Over the course of the last five years, my main focus has been to grow my business – offering local businesses the basic services they need to get their business online. Anyone who has ever had the joy and pleasure of growing a business – any business – has also had the joy of growing relationships. After all, there’s not business without customers. People make commerce happen. People are what make Main Street, Anywhere, USA thrive. Connections build loyalty, and passion for the community. Without the people feeling these connections, there’s little anyone can do to make a community vibrant.
The Internet has opened Main Street to the world. Many people might say that the Internet has been the demise of Main Street. I disagree. The only thing that has changed is our focus. Just like we used to focus on people, in the days before technology connected us 24/7, so must we continue to do that today. The only sticky part is HOW we do that now has changed. And we must adjust our techniques to meet with the changing behaviors and attitudes of our customers. In one of my presentations, I compare this shift to a scene in the movie, Hoosiers. In it, Gene Hackman is taking his boys from Hickory to the Indiana State Finals, at Hinkle Fieldhouse. The team had never played in a gym so large, and yet, Hackman gets out the tape measure and shows the boys that all of the measurements are EXACTLY the same as the courts they were used to playing. The game had not changed. The only thing that had changed was where they were playing.
It’s true today, too. The game of growing your business hasn’t changed, the rules are the same, it’s just being played in a different arena!
Pursuing My Art
For the last 3 years, I have felt “called” – there’s really no other word for it, no better way to describe my passion for creating connections in Lakeland. Seth Godin, a brilliant, passionate author on various subjects surrounding marketing – challenges me today to call this unnamed force that has driven me, “art.” I think it has another name, but I think what Seth says here is important. “Art,” he says, “is not a specific gene or talent. It’s an attitude, available to anyone who has a vision that others don’t, and the guts to do something about it. Steve Jobs was an artist. So were Henry Ford and Martin Luther King, Jr.”
The actions I have taken, and my vision for connecting our community, were really very simple. Truly anyone could have done what I did with the Lakeland Business Leaders, if they thought it was important enough – someone else might have done things differently, maybe better, but I didn’t let myself think about that. The fact is, I identified a need, and I acted on it. In my mind, when I have a need, it’s possible that someone else has that same need. I decided to try to fill that need and create a solution. Instead of complaining, I focused on what would benefit me, and I offered that to others. Turned out, I wasn’t the only one who had that need:
My need, was to feel connected.
There were all these great people doing wonderful things, with the hopes of serving the community. Yet, no one really seemed “connected.” In our networking events, everyone was rattling off 30 second sales pitches, but we really didn’t know anything about each other. I believe that conversations have more meaning when they add value and context to our “Real Lives.” After all, our jobs do not define us. They are only one of the things we do. Our character, and our beliefs, our passions and our concerns – these things make us who we are. What I wanted was to know who people really were when they peeled back the layers and shared their personalities with the world. Facebook gave us the perfect place to gain that context.
What we now fondly refer to as “LBL” started out as a leap into the unknown – and I admit, it was frightening. I was challenging convention, pushing people’s boundaries, and asking people to step outside their comfort zones. I had no idea what was going to happen. As a result, I found myself utterly (and wonderfully) exposed. It was just me, raw and uncut. Whether good or bad, it was real, and I think we need more of that in this world! It was the most liberating and challenging experience of my life. My positive, calculated risks were to just be transparent. People were free to judge me and reject my efforts. In spite of (A LOT of) fear, I didn’t obey convention and I consistently encouraged everyone to begin to build connections that had meaning. Relationships that were based on more than just the widgets they were trying to sell.
How do you measure the ROI on a personal, professional relationship with another?
So, Seth Godin asks his readers in a book called The Icarus Deception to tell their audience, “Here, I made this.” But all I can think is, “Here, we made this.” Those of you who have been on this journey with me, you have been my source of inspiration. What this community is now, I can only attribute to one fact: Investing in people – actually caring about who they are and listening to what they have to say – is the GREATEST investment I have ever made. My art, if you will, is my ability to find the best in people, and to encourage them to contribute whatever they can and want – to the community. Playing to each person’s strengths and believing that people want to be more – whatever that may be to them, is how you grow a community, whether online or off. In this community, whatever a person is willing to give, on their own terms, is enough. It might be something worth considering. There’s always room to grow!
I mentioned the unnamed force had a name. Seth wants to call it art. I just call it Love.
I challenge you to identify your art. What do you do that brings out your creativity, your emotional labor, your grit? What is your art?