I was talking to a number-crunching libertarian who made a compelling point that businesses exist for no other reason than to make money. Some of my fellow liberals in the conversation took issue with him. I found I couldn’t argue the point.
That’s not to say businesses can’t do a whole lot more but the less a business is cluttered with thoughts other than profits, the more that business will be effective.
This is why I’ve been a terrible businessman.
Maybe it’s just the circles I work in these days, but I am positive about what seems like a newish trend for those in business to give a shit about more than just money. In fact, many seem to exist to do a whole lot of good while they make money. Some even see money making as necessary, but not necessarily the reason to be in business for the first place.
The flaw in this argument is not in the economist’s position. The flaw is ignoring social impact and soceital good will threaten the bottom line profit. As the innovation economy shifts, it shifts toward the importance of businesses coupling social responsibility with bottom line profits.
It’s a lot less clean than my economist friend would like, but I love it. This is an era of rewriting what’s possible. Nothing is off the table. Just look at the United Nation’s 17 sustainable development goals. It reads like a laundry list of impossibility. But that billions will be poured into these initiatives shows how much things have changed. Anything is possible and business, of all things, play a key role.
To be sure, many don’t get it. If they do, they simply don’t believe it. I’m not being scientific here, but my impression is that the vast majority of professionals are driven the be the alure of more money. Social impact? Eh. Not so much.
Case in point: I met a guy who considered himself something of an entrepreneur who prattled on about his big venture. Four years in the making, it had a few props, a few signs, a Facebook page and some handouts. No customers but big ideas that he assured us would be “extreme.”
After quite a long while, he decided to ask a little about me. “So you’re into some nonprofit thing, right? What’s that about?” he asked.
“Impact,” I said.
He couldn’t have been more bored with me. Me too, come to think of it. I could care less about his extreme business and how much money it would make. We sat there a bit more in awkward silence. Mercifully, I had something else to do and was soon on my way.
I had no interest in trying to explain the importance of organizations founded for something other than profits. If I had, I could have pointed to so many transformative, mission-driven efforts that are every bit as ground-breaking as the latest dating app or “sharing” business. We are in an era of change and changing the way we change and getting up in the morning about something more than a green-colored bottom line.
It may not be a clean bottom line. But the more this era of social impact grows, the bottom line will only get more robust while making society a bit better at the same time.
To me, that’s “extreme.”