“In Africa there is a concept known as Ubuntu – the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievements of others.” — Nelson Mandela
As an adolescent and then later as a younger man, I wanted to be independent. In fact, I probably did everything possible to be that way.
Now depending upon your cultural upbringing, some of you may be thinking… “well done”, “good job”, “wish more people were like you”, whereas others may be thinking “you were a very selfish person”!
Well whatever your views, I want to let you know that recently I have had a change of heart.
You see I do not think that this is the way to go anymore. In fact, I am sure of it now.
I now believe in the importance of Ubuntu.
“Ubuntu is a Nguni Bantu term roughly translating to human kindness. It is an idea from the Southern African region which means literally human-ness, and is often translated as humanity towards others, but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity” – Wikipedia
I first came across the term “Ubuntu” from the book written by Bob Nelson and Steven Lundin titled “Ubuntu!: An Inspiring Story About an African Tradition of Teamwork and Collaboration” published in 2010.
If you have not read it, you should, because it may influence you also in how you see relationships and in particular, relationships in business.
In the startup world forming relationships through networks and partnerships are critical, but the concept of Ubuntu takes this even further.
But first, why is that in many workplaces today we often spend time putting people down, instead of building people up? Why do we often avoid the true spirit of collaboration and instead choose to be threatened? Not by our colleague’s acts, but more by our own internal thoughts and feelings. Could it be that competition in the workplace actually leads to some of these more detrimental outcomes?
I believe it does.
Recently I was talking to an old colleague of mine and the conversation got on to LinkedIn and how it can generate a sense of envy or potentially negative perceptions and self-doubt in that you are seeing all these “high achievers” yet at the same time questioning your own abilities.
What if we decide to look at our world through a different set of lenses?
For me Ubuntu describes how we should see relationships in business today. Whether that be collaborating with other businesses, working with our own work colleagues, our own manager, our subordinates or even with our customers and our suppliers, Ubuntu introduces a dimension of relationships that has often been missing. A sense of humanity.
Today the very nature of business, technology and globalisation is enabling new models and news ways of working together. Perhaps now instead of being proud to be independent, we embrace in our hearts the philosophy of Ubuntu.
I am not sure about you, but I receive numerous requests for business opportunities and “partnerships” by email each week.
It is quite flattering really to have all this attention – but each request looks like the previous one. No differentiation.
Worse, the punters (yes that’s what I call them because they are actually gambling against the house) are presenting opportunities from their own perspectives – what about me?
What about me, it isn’t fair
I’ve had enough now i want my share
Can’t you see i wanna live
But you just take more than you give
You see, partnerships mean exactly that – it is two-way. It is not about you selling me your stuff – you taking from me.
If you want to create real partnerships that build on synergies and are mutually beneficial, then you have to come from the other person or business’s perspective. In other words, how will our lives be enriched as a result of working together? What difference can we make together?
But I believe there is even more to it than that.
Today, partnerships have never been more important, but we need to create them for the right reasons.
Let’s establish partnerships that are built on something more than just a financial transaction or a vehicle to make money. To me that is not a way to define a partnership.
Let’s build “principle” based partnerships.
What are principle based partnerships?
Well I spent an afternoon thinking about this very topic and came up with the phrase and six questions that probe more deeply into the motivations behind a partnership. I will work to refine them over the coming months, but here they are as they stand today…
Will I be able to make a greater contribution through a partnership than going it alone?
Where in my business (could also be community etc) is the partnership best suited or most desired?
What can I bring to the partnership relationship – how can I help them?
What difference can we make together?
Who benefits from our partnership?
What would others think about our partnership?
Once you decide on a partnership, then how will you work together? What behaviours will you illicit between each other and how will the “culture” of the partnership be described? Note that I have purposely avoided any legal description – after all isn’t that just a piece of paper?
What are you principles for partnerships?
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” Helen Keller
I love that quote from Tony Robbins and it’s so true. If we find people who are getting the results we are seeking and dig deeper to understand the strategies they are using to get those results and we do similar, then it is more likely we can achieve the same.
Now I don’t know about you, but I would certainly like to find out how I can achieve my goals faster and more effectively to expand my business.
So with that, I have been studying for many years, successful entrepreneurs, to understand what they do. To no surprise, these successful entrepreneurs work with other successful entrepreneurs!
Of course, that is probably a “no brainer”, but when you are starting off, or even kicking off your startup, how can you find the right people to collaborate with, while particularly taking into consideration your business needs of today and into the future – your ultimate vision?
This question is often overlooked, but it is an important consideration as in the early stages you need to have capability that you can leverage, but also into the future, capability and synergies that you do not outgrow.
Hence to resolve this business dilemma for entrepreneurs, I have created a system for identifying the right people to support your business for the “now” and for the “future”.
It is what I call the Business Expander ECO-System.
The Business Expander Eco-System consists of three elements: Environmental Levers,Collaboration Circles and Objectives-Over-Time – hence the term “ECO”.
The Environmental Levers are the specific areas of your business where you may choose to seek others to assist you in your business expansion through collaboration. This allows you to be more focused within your business to address the right needs at the right time.
There are six Environmental Levers that fall within four functional groups:
Avatars or Client Avatars, are the clients you are targeting. You may have several Avatars or client segments which are likely to result in different ways you serve and provide value to them.
The key question you need to be asking here is “do I have access to these Avatars?”.
As an example, you may have defined three client Avatars that you are targeting, but only have access to one of these. Now of course you could look at advertising etc, but if you want to “expand” into these two other segments, collaboration may be the answer for you.
Geos or Geographies, are more important today than they have ever been because with technology your reach can be so much further and effective.
So for this lever, the question is “do I have the reach into this geography?”.
In other words, you may be currently conducting your business locally, but are their collaboration possibilities to get you into other markets, while at the same time, your collaboration partner could leverage off you?
Value refers to your products and services and the value proposition you provide your Avatars.
Here you need to be asking how you can expand the value proposition of your current offerings. Is it possible to collaborate with others with similar but non competing products and services that when combined, provide a full suite and compelling proposition to you targeted Avatars?
Channels refer to the distribution channels for your value propositions. It’s how you connect with your targeted Avatars. For digital marketing this is through social media, but could also be at live events and conferences for example, where you may collaborate with others.
Here you want to be asking yourself whether you are currently being effective in your existing channels and would it be worthwhile to collaborate with others where there are mutual benefits. For example, cross promotion with each other’s mailing list is a common strategy.
Factory lever is the operations area of your business and is where you are designing, creating and supporting your products and services. For this lever you want to consider the areas where collaboration would be beneficial – for example innovation and coming up with new ideas for future value.
Enablers are the supporting areas of your business and although do not get the attention they deserve, are just as critical as any of the preceding levers. This is about finance, legal, risk – so you need to consider who you need to collaborate with to ensure you have the necessary capabilities in place in your business.
Collaboration Circles are the differing forms that collaboration can take place. While not always clearly defined, for each one, there are pros and cons – but the important point is to ensure that whatever collaboration relationship is being considered, it is considered strategically.
Network can generally be an informal collaboration between colleagues or known businesses, sharing ideas etc.
Associate may be a formal relationship but for specific needs, or at specific times. An example might be at an annual industry conference where we may associate with other businesses to mutual benefit as exhibitors.
Affiliate is more formal again over extended periods and is generally where one business may promote another business products and services for a small retainer. In the online space companies like Amazon. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affiliate_marketing).
Partner is where you come together to collaborate formally and although there may not always be a 50:50 split in the financials, there are shared objectives for the purpose of coming together.
Joint Venture / Investor is really about being serious for the longer term and though similar to Partner, can be just a bit more complex in structure in regards to the collaboration dynamics.
Objectives-Over-Time refer to your objectives or needs of today and also what they may be in the future. By looking at your business’s Environmental Levers with your Objectives-Over-Time, then you are in a much better and informed position to identify the best Collaboration Circles.
The Business Expander ECO-System Can Help You In The Age Of Collaboration
We are living in extraordinary times.
Globalisation, digitalisation and affordable technology is opening up opportunities for many in starting their own businesses.
So if you are one of these people, setting up your own business, or have it up and running but want to expand it to the next level and you want to do it in a way that is effective, then do what the successful entrepreneurs do…
However, make sure you do it with purpose and a with a strategy in mind by developing your own Business Expander ECO-System!
I believe we are at the beginning of the age of the entrepreneur and Startup and this period will become known as the entrepreneurial revolution.
Imagine if you will, just for a moment we could travel back through time to the early 1700s in Great Britain, the beginning of the Agrarian Revolution and knew if we would apply the latest knowledge of agriculture and farming of the day, it would lead to the multiplication of population densities by factors in the order of 10 plus.
What if we could travel back to the early 1800’s, the time of the Industrial Revolution where productive capacity grew by a net factor now in the order of 100, made possible through new products, new ways of life, and ongoing changes in the structure of civilization.
And what if we could all go back to the 1970’s and early 80’s, the beginning of the Digital / Information or Technological Revolution – I am sure many of us would be making different choices now than we did then.
You see in many ways my story has travelled from agriculture, through to manufacturing to services and now to this period of the entrepreneurial organisation and as a result, I believe today that there could not be a better time for setting up a business, but my caveat with this is what I call the 4 forces.
The four forces…
So what are the four forces…?
The first two are external and the remaining two are internal.
Let’s start with Globalisation…
I do not need to discuss this in too much detail as I am sure you are all aware of what a force this is but I think it is worthwhile picking up some of the finer points around demographics.
Harry Dent, a leading economic forecaster researches economic cycles and bubbles by looking at long term trends such as population changes.
For example, as we age, our needs differ, we shift from spenders to savers, if this is taken at a macro level looking at population demographics as well as other concepts such as urbanisation etc, Dent can predict to some degree economic outcomes of those countries.
Though not always the most positive reading, his books are incredibly insightful, particularly his recent one titled “The Demographic Cliff” and what he calls this deflationary period we are in now from 2014 to 2019.
A second book I have just picked up is from the McKinsey Global Institute – “No Ordinary Disruption”. This is a compelling read and includes a graphic showing how the evolution of the earth’s economic gravity is changing from India and China to Europe and back again.
While I am on the subject of books, I would also include Al Gore’s “The Future” – here he provides a similar perspective of the challenges and opportunities of these times.
Both Dent, McKinsey and Gore present the realities of this new environment that today’s entrepreneurs needs to navigate.
So what of Digitalisation?
In my Fair Trade business, I am familiar with the story of a small community of women in East Africa who without significant infrastructure apart from basically a smart phone and a local FedEx, set up an online shopping portal using Shopify and a PayPal account and are now selling their jewellery to the world. In return, they are building wells, schools and hospitals for their community.
How much more transformative can it get than that!
But this is just the beginning. People, communities, mums and dads need help, They need the assistance, the education, the investment, the helping hand.
So I think it is very much the role of the entrepreneur to facilitate this as we also pursue our own dreams and visions.
This brings me to collaboration.
I grew up in an environment in which my father had established his own manufacturing company. In those days, everything was done in house and the only external relationships apart from your customers, was your local bank manager, accountant and solicitor.
But things are different now…
Certainly from my perspective I am currently collaborating on a broad range of projects with people from the US, UK, and the Philippines and even from Kerala in southern India in which the types of collaboration involve anything from business operating models to one-on-one coaching / mentoring.
The point I am making is that by opening yourself up to building a network of people around you that you work together on for specific projects to achieve common goals is in my view today’s operating model for the Startup and entrepreneur.
So when John Donne wrote in 1624 the poem that included the words “no man is an island”, no truer words could be written today.
The last of my four forces is Mindset.
What I actually mean is you need to “re-wire: your brain” because a different way of thinking is required and if you were like me, coming from a corporate environment, then you definetley need to re-wire your brain.
For me, this has been the most difficult but most rewarding journey. I had to challenge some strongly held beliefs about business and about myself. I had to park my ego outside. I had to become a student – even when my teacher was not even born when I first left school!
How I did this re-wiring though was to seek out mentors.
I have shared with you some books I have read, I have even had the opportunity to meet with Harry Dent but of course other great thought leaders and entrepreneurs.
In fact I made a point several years ago to become a student and learn from those who are successful entrepreneurs, to understand how they think, how they create, how they make decisions and importantly relate to others.
My entrepreneurial journey in many ways is just starting off, but I have learned this…
If you want to become a successful entrepreneur, establish your own Startup, to scale up your business, you need to work on re-wiring your brain.
But you might say to me…
“Ross, I am OK with this part, it’s something else, it’s the finances or its competitors etc. that’s holding me back”
Well all I would say to you, if that is the case…
is just imagine for a moment, that there was something holding you back from a mindset point of view…
what could that be?
You see, whatever comes to mind will be the answer
…it always comes back to you!
That’s the exciting part to, because if it is with you, you own it, and you can overcome it.
That’s what I have learned and much of it is about how you can help others whether that be financially or in lifestyle…
Whatever that is, if you can do that, then you can be successful, not how people can help you to be successful.
So to sum up…
We are living in the age of the Startup and the beginning of the entrepreneurial revolution.
Success will be determined by the four forces of
The biggest challenge though to overcome is Mindset – we need to re-wire our brains.
But when we are successful, we as entrepreneurs will be able to make huge positive contributions to our communities, to help those who are in need, to create new opportunities and to transcend humanity.