How Business Can Save the Day

If  “big business” were a problem celeb, it would make Charlie Sheen seem positively angelic. What’s needed is a big red pen to edit, re-write and reframe a new brand story.  An overhaul and reinvention of the likes that requires a top-notch brand and PR crisis management team, maybe even calling in the legendary nerves-of-steel celeb handler Cindi Berger for the fix. And we need it fast because business, notably corporate America with all it has to offer in resources, has all the potential to solve society’s biggest problems.

That was the message (well sans Charlie and highly paraphrased!) from none other than legendary Harvard professor and competitive strategy expert Michael Porter last fall at the Babson Forum on Entrepreneurship. And I’ve been thinking a lot about it, because the sentiment hits close to home.

Porter talked about how decades earlier, while riding a bus to begin studies at Harvard Business School in the 60s, he responded to a fellow passenger’s “so where you headed?” question with more than vague avoidance. Why? Because business was worse than The Man. Business, big corporate greedy capitalism, was evil empire. Not something to be proud of as one’s life work, most certainly.

And I’ve felt this pang for my career choice on more than one occasion. Earlier in my life, I wondered, “really? I’m spending my life convincing people to buy stuff?”  What a contribution, I thought, eyes rolling in sarcasm. But a friend wisely reminded me that working in sports (and later music and education), which I love and value dearly as a part of my own life, was a way to encourage people to participate. To do. To get off their (our) duffs to live it.

So, as I’ve ventured away from product categories and brands that have deep connection to my life personally to work on a wider array of businesses, I’ve found myself with that old familiar feeling creeping in on occasion. Because saying “I’m in business” is not really a feel good story, never mind one in which I want a shared narrative.

We’re all familiar with the business story of the day: profit for profit’s sake.  In my state, gas fracking profiteering makes way for concerns over water. Farms are developed as “urban residential” without care for the future. And corporate America?  Our business big brother’s behavior frequently makes Lindsey Lohan look like a poster child for Our Sisters of Angelic Virtue. I certainly don’t trust ‘em and I know I’m not alone — apparently most of us don’t in record numbers.

But the story can change – there’s a great opportunity to make business the hero.

Business – corporate America – has big resources that could be put to great use. Imagine what could happen if the spirit of social entrepreneurship met big corporate resources. Porter used a great example, citing P&G’s efforts to solve impending problems with water shortage. Their motivation: finding viable water resources, a key component of their manufacturing process, when the unlimited supply of free water ends. So P&G’s  fix could solve their problem…and ours.  And in the process make all of us who call some form of “business” believe in its value again.

Business world (and the rest of us) take note: help is on the way. Learn more about how to reinvent your business, brand or cause (supercharging your biz without selling your soul) by joining me and my friends at Get Storied for their Reinvention Summit, the world’s largest virtual conference on storytelling.  It’s happening next week April 16-20– and there’s still time to sign up and gain tips from the convenience of your own computer or mobile device. Change your story. Change the world. Check it out & sign up here.

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