You will Probably Fail in Business; Unless…….

“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.”  -Henry Ford

Some time ago, a group of four businesspersons, including two IBEC leaders traveled in Asia to observe and consult with three BAM social enterprise businesses. They came as learners but were also ready to share suggestions and consulting expertise as requested. They represented a cumulative 90 years of business experience, had 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 10 years, and in the startup phase, they brought in qualified managers and sought help from businesspeople experienced in the country. Local mentors provided counsel in the language, culture, social conditions, and integration of business and social responsibility. 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 had been in-country for about 15 years, had created jobs for many people, and were making a clear difference in the community where they had respect and credibility with the locals. They had built their business model on proven models in other places. However, upon arrival, the visiting team found that the business was facing significant challenges. The market had changed, and their customer base was in transition. Their cash flow was at risk, and they were worried about the future. The business leadership of the company 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 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 in the previous 5,000 years. The top ten in-demand jobs today did not exist in 2004, 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’.”

  1. Complexity of modern business:Some evidence suggests 80% of US businesses fail within the first five years of operation ( Now, add the complexities of a foreign culture, different language, factors of integrating the profitability, job creation and social bottom lines; 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.” 
  2. 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…” (King Solomon).  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.”

To be successful in any business/a BAM enterprise overseas, it is important to continue striving for profitability and job creation, as well as social, spiritual, and community change. Secondly, lasting success requires owners and managers to always be learning while having an openness to new ideas, and to seek counsel from others. Finally, with the counsel of others, a manager must make plans for tomorrow.

Larry W. Sharp, BAM Support Specialist, IBEC Ventures

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