It’s never “just business”

Business is about people, first and foremost.

Business is a deeply personal exercise in creativity, connection and collaboration in the name of something larger than ourselves.

Business provides a landscape on which the full human experience is exercised and elaborated.

And I think that’s why the default setting for so many business leaders remains transactional, rooted in the measurable and the manageable. Because all of that is much easier to do – much easier to understand – than to embrace, celebrate and live within the beautiful ambiguity that is the “full human experience.”

I’m done with concessions. I’m done with, “Well, he gets great results so we can’t afford to fire him.” Forget that. I want it all.

Give me the leader who knows how things work and who gets results, and in that same leader, show me a human being – a fully alive human being – who begins and ends with humility, compassion, love for others and a deep respect for the unknown.

We’re so far past the age of “management” it’s not even funny. Do you know how I know? Because of how aggressively so many corporate mouthpieces refuse to articulate anything other than the sad and tired refrains of a dying model.

The so-called “entitled” Millenials are no such thing. They are simply teaching us, by their refusal to put up with what no longer works, that there is a better way. You know who taught them to do that? It was their parents, of course, their parents who didn’t realize before it was too late that the system was broken and so made sure that their kids aspired to a better way.

Business can be for and about the very best of us, the highest calling of the human experience. This is our moment, right now, to midwife that new reality into a fully healthy, fully alive existence.

architecture daylight monument outdoors

Photo by Mohannad Marashdeh on

And we also got lucky

When you listen to a business leader describe their company’s success you will inevitably hear them discuss the clarity of their strategies and the quality of their execution.

What you rarely hear them say is that they were also lucky and, by extension, opportunistic.

The fundamental attribution error of success in business is the belief that it happens through pluck, ingenuity and hard work.

Since good luck is typically the byproduct of hard work, generosity and awareness, I don’t understand why so many leaders of successful organizations have difficulty owning their share of it.

To humbly accept the role of luck in the success of any enterprise is to admit the truth that the forces of randomness and change are far more powerful than our ability to control the status quo.

shallow focus photography of four leaf clover

Photo by Djalma Paiva Armelin on

The Purpose of Business

Today, the Business Roundtable, a group of 200 CEO’s, announced that 181 of its members signed off on a new statement of the purpose of a corporation. This is a massive shift from the one-note philosophy of “shareholder primacy” to an approach that is reflective of a modern workforce – a modern society – that deserves and demands “meaning and dignity.”

This affirmation of a more wholistic, human-centric approach to business will require accountability of the highest order. Please read the statement below and consider how you will bring it to life and sustain it within the walls of your own workplace.

 Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation

Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity. We believe the free-market system is the best means of generating good jobs, a strong and sustainable economy, innovation, a healthy environment and economic opportunity for all.

Businesses play a vital role in the economy by creating jobs, fostering innovation and providing essential goods and services. Businesses make and sell consumer products; manufacture equipment and vehicles; support the national defense; grow and produce food; provide health care; generate and deliver energy; and offer financial, communications and other services that underpin economic growth.

While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders. We commit to:

  • Delivering value to our customers. We will further the tradition of American companies leading the way in meeting or exceeding customer expectations.
  • Investing in our employees. This starts with compensating them fairly and providing important benefits. It also includes supporting them through training and education that help develop new skills for a rapidly changing world. We foster diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect.
  • Dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers. We are dedicated to serving as good partners to the other companies, large and small, that help us meet our missions.
  • Supporting the communities in which we work. We respect the people in our communities and protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.
  • Generating long-term value for shareholders, who provide the capital that allows companies to invest, grow and innovate. We are committed to transparency and effective engagement with shareholders.

Each of our stakeholders is essential. We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.

Source: The Business Roundtable

Why is there no trash on the ground at Disneyland?

A number of years ago I participated in a customer service training at a Disneyland resort. The event included a behind the scenes tour of the facility, a chance to go where “regular” park goers don’t go and to learn a few secrets about the Magic Kingdom.

One anecdote came up in the form of a question: Why is there no trash on the ground at Disneyland?

The answer? Because there’s no trash on the ground at Disneyland, of course! The “Broken Windows” theory of community renewal applied to the theme park business.

The Disney team proudly proclaimed that they have fewer sanitation workers than other amusement parks because they have established a culture of no trash on the ground.

Sunday, at Disneyland’s California Adventure I just happened to notice a dirty napkin on the ground a few feet in front of me. My first thought, indoctrinated as I had been, was to reach down and get it but at that very moment a “cast member” was headed my way and I decided to see if he had been trained as well as I had.

He had not been, and he sailed right on by.

In that moment I remembered how hard the work of culture building is. I remembered how challenging it is to establish and maintain consistency in both mindset and behavior in a small company never mind an organization the size and scope of Disney.

It’s essential to have high aspirations and to fall short sometimes. How else do we learn?

I hope today was an anomaly for that employee and that the Disney service culture is as vigilant now as when I learned from them years ago.

Next time, I’m going to grab the napkin and give him the benefit of the doubt. Every aspirational culture deserves a little help.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.