finance, strategy, brand marketing, and organizational behavior. We learned about the sustainability challenges facing the world. But soon enough, we found ourselves exploring topics that get at the heart of those challenges: strategic CSR, entrepreneurship, innovation, supply chain issues, public policy, and community development. And before we knew it, we were applying what we had learned in the classroom with businesses and organizations with real world challenges.

I tried to go into this year with no expectations for the experience. My initial goals were only to work as hard as I could and enjoy every minute of it. We know not if we’ll ever pass this way again…or something like that.

So, my advice, both to this next cohort and anyone that happens to be reading this, is to enjoy every minute of your time here. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Soak up every moment of it. Take advantage of every opportunity. Enjoy the time you have with the people you’re lucky enough to share a room with. Learn from them. And approach it all with a growth mindset: your intelligence and talent got you here, but the world also needs more people who have a love of learning, that communicate effectively, that work well on a team, and that have the resilience to get across the finish line.

The time flies by. Before you know it, you’ll be saying goodbye and moving onto your next adventure. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be sitting here a year from now being thankful for every single minute that you got to spend with some of your new favorite people. Enjoy the ride. It all goes by so fast.

 

Don’t Be Afraid: We’re in This Together

You may be scared right now. Or feel gripped by anxiety. Or responding to all of this by becoming deeply cynical about this country or the political process or your fellow Americans. Or maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed with a sense of impending doom.

Just remember this: you are not alone. We’re in this together.

A lot of people share your fear and/or anxiety right now. Anxiety about the next four years is real. But it’s not something you have to go through alone.

Talk to friends. Talk to your family. Join a group. Find a constructive way of coping. (And if you feel like you can’t, consider seeking the help of a mental health professional. It’s OK. It’s become a very popular option since Election Day. You’re not alone and there are people to help you through this. Sometimes we all could use a little help, right?)

Let’s respond to this by becoming us again. Not just connected on the internet, but in real life. Strengthen your connection with your friend, family, and the groups & organizations that matter to you.

Let’s form new groups and build new things…and leave the haters wondering why the hell we’re still smiling.

To borrow a phrase from a wise woman I know, let’s all be peaceful warriors.

Let’s figure out ways to:

A – Accept reality
C – Create a vision for the future
T – Take action

…it’s up to you to decide what those pieces – reality, the future, and action – mean…just as long as we take small steps to initiate progress.

Remember, America isn’t all that different than we were two months ago. America didn’t die on Election Night…and it’s not going anywhere.

This country isn’t just the government and the government isn’t just the president.

Sure, we’re in for a rocky road (possibly the understatement of the year), but democracy is messy…and it’s about to face its greatest test that it has faced in a while. Don’t get me wrong: it’s gonna be a strange four years.

But let’s respond with hope, optimism, and connection.

Let’s find the good people, music, books, and films…

And be our own lights shining through the darkness. This isn’t the apocalypse. It’s a chance for a new beginning.

Let’s treat people with kindness and respect. And start to understand what they’re going through…eventually understanding the arguments of those we disagree with so well that we can articulate their arguments as if they were our own.

Let’s help each other. And stand up for those that can’t stand up for themselves.

But first, tell yourself you’re going to be OK. Then tell yourself we’re going to be OK. Why? Because we’re in this together.

Cal Newport: “Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend on It.”

This article by Cal Newport perfectly illustrates why we should spend less time on social media and more time doing meaningful work (emphasis mine).

Professional success is hard, but it’s not complicated. The foundation to achievement and fulfillment, almost without exception, requires that you hone a useful craft and then apply it to things that people care about. This is a philosophy perhaps best summarized by the advice Steve Martin used to give aspiring entertainers: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.If you do that, the rest will work itself out, regardless of the size of your Instagram following.

…interesting opportunities and useful connections are not as scarce as social media proponents claim. In my own professional life, for example, as I improved my standing as an academic and a writer, I began receiving more interesting opportunities than I could handle. I currently have filters on my website aimed at reducing, not increasing, the number of offers and introductions I receive.

My research on successful professionals underscores that this experience is common: As you become more valuable to the marketplace, good things will find you. To be clear, I’m not arguing that new opportunities and connections are unimportant. I’m instead arguing that you don’t need social media’s help to attract them.

 

Sturgill Simpson: “I wanna hit Goliath in the forehead with a rock”

There’s so many gems in this Sturgill Simpson interview, nuggets of advice for any aspiring musician:

  • “If you pour your heart out and you’re honest with yourself and your human experience and your life, and you put that into music, you don’t have to be talented. … People will connect, and they’ll spread it for you. You don’t need radio. You don’t need some big machine throwing it out there. I’m living proof of that.”
  • “I want people out there that are in the position I was in four years ago to know that there’s hope. I wake up every day and feel like, ‘I wanna fuckin’ crush this game, without playing the game,’ just to prove it can be done. … I wanna hit Goliath in the forehead with a rock.”
  • “It took me this long to get right here. [But] this isn’t all I want, this isn’t all I know my music [can do]. I know that there are a whole lot of people out there that aren’t aware, that will connect with [my] music. … The industry’s not gonna give it to me. And at this point I don’t want them to. I’m going to prove to them I can do it. In 10 years I’ll be the biggest country star on this planet, I guaran-fuckin’-tee it. And there’s nothing they can do to stop that.
  • “I’ve got the Rocky heart, man. I’m gonna do it now out of spite. And I’m gonna go play rock ’n’ roll, too, and take all those fuckin’ people, and I’m going to build a little army. And you’ll come to my show, and it’ll be four hours long, and it’ll be an American music show. It won’t be a country music show, Americana music show or a soul music show. We’re gonna hit it all, we’re gonna touch it all, because I love it all. And I want to love everybody.”
  • “I wouldn’t change my experience for any other fuckin’ road that could have come, man,” he says. “Because I know that this is real, and the people that are with me are with me.”
  • Simpson later recalls being back in Utah, and how his wife — more convinced than he was that he had more than a hobbyist’s skill for singing and songwriting — urged him to leave behind his misery-inducing railroad job. And leave the $80,000 salary that came with it, to return to Nashville and take a real shot at music. “Thank God, she just leveled me one night: ‘You don’t fuckin’ suck at this. … You should share this and maybe try doing something you love with your life before I wake up and I’m stuck with some 40-year-old miserable asshole.’ ”
  • “It’s all about me struggling to get my foot in the door and figuring out how to land. I’ve landed now. I can’t really sit there and complain anymore. Life’s pretty good.  … But you still won’t see me on the fuckin’ CMAs.”
  • “If you ask me what I think about, what I stress about — it’s making the best fucking records that I possibly can. [If] I feel like I just kind of went through the motions and pumped out what I think people were expecting, to appease them and make them happy to sustain my lifestyle, [then] I’m lying to them.”