Discover more from Mark Dancer on Flourishing Business
Epic times demand a bold purpose
Distributors may hold the key to fixing what ails us in the digital age; will you join my newest effort to find out?
In two weeks, I will begin work on a new Facing the Forces of Change® initiative as a Fellow of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW). We are taking a radical new approach. We are not aiming to write a book or publish a study, but instead are working to make Facing the Forces of Change a platform for enabling innovation. I'll bring ideas to a panel of distribution's leaders and innovators, gather knowledge and experiences, and share what I find as we go—publicly, in written words and through live conversations. I hope to find a new language for innovating distribution and tell stories that inspire. We will look for a process for innovators to innovate on distribution's terms as intermediaries operating at the center of commerce, helping customers innovate in their business. I invite you to join our effort, starting now and continuing through the year ahead.
Finding a better way
We are living through epic times. Digital technologies are transforming everything about how we live, connect as humans, learn, work, organize, and play. The stress and trauma of disruption, automation, social contagions, virtual reality, and conspiracies threaten us. Trust is on the wane, and institutions that forge cohesion in business and social communities are in decline. The COVID pandemic, talent crunch, supply chain crisis, artificial intelligence, and shifting generational values create an uncertain future even as they usher in new normals. Change is almost always painful, but as we are experiencing it today, change is a disaster.
Distribution can help. As an $8 trillion industry, distributors serve every company in every sector, working in local communities, side-by-side with customers in the real world where business actually happens. Distributors are modernizing, but for the greatest impact, they need a North Star, a shared intended outcome, and a tangible focus for efforts—one that does not seek to fight against the undeniable force of digital evolution but builds up what technology tears down. Distributors need a new purpose for a new age.
In this edition, I suggest that distribution’s new purpose is to help skilled workers flourish. Every distributor sells products used by skilled workers—including contractors, technicians, machinists, drivers, chefs, engineers, welders, facilities managers, and more. When considered with a sales and marketing mindset, skilled workers are important because they influence their company’s buying decisions. The company is the customer. Skilled workers are labeled “users.” And users are a cog in the wheel for doing business, a leverage point for capturing share of a customer’s spend.
But seen as humans, skilled workers are worthy of a higher purpose: a calling to help those workers pursue their vocation, strengthen their self-worth, and generate wealth for themselves, their families, and their companies. In the digital age, skilled workers are the forgotten backbone of the middle class. They ply their trade as a craft, in the real world, in communities, connecting people in the execution of shared values and goals. By helping skilled workers, distributors impact our society and economy, giving back to us all at a scale worthy of an $8 trillion industry. All this is possible, but first, distributors must lean in and listen.
Actions speak louder than words, and the Professional Beauty Association (PBA), an NAW member, is making headway. Sydney Berry, PBA Chair, explains:
Salon industry stylists are in a flux. After the challenge of the pandemic to their business, many have lost ground. They struggle to create financial stability for themselves and their families. Stylists want to innovate their business and seek ways to strengthen customer relationships and expand services. Salon owners provide facilities for stylists to pursue their craft, and can do more. We are holding local meetings to discuss innovation and the future of beauty. Our goal is to help stylists regain their sense of worth, build community, embrace wellness opportunities, and prosper financially. Our industry group includes members that are suppliers, distributors, salons, and stylists. Working together, we can help stylists achieve their ambitions through a career in beauty.
Stylists are the skilled workers of the professional beauty industry, and PBA is working to help them flourish. It's a team effort at the center of commerce that will lead to innovations and collaborations among salons, distributors, and manufacturers. PBA is at the front of a movement, a wave of B2B humanism catalyzed by a commitment to purpose-driven innovation and fostering a new zeitgeist for what will emerge from today's digital transformation. PBA is at the lead, but the group should not lead alone.
For a broader context and to help energize distribution's new purpose, I reached out to Rabbi Irwin Kula, President Emeritus, at the Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL). I know Rabbi Kula from The World Innovation Network (TWIN), my go-to resource for world-class innovators. Kula is a careful watcher of social evolution, a disruptor in his industry (religion!), and a fierce advocate for human flourishing. Asked for advice, he offered:
If black swans, paradigm shifts, and disruptions are the new normal, we will inevitably work hard to analyze, strategize, and develop possible scenarios to help us navigate the destabilizing change. But we should be careful not to pretend we can predict the future. Whatever reasonable strategies we justifiably use to navigate the chaos, if rogue waves are the new norm, then we need to learn how to sit with the discomfort and unknowing, taste the fear and anxiety, lean into the doubt and uncertainty. And we must do this together across stakeholders. Out of this space new ideas, intuitions, insights, and truths will emerge. We are not used to this process, as it requires cultivating qualities such as humility, patience, self-regulation, and the ability to discern, digest, and integrate multiple perspectives—virtues our culture has not valued over the past decades.
Rabbi Kula's words will help shape my work ahead with NAW. We will talk to anyone anywhere with insights for innovating distribution, seek to taste fear and anxiety, and look for new ideas and truths. And if we are fortunate, we'll stay in touch, gather more advice, and learn from his ongoing work.
Foresight and footsteps
I need your help with my NAW Facing the Forces of Change initiative. I am looking for volunteers to contribute to my panel of distribution's leaders and innovators. Together, we will work to help distributors innovate with customers. We will look for a new language, gather stories, and build processes.
Our work is organic, and there are many ways to contribute. If you would like to join in, please click here to schedule a call or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or my partner, Bart Tessel, NAW's chief innovation officer, at email@example.com. Together, we will announce our project at this year's NAW Executive Summit, January 31 to February 2, at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington, DC. If you are there, please say hello—and if you can, volunteer!