Typically, a knock on the door means one of two things: an obnoxious salesperson or a Jehovah’s Witness. To be frank, I’m not sure which one is worse. But on the off chance that you decide to answer, you could be met with a more pleasant third alternative: a member of your local Girl Scouts organization. Commonly associated with (delicious) cookies, they also offer vital business lessons that we can all apply.
To start, the Girl Scouts offer an inclusive platform by which young girls learn valuable life skills, such as public speaking, teamwork, and entrepreneurship. The latter is particularly important in the modern economic landscape. Although women have made substantial inroads toward owning and leading companies, these stories still rank in the minority. Thus, the most effective way to shift the paradigm is to adopt generational strategies.
Fortunately, the Girl Scouts are leading the charge, affirming future female leaders by giving them the same business skills that society has readily taught boys. Since small businesses represent the engine of the U.S. economy, more girls trained in entrepreneurialism is a tide that lifts all boats.
Furthermore, the Girl Scouts have a proud tradition combating injustices head on. Earlier in the 20th century, many troops were formed to include girls of color and those with disabilities. In World War II, Japanese-American Girl Scouts received association support during their internment, refusing to abandon their sisters even if their country did.
After integrating during the 1950s, the Girl Scouts became what Dr. Martin Luther King described as a powerful “force for desegregation.” It’s from this honorable heritage that I present the following seven business lessons.
While the Spice Girls may have coined the phrase “girl power,” the concept has been around since the first Girl Scouts troop. What it means is to have moxy and put your feet to the pavement.
One of the most important business lessons that we can ever learn is initiative. Yes, it’s important to map out your entrepreneurial goals. Additionally, you’ve got to make sure that your endeavor is fiscally feasible. Not knowing the numbers – and especially your numbers – can quickly devastate your company.
But at a certain point, you must take that leap of faith. As any successful entrepreneur will tell you, you can’t account for every variable. Part of life is rolling with the punches.
Thus, I really appreciate what the Girl Scouts are teaching our future leaders. Rather than focus on all possible permutations, just take the initiative and go! That’s girl power and it’s something that applies to everyone.
Trusting and Valuing Your Team
In the pre-digitalization era, one of the most common business lessons that college professors taught was location, location, location. Even in modern times, some retail categories – such as the restaurant sector – rely on this advice. Moving forward, though, a recurring motif is people, people, people.
For kids who grow up without organizational training, it can be difficult for them to relate with others in adult life. And let’s face it: the proliferation of smart phones and social media apps have done nothing to help matters.
Fortunately, the Girl Scouts are still steeped in their tradition. Therefore, young members learn early on how to communicate with others across various demographics. This builds teamwork and trust, lessons the scouts will apply for a lifetime.
The takeaway here is that people – not assets nor organizational systems – are a company’s most valuable catalyst. Build an environment where they can flourish, and you’ll have a quicker pathway to success.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
For many young girls joining a troop, their first time out on the field must have been intimidating. But this is also among several key business lessons they’ll learn: you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone.
I learned this at a relatively early age. During my junior high school days, I was one of maybe three Asian kids grossly outnumbered by virtually every other demographic. After two years of enduring racist abuse, I became extremely self-conscious.
Thus, when I graduated into my freshman year of high school, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with my English teacher handing out public speaking assignments. On my first go-around, I blundered badly.
It was then that I realized that I cannot let racist dimwits dictate the trajectory of my life. There was only one way out: run headfirst into the lion’s den and give ‘em hell. I did exactly that to the surprise of many.
Later, my English teacher selected me as one of four candidates to head a school-wide debate.
Learn to Embrace Rejection
Sometimes, life sucks. This is one of the reasons why parents give their children a hamster. Sure, there are companionship and empathy aspects which are vital for later adulthood. However, the most important point is that hamsters have short lifespans. Here, children can learn to process death in a constructive way.
Similarly, the Girl Scouts offer their members one of the most pivotal business lessons: processing rejection and eventually, embracing it.
I’m not entirely sure what the rejection rate is for Girl Scout cookies. But one thing I do know: the success rate is certainly not 100%.
First of all, a scout faces obstacles even before she can make her sales pitch. The other person behind the door may think she’s a Jehovah’s Witness, and not even bother answering. Even if the door opens, there may be myriad reasons for a no: the subject is stingy or is trying to lose weight. Whatever it is, rejections hurt.
But rejections also lead to acceptance. Because while the success rate is never 100%, the failure rate is also not that high either. To get to that sale, though, requires rejection. Embrace it now, and it gets much easier later on.
Have the Courage to Do What Is Right
Although the Girl Scouts are one of America’s most treasured institutions, like the country, it too has a checkered past. As I alluded to above, the organization was — up until the 1950s – racially segregated.
Now, I don’t mention this to point fingers as the U.S. unfortunately has a litany of historical wrongs. But what makes this country so great (again) is that it honestly seeks to do what is right. Regarding the Girl Scouts, their legacy does not end with segregation but has instead carried the torch for inclusivity.
As Smithsonian Magazine points out, the Girl Scouts evolved from a privileged, all-white institution to the dynamic force it is today. As a result, today’s members can look back with immeasurable pride that their organization fought Jim Crow laws, advocated for women’s suffrage and fiercely backed the Civil Rights movement.
In other words, the Girl Scouts at various times in history recognized social injustices and responded with actions. Though they absorbed near-term pain, they established a long-term legacy.
It may not be easy to do the right thing. To be blunt, it might cost you. But in the bigger picture, you will never regret it.
If You Got It, Flaunt It
Despite my own experiences with bigotry, I’m not a fan of affirmative action. Penalizing people because of their background and social status makes as much sense as penalizing tall, good-looking people.
According to a recent Business Insider article, sociological data indicates that “Attractive people get paid more, get considered for more jobs, and have stronger social skills than unattractive people.” I get it. Life’s not fair. However, using the government to implement parity would be nothing short of disastrous.
Moreover, no one should ever be ashamed of who they are and the natural-born advantages they may have. I believe this is an especially important lesson for women entrepreneurs because too often, society holds female behaviors to a double standard.
You know what? I truly believe the Girl Scouts know this and that’s why their cookie sales are so successful. Personally, I don’t have a problem saying no to a boy. I justify it in my mind as toughening them up for a brutal world.
But saying no to a little girl? I just can’t do it. However, I’m fine with using cuteness and even gender as a sales tactic. As long as you’re not going overboard like the cheaters of the cheating Houston Astros, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little gamesmanship.
The Most Important of Business Lessons: Never Give Up!
Too much of society now is focused on the get-rich-quick narratives. But for every entrepreneur that retires at age 19, there are tens of thousands that continue to struggle in anonymity. Even worse, there are those who discouraged to the point of never bothering to step up at all.
If that’s you, let me give you a word of encouragement. You are never too old and never too late to positively change the course of your life. And if you’ve been fighting without results, fight some more. Part of success comes through advantaging opportunities that arise. But those opportunities will never come if you’re not in the game.
Of course, this most crucial of life and business lessons is not exclusive to any one organization. That’s because this fortitude is what separates greatness from mediocrity. So, whether you’re Girl Scout or Marine Corps or somewhere in between, never give up. You just never know what tomorrow might bring.
A former senior business analyst for Sony Electronics, Josh Enomoto has helped broker major contracts with Fortune Global 500 companies. Over the past several years, he has delivered unique, critical insights for the investment markets, as well as various other industries including legal, construction management, and healthcare. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.