Deadlines are important, especially for entrepreneurs. They keep us in line and productive, rather than just busy.
We set deadlines because we believe they represent a reasonable amount of time to complete a project. And maybe they are aggressive, in order to push us to move faster. Good stuff. Some deadlines are set in stone, non-negotiable, for good reason. But many are quite arbitrary.
Regardless of who is setting the deadlines, it’s important to remember their purpose. They exist to motivate us and help us achieve our goal.
If your primary goal is to finish the work on time, check it off your list and add it to your list of accomplishments, meeting the deadline is the goal. But if your goal is to create something extraordinary, you’ve got to adapt accordingly. Sometimes that involves going over your deadline. A lot of people prefer to play it safe. If nothing else, at least you were on time.
I’m not driven by a desire to finish the work, collect achievements, beat the competition or finish first. I’m driven by the desire to create something extraordinary. Something artful and soulful. Something that will make people smile.
If you’re not willing to adapt or watch for the opportunities, you’re prohibiting yourself from experiencing something profound. Be wise. Measure it out. Weigh the consequences. But don’t compromise your work. Art is rarely the result of strict adhesion to deadlines.
Too my times I’ve worked on projects where people were so caught up in meeting the deadline that they sabotaged an opportunity to create something extraordinary. So often, rather arbitrary deadlines compromised the work just so we could ship it out the door and be finished. I don’t want to be finished. I want to contribute something beautiful to the world. Most of the time, that last little push past the deadline is where we find that beauty.
I’ll stay within the parameters of a deadline all the way up to the point where it starts to interfere with the art. Then it needs to adapt organically. People stress out so much in their determination to meet the deadline and that stress greatly inhibits their potential to create art.
Meeting a deadline can feel gratifying at the time. But if it compromises your art, is it really benefiting anyone? A week after your deadline, what will your audience care about most? Punctuality or extraordinary art?
The act of caring should be a traded commodity. It’s the energy that drives any successful company or relationship.
If you care enough, you’ll do your best. If your care enough, you’ll realize from time to time that your best isn’t cutting it, so you’ll study more. You’ll learn from others that are operating at the level you believe you need to operate.
If you care enough, you won’t settle for anything less than excellence. You’ll make sure every detail is covered. You’ll ensure that relationships are handled with care because you know that is paramount to your success.
And of course the opposite is true as well. The lack of care always results in a deficit of all of the wonderful dynamics I’ve just listed above.
Someone should start a school that teaches people to care. Caring should represent the most extensive part of an interview process. Caring should be the thing we care about most.
Caring deeply typically results in a commitment to excellence. The more you care, the better your art.
If you care enough, you’ll figure everything else out and ensure that it happens. And if you don’t, you won’t.
People tend to run from competition, often to the extent of attempting to squelch the success of their peers. They fear their methods or designs will be copied or vanquished. This contributes to a lot of undue stress and counter productivity.
Fashion is a $298 Billion per year industry in the US. Consumerism is already turning towards more ethical and earth friendly production methods, as well as hand crafted goods. There’s plenty of pie out there for all of us.
Ethical Fashion is in its infancy, at best. Even those producing similar products are far from saturating the market. There is much to be done to prove ethical production methods can yield equal or greater results than that of more predominant exploitative business practices. The public will need more than a few successful examples before becoming believers. We need our peers to succeed as well.
Furthermore, competition breeds quality. If I design a necklace and my competitor designs a better one, what do you think I will do next? The absence of competition fosters mediocrity.
I can choose to view competitors as a threat, or a vital collaborator; my choice. We welcome the opportunity to work together to educate the public, build a more robust market and challenge each other to create better goods.
Besides, we don’t have the budget for the amount of publicity we need to impact the image of Africa. Knowing there are hundreds of other organizations out there proving the viability of our business model and contributing to the growth of our market brings me a lot of comfort.
*As a testament to our practice of collaboration, we will partner with 5-10 of our biggest competitors to produce an ethical fashion show and pop-up shop in February. Details coming soon at keza.com.
If I’m a photographer working in Africa, I’m going look for the most mind blowing and disturbing images I can capture. That’s my purpose. I gather pictures of starvation, disease, filthy hospitals, rebels with guns, dictators with gold plated vehicles and children with distended bellies and flies on their faces.
I will use these photos to expose the plight of Africa and advocate my cause. More tragedy results in more donor funds. Let’s face it; the race for donor funds is quite competitive in the midst of a recession in the US. If I want my pictures to do any good, they better capture the worst and most compelling images I can find.
We’re living in a time where the media is constantly pushing the envelope with new levels of violence and tragedy. It’s become a competition of sorts. Whoever is more shocking wins, and it takes a lot to shock society these days. We see a similar dynamic affecting the humanitarian world.
But what if the most beautiful images won? What if the media depicted Africa the way they do Australia or the United States; as a destination for beauty, adventure and rich culture? How would that change the world’s view of Africa? How might this effect the number of tourists and investors coming to Africa?
This is obviously a bit idealistic, but why not? At some point, the beauty of Africa has to be more attractive and compelling than its demise. It’s time for a paradigm shift in how we represent the Mother Land.
For many years, KEZA has focused on what the aid world refers to as the “poorest of the poor”. It’s become another buzz term like “sustainability” or “capacity building”. These terms help attract volunteers, donors and public awareness.
However, we’ve recently taken a step back to reanalyze our methodology. There are thousands of entrepreneurs all over Africa that have been working diligently to develop their businesses to the point of sustainability. They have thrashed, suffered and pushed through the hardships and their business is plugging along, but they still can’t quite get over the hump to profitability.
These entrepreneurs have proven their dedication and certainly deserve our respect and attention. If their businesses grow beyond mere sustainability and really start to thrive, they have the opportunity to really make an impact in their community, beyond just serving their personal needs.
A thriving entrepreneurial business means a larger capacity to produce, which means more employees needed and more products being exported. If these products are superior in quality and style, that leads to positive press in the media and a lot of public attention. All of these things help to fuel a brand of excellence and beauty, resulting in a heightened image for their country.
In short, we’ve realized that if we empower the entrepreneurial sector to grow their businesses, they will employ the poorest of the poor, export more goods, do it with excellence and help fuel an image of excellence for their country. That image compels investors, business people and tourists to visit and invest in their country.
There are many ways to serve the developing world. We (KEZA) believe empowering the entrepreneurial sector plays a vital role in creating a solid foundation, built on indigenous businesses.
The Rwandan women we serve are former prostitutes. They’ve been beaten, raped and oppressed to a point where the only viable method for supporting themselves and their babies was to sell their bodies. Society regularly humiliated them to the point that they believed they were worthless.*
It would be easy for us to tell that story all over the world, knowing it would pull on heart strings and likely compel people to donate or buy products. This methodology would certainly be in line with typical aid agency tactics for support.
One day I was talking with one of the pioneers of this initiative named Virginia. I asked her what she wanted me to tell the people about her experience with KEZA. She said “I am no longer known as a prostitute, I am known as a successful business woman”. I literally broke down in tears.
That prompted me to ask all of the women how they wanted to be represented to the world. It’s astonishing how seldom this question is asked of aid recipients. Every woman stepped forward and said something along the lines of “we don’t want to be known for our past, we want to be known for who we are now”.
If you constantly treat someone as a charity case, they are likely to limit themselves accordingly. If we branded Africa as a bastion of beauty and excellence, we might see more of it coming out of her. People may begin to believe in themselves. She’s experienced decades of aid agencies telling her she’s unworthy, inept and incapable of excellence; that she needs their help in order to survive. How would that make you feel?
We need to flip the switch, start believing in Africa and brand her accordingly. It might just become a self fulfilling proclamation.
*You will never hear these stories in KEZA promotional materials. We committed to only telling the stories the women wanted us to tell; the ones of beauty and excellence. We would never use their past to garner funds. They deserve better than that.
Four years ago we set out to build businesses in Africa for poverty stricken women. We had three major goals.
- Create locally (African) owned businesses that provide lucrative careers, resulting in income and dignity.
- Set a higher standard and example of a quality products and a preferred brand.
- To do it all so well that it attracted more outside investors to do business in Africa as well.
Now we’ve created a solid business in Rwanda, fully owned and operated by Rwandans. But in the US we are still a non-profit. As a non-profit, we are unlike a business in that we are not subject to profit and loss. Therefore, anytime we (or the Rwandan business) make a mistake, we just buffer it with donor funding. Therefore, we are not a business, and we have failed to achieve goal #3.
What is the #1 focus of a business owner? Profit. We can’t simply remove the most fundamental facet of a business and still claim we are a business. If we don’t make a profit, we have failed.
I’ve filed the paperwork and KEZA will officially be a for-profit organization starting January 2010. It’s our responsibility to push the envelope and now we’ve got to kick the training wheels off and do this for real.