January 2013
Moving at Work

Much of today’s office work keeps us in place, and so we’ve encouraged behaviors in the office that encourage people to get up and move about.  Print your document on a distant office printer, not your desk side printer, so you have to walk to get it.  If you answer the phone and the speaker wants to talk with your office mate, rather than using intercom, get up and walk across the office to tell them about the call.

Get up and go sit in front of a co-workers desk to have a conversation. Just because technology is available does not mean we have to use it.

December 2012
Revisiting Proportion

Some critiques of the Bonsai Business Model say that it is “anti-growth.” We are so accustomed to the Wal-Martification of our economy, that I fear we’ve forgotten how a push in any one direction – large or small – can be misdirected.

The Bonsai model aims for proportion and satisfaction.  When we start here, we don’t focus or even really notice size. We are keeping an eye on proportion.  As human beings, we start of small as babies, then we mature, and reach a terminal size.  Once we achieve this size, perhaps we can focus on depth rather than always the reach for height.

November 2012
Gratitude with Customers

In this month of gratitude, I began to ponder how well we thank our clients for their patronage.  We send a thank-you card, handwritten, to each of our clients, thanking them for their contribution and loyalty, since many of them are repeat customers. And we do this every time they buy from us.

Much is being written now in popular psychology about the importance of gratitude in our life. The Secret made gratitude even more popular.  The heart of gratitude is humility, and a sincere appreciation for all that we have and all that we are, which has been given to us.

October 2012
Distributing Profits

As a business owner with a profitable business, the formula for distributing profits to the team is not a simple one. How to measure the qualitative and quantitative input of the players?  If we use the sports analogy, how do you weigh the contribution of a high scoring point guard versus the contribution of fine defensive forward?   I think we tend to overpay the scorers.

I vote for rewarding attitude and team spirit. Those employees who serve their fellow employees help to create a fertile culture of cooperation, which spills over into all parts of the business. Likewise, a poisonous attitude that refuses to change ought to be taxed!

September 2012
The Century of the Self

The BBC documentary titled The Century of the Self adroitly reveals how the culture of consumerism in the United States did not spontaneously generate but rather was strategically and quite intentionally constructed.  The obsession for more was achieved by feeding steroids to the lower angels of our nature.

In the Bonsai model, we attempt to diffuse this reflex to endless consumption and rather replace it with a love of proportion.  If we are striving for any variety of “more,” I’d say we are striving for more proportion between our needs and concerns, and our consumption. We bring them into a deeper conversation.

August 2012
Money or Meaning

I was listening to  a group of artists recently, discussing how they live with less security than most people, but they really don’t live less well. They live from commission to commission, but somehow, they all shared, their chosen careers had fed them and kept them happy for decades. But then again their appetites were tamed.

I don’t hear that tone of conversation from business people as often as I do from artists. Artists seem to have tilted the scales toward meaning, and less toward money, and therein to find contentment.  We know the cliché about the starving artists.  I have a feeling they are not as starved for meaning as some of us in the business world may be.

July 2012
Centering Your Business

Leaders don’t know where they are going, but they do know where they are headed.  And they head off in that direction in a centered way, inspiring others to follow.

This is one of the insights I’ve learned recently from the Art of Leadership Mastery program offered by the Scott Coady at the Institute for Embodied Wisdom out of Ojai, California.

Leaders need to be centered and to act from a place of centeredness — to exercise conscious choice instead of unconscious reaction.  George Leonard in his classic work Mastery makes this point convincingly.

Raising bonsai is an exercise in being centered, and can only be done well from center.  The bonsai is already centered, and we can learn to center from our interaction with it.

How centered is our business? What can we do to center our leaders? Ourselves?

What missteps have you made along the way because you were not centered?

June 2012
Start in Between

As I have studied leadership and management over the years, most models frame the discussion from the perspective of the subjects involved, for example: customer and business; or management and employee. I call this “subject framing.”

In my business, we’ve recently taken as a counterintuitive starting point — neither customer nor business; neither management nor  employee.  We have moved away from the poles, and we are exploring the space in between.

We are using the language of commitment – the invisible connective tissue between the two ends.

We’ve started to have intentional conversations about our commitments:  what am I committed to in my life, and what am I committed to when I walk through that door at work each day?

We are starting in the relationship, which brings a Braque-ian change in perspective. As Braque’s work challenged the Renaissance sense of space and orientation, by beginning in “the between”  – in commitment – our office shifts to a different level of interaction, and to a different experience of contribution.

Stay tuned as our experiment progresses.

May 2012
The Mistake of Profit Maximization

Maximizing profits is a mistake.  Not just in the short term, but in the long term as well.

Profit maximization damages relationships with customers and suppliers.  What makes it fair for me to squeeze my suppliers so I can have a bigger swimming pool?  Or for me to gouge my customers just because I can?

Profit is part of the navigation system in business. But too often, profit becomes the destination. And profit for profit’s sake is a dead end. Without profit we cannot sustain an enterprise.  We need to know how we are doing by monitoring revenues versus expenses,  and that first number needs to be sufficiently larger than the second to ensure we can stay around.

But why are we staying around as a business?  That’s another question.

April 2012
Pruning Customers

Knowing what business to go after, and what business to take, is a learning curve we still climb.  Pruning customers is an endless process, in business as in bonsai.

What helps us prune? In bonsai, the caretaker starts with a vision of the mature plant, and that vision guides each artful move. In business, leadership must adhere strenuously to mission and vision. And that commitment means saying “no” to a lot opportunities.

Master coach Scott Coady reminds us that leaders have to get used to disappointing people, and in my book that includes prospective customers who don’t fit our business needs.

Customer fit was not on our radar in the early days of ramping up. If you talked to me about pruning in the early days, I would have told you to get lost. But in the end the iffy customers we took cost us time and money. They took more than they gave. We learned. Now as our business matures, we regularly prune our customer base, and walk away from a lot of opportunities. Do we throw back some we should have kept? Sure we do. That’s a given. But we sleep better, and we make room for the keepers.

March 2012
A Business Practice as Practice

In his notable work, MASTERY, George Leonard teaches us how to ride the plateaus in life, and how not to seek the thrills of climax, but to inhabit the practice itself.  What would happen if we approached business this way, as a practice?

As our company enters its 21st year, I ponder the role of business person as artisan and craftsperson, one who assiduously applies daily attention to his trade.  Do you feel we’ve lost some of that in business?  That we don’t appreciate the fine-grained refining of our skills in brow-dripping service not to results, but to the inch-by-inchness of the craft itself? To borrow a line from Wallace Stevens: “Not about the thing but the thing itself.”

The word “practice” has inched into our lexicon these days, and everyone is talking about practice. But we don’t have to have a yoga mat or meditation cushion to have a practice. How do we learn to love the daily work that we do, to get inside it and love it from the inside out, and to live our work as our practice?

February 2012
Surrendering to the mystery of growth

Growth in a Bonsai remains a dance of intention and surrender. You guide some growth through binding some part of the plant.

Often in business, we remain bound, but in another way. We are bound by the materialist paradigm which tells that what is real is what we can sense and see, what we can measure and manipulate.

But what about all those things we cannot control? Ever stop to try to understand what is actually happening when something grows? Think about it.

Is it more of what was there that shows up, but only more of it? Is that what growth is? Or is there something inside the thing that changes too, the part we don’t see. Whether the growth is hair, a finger nail, a bonsai, or an organization growth —  it is happening inside, as well as outside.

Where does inside end and outside begin? What does the inside of an organization look like? Where do you go to find it, and how do you care for it?  How are you growing your business’s insides?

January 2012
Allowing growth

I am particularly drawn to the word “allow” these days, in contrast to “make” – as in “making it happen.”

I don’t mean allow as in permissive. I mean allow from the perspective of giving space for something to unfold.

Growth happens in a bonsai once certain conditions are met. Something inside the plant reacts to certain conditions in the natural environment, in concert with the efforts of the plant’s caretaker. The dance of these elements creates the bonsai.

I recall from my corporate days the mantra of “making it happen.” Think about that. How much can you really “make happen” in business, or life?  Making it happen often leads to forcing it to happen, and frequently, with less than desirable results.

This is s a subtle distinction, but an important one. We can influence things to happen, but we need to be careful not to over estimate how much we actually make things happen.

I remember an old business mentor of mine early in our history observing our company’s practices, and quipping to me over lunch:  “If you just keep doing business the way you are, you will get to a point when the business will come to you.”  And he was right.

In business, often the push to profit leads to shortcuts, which undermine long-term growth and viability. Patience allows roots to deepen for a healthier organism. I am not advocating for passivity, only to balance agency with allowing natural growth to unfold.

December 2011
Declutter your business

Peter Drucker recommended a regular practice of systematic abandonment. By this he meant a regular review to discover what you do that you only do because you have always done it. Then, he recommended you stop going what is no longer relevant or needed.

We just completed an office renovation, and we were surprised by how much junk we threw out. This cleaning our physical space prompted a parallel review of our procedures, and we found plenty of clutter, an accumulation of layered procedures that were unnecessarily redundant. And we were blind to the duplicity until we intentionally looked at it.

We had to stop momentarily and look at our procedures so we could permanently stop doing stuff we don’t need to do anymore. Think of it as Spring cleaning for internal procedures.

Beyond procedures, look around and find the physical clutter that’s gumming up your physical space. Old binders. Dead files. Lifeless mementos. These accrue like barnacles on your physical space, and imperceptibly they create a drag on your company.

With Spring coming, cull through your physical space and your internal procedures, and eliminate what might be choking your growth. Think of it as weeding your garden to give your bonsai business the space and the air it needs to grow.

November 2011
Don’t thank me for my business

How do you feel when a company says: “Thanks for your business!”?

Call me a hair splitter, but something in this expression rubs me the wrong way. What is my “business” anyway?

In my eyes, this is an example of a company using vocabulary that is not the vernacular of the customer. From the perspective of the customer, he or she was not giving you anything. Of course, by saying “Thanks for your business,” you are trying to be courteous. However, the statement barely conceals that it is still about you as the vendor doing the selling, because you are using your own vocabulary — not the customer’s.

Have you ever gone on a date where the person across the table asks you how your day was, but you get the odd feeling he or she is just doing so to appear to be sensitive to you?

“Thank you for allowing us to serve you,” or “Thank you for your trust,” are statements that strike me as more sincere and relational. And original. The customer is not giving the you business. That is what you call it. The reality is the customer is coming to you because he or she has a need that must be met. That is not business. That is a relationship.

Call it hair splitting. OK. Still, don’t thank me for my business. Find a more original way to thank me. I’ll be more likely to come back.

October 2011
Inverting the Traditional WIIFM Principle.

Every marketing student is taught the WIIFM Principle, short for: “What’s in it for me?” We’re taught to consider what the customers want or need, then we give it to them, then we go to the bank.

I’d like to turn this principle inside out, and propose we start with: “What’s in me for it?, or the WIMFI Principle. Where “it” is a shared common good.

For Peter Drucker, the eminent social ecologist and father of modern management, the starting point was society – not the individual. Peter reminded us (yes, we’d forgotten) that society forms the ground in which individuals are rooted. Drucker got context. That’s why he focused on the word “contribution” – reminding individuals and organizations alike to consider their contribution to the common good.

When we contribute, we give. My reading of Drucker is that he encouraged us to consider our “giving” before our “getting” – or at least to consider the two alongside each other.

The Bonsai Business Model is similarly rooted in context and contribution, and thus supports the WIMFI Principle. Granted, the WIMFI Principle might be countercultural, but it is not unintelligent. Too much me-before-we pollutes the very soil in which we’re all planted.

Perhaps we need WIIFM and WIMFI to grow side-by-side together.

September 2011
Customer Intimacy

This month I want to pick up on this notion of devotion, and explore the experience of intimacy with your customers.

If you’ve ever cared for a bonsai, you know the intimate and nuanced relationship that emerges between you and this other living entity. It’s a resonance of sorts, an attunement that grows over time.

In business, I would call that same resonance “customer intimacy.”

As in any intimate relationship, intimacy resides in the between, meaning it is not “in” one or the other party, but can be found in the between-ness.

Yes, the notions of mine and yours are still there, but as poles between which the intimacy dances, in service to something else, namely, caring about the other’s well-being. This closeness emerges out of other efforts – like deep listening to the other – and cannot be quickly superimposed or extracted through a relationship management roll-out.

That said, customers need to also care about the business with whom they are having a relationship, and this is an area I feel is under explored.

So next month I will take a closer look at how customers can care about businesses, in addition to businesses caring about customers.

August 2011
Too Big To Care

This phrase came to me today, and I want to play with it here in this space, since I get frequent comments that the Bonsai Model is anti-large.

In the Bonsai Business Model, I am not saying that large size is a bad. Rather, that proportionality in business units needs to be in service to the organization’s capacity to care for its customers, and caring for customers needs to be the first vow of business.

We don’t speak much of vows in business, but that word gets more to the heart of relationship for me. If we first devote ourselves to our customers, we hope and trust that they will remain devoted to us. Devoted derives from the root for “vow.”

Business as an exercise of devotion, of fulfilling a vow. And that means not letting size get in the way of that vow. Otherwise, we can become too big to care.

July 2011
Waiting in Business

“Now” is a word which has quite a fan club in our world. I realize sometimes “now” is when things need to be done.

That said, I would like to start another fan club, and that is for waiting.

I’ve found sometimes (notice the word even “some-times”) some “time” is what is needed right now.

I feel I can often end up being pushed by technology, market opportunities, windows that can close, and so on. We all know the phrases.

Underneath that “now” craze is a sense of urgency and perhaps an inflated sense of my influence on the world.

I guess I am trying to get at the notion of rhythm. Business is a rhythm, with inhales and exhales, with ins and outs. It is in dance with a lot of other rhythms, like the economy, the national mood, , my energy level, my attention capacity, what is going on in the lives of our company’s staff, the climate, and so forth.

And sometimes, weighing all those factors, waiting is the most effective action. Waiting is not doing “nothing.” Waiting is a response.

June 2011
Bonsai, Sufis and CRM

Something about the term “relationship management” is off. Once customer relationship management achieved the status of acronym – CRM – I knew it was officially un-alive.

Ever meet a real relationship that could be managed? Not me. To presume you can “manage” a relationship sets up a power dynamic that is false. Guess what? If anyone is managing the relationship, it’s not you, but the customer. It’s a dance, and the customer is leading.

What is going on here? Let’s turn to bonsai for some help.

Caring for bonsai, you join a living process where subject and object become blurred. You discover a simultaneous distinctness — you and the plant – existing within a non-separateness. The connection is palpable. Suddenly you notice the silent conversation you’ve been having with the plant. You’re in a dance. Somewhere along the way, out of your presence to the plant, a resonance was born. That resonance is your relationship.

Corporate poet David Whyte reminds us that in order to form this resonance, we need a deep attention, which makes possible the deep connection. We cannot shortcut the process and create ersatz connection by filling out fields in a CRM data masque. Rather, we must take time to muster a real presence, to ourselves and others. Then we’ll find genuine relationship, not in our client and not in us, but between us.

In The Elephant and the Flea, Charles Handy notes how he was struck by a Sufi teaching that noted “because you understand one, you think you understand two because one and one make two, but you must understand ‘and.’ ”

My concern is how the press of today’s business world, with its emphasis on technology and speed, can ride rip shod over intrinsic, organic human rhythms. Relationship takes time: it emerges, and cannot be extracted. As we race to productivity in our CRM world, we can mistake completed data fields for a complete understanding of our client.

A more honest term for this model would be CTM – customer transaction management.

May 2011
Boutique & Bonsai Businesses — Too Many to Love

A boutique business usually deals in specialized fashion goods, sold at a premium price, from a single location. Today technology allows more business owners to take a “boutique” approach to their enterprise, meaning they are not interested in multiple locations or grand size, which are common attributes also among bonsai businesses.

So far, boutique and bonsai sound alike, each concerned with size and quality. What distinguishes a bonsai business from a boutique is the concern for the other party. Bonsai businesses thrive in a context of care, concern, contribution and connection.

Take for example Pittsburgh, Pa.-based DBAZone.com, specializing in remote data support. Their client list is top-notch. They could have goads more clients. Yet they recognize the limits of size, and don’t want to lose their close connections with their clients and among their team. So, they titrate their size in service to connection.

Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen tells the story of discovering how her nephew prized his few matchbox cars. A thoughtful aunt, she devised a plan to acquire the entire matchbox set. As her nephew sat with the heap of new toys, the complete set, she was puzzled by his sullen face. When she inquired he simply told auntie that with all the toys he had now, “there were just too many to love.”

Sometimes that can happen in business. You can have too many clients to love. We all know the story of the thriving mom and pop restaurant that expands to a larger location then suddenly sinks. Ask the customers and they’ll most likely tell you the place “lost its feel.”

So, if you happen to feel the urge to grow your business larger remember you have a choice. Ask yourself if you have enough business. Do you know what is enough for you? Then, if you decide to grow, please guard fiercely your connections, as they are often, regrettably, the first casualty of growth.

April 2011
The Corporation as a Forest of Bonsais

When we think of small, we tend to think intimate.

In working with bonsai, we share an experience of intimacy. Something about the plant’s size affords this intimacy. We are able to grasp the whole.

Businesses these days are finding they can be influential, make a substantial contribution, and yet still remain intimately sized. Technology helps here. So does forced austerity.

A company’s ecosystem changes when it reaches a certain size, a tipping point, to borrow a popular phrase. If businesses are not careful in managing growth, they can lose their connection with, well, most everything – their mission, their employees and their customers.

Listen to your colleagues reflect on how they “lost something along the way” as they rode the trajectory from start-up to monolith. Yes, they gained something too. But what was gained was not denominated in the same currency as what was lost.

What then, you ask, is the place of large corporations? Don’t they have a place in the bonsai world?

Of course they do. But maybe we can grow corporations differently, more deliberately. If we place close connection at the heart of our relationship with co-workers and suppliers, then we’ll structure our work environments to serve this connection.

Perhaps then we can grow corporations to become, in the words of Charles Handy, “a forest of bonsai’s.”

March 2011
Drawn by Beauty

A potential for beauty draws the bonsai caretaker to a particular plant, stirring something inside her. Then through the patient application of her disciplined craft, the caretaker — in cooperation with the plant, the sun, and the soil — transforms the plant into a beautiful creation.

Would you believe the same dynamic is operative with you and your work? That ideally your work draws you to it, and through the application of your attention and skill, you too transform the world and leave it more beautiful? Let’s see how.

First, let’s look at beauty. Beauty is an experience that draws us in, mysteriously lifts us, then returns us to a different place inside ourselves. Beauty literally “moves” us, leaving us afterward to see and experience the world differently. In this vulnerable movement we are somehow transformed.

Ideally our work draws us to it; we are not driven by it. The feel is different: it’s the pull, not the push. In this way our work expresses our innate vocation. Vocation derives from the Latin root for “to call” (vocare). Writer Parker Palmer’s poetic definition reveals the very root of vocation: “where your gift meets the world’s hunger.”

A certain beauty mysteriously emerges from the artful pairing of your gift and the world’s hunger. The closer the alignment, the fuller beauty your work provides. You are transformed, and the world is too. Work then becomes a place where you offer something to the world, not where you take something from it.

February 2011
Beware of Toxic Profits

Profit is a sticky wicket. I have to constantly work not to be beguiled by its illusions.

When I am in my best self, my take on profit is more in line with the late Peter Drucker’s perspective. To paraphrase, if I recall Drucker correctly, he maintained that profit serves a social role, which was always Drucker’s starting place. He was concerned with a healthy, functioning society. He saw the downside of a poorly functioning, poorly managed society and how it gave rise to fascism, which he experienced as a young Austrian in the 1930s.

Profit is important because it provides resources for companies to do research and development, so they can remain viable in serving society. And profit guarantees a company will stay in business, so it can continue to offer meaningful employment and sustaining income for its workers.

Yet I find it easy to be tempted by the game of the bottom line, to be taken up in the undertow of greed and acquisitiveness. Numbers and comparison can do that to us. It is easy to get caught up in the “game of more.” One way I have found to counteract this proclivity is this: when I catch myself being too concerned about profit, I decide to give something away to a client – to offer an extra service they did not pay for or in any sense deserve or expect. This practice counteracts my drifting toward greed and acquisitiveness, and wakes me from the spell of greed.

I also make a habit of sharing windfalls with clients and suppliers. If we have a windfall from some source, say a price suddenly falls on an item we had budgeted, then even if our client is not aware of this serendipity, we share the benefit of the lowered price by offering an additional service to our client. We don’t keep all the gain for ourselves. We share it.

January 2011
Business as a Practice of Presence

What if we think about business as a way of caring for the world, and for our fellow human beings?

I have grown to see business as a practice of presence – how we want to be in relationship with our company’s clients. This is where we start. We start with caring about our customers, and their experience. Empathy is at the heart of our business. Caring for someone includes offering them what you think is best for them – that will most deeply answer their needs.

A few qualifications here. Caring does not mean “giving in” all the time. Caring for a customer doesn’t mean we give them everything they want, especially if what they want does not seem fair or reasonable or right. I am not an advocate of “the customer is always right.” No one side is “always right” in any real relationship.

This has led in some instances to customers decreeing they will never work with us again. I can grant that. We can’t be right for everyone. But I gently remind them that as much as I protect our clients, I have to protect our company to guarantee that we remain vital … so we will be here for the disgruntled client “to not do business with us!”

Giving someone everything he or she wants is not caring for him. It’s placating him.

December 2010
Non Multa, Set Multem: Not many, but much

This Latin phrase meaning “not many, but much” attempts to correct our misguided emphasis of quantity over quality, growth over development, of more over much.

“More” is a canon of our economy. Do more. Get more. Buy more. Have more. What is the “more” we are chasing? Often, it is more money. The presence of money in business unknowingly leads us to gravitate to a “more” that is quantified by, well, quantity.

What if we asked ourselves about a different way of getting rich? If we asked about how to grow a richer work environment — rich with trust, rich with respect, rich with fairness? What if we asked how to develop richer relationships with our customers and suppliers? How about if we thought about rich in these terms?

This is the much, and not the many in “non multa, set multem.” This is depth, not height. If getting bigger is about height, getting deeper is not only about going down. Depth is about going down, and going in. As in going inside – inside the person.

And here we wander onto turf that makes a good number of business people antsy. Notions like “meaning, purpose and belonging.”

And maybe that is part of the problem with business nowadays. By some nimble dexterity of mind, it has lifted itself outside the context of human relationships, and set itself off somewhere else. And by being outside the world of human relationships, it has been able to defile the world of relationships in which it lives, poisoning its own soil.

November 2010
Business as “The Art of Serving”

Bonsai is described as a horticultural art – creating with live material. You take a small plant, and you artfully craft it on the fly. By “on the fly” I mean it does not sit still. Not like working with clay or paint which, while vital, do not grow. In Bonsai art, the plant is alive as you work with it and on it.

I can’t think of a better definition of business.

In business, we endlessly create ways to serve our clients better, using the best of the collected talents of our team. We grow into a rhythm with our clients, and we keep probing to know them and their needs better. Then we create ways to satisfy those needs. And once those needs are met, we probe deeper into their needs.

This is creative, artful ways of serving another. And we get paid for it. Business as the art of serving.

October 2010
Caring & Concern — The Heart of Business

Back in the ’70s, when I was in high school in Western Pennsylvania, A&P was a popular grocery store chain. Their slogan during that time was “A&P Cares.” I still remember their crisp red and white logo.

Nowadays, folks register surprise when we mention business and caring in the same sentence. Isn’t business just out for itself?

Sure, many businesses are. But lots of businesses also care. Real deep down caring is hard to do as a business, and something we are constantly striving for at my company. I’m not talking about the “I’ll take care of you so you’ll sometime down line take care of me” variety of caring. That’s action motivated by self-interest, which is its own shtick.

What I’m aiming at here is a deeper concern, whose derivation favors the notions of “belonging to, related to.” The roots also trace to a notion of “sifting through, perceiving, comprehending.”

Caring for customers grows out a sense of belonging together. We are on the same side. We are not in an oppositional relationship of each trying to extract the most out of the other.

Rather, we are working together to sift through, to understand their need, and to determine if we are the right company to satisfy their needs. If we are the right company for their need, then we do business. Together.

That feels like a riskier way to do business. I think it is. Riskier, and takes more effort. It calls us to work harder and dive deeper into understanding our customers’ needs. That means we really have to know how to listen.

September 2010
Listening — A Way of Being in Business

So much in our culture of business communication is weighted toward what businesses say. Little text seems devoted to how businesses listen. I mean, really listens.

How do businesses learn to listen to their customers’ needs?

Listening requires something more than hearing. That’s the point in weighty and insightful work that I recommend: The Other Side of Language: A Philosophy of Listening by Gemma Corradi Fiumara.

Fiumar points out that “we inhabit a culture that knows how to speak, but not how to listen; so we mistake warring monlogues for genuine dialogue.”

Peter Drucker often pressed business leaders to understand what their customer was buying. Invariably, Drucker observed, the answer diverged significantly from what the company was selling.

In the old days, we relied on focus groups. And customer surveys. That was how business heard, at least, what its customers were saying. User rated sites like Yelp and Angies’ List are bringing businesses to listen more to their customers’ needs, often because their future customers are reading these sites. So, business has had to wake up.

But I think we have a ways to go to orient business toward a culture of listening. How do we teach listening to all of our team? How do we learn to ask questions that enable us to know our customers more deeply?

I propose the place to start is how we listen to ourselves and to the needs of our people inside our own companies. A culture of listening starts at home, and grows out from there. Oddly, the deeper we learn to listen within ourselves; the larger we are to listen to others. Listening then becomes a habit, but more than a habit: a way of being.