How can you thrive in today’s economy?

In the olden days, we used to protect our businesses. We used to have secret sauces, trade secrets, and hidden dimensions in our companies, communities, and families. There were some proverbs about dirty laundry and early birds catching worms, and we competed to get ahead in our own industry, while blocking the competition. I have learned that the old model no longer works. Why? Because that old model is rooted in two dysfunctional concepts: competition and scarcity.

When we apply those concepts to our daily lives and livelihoods, our families and the people we care about, whether they be related biologically or connected to us intellectually, things go wrong. We have moved into an era of networking, where transparency and congruence are the new interpersonal currency. Here are my thoughts (greatly influenced by my business coach, Mike Collier) on how to make more money, keep your business friends, and offer a meaningful product in today’s economy.

1. Drop the Vanilla

There is enough for all of us. The old model of competition teaches us that to get ahead, we must hoard our goods and greatness. To get ahead, we may need to step on others. To get ahead, we have to discredit the competition. The new model: there is enough for all of us. My mentor, Kelly Tobey, taught me the ice-cream metaphor. He taught me that each of us is a particular flavour, some are chocolate, some are vanilla, some are strawberry, some are mango, some are bubble gum, and a few are even pistachio-chocolate-chip. Now if you happen to be the guy who is pistachio-chocolate-chip, you may feel like it would be better to pose as vanilla. After all, vanilla is safer, and chances are, more people will like vanilla than pistachio-chocolate-chip. So what happens? You start pretending you are vanilla. You walk vanilla, you talk vanilla, you drive a vanilla car, you get a vanilla job, you interact with those around you as if you were vanilla. After a while, you start feeling like the people around you don’t really see you, don’t really know the real you. Why? Because you have been pretending to be something you are not. And all those pistachio-chocolate-chip lovers out there have been hunting for you, but haven’t been able to find you because of your vanilla disguise. You went for vanilla because you thought you would get more out of it, but all you got was a mask. There is enough for all of us. There are those hunting for pistachio-chocolate-chip right now. They may be your future business partners, investors, or employees. So drop the vanilla act. There is enough for all of us. If you really become you you were meant to be and get the right supports in place, any venture can be profitable. You just have to really know who you are and trust that someone will find your particular flavour irresistible.

2. Sharing is Caring

Ever heard the saying “Two heads are better than one”? Groups of like-minded people can come up with strategies and approaches that are far superior to individual plans and ideas. Share your plans, tell your story, let others in on the secret. I understand that for some projects, timing is everything, so within those parameters share the excitement of what you are up to. So many women I work with tell me they don’t really know what their husbands do at work! Share with your loved ones, let them know of your successes and your challenges. The new model has moved us away from competition and into collaboration. Go for the joint venture and the mutually beneficial projects. bell hooks writes about the attempt during the Civil Rights movement in the United States to “lift as we climb”. That means that no one gets left behind, and as things get better for one person, one family, one community, everyone feels the benefits. If you are a few rungs ahead of someone else, offer your guidance, your wisdom and your thoughts. Sharing is how we cultivate leadership in the people around us. Maybe that secret sauce will reach an clientele that would never in a hundred years visit your restaurant…so once you share it, you spread the message to a far greater audience.

3. Give it Away

Don’t you love walking into a large grocery store on their “free sample” day? How good does it feel to be treated to a cup of coffee or a dinner by a friend or colleague? The time has come for generosity. We are living in an era where the law of exchange is very powerful – for you to get something, you must first give something. Faith traditions understand this, and in many rituals from traditions around the world, an offering is made before a prayer. We ask permission before we stomp in to someone’s garden. The more you give, the more will return to you. This is a very different model than what we practiced in the last 40 years, as this model is not rooted in scarcity. This model does not ask “What’s in it for me?” but rather “How can I help you?”. You do have a natural impulse to help, as demonstrated around the world when natural events disrupt daily life. But why do you have to wait for a disaster to be generous? And that generosity can come in many forms: time, wisdom, resources, a listening ear, or even well-wishes. No one’s asking you to put yourself and the family on the line or to suffer due to someone else needs, but if you have the luxury of a little bit extra, share it. And if you are building a business, give away freebies….your customers will love “no strings attached”, and eventually may even ask you what you are selling.

4. Be a Friend

Motivational speaker and teacher Chuck Spezzano told a story in one of his lectures about an idea he had. He said he wanted to find an idea that the whole world could get behind, an idea that no matter what background, perspective or age someone was coming from, they could relate to it. His big idea? Friends helping friends. Can you be a friend? Whether your official role is employee, boss, assistant, nanny, truck-driver, teacher, counsellor, or expert, can you get behind the idea of friends helping friends? If you start to see the people around you as friends, and strangers simply as friends you haven’t met yet, things start to shift. After all, good friends are reliable, approachable, and available. Good friends praise, support, and encourage while looking ahead for potential pitfalls of any plan. Can you be that friend to the people at work and the people at home? Wouldn’t it be nice to do business with someone who felt like a friend? This lens will help you to change the way you think about and speak to the people you encounter at work, on the road, and in life. The next time someone is really stressing you out, see if you can be a friend. Can you just let them off the hook, give them the benefit of the doubt? Could you even perhaps go out of your way for this person, the way you would for a good friend? Get behind this idea, and the world and it’s economy start seeming like a much friendlier place.

5. Heal your Deal with Money

Many of us have a distorted relationship with money. What are your stereotypes about rich people or poor people? If you are still comparing your income, house, car, latest gadget, or children’s private school with others, you are stuck in the old model of competition. Heal your deal with money. I went to a business seminar once where they asked us to say the first words that come to mind when you hear the word money. The response will show you what you fundamentally believe about money, and this belief will leak in to your capacity to either earn money or keep the money that you have. There are business coaches that can guide you through this, and many books you can read as well to shift your thinking around money. The biggest shift is for you to realize that you don’t have to repeat the financial patterns that your parents had, nor do you have to do the opposite of what they did. Look at what you picked up over the years about money, and fix it. Money is a resource, a symbol, a way to concretize the law of exchange. Just correcting how you think about it takes away the power that you have given it over your life. Simple as that.

My teachers are wise and many, and I hope you also find your own teachers and mentors as you work through the questions about work and worth. If you begin by dropping the vanilla, remember that sharing is caring, give it away, be a friend, and end with healing your deal with money, your approach to the work world becomes yet another way to practice the personal development principles in your daily life. This is the key to transparency and the secret to congruence. And then watch as your bank account starts illustrating the changes!