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The false dilemma in business

Better Decisions For Entrepreneurs

I once met Professor Yunus, the “banker to the poor” and founder of Grameen Bank, in person and got to chatting.


That wasn't hard given how active the Nobel Laureate has been in attending events and conferences on social entrepreneurship for many decades. What was special for me was one thing he said that stood out (paraphrazing):


If you want to be a social entrepreneur, find a social ill that you want to cure, but also find a way to make money. Don’t rely on donations and sponsors, be self-sustainable. Make it work as a business. Be a business person AND a person with a social mission.

Be both.


Much like we do about many things in life, we tend to think in a binary way about profitability and social missions. We think it’s either the one or the other. But that’s a false dilemma.

False dilemma (aka binary bias)


People tend to simplify complex issues by viewing them in binary terms—such as good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, or true vs. false. For example, we may ask,


Is dark cocoa healthy or unhealthy? But there are no healthy vs. unhealthy foods, since foods exist on a spectrum of nutritional value, and individual dietary needs vary based on health conditions, lifestyle, and personal preferences!


Are you a believer or a denier of climate change? But a range of opinions exist regarding the extent of human impact, best mitigation strategies, and adaptation methods.


So what?


When we think in binary terms we ignore the nuances that characterize a situation in full, and the spectrum of possibilities in between. We oversimplify situations, reducing them to two mutually exclusive categories and thus we fail to consider any intermediate positions.


Binary bias makes things easier to “understand”. But it takes a toll on the quality of our thinking and our creativity in coming up with effective and innovative solutions to problems. For me, it’s one of the main determinants of success, however you may measure success.


In entrepreneurship and business, just like there are no healthy vs. unhealthy foods, it’s not about a choice of socially-responsible or profitable. You need to be both simultaneously or else chances are you’ll fail to be either.


Now, that’s much harder said than done. But it’s not impossible.


Now what? Being both


If you’ve ever been to a Barcelonian supermarket, you may have noticed this distinct yoghurt brand.

La Fageda is a dairy cooperative based in Catalonia, Spain. It was founded in 1982 by Cristóbal Colón with the mission of providing meaningful employment to people with intellectual disabilities and severe mental illnesses.


What do they produce? A range of high-quality dairy products, including yogurts, desserts, and ice creams, which are well-regarded in the market.


How do they do it? La Fageda primarily employs individuals with intellectual disabilities and mental illnesses, integrating them into the workforce and providing them with dignified employment opportunities. Employees are involved in various stages of dairy production, from taking care of the cows to producing and packaging yogurt and other dairy products. To support them in their duties, the cooperative also offers comprehensive support services, including psychological counseling, social services, and occupational therapy. At a community level, they work closely with businesses, schools, and organizations in the Garrotxa region to promote social inclusion and raise awareness about mental health issues.


What can social entrepreneurs learn from them? La Fageda has successfully demonstrated that a business can be profitable while fulfilling a social mission. It provides stable jobs to over 200 people with disabilities and has created a replicable model of social entrepreneurship that balances economic viability with social impact.


What can all entrepreneurs learn from them? Their unique approach to entrepreneurship highlights the potential for businesses to be profitable while driving positive change by prioritizing the well-being of their employees and customers. By making responsible decisions not just for today but also for tomorrow, taking into account the far-reaching impacts of the way they choose to operate.

P.S. What’s a binary thought that's keeping you behind?

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