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Pearl #11: Our Actions Aren’t About Making Our Own Lives Easier

Throughout the year, our blog series “Pearls: 30 Lessons Learned on Our 30 Year Journey” will be featuring lessons we’ve learned as an organization throughout the past three decades. These “pearls,” as we call them, illuminate how we’ve survived and thrived for 30 years.

Our Actions Aren’t About Making Our Own Lives Easier

At the Bean Project it seems like we rarely make easy decisions. There are always at least two ways to look at something or multiple opinions about what’s best. Over time I’ve learned that we often advocate for decisions that are best for each of us individually. I suppose it’s human nature. At our core humans are essentially selfish in that we each desire to do what’s easiest.  

In our social enterprise, whether we are making decisions regarding program changes or business operations, it isn’t wise to choose the most expedient or best solution for us as individuals. Rather, we must separate our personal interests from the decisions we make.  

This is a skill that must be learned and a discipline that must be enforced. In fact, we must be in the habit of asking ourselves, what problem is this decision or change trying to solve? Who is this change meant to serve? What other problems may arise as a result of this decision? 

Defining the problem first allows us to determine if the proposed solution is truly the solution, a diversion or an adherence to a single party’s observation. Then, asking ourselves who the change is meant to serve takes this questioning one step deeper. It helps us avoid actions that are solely for our personal benefit.  

I recall a time when we introduced a new website for our wholesale customers. In the first draft of the letter introducing the site, we talked extensively about why the updates would be good for the Bean Project. Everything we talked about in the letter was true: we’d have better tracking of orders; we’d no longer have to rely on email, phone and fax technology; we’d be able to manage the orders better. But the problem was that none of the benefits was presented as beneficial the customer. Yet, we were asking the customers to make a change. Ultimately, we revised to letter to serve the customers and not only us.  

Asking ourselves what problems may arise as a result of a decision or change is important. Yet, I believe it’s best to limit ourselves in this regard. It’s possible to spend a lot of time anticipating all the problems that might arise as a result of a decision. But we will never anticipate every problem that might arise. To the extent that we try to, we will likely anticipate and solve for the wrong ones. Instead, we must have faith that when problems do arise, we have the wherewithal to solve them.  

Though we are 30 years old, the Bean Project has maintained a high degree of nimbleness – an ability to respond to challenges, make quick decisions, then adjustments as needed. It is by remembering to ask ourselves these questions we’ve been able to do so.  

Written by Tamra Ryan, CEO

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