Unprecedented Thinking for the Better!

For the last four years, I learned to cringe at the word unprecedented. That adjective was usually associated with a person, who shall remain nameless, enjoyed breaking norms. The meaning according to Google is, never done or known before. It was crushing to keep hearing that adjective describing decisions and actions I believed were irresponsible.

Recently, I have wondered if that word, unprecedented, could be turned around to describe emerging entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs who are coming up with not necessarily new ideas, but ideas for companies and products. These are business ideas diverse people have been holding onto for years for various reasons, but now feel this is the right time where they might actually get support and resources to implement them. There could be an unprecedented level of diverse entrepreneurship in the coming years.

Why not just call this potential trend innovation? Because the implementation of these products and services may be more about how the implementation is done to achieve not only financial outcomes and results.

How Unprecedented Thinking and Action Can Generate Unprecedented Products and Services for the Better!

The entrepreneurs I am talking with are looking at the business opportunities they are developing on multiple levels. Of course, these entrepreneurs know they must look that the potential financial opportunities for their ideas. Every conversation to date includes a desire for broader social impact by sharing ownership, better conditions and benefits for employees, and a desire to impact social conditions more broadly. Developing ideas from broader mindsets should lead to unprecedented products, customer experiences and tone in how business is done.

These entrepreneurs are also more open to examining risks. The demands of the Covid-19 pandemic have pushed everyone to clarify their risk tolerance levels for public health safety, selection of purchasing behaviors, and social life. These entrepreneurs acknowledge that risks must be surfaced and addresses. In the past, entrepreneurs might dismiss the mention of the word risk. They associated risk with failure of a startup that might just mean looking for a job, but not a threat to their health or long-term future.

The most interesting new behaviour when I talk with emerging growth entrepreneurs is their interest in understanding the survival line of their product or business. I have used this phrase in my advising services with all clients. The survival line is the absolute minimum criteria for sustain a product/business line or company. When I used this term in past programs, participants would say the words made them feel uncomfortable. My come back is that every owner must know

  • The customer behaviour their business depends on
  • The demand and actual purchasing indicators that customer will tolerate
  • All the other key indicators of business health in their specific industry

If businesses did not know their survival line indicators in February of 2020, they must know them now to stay in business beyond December 31, 2020.

This concept of knowing your product and company survival line is so important to me. In my early career in financial services as a new manager, I was involved in a large bankruptcy and operations clean ups in a rapidly growing financial product sector. My management jobs were to tackle risks and errors daily. Doing this work taught me way more about business than I every learned in business school. Business school was about seeking foundational knowledge to avoid careless and erroneous business activities and learn more about how to build great products and companies.

I am pleased to see this greater desire to understand survival and risk in business and life. The openness to seek out and address problems and risks is essential to aiming for more than just recovery from these challenging times. The balance between opportunity, risks and knowing the indicators to work toward keeps you and your company above your survival line as conditions change.

With more business owners with broader mindset skilled in this comprehensive thinking, I look forward to seeing more unprecedented products and companies soon!

Multidimensional Solutions for Small Business Sector

Just because businesses are small does not mean they are simple and easy to fix.  Small business owners, especially the vast majority that are at micro-level, are individual dynamos.  They are workers, managers, executive decision maker and frequently local business leaders.  Their businesses create jobs, hire contractors, pay suppliers for goods and services all to satisfy demanding customers.  Each business has its own ecosystem which creates value for the company and the local economy where they operate. 

To limit the loss of value in goods and services that communities will lose if we let thousands of small businesses close will require more than just loans.  Systemic solutions are needed on three levels.

  1. Help small businesses do more than stay afloat without adding further debt.  In consumer service industries like catering, hospitality, travel fundamental changes are required for these businesses to survive beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.  We need more creative use of grants, zero interest loans or forgivable loans are needed to fund business restructuring or reinvent costs to business owners
  2. Invest in the developing local business ecosystems across business districts and regions.  It is not enough to just focus on Business improvement districts and the needs of property owners and business owners.  Business owners are a vital segment of supply chains, educational systems for hiring and a source of distinctive goods and services to the community.  Now is the time to bring all the silos in local economies together to rethink the support structure for small businesses.
  3. Small business owners are people with families, not corporate entities with legal structures and big cash reserves to protect them in economic downturns, let alone a public health crisis and deep recession.  Survival of decades of commitment to operating local restaurants, retail stores, etc. are demands constant attention and drains personal assets and resources too often.  I am pleased that the Aspen Institute and the Stanford Latino Action Network is encouraging research into the condition of business owner families.  The research is focusing on financial condition and benefits like health care and unemployment insurance.  The results are that the law protects employees and owner families frequently have few benefits of their labor than their employees do. 

    Transfer of management and ownership across generations is rarely considered in small business circles.  This transfer of family power, decision making authority and  management of financial resources is a complex social, psychological as well as business and legal process.  The transfer of wealth to future generations especially in immigrant and lower income communities is vital to the health of the business district.  When we lose businesses that have been job creators for decades in ethnic communities the blow is severe.  Services to businesses need to go beyond just business, financial, operating management and formal exit planning.  Family and multi-generational wealth transfer and community health are at stake.

Multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural mindsets are needed to develop innovative and outcomes-oriented solutions are required to sustain the U.S. small business sector  which generates close to half of Gross Domestic Product with extraordinarily little support beyond loans and financial and business advising.  Imagine what the contribution of small business could be to the economy with comprehensive and multi-dimensional development and creative funding!          

Shop Local! Support the Contribution Small Businesses Make to Our Economy

The contribution of small businesses to the U.S. economy always amazes me given the scarce resources most of these businesses have. Support your local businesses through the holidays and through the first months of 2021. The first quarter of the years is always the hardest on small local businesses.

Remember the contribution small businesses makes to our economy:

44% of U.S. economic activity comes from businesses with less than 500 employees.

49.2% percent of private-sector employment and 42.9 percent of private-sector payroll,46 percent of private-sector output.

These businesses need support from the Federal level to return to pre-Covid-19 levels of productivity. In addition, Federal and State governments must create funding that provides the working capital to address the financial impact on business owner reserves and accumulated debt from commercial property leases, pre-recession business loans and home mortgages. For women and minority owned businesses the financial impact is particularly severe.

What Small Business Owners Can Do
Unfortunately, the public policy response to small business needs is slow and may take months to get funds to businesses. Here are examples of what business owners can do to keep customers coming back and attract new ones.

  • Add a personal touch to everything delivered remotely or by pick up.

We order tea from Perennial Tea in Seattle Washington because we drop in when we travel there. In every delivery package we get a personal thank you note from the owner, so we keep ordering.

In order pick up situations, say Thank You to every customer with good eye contact and smile even if they can’t see you mouth. Your eyes will be brighter and more engaging.

  • Create new related revenue streams. If you are in a market that is very unstable because of difficult open and closing rules, then create or invent new product or services lines.

In one of our group programs we led for small businesses in 2009-10, a florist with a specialty in weddings, added to page on her website to share pictures of Ikebana flower arrangements, a Japanese approach to floral design she was studying. A new set of customers started coming to her to buy arrangements in the Ikebana style.

  • Think about customer needs for personal services and expertise like your business has that can be delivered remotely that make quarantine conditions better.

Nail salons have been hit hard. Remember that people do need to take care of their hands and feet even more now that many are doing more cooking, home repair, and improvements projects. Deliver your expert knowledge about hand and foot care out to prior customers in zoom sessions. Then show them all the safety measures in your salon and invite them to enjoy having beautiful hands again.

Be bold and reach out to new potential customers like men to take care of their hands and feet better.

I saw one mature woman taking a young man to the hair and nail section in my local CVS. She pointed out the merchandise to buy and was giving basic instructions on how to use them. Share your knowledge and expertise when you can.

More on How Business Could Solve Complex Problems


Tackle complexity rather than avoid it!

By Darlene Crane and Elnora Webb

Businesses do solve problems and well-designed products do make life better.  Yet, when it comes to deep social and economic problems business methods have not led to breakthroughs.  More startups and SMEs (small and medium sized) businesses are focused on tackling complex economic or social challenges but are starved for capital and relevant services to expand their impact.    

This article proposes we literally reshape business thinking to develop solutions to complex problems.  To take this leap it will be necessary to:

  • Acknowledge it is time to re-envision the purpose of a business, work and value 
  • Create breakthrough solutions by tackling complexity rather than avoiding it
  • Design robust companies and products that improve social or economic problems

Acknowledge it is time to re-envision the purpose of a business, work and value? 

After decades of a single focus on shareholder value, one hundred and eighty-one corporate CEOs signed a letter as members of The Business Round Table on August 19, 2019 to redefine the role of a corporation.  The Business Roundtable letter stated,

“While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders,” said the statement signed by 181 CEOs. “We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.” CNBC

This is in stark contrast to the historical corporate focus on linear and inward thinking on stock value only.

The sole focus on shareholder value has led to complex long-term problems like climate change, income inequality and public health to persist.  Solutions to complex problems require flexible thinking to grasp this wider context. 

How can businesses create new solutions by tackling complexity rather than avoiding it?

Invest in developing leader mental flexibility before attempting to develop solutions.   When leaders understand their conscious and unconscious mental responses to difficult and uncomfortable situations, they can engage with big questions longer and hear the different stakeholder viewpoints.  With open exploration of problems comes deeper understanding and readiness to create more systemic solutions. 

With the mounds of data available, leaders must think critically as they interpret data, methodologies before making decisions. 

This is the time for leadership team of all sizes of companies shifts into planning and solution development from a long-term value creation approach.  Value creation looks at the value of the company under different external conditions and points of view.  This broader view invites information from financial and market analysts as well as public and local community sectors.  Controversy may develop, but with flexible and open thinking the sparks between the viewpoints can generate new and better solutions. Envisioning desired end results ten or twenty years out also leads to innovative solutions. 

What can owners do now to lead their businesses and solve problems

The turn of the decade is a critical time to research and analyze long-range studies and other data. Strategists forecast trends in the next decade that will be updated when the 2020 Census data are released.  Start now to:

  • ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Develop the practices of flexible and insightful thinking
  • Imagine what innovations and products your company can generate to sustain and grow your company into the next decade
  • Stay informed on the most urgent social, economic and environmental issues
  • Prioritize Social Responsibilities initiatives with business opportunities and risks
  • Develop external stakeholders who help define non-financial indicators of improvement 
  • Commit to investing resources to get results and minimize unintended consequences


Recently, McKinsey & Company released major reports on the Future of Work projecting an  adoption scenario of Artificial Intelligence indicating a potential 38 million jobs impacted.  The specific report on the impact to women in the full report stated:  

Men and women need to be skilled, mobile, and tech-savvy in the automation age, but women face pervasive barriers. Concerted and creative new solutions are needed to enable women to move forward.(McKinsey Global Institute analysis, 2019 )

This magnitude of change is difficult to comprehend, let alone begin to tackle. 

Practice asking the BIG questions to start tackling complex problems.

  • What can your leadership team do to increase flexible and insightful thinking?
  • What resources and data are now available to envision the company in 10-20 years?  
  • What solutions for the short-term support long-term success?
  • What risks must be reduced to external stakeholders?
  • What can your company invent that adds value to the company and key stakeholders?

How Business Could Solve Complex Problems

Free Webinar on Thursday, July 29, 2019

In this webinar you will learn

  • Why now is the time to re-envision work and value 
  • How businesses can create new solutions by tackling complexity rather than avoiding it
  • What you can do now to sustain business ownership, community and economic well-being

Register for a FREE webinar on August 29, 2019

12:00 noon – 1 p.m. PDT

How Business Could Solve Problems

Why now is the time to re-envision work and value:

For decades businesses have been managed from a linear and inward point of view. Move beyond that box to more flexible and open thinking and action.