Is this pure fantasy or a call to action?

At the beginning of 2005 there were close to 4.3 million SMEs in the UK (DTI figures), accounting for £1,226 billion turnover and 58.7% of all employment. Not so small when looked at in those terms and a big opportunity for SMEs to punch above their weight through collaboration.

Inventors, entrepreneurs and small businesses created so much of the everyday stuff we take for granted. Bicycles, biros, the telephone, fax machines, soap, light bulbs, electricity, the PC, television, the printing press and many more are all the products of individuals and small businesses.

Even corporations start small. Heinz owes its existence to Henry John Heinz, born in Pittsburgh in 1844, the son of German immigrants who began selling produce from the family garden at the age of 12. Or closer to home there’s Boots, started by John Boot a farm labourer and his wife Mary in 1849, to provide herbal remedies to the needy. We have all heard of Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard who started their business in the now famous California garage in 1939, making an electronic testing machine that they first sold to Disney. But what about Joseph Cyril Bamford, who started off in a garage in the Midlands making a trailer from war surplus with a 50 shilling welder? Does JCB ring a bell?

Will history continue to repeat itself? What has changed? Deep down, we all know that our lifestyles and business practices are unsustainable; the problem is that we don’t know what to do about it. Without realising it, most of us are caught up in the mechanistic mindset that has created our economic model and enforces our sense of separation from each other and the living systems of which we are a part. As Einstein said, “We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” We have to evolve our consciousness beyond the machine mind that created the modern world.

As small businesses, we can wait for a trickle-down of new practices from large corporations or for legislation to tell us what to do, or we can seize the initiative and create our own success in line with our long, rich tradition of growth and innovation. The first step is to adopt a new way of thinking; a mind shift that enables us to see the bigger picture and helps us connect to a higher purpose will provide us with solutions we can’t even imagine today.

Far from idealistic thinking, this ‘new consciousness’ recognises the challenges of the real world and the business climate and shows us how to move beyond its limitations. For small businesses this is less about competing with large corporations and more about building on strengths, creativity, collaboration and effective use of new technology. As Don Tapscott says in his book Wikinomics, “Billions of connected individuals can now actively participate in innovation, wealth creation, and social development in ways we once only dreamed of. And when these masses of people collaborate they collectively can advance the arts, culture, science, education, government, and the economy in surprising but ultimately profitable ways. Companies that engage with these exploding Web-enabled communities are already discovering the true dividends of collective capability and genius.”

We already live in the MySpace, YouTube, Facebook world, but we have yet to realise the creative potential of these communities in the small business context and at the moment it all seems a bit ‘pie in the sky.’ Closer to home, do we recognize our own creative potential, or that of our employees? This is the place to start because we cannot see in others what we do not see in ourselves. Creativity and the ability to find sustainable solutions to fuel tomorrow’s successful enterprises will not be found in profit and loss accounts or business processes ‘the mechanics of the business’. It only exists when people are asked to reach for a higher human purpose.

We can look at climate change, financial turmoil and globalisation as a threat to our existence or we can see it as an opportunity for transformation. Will small business transformation save the world? Who knows? But isn’t a happier and more successful business something worth working for. Where would you like your business to be five years from now?

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