Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Business Will Change the World, chapter 4: If you won't buy it...

Business is the most powerful force shaping our lives, so this chapter asks: How do we guide business to do more good and less harm?

I believe that this question is one of the great callings of our moment in history. If we can aim the unprecedented power of global business in the direction of progress, and I believe we can, then we might not only avert a number of potential crises, we will also make enormous improvements in the lives of billions of people.

So, how do we do it? First the general principle, then the strategy:

If we don't buy it, they won't make it. And if we do buy it, everyone will try to make it. Business is that simple.

When you purchase a product you fund the entire supply chain that got that product to you, from mining, drilling and logging, through design and manufacturing, to transport, wholesale and retail. You give the CEO his allowance.

And so that very same CEO and his counterparts in companies all over the world spend billions of dollars trying to figure out what you and your friends want, hoping to make the types of things you will buy. So if we come together and send a clear message that we will only buy products that uphold our values, companies will fall over themselves to make them! And the clearest message you can send to a company starts with a dollar sign.

Telling a company that we don't like their labor practices but continuing to buy their shoes sends a clear message: "We want your shoes regardless; don't worry about it." And likewise, telling a company that we love their commitment to the environment while not buying their dish soap does nothing to pay salaries and keep the lights on; it tells them that we don't care. Money is the language that business listens for in the market, and it's the language that we must use in order to be effective in guiding business.

So the lesson is simple. Continually shift your purchases towards the more ethically and environmentally sound companies and products, reinforcing their good practices and drawing their competitors into that space.

Of course, if only you and I do this it won't make a difference. We need masses. This is where the principle must be breathed into a powerful strategy for success. I believe that any effective strategy here is going to have three components: stories, leaders, and tools.

Stories: If you're reading this you likely understand the importance of guiding business to do better, but many people don't. They don't feel a connection with or responsibility for the history of the products they buy - the people and environments that are affected both positively and negatively. We need great storytellers to capture and relate the fascinating, emotional, human stories behind our products, in all their immeasurable buoyancy and desperate tragedy. Films must be made, books written, songs sung, until millions realize the huge opportunity and responsibility that we have to improve our world.

Leaders: This is going to be a big, controversial, chaotic movement, and I believe it will grow exponentially over the next 5 years. We need passionate, self-assured, single-minded leaders to stand up and guide this growing community towards effective action. The great principle of their leadership will be partnership with business, finding and supporting the great businesses and encouraging the others to catch up. This focus on progress will give hope and energy to the movement, and financial incentive for businesses to listen.

Tools: Right now it costs people a lot of time and effort to find businesses and products that uphold their values. But it doesn't have to. The technology exists to make this as easy as pulling out your cellphone and scanning a barcode. I've been working on a project called WikiChoice to do just that, and there are different projects around the globe with similar aims. We need the best minds, the most talented programmers, the most visionary technologists to devote their focus to these tools. The right tool is going to change the world. Can you build it?

Right now, and while you sleep tonight, and tomorrow and every day and night thereafter, businesses all over the world are going to be building the future of this planet. You have power in that process. We all do. And now is the moment in history when our influence on business is most critical. Business is changing the world more boldly than ever before, and it needs our values to guide it towards progress. If we rise to that challenge we will turn the most powerful force in the world to the work of our common values: fairness, compassion, and respect for the earth. Let's do it together.

[I'm working on one of the starting points for this movement. Check back soon for more info.]



Blogger Kyle said...

james.love it. keep it up. i enjoy reading your work.

3:29 PM  

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