Using Business To Do Meaningful Things
In the recent article Things That Actually Matter we looked at a range of important topics and issues that should take up the bulk of your energy and attention.
They might not be the things that fill your calendar at your office job, but they’re what should fill your life if you want to make a positive difference.
We also touched on the idea that there’s a lot of topics and specialisations that are simultaneously a waste of your life, and potentially are the way you can change the world.
e.g. Branding and logo design for an office supply company = wasted life, whereas branding and logo design to promote good causes and change people’s attitudes = satisfying career.
In essence, these topics and trades are not meaningful pursuits in themselves, but can instead be harnessed and redirected towards things that matter.
This is the heart of what we mean by blended value – a business that uses the productive elements of business to become both successful and impactful.
Not a business that waters down its profits, or which underperforms while relying on sympathy.
We’re talking about a good idea, one that solves a functional job and begins to address important issues, like environmental sustainability or providing meaningful employment.
This uses all the strengths that a well-run business can offer, without selling the souls of staff or customers.
Not to dismantle the machine, but to redirect it.
Tesla want to make electric vehicles desirable, driving customers away from petrol dependency.
Keep Cup want to be better that a flimsy disposable cup, reducing what we throw into landfill.
Who Gives A Crap want to be a fun, thought provoking toilet paper, that recycles old paper and gives funds to projects in developing countries.
Kwale Cotton want to create higher incomes for Kenyan families, helping them educate their children and improve their standards of living, whilst also supplying to Cotton On.
In each of these cases, they are staffed by teams of people who want to use practical skillsets for higher purposes.
They’re not just looking for a comfortable-yet-mundane job, they want to contribute to something interesting, something with substance.
When people hear terms like “Social Enterprise” or “Company Values”, they tend to expect underperformance.
There’s an assumption that this is a nice little charity business, that couldn’t possibly compete with a real institution.
Being social is not a hinderance – not unless you get lazy.
Instead, a social mission drives people to work harder and run the business well.
There’s too much at stake to get complacent.
This works to the customer’s advantage.
If the business cares about what it sells, the materials they use, the people they employ and where their profits go, then chances are that they’re also going to deliver a seriously good product or service.
In the same way that we joke about hipster baristas with their manicured beards and colourful tattoos, we also know that they’ll take their coffee seriously, and for our benefit.
Working in a social enterprise brings the commitment to do right by all involved – to focus on making a profit, but not to sell your soul in the name of profiteering.
We’ve previously examined the three ways a business can create impact;
By selling a beneficial product or service, by making good choices in where they source materials and staff, or by how they structure their finances.
e.g. selling LED lightbulbs, using reclaimed materials for furniture, or giving ownership/profits to good causes.
This gives you a remarkable amount of flexibility in how you make your work more meaningful.
You aren’t forced to give money away, but rather can use your skills to train others or promote important messages.
In that regard, impact isn’t an industry, but a way of using your skills to do something helpful.
This means we need people who are experts at their craft, but who aren’t distracted by vanity.
In other words, people who are really good at something but who aren’t obsessed or egotistical.
Social enterprises need the talent but without the distractions.
They need great logos, but not design awards.
They need good salespeople, but not commission-hungry sociopaths.
They need good accountants, but not manipulative money politics.
If you find yourself drawn to the social enterprise movement, you’ve picked a fascinating and rewarding industry.
The tricky part is finding the right balance – refining your professional skills, without falling in love with the material prizes that drive your corporate counterparts.
You might not end up with a Maserati in the next five years, but you get to spend your career doing something meaningful.
Are you keen?