One of the most incredible conversationalists I know is also among the most curious. (Her runner up shares this quality, but is a distant second.) I often wonder if it’s part of her training — she’s a journalist by “trade” — however, I’m more convinced that it’s her curiosity that has catapulted her on a journey of unparalleled opportunities and pioneering firsts. Today she leads an organization of “entrepreneurial journalists” in major cities around the US, is part of a loving family, makes time to answer friends’ emails and texts with heart-felt warmth, and connects acquaintances to support and promote their work around the world when inspiration strikes her. I marvel at her ability to approach life and work with so much fluidity and dynamism, while making those in her company feel at ease and comfortable.
As I considered which relational meetings I will plan to achieve my goals – profitability at PizzaPlex to finalize our conversion to a worker-owned company, convening a network to explore investment opportunities in women- and POC-owned business – I also considered my friend’s wild success at connecting. Ultimately, I want to connect like she does, with authentic curiosity and open-mindedness (and “open-heartedness,” frankly). The discussion isn’t strained, the next steps aren’t forced. I imagine this stems from a central belief that we all have so much to learn from each other – no discussion is a bust under that thinking. I want to connect in relational meetings with experts – and customers.
In parallel with model conversations, I also thought about my own ability to balance the relational versus transactional. How can I avoid asking without also giving in return? For my goal of obtaining guidance on business activities to strengthen PizzaPlex’s bottom line in preparation for our conversion, I consider how this could look like understanding what customers want more of, and responding to their needs or untapped excitement for good food and fun events, seamlessly and naturally. On the other hand, what resources or support can I provide the local expert in cooperatives I will consult? We had previously arranged to meet again after a preliminary discussion and exchange of ideas. In that initial meeting, we covered a lot of ground around the “why” of our work; as a result of time constraints – plus my lack of clarity on what I needed precisely for my business at the time – there was very little transactional discussion. Now that I can articulate the needs of my business better, I can better prepare for the key focus areas of our next meeting.
When meeting with women entrepreneurs (are they my “customer” in the case of an investment club or network?) or organizations that could provide resources to fund, mentor, or otherwise support women- and POC-owned businesses, I will consider my Story of Self and what aspects of my Story resonate with their own paths. My Story of Self rests primarily on my own experiences as an entrepreneur navigating a complex system; however, I also recall my experience mentoring a young woman for a few years when I lived in Seattle. I met her when she newly turned 17 after release from a state rehabilitation program. We spent years building a strong relationship, and while I did my best to support her educational and career endeavors, so many systemic factors kept her from achieving her goals, ultimately leading to a very tragic separation with her son and family in the US. My experience with this young woman and the painful reality of how quickly the positive influence she had over the lives of her family members and young son could end in the absence of certain privileges (that I’d prefer not to publish publicly) were more than enough evidence for how transformational women’s education – especially women from communities of color – could be towards the benefit of society. I imagine what fate she and her family could have had if she got her diploma and did her life’s work. I felt helpless in all these situations, there was virtually nothing I could do to remedy her story’s outcome. My privilege, access to capital, and resources, were insufficient for my friend to realize a different outcome for her Self. I wanted those same things to exist for her. And her story is not uncommon, so many more women who act as the glue in their families risk repeating this outcome – and I have seen it, sadly, repeated.
When I invite my contacts to a relational meeting to explore investing in women- and POC-owned businesses, I plan to focus on my own experiences as an entrepreneur. I do find that there is a common understanding from other women of color in “getting” the why behind the work. What I need to learn to pitch well is why there is a need to organize differently through a different mechanism to enable this access to capital, and, specifically, reveal that there is a need in the first place. The “customer” of this work, ultimately, is going to be a very successful entrepreneur who knows how to scale her business as well as social and community value. For these meetings, I plan to connect with directors from local social entrepreneurship programs, other women entrepreneurs, and small business financing organizations.
I’ll end with the risks that exist upfront in engaging in this work. First, some of the entrepreneurs or local experts I will consult I consider to be friends. I will need to be careful to identify a clear line between relational and transactional work. I am accustomed to this given the nature of my work, but am always mindful of potential pitfalls. Conversely, I also perform some of this work at my “day job,” and will need to take care to separate the overlap of resources available to a local network versus what I focus on at “day work.” Given all the hats I wear, I am well versed at announcing what organization(s) I represent in any given dialog; I can always simplify my affiliations, however, which may be the ultimate “a-ha” in all of this reflection. Is there a better way to condense and strengthen the impact of my work?
R/S – I am so grateful for how thoughtfully my Generous Skeptics invited me to reflect back on and interpret my own words differently this week. In doing so, I distilled a few themes that pushed me to consider the following in my general approach to meetings and planning (and life):
- Motivators (values)
- Receiving as a gift
- Facing adversity
The value that drives my interest in my two goals is a commitment to systemic change to scale equal access to opportunity. I can reframe transactional meetings as avenues for mutual benefit, where I can celebrate and embrace positivity first. Finally, by truly committing to equal access, I can consider who I invite to meetings – and affirm I want to engage with a spectrum of needs – and prepare myself for adversity, and actually welcome it to grow. I can play out scenarios of how meetings might go, and determine how I would to respond to each scenario if it results in conflict.
Thank you for the insightful questions and comments – this reflection is only a summary of my key takeaways. Know that your questions surfaced many times throughout the past few days, and gave me pause not only in thinking about my two goals, but how I walk through my daily life.