The Contributive Business, Part 3.

Why is the Contributive business concept such a vital one? Why would I argue that it describes the most important project of our time? Because business drives economy, economy drives politics, politics drives the world. And the world is at a fork in the road. A dangerous one.

There are several aspects.

Environment. The truth of the massive and existential threat of the global environmental crisis is now almost entirely accepted: disputed only by ill-informed ideologues. What little credible dispute remains is focused on the degree of threat, the pace of acceleration, and whether or not we can do anything to ameliorate the damage done and prevent us from all going to hell in a handcart.

Threats to food and water security, and its consequent threats of famine, war, mass migration.

Global unfettered capitalism, which which has made the world less fair, more volatile, more likely to tip into chaos.

The reaction against liberal democracy, and against aspects of its bureaucratic structures and its economic power: a reaction which manifests itself both in the threats of fundamentalism and the threats of populism and the new right.

The speed of change in technology, particularly the internet and in AI. The pace of change has virtually overwhelmed us culturally and economically. From the high school to the high street, and from city to remote hamlet, everything about the way we communicate, shop, relate, decide, vote, has changed. We like to think we are in control. But are we?

The uncomfortable jumble of three (or four) generations: the baby boomers; Generation X; the people coming of age in the 21st Century (so-called Millennials or Gen Y, the oldest of whom will be 40 next year); and those born in this century (Gen Z).

Despite all of this extraordinary change, business persists, for the main part, in operating pretty much as it has done for the last 100 years and more. Of course there are technological changes. But the fundamental outlook of business remains to be Competitive. Business, large or small, in whatever sector, strongly tends to believe that what it must do is to WIN against its competitors.

But that outlook is no longer fit for purpose. The Competitive focus is about the past, about the way the world used to be. Business, and that means individual entrepreneurs as much as it does corporations, must refocus on the present and more importantly, the future. Business has only one option if it is to survive, and that is to become Contributive. That is, to make a positive contribution to society, to community, to the environment, to the world.

To fail to make that switch in outlook won’t be a simple matter of attracting fewer customers (although it will manifest itself that way initially), or even of making dwindling sales and lower profit (although that will quickly follow): instead it will be something existential.

If business fails to make a change from its single-minded focus on competing over to the new outlook of contributing, then business itself will fail.

Business cannot function in a world without air to breathe and food to eat. Business cannot function in a world torn apart by war. Business cannot function in a state of massive political and economic and migratory upheaval.

The young environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg told an audience at DAVOS 2019:

“Some people say that the climate crisis is something that we all have created, but that is not true, because if everyone is guilty then no one is to blame. And someone is to blame. Some people, some companies, some decision-makers in particular, have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. And I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.”

Greta is not alone. Generation Z is moving fast, growing up, thinking, speaking, changing, demanding change.

Generation Z don’t want brands to be loyal to. They want a future.

History will judge those who stand in the way of a positive change very harshly. Entrepreneurs, business owners, executives, start-ups, legacy brands, corporations, everybody in business, now has to decide (and fast) which side of history they wish to be on.

Simon Middleton, February 12th 2019

Simon Middleton