From Impossible to Obvious
There’s a great story about Christopher Columbus after he returned from America.
He was at a fancy dinner party, with the nobles and aristocracy discussing his accomplishments.
They were not overly impressed.
Their view was that someone was bound to discover the land, so it’s really not that big of an achievement.
Columbus was annoyed, so went for the “Show, not tell” approach.
He grabs some eggs from the kitchen, and challenges everyone at the table:
Can you make an egg stand on its end?
As you’d expect, the guests all spend the next few minutes fumbling around, trying in vain to balance their eggs.
They then declare the challenge impossible.
Columbus very calmly grabs an egg, and gently taps the bottom against the table.
This creates a concave fracture, a small dent in the base of the egg, but it doesn’t break.
Now the egg, with its little flat base, stands up straight, to the delight of the guests.
These things are impossible, until you’ve seen them done, then they’re obvious.
I love that story. I hope it’s true.
It reminds me of the social enterprise/impact investment industry.
What we do is allegedly impossible.
You can’t make money and help society at the same time. Everyone apparently knows that.
Until a few brave pioneers do it, at which point it will be declared obvious and become the norm.
Here’s my prediction for the market’s responses, in chronological order:
-You can’t do it
-Well that one doesn’t count
-Those are just special cases
-Well yes, those work, but they could be done differently
-These cases work, but they should be better
-What do you mean you have no impact strategy?
-Can you believe how exploitative businesses used to be? What savages!
The people who have turned the impossible into reality probably won’t get the recognition they deserve. Their contributions across the “Pioneer Gap” will be taken for granted.
This kind of business, this kind of investment will become mainstream and possibly even unremarkable. Eventually the Commonwealth Bank will have a range of impact funds – that’s when you know things changed.
We will adjust quickly, and think nothing of it…until we catch glimpses of how far we’ve come.
It will be a weird feeling; like the kind you get when you accidentally leave your phone at home. You’ll wonder how things worked without it.
Much like Columbus, our job is to show and not tell – to give demonstrations rather than sermons.
We just can’t expect too much credit once it’s deemed obvious.