Strategy : 8 Things You Can Do To Create A Visionary Enterprise

Prior to starting her own business in 1992, Jamie Walters helped establish Virginia's Superfund Community Relations Program for the Commonwealth’s Department of Waste Management. When she joined VDWM, the community-relations program didn't exist; when she left, she had established a highly regarded program with outreach to more than forty cleanup communities. She is the author of many articles on leadership. Her latest book is  "Big Vision, Small Business: 4 Keys to Success Without Growing Big" (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco).

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From a business perspective, most people would agree that the past several years have been real doozies in a lot of ways. As we look ahead into the coming year, and assess the path we traversed in the past 12 to 24 months, we'll find things that remain outside of our control, things for which we might plan, and things that we can do right now to start the year with a sense of forward-momentum (and positive momentum, at that).

First, a very quick look back: Economic and cultural quakes!

The degree to which the past several years have been a challenge may differ depending on who and where you are, and whether your enterprise is business-to-business or enterprise-to-consumer.

In the late 1990's, many organizations became, to varying degrees, dependent on the high-tech and dot-com economies. Others had become complacent, or perhaps unnecessarily lavish in their spending, in the boom-time economy. The effects of the layoffs, reorganizations, stock-market volatility, business failures, tightened purse-strings, and executive malfeasance rippled outward as the months of 2001 and 2002 wore on.

Yet even as these few years featured such challenges, the period also had many shining moments, particularly those that involved a unified populace, a focus on truly important values, and a degree of resilience and fortitude that always inspires.

Indeed, a turn to history tells us that such challenges — and worse — have been surmounted and used as springboards for even greater cycles of innovation, well-being, unification and prosperity. The more trying events have showcased cultural and human strengths and values that had simply been overshadowed by the near exclusive focus on material growth and gain. From the perspective of some philosophical and wisdom traditions, wonders can often (and often do) emerge from chaos that seems at some point to be uncertain, or even terrifying.

What we can do as we look ahead to creating prosperity in 2003 and beyond?

Rudyard Kipling wrote that one crucial attribute of a successful person is the ability to keep your head about you when all around you people are losing their heads, and some are even blaming it on you. His point is not to be underestimated.

So instead of allowing yourself to be carried away by the more dastardly events of the past few years, as awful and emotionally draining as they might have been, you might choose instead to keep your wits about you and focus (and act) in a positive, forward-moving manner that pays homage to all who have worked diligently, and persevered in the face of challenge, though the results may not be exactly what you had hoped for the short-term, perseverance does have its rewards.

Here are a few steps for beginning your journey into the coming year:

1. Take stock of your situation.

"There is nothing to fear but fear itself," said Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Whenever I find myself fearful and anxious, I grab a notepad, flipchart or whiteboard, pens and several of my colleagues if appropriate, and do a thorough check-in on circumstances, resources and possibilities. Free-floating fear is dangerous because we can't work with it; by untangling the subjects of our fears (in this case, regarding our business or livelihood), we can better know what we're working with and take action. Do your own check-in with the list that follows.

2. Articulate your worst-case-scenarios or fears.

Perhaps you fear that the economy won't recover, or won't recover in time for your organization's survival. Maybe you fear that you'll lose your financial standing, or material assets upon which you base your perceptions of success. Or you may fear that you'll go bankrupt, or that your traditional customer base will no longer support your business. If you're an employee, you may fear that you'll get laid off before all of this is said and done, which raises some of the fears mentioned above. These scenarios may shake your confidence, give you an upset stomach, or have you waking in the middle of the night with anxious thoughts of failure. As fearsome as these scenarios can be, we often over-estimate them and underestimate our ability to deal with even these. One of the best ways to decrease our fears of the ghosts in the closet is to open the closet door and turn on the light.

3. List assets and contingencies.

Now that you've unmasked your worst-case scenarios, make a list of anything you consider to be one of your assets or resources. What might you still have, or what might you do, if faced with these worst-case options? When in the past do you remember overcoming difficult circumstances and prevailing in the face of challenges that might have seemed insurmountable at the time?

4. Assess your strengths.

The assets you listed may be considered strengths, as might less tangible traits. For example, your previous experience at creating opportunities and overcoming challenges or anxiety provoking circumstances is a strength. Other strengths may be revealed by positive things others have said about you, reasons people have enjoyed working with you, or even those things that you love to do even if you do them for free or as a "value added" in your work. For this part of the exercise, you'll want to unabashedly accentuate the positive, and sing your own or your group's praises.

5. See where you can be of service.

Mother Theresa offered very practical advice when she said, "If you want to know how to change the world, pick up a broom." Some wisdom traditions emphasize that "you find yourself when you lose yourself" in service to others, but you don't have to practice any particular wisdom tradition to know that being of service to others feels good and takes your focus off of your own short-comings and areas of lack. That's a great start. This exercise isn't about what's profitable (though it might come back to you ultimately in that way), but rather how you might help meet community needs. For example, in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, local bookstores found themselves to be important information sources and gathering spaces for neighbors in search of answers or just comfort. While large-scale tragedies magnify such needs for community and mutual support, the needs — and opportunities for service — always exist. Ask yourself how you or your business can be of greater service or help create a more enriched, positive, supportive community.

6. Imagine the possibilities.

Put your cynicism, criticism and negativity on the shelf for this exercise. Taking a look over the things you've listed based on the exercises above, imagine how you can reinvigorate or revitalize current products or services. Who else might benefit from the strengths and assets you've listed? Are there potential customers that you just haven't considered before only because flush times didn't require that degree of creative thinking? Are there other ways that you could organize skills, assets and strengths to create new products or services that fit current and forecast needs in 2003 and into 2004? What accomplishments would you like to celebrate as you wrap the coming year?

7. Brainstorm opportunities.

Having identified assets, resources, areas of service and a multitude of possibilities, what opportunities might exist for bringing those ideals or concepts into your daily, weekly, monthly and annual activities? What resources and revenues will you need to meet your desired quality of life and sustainability (individual or organizational)? What organizations exist that could benefit from the services or products you provide? How can potential avenues of service be integrated into your way of doing business (or doing your job)? With whom can you create a mutually beneficial partnership to provide your products or services in a way that meets a need, while receiving a fair revenue in return? With whom can you partner, or to whom can you turn, for trusted advice and a helpful perspective to put the needed resources into place and create the opportunities?

8. Align your vision with action.

Continuing your dialogue started in the exercises above, what action can you take today to begin creating resources and opportunities, and fulfilling this vision of what's possible? What can you do this week? This month? In the coming quarter?

While you can add other categories and exercises to your list, the ones above can help give you a start as you launch a new year, and will provide an anchor and resource as you check in each month and quarter to assess your progress, identify new resources and opportunities, or upgrade your goals for the year.


Copyright 2003, Jamie S. Walters. Visionary business, conscious livelihood, inspired leadership and personal-mastery concepts are shared at length in "Big Vision, Small Business", the new paperback book by Jamie S. Walters, as well as at IvySea.com

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