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May 1: International Workers’ Day – or International Customers' Day?

Sunday, April 30, 2017

May 1 is considered Labor Day in most every country in the world. With its roots in the labor movement in the late 19th Century, the day commemorates the world’s workers with celebration and holiday.

While it certainly is important to celebrate the historic gains made by the world’s workers as well as the more recent fair trade legislation which addresses exploitation and excess, I wonder if it is equally important to celebrate the world’s customers to help us all realize that without them there would be no business and thus, no jobs for the workers.

Of course, such an idea seems extreme since we are all customers and consumers, but can we think a little more deeply on the subject? We live in time of increasing distance between the rich and poor nations with increasing poverty, injustice and unemployment worldwide. Entrepreneurship has never been more important than it is today – and by definition entrepreneurs depend on customers for success and economic growth.

Jim Clifton in his book The Coming Jobs War 1, states that the most powerful predictors of GDP now lie within the fields of entrepreneurship and innovation,” (p. 50). He then devotes an entire chapter to the customer entitled “Customer Science.” He speaks about what it will take for entrepreneurs and other “job makers” to win customers and thus create jobs and grow their companies. Clifton says,

“What customers at any level really want is somebody who deeply understands their needs and becomes a trusted partner or advisor.” (p. 121)

“Most jobs occur when entrepreneurs start companies…and these jobs occur where new customers appear. For that reason the science of customers, often referred to as customer insight or customer centricity, is more important today than ever before.” (p. 188).

Another author calls it the “Tao of business: Care about your customers more than about yourself, and you’ll do well…its’ counter-intuitive, but the way to grow your business is to focus entirely on your existing customers. Just thrill them, and they’ll tell everyone.”2; Certainly that explains what offshore companies like Toyota and Volkswagen did in breaking into the US market. It also explains the rise of WalMart and Costco. Companies that best know the needs and preferences of customers will have a prohibitive advantage.

All Kingdom business startups as well as businesses in a scale mode, must make their first and foremost question, “who is my customer and what does he/she most want?” Ask – what is his or her problem? – before trying to create a solution! Remember the sage wisdom of Sam Walton, the founder of WalMart:

“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” 3

1 Clifton, Jim. (2011)  The Coming Jobs War. New York:  The Gallup Press.
2 Sivers, Derek. (2011) Anything You Want.  Amazon:  The Domino Project.
3 Allen, Kathleen (2016)  Launching New Ventures – An Entrepreneurial Approach. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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5 tips for long term survival and success in high risk countries

Sunday, April 23, 2017

I just spent a week with several business owners and humanitarian workers who work in a high risk country. 1 I marveled at their commitment, perseverance, competence and productivity in their chosen calling.  Many were business people while others university professors and medical professionals.

1. Pray and Trust. One veterinarian stated it this way. “We are on our knees a lot.”  Their entire team of expats have a meal and pray together daily. Team life is protected and each member is challenged to grow as a person and in relationship to others, while totally depending on God for unity, wisdom and protection.

2. Learn and Love. A business owner with 22 employees stressed how important it is to love the people around you, always listening and caring while displaying attitudes of love for the people.  This must be a natural part of life, not just something which you have to work hard to accomplish.  Many stated repeatedly that “the citizens are always watching us…they see how we forgive and how we love.”

3. Respect and Honor.  It is crucial to respect local customs, regulations and cultural icons.  One transportation company vice president said, “it is important to pay attention to the Great Leader of the country.”  National symbols such as statutes or prayer traditions must be accepted and respected. In short – follow the rules!

4. Bless the Nation and Create Value. It is important to meet real needs that are tangible and visible and easily identifiable.   Veterinarians heal animals; businesses create jobs, physicians and physical therapists treat real people; chemistry professors create value for students; coaches for national sport teams seek to bring honor to the country; researchers produce reports useful for development progress.  Just as God asked Abraham in ancient times to bless others, so too our goal is to bless the nation and its peoples.

5. Have Vision and End Goals.  Everyone I recently met, and most others over the years have a clear understanding of why they are there.  D has a vision for clean water for every family in his province; A wants everyone with autism to have access to treatment; J manufactures soy oil for sale to relief agencies feeding the starving; M wants to create a dozen more jobs; C operates a tour company and wants one hundred more tourists this year who can demonstrate that America is not bad and how a Jesus-follower lives.

1.  A high risk country is one which considered to be a top tier country on scales such as Transparency International (www.doingbusiness.org/rankings); and Joshua Project (www.joshuaproject.net); Corruption Watch (www.corruptionwatch.org.za/report/corruption)‎.  They are highly corrupt; usually anti-West; lack basic infrastructure amenities such as electricity, internet, clean water; and they make it difficult for Christians.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Patrick Lencioni’s 3 essential virtues of a team player

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The other day I was on my walk in Magnuson Park near our place in Seattle. The park has sizable wetlands and I have been enjoying seeing various kinds of ducks and geese in typical spring activities. There are ducks such as Buffleheads, Scaups, Grebes, Coots, Wigeons, Goldeneyes, and Mallards. And there is the Canada Goose, perhaps my favorite.

Unlike the ducks, Canada Geese mate for life and I got to wondering how they choose a mate. And after the annual breeding, feeding and maturation of the young, comes the fall migration where they team up with others in the long journey to warmer climates. It seems like ornithologists and biologists still do not have conclusive answers to some of these questions about how mates and teams are generated.

It is funny how the mind wanders when observing something like geese in the springtime. I got to thinking not so much about how humans choose their mates (there is plenty written on this) but on how business teams are selected. It seems that here too we still are learning about the most important qualities to look for in team formation and top level executives.

The March 2017 Entrepreneur cover story piqued my interest. Entitled, “Build the Perfect Team”, Paul English of Kayak fame asserts “…the key to success is the people I hire.” Later in the article he says, “The most important thing any entrepreneur can do is focus on the team.”

Most of us have read at least one book or article by Patrick Lencioni. While waiting for my flight recently in Chicago’s O’Hare airport, I stopped to read part of his most recent book, The Ideal Team Player.1 Lencioni boils the decision down to three qualities: Humble, Hungry and Smart.

Humble. C.S. Lewis states, “humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” Not unlike Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” Or “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2.

Veteran Kingdom entrepreneur Bill Job, says that the definition of Business as Mission is simple. It is “walking with God at work.” He tells the highest officials in his Asian country, “I don’t own this business…I am simply a steward for the owner.” The companies which have spun off from his parent company give evidence of the ability of Bill to find humble people and help them continue that even with success in business.

There is an adage which stages “…hire for character and train for skills.” There is a lot of truth to consider in that. Wild Bill Donovan who headed the OSS intelligence unit for the USA during World War II stated, “the most important qualification for our operatives is strength of character.” The OSS became the forerunner of the CIA.

Years ago, Samuel Johnson said, “Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, but knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.” Warren Buffet says it this way: “In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. But if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”

Hungry. Lencioni means that he looks for employees that are self-motivated and diligent in their work. This is close to what Buffet calls energy. Hungry, means they have a strong work ethic, are determined to get things done and contribute any way they can, says Lencioni. He continues…people who are hungry, but not humble or smart can be called a Bull Dozer. They have lots of drive and ambition, but they can’t work with others. And they leave a trail of dead bodies around them. Know anybody like this? They are likely contributing to a dysfunctional team.

How about people who are humble and smart but not hungry? These people survive in organizations a long time. They mean well and people like them. They just don’t want to do that much work, they do just enough work to make it hard for you to do something about it. Hard workers get really frustrated by this person.

I have been around Not-For-Profits a long time and there are many people like this. Lencioni calls them lovable slackers. I once had a colleague who said, “I would rather keep trying to reign in a galloping horse, than try to kick a dead one into action.” I agree.

Smart. Lencioni is not talking about intellectual smarts but about common sense around people. Smart people are people who are good at practicing emotional intelligence. They know what they say to others and how it impacts them. Hiring for intellectual smarts is not a good idea.

I once had a staff member who had just read Daniel Goleman’s book on EQ. She came quietly into my office, shut the door and said, “John has an emotional intelligence of zero”. She was obviously frustrated with another employee who was really intellectually smart and experienced, but lacked common sense in working with people.

Lencioni goes on to define smart as one who generally understands what others are feeling during meetings and conversations. He/she shows empathy for others on the team, and demonstrates an interest in the lives of his/her teammates.

Whether these three virtues are called humble, hungry and smart, or something else, they are worth consideration in our pursuit of team players, top leaders and others partnering with us in business startups.

1 Lencioni, Patrick. The Ideal Team Player – How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues, 2016

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Social enterprise, Cadbury chocolate Easter eggs and followers of Jesus

Sunday, April 09, 2017

The National Retail Federation estimates that $17.3 Billion will be spent in the US on Easter this year and $2.3 Billion of that will be on candy, mostly chocolate. Overall chocolate sales increased 24% in the 5-year period 2009-2014. Yes, candy is big in America and chocolate is big. And chocolate reigns supreme at Easter time.

As a child growing up in Canada, the Cadbury Easter Eggs were a highlight every Easter. I loved the chocolate, but only later did I learn the real meaning of Easter and the history of how the Cadbury family came to dominate the Chocolate industry in Great Britain and the Commonwealth.

The egg is a symbol of new life and the Christian tradition seems to have adapted pagan customs as they utilized the egg metaphor to represent the resurrection of Jesus. Englishman John Cadbury was a follower of Jesus, and was driven by the values of the Quakers and the Temperance Society in England.

The Cadbury family had discovered the nutritious but bitter-testing cacao nib and set about the task of making a palatable chocolate drink as a solution to alcoholism as well as a source of satisfaction. As a Quaker, Cadbury was known for campaigns to end poverty and other social reforms in Victorian Britain.

Business as a social change agent

John’s sons, George and Richard, also pioneered a progressive workplace, with Saturday half-days off in England (the first to do so), encouragement of night school for employees with paid time off to leave early, kitchens and heated dressing rooms, sports facilities, and a family atmosphere which included morning prayers and Bible readings. George was known for building homes near the factories for affordable housing. For the Cadburys, business was more than profit – it was meant to change society.

With the Dutch invention of a press for separating cocoa butter from the cocoa bean and the introduction of pure chocolate by the Cadbury brothers in 1866, an edible chocolate as we know it today became a reality. Cadbury is credited with the first Easter egg in 1875 and today 500 million Cadbury Crème Eggs are manufactured each year, with 1.2 million produced every 24 hours in its various plants. The multi-billion dollar company has over 70,000 employees in over 50 countries.

Despite several mergers, demergers and acquisitions, Cadbury has retained its identity and continues to have a strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) involvement with its commitment to environmental causes, strong human rights, employee values and integrity in corporate decisions.

But what of Easter? Early Quakers like John Cadbury understood the importance of the resurrection to followers of Jesus – and all humanity. They saw the resurrection of Jesus as a fact, and the importance of that fact in informing our belief that believers will themselves be raised from the dead to an eternal life with Jesus in heaven. In fact, all people will one day come before their Maker. For us Easter is more than eggs, more than Cadbury Chocolate, but it is at the heart of our faith.

Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25)

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Is Business as Mission disruptive innovation?

Saturday, April 01, 2017

A disruptive innovation is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leading firms, products and alliances. The term was defined and phenomenon analyzed by Clayton M. Christensen beginning in 1995.1

As a reminder, Business as Mission (BAM) at its core has a Quadruple Bottom Line: 1) Profit and Sustainability, 2) Job Creation, 3) Followers of Jesus, 4) Stewardship of Resources. BAM takes into consideration, the human condition of poverty and pain with the creation of a profitable business which creates jobs, which in turn creates wealth (a Biblical value stated in Deut. 8:18). It links that with the goal of making followers of Jesus and with the importance of wise use of human and natural resources.

So how might that be innovative and how might it be disruptive?

First look at some well-known disruptive innovators. Jeff Bezos did not just improve book sales when he started Amazon. He disrupted everything – speedy book deliveries, then other products to become the world’s largest online shopping retailer. His latest disruptive talk: drones and space warehouses. His mantra, “if you are going to invent, you are going to disrupt.”

Looking back a few decades, some of us can remember the advent of the transistor radio. People first thought of them as Japanese junk, with poor quality, but they were portable and teenagers could take them to the beach easily. Gradually the sound improved and the product totally disrupted and made redundant the old cabinet radios.

I remember when a visitor showed up at our school in Brazil in the early 1970s with a portable calculator. Our bookkeeper was using a manual adding machine which did the job but was big, clumsy and noisy. I took the leap of faith and asked to purchase this calculator from the visitor before he left the country. I paid $180.00 for what today can be bought in Walmart for $5.99. Portable calculators were disruptive because they did not just improve on existing technology, they disrupted it by introducing simplicity, convenience, accessibility and eventually affordability.

Perhaps one of the biggest examples of disruptive innovation is the development of the personal computer, when the big mainframes ruled the day in the 1960s and 70s. Even the chairman of IBM, Thomas Watson is famously quoted: "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." But the personal computer formed a niche market that appeared unattractive and inconsequential at first but eventually the new product completely redefined the computing industry.

Mobile phones – the same story. The idea is that the historic technology and industry concentrates on improving their product while the innovative disruptors focus on the bottom end of the market tapping into new customers with new and different needs. They create new demand and find overlooked customers. Think Blockbuster and Netflix.

Is BAM disruptive?  

Back to the question: Is Business as Mission disruptive innovation? BAM spokesperson Mats Tunehag likens Kingdom Business today to a 21st century reformation. The Protestant Reformation was disruptive in that it focused Jesus followers on simpler easier forms of faith – reading their own scriptures, the priesthood of individual believers and faith over works as the way of salvation, among other things.

So perhaps BAM is disruptive in the following ways:
  1. Business is returned to its rightful place as the only institution which creates wealth in society; it is not government, nor education, nor health care and not the church. All of these, as good and important as they are, consume wealth. Business creates it. And it is ordained by God.2
  2. Business is the modern means ordained by God to address the issue of poverty. It creates wealth through job creation and gives dignity, honor and empowerment to individuals, families and communities. Jesus gave the Great Commandment requiring believers to love God and love their neighbor. Today loving our neighbor is creating a job for him/her and this becomes the modern equivalent of feeding the five thousand, or healing the leper. BAM is what Jesus would do today.3
  3. Business and faith are easily integrated. Business leaders are together with people many hours each week so the principles of faith can be lived out in the marketplace of life. In most cultures, people learn by observing and doing and when it comes to knowing Jesus, one learns by observing a Jesus follower living and acting like Jesus in every life. Dale Losch in his book A Better Way talks about living and loving like Jesus.
  4. Whereas most of the 20th century became accustomed to outsourcing missional work to the professional clergy, Business as Mission is a reformation. It is the work of all believers in the workplace, not just the clergy, or those paid to be missional with their faith.
  5. BAM is innovative in that it is cost effective. It does not require an endless infusion of charity monies which often become toxic by creating dependency and destabilization. It addresses issues of declining mission funding, and “America first” perspective.

A replacement for the multi-trillion dollar aid industry and traditional professional mission groups?

Today Business as Mission and related means such as Tentmaking 4 are disrupting the market. They have the potential (as the little guy at the bottom of the market) to replace the multi-trillion dollar aid industry, and make the traditional professional mission groups redundant in much of the world.

Business as Mission is making the product (Quadruple Bottom Line) simple, accessible, convenient and affordable. It is not just improving on what has been done in the past; it is disrupting things in modern times by returning to an old order of “faith without works is dead”, creating wealth and promoting dignified sustainability. In one sense it is an ancient idea; but because it has been largely lost, it may be considered innovative, and certainly disruptive.

1. See more at: Disruptive Innovation, Christen Institute.
2. Deut. 8:18  “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”
4. Tentmaking is mission done in accordance with the model of the apostle Paul. He was a tentmaker by profession, and made a living through his work when he was on his mission journeys (Acts 18:3, 1 Corinthians 9). Today the ‘tentmaking’ label is used to describe everyone who seeks to serve the Lord in other cultures through his or her profession. It includes business people, professionals, and students bringing the gospel onwards to new places.  - Tentmaking - Lausanne Movement.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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IBEC Ventures -- Consultants for BAM/Business as Mission