Terminal Value

Setting your Business Apart by Creating a Win-Win with Bessi Graham

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Janine Bacani

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We have Bessi Graham with us today. That’s with BessiGraham.com b-e-s-s-i-g-r-a-h-a-m.com and what we’re going to be talking about today is setting your business apart by creating a win-win. And so one of the things we were talking about in the show is the idea of being profitable and still doing good for the world at the same time and that’s a little bit of a play on the idea of a win-win as a mutually beneficial transaction, which, I mean, truthfully, they’re all inside the same circle. But anyway Bessi, don’t let me talk too much here. Please introduce yourself.

Sure. BessiGraham. I’m based in Melbourne, Australia. You might recognize a slightly different accent there. And I’ve worked all over the world for over 20 years now, really looking at this exact piece of what is that win-win? What is the role of business to actually do more than just create profit for shareholders or generate profit, but actually say, what does business bring to the world? And how can that create something that is both beneficial for those business owners or shareholders, but also makes the world a better place in the process? So for me, that journey has been on two quite different ends of a spectrum. One is I’ve worked with hundreds of founders and entrepreneurs at the level of business owners and then also working with governments and huge funding bodies internationally to figure out how we create those environments where business can actually flourish. But with the mindset that starts to bring these things back together, of doing good and making money, not being mutually exclusive, but actually designing the business model, that where those things reinforce each other. And as you make more money, you’re actually having a positive impact in the world.

Yeah, well, one thing that I’m fond of saying in this realm is that this actually is not as new an idea as a lot of people like to think. Because, of course, in my heart of hearts, I’m a big economist nerd. And so I’m the only person I know who has read Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations from cover to cover without being required to in a classroom. I did it for fun. And so a lot of people know Adam Smith Wealth of nations, capitalism, trade, separate segmentation of labor, etc. Or a lot of people know that. But what they don’t know is that Adam Smith also wrote a book called The Theory of Moral Sentiments that he intended for everybody who read The Wealth of Nations to have also read The Theory of Moral Sentiments. So capitalism and the idea of capitalism was not meant to exist in a moral vacuum. That is what is a contemporary notion. The intent that Adams would have ultimately had was that mutually beneficial transaction is actually a way to drive an increased betterment for all of mankind and that it should be done inside of a mortal rapper and not completely separated from it. So with that said, that is my very long way of saying that I completely support what you’re talking about. I’m 100% aligned with that, and I don’t think that it is where the world is moving toward. I think it’s what the moving world is moving back toward. 

Hallelujah. I completely agree. I always say to people when we have these conversations, it’s about going back to the roots of business. This is not new, and I completely agree with you. I think in all of these approaches, it’s human nature to become simplistic and jump to extreme. So we read something, or we have grown up with some unconscious idea, and we take it as this zero sum game that it’s all or nothing. And yet, as you said, the great thinkers, even if you go back to the ancient Greeks and the concept of polish, which was a partnership for living well, all of these things are deeply human and have been part of how we do commerce trade since humans have been operating in that world. So I agree with you, but I think it really is about saying taking off some of that nervousness of all, is this completely new, and is it proven and is it risky as a business to go down this road? It’s saying no. It is absolutely at the heart and the root of how business has operated forever. 

Yeah, well, because I think the thing that has created a lot of the moral hazard that we see in relatively recent contemporary business is what happened was you had industrial consolidation. I think that took commerce away from, like, a person to person type of situation. So think, okay, if you live in, say, a colonial town that I’m thinking in terms of an American colonial town, although an Australian colonial town might be similar, say, that has about, I don’t know, a couple, few thousand people in it, okay. And let’s say that you’re a tailor or a blacksmith. Okay, let’s say that I’m a tailor and you’re a blacksmith or vice versa. All right. Well. Okay. So in that case. If I am creating and selling you a piece of equipment for your shop and I cut corners. Or I say. Okay. Well. Somebody else offered me a higher price. So I’m going to sell to them and then tell you that I’m running into a delay. Which is a disturbing amount of a lot of the supply chain delays right now. If people are getting better offers, if I do any of the kind of gray area, shady things like that, it’ll come back to bite me pretty quickly because I have to look you in the eye every single day as I go through town, as I go shopping, when we go to religious services on Sunday, when you’re in a small town, I can’t get away from you. And if I’ve transacted in an unethical way. I’m going to have to live with that. Now, let’s take this to another way, right? When you’re on multinational global stage, you have people making a decision at the 50th floor of a building who never ever actually see anybody that’s impacted by their decisions. And I think that’s where business loses its soul. And so I think it’s probably not feasible to unwind industrialization but we have to get a soul back to business otherwise we end up in an extremely bad place. 

Yeah, and I think with all of these pieces it’s about because as you said, we can’t just have this romantic notion of going back to small towns and where there’s this deep relationship between every bank manager and the customer. But what we can do is become more conscious of these things because it’s all about the mindset and the approach that you take to things. And the example you gave is a perfect one. And we saw that play out when we had massive issues in the financial space which really is about that disintermediation. So there’s this disconnect between any relationship or responsibility and seeing the consequences of your decisions and your actions. And for me that is at the heart of where the power of business comes in terms of if we want to start to not see good as the responsibility of the charitable sector or philanthropy or other things, but to say what is the role of business? Because we play such an incredibly central role in society. It’s about each of us taking responsibility for the decisions we do have control over, whether that is our supply chain or how we treat our staff or how we interact with customers and the quality of what we provide, the things that are within our control as business owners. That’s where it be. The thinking has to take place. And as you said, even if you don’t directly have that contact or feedback of what’s happening, you can seek that out and you can become conscious of what is the flow on effects of the decisions we are making as a massive organization. That’s not possible. 

Yeah, absolutely. And I think this is where it comes back to our original topic, which is where the win-win or the creating value while still doing good for the while still doing good for the overall society? And incidentally, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve actually really come to value this a little more because of course, when I was younger I was very much a free market libertarian. I’m like, okay, well, just leave the businesses alone. Then they’ll take care of it. Then it will all sort itself out. That’s the way that you maximize wealth creation. And the thing is that is correct. That is how you maximize wealth creation. The problem is if you have too large a group of people who are unable to attend to their relatively basic needs then you will eventually have broad civil chaos that will basically tear down that will tear out the roots that the foundation routes that let you have a free market system in the first place. And so I think that not only is what we’re talking about really a nice, good, warm, fuzzy feeling type of thing, it’s actually really necessary for the perpetuation of a wealth creating system. 

Absolutely. And I think that it’s important to kind of distinguish too that in those systems where we end up saying just leave business alone. It will sort itself out. Don’t intervene in any way that is actually naive and romanticizing things as well because it’s ignoring the fact that as systems grow and consequences evolve, there are different things incentivized. So if we go back to the fact that the current thinking around the role of business is actually quite a modern it’s a very small slice of time where we had those thoughts as those of us trying to run businesses and set ourselves apart and operate at that global scale. It’s important to actually question some of those things and say, okay, hang on. The current thinking around business, who is that serving to keep that status quo? It’s serving a very small group of people. But anyone who’s wanting to think bigger and wanting their business to actually have that differentiator part of our work is to think at a bigger level of a system and go, okay, what are the long term effects of this? How is this playing out? How would I actually derisk my business moving forward and make sure I don’t get myself into a position where what might be profitable in the short term actually has really detrimental effects on the business growth and profitability long term? And so I think it’s this piece and I know that in your work you refer to mental models and different things. And for me, one of those pieces I love around mental models is thingy’s work and the idea of his five disciplines. And that fifth discipline which most people want to jump to when they’re growing a business or wanting to operate globally is saying I’m a systems level thinker, I play at a systems level. We can’t jump to number five in the system without having in place of the first four disciplines, which is personal mastery, mental models, shared vision and team learning. Those pieces build to your ability to operate at a systems level. And so this thinking, the mindset, the mental models you bring are all part of what allows you to design a business that’s capable of standing out in that way and to do it in a way that honors both of the components that you’re trying to address rather than picking either or. So for me, my podcast is called Both and there’s a reason why you have to think in a way that says, no, this isn’t an either or option. I need to design for both things.

Well and I think a different way that I would articulate a very similar idea is I think that there’s a lot of thinking, particularly in the western world, but just in general, I think in what I would call a zero sum or a win lose type of philosophy. Basically the idea and we get this from playing sports, right? When you play any sport except for soccer, somebody wins and somebody loses. Sorry. The american. And we just can’t stand the idea of ties. Sorry, 30 second tangent competitive but like 30 seconds tangent a number of years ago I think my wife’s cousin was really excited because the USA got into a tie with Mexico and I’m like, okay, let me just get this straight. I’m getting excited over a tie anyway, but anyway completely off subject. So I’m going to go back on subject. Anytime you get into what they call zero sum or somebody has to win, somebody has to lose, then what ends up happening then is that any time you’re in that frame then you getting ahead results and somebody else getting behind. I think that’s actually that frame is what I think is well, that’s really what class warfare is based on is the idea that OK, there are some people who have done exceptionally well. That must necessarily mean that in order for them to do well, other people have to be oppressed. Well, sometimes it’s the case, but it doesn’t have to be that way. And I think that’s the mindset shift that we’re trying to influence here. 

Exactly. And it’s starting to realize that that zero sum piece or the black and white aspects of our thinking is intellectually lazy. And so I would just challenge anyone who is saying they want to run a business, grow a business and really operate at that next level. You can’t be intellectually lazy. Like you need to think bigger and differently and having that sense of just simplistically flipping to one extreme or the other is a cop-out. So

You can’t be having those grand visions of who you are and what your organization is capable of unless you actually step up and think bigger.

And it’s absolutely about realizing that if you design out what that growth path looks like for you and you realize in achieving the goal in that way we have fallen into the traffic that’s all about profit. We’ve completely ignored our supply chain, we’ve burnt out our staff, we’ve delivered a pretty lame product to a customer that is not actually of any quality. If you realize any of those pieces are in the mix, then you need to say, oh, we haven’t finished designing. It’s like we’ve got to go back to the design and say what can we change? How do we create something that is actually achieving both of those things? Now equally, what I am not saying is that you need to go down a path that is all about the doing good piece and that you’re going broke in the process. So if you find yourself at either place where it doesn’t stack up, the work as leaders that we need to do is to design it differently and to go okay, how could I think about this from a different angle and then come at it in that way that says my work here is not done until I have created the win-win. 

It reminds me, this is a long time ago now, but I was listening to a podcast, it was about and they were talking about number of people who worked at an organic farm. They were talking about how sustainable they work for the environment and all the good they were doing for the community. And then they ended up running out of money. And then at the end they were saying, they said they go oh well but in order for us to really be able to do good for the environment, we have to be able to stay in business. Yes. See, and there’s the different ways to look at sustainability. If you’re a mission driven organization, you still have to be able to stay in business. If you’re a profit driven organization, you still need to be generating net real positive value for both your clients and for your vendors. A lot of people, they think about it from the client side. But my 1st 20 years of my career were in tech and finance, IT program management. Let me tell you, you would not believe how much some of these companies beat up their vendors. There are many who are unconcerned at all about the health of their vendors, which of course is short sighted because then eventually, big surprise, you drive vendors out of business, you have consolidation in your supply base. All of a sudden you’re dependent on a really small number of enormous vendors and then any time there’s a crunch like what we’re seeing at the time of this recording, they’ll prioritize the people who where they get the best margins and you may end up getting left out in the cold. You’re thinking about it.

Yes. And yet you thought in the way you were operating that you were running the business well because you were driving prices down and you were being more profitable. But again, this is that piece of actually to lead well, and to lead at the level we’re talking, you need to have a different sets of time frame and you need to be looking at all of those factors. Now, it will look different for every business. The components that you need to focus on will be specific to your business. But it’s about looking at that and saying where do we have those decision making rights? So what am I making decisions over? Where are we spending the most money? What does that look like? And just having a bit more of the consciousness of what those flow on effects are. And that’s the case as you said, whether you’re running a business that is more focused on the social side or has traditionally been focused on the profit. 

When I was running the program management office, one of the conversations I used to have with finance because of course we look into vendor contracts. I always saying, okay, well, can we do this for less money? And what I would say is I go, okay, look, I don’t begrudge our vendors the chance to make money. What I care about is whether we’re going to get value or not. Because if we get value, it will almost certainly be a very large multiple of whatever we pay. If we don’t get value, it doesn’t matter how cheap we get the service, it’s still going to be negative. So let’s focus on making sure that we get value out of it and then you just make sure you pay a fair price. Right? I don’t want to get gouged, but I don’t expect people to take a loss on my business because then it’s not sustainable for them. Yeah, all right, well, let’s see. Okay, so I think we really unpacked this year. What should I have asked you that I didn’t? Are there any ideas that we haven’t unpacked yet that we should have? 

Well, I think you touched on the idea with the example of someone running the organic farm and some of the notions that people have often around, okay, if someone has become wealthy or a business is incredibly successful, they must have got there by someone else losing. And I think that that piece is just something worth people sitting with and thinking a little bit more about it. What are those unconscious aspects of where we have taken on board ideas around wealth or those who have done well that make us either uncomfortable with that? And so it means we’re not actually building the businesses profitably and as well as we could because there’s this unconscious discomfort with what success or wealth means. But equally, it can be the piece around being more conscious of just that role of what our mindset and what those fundamental beliefs about whether it is the aspect of commerce or the economy, like what are our underlying bias or motivations, what are those beliefs? And I think that that piece for anybody who is actually seeking to grow and build something that does really stand up in a global market and it has that category of one type status. The more conscious you become of all of those things that you may have not questioned before. The more you will be able to then really intentionally design and grow a business that you can be proud of in all senses.

Excellent. That’s awesome. Well, Bessi, I really appreciate your time today. Okay. So of course let us know where people should go to learn more. I mean, of course, there’s your website, Bessi Graham.com  b-e-s-s-i-g-r-a-h-a-m.com, but if there’s any other places we can go to subscribe to your newsletter or social channels we can connect with you on, let us know the best place to find you. 

So I have a podcast Both/And with Bessi Graham So if people just want to sit with these ideas a little longer and think about what it might look like in their own business, that’s a great place to start. As you said, the website. Or you can find me on LinkedIn Bessi Graham or Instagram Bessi Graham as well, and happy for people to then just mess to me directly and have a chat. If this is something that you are trying to figure out, what does it look like for your business.

Outstanding. Outstanding. Bessi, really appreciate you coming on today.

Thank you so much. 

All right.

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