Beyond the Elections

Among the most stunning aspects of the recent elections are the numbers and what they reveal about our country. This is really important…

Since the Kennedy-Nixon election of 1960, which had a voter turnout rate of 63%, the percentage of eligible voters who actually turn out to vote has decreased steadily. By 1996, the year Bill Clinton was re-elected President, it was down to 49%. In 1992, when Clinton was elected the first time, there was a 55% turnout. Since 1996, turnout has edged up; in 2016, this most recent election, it was close to 58%.

During off-year elections, when we’re electing people to Congress, turnout has gone from 46% in 1966 to 36% in 2014.

No matter who actually gets put into office this year—some argue that Hillary Clinton should be inaugurated since she won the popular vote by almost 2%—that person will still have received the support of less than 30% of eligible voters. In other words, 70% of the adult population—those who didn’t vote plus those who voted for the other candidate—does not actively favor whoever becomes president.

When a minority of the voters in our country can put into a person into office who will gain immense power and authority in spite of his lack of support from the majority, we have the makings of tyranny. This has become the dynamic of our two-party system: two massive money machines, each gathering and spending over a billion dollars every couple of years, with little incentive to expand the franchise beyond the minimum it takes to put its own people in power.

Although all the pundits continue to exclaim over the wild-ride campaign of Donald Trump, who seems to have candidly attacked both parties, the fact is he did little if anything to engage more or even new voters. He will become the next President with around 28% of the eligible voters’ support. This does not help us build or maintain the world’s largest democracy. A new way forward must be found.

We advocate entrepreneurship as one means to restore, reform and continually improve an engaging democracy: by creating enterprises based on solutions to problems and the delivery of benefits to customers with clear needs and desires, we create the future through positive, productive action. New ventures can pay living, sustainable equitable wages. New ventures can reignite entire industries, creating jobs, and sharing wealth. New social ventures can, and do, choose to do these things as a priority and as part of their ongoing business mission, and they do it in ways with integrity that respect and honor all people, all diversities, all participants.

INCOMMN is the coming together of enterprise development and social justice economics, with a healthy proportion of a new political agenda: support an independent movement by electing non-partisan people to public office, by building on the Bernie Sanders model: elect solutions, not political parties.


InCommN Reborn

We’ve reconsidered, reconfigured, recreated, and relaunched INCOMMN. It’s entirely new: new vision, new mission, and new urgency.

Stunned by the 2016 election results—in fact stunned by the entire election season that seemed to run from early 2015 until November 8, 2016—we know we need to launch a new voice with a new message.  

Our lead goes deeper into our thoughts on this horrifying, almost two year long frenzy we’ve just survived—although with what outcomes we won’t know for a while. But first some more about our recreated INCOMMN.

INCOMMN has always been worker-owned and managed with best workplace democracy practices. We’ve always been—and continue to be—a social venture: our primary goal is to have a positive, beneficial impact on our communities and our society; INCOMMN exists to identify, assess, and solve significant problems such as economic and social inequalities, threats to the environment, the critical need for renewable and sustainable energy, and the various guises of social injustice such as racism and sexism.

INCOMMN subscribes to a “slow money” economic principle; we reject the pursuit of short-term high profits, seeking instead long-term, slow, stable and sustainable growth and profit that returns benefits to communities and the region. It’s the relentless pursuit of short-term, outsized profits—“fast money”—that has created the 2008 collapse and recession, the loss of jobs in manufacturing, the economic stagnation of the U.S. “Rust Belt”, the flight of companies to offshore production, and the flight of capital to offshore low-tax havens. Trillions of dollars and millions of jobs have left the country, leaving behind decaying infrastructure, collapsed communities, impoverished towns, and destroyed families.  

Now is the time for INCOMMN to double down on our values and practices and making them our only mission. INCOMMN will support workplace democracy, social entrepreneurship, community resilience through sustainability, and local (and regional) investment for regional economic development though “slow money” ventures.  We will do this through our writing and messaging, by mentoring social entrepreneurs, worker-owned cooperatives, and other enterprises seeking to change our world for the better by creating the future we need and desire.


Business, Social Impact, Democracy

Let’s start with an immediate example or two. Valley Venture Mentors, now a “rave” program and event because of the news about funding, is a great example of a participatory, continually creative process and program. And it is great: by being all that, VVM has grown, pioneered new and profound approaches to venture creation and development, and attracted large-scale regional support. Three years ago, we had a few entrepreneurs and 20 to 30 mentors. Last month, we heard from the 13 entrepreneurs who will be completing their program in September, as they presented their updates to an audience of over 140 business and social venture leaders from around western Massachusetts. There’s more coming: VVM is recruiting new applicants right now for the next round, AND VVM will be also launching an accelerator program in Springfield in January 2015.

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Social Ventures & Businesses: Never Ending Creativity

Rogers-Will-LOCTo paraphrase Will Rogers (died before most of us were born, but full of wit and wisdom for today!), we’re all smart, just about different things.  That’s the bounty and power of the Internet: a tool that weaves all these smart individuals into a world-spanning network any one of us can access, contribute to, and engage in. Because of this tool, the concept and practice of “interactive distributed community networks” —INCOMMN — is possible.

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Ventures and Non-Profits

Sienna Wildfield of Hilltown Families

Our language about entrepreneurship tends to emphasize the for-profit enterprise and the growth-driven venture. But entrepreneurial behavior is alive and well in, and critically important to the success of, not-for-profits.

Counting health care, education, social services, the arts, and business services, there a few thousand not-for-profit organizations—those with federal and state non-profit tax-exempt status—in western Massachusetts employing over 20,000 people. State-wide, there are over 23,000 not-for-profits listed with the Attorney General and Secretary of State.

In a highly competitive environment, where these organizations compete for donations, grants, contracts, and public attention, the more successful and sustainable non-profits are led and managed by people who model the best in entrepreneurial practices. These leaders and managers help grow their organizations, manage complex organizations that include very active and engaged Boards of Directors, and deliver caring public benefits. This is an arena that requires mindfulness!

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Fall 2013 Workshop Series

Click Workspace and InCommN Launch TUESDAY Evening Workshop/Discussion Series: Tickets on Sale Now

Starting Tuesday, September 10, 2013 and running Tuesday evenings through December, InCommN and Click Workspace will present a series of workshops and discussions for entrepreneurs and people in micro- and small-businesses.

Buy tickets now for the September 10, 2013 workshop

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The IT Sales Tax

Engaging Public Policy

No IT Sales Tax copyIn addition to starting, running, developing, growing, and sustaining a small business, you have a role or two in your communities. In your business community—you, your colleagues, business partners, those with whom you collaborate, those from whom you purchase and to whom you sell—you get to participate in establishing values, principles and behaviors simply by how you do your work and engage others. In your civic communities, including the networks of friends and associates with whom you exchange ideas as well as social interests, you can also be involved in some level of public policy.

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Provocateur, Explorer, Inventor, and Risk-Taker


I get impassioned about issues, concerns, art, ideas, explorations and discoveries.  Among my primary passions is “entrepreneurism”, applied to creating and developing businesses and organizations, and applied to a particular way individuals can create new pathways and stimulate innovation. In our collective pursuit of “new communities” and “new economics” since the melt-down of 2008 and elevated concern about the environment and global warming, nothing stands out to me as being more revolutionary and transformative than entrepreneurial initiatives.

If local community-based, resilient and sustainable economies and enterprises are at all desirable, then you, too, are or soon will be an advocate for venture and enterprise creation and development. New small businesses and community-based organizations create local wealth while inventing, building, producing, and distributing everything from locally grown healthy foods to advanced materials to smart-phone “apps” to socially responsible investing and crowd-funding to works of art. And if you’re already an entrepreneur, business owners, inventor, or organization leader and participant, then you’re actively engaged in building and sustaining the communities and cities of the future.

The Role of Uncertainty

Somewhere between protecting older and almost obsolete technologies, sectors, and skills and trying to plan and direct what sectors should develop next, is the preferred approach in the arena of enterprise development.  I’m a advocate of entrepreneurs; I’d like to see more resources and efforts go to training, educating, supporting, and assisting individuals and groups to try and eventually succeedin their individual and small group initiatives. The mindful entrepreneur is all about supporting innovation, exploration, discovery, creativity, and production in the context of working collaboratively, in networks, in and on behalf of communities: this is, in my mind, the direct approach to the common good.

“Try and eventually succeed” is a key phrase. The entrepreneurial approach is uncertain; it is risk-based, and more akin to being an explorer and discoverer than it is to being a builder. You, the small business creator and owner, are barraged by hundreds of new books each year about how to succeed, how to do it right, how to start and grow a business, and on and on. There are detailed lists of must-does and how-tos, should-nots and avoid-these. If you read and practice and evaluate even half of all these, you may never have the time and energy—or interest—to actually have a business. It’s better to read and learn as you explore and develop.

Here’s my best advice in all of this:

  • First, accept that you’re an explorer. You will be discovering and learning something new—about yourself, your business, your customers and clients, your markets, your community—every day you stay in business. You can’t duplicate another person’s success; you’ll have to  explore and discover a lot on your own. If you have no inclination to explore, and find uncertainty and risk troublesome, don’t go into business alone. Consider the possibility that you shouldn’t go into business at all.
  • Second, understand that you need to be a critical thinker, problem solver, and innovator, because you’ll have to figure things out for yourself. You’ll face situations for which there are no magic-bullet answers. If you’re still in business after five years, and are successful by any measure you choose, then you know as much about this arena as anyone who has published a book about it. You may still need and want—and even enjoy—the expertise, knowledge and insights of others (never underestimate the value of someone else’s learning and experience!) and you’ll continue to find books,articles, and workshops of great value. Pursue and use these opportunities. Just realize that you, too, could be a business-advisor and author!
  • Third, this enterprise is about you and your networks of colleagues, customers, and communities. Through your individual and collaborative initiatives, you can retain individual freedom and achieve community-wide benefits and value.
  • Fourth, master the basics as you go along. Learn something about value-chains, SWOT, organization and management. Involve others—partners, consultants, employees, friends—who know more about these things, and who bring expertise you may lack: typically new product and service development, bookkeeping and finance, sales and marketing.
  • Keep learning every day.

Returning to Your Core Strengths

But if you find that you can’t start or make a move until you’ve read the most recent piece of advice or the newest technique, that you need to get all the answers and perfect your approach first, and this sense repeats itself over and over, you should probably reconsider your options. Most of you are not feeling this, but you probably do feel anxious at times as you wonder why some aspect of your enterprise is not going as you expected or planned. Combine reading with using an analytical technique. Don’t just learn about metrics: use them. Reach out into your network of fellow explorers and consultants: you will find comfort, strength, support, and information. And you will reinvigorate your own insights and core strengths; you are, after all, the well from which your success will emerge.

Mindful of What?

Mindful of what? The INCOMMN Example

As entrepreneurs, we need to be forward looking. “Being entrepreneurial” is a set of behaviors practiced inside an organization as well as used to create or perfect others. It involves creativity, thoughtfulness, awareness (of self and of others), agility, and management of resources. Entrepreneurs are in motion: their behavior is dynamic. They don’t bring everything to a standstill to look back for detailed analysis. Yet successful entrepreneurs know how they got to the present situation.

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Pursuing Quality, Customers, and Business

“A product or service possesses quality if it helps somebody and enjoys a good sustainable market. Trade depends on quality.”

“Everyone expected the good times to continue and to wax better and better…In contrast to expectations, we find, on looking back, that we have been on an economic decline for decades…”

“We can elevate our our economy with specialized services and products. This change will require knowledge. In other words, our problem is education…”

“Customers expect what you and your competitors tell them to expect. And the customer is a fast learner… No customer asked for electric lights. No customer asked for photography. No customer asked for a telephone. No customer asked for an automobile.”

“Zero defects is not sufficient…(Products and services) must show constant improvement…Innovation is essential…It is necessary to innovate, to predict the needs of customers and give them more. The innovator will take the market.” “A good question for anybody in business to ask is ‘What business are we in?’ .. We must keep asking ‘What product or service would help our customers more?’ “

The Business-Customer Relationship

These are all taken from essays and presentations by W. Edward Deming; they appear collected in his 1994 book, The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education . Taken together, in the way I have them appearing here, they provide a good summary of the book while telling an essential story.

Here’s how I put these together:

When I’m a customer, I can clearly express my preferences from among product and service choices, but I don’t innovate, invent, or make. When producers and service providers bother to inquire and listen, what they’d learn about are my needs, interests, pain-points, disturbances. They’d then realize that their role is to invent, build, improve (through innovation) and provide the solutions. When I’m the entrepreneur, I have to make and provide those things and services which best solve the customers’ pain-points. I can be successful in the market place if I can tell customers that my innovation responds to their need, and if I can continually innovate so that I have constantly better solutions as well fewer and fewer errors.

That’s the core of the business-customer relationship: the customer informs the producer/provider, and the producer/provider creates, improves, and supplies the right response to that information. The customer and the producer are partners; their informed, educated exchange results in inventions and solutions that continually improve. When that partnership breaks down for any reason—the producer stops asking and listening, the customer can’t find ways to provide information, the innovation stops (because of business’ arrogance or loss of concern, or because—and this was big for Deming—business leaders lacked the knowledge and education to sustain continual innovation), the value diminishes in relation to price—then the economy as a whole suffers and businesses fail.

What Business Am I In?

And that goes to the question, “What business am I in?” We tend to respond to this with the most obvious answer. We state what product or service we offer. “I’m in the automobile carburetor business” is an example Deming uses. That might have been a correct answer as far as it goes, but it turned out to be inadequate because the carburetor got replaced by better technologies and devices. Had the business owner realized instead that his business was all about creating and building fuel supply systems for engines, that business might have gone on to produce fuel injectors; and eventually, electronic devices. The customer didn’t invent this; the customer’s need was for a continually improved mechanism for getting some energy supply to an engine, and to accomplish this with fewer mechanical problems and at a lower and lower cost.

Case Study: ExecutiveValet Airport Parking, Suffield, Connecticut

The business any of us is in is similar along this dimension: we’re all in the business of creating, building and improving a response to a need. And we improve the likelihood of our business success when we are mindful about all the details that go into building and managing our response. In the past week’s 21st Century Business Round Table, the one in Holyoke, I got to talk with Steve Lepow, business development manager for ExecutiveValet Airport Parking in Connecticut about this. ExecutiveValet provides highly precise, customer-centric, valet parking services for those using Bradley Airport. The business has grown from handling a few hundred cars a day to handling well over a thousand a day; its facility is large and comfortable, it’s processes efficient and attentive to customer needs, and it’s been able to successfully run full-tilt even during the past two year’s worst storms.

I wanted to know how this business addressed quality concerns, innovation, and customer service. We learned that a well-designed and well-run parking service is a great deal more than a large parking lot with curb-side pickup and delivery at the airport. Details abound: designing the lots so that winter plowing never ties up the lot, installing the equipment and lines to add in electric car charging stations as they become more popular, having a comfortable place to drop off one’s car, having the cars ready in advance for each in-coming flight, and on an on. The result is exactly what I’ve just been writing about: a system in which all the things the customer needs but never thought to ask for are created and provided. The customer is not only satisfied but increasingly satisfied, as the company continually explores what it can do to be better.

This leads to having more customers, to having repeat customers, and to gaining big bites of market share. Would you have guessed that an airport parking service would be at the cutting edge of innovation and quality production? I left the conversation with a lot to think about in my own work; between Deming and Mr. Lepow, there’s a lot to learn here about mindful entrepreneurship!