A tale of three businesses: the importance of life-long learning

Once upon a time four business people flew to a faraway country in Asia to observe and encourage three kingdom businesses. They came as learners but also ready to share suggestions and consulting expertise as requested.  They represented a cumulative 90 years of business experience, a recent MBA graduate among them and all four were involved in coaching, training and mentoring business startups.   Three were men, one was a woman and they came with robust experience in entrepreneurship, marketing, leadership and finance.

One of the businesses visited was well established, fiscally mature and served the community well with job creation, fiscal and tax responsibility and social engagement.  They had been in business for 15 years and in the startup phase they brought in qualified managers and sought help from business people experienced in the country.  Local mentors provided counsel in the language, culture, social conditions and Business as Mission integration.  There were ups and downs but they consider their success to be closely linked to their willingness to be life-long learners.

The second business also had been in-country for about 15 years. It had created jobs for many people and was making a clear difference in the community where it had respect and credibility with the locals. The owners had built their business model on proven models in other places.  However upon arrival in 2004 the visiting team found that the business was facing significant challenges.  The market had changed and their customer base was changing.  Their cash flow was at risk and they were worried about the future.  They asked the team of four for advice. They knew they needed to learn, wanted help, asked for it and appreciated two days of good counsel.

The third business gave evidence of much success in the social and spiritual sector, however the business model was being challenged and finances and management were in disarray.  This and more was evident to the visiting team.  However it was not equally evident that this business owner wanted help.  He seemed detached from the realities of where the business was headed.  Being a learner was not a concept he had internalized.  His business seemed to be at high risk.

Why is it important to always be learning?

1. Speed of change:  Moore’s Law describes the driving force of technical and social change, increased productivity and economic growth in exponential technical terms.  For example, four exabytes of unique information will be generated this year, more than the previous 5,000 years.  The top ten in-demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2014 and it is estimated that by 2035 50% of the jobs on the planet today will not conceptually exist.  The amount of technical information is doubling every two years.  The speed of change in the world today demands that managers always be learning.

Hall of Fame hockey great, Wayne Gretzky, when asked what makes him different, suggested that he does not go where the puck is but where the puck will be.  Such logic is prophetic of a manager who has learned to keep growing and learning.  Zig Ziglar once said, “I’m a constant learner.  You need to be a constant student because things change and you have to change and grow.  And I emphasize the word ‘grow’.” This 4-minute video provides a sense of how much change we are facing now  — and what it means for lifelong learning.

2. Complexity of Kingdom businesses:  Some evidence suggests 80% of US businesses fail within the first five years of operation (Why 9 out of 10 Small Businesses Fail). Now add the complexities of a foreign culture, different language, factors of integrating the Triple Bottom Line, international law, trade issues and financial/accounting issues — one would think the failure rate would be much higher.  In order to succeed such complexity demands owners, consultants and coaches to be constantly learning.  In the words of Sidney Poitier, “I have always been a learner because I knew nothing.”

3. Common Wisdom: A wise man 3,000 years ago reminded us of the importance of counselors in decision making: “Make plans by seeking advice…many advisors make victory sure…plans fail for lack of counsel…”(Solomon in Proverbs 20:18; 11:14; 15:22).  Henry Ford said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

Yes, it’s true, just as this blog from The Under 30 CEO explains: Great Entrepreneurs are ALWAYS Learning.

To be successful in any business and to be successful in Kingdom business overseas, striving for the Triple Bottom Line of profitability, job creation and social Kingdom disciple-making results requires owners and managers to always be learning, open to new ideas, seeking counsel from others and with the counsel of others making plans for tomorrow.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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