Every industry has a culture in motion – but emerging industries are a unique case. Between the regulatory unknowns, sudden influxes of cash, and the rush of opportunists that follow it, a “Wild West” kind of culture can become the default for many start-ups in industries from cannabis to blockchain and from artificial intelligence to renewable energy.
In times of crisis, a healthy industry culture has never been more important. Facing unprecedented financial and operational challenges, business leaders must rely not only on the strength of their company but on the resilience of the industry as a whole – its inclusivity, its trustworthiness and its constructive adaptability. The Wild West will not withstand this challenge.
There will always be opportunists who come in when the industry is hot and go bust at the first sign of trouble. But for those of us committed to the long haul, two options remain: either turn inward, enduring the crisis in isolation and praying you’ll make it through, or exercise true leadership by doubling down on the tactics that will strengthen not only your business, but your emerging industry as a whole.
When you run a business in an emerging industry, it is essential to understand the conditions and history that have come before you. This is particularly true in cannabis.
Cannabis has a centuries-long history of medicinal and spiritual use, with a cultural context that spans the globe. It’s much more recent history centers on politicization, criminalization, and unjust enforcement. Remember that each milestone in this long history has helped shape your opportunity to have a cannabis company in the first place.
This crisis is yet another inflection point in this history. While many in our industry are labeled as “essential businesses” during lockdown, tens of thousands of people are incarcerated on cannabis charges, facing some of the worst outbreaks in the country.
It is our responsibility as participants in this history to understand and communicate it, promoting truth and nuance in the face of stigma, misunderstanding, and opportunism. Do your homework, then ensure that your colleagues share this awareness, appreciation and connection to what you all are working for.
Start From Within
Learning alone is not enough in this context – building an industry culture requires active participation. Join in the movement by educating and building trust at the foundations of your company.
Today’s circumstances are extraordinary; however, they are not an excuse to stop the work of creating the best company that you possibly can. In this time of uncertainty and chaos, build trust into your mission, and lead your team by example, emphasizing the importance of education, diversity, transparency and accountability.
While employees are working from home, keep open lines of communication, lead with empathy, and find new opportunities to connect and learn from one another. Supporting professional development and encouraging all team members to contribute ideas during this transition are important ways to show everyone that they are valued and trusted.
Claim Your Voice
With your internal work begun, turn outward to be an advocate among peers and with the public. In-person gatherings, events and conferences may be on hold, but emerging industries have likely never been in greater need of mutual support and collaborative leadership. Use this as an opportunity to get creative. Even during this time of social distancing and tightened budgets, there are concrete and inexpensive ways to leverage your platform, make connections and educate others in the industry and the public.
With each of these choices you actively help to shape the progression of your emerging industry, infusing it with trust, stability, and vision. By strengthening the industry as a whole, you help to ensure your success and longevity within it – becoming a strong trusted voice and building relationships with your customers and community. Your actions during this time will be remembered.
These steps should be a pillar of every responsible cannabis company in any circumstance. But there may never be a more urgent time to focus on our culture than now. A rising tide mentality is absolutely vital for our collective survival while companies struggle to stay afloat amid chaotic supply chains, reduced staff, and financial volatility.
By getting out into the world, even if just virtually, and continuing our efforts at education and advocacy, we raise the profile and develop the character of the industry that we all want to succeed. Now is the time to show our communities, our customers, and our partners that we are not just fair-weather friends.
Always remember, in any emerging industry, that we are the people who genuinely care. The ones who bought in. Opportunists aside, those of us engaging in responsible entrepreneurship can leverage our platform and influence for real and concrete good. It will be a longer road to build community, educate and advocate, but ultimately this is the work that will make the future of the industry.