Thursday 7 October 2021

Let the force be with you


Every couple of months, it seems, a must-read book about business as a force for good is launched. Although we’d discussed topics such as sustainability in relation to our clients’ business back in the 1990s at Saatchis, the real eye-opener for me came in the form of a book called, simply Good Business, which came out in May 2002. Maybe I paid attention to this one as I knew the authors. Or because I had a toddler at the time, and was thinking a little more deeply about what makes the world go round and, indeed, what kind of world he’d inherit. Or possibly because, post-9/11, my own career was in danger of toppling into the abyss.

That’s all history now, and one of the book’s authors now runs a remarkably successful and Good Business, under that very name. I looked back at the book’s write-up on amazon, and found this: In this radical manifesto for capitalism, the authors argue that it’s time for companies to start becoming the solution to the world’s problems and stop being seen as the cause ...

Fast-forward through 2013 and Who Cares Wins by David Jones, meaningful brands, responsible capitalism, doing well AND doing good. And on to the Brand Purpose era, led by Good is the New Cool: Market Like You Give a Damn by Afdhel Aziz and Bobby Jones (I have always wondered about the “Like” in that title).

And this week, a new book (or maybe not just a book, but a movement) has launched: netpositive by Paul Polman and Andrew Winston, with the subtitle how courageous companies thrive by giving more than they take. The website and publicity for the book, sorry, movement, talk about the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the urgency for businesses to step up and work with governments and NGOs to tackle worldwide problems. There’s a net positive readiness test (I particularly like the thorny issue/elephant in the room which asks: Do you seek to pay a fair share of taxes that contribute to collective prosperity in the communities you operate in?)

I will read the book, which I hope goes into a bit more depth than the publicity material, which focuses rather on “runaway climate change and rampant inequality ravaging the world” when actually capitalism has made a huge contribution to the UN’s No. 1 goal “No Poverty” over the years. I am hoping for a reasoned argument of shareholder AND stakeholder responsibility. And why some of the tech companies who are hailed as shining examples still insist on building obsolesence into their products.

Hopefully, if we are talking about the world, the book will be translated into, for example, the Chinese languages and Russian, too.

I often wonder why, if we’ve been talking about reponsible capitalism for years, the same arguments are used by successive authors. Perhaps the clue is in the subtitle, and it’s about responsibility.

Companies aren’t courageous. People are

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