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This blog explores insights for multinational corporations, NGOs, academics, social entrepreneurs and others working at the Base of the Pyramid.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

A Few Things Every Entrepreneur Should Know About Communication

By Cheryl Heller

Editor's Note: The first MFA in Design for Social Innovation will open in the fall of 2012 at the School of Visual Arts in New York. To introduce the program to potential students and client partners, DSI is holding a Designathon on Sept. 16 and 17. Find out much more HERE.

I would argue, and often have, that while money, technology and innovation (I'll come back to this) are considered more glamorous and therefore more important, communication is the single most critical factor in the success of any endeavor.

Communication is what transforms an idea into a vision, defines how it's different, explains why it will work, and engages people in helping make it a reality. Communication is what keeps your vision alive, whether you are in the room explaining it to someone, or they are thinking about it in places far from where you've ever been or will ever go.

By communication, I don't mean the numbing volume of information and opinions from self-appointed experts that complicate everything about business today, nor do I mean our media-and-marketing-driven habit of reducing everything to an over-simplified formula and pretending that it has meaning and application to real life.  I refer to something very specific that lives in between those two extremes.

Communication is a system, and like all systems, it is perfectly designed to produce the results it produces. Your choice is to tinker only with the parts and cover essentially the same ground endlessly, or map and integrate the whole, and watch your efforts magnify, creating real, lasting transformation.

Designed as a system, communication is power and energy and infectious potential - demonstrated more than stated, acting as a circulatory system for any organization, creating a flow of relevant information and inspiration to all the people who need and want to act in service of a shared goal.

I have spent my entire life thinking about communication -- words, pictures, thoughts, beliefs and action. What is most important to me now is to use what I've learned to help people and organizations with the courage to create new models of change and a contribution to life beyond their own walls. And I love entrepreneurs - of any size.

Below are a few points to consider when communicating as an entrepreneur, several of which are linked to a series of more in-depth articles I wrote for Sheepless.org.

1.  Rectify the language. Dead language won't inspire a living organization, and too much of our language has been murdered by our addiction to buzzwords and argot. I used to think that when I read a business document it was my fault I had to read it three times before I could decode it, but then I woke up to the fact that the vast majority of them don't say anything. What you may think you gain by impressing someone with your mastery of business jargon is lost in translation. Use unworn words that have traction, that inspire action. Unworn words do NOT include "brand, sustainability, innovation, CSR" and all the other words you currently think you can't live without.

2.  Skip the mission, vision, values formula. Someone will tell you, if they haven't already, that you must have all those things, and that there is a proper way to write them. But by following the formula, you become formulaic, and that simply doesn't work for an entrepreneur.

3. Mind the gap. This is a huge one, but for now, I'll just say that until you become deeply aware of your audience, who they are, what they think, what they want and how they're different from you, the distance between what you intend to say and what is understood will never be breached.

4.  Don't be afraid to use your body to get ahead in business. There are about 100 million neurons in our guts, so the notion of using your gut to make decisions is not just a figure of speech. Pay attention to how you feel. Be aware of your body. Notice when you feel uncomfortable with an idea or a proposition. It's far less likely you'll be confused about decisions if you use both your brain and your instinct to make them, and it's more proof that traditional problem solving won't solve our problems.

5.  Make reality perception. Not vice versa. It's so much easier to communicate brilliantly when you tell the truth and still have something interesting to say.

6.  Clarity and brevity do not come naturally to people with a mission. Please refer to point number 3.

7.  When in doubt, learn from nature. Go outside, and establish a deep relationship with the natural world. She can teach you everything you need to know if you listen.

8. There is no triple bottom line. This is a human construct that was helpful in getting businesses to think about the multiple dimensions that should be measured, but it has become an excuse to separate profits from people and planet. The nature of a bottom line is that there can be only one. We either get it right and survive or we don't.

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