Rise of the Polite Rebels
Let’s face it, “business as usual” is killing us. Short-term thinking, corporate greed, mass consumption, and endless extraction and exploitation in the pursuit of profit has put us on a fast-track to climate breakdown and human misery.
In business we seem to be driving at breakneck speed towards a cliff-edge and nobody dares be the first to take their foot off the gas. The fear of slowing down or producing less, to be overtaken by the competition, has us paralysed in the driver’s seat - foot firmly on the accelerator pedal and fists clamped on the steering wheel, whiteknuckled and locked in the same direction. With those in front terrified to lose their “winning position” and those behind going full throttle to catch up and become number one.
Fortunately for us this break-neck, profit-first mindset seems to be falling out of fashion. The Milton Freidman mantra that the only purpose, or “social responsibility”, of a business is to increase its profits feels as outdated as the 1980s shoulder pads that accompanied it. With one in four aspiring entrepreneurs wanting to start a social enterprise - a business that uses their commercial might to maximise social/environmental impact - it feels like the tide is beginning to turn. Just as we are also seeing the rise of the “conscious consumer” and the demand for the genuinely ethical/sustainable option to become the default - in fact, 98% of consumers (or people, as I like to call them) believe that brands have a responsibility to make positive change in the world. Even within the clutches of a deadly global pandemic, climate awareness seems to be at an all-time high, especially amongst the younger generations, who realise that after the COVID dust eventually settles, there is still a monstrous enemy awaiting us.
Another way to do business?
I am heartened by the rise in social enterprises, the huge number of start-ups and SMEs who have learnt to harness the machinery of business to further a social or environmental cause and work towards the Triple Bottom Line of People, Planet, and Prosperity. And I am cautiously optimistic about the gradual shift within corporations and larger organisations towards B Corp accreditation; the “gold-standard” of sustainable business practice. I’m inspired by those who have decided to step out of the ‘business as usual’ mindset to carve their own path and lead by example, those who are building something fairer and kinder along the way. People who put purpose-over-profit.
I call these people the Polite Rebels, those who are gently overthrowing old, broken, and polluting systems and genuinely building back better and inviting others to join them on their positive journey. I have learned a great deal from these rebels, the activist entrepreneurs and accidental business people who are building something great, and I have learned to take my own activism from the streets and into my business. After a decade in the creative industry I pivoted and launched Good Will Studios a couple of years ago. It’s a social enterprise creative design and brand-building studio, with the guiding motto “A better world, by design.” Like the social enterprises I help, I too have taken my commercial experience and recalibrated my business to further a social or environmental cause - empowering ethical businesses to harness the persuasive power of branding for good.
More than Why?
The word “Purpose” is pretty hot these days. Whilst I’m generally an optimist, the cynic in me worries that it’s the latest buzzword, just as “Green” was a number of years ago - something used with the best intentions but ultimately applied as a thin veneer, or a marketing tool, for ambitious businesses to stand out. Simon Sinek’s powerful book, Start With Why, shows us how Purpose-Led businesses - those who actually set out to change something in the world - tend to be more successful and more enduring, they develop an incredibly strong brand awareness and create a cult-like following and genuinely change the course of history in their own way. And I recommend any aspiring entrepreneur to go to their local book shop (not Amazon!) and buy it if you haven’t already...
However, I don’t think that Simon goes far enough. Yes, a business needs a purpose - 100%! - however a business with a Purpose is not necessarily virtuous. It’s not necessarily sustainable. And it’s not necessarily ethical. We see this in some of the most powerful brands today; Apple and Nike, to name a couple. These are incredibly influential brands that have a strong and identifiable Purpose behind them, yet their pursuit of profit, their lust for growth and market dominance, and the pressure to satisfy their shareholders’ demands have led them to employ some rather questionable business practices. Avoiding their tax duties, extracting from the land, offshoring their factories, exploiting their workers. Again and again, we see that ‘business as usual' mindset showing its ugly head and smashing through their “think different” and “just do it” sloganeering like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
Every enterprise needs a USP, that much is true. And if you’re in business you probably know that that stands for Unique Selling Point - the thing that makes you different and stand out from the competition; Apple’s unique approach and rebellious innovation, and the way that Nike sells lifestyles over sportswear. However, I believe that all social enterprises - in fact all businesses who want to do more than simply maximise profits - need a new USP to live by. And that’s what I’m calling the Ultimate Social Purpose. This goes beyond the oftentimes hollow mission statement slapped on the corporate website, it goes deeper than the values that sound nice but are not truly practiced. It’s the driving principle that steers a business to make the right decision, even when it’s the difficult one.
So, if you’re an accidental business-person, an activist entrepreneur, or a business owner who puts purpose-over-profit, you’re probably a Polite Rebel. If so, apply to join the others in the Polite Rebel Society community group today.
And if you’re interested in discovering and defining your own Ultimate Social Purpose and building a powerful purpose-over-profit brand that can change the world, I want to hear from you.