Enormously Good

This past week several team members from Kimray attended the Annual Gathering of the Games. We heard great speakers and attended breakout sessions packed with information and examples that we are bringing back to improve how we play the game. If this is the first time you have heard of running a business referred to as “playing the game”, I highly recommend Jack Stack’s book “The Great Game of Business.”

During this year’s conference we heard quite a bit about “conscious capitalism.” In August the Business Roundtable, America’s most influential group of corporate leaders, released a statement changing their definition of the purpose of a corporation. Since 1997 their mission statement indicated that the paramount duty of management and of boards of directors is to the corporation’s stockholders. However, their mission statement now proposes that a company has a broader responsibility to society, which it can better serve if it considers all stakeholders in its business decisions. Jamie Dimon, the CEO and chairman of JPMorgan Chase, and chairman of the Business Roundtable, suggested the Business Roundtable is essentially just catching up with the way many leaders are already running their businesses.

Growing up, I read a lot of fiction. One of my favorite authors is Ray Bradbury. Bradbury wrote some fantastic novels (27 in fact), including “Fahrenheit 451”, but he also wrote over 600 short stories. In “The Last Night of the World”, we find a husband and wife having coffee in the evening while their daughters play on the floor in the adjacent room. They are discussing the realization they and everyone they know has had that this night will be the end of the world, a closing of the book. Neither are upset nor afraid, rather they are relieved and peaceful. It seems to them that this is the logical conclusion.

At one point the husband says, “We haven’t been too bad, have we?”

The wife replies, “No, nor enormously good. I suppose that’s the trouble. We haven’t been very much of anything except us, while a big part of the world was busy being lots of quite awful things.”

That’s the rub. It is not enough to not be bad. We must be enormously good if we want to make a difference.

Bradbury’s story was published in February of 1951, less than six years after the end of World War II. At a time when people were still reeling from the war and wondering if there was more they could have done, the wife’s words could be construed, in part, as a comment on concentration camps and other atrocities of the war. I think it goes deeper than that. It is easy to say more should be done about hunger, war, famine and other large-scale issues. It is far harder to interrupt our daily lives and go out of our way to change another person’s life. It is these actions combined that then create a culture where hunger and war and famine (and racism and harassment and abuse) are eradicated.

We cannot be “good” at church and then “not bad” at work or in the community and expect things to work out. We have to go the extra mile to create change. We hear so much these days about sustainability, environmentalism, community building, conscious capitalism—these are all facets of social responsibility. We were created to be social and we can only live our best lives in community. Responsibility is basically taking ownership of my stuff. Putting those together, we get the concept that I must own my impact on the local, national and global community I am part of. My impact is comprised of my participation, for good or bad, and the way I use my talents, time, and treasure.

At the root of the concept of social responsibility, and its associated behavior, must be the belief that everyone is equally and intrinsically valuable. If I value others equally with myself, I will work as hard to serve and elevate them as I do myself. The problems we face in society are not primarily system or process related, they are heart related. Yes, the embedded ways we do things matter, but WHY we do them matters more. Simon Sinek has become famous for writing a book titled “Start With Why”, but he is only repeating something Jesus said almost 2,000 years ago, and that has been true since the beginning of time. The motivation of our hearts makes what we do either good or bad.

Ironically, many people wish they could have great impact in the world. We think writing books, having our name recognized, achieving titles and positions and the such will position us to have significant impact. The truth is much simpler. People who are motivated by love for others and see others as equal with themselves make far more difference in the world than the pronouncements of the CEOs of top companies. It is easy to say things. It is much harder to live them out. However, working together we can build communities that are enormously good.

Kimray has been committed to this concept for 71 years. We don’t call it conscious capitalism, or even social responsibility, but we are fully engaged in it nevertheless. At the core of everything we call The Kimray Way is the fundamental belief that we are all equally valuable. From that perspective we make decisions every day keeping in mind that we are stewards of our resources, not owners, and they should be used to elevate all, not just a select few. This doesn’t just inform what we do, it is the reason we do what we do. There is a difference.

I am excited that more and more businesses and individuals are acknowledging the need to act responsibly within the communities we share. I like the tide this is likely to bring, and I am happy to use their terms and “like” their posts. However, this is not a new concept. This is how it is supposed to be. Regardless of the term of the day, this is The Kimray Way.