Saturday, February 11, 2006

Driving two lane blacktops

Commerce and cooperation are typically touted as opposites.

You've heard it. Business as war stuff. Grind your opponent down. Rip their ears off as you speed by. Take no prisoners.

I don't think so. I see enterprise as the great new global commons. Sure, it's been co-opted from the top down in its early stages, as most good ideas usually are. But successful participation in enterprises of many types is increasingly available to more and more of us. The commons of global enterprise needs to be defended from the bottom up. That's you and me, doing it right.

It is a hard enterprise lesson to learn but cooperation, when justified, is far more efficient than conflict.

When you begin your enterprise you'll be tempted turn your own personal fears into enterprise fears, reacting to the world with your fists up. That's not all bad. There's a lot of jerks out there. But it's not all good either.

Life is continuously imperfect, but it's also a world of countless everyday miracles. In your enterprise life, watching trust work and, importantly, trust being rewarded, is one of those everyday miracles. Not just on the personal level, but more so in the ways it builds and grows the public commons for all of us.

If you want to succeed on any enterprise path, look for ways to cooperate with your enterprise partners rather than battling with them. The goal is to create ever increasing value for the solutions you provide. That's means involving customers, vendors, peers, investors, board members and everyone in between in this trust thing.

Sure, you always need to remember the good fences/good neighbors rule. That helps spot the bad ones sooner. Let them fall away. The good ones will reward you with the small miracles, the pathways and the tools of your sustainabe enterprise.

This I Believe, is a radio production based on the original series done by Edward R. Murrow in the 1950s that's been revived by NPR. An essay submitted by former Secretary of State Warren Christopher spoke beautifully to this idea of trust and the public commons, I thought.

"One night recently, I was driving down a two-lane highway at about 60 miles an hour. A car approached from the opposite direction at about the same speed. As we passed "each other, I caught the other driver's eye for only a second"

I wondered whether he might be thinking, as I was, how dependent we were on each other at that moment. I was relying on him not to fall asleep, not to be distracted by a cell phone conversation, not to cross over into my lane and bring my life suddenly to an end. And though we had never spoken a word to one another, he relied upon me in just the same way."

"Multiplied a million times over, I believe that is the way the world works. At some level, we all depend upon one another. Sometimes that dependence requires us simply to refrain from doing something like crossing over the double yellow line. And sometimes it requires us to act cooperatively, with allies or even with strangers."

Your enterprise life may be geared toward non profit work or social entrepreneurship or your own business. In every circumstance, you'll need friends more than you'll need enemies.

Here's Warren Christopher, closing the piece: "In my own life, I've put great stock in personal responsibility. But, as the years have passed, I've also come to believe that there are moments when one must rely upon the good faith and judgment of others. So, while each of us faces -- at one time or another -- the prospect of driving alone down a dark road, what we must learn with experience is that the approaching light may not be a threat, but a shared moment of trust."

Don't worry about roadblocks or competitors. Work on creating ever increasing value with your own work. Provide an ever better mousetrap, day in, day out. Out work and out shine lesser competitors and less valuable solutions.

Then, keep your powder dry and trust those who earn your respect. It's the only path I know to sustainable work.

Warren Christopher essay at NPR's This I Believe project

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Get out there and screw up

Get out there and screw up

Nothing should ever be considered "done" in you enterprise life.

If it is, so are you.

One thing is always certain. Your first attempts at enterprise certainly won't be your best.

I don't care if you're starting a convent in Calcutta, building out a non-profit venture or launching into your own biz.

Start ups can be scary from a zillion directions, but one of the biggest is admitting that you might screw it up.

Guess what? Good! You tried something hard and you found a break point. Now you know something the average bear doesn't.

Economic value and sustainability come from information, experience and judgement.

Fail in small ways again, and again and again. Look carefully for what it teaches you. Search out the wisdom of setbacks as much as victories.

You can only get sustainable by knowing what doesn't work.

Get out there and screw up. Charge!