January 20, 2018

The Balancing Act: The disconnect

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Martin Luther King Jr.

Editor’s note: Since September 2015, Worcester Sun has chronicled the busy life of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores in the serial “A Mother’s Journey,” as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s a full-fledged entrepreneur and acknowledged leader in the startup community. As Giselle has evolved, so has her story. Welcome to the third installment of “The Balancing Act.”

Giselle Rivera-Flores

The assumption that big and bold actions change the course of creation and innovation, to me, is fundamentally false.

More often, change is created through the mundane work that comes before the big action sequences. From social movements to business markets, the real moments of change are created through redundant persuasion, gradually changing the minds of consumers, followers and leaders. It is endless, arduous work.

The sum of these small efforts, repeated day in and day out, are the stepping stones of success.

Success is not possible overnight, never mind even a few months or years. It is made tangible only after all the small efforts click together. Changing minds takes time, and that has been proved through history with social movements.

Read Giselle’s previous chapter: The year of determination and defiance

Social movements are the case studies most entrepreneurs are not reading.

While our eyes are rampantly skimming through business books in search of the Golden Rule of success, many of us tend to overlook certain possibilities.

Entrepreneurs can learn several lessons from the success and failures of social movements and in turn, understand the differences between long-term goals and short-term goals, a marketing campaign and a brand, and even the difference between a hobby and a business structure.

The tipping point for most social movements is their ability to address perceptions. The same can be said about a business. For most of our history, social movements have sprung up to address, attack and dismantle the misperception of people, places and needs.

With Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this past week, it is hard not to use his work as an example. His efforts to dismantle the perception that the Civil Rights movement was a problem only for the black community or for the South were his opening to a successful movement. Changing the perception from “this is a black-only problem” to “this is an issue about our national identity” sparked the conversation addressing the need for change.

His movement, if only seen as a problem faced by the minority, would have crumbled within a few months. It was his changing of minds – including those that had never faced such oppression – that propelled his movement and changed the landscape where we live in today.

As an entrepreneur, it is hard not to be inspired by Dr. King and other social movements sparking real change in our communities. Their tenacity and devotion to seeking a solution for a problem that many do not recognize is something I would consider a Golden Rule of success.

Cognitive psychologists call this framing. According to Noam Shpancer, a clinical psychologist from Purdue University, framing is a feature of our brain’s architecture. Our minds react to the context in which something is embedded, not just the thing itself. Meaning, we — as individuals and as a society — are not hardwired calculators but see things in the context of connections that already exist.

When our minds are influenced to care or become invested — whether it be to a new product or movement — actions are instigated. In Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, he designed the words to appeal to mainstream America. He reminded America that the problems faced by the oppressed were not just their own but problems that rejected our founding principles as a nation.

Dr. King’s contribution to the Civil Rights movement is one of epic proportion for the fabric of our society, and an example for today’s business owners and entrepreneurs. Framing is not just a way of pushing a social movement but also a way to embrace culture and empower people. Steve Jobs shifted Macintosh from a single computer to a hub of devices we now find hard to live without. Helen Gurley Brown, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine for 32 years, transformed the magazine’s audience from a once-typical housewife gaggle to a following bent on independence and empowerment.

Connecting to mainstream is a pivotal piece in social movements, and the same goes for business success. Change came for Dr. King with President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was Dr. King’s affiliations to the mainstream, to the leaders who could bring about change, that caused this immense push for reform. It was his demeanor, his devotion, his relentless dedication to the cause that struck a chord with the leaders of the free world.

Business success follows a similar pattern.

Businesses must remain close to their aspiration to ignite change, shift perceptions and boost success. The mission of a business must always drive its strategy. Like successful social movements, businesses and entrepreneurs must take a deep look at their impact and must work, little by little, to bring their product or service to a wider audience. Steve Jobs, Helen Gurley Brown, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many others have proved this path.

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