Eleanor Rigby

Be Value-Adding : Connecting with Your Community

Eleanor Rigby
Be Value-Adding : Connecting with Your Community

What does it mean to be be Value-Adding? And how can we uplift our community and become involved members through our personal authenticity? Treat this blog as a workbook, asking yourself critical questions in each section such as, ‘how can I?’ Let’s link our own wisdom to a new business strategy.


Imagine you want to open a business in a town where everyone is poor, there is no electricity and everyone is illiterate. What type of business do you open, why and how do you get customers? (Having an assumption and being aware of your assumptions is part of the critical thinking process)


Connecting with your community begins with a thorough reflection on your own business’s identity. Understanding and viewing itself as part of a larger ecosystem and creating strategies to develop personal relationships with your customers as well as other businesses. Through all this, you’ll be able to see the Return on Investment (ROI) the community seeks from you and what you can provide. Finally, as Responsible and Accountable Businesses, we go back to self reflection on identity. Where do we stand now? Considering these new insights, what view have we developed for a future strategy?


Communities are stakeholders in a business, meaning they have an interest or concern with our company. Our Grand Rapids community is a large part of our business’s integrated ecosystem involving all stakeholders; customers, coworkers, co-creators, partners, investors and Earth. We need to serve all in a holistic, healthy way because the imbalance of the relationship with one stakeholder effects all the others. If we pollute the local waters, the community creates an uproar and gives our company a poor reputation we must combat. If we don’t treat our employees fairly, they may quit and we have to deal with the financial loss that comes with a high turnover rate, loss of customers and less return for investors or back into our business.

We need to shift our thinking away from “my business” and other, “community.” Businesses are not solid structures. The building walls and parameters we place on them don’t actually make us separate from others, they are simply illusions we collectively agree upon to make distinctions between self and other. Businesses are made up of community members who integrate the essence of who they are both at work and at home. As a result, businesses feel and respond to the impact of shifts in culture and values. A business is dependent on and responsive to each stakeholder group. We can completely reshape our perspective, plans and actions for developing a relationship with our community when we see ourselves as nested within it’s larger ecosystem. 


Get Personal! The best way to connect with customers is to build deep relationships, tap into and develop their capacities, and provide something that’s a unique fit for them.


Almost everything we see around us was born in someone’s mind and created into physical forms. Don’t underestimate the importance of creativity, we are all creative beings. The ability to imagine separates human brains from that of animals and thus is the basis of our progression. Many companies don’t, but it’s important to designate time for creative thinking and experimentation. Really, the purpose of our business is to add value to the lives of everyone in the community, which can be accomplished by formulating opportunities for building creative capabilities in others and ourselves. People want connection and thrive in situations where they can contribute in a meaningful way and develop their own capacity. So, our businesses aren’t only about products and services we want to provide, but also about offering products and services that give people the opportunity to serve others in their own creative, meaningful way. How do we facilitate people building their own capacity and provide opportunities for them to also serve? “Get people connected to how they’re affecting real lives and they’ll find a way to make those lives better,” Ken Wessel, P&G, (Sanford, 2011).


Cities thrive when people have purpose in the specific work they do and are able to make relationships based off that. This makes us more motivated to do good and contribute authentic caring in the products or services we provide. We make deeper, more personal relationships with our customers and thus are better equipped to develop products that personally enrich their lives. We have hopes and goals for ourselves and a sense of identity and we purchase things that contribute to our aspirations, not simply because we want them. Strong meaningful work leads to strong personal relationships and more customized and valuable products and services for all. The personalization that is born from your business’s unique essence and identity cannot be replicated, our personalities and unique combination of values and thoughts are like fingerprints.


Cities and businesses can develop mutually beneficial atmospheres. Connecting with you community also means connecting with other businesses within the city. In connecting with local businesses, you should aim to develop the capacity of your city and your industry as a source to thrive. 


Furthering industry and collaborating with competitors is not only connecting with your local community but it is also necessary for development. Companies actively seek competition. We may feel an obligation to share positive impacts, as I do. External imitation is also flattering and increases moral and motivation. Furthermore, when companies share production needs and open standards, it drives the cost of producing material down (Kanter, 2015). So, meet other business owners, share ideas and develop initiatives together. For better or for worse, we are also forced to follow the market to stay competitive. “Philips and Sony independently developed optical disc storage technology, then worked to agree on standard for the discs and data storage protocols for them. The resulting open standards led to success of the compact disk (CD) for audio recordings and data storage, with hundreds of billions sold” (Sterman, 2015). Nothing really competed with the CD, everyone adapted to this open standard technology, until social media formats such as Napster were developed and further technology gave way to DVDs and it’s ultimate successor, Blue-Ray. 

Collaboration doesn’t mean you are noncompetitive, it strengthens the competitive arena. You can see this in the automotive industry. The more companies came together to develop green standards, the bigger the eco-friendly market became, leading to larger demand. Your competitiveness comes from your own essence. Collaboration means that you have a strong chance of being the most progressive player, leading industry standards and staying ahead of the curve vs. singularly competing companies developing technologies or strategies on their own. It benefits you to stay connected with trends and work with other to establish a stronger market you can all flourish in. 


Understanding our community’s history, identity and culture is also important because it helps us to align our own business’s identity and offerings and set us up for greater success. This allows us to see the ROI that a community is hoping to receive by hosting our company in it’s city, further allowing us to identify creative ways to fulfill it’s needs and further unify it. Cities thrive when businesses and community members feel united under a common theme, a shared sense of belonging. The stronger, more unified a community is, the more like-minded people are drawn to it, thus creating a larger profitable pool.

There are designated organizations within the city to determine, develop and promote a city’s theme. Businesses do well when they are aligned with the city’s common thread of interest and contribute to it’s development. For instance, Boulder, CO’s slogan is “It’s Our Nature.” Boulder has a very strong community that is bonded over the natural beauty of the place. They care a lot about preserving nature and taking advantage of the outdoors. Companies are attracted to Boulder and set up their headquarters there because they are attracted to this unique culture and thus are able to thrive and in return produce things that contribute to the people’s interests. Their key diverse industries reflect their slogan, they include Bioscience, Clean-tech, IT/Software, Natural Products and Outdoor Recreation. 

Similarly, when a city is not centrally connected to, what is usually a historical theme, the community becomes more divided. Businesses may leave due to loss of market and the city may fail to instate initiatives that could further develop benefits for the community’s members. They don’t have a strong sense of what a return on investment might look like to community members which can degrade it’s economy and makes it difficult for companies to know exactly how they can most beneficially elevate the city. You may notice that cities on The Top Most Desirable Places to Live and Visit lists have a strong connection to and well know identity. Such examples are Portland, Oregon, Washington D.C. and Austin, Texas. We have an invested interest in developing strategies that further develop the city’s identity and bond it’s community together. 

What is the culture of Grand Rapids? What is it’s history? What are the people of Grand Rapids interested or concerned with and how do you know this to be true?

The slogan for Grand Rapids, MI is “Motu Viget,” latin for “Strength in Activity.” Grandrapidsmi.gov explains, “The three-color logo incorporates the sun in yellow, the Calder stabile in red, and the Grand River in blue. The logo provides a uniform symbol of the City of Grand Rapids. It enables the public to recognize City services and programs.” The sculpture, commissioned to artist Alexander Calder, resides downtown and is a symbol of the city. It is called La Grande Vitesse which is translated to mean “the great swiftness”, it can also be translated as “Grand Rapids.” Clearly, the Arts is a major symbol of the city and the Grand River unifies us. Our nicknames are “Furniture City” and “Beer City.” Slogans and nicknames also create economic value for a city because they help travelers and businesses to understand the identity and decide if they are attracted to it. 


Communities invest their unique identity and nurturing atmosphere for particular types of businesses through it’s culture (Sanford, 2011). We all seek to pursue happiness and thus are motived by and attracted to things that bring meaning and value to all and provide an opportunity for meaningful contribution in return. This is the ROI that communities seek. We want a nice place to live, positive relationships and opportunities of interest and growth. We want opportunities that provide us with a chance to fulfill our own sense of purpose and aspirations. You see this in cities such as ours that have a strong connection to supporting local. This provides an opportunity for community members to give back and nurture an environment for more small businesses to open. We develop initiatives that further this development with organizations such as Local First and various entrepreneurial development programs, and such as this seminar that we are in. According to Carol Sanford, author and college leadership professor, we accomplish providing ROI by “providing guidance to and support leaders who operate from and develop understanding of and connection to place” (Sanford, 2011). This also goes back to the importance of connecting with competing businesses and industry leaders. On a day to day basis, we accomplish ROI by aligning our businesses with the identity of the city in which we operate and developing relationships. Uplift people and organizations who can uplift the culture. Communities give us their cultural environment and want us to make it a better place in return. 


Too much standardization of products and operations take away the identity of communities and create what author James Howard Kunstler titled his book to be “The Geography of Nowhere,” so let your creativity, personal fingerprint, and innovation shine, (Kunstler, 1993). Through your products and offerings, help the community develop and grow through it’s own cultural essence. Think of ways to allow members to contribute their own creative input because this fuels motivation, diversity and innovation. Again, we are motivated when we feel we are helping people and even more motivated when how we help them comes from our own creativity and essence. Being Value-Adding requires you to consistently reflecting on your identity and offerings, responding to cultural shifts and implement ways to improve or relate to your community. These are the steps we need to take to accomplish all of this. First, collaborate with and support people and companies that are also adding value to the community. Fully integrate your business so that it serves the purpose of uplifting the community as a whole and creates a healthier ecosystem. Identify the culture of your city and align your business with it’s values. Operate in ways that elevate people and companies to a higher level of functioning by developing deeper relationships. Finally, to compete the cycle, start again with evaluating your business’s identity and do all this with real caring and original creativity coming from a place of purpose. 


I have a strong belief that speaking out loud and writing ideas down help to discover new ideas and lead to a stronger sense of direction for your next step. Consider the following questions thoroughly and uncover patterns in your own thinking and how you can start to think outside the box.

What is the culture of your business’s co-workers, co-creators and customers?

Since the community is a stakeholder that is looking for a return on it’s investment, what do you think is your unique contribution that the community wants to gain by having your company in it’s city? What do you offer that no one else does? People are concerned with their own needs and desires, how do you fit into their lives in a way that no one else can?

What are you responsible for providing to the community to make sure it feels it is getting a return on it’s investment by hosting you? 

How can you better serve the people in the community and how can you convey that to them? What would you say? How would you physically reach people to explain your offering? 


Banter, Rosabeth Moss. (2015). “How Purpose-Based Companies Master Change for Sustainability,” Leading Sustainable Change. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. 

Kunstler, James Howard. (1993). The Geography of Nowhere. United States: Simon & Schuster.

Sanford, Carol. (2011). “Community Capital and ROI,” The Responsible Business. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Sherman, John. (2015). “Stumbling Towards Sustainability,” Leading Sustainable Change. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. 

City of Grand Rapids. (2018). “Facts and History: Symbols of Grand Rapids,” grandrapidsmi.gov. Available at <https://www.grandrapidsmi.gov/Government/City-of-Grand-Rapids-Facts-and-History#section-3> (Accessed December 2018). 

My Critical Thinking Answer: Transportation connects people to people and makes trading possible. It is essential to the economic development of any civilization. Bicycles are good specifically for local transportation, have a low environmental footprint and are relatively affordable to the masses. I would charge people to run errands for them.