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BFS Capital Blog

International Franchise Association Convention: Peer Learning at its Best

March 4, 2013

Earlier this month I was listening to a broadcast on the popular Internet talk show CRITICAL MASS: Coast to Coast. Dedicated to the power of peer-to-peer learning for business, the show is hosted by Richard Franzi, founder and CEO of Critical Mass for Business and an authority on the power of peer learning.

Peer-to-peer learning. I began thinking about the whole concept and what it means to small businesses in the age of technology and information. But then, a few days later, I saw another terrific example of peer-to-learning—this one more low-tech, but every bit as effective and amazing.

Small businesses are involved in various forms of peer learning every day, most of the time without realizing it, as we surf websites and attend webinars. Other sectors, like education, have long fostered peer-to-peer learning. And in business, things like roundtable forums have been practiced as an effective method for sharing information, collaboration and problem solving.

The ‘Critical Mass’ radio show features various business professionals who share their unique insights and advice from their own business experiences with other interested business peers.  In this case, the guest was Bob Hennessey, president of My Marketing Dept., Inc. Hennessey described his interview on ‘Critical Mass’ as a great example of how technology has put peer-to-peer learning within reach of virtually any business:

“The Internet has opened up new channels of communication distribution for peer-to-peer learning unimaginable and unaffordable up until now. We were flattered to…share our thoughts, insights and expertise on small business B2B marketing to national audience of business peers…”

Later in the month I attended the IFA (International Franchise Association) annual conventionin Las Vegas. The speakers were impressive—including keynote speaker Dr. Condoleeza Rice—and the break-out sessions, informative and thought-provoking. But what impressed me the most was experiencing the interaction of the franchisees and franchisors themselves.  This was peer-to-peer learning—and a type of it that should never go away.

In business, we’re taught to be competitive and hold our cards close to the vest. And rightly so, when the stakes are the very business itself. But I started wondering if these aren’t concepts that are more relevant in the corporate world…as businesses grow larger and more complex and the stakes become higher.

There’s something about small business owners coming together—and in this case, the unique subset that is franchisees—that automatically fosters a spirit of cooperation and collaboration. They work in the same trenches and understand each other’s challenges.  While they may be competitors, in most cases, they aren’t directly. So they tend to share more openly and demonstrate a tremendous amount of empathy.

The peer-to-peer learning I saw at IFA was based on the almost-quaint principles of doing business that include directness, honesty and my-handshake-is-my-word mentality.  This approach transcended individual interests to serve the broader interests of the group.  This wasn’t an ‘every-man-for-himself’ event.

I was captivated by the many warm and sincere exchanges among this group, and for all the opportunities that technology-based peer learning affords every small business owner. I’m hoping low-tech peer learning continues to stay alive and well.

Image courtesy of the International Franchise Association. For more pictures from the convention, visit the IFA 2013 Annual Convention Web Album.