The pace of change globally is having an incredible impact on business. Their lifespans are shorter than ever before and much of the commentary drills down to the reason of digital disruption. This may partially be true, but there is an even more important undercurrent we need to explore.

The truth is that without a healthy society and environment, businesses as we know it cannot exist! This will be the defining element of the next frontier in business.

With short term thinking at an all-time high, it is easy for businesses to focus on making decisions that work for now but are detrimental to society and the environment’s future.

Recently, a survey by Innosight highlighted by Inc.com, conducted with executives from 91 companies with revenue greater than $1 billion across more than 20 industries, were asked: “What is your organization’s biggest obstacle to transform in response to market change and disruption?”
Forty per cent of survey respondents blamed “day-to-day decisions” that essentially pay the bill, but  undermine our stated strategy to change.” It was by far the most prevalent response. The next most popular answer, at 24 per cent, was “lack of a coherent vision for the future.”

It is the daily decisions made by millions of business employees globally that matter. If the focus is just on now, there is no way business can thrive into the future. We need to bring the symbiotic relationship between business, society and the environment into core business decision making.

Let’s look at 2 contexts that can create short term thinking, at the expense of society and the environment.

Context 1: Old school capitalism

The ‘do you want fries with that’ movement

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We’ve all had that moment when we are out shopping and upgrade or add an item that we probably don’t need. Then after, we look at the purchase then up at the sky, then back at the purchase, shake our fists and yell ‘why Capitalism, why????!’

The beauty and challenge of capitalism are captured in one word ‘growth’.
Yuval Noah Harari explains modern economics in a very relatable way: To understand modern economic history, you really need to understand just a single word. The word is growth. For better or worse, in sickness and in health, the modern economy has been growing like a hormone-soused teenager. It eats up everything it can find and puts on inches faster than you can count.

Capitalism is built on exponential growth which was important for a period, but things now need to change. The growth is only feeding the 1% of people and is flooding our world with products we don’t really need.

‘But is there another way?’ I hear you scream into your screen.
The best option I have seen is ‘shared value’. It offers a framework to develop a business strategy that solves social issues whilst maintaining commercial returns to the company.
Michael Porter and Mark Kramer have hailed it as the way to rebuild capitalism. By extending our perception of value, we can look beyond just financial performance and understand the correlation between a healthy environment and society to create a healthy business.

Shared value is a key term that underpins much of our writing at Planet B. Follow the shared value tag at the end of the post for more information about shared value.

Context 2: Busyness

The ‘I’ll have a coffee to go’ movement

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Many of you will know about the Eisenhower matrix, popularised by Steven Covey in his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.’ Ultimately, we spend too much time operating in the ‘urgent and not important’ quadrant and not enough in the ‘not urgent and important’ quadrant. This impacts our ability to make decisions that are in the best interests of business, society and the environment both now and into the future.

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Above: The Eisenhower Matrix 

Tell me this, when you’re at your retirement party and everyone is reflecting on your career, what will they say about you? Will they talk affectionately about the mountain of emails you checked or the number of meetings you conducted? I don’t think so! Adjusting priorities can have both a short term and long term impact.

By understanding these contexts we can develop practical steps to address them and begin to change the world through the power of business.

Key takeouts:

  • Without a healthy society and environment, businesses as we know it will not exist.
  • Capitalism needs a reboot. Creating commercial strategies that solve social issues will do just that.
  • Busyness is distracting decision making from being doing good in the long term.

Add to your ‘impact’ to do list:

  • Take stock of your ‘busyness’ factor by monitoring and writing down in 30 min blocks how you’re spending your time.
  • Identify and eliminate some urgent but not important tasks from your schedule.
  • With that extra time, commit to reading a report, article or blog post daily about the role of business to improve society. Start with World Economic Forum for some inspiration.

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