Making a Living Naturally: The Fifteen Qualities of Natural Enterprises

research and innovation processes

This is the fourth in a series of articles about my new book Finding the Sweet Spot. The book is available from most booksellers or online from the sites listed in the right sidebar. A synopsis of the book is here. A complete set of reviews of the book (thank you, reviewers!) can be found on Beth Patterson’s site here.

One of the things I learned this past weekend at Bioneers By the Bay was that progressives are generally suspicious of business and entrepreneurship. In Finding the Sweet Spot I try to dispel the myth that you have to compromise your principles (notably principles of sustainability and responsibility) to survive in (what as seen as) the “dog eat dog” world of business.

Even the terms business, company and entrepreneurship are suspect. At the same time, “social entrepreneurship” has this connotation of “not-for-profit” and therefore dependent on the largesse and generosity of governments, philanthropists and/or volunteers to succeed. Ugh. How sad that a whole set of progressive activities are defined by what they are not, and are assumed to be preoccupied with pleading with do-gooders to fund what is otherwise economically unviable! What a terrible and wrong-headed assumption! I am hoping to work with John Abrams, author of The Company We Keep, to create frameworks and messages to convey just how untrue this is — that enterprise can be, and must be, responsible, sustainable, community-based and joyful (not difficult, not impoverished, not stressful). Sigh — it seems we still have a long way to go.

Do we need a new term for Natural Enterprise? When I first wrote about this concept, I talked about “collaboratives”. Instead of using “tainted” terms like business and enterprise, should we be talking instead about Natural Collaboratives, cooperatives, and Making a Living Naturally?

This post is deliberately provocative. Its purpose is to get people to think differently about the whole idea of business, and smash the stereotypes of entrepreneurship that are perpetuated by — how do I put this delicately? — the sad preponderance of misguided, ineffective, unsuccessful (on any terms) entrepreneurs.

So here is a short questionnaire. If you can answer at least 12 out of 15 of these questions ‘yes’, then you’re making a living naturally. If not, it’s time to re-evaluate what you can do to find more meaningful work, to find a better way to make a living, and in so doing to make the world a better place. Here we go:

  1. Are you doing the work you know you were meant to do? Does it allow you to spend most or all of your time doing work you are uniquely good at, work you love, work that is genuinely needed in the world, and ‘on purpose’ for you?
  2. Is the organization you work with a true partnership of equals with complementary skills and talents (i.e. not a proprietorship, not hierarchical, and with no ‘skill gaps’ and no significant skill overlaps with your colleagues)?
  3. Was the decision on what you offer based on extensive face-to-face world-class research (see process chart above) with potential customers to discover what they needed that was not met by anyone else in the marketplace (i.e. your customers co-developed your offering with you, and you have no real competitors)?
  4. Does all the capital invested in your enterprise come from people in your community who know and love what you are doing (i.e. potential customers, partners, local co-operatives etc.) so that you are financially beholden to no outsiders?
  5. Are your customers so delighted with what you offer that they do all your marketing for you (i.e. you spend essentially nothing on advertising, promotion and marketing)?
  6. Are you scanning the marketplace so well, and are you so connected to your customers, that innovation for you is as simple as responding to the changes you see and hear in the marketplace?
  7. Do you continuously innovate new and improved offerings (see process chart above), and do you always do so collaboratively with customers and others in your community?
  8. Is your enterprise so good at meeting an important need no one else is meeting that you are virtually recession-proof (i.e. your customers simply cannot do without what you offer)?
  9. Is your enterprise able to thrive by continually doing better, each year, without any need whatsoever to grow bigger?
  10. Is virtually all the work you and your partners do collaborative i.e. there is no point in you having one-person ‘offices’ because almost everything you do is done with others?
  11. Is your work so principled that decisions can always be made easily by reference to principles you have established with your partners, to the point self-management through trust and consensus is easy and uncontroversial?
  12. Would the people in your community describe your enterprise as very socially responsible and responsive to the community’s needs?
  13. Is your enterprise environmentally sustainable (i.e. you use no non-renewable supplies, reuse or recycle everything you produce, and produce substantially no pollution or waste)?
  14. Do you and your partners define ‘success’ on your own terms, collectively-determined (but responsive to partners’ different needs), and according to those terms, is your enterprise an unqualified success?
  15. Is your workplace one of joy, energy, empowerment, meaning and personal fulfillment, to the point your partners simply cannot imagine doing anything else for a living?

Many of the people I speak to believe such enterprises are impossible, that I’m just being an idealist to think they could exist. Yet they can and do exist, and more are being created every day. My book describes the processes such enterprises use to be able to answer ‘yes’ to all these questions. I believe that if all enterprises operated this way (if so, they would be much more numerous, smaller, less dependent on foreign trade, government subsidies, bailouts, and reckless levels of consumer spending and debt, and more connected and cooperative with each other) they would comprise a Natural Economy that would be virtually fail-safe, a steady-state economy that, instead of being part of the problem that is pushing our society and civilization to the brink, could be part of the solution, a foundation for a loving, joyful and sustainable community-based society.

We can do it, one enterprise, one workplace at a time, allowing the fragile, irresponsible and unsustainable industrial economy and its voracious globalist corporations to crumble and fall by the wayside, to make roomfor it — a better way to make a living.

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2 Responses to Making a Living Naturally: The Fifteen Qualities of Natural Enterprises

  1. 电加热器 says:

    I think We can do it.

  2. David Parkinson says:

    Do you have some examples to show us of Natural Enterprises scoring 12 or higher on your diagnostics? Or do we have to buy the book for that? It seems like a high bar to get over.

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