Friday, February 5, 2010

Doing Good is the New Measure of Success

That was the comment I put on one of my recent tweets, linking to a blog post by Umair Haque. (In case you haven't noticed, The Hourglass Blog is now on Twitter. Check us out at @hourglassblog.)

I've been reading Haque for a little while now, always finding him thought-provoking and often inspiring. He's a young guy--don't know if he's Millennial or GenX--but he's saying things that don't fit exactly with any generational archetype.

In What's Your Strategy for the Next Decade? he strikes a generally Boomer-tone, predicting the rise of a new "Age of Decline", much like Howe's Fourth Turning.

In Google, China, and the New High Ground of Advantage he takes a bold Millennial view, persuasively arguing that ethics are today's and tomorrow's competitive business advantage:

An ethical edge doesn't just build stronger brands, though added cred is a certainly a benefit. Rather, it lays new foundations for better organizations, markets, and economies:

-- It builds stronger businesses, full of more passionate people, who aren't deadened by their work.
-- It builds stronger purpose, striving towards a higher calling — not just a lowest common denominator.
-- It builds stronger strategies, more resilient to 20th century-style coercion and brinksmanship.
-- It builds thicker, more meaningful value.
-- It builds stronger management, more focused on the long-run.
-- It selects better investors — engaged, committed, long-run investors, not just speculators looking for a quick buck.
-- And it builds stronger economies, that can, instead of stagnating, enjoy an authentic prosperity

And in the post I tweeted, The Scale Every Business Needs Now, he develops that theme further, saying that business success in the 21st century will no longer be measured by how much product a company sells, but by how much good they do while selling it.

The real question for today's builders is: what are you going to do with that raw stuff? Are you going to use it to pump out more sugar water — or are you going to do something radically constructive instead? Are you going to do something merely innovative — or something world-changingly awesome?

The Millennials, they say, are all about this "doing good" imperative. They will demand that the organizations they work for do more than just make money. They want to be part of positive social change. That's generally seen as good for associations and other non-profits, because positive social change has always been seen as part of their turf. Doesn't it make sense that the Millennials will be drawn to jobs and careers in those types of organizations?

But Haque is saying that this Millennial ethic is not going to be limited to the non-profit world. He believes the for-profit world is undergoing a radical change--essentially that the way they measure success will begin to look more and more like the way the non-profit world does. Both worlds want to make money, but their reason for doing so seems to be coming into closer alignment.

I hope he's right. I think we all can see changes in the marketplace that are heralding this new approach to business--corporations adopting and promoting more socially-conscious practices and agendas. Whether this is wholesale change or the rise of another niche in the marketplace is not yet clear to me. But imagine what could be accomplished if both the for-profit world and the non-profit world adopted "doing good" as their measure of success.


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