This week, I attended a business conference and trade show at my local university. It was the first time I had attended the event and I was happy to witness the coming together of mature, seasoned entrepreneurial veterans with younger, bright-eyed entrepreneurs of tomorrow. As the day progressed, I started to see patterns emerge and I began to wonder…is this as good as it gets?
I first walked through the trade show section. I could sense the eagerness of each vendor as I walked by their table; their eyes searching for my name tag and title to see if I was a potential buyer for their wares. I was polite, but stayed in the center of the aisle and kept a continuous pace. In the past, I had attended trade shows as an exhibitor with the hopes that the right person would come along that would springboard my business into an overnight success. That never happened, and I didn’t want to give anyone else the impression that I was that person for them.
As I walked along, I was thinking about capitalism as a whole. It was wonderful that I was surrounded by individuals who were brave enough to take the leap into a small business, but what about all the stuff? If you’re not a service business, you have to sell stuff to other people. The more stuff you sell, the more profit you make. The more profit you make, the bigger you grow. The bigger you grow, the more stuff you have to sell to sustain that growth. On the other side of that, businesses won’t grow if people don’t consume their stuff. So, you have to be advertised at and convinced to purchase more. With each start-up business, there’s more competition in the market and advertising increases exponentially because each business wants to be seen. Capitalism becomes a vicious cycle of materialism, consumption, and competition. Let me make one more observation before I get to my point.
Over the course of the day, I listened to a number of speakers who told their personal stories. Each entrepreneur had a different beginning but their similarities were astounding when they spoke about the amount of information they had to learn: The process of writing a business plan, understanding tax laws and the rules surrounding each type of business entity. They had to learn finance and payroll, how to take on employees and write job descriptions. They learned about insurance and liabilities and the importance of properly worded legal contracts. Most of this information had to be understood before even selling anything; sales and marketing being a whole other science. I listened to business owners passing on their expertise to newbies. I was struck by the irony that many people go into business to gain personal freedom, only to be buried under a mountain of rules and regulations, 12 hr work days, and drained savings accounts. Is this really living the dream? Is it the only way?
Whenever I’m thinking through something, I like to look at Nature to see how she does it. Here’s 2 observations that came to mind:
- Nature unceasingly goes through cycles of change, but doesn’t require continuous growth and consumption (like capitalism) to thrive. A healthy balance is always maintained amongst all of its parts through natural means.
- In Nature, there doesn’t exist a leader (like an entrepreneur) that has to know all the rules and make all the decisions in order to grow and survive. Instead, every part of Nature contains its own wisdom and adapts in tandem with every other part. That way, all of Nature changes together and brings every other part along with it. There’s adaption rather than failure.
Here’s my take-aways:
Maybe instead of growth, we need development. Maybe we need to see ourselves as part of a whole, not just a part. Maybe when we come up against something that appears to be our complete opposite, we remember that there’s always a way to bridge the gap. It may require a new way of thinking, but change inspires creation. Anything that does not change is defined as dead; physically and metaphorically. Luckily, Nature has a plan for that, too…it’s called rebirth!
Isn’t it amazing what you can learn at a trade show!