As business owners, we’re always looking for ways to deepen our impact and make a difference with our work.

Recently I attended the Amsterdam Business Forum: The Impact Edition and want to share the key takeaways from the event.

Some key themes that were repeated throughout the day were: trust, transparency, freedom, impact, honesty, change, feedback, and action.

As always, it is so good to get out of the day-to-day and be able to look people directly in their eyes. The morning started strong with hot coffee and tasty pastries as the people streamed in.

Once seated, we were soothed by the melodic voice of Celine Cairo. I wrote down a line from her opening song because it moved me so deeply: “I found a light at the bottom of the sea and I took it with me.” 

Host extraordinaire, Jim Stolze got us warmed up and awake which was enhanced by his holographic mirror suit.

There were so many inspiring speakers, I won’t mention all of them here. For the most part, I’ll focus on three main speakers and their corresponding tracks of: impact business, impact culture, and impact leadership.

Let’s get into the concepts and ideas that were shared with an eye toward how you can use them in your business.

Impact Business: Moral Ambition

Rutger Bregman’s talk was about moral ambition. And he started off by asking us what we are doing with our privilege. 

He believes that the greatest waste is the waste of talent and that the answer to this problem is having moral ambition.

Time is precious and limited in quantity so action is needed now.

It seems that although almost everyone is aware of the problems that we face, action is in short supply.

He introduced a four-quadrant model and invited us to focus on work that is at the intersection of ambition and idealism. Work that can deeply change people’s lives.

He said there are three ingredients to this kind of work. First, redefine what it means to be successful. Second, focus on maximum impact. And third is relentless prioritization.

When prioritizing use these three criteria: 1. Is it important 2. Is it neglected (not many people are addressing the problem) 3. Is it tractable (can progress be made).

And he stated that trying isn’t good enough and that being a ‘noble loser’ doesn’t help the situation.

He said, “In the fight against injustice, winning is a moral duty.”

And if you’re thinking that this doesn’t sound like something you could do because you believe certain people are born for this kind of work, Rutger said, “Moral ambition is not a character trait. Moral ambition is a mindset. Moral ambition is an infectious mindset.”

Find the issue you want to begin to solve and ask people to help you, many of them will.

Impact Culture: Freedom, Dilemmas, and Context

Erin Meyer talked about organisational culture and how to create an environment of reinvention. And even if you don’t have any employees, you are creating a culture with your work and how you innovate in your business.

She invited us to think in terms of dilemmas instead of absolutes. Rather than declaring that it’s one way or not at all, it’s better to describe the context and the situation. And then be guided by which direction you want to lean on the continuum.

The good news is that excellent performance is contagious. The bad news is that poor performance is also contagious.

Erin talked about the ‘Keeper Test’ in relation to employees. Small business owners can use it for partners, contractors, even clients.

This is the test, if a person in question came to you and told you they no longer wanted to work with you would you feel: A. Devastated or B. Relieved?

That feeling can guide you in the right direction for making your decision.

And if you want to grow as a leader, ask for feedback. It’s not always comfortable and it’s worth it.

The big takeaway was, “Freedom is the path to responsibility.” Give freedom to get responsibility.

Erin was speaking about larger organizations. And since you are a business owner, I suggest you take this message to heart and remind yourself that you have the freedom to design your business into anything you can imagine.

Impact Leadership: Resilience, Experimentation & Focus

Maryna Saprykina shared moving stories of Ukrainian grit and resilience.

Her work is focused on supporting Ukrainian women entrepreneurs in this deeply difficult time. Her goal is to reach one million women.

She spoke about five keys to empower your business.
1. Speed – how quickly can you make decisions when the external situation changes.
2. Big objective – this isn’t always about money.
3. Values – how far will you go to uphold your values?
4. People and families – this includes mental health.
5. Customers – focus on meeting their needs.

Tim Ferris sat down on the stage with Ernst-Jan Pfauth for an interview. Here are some highlights from that conversation.

Experiment on a small scale. If you have an idea for something new, test it out for a couple of weeks in a low-cost, easy way.

When learning new ideas from a conference, podcast, or book – take notes and then make a list of action points from what you learn.

Don’t get stuck on the ‘personal development treadmill.’

Take action, don’t use learning more as a way to procrastinate.

A good leader makes important decisions even when they aren’t popular. He said, “Being a leader is hard and uncomfortable.”

Great leaders focus on big things, not details.

Batch activities like meetings and interviews on a certain day of the week.

Tim shared a great metaphor for this, you don’t do the laundry every time you have one dirty pair of socks. You wait until you have enough to do a whole load.

Every quarter go away for a few days for perspective and space to think.

Feedback is a gift.

When asked about how to delegate more Tim said that when delegation fails it’s usually the boss’s fault.

He mentioned the concept in the book, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, and how important it is to be impeccable with the agreements.

Tim suggested when delegating to give the ‘why’ and ‘what’ but leave the ‘how’ up to the person to figure out. Because you create dependency when you try to control the how.

When asked for his recommendations for leaders he mentioned, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, the books Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford and The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill by William Manchester, and the Fall of Civilizations podcast. 

He said it’s all the same story.

Wrapping up the day was Typhoon (Glenn de Randamie). 

He presented an inspiring combination of song, rap, and spoken word.

Glenn shared that not knowing is part of the process. And also said, learn to ask the right questions. And listen to each other, simply listen.

He shared his mantra, “It’s not about me. But it comes down to me.”

And the final takeaway, “Be brave in your discomfort.”

Whew, it was a full day. I hope some of these ideas resonate with you and you feel motivated to take practical action.

I’m already excited for next year’s program on September 27, 2024 where the main lineup includes: Brené Brown, Adam Grant, and Joseph Oubelkas. 

If you’re feeling inspired by any of these ideas and plan to implement them, you’re welcome to share them in the comments below. 

I respond to every single comment.

Stephanie Ward

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