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The Quick & Dirty: The Future of Business is in the Past

Henk Campher headshotWords by Henk Campher
Leadership & Transparency
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I breathe. Mostly oxygen but some other stuff too. I do this constantly. That tells you everything you need to know about me, right? Oh yes, I also have arms, legs, eyes and all that body stuff we humans are so into. Would that make you date me? Of course not. Why? Because it tells you nothing about me as a person. It doesn't tell you anything about my purpose, my values, or my impact on you and everyone else.

Now imagine you’re a business saying that its reason for being is to maximize profits for shareholders. That tells me you’re a business that sells stuff to make a profit. But do I feel loyal to you and want to have a long-term relationship engaging with your products or services based on that? No. Why should any customer care about your profits when you care nothing about what they need? This might come as a shock to you, but no one buys your product because you want to make a profit.

In order to find the purpose of business, we must look to the past.

Why do you think millennials care so much about values? Because businesses somehow lost their reason to exist, and now people are starting to look for the values they share with your company because it is mostly absent. Back in the "good old days," it wasn't a question to ask. It wasn't something to look for. It was right there – expressed by the handshake of the store owner, in the active role that a business took to ensure that community’s overall welfare and progression. You, Mr. Business, started and succeeded because you understood what your customers and community needed. And that connection translated into a strong and loyal relationship where you looked out for each other.

Fast forward to today. We live in a world where we are surrounded by snake oil sellers or businesses that tell us their purpose is to maximize shareholder value. You, Mr. Business, have lost your way because you started to focus more on yourself than the community that ensures your financial success. You’ve lost your purpose. And, with 42 percent of Americans reporting they would pay extra for products and services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact (and even more outside of the U.S.), you’re missing a huge opportunity.

But don't worry, we can still date. All we need to do is find that spark that started it all -- that space where your purpose and your social impact made you the perfect date. To do that, you must get back to your roots to remind yourself why you exist. I think you will find that it wasn’t so much about money to begin with, but the love of doing or creating something that would ultimately help others. And by doing it, you help yourself. Profits with impact.

There is a very scary part in this search for meaning. You might go back to your roots and realize that you just simply don’t have meaning in the world of today anymore. You might be selling snake oil instead of the goodness from where you started. But if you dig deep enough into those roots, you will find the answer of why you are still relevant to the world of tomorrow. Take coal as an example. It was a great way to energize the development that society so desperately needed in order to advance. Who knew that those same fires would slowly choke us today? But it was never about coal – it was about providing the world with the energy to advance. Go back to those roots of your social impact and reinvent your products to be true to your roots. Be that business with a social impact that matters to society again.

Brands with meaning: a novel idea as old as the roots of business itself. Now that is a social impact we can all applaud. Go back and advance.

Image credit: Flickr/mlhradio

Henk Campher headshotHenk Campher

A series of quick & dirty opinion pieces by Henk Campher out in the Wild West of San Francisco. Disrupter of purpose. Engineer of big ideas. Slayer of myths. Social media junkie - @angryafrican. He never wears ties. Ever. But always wears an accent with a strategy and opinion in his back pocket. Please note this series will not focus on individual companies and any reference is purely to provide color commentary. He wrote a book once.

Read more stories by Henk Campher