The Advantage of Being in Jamaica

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One of the advantages I have of living in Jamaica is that it has helped me to see what is often accepted as a normal business practice in North America from a very different perspective.

One simple example is a question that we used to ask each other in the U.S. workplace — “Are you keeping busy?”

Now, from a Jamaican perspective, this question looks like a strange one. Why should someone’s goal be to keep busy? What is the purpose?

Will we all be happier when we are busy all the time?

Is the whole point of work… to find more stuff to work on?

The Kinds of Business I am Not In

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There is a temptation in business to try to build the company around whatever seems to be hot at the moment.

The logic taught in MBA schools is as follows:

  1. Do market research- Figure out what people want by asking them what their needs are
  2. Start a Business – Find a way to provide it to them at a price that can make a big profit

The logic seems to make sense, and it has created a generation of what one might call “profit chasers.” People start companies in order to make as much money as they can as quickly as they can, and they are particularly susceptible to the latest offers that come along.

On the other hand, there is a new and growing school of thought that this thinking is limited. Instead, the new thinking is as follows:

  1. Follow your passions and interests until you become an expert
  2. Find ways of packaging and selling your expertise to those who appreciate what you have to offer
  3. Continue to innovate and expand your offerings, always paying attention to where your interests are taking you

I have become a firm believer in this new approach to business, which I will call Business 2.0. I started a company in the Business 1.0 model that didn’t work — a t-shirt company that just seemed like a good idea that would make money. Instead, it lost it (even while teaching me some stern lessons about running a company).

Living in the Business 1.0 world is cold and hard. People take jobs for companies they don’t like, doing things they don’t care for, earning enough to pay their bills at the end of the month. This is as good as it gets. In Business 1.0, people give as little as they can, while trying to get as much as they can in return — what economists call “maximizing their utility.” In this particular world, it always makes sense to pursue to highest paying job, no matter what.

In the Business 2.0 world, however, the single-minded pursuit of profit and tangible gain is set aside to some degree for other commitments, such as personal fulfillment and making a difference. There is a commitment to learn, expand and grow, while taking care of one’s psychological and emotional needs along the way.

I observed an interesting contrast between these two models recently in two web sites that focus on methods of making profits through blogging.

One, problogger.net, is clearly Business 1.0 while the second, stevepavlina.com is clearly following the alternate model. While one model is not necessarily better than the other, I will say that the second is more likely to do a couple of things that i personally like:

  1. Business 2.0 is more likely to lead to a fulfilled life — it passes the deathbed test because it is asking the question “what is my life for” at each step of the way.
  2. Business 2.0 is more likely to produce well-managed companies that are strong on innovation simply because one is likely to find more innovation by people who love what they are doing, than by people who are “paid to do a job” and are focused on “doing what they need to do.”

I guess that my point here is that each of us has a choice in life, regardless of what we might argue to ourselves and others. I do know what many people complain that they have no choice, and they are more likely to bake what Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, calls “a bitter bread.

Building an Environment that is Open for Business

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Now that we are ten days away from election day, I am remembering an article (http://urlcut.com/dchuck) that Delroy Chuck wrote about creating an environment in Jamaica that is business-friendly.

Beyond the politics of what he has to say, there is a truthful point. I recently opened a business here in Jamaica, and I finally received the legal papers in August 2007 after waiting from December, 2006.

In an earlier post entitled “The Thwarting of the Creative Class“, I shared some research that showed that Jamaica’s ranking among countries in terms of how easy it is to do business is terribly low, even after years of efforts to make things easier.

Opposable Thinking

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As I wrote the last post, it occurred to me that it was connected to a prior post I made on the Opposable Mind.

In that post, I made reference to another article that made the point that breakthrough thinking came from an ability to hold two opposite concepts in the mind at the same time.

Now, I wonder if success as an entrepreneur has something to do with an ability to hold multiple accountabilities within a single human being — a little bit like the opposable mind, except there are more than two opposing concepts at play, and more like 5-10 different accountabilities.

This idea seemed to resonate with me, and may explain why so few are cut out to run their own business. One of the most difficult disciplines to learn as a new business owner is that one may move from one accountability and skill-set to another in a matter of moments.

Also, a good business owner knows that their company is only as strong as its weakest accountability. If, in the case of a solo professional, their accounting is in poor shape then that is the weakest link, and the link most likely to cause the company to fail. If the company is not run in a systematic way, then that in turn is the weakest link that will cause things to fall apart.

What is a Chamber? Or a Business Club?

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From Wikipedia:

A Chamber of Commerce (also referred to in some circles as a Board of Trade, though this phrase is not commonly used in the United States) is a form of business network. The primary goal of a chamber is to improve the business climate in a locality, typically through business networking, lobbying, and common projects and a selection of business services.

Q: What is a Business Club?

A: Pretty much whatever it wants to be, I guess!

My Vision of a Trini-Jam Chamber/BizClub

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What would a Trinidadian-Jamaican Chamber of Commerce, or a TriniJam BizClub actually accomplish?

After the doubles and jerk-chicken are over, and the reggae and soca music has stopped, and the wining and dubbing is finished… what else would happen?

I originally thought of the idea when I did a couple of research projects in Jamaica that included multiple interviews with Trinidadians. A former Managing Director first put the idea in my head, saying that he would love to be able to learn from the other Trinis that were coming to lead companies in Jamaica for the first time. He said that there was much that they could learn from each other, and that had me think that there was not only a lot they could learn from each other, but also a lot they could teach Jamaicans about doing business in Trinidad.

Since then, and recently, the public row over the LNG issues and the trade gap between the two countries has resulted in a war of words, in which Dawn Rich’s column in the Sunday Gleaner represents perhaps the most extreme opinion.

Maybe the Chamber/Club, with a chapter in Kingston and another in Port of Spain, could be a place where:

  • Trinidadian – Jamaican business relationships are fostered on an individual level
  • the ins and outs of doing business in each country are shared
  • business-people working away from their home country can find help in assimilating to their new surroundings
  • the culture, laws and practices of each country can be frankly discussed, compared and understood
  • innovative business ideas can be shared
  • success can be celebrated
  • myths can be addressed and dismantled
  • equality of opportunity can be balanced between the two countries
  • the goals of CARICOM can be furthered
  • our companies, employees and people can benefit from our willingness to cooperate

A Chamber/Club with these goals is obviously not for everyone.

For one, it will take a certain willingness and awareness of the big picture — that we are all bound to each other, and are all one.

While it may be interesting to, at one level, to compete with each other in business, a short-term focus on my company’s success over yours is ridiculous for this small a region. It is much better for us to cooperate in expanding the pie, than it is for us to fight over the crumbs.

While I wouldn’t recommend that in the Chamber/Club each company gives away its trade secrets to its competitors, such an organization would benefit those members that have an interest in putting cooperation first.

So, that Trini-Jam “whatever it is” would be a place for Trinidadian and Jamaican businesspeople to cooperate for the greater good of our countries, companies, employees and people.

P.S. If you want to join the mailing list for the most recent information on this topic, add your name by sending email to fwc-triniexec@aweber.com. You will automatically receive a copy of our report “The Trinidadian Executive in Jamaica,” plus be added to a mailing list of those are interested in business-people with an interest in Trinidad and Jamaica.

Response to the Trini-Jam Chamber Idea

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I promised to update anyone who might be interested in the response received to the idea of a Trinidadian-Jamaican Chamber of Commerce.

It has been good, by my estimation, given that I asked for people who would be interested in putting some of their own time and effort into the formation of such a body. In short, there are enough people responding both in Jamaica and Trinidad to have at least a meeting in each country.

I am thinking of an initial meeting here in Kingston in the May time-frame (well after Jamaican carnival,) and at the moment am wondering what an agenda might look like.

Also, I am wondering if the word “Chamber” is just too heavy a word for what I have in mind. Here in the Caribbean, words like “Chamber” and, say, “Legislative” have a rather musty, old-man feel to them.

Instead, should it something more informal and energetic like a “Trini-Jam BizClub?” Here is an example of the New Zealand Business Club.

Hmmm — send me your comments, or add them to this post below.

An Open Letter to Trinidadian and Jamaican Businesspeople

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Written to the recipients of the report: “The Trinidadian Executive in Jamaica.”

As a recipient of our recent report “The Trinidadian Executive in Jamaica” I can imagine that the current volley of words flowing back and forth between Trinidad and Jamaica has caught your attention.

If so, I would like to you to consider taking time out of your busy schedule to put some muscle behind the formation of a Trinidadian-Jamaican (“Trini-Jam”) Chamber of Commerce.

Clearly, the growing environment of distrust and harsh words is bad for business on both sides of the Caribbean. No-one is winning, and the upset words being spoken in public are going to be harder and harder for those speaking them to take them back. Unchecked, this probably can and will grow worse.

I don’t know about you, but I believe that we, Trinidadians and Jamaicans, can all do much more, and probably should have done much more a long time ago to help create stronger and more lasting bridges between businessmen in both countries.

I suspect that you know what I am talking about. You know Trinidadian and Jamaican businesspeople who have never visited the other island saying things that you know are sheer nonsense, and come from a simple lack of experience. You may have heard talk about people being “backward,” and other talk of “Tricky-dadians.”

What it will take to reverse the current slide into something none of us can afford is simple — it will take you and I. We are ones to be proactive, and to forge an environment of trust, partnership and prosperity.

Let us:
  • meet to get a Trinidadian-Jamaican Chamber off the ground, with a chapter in Kingston and another in Port of Spain
  • pass this email on to others who have a vested interest in Trinidadian-Jamaican business relations
  • start to convince our colleagues in the two countries to get on planes, attend trade shows, take vacations — whatever they need to do to start to become familiar with our countries

First step: send me an email to francis@fwconsulting.com letting me know that you are interested in participating (i.e. with some of your personal time) in the formation of a Trinidadian-Jamaican Chamber. I will schedule a face-to-face meeting once we have 5-8 who are interested here in Kingston.

Turnover Documents and Small Biz Owners

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As a former President of my high school’s student council (Wolmers) I remember reading the organization’s constitution — with all the awe that a 16 year-old can muster. Part of my job (as
defined in the document) was to amend it and make it current — it was my first attempt to write a “turnover document.”

When I was appointed to a different position — Head-Boy — the following year, I was acutely aware that there was no document whatsoever that described the job, and all I had was the imperfect memory of my predecessors to try to follow. When I was about to graduate I panicked — and only made up for it by taking a very long walk with my successor around the school. In
an hour or so I did my best to pass on the experience of some 255+ Head-Boys that the school had had up until that point.

I suspect that my 18 year old mind did more to scare my 17 year old successor than anything else.

Yet, I am sure that my experience is close to what happens when executives turn accountabilities over to managers without doing the tedious work of systematizing their functions, and undergoing the painstaking coaching required to turn them over in phases. The result is a sharp loss of trust that is rarely replaced, because few executives realize that the source of the managers failure (and success) is actually in themselves, and not in the manager.

What does all this talk about turnover documents have to do with small business owners?

Simply put, even small business owners must work ON their companies, as well as IN them. In other words, they must work on the structure of their companies as much as those professionals who work in the largest multinationals.

Why so?

For example, I am having a challenge converting this issue of FirstCuts into html, and placing it on my blog. I do not know html very well, yet each month I have to determine why the html in Blogger (the blog host) works differently than every other place.

While I may or may not ever hire an IT specialist, I am suffering because I didn’t capture the procedures I used back in February, and now that I need them in March I am having to reinvent the wheel.

Secondly, in my opinion, the difference between a small, casual company and a small, serious company is the degree of infrastructure the owner has created to run the company on a consistent basis, whether there are ten people or just one person on the payroll. Only hobbyists can afford to run their company casually, and without infrastructure — and even hobbyists can make money.

However, at the end of their careers, hobbyists have little to show for their efforts other than a company that supported them at a casual level. Their company cannot be bought, sold or merged because its success is reliant on the personality of the owner, rather than the infrastructure they created to keep the entity viable.

These are the two reasons I can think of — if you’d like to add your own, please do so in the comments below.

Dem Too Tief

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It is a frequent cry in the commerce of the Caribbean. When confronted with what seems to be an unreasonable price, my people claim that the person selling it is a thief.

What is this all about?

Is this just a matter of ignorance about capitalist economics? Do we not understand and appreciate that profits are important for shareholders to continue to create companies, and jobs?

Perhaps we do not understand the principles of supply and demand economics. We are free to buy or to not buy. When we do not buy en masse, the prices adjust themselves to meet the demand of the market.

Maybe the problem lies someplace else entirely. This could be just a matter of “workplace emotional maturity,” in which a deeply held feeling is expressed loudly, but inaccurately.

It could be that “Dem too tief” is an expression of hurt (turned into an attack) in which the underlying sentiment is really something like “I am hurt because it seems to me that you care more about taking my money, than giving me real value, and that would mean that you do not care about me as a person, but only the money in my pocket. When I have this thought, I feel devalued and less than human, and the best I can cry out is ‘Dem too tief.'”