Discover more from Mark Dancer on Flourishing Business
Quick Take: Nurturing relationships and human flourishing
Can supply chain companies develop a business culture rooted in curiosity and focused on finding ways to help all business partners flourish?
Fostering meaning and purpose
As digital transformation continues, B2B innovators must pursue human-first innovations carefully, intentionally, and consequentially. This edition explores the insights of Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of the Center for Learning and Leadership, on the LOQPOD podcast hosted by Katy Ringsdore, and a personal conversation that followed. I apply his ideas to help discover bold, transformative ideas for the future of distribution. Kula’s work speaks to how our society fosters meaning, purpose, and communities, and how businesses may step up to help employees, customers, and partners flourish as humans.
The following ideas are mine, inspired by Rabbi Kula’s mission, advice, experience, and words. They are a beginning. I have long argued that in the digital age, all B2B companies must do business as humans for humans, but I have not offered profound ideas or practices for making it so. Irwin Kula’s insights are a powerful and essential push in the right direction, and I hope to provide more from him and his work in future editions. Here then, are my three ideas to get going:
Grow your curiosity
When asked what he does to push further and develop his thinking, Rabbi Kula discussed the importance of curiosity. His family valued curiosity. When he came home from school, Kula’s mother didn’t care so much about what he had learned but rather the questions discovered about what he had learned. That’s curiosity.
Distributors are hyper-focused on growth, leveraging artificial intelligence to fill up shopping carts and optimize prices. I know a distributor who asks salespeople to record customer conversations—what customers say, the questions they ask, and the reasons for both. Financial success may demand that distributors optimize transactions, but long-term reputation, competitiveness, and differentiated customer experiences demand that distributors grow their curiosity through personal mindsets, job roles, and business processes.
Build human networks scaled for meaningful relationships
In the digital age, social media tempts marketers to treat customer relationships as mass communities for building brands and activating demand. Success is perceived as achieving thousands of digital friends, followers, and connections. But digital connections are not human relationships; they do not create a shared sense of purpose, forgiveness for errors, or a willingness to collaborate.
As intermediaries, distributors cannot compete without robust human relationships with customers and suppliers. More digital connections are better than fewer, but as it turns out, there is a natural limit to the number of meaningful human relationships anyone can develop and maintain, known as the Dunbar Number. This number is rooted in our ancestry as humans, and although debated, it is about 150 relationships—the approximate size of the earliest human communities, villages of the recent past, military fighting units today, and other cohesive social groups.
One path forward is to build a network of human relationships assembled by asking every customer- and supplier-facing employee—including salespeople, marketers, technicians, buyers, product managers, and leaders—to identify and nurture 150 personal relationships. Doing so requires well-defined competencies, processes, training, and metrics, supported by social media that includes customer and supplier storytelling, recorded conversations, and live chats—hard work, but essential if distributors are to avoid losing their human edge as they digitally transform.
Intentionally build spaces that unlock assets
Humans naturally gather to solve problems, celebrate, and reflect on what matters. Any place humans come together, in the real world or the virtual one, is a space, and designing spaces may become the most critical capability for delivering differentiated customer experiences. Spaces are welcoming, provide tools for tasks, and wisdom for making decisions. Most crucially, spaces make an immediate impression that resonates deep into the human soul.
For distributors, critical spaces include physical and online stores—where salespeople meet with customers, where customer service people talk on the phone—as well as written messages in emails and the packaging from which purchased products are retrieved. Doubtless, conceiving these situations as spaces requires a new mindset and expertise, but one principle may lead the way forward: Every space must be designed to make customers aware of a distributor’s essential assets and provide the means for customers to unlock them. Without intentional awareness and design of spaces, the knowledge, services, relationships, finances, and products that define a distributor remain locked assets—hidden capabilities with unrealized potential for creating wealth.
Rabbi Kula’s life work is about human flourishing. From him, I learned that flourishing is not about solving the inadequacies that diminish people. Instead, flourishing is about finding, investing in, and developing the things that open opportunities, align with intrinsic rewards, and advance societies. Human flourishing is growing, thriving, and doing well.
For global and local supply chain companies, pursuing and enabling human flourishing may be more meaningful and powerful than defining value propositions, mission statements, and continuous improvement cultures. The experiences, spaces, and relationships distributors nurture have far more potential to improve the human condition than suppliers’ products do. Sales, share, and profits are essential for business success, but human flourishing gives purpose and meaning to work.
Do you agree? Can you envision how distributors may succeed by doing business as humans for humans to enable human flourishing? How do we move this concept forward and make it real?