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5 Takeaways From The Conscious Capitalism Conference

By Kyle Danner - May 02, 2019

This year’s Conscious Capitalism conference was an intense 3 days in a big room filled with big leaders. But these guys weren’t just talking big ideas: they were making those big ideas real.

This was my first year attending. So I want to give you a taste of what I learned by sharing 5 takeaways you can use to take a more conscious approach to your family’s business.

And I’ll start with a family business. Lyell Clark is the third generation leader of The Clarke Group. He started a major re-envisioning of his family’s pest control company a little over 10 years ago. Their logo was a dead mosquito lying on the ground, legs in the air, inside a “C” for Clarke.

For Lyell, that mosquito was the perfect metaphor for how he felt in the family business. He knew things needed to change, but he didn’t know where to start. Rather than fake it and act as if he did know, he did the exact opposite. He put himself out there to his management team and said, “We need to change, but I don’t know how.”

That courage to be vulnerable with his team began a conversation that resulted in the business transforming from a local pest control company to a business dedicated to public health through the use of sustainable products and practices.

So what does all of this have to do with the Conscious Capitalism conference? It’s a perfect example of my first takeaway from the conference: Be vulnerable with your team. Recognize that you can’t have all the answers. In fact, it’s impossible to have all the answers; the world is just too complex.

Instead, be open with what you don’t know and ask for help. This is an invitation for others to step forward and make a contribution, creating the buy-in needed for solving all kinds of problems in all kinds of businesses.

Next, we heard from Ron Shaich, former chairman of Panera Bread who oversaw the fast casual’s explosive growth. If you didn’t know (and I sure didn’t), Panera’s financial performance is stellar. It outpaced Starbucks by four times, Chipotle by six and beat the S&P 500 by 44 percent.

Part of that success is due to asking himself, “How would I compete with Panera if I didn’t own it?” It’s the same question that you can ask yourself to improve your business’s growth. How would you compete with your company if you didn’t own it? This is my second takeaway: taking an outsider perspective to find new opportunities for business growth.

The third takeaway also came from Ron. One of the things he owed Panera’s long term success was changing the business every 6-10 years.

That can be really hard for some companies, especially family businesses. Respect for tradition, or “this is the way we’ve always done it,” can have a firm grip on the family business. Making changes, either to the name, the brand, or the product can be seen as a sign of disrespect (or even betrayal) to the founder. But fear of change could be holding your business back.

If your family business is struggling with making changes out of respect for tradition, think of the change as part of carrying on the entrepreneurial spirit of the founder. Remember, the founder had a vision for doing something different — something no one else could see. Repositioning, or even re-inventing, the business by creating new products or services is simply a continuation of that entrepreneurial spirit.   

Lynne Twist is the author of “Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship With Money And Life.” She is a recognized leader in the fight to alleviate poverty and eliminate world hunger.  She reminded everyone in the audience that when you label someone, you don’t see them as a human being. You only see the label and all the baggage that label carries, which is usually negative. By labeling someone, you deny yourself the ability to see their gifts; their skills; and their experiences they offer.

This is so true in the family business as well. Poorly handled disagreements often lead to damaged relationships, even damaged to the point of constant arguing or avoiding one another altogether. It’s easy to label family members when your relationships are strained. But, if you fall into this trap, you no longer see the other person as a loved one. All you see is what you’ve labeled them.

If there’s a relationship in need of repair in your world, take a minute and reflect on the qualities behind the label and remind yourself. There may be more to the story than you know. Then make an effort to re-approach your loved one with curiosity. It’s the first step on the road to repair.

And the fifth takeaway comes from Deidre McCloskey, an economist and historian among many other things (seriously, her bio is truly one-of-a-kind). She reminded everyone that in a capitalist economy, ideas come first, then investment. In other words, before you can invest, you must have an idea for what you’re going to invest it in. So, ask yourself what new ideas has your family business come up with recently that might lead to new opportunities.

And I close with this notion of new ideas for a reason. Often, you’re swamped with the daily demands of the family business. It’s virtually impossible to spend time thinking up new ideas or testing out new ways of thinking. Conferences, like this year’s Conscious Capitalism Conference, are a great way to immerse yourself in something different surrounded by different people. This helps give you a fresh perspective on your family business.

Want to implement the Conscious Capitalism principles in your family business? Let’s talk! Schedule a free online meeting with me, and I’ll help you clarify your vision for your business, resolve conflict within the family, and more.

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