The Act of Listening



The life of a business does not read like a strategic plan. It unfolds as things are discovered along the way. – Bill Barnett, Stanford Graduate School of Business

In the school of business especially when you run a start-up (a business or civic experiment tested on a small scale with potential to rapidly expand), one must learn to listen. This is because an entrepreneur is unknowingly juggling many balls in quick speed.

How to keep costs low; how and when  to expand volume; how to turn profitable; how to ensure that impact is sustained; when to scale and not scale; how every customer will be happy and become one’s unpaid evangelists; and also to meet aspirations of donors and investors and excite them to keep doing more.

Life itself is never stagnant, it is moving relative to a position. So if entrepreneurs or businesses are not really moving, others are moving ahead and keeping them in the backward position. For instance, a business can sit on a pile of cash happy that it is the key to the future. However, what if its business model is disrupted and new revenues cease? What if after the disruption by a newcomer, it has to start spending fast to catch up? What if all the cash is gone in a twinkle?

However, either in that speed of life or sense of comfort, an entrepreneur must take time to listen and examine everything that counts.

 I got a mail last week from one of BudgIT perennial impact investor. It was not the type of mail you get that serves you ice cream or makes you revel in those grand ballrooms of Windsor. It was a long mail that makes you think deeply what exactly are we doing.

  I came to that question, what really are we doing in BudgIT. Yes, we are trying to educate the people on the budget. Yes, we are thinking if citizens become more aware of public finance that can ask intelligent questions from their leaders and demand accountability. Yes, that we can gradually through sustained citizen demand, reform government and make it work for people. But built into this gospel of ours are lots of assumptions. There is also the wide scope we are tinkering with. We must consider what are we changing – the entire government? Who are we reaching – 170m people?

 Where are we in that long stretch and how many people do we need to raise their awareness to force government to reform and change? Will government ever change? Can we do this all alone? Should we settle for a small dent and slip into that traditional NGO mode of communiqués, press releases and workshops?

I believe that after building the enterprise, engineered through rigorous thinking, an entrepreneur must pause, listen and reflect it all. Lest you laugh to your joke, listen to your dying song and in the end drink your Kool Aid.

 As an entrepreneur, listen to the customers, peers, mentors, veterans, failed people in your field, investors and critics of any hue. The lifecycle of a business is that of continuous evaluation lest it stops to exist. Rigorous examination that agrees to dissent is needed to every functional segment of life. Those who accept criticism or listen to dissent are guaranteed an efficient lifecycle. An entrepreneur must both be a rigorous thinker and a listener and ready to sprint to action upon conviction.

Listening (not reading) to that email forced me to call for a strategy retreat for BudgIT. This will not be a stock-taking exercise of past glories or dancing in the klieg lights of new dreams but how we rethink why we are here. Why we need to rework our scope, our beneficiaries, our approach and impact model. It is part of the lifecycle – a moment to listen, pause and reflect.

 Loren, thanks a lot for the email.

 Image from