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Civic Responsibility and Innovation
Submitted by skastrul on 2012-09-24T09:47:37
I read an article in The New York Times entitled, “Why Our Elite Stink,” by David Brooks, about the old-boy, WASP elites. These people were behind the times on equality, but they had a real sense of responsibility for the larger institutions, and for people, and they owned their “stewardship mentality.” As Brooks says, “They were the temporary caretakers of institutions that would span generations.” The rules were such that if you didn’t live up to those things and didn’t adhere to the stewardship, you were kicked out.
Today’s elite are different. They may have more talent, but they don’t follow the leadership credo. They don’t take responsibility for matters outside of themselves in the same way. Wall Street hires folks who are young and intelligent but don’t necessarily have character. And the less we focus on character, the more we open up ourselves to all kinds of issues and problems, such as greed.
This article got me thinking about our culture of innovation and how it should be tied to civic responsibility. Chicago is growing like crazy with entrepreneurship, energy, and passion. And there are certainly some fantastic entrepreneurs who realize that “it’s bigger than them.” But I think that the most profound innovations that we see coming into the world are from the social venture spectrum. If we want to innovate, we, too must have a stewardship mentality. It can’t just be about us or our profit margins. It really has to be about understanding and addressing a need. We have to promote innovation and civic responsibility in our business schools, in our businesses and in our circles of networking. Ideally, you should be able to say that a given innovation “looks good, smells good, feels good - and it’s good for my business and it’s good for the planet.”
We have to open ourselves up to the idea of interdependence - interdependence within your own business and within the community, as well as the globe. Each of us is one piece of something much, much larger. A great example of this is Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s, now CEO of Conscious Capitalism. He’s doing some great work on global interdependence, civic responsibility and innovation. Ben and Jerry’s, a company that practices sustainable farming, is also a great example. Seventh Generation is very invested in the environment. All very successful companies that said, “Okay, you know what? I’m going to be responsible to the planet and make a profit.” They innovated in such a way that their brands are synonymous with good and growth.
Imagine if you and your team were tasked with coming up with a new solution, and that you spent a day out of the office working together for a non-profit. How much would that day impact the way that you approach projects together later? Having just shared the experience of doing something good, and understanding how to fulfill a need as a group, when you go back to the white board to think about an application or a strategy, that experience will affect the solution that you’re building. These experiences give us a blueprint for understanding our customers, our users and our market. Simply by getting out of our comfort zone, and by applying the experience of that situation to another, we can become more engaged and show more civic responsibility in our businesses.