"I can teach anybody how to get what they want out of life. The problem is that I can't find anybody who can tell me what they want.” ― Mark Twain
The New Year inevitably brings rumination about where we’ve been, contemplation about where we are going, and predictions of future trends. This annual ritual can be overwhelming as our piles of prognostications and advice grows larger and the speed at which it accumulates accelerates.
Most of us enter the New Year thinking about goals, and our default is to think about NEW goals and resolutions. Twain’s quote made me think that the continual push to the new might not be helping us get to our goals. It could be that the path to the peace and shared prosperity that we have wished each other as holiday tidings over the past couple of months—and that is central to the work of corporate responsibility professionals— might be more easily blazed if more of us spent less time thinking about the new new thing and focused with greater intensity and determination on the old things that continue to be really important.
I continue to believe that the greatest opportunities for business will ultimately be for those who have the courage and discipline to set goals that extend beyond the fiscal quarter to long-term value-creation. If we lengthen the lens, the divergent interests of profit and sustainability become more convergent. Without this shift in perspective, the centrifugal force of our fast, volatile economy may spin all but the most centered off of the merry-go-round that is our economy. Those that maintained their grounded long-term perspective will have the competitive advantage of having developed their competitive attributes while having simultaneously improved their own operating contexts—and our world.
If you are looking for inspiration on how you might establish your own center, focus, and goals, here are just three of the people I have been following who might also offer you inspiration. I think they are some of the most interesting voices in business over the last year. Here’s why they inspire me.
Michael Dell, Chairman and CEO, Dell
If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant a tree; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people. Those are the words of Confucius, but they might as easily be the words of Michael Dell. He has been an outspoken advocate for talking a long view for value creation along a variety of important issues ranging from environmental sustainability to job creation in developing economies. In the same year he took his company private, Dell doubled down on commitments to improve the environmental impacts of his products and commitments to report progress on those goals. In the same year, he became a global advocate for entrepreneurship on behalf of the U.N. with an eye towards ensuring that job growth becomes one of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Seeing these commitments made by a huge private company that does not have the same reporting requirements as it did when it was public will hopefully raise the bar for us all. To see more of Michael Dell in his own words follow these links:
- Going Private Is Paying Off for Dell
- Michael Dell on the new (private) Dell
- Michael Dell on Innovation and Global Technology Solutions
Hans Rosling, global health expert, data visionary
“In god we trust, all others bring data,” These are the words of W. Edwards Deming, one of the founders of the quality movement, but they might as easily be the words of Hans Rosling, who has made data visualization his life’s work and who has put his life’s work in the public domain so that we can all get a little more educated about the world around us. Rosling has aggregated most major public global data sources in a platform that allows curious minds a free tool to explore how different socio-economic and environmental factors have so far and might in the future affect human well-being. To use Rosling’s own tagline, “Pretty cool, eh?” To see Hans Rosling’s work, check out Gapminder.
Michael Lewis, best-selling author, journalist
Author Michael Lewis has written another great story. Flash Boys—a remarkable piece of nonfiction that follows a small Wall Street team as it works to reform the financial markets—actually makes high frequency trading (HFT) and its effects on markets understandable to the lay person. This is just his most recent in a long line of best-selling page turners penned by this author, including Liars Poker and The New New Thing. I am inspired by Lewis’ prolificacy, his gift for writing compelling characters, and his effort to make complex subjects comprehensible to his readers. To learn more about Michael Lewis and his books, visit his website.