I began my first entrepreneurial venture in the early 1980’s after having served many others as an employee and the experience I accumulated along the path served more as a guideline to what I would NOT do, than as a guide to what I should do, if I hoped to succeed as an entrepreneur and to create the life I dreamed about.
My initial capital investment in my business was only a few hundred dollars, a phone, a purchase order pad, a sales order pad, a few boxes of assorted industrial safety products, and most importantly, an investment in time beforehand - time to arrive at a well considered Philosophy. Why a Philosophy, you might ask, and not the 5 year business plan that everyone recommends? What is the practical relevancy of Philosophy when it comes to creating a successful business?
Simple observation led me to my conclusion. I had witnessed countless opportunities presented, while in the employ of others, that were often over-looked or disregarded owing to a narrow focus on “keeping with the plan”. Simply stated, most plans lacked flexibility and adaptability; they are concerned with mapping the active dynamic but typically fall short in the arena of effective and appropriate responsiveness. Why? A plan involves a time-line of static concepts that are to be applied within a context (business/economic) that is recognized by all to be at least fluid, and occasionally, even volatile.
The prevailing “locked in to the plan” approach to business ventures made small sense to me (then and now) and so it was that I was determined to pioneer another path that better suited the context and needs of an ever-changing economic and technological “playing field”. I chose the path that considers the fundamentals of human thoughts and actions - Philosophy. I wanted to understand what motivates us to think or to do anything beyond our basic survival needs, and particularly, what motivates us to think about or to do those things that we don't really enjoy?
Although I have said that plans have their flaws,that is not to say I had no plan. I had a relatively clear vision of where I wanted to go and several ideas of how I might get there – specific tasks I could perform that might facilitate “building a business from the ground up” that I had gathered from a variety of books as well as my direct experience from years spent in Management. It was, in fact, my experiences in Management, and particularly WITH Management, that compelled me to strike out my own. I was absolutely certain there were better ways to make fundamental choices and decisions that governed business operations than the statistical analysis many business owners had come to rely on, and to the exclusion of all else. While charts, graphs, and spreadsheets, have their place in business, the weight assigned to numbers had tipped the scales to such an extent that, even though they enjoyed material success, few owners I knew seemed truly happy and their employees seemed even less so. These businesses were soul-less; their employees, more robotic than apparently human.
Why such unhappiness in the workplace when we spend the majority of our lives engaged in earning our livelihoods? Most people, if asked to list the subjects that are of most practical significance to their careers might name computer courses, business science, economics, accounting, and so on. But most people, and particularly business people, tend to overlook that Philosophy is a subject of tremendous Practical Power. It is philosophy that studies the fundamentals of human thoughts and actions and it is human thoughts and actions that will contribute to either the success, or to the demise, of any entrepreneurial venture. I made the decision to focus my planning efforts for my business on the fundamentals of human thoughts and actions and how I might optimize the quality of those thoughts and actions to realize a greater potential, not only for myself, but for everyone involved. (Please note the word I used is quality, not quantity or speed.)
Every aspect of our life and every aspect of our culture are shaped by our philosophic ideas so I focused my Business Plan on outlining a Philosophy of “doing” Business more so than outlining any particular strategic plan. I began by listing the basic grievances I had shared with millions of others as a consumer and I also listed the grievances I shared with those who “served” someone else as an employee and resolved to try some opposite approaches – a turn-around of 180 degrees. Radical? Maybe.
I called this upside down view “backwards thinking” and applied it to many of the business premises that had been handed down to me and that I had accepted as having some factual basis. I had a strong and compelling need to know what was actually True and what was merely “conditioned” belief. Just as importantly, I needed to know if an alternate (or even opposite) approach to my experience could succeed or whether I was simply just another dreamer who was wandering this earth with impractical visions?
What are some of the ideas I experimented with and turned around in shaping a business philosophy? The first idea was that a business should be managed by the numbers (strictly business, nothing personal). I tried the opposite and I managed the business by Managing the people of the business. This too, I approached backwards. I managed the people by viewing myself as in their service rather than operating from the premise that they were there to serve mine (or that of an inanimate entity – the business itself.).
What were the results of this backwards approach? Tremendous and rapid success for everyone involved! The numbers for the business grew by leaps and bounds but not because we focused on the numbers. We focused on People – our customers and each other - and our numbers simply told the story of how well we did that.
What is really true is that Business decisions are not made by the numbers but are made by people (albeit people influenced by the numbers, many of whom have lost touch with their own humanity in the pursuit of material gains). What is also true is that the numbers in our business don’t cause or create our story, they merely reflect the results (or the symptoms) of our thoughts and our actions over time.
All things considered, isn’t it time we rethink our thinking and, at the very least, question some of the basic premises that businesses operate on today? Whether asking an employer or an employee, there are few within any organization who have been able to articulate their company's basic philosophy as well as they can recite last month's sales figures or next month's budget allocations. My own experience shows that we have all been misled by those "at the top"; that the way to sustainable success lies not in charts and numbers but through the embrace of humankind and humanity, itself. Isn't it time we explore the Practical Power of Philosophy?
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