“This is strictly a business decision”
Tim O'Reilly
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Yes, a thousand times yes. Better business design is a 21st century imperative. It is a choice. And yet there is a fervent belief that there is only one way, and it is Milton Friedman’s argument that “There is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase profits….doing anything else is unadulterated socialism.” That was 1970.

Many thinkers and doers disagreed. In addition to Drucker’s argument that organizations can — and should — strengthen society, I am particularly fond of the response set forth by Kenneth Mason, the President of Quaker Oats, in a 1979 BusinessWeek piece. He declared that that Friedman’s profits-are-everything philosophy was “A dreary and demeaning view of the role of business and business leaders in our society. Making a profit is no more the purpose of a corporation than getting enough to eat is the purpose of life. Getting enough to eat is a requirement of life; life’s purpose, one would hope, is somewhat broader and more challenging. Likewise with business and profit.”

Two more recent pieces that I highly recommend (and if you are game, perhaps we get everyone in a room/panel soon):

  1. Mark Kramer argues that “they (big biz) transfer money away from public treasuries and wage earners to provide a short-term incremental benefit that does nothing to improve the company’s long-term prospects” in How Big Business Created the Politics of Anger.
  2. Ross Baird makes a similar argument in Silicon Valley’s Unchecked Arrogance, asking that the tech set design businesses that “share the wealth better among those who create them — not design a system to spread the crumbs a little better.”