Friday, February 24, 2012

Elephant, Meet Mouse.

It's a jungle out there, Jane.  The fact is that even in the jungle, elephants are plausibly afraid of mice, at least according to Myth Busters: Are Elephants afraid of Mice? 

I am not expert in elephant behavior, but I can only imagine that over time and evolution, many an elephant has fallen to a mouse, so the elephant has become aware and adjusted. And while we assume the elephant is afraid, I wonder if it is not fear of the mouse, but fear of falling.  On the other hand, the mouse is likely afraid of being crushed.

So I wonder about the business jungle, and whether this evolutionary trend applies, or if the elephant's appreciation of the mouse has evolved as it has in the jungle.  I wonder if large organizations (the elephant in this scenario) that dominate by virtue of resources such as money, people and systems respect the mouse (small business) and its possibilities.

Lately I have encountered small entrepreneurial market changing organizations that threaten the status quo created by the elephants.  These new comers question the very models that have created and defined success.  But like all things, evolution happens, and size is not necessarily the winning factor. Consider the plight of the dinosaur.

From a mouse's perspective, large organizations seem to have an advantage. They have larger marketing and operating budgets, well defined management systems and processes, and years of experience in building their business and reputation. They attract employees who are looking for stability, benefits and that sense of belonging.

But the larger organizations tend to be more institutional and complex, with multiple stakeholders to manage. Their size alone makes it difficult to respond to the market in a timely manner, which is why they need complex and integrated strategic planning, enterprise risk management, reporting and communications processes, with executives leading each.  The price tag for such a model can be at least $1 million / year.  With overhead costs like that, large organizations are under pressure to reduce costs by way of efficiency programs. Inevitably, these costs are passed on to their customers in some shape or form.

Large organizations also struggle with innovation and relevance, as do smaller organizations.  Large companies may have the tools to invest in these programs, such as employee incentives and customer loyalty programs, but they sometimes lack the heart, soul and competitive speed of their smaller counter part.  After all, when you consider who has more on the line, the mouse or the elephant, hands down, it is the mouse that stands to be crushed, so he has to be quick on his feet.

Despite large budgets and infrastructure, elephants do fall. Think about Eatons. "There is always be an Eatons". There isn't.

Smaller business faces the reality of capacity constraints every day so they tend to make trade offs in their marketing, management services, and product development. This, by definition, affects their ability to effectively compete with larger organizations to reach their customers. Therefore, small businesses must find a way to create the capacity they need to be competitive without creating excessive overhead / service costs.

What I observe is small business attempting to do business the way big business does business.  Essentially, mice walking around like elephants. For example, there is a tendancy toward exclusivity where each small and large company is out there to outrun or crush their "competitors". I attended a business group that was attempting to work together, but has a practice to exclude others who may have similar businesses. Again, I ask, can this market place sustain such closed door thinking?

In a market like ours (we just cheerfully broke 1 million), if we are serious about creating new wealth, then we would be serious about creating possibility and growth. I wonder if we can afford exclusionary thinking if we truly want to become a "have" province that is attractive as a place to live, work and do business? Maybe it's my cooperative roots, but I believe there is a better way.

We can work together in a respectful and relevant way.  By working together, small business can compete and win in the market place with cooperation, collaboration and organization.

Consider the credit union system model. The key to its success is a common desire to get somewhere, together.  There are rules of engagement. In fact, according to the cooperative principles, products and services providers must have a commitment to member participation and value, quality, efficiency and democracy.

If we were to change our own rules, small business could afford the products, services and tools they need to be competitive, the economy would grow, unemployement would decline, and new wealth and ideas would be created to improve our social and economic health.

It seems to me that we need to be aware of the scenarios that have played themselves out in the business ecosystems before us:  that being nimble is to be efficient, price competitive and customer responsive and continuously evolving, and that size is only one factor, but not the factor.

Yes, elephants are powerful, but emerging innovators, creators, and people who have the courage to pursue evolution can realize collective competitive strength.  We can change the DNA of our past practices and thinking, we can work together and we can differentiate.

- The Mouse.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sara Armstrong Eco Designer Auction at Glide.

Sharks on dry land in Saskatchewan? Why not?

Sara Armstrong, eco fashion designer has partnered with Fin Free Regina and has created a one of a kind custom dress for auction at Glide, a Runway Event for the Oceans.

Proceeds will go to Shark Truth Vancouver.

Visit Sara's website to find out more about her great talent and adventures.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Power of Mentorship: Finding your inner mentor.

Today I am dedicating this blog to the mentors in my life who model integrity, passion, compassion and authenticity. Who not only climb the ladder of success, but who own their rung.  They are bright,  creative, intelligent,and they lead with passion. 

These women inspired me to be better, and they helped me to define what that meant.  They taught me everything I know, whether they realized it or not, as I watched. And because I was a good student, I listened and learned. What I didn't realize is that some day there would be a test.  

Today is the one year anniversary of that day. So I want to recognize what I learned, and how important mentorship is to all women, regardless of where you work, or who you work for.  

Over my 16 year trek up the mountain, my understanding of leadership and mentorship has deepened. I have come to understand that people worthy of leading and mentoring are those who lead through purpose and passion, not agenda, fear and an iron fist. My mentors demonstrate clarity of thought, and the courage to stand up for what is right.  

A mentor is not necessarily someone you have met or worked with.  One of my mentors is Arlene Dickinson, author of "Persuasion", CEO of Venture Communications, one of the biggest communications companies in Canada. She is also one of the Dragons on CBC's Dragon's Den, and a mother and grandmother.  In "Persuasion", she writes about her own authenticity and coming face to face with values.  She lives in her own truth, and that is what I believe makes her a successful person.  

Authenticity is a powerful word that means to be real and truthful.  It takes courage  and self awareness to be authentic and to live in truth.  Many times the business world pushes us away from our true selves.  We are told we need to be "different" to be successful.  We are told what to wear, how to carry ourselves, when to talk, when not to talk and when to succumb.  

I would agree that a professional image is part of the package but I am not talking about shoes.  I am talking about self respect and respect for others.  Understanding and expecting value is a good place to start. To be taken seriously, we need to take ourselves seriously and understand that value is equal to the amount of money the person is paid.  If you are not being paid, you are not being valued.  (Volunteerism is great, but not if you are going broke).  As I was just telling a young woman today, don't feel bad for expecting to be paid, because if you don't get paid, you cannot finance your present or your future. Part of the package includes mastering the soft skills, like communication, people management and relationship building.  

Whether the issue is money, treatment of people or bending rules, I have learned that it is important to understand where the lines are, what you are giving away with compromise, and to what end. There is a fine line between acceptance and being a team player and abdicating your personal responsibilities and values. 

Think of it as a cliff.  1000 feet away from the edge, decisions that you make are not as critical as you put one foot in front of the other.  100 feet out, you can see the edge of the cliff, and you begin to think more seriously about the steps you take. 10 feet away, every step  has importance. One foot away, the next step is critical. Your heart pounds, your palms sweat. It doesn't feel good.  You are at the edge of the ledge, and you have a decision to make. 

As Dickinson says, these kinds of moments are the ones that we learn from and they usually  hurt. Although they change us, we have the power to own the decision and emerge with the strength that comes from self ownership. She says that if you take the wrong step at that point, regret is likely, but not unrecoverable. 

Today is the anniversary of such a moment when I decided to to live in my own vision of what's possible and what is right.  I joined  Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan  an organization that is dedicated to providing a business culture in which barriers to success, recognition, and advancement of women entrepreneurs in Saskatchewan are eliminated. Thanks to their support and others, six months ago I launched a new company and I have found this group to be invaluable.

Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan offers:
  • Business advisory and support services;
  • Start-up and Expansion Loans, up to $150,000;
  • Training and seminar opportunities related to entrepreneurial skills and initiatives; and 
  • Networking and mentoring opportunities.
Aside from the support, I have met some great people who are starting businesses, exploring new avenues and finding ways of making their work meaningful and purposeful. The other day, I had the privilege of attending my first mentorship circle, and I was in awe of the great people around the table. I remember thinking how great it would have been if I had joined this group years ago.

If you are a woman, regardless of whether you work for someone, or for yourself, you need a mentoring environment that is safe, where there are no barriers to success, recognition and advancement in order to find your inner mentor.  I would recommend Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan.