Business Development in the Ohio Local Food Systems Collaborative

This is the first in a series of postings to the Ohio Local Food Systems Collaborative (OLFSC) about starting and sustaining a business in local food systems. These postings have several not so ordinary characteristics:

  • They are about real business opportunities in real neighborhoods
  • The process of developing these opportunities and the resulting content are shared openly on the OLFSC website
  • They invite OLFSC readers to comment, critique, and challenge assumptions and extrapolations posted in order to make the outcome better for all
  • They encourage OLFSC readers to generate ideas and develop plans for businesses they eventually setup in their local areas

Before heading into the business opportunities, clarification of business concepts and terminology is in order…

A Firm Foundation and Ongoing Adaptation

The purpose of any business is to deliver value to the customer. The primary objective of a business is to make profit. In terms of value, this means the amount the customer pays for value delivered (revenue) surpasses the amount invested by the business to provide that value (capital and operating expenses). The ultimate goal of a business is sustainability over the long-term. Again, from a value standpoint, a business is sustained when a sufficient percentage of the profit is reinvested to continue to develop and deliver what is deemed of value by customers so that they continue to pay for it.

What is of value to the customer (idea generation)? How does one deliver that value profitably and in a sustainable manner (business planning)? These are the primary questions addressed at the outset of an entrepreneurial effort. Idea generation and business planning combine vision of a preferred future with a framework for action that brings that vision into reality. These two, working in concert with one another, provide the firm foundation upon which all successful businesses are launched.

Delivery of demonstrated value to the customer requires taking action according to the business plan (business plan execution). Of course, changes in conditions and unforeseen circumstances during the delivery cycle warrant a certain degree of flexibility in executing the plan as it is put into play (adaptation). The capacity to sense and respond, learn and adapt is the hallmark of a business that survives start-up and embarks on sustainability.

The main points outlined above equate to key steps in establishing a successful business:

  • Generate ideas
  • Develop a business plan
  • Execute the plan
  • Adapt plan to “lessons learned” during execution

These four link vision with problem-solving to deliver demonstrated value to the customer. Because of the significance of the dialectic between vision and problem-solving in business success, future postings in this series will delve more deeply into the working relationship between the two. And in keeping with the commitment made in the opening statement of this posting, the focus of the upcoming OLFSC postings will be “real business opportunities in real neighborhoods”.

Originally posted to Local Food Systems by Steve Bosserman on Wednesday, May 28, 2008 10:30

Ménière’s Disease: Requiem for My Left Ear

This past Friday, my doctor told me I have Ménière’s disease. These two words explained a week of incessant, high-pitched ringing and pulse-throbbing pressure in my left ear, an unsteady gait when walking, and a counter-clockwise swirling of the room following any rapid movement of my head. The only action that seemed to curb it was sleeping, which is what I did. While there was much to be done, I felt like doing NOTHING!

Of course, I indulged in self-diagnosis in between waves of vertigo. Was it the result of too much coffee? Too little down-time? A simple case of the flu? I settled on three possibilities: an inoperable brain tumor (in deference to my mother – may God rest her soul – who believed in establishing an extremely severe alternative no matter how unlikely so that almost any diagnosis made by the doctor would be good news in comparison); an ear infection (where my bets were placed); and wax build-up in the ear canal (I knew this one was a long-shot, but it at least served as a balance to the first choice). Ménière’s disease?! Never heard of it!

“What is it?” I asked. The doctor offered an explanation: no one knows what causes it…could be genetic…could be a virus…there is no cure…it comes and goes unpredictably…you have atypical vestibular Ménière’s disease because you are not experiencing hearing loss in the left ear…long term prognosis is that you probably will have total, permanent hearing loss…severe vertigo can be incapacitating due to nausea and vomiting…can only treat the symptoms…surgery works in some cases to lessen vertigo. In the meantime, here is a prescription for 25mg of Meclizine to reduce dizziness…the side-effects include feeling lightheaded, sleepy, having blurred vision, change in thinking clearly…avoid driving, doing other tasks or activities that require alertness or clear vision. Anything else I can do for you?

I entered into the privacy of the doctor’s office aware of my very real, but unspecified condition. It was real because I physically and mentally experienced its consequences. And in that moment it was mine alone. No one else knew what I had or how I was affected by it, not even my wife who accompanied me. However, the doctor gave it a name. He now knew, my wife knew, and I knew and I was no longer alone with the unknowable.

The mere fact that it was symbolized with letters gave it a virtual existence extending far beyond me and touching the millions of others who have the same condition. This virtualization gives me access to the experiences, knowledge, empathy, and understanding of others; and they to mine. Because of a name, Ménière’s disease, such widespread connectedness becomes a powerful way for me to learn about myself and the result may carry far beyond the bounds of the condition. So, to start…

A Google search on the term, “Ménière’s disease” yields 667,000 results. A search of Amazon generates two pages of books, journals, magazines, even herbal medicines. There are 28 Yahoo! Groups and 3 Google Groups and almost 2700 groups across the Internet dedicated to the Ménière’s-related topics such as tinnitus, vertigo / dizziness, vestibular virus, etc. There are countless variations on how Ménière’s manifests itself and what people who have it do in response. The choices are many, ranging from pharmacological prescriptions to alternative medicines, and from low-salt diets to surgery.

It is almost impossible NOT to get connected. Clearly, I don’t know what’s next for me with Ménière’s — I could have another episode tomorrow or I could never have another one. At the moment I have no vertigo, no hearing loss, no spinning computer screen, no pressure in the ear, only a slight ringing. The prescription for Meclizine is filled, but unused. So in the moment, I go on reading more, asking more, learning more. And even if I don’t have call to use this knowledge for myself, I have it at hand in case others I meet or know are afflicted with similar symptoms and diagnoses. This potential for learning together in the future marks a distinct value of virtualization. If and when Ménière’s strikes again and the realization of the condition hits me hard, I thank all of you in the vast global network in advance for imparting your knowledge and wisdom and making me a better person for it!

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Saturday, October 22, 2005 and updated on Monday, October 24, 2005

Conversations and Stories

As mentioned in an earlier post, integrity is manifested through the filters and screens that make up the various affiliations in a person’s life. Some of these affiliations are stronger, newer, and exercise greater influence than others. Because of these differences, integrity is not necessarily central in a person’s affiliation landscape as evidenced in the graphic below. Furthermore, this positioning is not static. As time passes, the filters and screens vary in intensity and significance, and the balance point for integrity shifts.

Filters and Screens

We humans are social creatures. We have highly evolved language skills and capabilities which we use to communicate with each other through conversation. These conversations convey meaning about us, our situations, our needs, and our aspirations. Essentially, they are our stories.

Stories are structured conversations we have with others about our experiences and the meanings they hold for us. Because of the influence exacted by filters and screens upon us, the stories we tell at one time may be quite different than the stories we tell at another time, place, and circumstance. Stories are contextual. The “truth” they express is relative.

As stated in an earlier post, establishing ground truth is a critical first step for knowledge brokers to ascertain behavior and communication patterns and make relevant responses be they positive or negative. Proclaiming one’s ground truth is an exercise of story-telling. Context is crucial if the reality that shapes a person’s story and truth can be well-understood and acted upon appropriately.

Stories are dependent on the conditions that exist at the time of their telling. The forum — who is in the conversation, where it occurs, when it takes place, and what processes are followed — and the agenda — topics for conversation, expected outcomes from the conversation, and next steps to be taken — are major determinants in how the story is told. Even the same experience shared by many will be related differently depending on the forum and agenda.

Knowledge brokers are concerned about ground truth because of the implications on communication patterns. Repeated over time, stories are reflections of sustained conversation themes and understanding. Changing forums and agendas changes these conversations. Changing conversations leads to experimentation and different experiences. New experiences prompt learning which leads to different stories in an attempt to make meaning out of the new experiences. These new stories influence recurring conversation themes. Told with sufficient frequency over time, stories change the underlying communication patterns and adaptation and evolution occur.

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Tuesday, September 6, 2005 and updated on Saturday, September 24, 2005