Sustainable Business Conversations, Mar-Apr 2018

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Sustainable Business Conversation, March 1, 2018 Topic: More on Debt and Sustainability

More about debt (This meeting was officially cancelled due to bad weather – but it happened anyway…) When you get into debt you are forming another relationship. What is the impact on all your other relationships? Does debt get a higher priority? Get the relationship figured out before the money part is figured out. Can that person (lender) add value to my business? Private money is a good way to go – you have relationships with people. We loaned money to someone and they had plans to pay it back – but the plans fell through and they couldn’t pay it back. They were ashamed and moved away from our friendship. We understood the reasons they could not repay – but their shame hurt our relationship. There was a competition at one of the business incubators and the winner got a $100,000 loan from Goldman Sachs. There was a celebration when the loan was awarded – a celebration of debt. Sometimes debt is celebrated and sometimes it brings shame. I thought student loans were the only form of positive debt – now I’m not sure. Just the thought of debt gives me stress. Social indebtedness is a thing. A referral can strengthen a relationship if it goes well – or weaken the relationship if it goes poorly. Debt and privilege are closely related. Some folks can get funding for a new business from their family or their network. Sometimes you need debt to buy equipment or build something to get to the next level of business. A banker may give you money to fix a problem. But if you can’t meet the payment schedule – the banker may become your biggest problem. At Etsy, the whole culture changed when new money came in. The site had been limited to US made handcrafts and then changed to things made anywhere. The big idea was lost presumably to make more money for investors. Zingermans has helped many small businesses grow organically. When Zingermans gives money to a new business they do not ask for reporting or milestones. It is a true gift. We trust you and expect that you will do good things with this money. Foundations are the new plantations. There are ways that they own someone who has received money. Do they want you to become something that you are not? There are silent partners who do not know how to be silent.


Sustainable Business Conversation, March 8, 2018 Topic: Business Debt

There is a negative ripple effect from bad debt affecting a circle of family, community and others. We need to form a healthy relationship with debt. We need to have an awareness of the risks and understand our underlying attitudes toward debt. In your cultural experience does debt equal shame or is debt something to celebrate? During the dust bowl era farmers had to take on debt to get funds to buy seeds and supplies and carry the farm until the crop came in. When there were years with no saleable crops, the debt resulted in loosing the farm. Now modern farmers must use pesticides to guarantee the margins that are needed to repay debts. Amish farmers accept no debt from outside sources. If loans are needed they come from inside the Amish community. They fear losing their way of life if outside debt is accepted by the Amish community. My uncle is a farmer and is very disciplined. He also has a job at GM and farms after work. He watches the commodities market closely to decide what crops to plant and sell. His farm is located in an area of the thumb with good wind and many of his neighbors have allowed windmills to be put up on their land. He studied the pros and cons of windmills for some time and decided not to allow them on his property. His neighbors reported that once they had a contract with the windmill company, they had no say in where the large windmills were installed. This frequently had a negative effect on the farm operations and the operation of heavy equipment onsite broke drainage tiles and harmed irrigation systems. I was in a class for entrepreneurs developing new businesses. They did not want to talk about what will happen when the market goes down. They all seemed to be drunk on possibilities and did not want you to rain on their parade. I felt they were not managing risk responsibly. We view debt as generally bad, but in certain situation, you may need to strategically take on debt. Buying equipment or building something may be necessary to take the next step for a business. It is your responsibility as a consumer to understand debt, but is there ever a course where young people learn about the basics of debt? Is debt being pulled by the needs of my growing business – or is debt being pushed into the business? There is no such thing as “free money” in most cases. My Dad was debt averse and borrowed nothing. But the company has not grown over time. New ideas are mostly not implemented. Once you take on employees and promise them things (regular paychecks, benefits) that is a form of indebtedness. If you are taking on subcontractors there can be more of a shared risk. Show them the revenues per week and per year. Its good to share rewards as well as risks. In a world of risk, good decisions can be different from bad outcomes. There are a lot of unknowns beyond our control over a period of years.


Sustainable Business Conversation, March 15, 2018 Topic: Decision Making in an Uncertain World

Andy shared a video/podcast titled “Poker Champion Annie Duke on Making Smart Bets in Life, Politics, and Football” "Life is like poker," says Duke: Good choices and good outcomes don't always correlate. She gave an example of a football coach who called for a particular pass play at the end of an important game, and (against the odds) that pass was intercepted so that the game was lost. This can still be considered a good decision (based on the odds of interception in similar plays, <3%), even though that game was lost. You should gather information and be as well informed as possible but don’t get overly attached to an immediate outcome. In poker you can have a winning hand and lose or you can have a losing hand and win.

If a group has confirmatory thinking style, it becomes an echo chamber confirming prior beliefs. “yes men” Information is valued when it supports beliefs, not when it questions them.

If a group has exploratory thinking style, then people are hungry for information, especially information that challenges prior beliefs. Being wrong is painful. We all want the narrative of our life to be positive. Is it possible to maintain a positive narrative but to stay exploratory? A group can reinforce a thinking style. If confirmatory thinking is rewarded, that will prevail. If the group demonstrates that it is great to admit mistakes and learn from them, then exploratory thinking will grow. We can change the definition of what it means to win. Its really good to listen to dissenting opinions, dig deeper and do the homework. As a therapist, I think about why someone chooses to share a story. Does that person want a change? Do they want me to say that what they are doing is OK? As a therapist, I’m usually interested in change. School programs us to give the right answers. It’s more important to ask the right questions. It’s also good to make a lot of small bets and to increase your range of experience. Making small films allows for a learning process. Risks are still there, but not likely to be catastrophic. Don’t sit still, take small incremental steps. Climate change denial – it is human nature to put blinders on and refuse to see the risks. In Miami, sea level is rising close to storefronts with increasing frequency, but people keep building in these zones. There is a magical view that it will all work out. In Detroit magical thinking brings hope to folks who lack agency to make anything happen. Hope is the thing with feathers – and is very important. It’s striking that in poor communities in Detroit where life is tough and kids a dying, there is a very low suicide rate. In some other areas psychologically devastating events (like the death of a child) turn people to despair that can spiral into suicide. Others in Detroit deal with devastating events by turning to things that are magical, candles, charms, potions. Hope can have a pathological side and take people away from reality. It can also lead to resilience. Psychotherapy is not an option in certain communities. For some there is no medical care available, nothing. During certain periods, Detroit was hell for the Black community. Many died from diphtheria, whooping cough and other diseases. Deaconess Hospital was built for Blacks but conditions were substandard. There was intense overcrowding where apartments meant for one family were crammed with eight families. Blacks were recruited to work in foundries in conditions that were not fit for humans. People wound up holding onto magic to keep going in the face of so many odds against us. There has long been distrust of interloping outsiders. Magical thinking can take someone to the casinos with a lucky charm. Is this good or destructive?


Sustainable Business Conversation, March 22, 2018 Topic: Magical Thinking - A Mature Definition of Hope

What is the role of hope? It is often seen as the answer to a problem – but sometimes hope itself is the problem. The wrong kind of hope can open the door for exploitation. Some hope for a way out of poverty and despair, but a certain kind of hope can keep people stuck in a bad situation and helpless and looking for a savior. Hope and faith are similar but also different. Hope is based on what is needed, with no focus on the means to getting there. Faith is based on reasonable expectations and an acceptance of the real world and restrictions. Hope is rooted in need and faith is based in experience. There can be a sense of magic in new technology – and hope can grow from that. Facebook started with a good idea that people tried out and then saw what would stick (hope). But Faith involves a deep dive and due diligence and can pour cold water on a hot idea. Hope says don’t look at the consequences or the impact on other systems or other communities. Did anyone think through the consequences of Facebook posts replacing journalism? As a therapist I look for fantasy thinking, where someone needs to come to terms with reality. Children in bad situations often develop fantasy thinking to protect themselves from a bad reality. My job is to interject hope that they can retrain the brain to find better ways to live as an adult. I want to help my client re-frame the life they are living to be the life they would like to live. Hope is a confusing word. Being hopeless is a truly bad place. But there is a spectrum of hope which can go from fantasy to hope that leads to useful actions. In therapy, I try to get my client to do one thing different in their life. Just one step out of the norm can bring new thoughts. I took a photography class at a low period of my life and I felt really stuck – there was nothing I wanted to photograph. The teacher told me to go with the pain and use it as part of my creation. After I accepted the reality of pain in my life at that time, I found a lot of meaning in photography. Healthy hope should be based in reality. Hope is harmful when you deny reality. Farmers during the dust bowl kept hoping for rain and stayed on their land as conditions became worse and worse. They plowed more land each year in the hope of more crops. The native people knew that drought was common in the great plains and that buffalo grasses were the only plants that would grow well, wet or dry, and would keep the soil in place – but no one listened to them. Many farmers would not accept reality and lost everything in the dust bowl. I purchased property in Detroit when it was not popular. People told me I was crazy, but I looked at the city and saw positive patterns and potential. I saw that the city was poised to do well. My perception of reality was different from that of the people who criticized me. I lived in a part of Detroit and at a time when my children’s lives were at stake. Children are the most important thing to me, much more important than money. When I sensed real danger I got my children in the car and we left, just in time. Crime is crime, it exists. Perspective affects your view of reality. What you are hopeful for is based on perception. Art can show many different perspectives. Its good to respect others’ perspectives. Young activists are working on gun control and expect something to be done. But they seem to be based in reality and don’t expect a perfect outcome. They are focused on getting young people registered to vote and showing up to vote on important issues. They are aware that change will take time. Pray to God but row toward shore. Reality changes over time and we need to adapt. I moved to this area and was not able to find a job. It was a shock because I’d always been able to find work before but now I’m glad to not have a job. It’s so much better to be self employed. Reality changes and its good to stay nimble. Hope is based in reality, and dreams are based in faith. Two different words but one meaning. Both hope and faith need work; without works behind them, its all dead. Some folks like to just sit on the porch and watch the world go by. Sometimes I get frustrated and feel like crying, but I realized if I work at what I need to do, it ain’t nothin. Having a baby taught me that you have to wait for the next contraction, with all the pain, before you can push. You need to push when the pain is there. We can hope that the pain will end, but you have to do the work to get to the outcome.


Sustainable Business Conversation, April 5, 2018 Topic: Reframing

When you’re in the middle of a large project and things are not right, it’s good to assume that the resources we need are already here. In a scarcity mindset you just worry and stew. Don’t go there. Just assume that resources are here. I know I’m always in my own way. I need to just step out of the way – and its hard to do. Don’t let fear take over. I need to be brave. Trust the world but do your homework. The Earth Charter was written by a large group around the world, brought together by the United Nations. It is a declaration of fundamental principles for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society and was published in 2000. The EC has been endorsed by thousands of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and cities and towns. The triple bottom line is not the true bottom line. It needs to sit on a set of values. LEED is just a set of numbers related to “green” buildings. Is it good or bad? It’s just a set of questions. A particular project needs to have a relationship to the earth and all living communities. Projects should be based on fundamental thinking. The world is made up of interdependent and fragile common destinies. We are all part of a sustainable global society that is one fabric. We have responsibility to one another, the greater community of life and future generations. All forms of life have value regardless of their worth to human beings. We must have faith in the inherent dignity of all human beings. There must be economic justice to have sustainability. The conventional way to look at these issues is to see lots of things in conflict. We can’t have both clean water and a strong business community. But that’s just lazy thinking. We need creative solutions and ways to deal with unintended consequences. The profit motive can work against sustainability. Sustainable Brands does some good work – but many products are quite expensive. A resort in Northern Michigan realized that they need sustainability as part of their business to recruit new hires. Younger people want to work in organizations that value sustainability. There are huge generational gaps related to these issues. The beginning of the end of the old way of doing things is actually now. Businesses based on old money and old ways of doing things (fossil fuel based) are working hard to get all the profits that they can. New money is going to totally different ways of looking at the world and the future. It’s not a Mom and Dad thing. In Home Depot some years ago the lighting aisle used to be full of incandescent bulbs with a small amount of LED bulbs in one spot. Now the lighting aisle is full of compact fluorescent bulbs and LEDs and there is a small amount of incandescent bulbs in one spot.


Sustainable Business Conversation, April 12, 2018 Topic: The Earth Charter

The Earth Charter was put out by the United Nations in 2000 as the product of a decade-pong, worldwide, cross cultural conversation about common goals and shared values. This document is not an end in itself but is kind of like a compass that gives perspective. It talks about our responsibilities as citizens of the earth. The Earth Charter deals with very large concepts and its not always clear how to bring these ideas into action. One section about ecological integrity looks at how to protect and restore the Earth’s ecological systems. At the start of the Green Garage, there were three major species onsite: concrete, asphalt and trash. Restoring the alley was one of the first projects. Looking at water management systems was important. The city asked people to disconnect downspouts from the sewer system. The Green Alley incorporated water storage, permeable pavement and deep-rooted native plants that also support healthy insect life and birds. Water is also stored under the parking lot. The ecosystem can restore itself over time. Once you show respect for the earth, it draws respect to the project and to people. Many thought we were crazy to invest so much in an alley and predicted it would fill up with trash again as soon as we finished. But that’s not what happened. Once the Green Alley was created, little or no trash has been left there. Respe3ct and care for the earth becomes a societal expectation. Those photos of the earth from space changed our mindset. Our identity is so much more than just the United States. The earth from space is so beautiful and perfect. Divisions and wars seem so absurd. I had no education about the natural world. As far as I was concerned there were no good bugs. Sometimes you just do what you can. Not everyone has the means to buy organic food. How do you incentivize people to come together around new ideas like organic foods? Do we have the same obligation to someone just coming out of poverty? Are organics just for the elite? Solutions need to understand people’s lives. Use the power of stories. I remember fresh field peas from Grandma’s garden – how good they tasted. Just about everyone has someone in their lineage who grew food. Growing your own food is not a luxury for the elite. The Green Alley is a story. People working together to create gardens creates stories. We need to understand our own histories. Heirloom seeds protect genetic diversity. Most of the tomato varieties in stores today were developed to be picked by machinery and crated and shipped long distances. The taste or nutritional value are not as important. Why should future generations be limited to that type of tasteless tomato? If we have a system of local food and local businesses, we could grow better things.