Ernesto Sirollo is an amazing man. For decades he has roamed the world helping budding entrepreneurs find the resources they need to launch successful businesses. Mostly he operates in remote locations working with local people who never thought of themselves as entrepreneurs. He helps rural farmers in Africa improve their farms so they can produce enough to both feed their families and sell and so improve their farms further…and their lives, helps craftsmen turn a personal love and expertise into a thriving business, helps fisherman figure out how to get a premium price for their catch.
He’s figured out how to help regular people take what they know and use their own resources to turn it into something better that leads to increased production, better sales and marketing, and thus, increased income and all that leads to for those in marginal economic situations.
Some years ago he wrote a book, Ripples from the Zambezi:Passion, Entrepreneurship, and the Rebirth of Local Economies. This book describes his experiences in Africa. In a recent article by Sally Helgesen in Strategy + Business, The Entrepreneurship Coach, she shares some of Sirollis’s ideas and his three essential messages about economic development.
“First, all effective development ideas need to come from local people rather than ‘experts,’ no matter how well-meaning or informed these experts might be. Second, most efforts to motivate people are fruitless; rather, those trying to help local enterprise must wait until entrepreneurs ask for help, then connect them with the resources they need. And third, entrepreneurs should never be encouraged to act in isolation on their dreams, because doing so will increase their chances of failure and cause them to question their own capacities.”
Forget the experts and ask the local people, those who know most about what they want and need. Forget about trying to motivate those who aren’t interested and focus your efforts on helping those who want help. People don’t succeed on their own but need to build a team around themselves.
As I read these three simple ideas for building successful entrepreneurs, it struck me: these are the same mistakes so often made in the business world. Bring in experts to give you the solution…without involving those who know most about what’s going on and what they need, waste lots of effort on motivating everyone rather than building a crew of people who are looking for and welcoming support. Praise and reward an individual for something which required a team to do.
This leads to a very simple idea: listen. Forget all the consultants, just listen to your people. They know what they need. They know what is working well, and what isn’t. They know when they need help. And by listening and addressing what you hear and then supporting and enabling them to get the advice and tools they need to succeed, they will. No outside motivation required.
Much wisdom remains hidden and unspoken for a simple reason. You never asked.