On the outside looking in: The pain (and strength) of exclusion

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Canadian Museum Human Rights
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg
Canadian Museum Human Rights
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg

It’s a painful feeling — finding yourself on the outside, behind a barrier you cannot break. Your competitor is on the inside, with a highly profitable, sweetheart deal (for the competitor) with an organization that advocates and expresses (and sincerely respects) business ethics. So, for the matter of the rules, the competitor has played by the rules — the well-run and honorable organization has managed to successfully put itself in the position where it can use the rules to secure its place so well that it has created enough business value to justify a healthy buy-out by another business able to project profitable revenue streams well into the future.

I can’t name names here. This wouldn’t change the circumstances and in any case the only failure is my (historical) failure to seize the opportunity — or create it — when it was available some years ago. Life is life. It isn’t right, I might think, but it is the way it is.

Business isn’t always fair, of course, And, in fact as business owners, it is our responsibility to make things unfair — within legal and ethical boundaries of course — so that we have a competitive advantage. There is little value in the race to the bottom with negative auctions or chasing totally open and widely publicized “low bid wins the job” circumstances. If you have structured things so that your client organization truly feels well-treated and has absolute satisfaction in the value received (even if the value might be highly profitable to your business and a competitor could make good money, still undercutting you), then you’ve done your job well. You have achieved genuine business success.

But what do you do when you are the outsider and see these circumstances playing out in front of you? Scream and yell, “there is a better deal out there”, try ticks and end-runs to draw a wedge in the relationship, or otherwise raise a fuss? Or, conversely, run away — there are greener pastures elsewhere, other opportunities, and places to explore. Can you appeal either formally or through informal means to higher authorities? Sometimes these strategies have value, and occasionally they are successful. Of course, trying to knock a well-run competitor down may not help your business in the long-run. The insider almost always has the advantage.

I’ve decided to accept my place, within my community and areas where I can have some influence and respect (and do some really good business, as a result.) It may not feel good as an outsider looking in, but, wait, I’m not a total outsider. I can attend the association’s national conference with my expenses reimbursed, and even sit at the same table and have a courteous chat with the competitor at the group’s social evening. Maybe at some point the organization that paid a healthy price to acquire the successful competitor’s revenue stream will buy my business after I apply the lessons learned here, elsewhere.

It may be ironic that in another situation, I’m in the rare place of the outsider who managed to break back in — one of only a tiny number worldwide. The resulting status (and stature) has created worthy opportunities, though I know the story in this place cannot be easily replicated. Other outsiders cry “injustice” and frequently beg, plead or implore for a second chance. I  answer them with respect, a listening ear, and possibly suggest a way forward. But they aren’t getting in.

These thoughts went though my mind yesterday as I visited (on a free pass) the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, where stories of discrimination, prejudice, hate, denied opportunity, and sometimes redemption are shared and reflected. The museum is controversial. Respect for human rights can be, at the most fundamental level, be the foundations of our civilization, but this respect has, through the decades, been perverted, distorted, misrepresented, and abused. We often are selective in our judgement and can see the same story from truly different — and often conflicting — perspectives.

It is time to head to the airport, returning home after a week away, four days in my original home (Vancouver) visiting my siblings, and four days at the national association conference. I’m thankful for my opportunities and respect my competitor’s success. Sometimes you can’t have everything you want, but you can find joy and value in what you have. It is a good life.

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