|A contrast between a book on starting your own socially and environmentally responsible business by a British entrepreneur, and my own book on the same subject.
I‘m reading Neil Crofts’ book Authentic Business, which is entirely consistent with, yet utterly different from, my own book Natural Enterprise. Part of the difference is cultural — Neil is British, and his recommendations are designed for a UK/European business climate that is less ruthless but also less historically entrepreneurial than it is here in North America.
Neil’s book is more traditional than mine in several areas as a result: his recommendations for organizational structure (we both recommend unincorporated partnerships, but there is some hierarchy in his, none in mine), financing (my approach is more organic than his), and he acknowledges that stress and hard work are an inevitable part of entrepreneurship (I don’t).
But in some important areas his recommendations are almost identical to mine: He proposes creating a Constitution for your business instead of a Business Plan; I call it a Charter of Principles. Both our books stress integrity and responsibility to the community, to society and the environment, and to yourself. Both books talk about the importance of the community as more than just a source of customers. Both books talk about the importance of business alliances. Both books make decision-making a consensus process (Neil advocates use of Open Space processes). Both books stress viral marketing as the best way to make your business known.
The difference between the books that is most interesting to me is the determination of what the business will be. In this area, I am quite pragmatic — you need to start by carefully researching and finding a need that the market isn’t already addressing (and make sure you know why). My section on Expectations talks about finding the intersection between what you want to do, what you’re good at doing, and what there’s a need for. To Neil, what you want to do trumps the other two — he is more a believer than I am that if you’re passionate about wanting to do something, you will find an audience, and you’ll pick up the skills (or partners with the skills) that are necessary to make the business viable.
Here are the questions he suggests you ask to determine What you want to do:
He says you should write this down, and discuss it with as many people as possible, starting with those you trust, until it is crafted into a repeatable catch phrase, Your Purpose. Then whenever anyone asks What You Do, you instead tell them Your Purpose. And you build from there, using the advice in the book until Your Purpose becomes your successful, ‘authentic’ business.
My approach is to start by identifying needs, and then decide which ones you are passionate about filling (and competent to fill). I know my friend Rob Paterson is in Neil’s camp on this — his advice to someone who knows their Purpose is to be a rock guitarist to spend every spare second being a rock guitarist, practicing until you’re great at it, and not waste time pursuing a general education or a bunch of fall-back options. Same thing if you’re an athlete, or an artist.
I have no doubt that if you want to be successful in one of these overcrowded and fiercely competitive fields, you have to go at it with that single-mindedness. But I don’t think most of us are that exclusive in defining our Purpose. My guess is that for most of us, there’s at least one Purpose that sits in the intersection of What’s Needed, What You’re Good At and What You Love. I think what Neil is saying is that, on the chart at right, Your Purpose is whichever of the activities in intersections 1, 2, 3 or 4 you feel most drawn to. I think most people would be happier, and probably more successful, doing activities in intersection 3, since they wouldn’t have to wait for a market, or kill themselves practicing to be good at them. But a lot of us can’t find anything in intersection 3. I would agree that it’s a cop-out to do things in intersection 5 (the space most of us, alas, work in).
So it comes down, for most of us, to a decision: We can work like hell to try to take activities in intersection 2 and move them to intersection 3 — though it’s really tough to create a need, or even get an unrecognized need recognized (that’s where I’m at right now). And opportunities in intersection 4 are even tougher (and take courage) to find, though they’re probably easier to move to intersection 3 (practice, practice, practice). As a result, too many of us spend our lives doing jobs we hate in intersection 5, and we fill the empty place inside with hobbies in intersection 1 or (if we’re good) intersection 2.
My sense is that it’s easier to keep searching for opportunities in intersection 3, and, if that proves fruitless for too long, finding something in intersection 4 and working hard at it. This is hard work that requires great courage and enterprise, but books about people who have found great happiness in their lives are almost all stories of this type of journey. You have nothing to lose but your chains.
What do you want to do?