Real Leaders

The Choice to Become a Business That Matters

GLENDALE, CA - JANUARY 20: A general view of the atmosphere at the Zappos x Cotton Pop-up Shop held at The Americana at Brand on January 20, 2018 in Glendale, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for Zappos x Cotton )

This is the first of a 4-part series exploring businesses that matter.

This is about ambition.

Not the kind of ambition that has traditionally shaped businesses (growth at all costs, profit over everything) but a wiser, more profound ambition that reconsiders the very nature of business.
Compare the Ford Motor Corporation in 1903 to Zappos in 1999. Ford changed our society by building a product that transformed human mobility. Zappos sold shoes online – hardly in the same category in terms of size and scale, but arguably as influential in terms of its impact on society.
Zappos wrote its own rules. Out with accepted norms of what a business should be and in with its own interpretation. Zappos thought differently about culture, customers, strategy, growth, and talent and disrupted the blueprint set by Ford and other traditional manufacturing businesses, clearing the way for modern businesses to dream up new ways of architecting themselves.
Many businesses followed suit, creating a new and fresher business landscape and catalyzing two decades of rapid change in organizational design. The table was cleared, the mirror
de-misted, and the launchpad businesspeople currently stand upon was built. Where does business go now? A personal perspective, if I may indulge myself…

I’ve long held the view that business has underplayed its hand in shaping society. As traditional institutions like universities, governments, churches and armies play a lessening role in the fluid society of today, business is ascending. The voice of the global business community is getting louder, the resources that businesses command are at their peak, and the deployable talent residing inside businesses is more capable than ever. Business is primed to take the next step in its evolution and meet its fullest potential.

 But will it? That lies in our hands: the business leaders of the world.

If we, as a community, ask more of ourselves and seek more from our work, the Zappos-inspired trajectory will soar and our collective influence will be profound.

But our evolution relies on reassessing our impact. Not because business hasn’t done enough, but because business can be more significant than just numbly churning out profits in a
never-ending route-march of toil. The ‘gift’ of business to society is our performance mindset: innovation, expansion, disruption, seeking, and striving. This is a powerful elixir that can generate a broad impact.
At the heart of my provocation lies the question of ‘what matters?’ to the businesses we run. Our highest potential lies in the asking and answering of these questions:

  • Is it important for a business to matter?
  • What is a business that matters?
  • Does your business matter?
  • What potential does your business have to matter?

In this 4-part series, I hope to take you on a journey that gives you an opportunity to evolve, raise your bar, and challenge yourself. It is a provocation, but one that holds no prescriptive answer. If you take up this challenge, you will open up new possibilities and unlock greater potential: the lifeblood of any business. You will absolutely yield results.

But the path to those results is different now. Becoming a business that matters is a rich and meaningful experience. A Zappos journey as opposed to Ford journey. Technicolour illuminating gray. Inspiration over effort.
A few points of clarification:

  • This is not about becoming an NGO. It’s about performance.
  • This is not about obligation. It’s about seeking more.
  • This is not about going back to the drawing board. It’s about advancing what you already have.
  • This is not about trying harder. It’s about creating more energy.

Fast-forward 10 years. You’re sitting with your young children or grandchildren, and you are asked the question: “What does your business do?” Imagine answering this question with conviction: clarity of purpose, full of meaning, unwavering in your intent. Imagine their eyes lighting up with pride. Imagine the swell of satisfaction in your chest.
For this moment to happen, your business must matter.

Series 1 provocations:

  • What does the word ‘matter’ mean to you?
  • What is the unique ‘gift’ that your business currently/potentially offers to society?

Look out for the next installments of the ‘Becoming a Business That Matters’ series:
Series 2: “Unearthing What Matters to Your Business”
Series 3: “Sculpting a Business That Matters”
Series 4:  “Being a Leader of a Business That Matters”

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