Enterprises of tomorrow

Work (that pays) tomorrow is far more likely to develop in enterprises of tomorrow rather than yesterday.

So what should the newly-minted graduate, the seasoned professional now forced into early retirement, and everyone in between be looking for, if they’re looking for an enterprise with legs into the future.

Funding sources: Traditional means of funding new enterprises like venture funding, angels, etc. will still exist, but they’ll be increasingly concentrated on opportunities that promise a quick payback and exit. But a growing number of new enterprises are either started on shoestrings, quickly moving to customer funding (through sales of products or services), and thus bootstrapped up, or beginning with a crowdsourcing funding model (like Indiegogo).

Community support: You’re far more likely to get your community behind you for a crowdsourced funding option if you’re providing something your local community needs. The more the project is one of those “we’re going to dominate the market globally” types, the less likely it is to get started on a “pass the hat” basis. We’re seeing this with people going into food production (farming) using community supported agriculture, where outputs are “pre-bought” by subscribers rather than building a farm to try and join the major grocery supply chains; with people doing light industry replacing parts or products that had been imported to the community, often with customization included, and with new twists on service around traditional products.

Keep it small, keep it quality: Above a certain size, managerial layers must increase and processes must be well-defined and controlled, so there’s an advantage to keeping the size of a venture below those limits. Yes, you might end up with an asset worth hundreds of thousands rather than tens of millions, but so what? Far too many organizations go under due to the problems of growth than go under because they’re nimble, stable, persistent and adaptive. Manage the risks you can, to avoid the ones you can’t.

A big part of this is being able to keep control over the venture, at least as far as its future goes. Quality means that even if a global chain decides now is the time to wipe out all the competitors you’ll persist: there is always a market for “better”. Not growing too much, and therefore having to dilute ownership to the point where you don’t control the future, means that you’ll decide when and if to sell, as opposed to having your business sold out from underneath you by your investors.

Use people instead of technology if you can: If you buy technology to do a job, the money spent flows out of the community; if you employ people to do a job, the money circulates in the community and comes back to you as customers buying your products and services. Some technology is fine; using it to “displace labour” comes at a price. Consider the long-term impacts on your local environment of the decisions you make.

One of the reasons the German economy prospers year after year is that the country is littered with small to mid-sized companies that are world leaders at what they do, and remain in the villages they started in. The Mittelständ, as they’re known, are often family-owned businesses on fourth or fifth generations of ownership, who make decisions for their firms with their communities in mind.

Something similar can be found in Italy’s Po Valley, Europe’s wealthiest area, with very small firms (under 20 employees) predominating and working in networks, while remaining essential to the communities they are located in.

North Americans don’t tend to think this way — but we need to. Think “part of the community, part of the environment”, not “bigger and better dominance”.

Ambiguity: Are you a social enterprise, or a for-profit? Why not both? Becoming comfortable with both/and solutions, rather than either/or, is a key part of the enterprise of tomorrow. So is being comfortable with non-hierarchical solutions to organization, more complex adaptive thinking in work organization, more safe-to-fail experimentation to deal with an ever-changing landscape of competition and opportunity, and far less process myopia, the twentieth century method for commanding and controlling results (and the hallmark of today’s giants, private, public, and not-for-profit).

Learning how to deal effectively, yet decisively, with ambiguity, is a key part of sustaining tomorrow’s type of enterprise.

Consider where you’re locating: This last is the one thing that may argue against starting just where you are. Many of the New Urbanists of the past few years, graduating from their architectural programs, aren’t settling in major cities as they used to, or joining well-established firms, but are striking out to open practices in small towns that have decided to stop decaying under national brands and media and start building up their local worlds again.

Some communities are more ready to become real communities again now than others: more enterprises of tomorrow in their midst adds to the desire, but to manage your risks you may want to choose your location more carefully than you would if you were building for one of those “global dominant” futures.

All of these ideas are grounded in the core notion of the Personal Due Diligence Project that integrative approaches to managing personal risks and rewards is key to secure futures in the times we live in. Whether you’d simply like to explore your situation, or whether you need more structured coaching to make a change, we’d be delighted to hear from you.

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