Watch Season 2 Episode 1 of Conscious Business Leaders TV featuring guest Steve Wright as he speaks on “Social Responsibilities of an Entrepreneur.”
Excerpt from Social Responsibilities of an Entrepreneur
Indigo: So first, not everyone knows what someone means when they talk about social responsibility in a business context or any context. So how would you define social responsibility, let alone the social responsibilities of an entrepreneur?
Steve: To begin with, I actually find it a little, I don’t know.. let’s say annoying … that we have to put “social” in front of everything to differentiate it from those things that are not social. So to me, we tend to use that adjective roughly in the context of doing good. So it’s always interesting to think, what are the things that don’t use that adjective? So I try to, when I’m referring to business that isn’t social business, to talk about business that is financial business. I think it’s really interesting for us to think about what it means. What is business that isn’t sort of social business? We seem to be in a world… well, we are in a world… where we are valuing profit maximization, and so this idea that it is inherently good to maximize profit. And so you get into these equations that wealth equals worth.
And we actually have a whole lot of data now that that’s demonstratively untrue. Now wealth doesn’t mean not worthy either. So when I think about social responsibilities of business, I really think about sort of the social consciousness, or that one realize and brings with them their humanity in the context of doing business. Because the only reason why we have an economy is to serve humans and to maintain a good quality of life, to build individual agencies so that we can all make the choices to live a life that we feel satisfied with. So when I think about … someday, I would love to get to the place where we stop using the term “social” and when we want to talk about a particular type of business, we say “financial” business. But social business is just business that’s designed to increase the quality of our lives– through the products, through the profit, through the process of working there.
Indigo: Okay, but there’s also an interesting … the other part of the term is responsibility. What makes it a responsibility? What is the responsibility aspect?
Steve: So again, it’s one of those things where I think it’s interesting when we.. so we talk about things like corporate social responsibility, and that’s often sort of a department that sits off in the corner of a lot of companies, and that’s the thing that they feel like they’re supposed to do. Often there are shining examples of extraordinary companies that do wonderful things in their communities, but often corporate social responsibility is this thing that they do that fits inside of their advertising and their marketing budgets. And so, it’s always interesting to me that corporate social responsibility is a choice.
So again, if you are not socially responsible, meaning you are not responsible to the society, to your community, because we are all humans in businesses, if you’re not responsible then what are you? You’re irresponsible?
Indigo: You know you are raising a really good point, because what you just said, “Who are we in business?” We are humans in business, and isn’t there some responsibility that we have to one another, simply as humans?
Steve: Absolutely, definitively there is! That is the baseline.
Indigo: And so, I think that maybe the disconnect then … and tell me what you think about this… is that when people move into the business sphere, there is this thought that who they are in business isn’t suppose to be who they are in day to day life. That they are suppose to kind of put on the responsibilities to the shareholders and all of that, and that that’s actually their responsibility.
Steve: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s by design, and I think that that design is flawed and we’ve now seen the havoc that it has wrecked. The reason why our economy was in such a mess, and continues to be precarious, is because we have lost a sense of logical value. There’s a whole lot of economists who refer to our economy as a casino economy right now. There’s a wonderful quote by (“Of course, I’m gone blank on the name.”) where he talks about the job of a businessman is to sell shoes and no financial man would ever understand the context of selling shoes, because he only understands the context of making money. And so we’ve gotten to this place where we’ve forgotten about the quality of the shoes, to use the metaphor, and we’ve only paid attention to the amount of the money.
Indigo: Okay, so interesting thing when you give that example, my first thought is…
Steve: Drucker. Peter Drucker
Indigo: Okay. Thank you. So, another really great thing that you just said is the quality. The joy that you get from making a quality product and seeing someone wear the shoes that you made and seeing them come back to get more of your shoes a few years later, that also gets lost in the process. It’s funny because, this is the thing that I have with the word, “Responsibility.” Is it a responsibility or is it a privilege?
Steve: A privilege for what?
Indigo: To be socially responsible, for your business to be able to be something that truly contributes to the public good, whether it’s by putting out a quality shoe or giving water to people who need fresh water. Isn’t that more of a privilege than a responsibility?
Steve: I guess, I’m okay with the term responsibility, but I want it to be more, almost more mundane, more ordinary. We all have a responsibility to each other, because we are members of humanity. We only get there together. We can’t get there alone. And we have a responsibility to each other, and it’s only through recognizing that responsibility that we get where we need to go.
Indigo: Yeah, I want to ask a question also. I see Walter’s question here: “Knowing who you are and what you are about is the base value for your business.” That’s not a question, but he’s contributing that to the conversation.
Steve: I think it’s dead-on. So often we hear … especially where I am roughly in Silicon Valley… about entrepreneurs who start some tech company and sell it months later from millions of dollars. And for me, the question is always, where is the actual value within that context? What did the person do? What did they bring of themselves? It’s just money in so many of those contexts. People always accuse me of being anti-capitalist and that’s absolutely not the point. I truly believe in a market-based economy, but I believe that the best market-based economies are those that are sharing real value.
Indigo: Yeah, and Rachel is also making a really good point over in the comments. She’s saying, “Privilege suggests that there are decisions that are discretionary, versus mandatory, and thinking responsibly should be sort of table-stakes for business.” That’s a term I’m not familiar with, but I assume it means foundational.
Steve: Rachel, that sounds dead-on, I totally agree!
Indigo: Yeah. And I guess it goes back again to what we were talking about earlier … we’re talking about being human. So can we say that we have a responsibility in business to go on being human?
Steve: Within the context of our business.
Indigo: Yeah, and that whole word, that term, “it’s just business.”
Steve: I think that’s where we need to be. Yeah.
Indigo: Okay, so let’s kind of shift a little bit, and what I’d like to talk about is, what does it look like? And obviously, it could look like a lot of different things, but if you could give us some examples. Let’s say, my business was not socially responsible, and at some point I become aware of this idea, and I say that I embrace that responsibility. What are some common first steps that the business might take?
Steve: That’s a fair question. So if where you started was that you’re a business that is not socially responsible, then you’re a business that’s irresponsible. So you are extractive; you are lying; you are abusing of the environment; you are abusing of your customer. And so, I think one of the things we don’t do when we talk about social business and good business and those sorts of things, is understand that good business principles… and these are old things, these are like what Peter Drucker taught in his management paradigms… that good business principles stand against bad business principles, which have to do with being extractive. And this is why the market crashed in 2008, because we had people doing illegal things, extracting money out of the economy without providing a commensurate value.
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