On the radio talk show today there was a contributor, an invited guest as it happens, who decided to share a hugely partial and in my view, lazy invective about commercial businesses.
The contributor lambasted all businesses as greedy, self-interested, profit machines without any moral heart whatsoever. Maybe you agree. I for one don’t. And more than that I am reminded just how deeply unhelpful badly drawn and poorly intended stereotypes are. They create division and barriers to seeing the possibilities and realities of change.
The catalogue of for-profit businesses that are genuinely and actively seeking to fulfil their role in an ethical and moral way, whilst at the same time doing so profitably, is vast. That said, to one degree or another we are perhaps all guilty of being somewhat lazy when it comes to our mindset around stereotyping others. Maybe we do it for impact and to ‘raise the ante’ as this particular contributor was doing in my view. Or at other times, we may go down the ‘for laughs’ route or the ‘fitting in’ route – making ourselves more acceptable, more able to belong.
The definition of a stereotype is ‘a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing’.
The big clue for all of us in this definition are the words ‘fixed and oversimplified’. Certainly, there’s efficiency in being able to paint a picture through a commonly held characterisation of a person or thing. But efficiency isn’t everything especially if it is doing harm.
The often negative energy carried by stereotypes has to be counteracted, we have to be prepared to see a wider perspective and hold a bigger vision in our dealings with the world and each other. This means we have to invest the time and energy to keep an open mind – to be curious and hold the possibility that the so-called stereotypes are being changed and that new energy is being seeded.
So when we think of for-profit business, or company Chief Executives or corporate shareholders, we need to allow ourselves to move beyond the headline-grabbing stereotypes of ‘greedy, fat cats, money grabbing’, and start looking for all those really great examples of leaders and organisations making a difference.
People like Paul Polman (Chief Executive of Unilever), Barry Wehmiller Inc. and the work of its Chief Executive, Bob Chapman in seeding the Truly Human Organisation philosophy, Triodos Bank with their triple bottom line underpinning and so many more. These people and organisations exist so let’s shift the stereotyping…
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