Sunday, June 26, 2011

...from American History

America’s Independence is a story of entrepreneurship. It’s the story of a group of people who had had enough of their conditions and decided to set their own course, a new model that, unknowingly at the time, became the standard for many countries to follow.

Every 4th of July, the United States lights the sky in fireworks to celebrate its independence and the work that went into creating this great business. As I look back to this relatively young history, I’m looking for lessons that let us write our own.
The Ten Things I Learned…from American History

1. Be a driver for change
The world’s most important changes happened when people just had enough. We read about it in the American Revolution and watch it happen live in many countries around the world today. It’s a dream of a better life, a better working condition that energizes people to fight for change.  It was a rebellious tea tax protest in Boston that most likely set the wheels in motion for this country’s change. Without resorting to protests and rebellion, take action to drive your personal and company change.

2. Have an entrepreneurial spirit
Take the risk of starting something new, like this country’s forefathers did. Creating a new country, with new rules & new people, wasn’t an easy task, but it created one of the world’s strongest economies. It set the foundation for other countries to follow in independence and democratic movements. You don’t have to stay where you work if you are not satisfied. Like the spirited colonial men who gathered in Philadelphia, you too have the freedom to start something new.

3. Start with a Vision Statement
The Declaration of Independence was a visionary document that led the way to the country’s human rights. Its most classic statement gives every American the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” It’s also the place that preserves the proclamation that “all men are created equal”. When starting a new business, write an inspiring statement that captures what you and your business stand for.

4. Solicit and accept feedback
In today’s working environment, we seek alignment and feedback from multiple functions and it’s difficult to accept the changes and critique. Now travel back to 1776, and picture Thomas Jefferson who drafted the Declaration of Independence and shared it with members of the Continental Congress for their feedback. I’m sure his original masterpiece was modified multiple times to include everyone’s opinion, hopefully making it a much stronger document; the one many live by today.

5. Document and communicate broadly your strategy
An interesting fact I learned touring Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, is that the Declaration of Independence was actually signed on July 2nd, 1776.  It’s celebrated on July 4th because that’s the date it was published for broad distribution. According to the park guide, think of it as a press release. On that summer day, many found out a movement had started. Capture your vision and strategies in a document that can be broadly shared, so others can understand the direction, and more importantly follow you.

6. Write a business plan that includes a code of conduct
In 1787, the U.S. Constitution was approved. The way I see it, it’s the original business plan that laid the foundation upon which to build the United States. It’s the plan that explains the country’s government and the relationship between each branch and the people. Interestingly, it can also serve as a Code of Conduct describing the people’s rights.  As you put together a new business, begin with a business plan that includes how things will work and look to set the right expectations for each employee.

7. Review your plan & course correct
Both documents weren’t perfect, but amendments gave room to new course corrections in American history, including the abolition of slavery and women’s rights to vote. You’re not expected to have it right when first starting a business, but have flexibility to change as a means to improving it through the years. 

8. Expect and prepare for conflict
In any new business you can expect disagreement. In this country’s history it was expressed in the form of a Civil War that lasted from 1861 to 65. Different beliefs will happen across different parts of your career, anticipate them and put into practice your negotiation skills. Resolve conflicts professionally finding wins to everyone involved. Don’t avoid conflict, avoid war.  

9. Outsource your weaknesses to the experts
George Washington was a great visionary, but the extents of his designing skills were limited to building a nation. When it came to drawing a flag, he reached out to Betsy Ross. Betsy, a Philadelphian upholsterer, is credited with creating the first American Flag upon Washington’s request. Don’t expect to be the expert on everything, appreciate your strengths and let experts fill in for your weaknesses.   

10. Celebrate your achievements
Every 4th of July The United States celebrates not only its independence but its history and heritage. Like many countries around the world, who celebrate their independence birth, make sure you celebrate historic moments in your company’s legacy: the milestone of a brand, the end of a fiscal year, the start of a new direction, or your personal achievements. 

Lastly, here is a somewhat related advice that didn’t make it to the list, because it happened to me: research before starting a journey. I travelled to Philadelphia in search of both historic documents, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, only to learn online that they were both in Washington, a place I had visited a year ago in my journey to learn more on American history.

I don’t claim to be a historian, but instead an entrepreneurial writer finding business analogies throughout history. My intent isn’t to interpret, critique, or praise any historical movement, but rather find broad level lessons that I can relate to the business world. My examples on history just skim the surface; I encourage you to learn more. My final advice is to familiarize yourself with your country’s history and those lessons, past and present, that you could bring to work today.

Check out the pictures that inspired this blog on The Ten Things I Learned Facebook page.

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