The Meaning of Corp
We don’t have all the answers, but we owe it to ourselves — as a species — to buy ourselves enough time to figure it out. As a company, we need to be part of that.
Many of us at some point pause from our busy lives to think “What is life for?” Some of us take the question pretty seriously and end up committing chunks of our lives to philosophy — in between the comings and goings of life itself. Don’t worry, this is not going to be one of those ‘what is the meaning of life’ posts (I haven’t figured that one out yet — but I’m working on it. Occasionally I get closer than usual).
This post is about why a company exists. Just like humans, companies have different roles to play — and if you zoom out far enough, we are all on the same page. As humans, what we want is to be happy, content, and at peace. The work we do is in service of those goals —‘work to live, don’t live to work.’ But if the work we do is an extension of finding our bearings as humans, it stands to reason that the companies we work for are an extension of that.
Where do humans fit in?
Against that context, Capitalism is a pretty ugly beast. In a universe where corporate responsibility is a footnote, and where the rich white people optimism index is soaring even when by every aggregate objective capitalist measure of societal health (home foreclosures, unemployment, car repossessions) the country isn’t doing too well, perhaps signs are pointing to the fact that we aren’t operating with a full set of data.
Dollars in bank accounts are not an appropriate proxy for personal happiness. But that’s the only thing many people use as a measurement for what makes a company ‘good’. I reject that idea, to a degree. Okay, so if the bank account runs dry, the company ceases to exist, and that’s the end. There’s a corporate Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in play. But the corollary isn’t the case: whereas too little money is bad, but infinite money isn’t inherently good. Just like going hungry is bad, but binging on nutrients isn’t helpful either. It all comes down to balance, for this, and everything else in life.
Why does a company exist?
Why does a company exist, if it isn’t purely about throwing off cash? For me, it’s about the broader goals of the people within the company and their happiness. It’s the wider universe of people involved — the people we impact, the customers we serve, and the event attendees they serve. And it is about thinking about the longevity of what we are doing.
I believe that humans are on this earth to solve something together. An enormous challenge. A common goal. The problem is that we are constantly distracted away from co-operation. Sometimes in small ways — I enjoy a good Netflix binge like everyone else. And occasionally in ways that are huge — like a global pandemic.
Of course, COVID-19 is a profound tragedy. So many lives have been lost — and many of those deaths could have been prevented.
But, for all the tragedy of the pandemic, COVID-19 is not distilled evil incanate. For one thing, the planet is breathing a sigh of relief. To take but one statistic; the number of monthly airline passengers is down 50% — to 2006 levels. That’s bad for the airlines, but flying fewer planes means significantly fewer pollutants in the air. The planet really could do with that break.
I can feel in my soul that, as a planet, we have a role to play in the universe. To fully play that role to its ultimate conclusion we need two things: Space, and time. If we all have a role to play, the course of action is clear: Give each human what they need in order to be able to live their lives to their fullest potential. That’s how you tap into the collective wisdom of humans as a species, and that’s how we gain our space. If trapping humanity in capitalism’s hamster wheel turns out to be the right choice, we can always do that later. Given the data available, I think we’re careening in the wrong direction. Let’s course correct.
If ruining the planet turns out to be the ‘right’ thing to do, we can always do that later. For now, I’m not so sure — so let’s give ourselves the benefit of time, so we can figure it out later.
Buying ourselves some time
Time is tougher to address — but as a species, we’ve made a number of really bad decisions that means time is running out. Climate change is real, and unless we are able to plot a new path, we are facing a situation where, as a planet, we finally know what our purpose is just as the ecosystem collapses and we run out of time. At a very basic level: If ruining the planet turns out to be the ‘right’ thing to do, we can always do that later. For now, I’m not so sure — so let’s give ourselves the benefit of the time we have, so we can figure it out later.
I don’t have all the answers, and I am probably not intelligent enough to ever find them. But I can choose to be smart enough to play a supporting role. I think we owe it to ourselves, our families, our communities, our species, and our planet to give ourselves the best possible shot at figuring out what it all means. First, to discover what the questions are. And perhaps — if we are able to collaborate adequately, and given enough time — find some answers.
As a company, then, our responsibility goes way beyond generating money for our investors, shareholders, and staff. It’s our responsibility to make sure that we support people. It is our duty to do everything we can to buy ourselves a few extra years on this planet. Not for our sake. For its.
The triple bottom line
In reality, that means that the only responsible thing to do is to build a triple-bottom-line company: People, Planet, Profit. In that order of importance. That comes up in many different ways: How we treat our staff. How we help our customers. How we are building a platform that will reduce the need for 1bn people to travel to events every year.
These are all shards of the giant puzzle that goes into how we are building a company that can tap into magic. As a company, we have an obligation to do the right thing. Because if we don’t, who will?
Haje is the CEO at Konf, which is building the future of virtual events for people who love people.