"If the surge of corporate power was going to leave governments relatively impotent," Noreena Hertz argues in "Cassandra's Revenge," "then those corporations themselves needed to fill the void." Asking corporations to fill the void is like asking tigers to become vegetarians. It is not in the nature of the beast to go beyond tokens of social responsibility. Yes, capitalism can be a mighty engine that drives economies, but recent events show that left unattended, capitalism can take the whole economic vehicle straight into the wall.
I own a simple coffee shop. The issue of sustainability is clear: If the people growing coffee are not satisfied with their work and their lives, they will, ultimately, pursue something else. We are, of course, all thus linked.
How often is it, as you rightly point out, that a company introduces a product that's contrary to everything it has done so far and that product becomes a runaway success ("Intel Risks It All [Again]")? An Atom in a sewing machine? Awesome.
In the article about Hulu ("The Unlikely Mogul"), Bing's director of marketing is quoted as saying that Hulu "gave us the right audience, the ability to educate and entertain, and the opportunity for them to try out the product and then market our product for us... . No other ad platform lets you do all that." The oldest marketing medium in history does all of that and much more: buyers at a market stall speaking with a seller about her or his product.
The Fast Company Workout
I can't stand the monotony of a StairMaster or stationary bicycle, so I catch up on my reading while I exercise. I get through two business magazines a workout. But Fast Company is at an awesome two-workout-per-magazine level.
Marcus P. Meleton Jr.
I nodded my head and smiled as I read Dan Heath and Chip Heath's "Stop Solving Your Problems." It reminded me of the time when I worked closely with a major athletic-shoe company that was stuck in the same old rut of simply trying to improve upon each year's model from year to year, with little creativity. So the leaders sent a team of three or four folks from sales, design, and marketing on a three-stop tour of the United States: the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., to look at rockets and other unique "vehicles of speed"; Soho, in New York, to see fashion; and Boulder, Colorado, to see what multisport athletes were wearing. In short, the trip reopened their minds.
When I saw the title of this article, I thought that it had to be an article about the approach to innovation known as TRIZ. In TRIZ, we learn and apply a few simple rules, including these: Someone has already solved your problem. The most innovative solutions come from an industry or discipline outside of your own. Technical systems follow specific trends of evolution. And true inventive solutions come through solving the contradictions that most other people choose to avoid.
Craig D. Brown
Albuquerque, New Mexico
"The Cable Cowboy" is a great story and another example of why I love Fast Company! It's a reminder of the power of the unquenchable entrepreneurial spirit.
Mission statements need to be written by the people who are expected to follow them ("Wordplay"). If the exec team writes the statement, the employees can just scoff and say, "This isn't ours." There is no ownership.
The Whole Story
"The Miracle Worker" (December 2009/January 2010) is a shoddy and blatantly biased article, and it is especially disappointing to see it in Fast Company, a magazine I have generally admired and enjoyed over the years. As part of our research for Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit From Passion & Purpose, we looked at hundreds of companies and selected 28 of them that best exemplify the Conscious Capitalist model: They operate with a higher purpose, work to join and align the interests of all stakeholders, and have highly conscious leaders. Whole Foods is at the top of that very exemplary list, as a company that is making a difference to the well-being of all of its stakeholders in multiple ways, while generating outstanding financial performance (collectively, these companies outperformed the market by a stunning 9-to-1 ratio over 10 years, and have continued to significantly outpace the market since the book was published in 2007). Companies such as Whole Foods show that when practiced consciously, business can be the ultimate positive sum game. The company pays its employees well, provides them good health-care benefits, empowers them to make a difference, treats its suppliers well, is a wonderful citizen in its communities, is loved by customers, and has been an outstanding investment. It is making a tangible difference to the health of its customers, the food system, and the planet as a whole. What more can we possibly expect from our large corporations?
John Mackey and his colleagues have built a marvelous company, and he is a leader with few peers. How many other Fortune 500 CEOs can you name who permanently stopped taking a salary (and no stock either) at a time when the company they had created was thriving? Mackey did just that in 2007. He exemplifies a new breed of leaders who are missionary rather than mercenary; they are not beholden to narrow short-term interests but driven by the company's higher purpose. The Conscious Capitalism movement shows us a better way forward in the world, one in which conscious businesses can help solve all of the world's major problems.
Danielle Sacks's feature about John Mackey, Whole Foods, and Conscious Capitalism has generated a lot of criticism.
As someone who has, like Mr. Mackey, led a company that tries to do more than make a buck at any cost, I understand that passions about corporate responsibility run high. Yet no matter where one stands on the continuum of opinion here, we can all agree on one fundamental point: The current capitalist system is irredeemably broken. Given the failure of business in general and responsible business in particular to reverse this situation, it's incumbent upon each of us to ask the tough questions, as Sacks has commendably done. However, it would be a serious mistake to misread such questioning as cynicism.
Holding the feet of people like myself and Mr. Mackey to the fire is a first step on the road to meaningful change. Without others questioning our choices and what results, our efforts would soon devolve into something much less than they need to be. Whether we believe in Conscious Capitalism, B Corporations, or something else, we should support every honest effort, journalistic or otherwise, to keep our companies completely transparent and their leadership honest. As a next step, we encourage Fast Company to dig into the obstacles and trade-offs that confront mission-driven companies and report real-world innovations for overcoming them.
Seventh Generation would welcome a similar critique by Ms. Sacks. She probably won't find herself in complete agreement with us either. But like John Mackey and Whole Foods, there'd be no doubt that we believe in what we're doing, and we're doing it for all the right reasons.
CoFounder & Chief Inspired Protagonist, Seventh Generation
In the October 2009 issue, the China graphic in the Now section misstated the country's 2009 GDP. The correct number is $4.3 billion.
In "Star Powered" (November 2009), we noted that one device uses 4 watts per hour and another .03 watts per hour. Watt ratings refer to potential peak usage at any moment.
In "A Modern Mess," in the December 2009/January 2010 issue, we attributed the design of the Bellini chair to Aldo Ciabatti. The chair was designed by Mario Bellini.
In "Want a Piece of This?" also in the December/January issue, Jason Goldberg's 1-year-old is a daughter, not a son.
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A version of this article appeared in the February 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.