Going Alone?

Going Alone?

In business, and no matter what we do, we need others.

Entrepreneurs and small business leaders seem to be the epitome of American “rugged individualism”. They find opportunities, take risks and strike-out on their own. We tend to be enamored with the image of a person who goes his or her own way. These notions actually take on mythological proportions in our culture. We look to our past and see icons of industry, such as Henry Ford, or Thomas Edison and hold them-up as heroes for being rugged individuals who risked everything and struck out on their own. But is this even possible?

I recently attended a conference titled, ACTIVATE, which was held in Metro Detroit and was hosted by the Redford Jaycees. ACTIVATE brought together local entrepreneurs and small business leaders for a day of workshops and presentations designed to “reach the next level in growth”. One of the sessions was a panel discussion that included, Bob Budai of MORSPT; Ed Buison of Biggby; Jacob Fishaw of SMPLFD; Hamissi Mamba of Baobob Fare and Molly Williams of Matick Chevrolet, all of whom are local business leaders. It was inspiring to listen to how they achieved success despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

One of the questions asked of the panelists had to do with the importance of being connected with business organizations. The panelists were unanimous in their answers: It’s important. They went-on to mention organizations that have helped them. As they were answering the question, I began to realize, despite what we often think, not one of us goes alone. This notion of rugged individualism is grounded into our thinking. We confer all sorts of accolades – fame and fortune – onto those individuals who “make it”. Think of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. It is our culture that leads us to believe in the hero, the sole individual who risks everything and conquers the world.

American culture is rooted in liberalism, which must not be confused with leftist thinking. The term liberal, in this sense, comes to us from the Age of the Enlightenment, which extended from the late 1600’s through to the early 19th century. A key tenet of liberalism is what’s called “social contract theory”, which is the idea that, as individuals, we give-up a portion of our sovereignty to the state or community in exchange for protection from nature.  Thomas Hobbes (d. 1679) considered the state of nature “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. Living in such a horrific condition would necessitate the state, or community to provide protection from nature and to ensure civility. So, in this view, we are essentially autonomous creatures who concede a portion of our sovereignty simply to survive. Left on our own in a Hobbesian state of nature would be difficult indeed.

It’s not hard, based on such a worldview, to see how rugged individualism is a cornerstone of our culture. In nature, as isolated creatures, we’d have to be incredibly capable. It also explains why we tend to hold-up successful people in a mythological light. In America, if you strike-out on your own, then you could become that person kids will someday read about in elementary school. The trouble is this worldview doesn’t square with what we know about nature, or human biology.

Nature, as we know today, has been evolving over a 4.5B year period. As evolution progressed, the primordial ooze, as it were, eventually brought forth microbes, and thereafter, a multitude of other life forms.  Eventually, human beings started walking the planet. So, if we emerged from the Earth system, then how could it be the sort of place Hobbes describes? To the contrary, rather than being a hostile place, nature is something on which we are completely dependent. And it’s not only the biota on which we depend, but our neighbors as well.

As human beings, we take much longer to fully develop than any other living creature on Earth. From birth, through a relatively long period of time in comparison to other mammals, human beings are entirely dependent on others. In fact, neuroscience indicates our brains are not fully developed until we reach the age of roughly twenty-five. As a result, we’re not individuals who give-up a portion of our sovereignty to survive: We’re highly social creatures who rely on others.

We need others to survive. And if we’re of the ilk who want to start a business, we’ll need others to be successful. No one goes it alone, at least not in business. When we play golf, we go alone, but when it comes to business, it’s a team sport. Even if one is literally working for him or herself, the person will need help in one form or another. The lights in our workshops and offices will not go on without help from others. In our culture, we tell ourselves we’re on our own, but we’re not. This is good news for the entrepreneur and small business leader. It means there’s no need to feel alone, or that you cannot turn to others for help.

This brings us to the organizations that had helped the ACTIVATE panelists navigate the small business world.

One is the local chamber of commerce. Connecting with the chamber is a great way to meet other local business leaders and just talk about what’s going-on. Chambers also make it easier to connect with other small business services, such as accountants and attorneys. SMSBF is a member of the Redford Chamber of Commerce.

Another organization the panelists mentioned is Business Networking International, or BNI, which is similar to the local chamber of commerce, but with a twist. BNI’s motto is, “Givers Gain”. The idea is that members refer their contacts – friends, family and colleagues – to the chapter’s business members. So, if one member’s business is repairing automobiles, and another’s business is legal services, the auto repair business will refer contacts to the legal services business, and vice versa. Members get to know and trust each other and make referrals based on these trusting relationships. BNI also offers content that helps business leaders improve their networking and leadership skills. I know a number of small business leaders that credit their success to BNI.

Finally, there’s SCORE, which is a mentoring service provided by the Small Business Administration (SBA). SCORE mentors are generally retired business leaders who provide their wisdom and expertise to entrepreneurs and small business leaders. Mentors have the skills to guide others through the intricacies of things such as figuring-out a strategy and putting it to work; they know the pitfalls and how to avoid them. Mentors have plenty of experience and are simply passionate about business; they’re more than happy to share what they know. And it’s all free of charge.

As entrepreneurs and small business leaders, we should never think we’re alone. We’re surrounded by others and part of an intricate whole. When we come together and recognize our interdependence, a whole new worldview opens-up. Leaning into this worldview will make all the difference. Besides, it’s far more reflective of reality than the mythological rugged individual.

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