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 BLOG >> December 2013

Business Guilds [Growth
Posted on December 23, 2013 @ 07:15:00 PM by Paul Meagher

An icy rain continues to impede my xmas travel plans, so I'm thinking happy thoughts of the gardening techniques I will try out when spring arrives. One Permaculture gardening technique that I'm quite interested in is planting a guild. This is where you plant multiple species of plants together in such a way that they benefit each other in some way. Sort of like companion planting on steriods. Some plants will be nitrogen fixers, others will be nutrient cyclers, others will attract beneficial insects like bees, others will repel unwanted insects like aphids, others will supply food for us to eat, others will supply mulching material, and others might just be planted because they look good. Instead of just concerning yourself with one planting at a time without focusing on how it relates functionally to your other plantings, you think about the community of plants you will be establishing and how they might alll work together in a low maintenance and productive manner.

Permaculture PA is a good YouTube channel to learn about Permaculture-based growing techniques. Here Phil Williams, permaculture consultant and designer, illustrates how to install a guild based around his fruit trees. Often when we plant fruit trees we stop at putting some mulch around the base of the tree but there is much more that can be done if you view the fruit tree as one component in a guild planting. Note, I'm not advocating using Round Up to install a guild system like he does but I admire his honesty in coming clean and also appreciate his pragmatic approach. Also, Phil clarifies that permaculture is not affiliated with any specific approach to agriculture such as organic gardening.

Here is an update on how the guild turned out.

So why am I talking about Guilds in what is supposed to be a site about business investing? Like my last blog on Edge Effects, I think that nature potentially has lessons to teach us about how to grow a business. In business investing we use the metaphor of "growth" all the time but the phenomenon of growth is not as simple as putting a seed in the ground and watching it thrive and take off through its own individual initiative. The phenomenon of guild planting provides a different view on how business growth can be achieved - by seeking out good companion companies to grow with so that you all thrive together because one supplies what another company is missing. Microsoft has been good at planning growth strategies at an ecosystems level and chastised open-source as a weed that would destroy the whole guild they had put together. This was a bit self-serving but I give Microsoft credit for offering up a more metaphorically sophisticated view on how their growth was achieved.

The concept of a guild goes beyond companion planting because it looks at more than just the relationship between two plants. Often there can be 5 to 10 plants involved in a guild. Many companies exist within supply and retail chains that mean this number of companies may not be unrealistic for some business guilds. The concept of "supply chains" and "retail chains" seems a bit too linear to map onto the concept of a guild as it exists in nature where mutually reinforcing activities seems be going on simultaneously. Perhaps business is a bit more linear than nature and we have to accept that the reinforcing activities between companies are often more linearly organized? Or should we be attending more to nature's example?

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Edge Effects [Growth
Posted on December 16, 2013 @ 07:57:00 AM by Paul Meagher

The term "Edge Effect" is used in Permaculture Design (I'm studying for the certificate) to refer to the observation that interesting things happen at the point where two different environments come together (e.g., land/water, grass/forest, grass/pavement, etc..). The rate of plant growth, type of plant growth, type of species composition, diversity of species composition and other measurable outcomes change at the boundaries between environments. Permaculturists are encouraged to pay close attention to these edges in the landscape and design landscapes with an eye towards increasing and optimizing edge to promote species diversity, better growing conditions, etc...

An example of applying the edge effect principle to landscape design would be that instead of designing a pond that is circular and all at the same depth, a permaculturist would want to increase edge effects by having an irregularly formed boundary between the water and the land (e.g., micro harbors) to encourage diversity of plants and animals that can exist around the pond. Pieces of land jutting into the pond would be home to more plant and animal species than land confined to a circular perimeter around the pond. The depth might be varied as well so that different organisms (e.g., fish) and plants could live in the shallow parts of the pond versus the deeper parts (e.g., creating a 3 dimensional edge through height differences in the pond).

Angelo Eliades in his excellent blog Deep Green Permaculture offers up a nice visualization of one reason why species diversity increases around edges:


The ‘edge effect’ – Where two ecosystems overlap, the overlapping area supports species from both, plus another species that is only found in the overlapping area.

Source: http://deepgreenpermaculture.com/permaculture/permaculture-design-principles/10-edge-effect/

What I like to think about is how permaculture principles such as the edge effect might apply more broadly to the project of growing a businesses. This is a form of biomimetics where we take a principle regarding how nature works and see if it can teach us something about how other systems should be designed, such as a business. Are there edge effects in business? If we want to grow our business should we focus more on the edges of our business or the internals of our business? Where are the edges of our business and how do they overlap with other businesses? Are these areas of overlap the areas we should focus on more if we want to grow our business?

I do not have the answers to these questions. They are abstract questions and we all have to define the concepts according to our own particular business circumstances. The concept of an "edge effect" gives us a cognitive tool that can get us looking at our business differently and asking different questions about it. This may or may not be a productive exercise. To the extent that nature is a good teacher you may want take to heart some of her lessons as they apply to physical reality and see if they also apply to business reality. Are there edge effects in business? Do they occur for similar reasons?

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Servers upgraded [Site News
Posted on December 14, 2013 @ 07:25:00 AM by Paul Meagher

On Friday, December 13th the servers used to host the Dealflow Investment Network were upgraded. The primary server was upgraded from 8 gb of ram, 500 gb of storage, and 8 core Xeon processor to 24 gb of ram, 1 terrabyte of storage, and a dual Xeon processor with 16 cores. New versions of the operating system were setup and the newest versions of all the server software were installed. I like to upgrade every 2 years to keep up with the evolution of hardware and server software. Unfortunately, the bleeding edge sometimes causes problems with web applications when ways of coding are no longer supported in the newest versions of the server software. This happened in a few places and I've addressed the issues; however, if you do notice any issues please let me know. Sorry for the downtime you may have experienced last night.

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Inspirational Obituaries [Motivation
Posted on December 9, 2013 @ 08:11:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Entrepreneurs can find numerous resources online aimed at inspiring you to become a better entrepreneur. Today I want to share with you one unusual resource that I find often includes useful inspirational content for entrepreneurs, namely, obituaries.

The number of magazines and websites on entrepreneurship has exploded over the last few years as we become a more entrepreneurial culture either by choice or by economic circumstance. You can spend days on end reading about entrepreneurship and all the things you can do to become a better entrepreneur. You can quickly become overloaded with suggestions and the question then becomes one of priority - which is the most important advice to attend to?

Nothing focuses the mind on what is important like death. It is for this reason that I often like to read the obituaries of successful entrepreneurs to see what were the absolutely most important motivations in their careers as entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs I'm talking about are generally not leaders on a world stage, but local business people who have done well for themselves. They may have started several businesses and were recognized for their achievements by local business organizations. Their obituaries do not necessarily stand out from other obituaries in terms of length or embellishments. In fact, sometimes the shorter the obituary the better. Some obituaries want to list every accomplishment a person ever had in life and this makes it difficult to identify the critical pieces of philosophy that guided the entrepreneur. As Blaise Pascal lamented, I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time ("Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.").

Many newspapers no longer carry a daily list of obituaries. Fortunately, mine does and I am in the habit of reading the obituaries every day. I got into the habit when my own father died and I had to help in putting together his obituary for the same paper. It made me appreciate this genre of literature more and since then I feel compelled to check if anybody in my hometown has died, and if not, I do a quick scan of the other obituaries to see if anything stands out as potentially worth reading (e.g., someone who died young, someone who lived a long time, someone who looked attractive in the day, etc...). Today I was attracted to an obituary of an older man who I did not know because he looked very strong and muscular and reminded me of my uncle who served in WW2 and had a similar physical presence (my uncle is 95 and still living). I was curious as to what occupation he had that left him in such excellent shape as an older man.

His career trajectory involved a carprenty certificate from trade school (top honors) after which he spent 13 years working for a cement company. He then formed his own cement construction company and over the years started 5 other businesses related to construction. His physical bearing was probably a result of heavy work in construction. He lived by a couple of motto's which were shared in his obituary and which I will share with you in case you can find inspiration in them as well.

If you keep your sleeves rolled up, you will never lose your shirt.

People need to be capable, connected, and to contribute. With this combination, you'll only have success.

That is it. A successful life in business boiled down to two mottos that he lived by. Two mottos that rise above all the other advice and guided him in his business life. You could write essays about each of these mottos but you can't carry an essay around in your head like you can a couple of simple mottos. As an entrepreneur, one of the keys to reading an obituary is to be on the lookout for the mottos that successful business people lived their life by.

Many obituaries have been written about Nelson Mandela since his passing. I don't have much to add except the observation that many admired him for his tenacity and persistence, he never gave up hope or his goals for a free South Africa where many would have given up after 27 years of incarceration. This lesson in persistence from Mandela's life is played out in the lives of many people who do not achieve the greatness Mandela achieved. To achieve anything significant you need to "keep your sleeves rolled up", otherwise you will not achieve what you set out to achieve. You can find your lessons in entrepreneurship from the death of exemplary people like Nelson Mandela, but you can also find them closer to home in the obituaries of those who have achieved success in your own local communities.

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Economix reviewed [Economics
Posted on December 2, 2013 @ 06:25:00 AM by Paul Meagher

This is brief review of a book I finished reading by Micheal Goodwin and Dan E. Burr called Economix: How Our Economy Works (And Doesn't Work) in Words and Pictures, 2012, Abrams Books.

This book is unique in that it provides a history of economic thought from Adam Smith to the present using comic art through out to explain concepts. The layout is like a comic book but contains instructive content about economics in each frame. This format was pioneered by Larry Gonick who is acknowledged as a big influence for Micheal Goodwin, although Dan E. Burr is the illustrator.

The artwork is top notch and very amusing throughout. If you have read introductions to economics you will still want to read this book because of the unique angle that a comic book approach offers to conveying ideas. Because I have read some introductions to economics the book covered some familiar ground, however, when combined with interesting artwork it renders the familiar new again.

Here is a sample of some artwork taken from the book's website economixcomix.com. The artwork in the book is black-and-white but a newer Greek translation of the book will be in color. The page below discusses the Marshall Plan:

The book is divided roughly into two parts. Up until page 199, the book seems fairly apolitical. However, on page 199 Micheal Goodwin announces his intention to offer up a more critical account of modern US economic history and thinking. From pages 200 to 291 the book covers US economics from 1980 to the present. In this section of the book, Micheal is very critical of Reganomics, Greenspan, the Fed, Wallstreet bailouts, the increasing gap between rich and poor, the Worldbank, and the Bush policies. In this section you may be a bit offended depending upon your political orientation, but again the combination of content and artwork is so good that you will nevertheless want to read to the end to see how the economic villains are caricatured.

The book is one that you will likely want to re-read or at least scan through again after you have read it once just to appreciate the fantastic artwork. I give this book two hearty thumbs up and if you are looking for a good book to give to someone for xmas who is interested in politics and economics, then you can't go wrong with this book.

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