An interesting conversation with a local independent bookshop owner sparked an inner dialogue with myself and I about our attitude to a changing world.
Someone had seen an advert for my book, The Art of Contribution, in a local magazine and called me to say that it would be good for the local bookshop to stock my book as they like to support local authors and the authors’ books can then, in turn, help keep the shop in business and support the local community.
As I am all for a ‘win-win-win’, I called the shop but rather than appearing to be pleased to hear from me, or interested in my book, one of the first thing the shop owner asked me was, ‘Who did you publish it with?’.
I answered that it was self-published, through Amazon.
“Aaah”, she said, “That’s a problem.”
‘Oh, really? How is that a problem?”, I asked somewhat taken aback.
“Well, they put us out of business as independent shops!”
“Hmm, ok”, I said, “I see that’s a challenge for you. What would you have liked to have seen instead?”
“You should know that there are other publishing options and two big companies in the UK that give you just as good a deal.”
“Aha, I’m afraid I wasn’t aware of all the options”, I said and then shared why I decided to take the route I took. “Still, it would be great to reach the local community too and I am more than happy to make a deal with you where we can all benefit”, I added.
“Yes, but then the markup has to be enough!”
“Of course”, I said, “I understand that it has to make business sense. So let’s start there and see what is possible.”
“It got me thinking about businesses, a changing world and purpose.”
When we started looking at the facts, we agreed that it could work for both parties and we made an agreement. As we finished the conversation, I was feeling ambivalent about the call and it got me thinking about business, a changing world and purpose.
When I used to work in recruitment, we were constantly faced with changing economics and when the economics changed, our focus and therefore our strategy changed. If you couldn’t do that, you would struggle as a business.
Yes, it was really tough and uncomfortable at times, as it pushed us well out of our comfort zone. It meant we needed to be more creative, think outside the box, and it also required another essential ingredient – hope, i.e. the belief and the knowledge that times always change and that there will come a time when it gets easier again. You cannot fight what you cannot influence. Those who fought change and continued to do the same thing didn’t make it. Those that did make it were fully aligned with their purpose, serving their clients and all stakeholders, including themselves, the best way they could in the given circumstances.
“It was a clear example of how being in survival mode is not a healthy connector.”
Going back to my call with the independent bookshop owner, I wondered why I was left with such an uncomfortable feeling after we talked. I realised it was because, during our conversation, her focus had been on her fear of not earning enough money. In other words, on the possibility of going out of business. Her purpose was SURVIVAL. A very understandable response when a business is struggling, but I realised that it isn’t one that is necessarily empowering and engaging, nor exciting and enticing. Instead, it felt as if the heavy weight of responsibility for her survival was forced on me. It was a good lesson on how being in survival mode is not a healthy connector.
Although we agreed on a deal, I just didn’t feel excited about it. Not because of the small earning potential, but because I wasn’t interested in a rescue mission. Instead, I would be a lot more engaged in a mission where we could create value for all stakeholders, i.e. the community, the shop and the authors. In this instance, she had left out the customers as there was no interest in whether the book would create value for the potential reader, and she had also left out the author, i.e. me.
This story made me think of the film You’ve got mail, where Meg Ryan plays the character Kathleen Kelly who is the owner of an independent bookshop. She loses out to the big book giant that opens up around the block, run by Tom Hanks’ character, Joe Fox. Kelly had inherited the bookshop from her mother and she absolutely loved it, as did the community but, still, the shop didn’t make it. All the effort and energy went into fighting AGAINST the big bad wolf as they tried to survive. The question I ask myself now is, did she love it enough to change her approach in order to make the shop thrive again and/or did the community love it enough to pay the price difference? Would it have been different if she had put her focus on fighting FOR a thriving shop?
Those are interesting thoughts and there are no answers (yes, no or otherwise) to these questions because we would need to talk to them to find out. As it is a film (that was really about a love story), we will never know, unless we decide to write the script! However, the questions might be helpful for the bookshop in question, as the shop owner finds herself in a similar position with Amazon being the big bad wolf.
“The only way we can thrive rather than survive in this changing world is by first of all accepting what we cannot change and then use our energies to work with ‘what is’ in order to make ‘what is’ better than it is.”
How to increase the value for the community so the customers will be happy to spend a little extra? How to keep your focus on possibility? Why is it important for this shop to exist beyond the shopkeeper’s own survival? That is a key question.
The challenge with running a business in survival mode is that our actions tend to come from our fight, flight or freeze response. It runs our brain from a place of fear, ie from a place of powerlessness and lack rather than empowerment and abundance. Such a focus cannot help but have an effect on the business and the way we connect with the outside world.
Of course, the bookshop story is a mirror for all our lives, including mine. The only way we can thrive rather than survive in this changing world is by first of all accepting what we cannot change and then use our energies to work with ‘what is’ in order to make ‘what is’ better than it is as we write the next chapter in our lives.
I am only too aware that sometimes this is easier said than done as we feel overwhelmed by the challenges we face. One thing that helps me get through these times is to be fully aligned with why I do what I do. Rather than move away from the fear of the closure of a chapter, whether a bookshop or anything else, I need to be connected to something that will give me the vision to write a new one.
For me to be able to do that, I first need to know what is most important to me and, second, choose to believe that life is full of miracles and that we do not always know what is in store for us as we take our next steps into the void of the unknown. This encourages me to stay focussed with an open mind and helps me to have the wisdom and courage to know when it is time to close one book and when I am ready to open another.
If you feel it is time to recalibrate your life, by exploring and expanding what is important to you, you can contact me here or email me on Ann@TheContributionEvolution.com. To find out more, go to www.TheContributionEvolution.com/love/
Ann Skinner is a life and leadership coach and the founder of The Contribution Evolution, a catalyst for authentic living and leadership, helping individuals and leaders to explore, expand and evolve their work and lives as they recalibrate before taking their next steps.
Ann is also the author of the best-selling book, The Art of Contribution – a Companion to Living a Meaningful Life. Her book shares the five elements that contribute to our ability to be the difference. More about the book HERE. When she finished her book, it opened up another chapter as the creator of ‘The Contributionist’ and she now shares a daily moment of inspiration through her ‘A doodle a day keeps the doctor away’ series with her followers on Instagram and Facebook.