The craft of business

Last week I was asked to give a presentation about our attempts to create a more democratic, bottom-up business model to a group of graduate students from Antioch University New England. They visited our company as a part of their research for a course called: “Building Sustainable Organizations.” My preparation for their visit caused me to organize some thoughts about a subject that has become an important aspect of my daily thoughts and efforts. I call it, “The craft of business.”

For many years, we have specifically tried to build an open, sustainable organization. It’s a path and process that is at various times interesting or maddening; exciting or disappointing; rewarding or humbling. Like our own American democracy vs. countries that are run by dictatorships, it is easy to come to the conclusion that the alternative surely must be easier and less messy, but it is also, most definitely, not better.

Our company can’t claim to be the perfect model for what we’ve been striving for, but we’ve come a long way and we’re not turning back. We like this path. It’s based on a goal to make our company always a restorative, positive influence on peoples’ lives, both internally and externally. Greatly inspired by evidence from the workings of natural systems, we are building an organization that engenders more discipline, energy, innovation and constant improvement than could ever be generated by command and control management.

Along the way, I’ve learned some lessons from my perspective as a Company Steward (my title).

1. Progress is more important than growth.

Growth may be an outcome of progress, but it’s often not. Strive for progress and see what happens.

2. Signs of life are more important than signs of order.

Chaos is not the enemy; inertia is.

3. Doing right is the first and primary objective.

Sustainable business recognizes that moral, spiritual and ecological considerations should be given greater value than economic goals and strategies.

4. With entrepreneurship comes responsibility, not entitlement.

The purpose of business is not to be a wealth and power generator for a few executives, but to be a mechanism for creating opportunity and lifting people.

5. The mission of the company is NOT more important than its people…

…unless you are in the business of saving lives.

6. Ninety-nine percent of the time, systems are bad, people are good.

When people perform poorly, tinker with the system and support the people.

7. Give away the things to do that are fun and help people grow; help with the hard and tedious things.

Let others have as much responsibility, authority, recognition and fun as possible, and then pitch in to help when things in their world get difficult.

8. If people in your company don’t challenge any of your ideas, worry.

You are not always right.

9. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Pride goeth before a fall.

10. If people stop laughing on the job, worry.

Business at its best is fun.

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