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Conscious Business Is Leading The Hardest Battle So Far

The Creative Incubator Vienna module was an eye-opening experience for me since I laid foot at the Austria Vice venue. The advertising industry has a stronghold in influencing brands and society into driving change, and amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic, I believe this topic has never been more on point.

The fact that we fail to see the bigger picture, that we insist on running previously tested business formulas to drive profit, and always put humans at the top of the food chain has unsurprisingly already started to place a significant toll on climate change.

However, during the incubator, I was particularly interested in the discussions and the new perspectives on redefining purpose, creating value for the whole stakeholder chain, and thinking in systems.

“If we want to make a change, we must think in systems” this simple sentence from Luis Villa has marked me deeply. As a strategist myself, I find it common sense to connect all the pieces in the puzzle and make them work sustainably for future generations as well. However, what I failed to see up to Vienna was that one sustainable system alone is not sufficient to bring change to the world. A system influences other systems around it and all of them are interconnected.

With this key takeaway, that if we want to make a change we need to think in systems, I was hit by what was happening around me: the COVID-19 pandemic. We might be tempted to think that this crisis is an unintended consequence of the previous generation for not investing enough in the environment, in healthcare, in digitizing what should have been already digitized, and so on. The truth is, these were not only the result of actions taken by previous generations, but we were more than happy to continue down that path. Only in recent years have companies started to be more ethical about how we conduct businesses, how we lead our teams. However, this was done at such a slow pace, that this crisis is a hard slap in the face to all those companies that postponed or staged the change in their organizations.

Uncertainty drives postponed change

I believe that amid this uncertainty and crisis, lies an immense potential to drive change. And faster than ever before. Companies have the chance to reinvent themselves, dig deeper into their roots, and reevaluate if their purpose is in line with what is happening in the world around them. It generates an immense opportunity for promoters of conscious capitalism but also puts previous conscious capitalism discussions and actions to the test.

However, past experience showed me it is one thing for companies to talk about “considering the well-being of all stakeholders” and “putting purpose ahead of profit” when times are good. It is another thing entirely to stick to those principles when the economic system is on the verge of collapse and also humanity, as we know it, redefines its purpose in a changing environment.

So, after the Incubator, I was curious if companies were still sticking to their discourses about becoming sustainable among this global crisis.

Living up to the challenge

Photo by Thiébaud Faix on Unsplash

I was not surprised to see that some companies are living up to the challenge and are driving conscious business further by reshaping historical purposes, changing production lines, and endorsing collaboration with previous competitors. An example is Facebook, which donated to small businesses that have a tight knot around their cash flows during this pandemic. Other examples, including Microsoft, Alphabet, and Tesla, are living up to their previous actions by committing to pay their hourly workers their regular wages despite a slowdown in operations or even changing production lines ( the core of the business) to fit the new needs of humanity.

Yet, not every company is rising to the challenge. Whole Foods, a US grocery chain, has been in the spotlight after its chief executive reportedly asked employees to donate their unused sick leave to peers that have contracted the coronavirus. Also, examples from several airline companies have shown that financial care is polarized through actions like sharing profits from the past year while laying off some of its not so privileged employees.

The 50 shades of ethics

Even though it is only human to be tempted to see in black and white and point fingers at the culprits, I cannot but notice all the shades of grey in between. For instance, especially in Romania, but I guess all over the world, small businesses that are less well-capitalized may need to cut staff simply to survive. Also, the black job markets are leaving people overnight without a job and government help.

Photo by Tedward Quinn on Unsplash

This cannot be blamed on a business not being conscious enough. It is the hardship of the times we are living in. Now is the time for companies to take a step outside the vicious circle that has been around for years. They must realize that their best chance to thrive or even survive is to collaborate and place their best efforts into driving change and helping other companies turn conscious as well.

The best bet I can think of right now is for companies and people to go back to their human roots and realize that humanity is at its best when we stick together and collaborate. This is the missing link that has always put homo sapiens on the top of the chain: humanity’s capacity to collaborate and make strategies for a common purpose, the survival of the species.

Conscious business is not a novelty or a trend or a luxury gig. It is a necessity. So, let’s all keep our cool heads, take a deep breath and stretch out for this common goal that not only drives change but helps us adapt and survive in the brave new world lying ahead.

Photos @ Creative Incubator 2020 – Vienna




Cristiana Pană

Head of Strategy & Growth Minio Studio