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Let's make business about benevolence

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be many shared explorations of the nature of a presumptuous idea I call the “Benevolent Business Model”.

Not a new or particularly original idea by any stretch - just what I happen to call my version of concepts many people are talking about in various forms (too many to list).

With a heart and mind likely tinged with naïveté, yet most certainly sustained by stubborn optimism, I've been exploring this topic for most of the last 13 years in a variety of leadership roles at four organizations, informed by a lifetime of both uplifting and painful experiences and uncountable inspiring (and a few uninspiring) people.

If I am honest with myself and with you, dear reader, I am not entirely sure what the model is, or if it’s scalable beyond my localized experiments. I only know my days are filled with longing that it should exist amid frequent glimmers of evidence it might work in practice at human-centered organizations.

While I don’t believe any model or method can provide the magical solution for every challenge, if questioning the fundamental nature of business moves the boulder even an inch up our steepening hill of isolation and cynicism, I’ll be content that I made an effort even in the face of “failure”.

For me, failure is not “trying and not succeeding”. For me, failure is “not trying that which that can and should be tried”. I firmly believe , after 30+ years experiencing and witnessing how much our well-being can be affected by our jobs, that this is an idea worth trying.

I invite you to bear witness to the potential face-plant ahead. It wouldn't be my first, or likely my last - I’ve gotten pretty good at picking myself up off the mat, patching up the cuts and scrapes, and trying again in spite of sound advice to the contrary.

Either way, we'll learn something valuable, even if at my expense.  I’ll always have my family, Golden Retriever, and gardening to retreat to while I lick my wounds. So:

“Buck up. Smile. Charm. Off we go. We'll be okay.”

(Extra points to anyone who reveals the reference in the comments)


The Benevolent Business Model is based on a simple idea:

"All human activity should exist to fulfill human needs. Therefore, business activity should exist to generate well-being, fulfillment, and agency for everyone it touches.”

What that statement means in practice as a roadmap to competitive advantage and profitability is what I invite you to collaborate on. I’m asking you for your help.

However, before we discuss business, I’d first like to talk about…

Mr. Rogers.

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Henrietta Pussycat, Fred Rogers, and X the Owl on the set of "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood", the revolutionary children's show that ran for 31 seasons from 1968 to 2001.

The other night as I was introspecting on what to do next (absolutely figuring this out as I go), I happened across the excellent documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, about Fred Rogers and his astonishing life, career, and impact on generations of children. I have to admit there were tears in my eyes for most of the 95 minute run time. I'm certainly one of those children.

While I’m tempted to wax poetic about his journey and “too good to be true” character, humility, courage, and strength of will, I’ll resist - just watch the film - every person who needs a little more hope in their lives should watch this film.

Through a modern lens, Mr. Rogers was so unwaveringly “uncool” that he was in fact way ahead of his time and in my opinion remarkably cool. An original “Benevolence Creator”. Love him, doubt him, ignore him, roll your eyes if you want to. His conviction never seemed dissuaded by others' views of him, or even his own doubts about himself.

To me, that's the essence of “cool”.

Fred Rogers chose a channel (television) and a path (connecting with children), and dedicated his life to the benevolence of every person he came in contact with, in person or over the airwaves.

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Fred Rogers testifying before the U.S. Senate on May 1st, 1969 (three days before I was born) in response to the Congressional effort to cancel government funding for Public Broadcasting. After his testimony, the funding was instantly approved.

And as you will learn in the film, he was also, like most of us, inspired and informed by his uplifting and painful experiences. I find great comfort in that as I fight my own imposter syndrome while writing this.

Applying his example (among many others to be explored) to explaining the concept at hand, the channel (business) and the path (creating ecosystems of well-being, fulfillment, and agency) is what the Benevolent Business Model is attempting to emulate. Yes, it’s about the concreteness of “business”, however it’s animated and inspired by the intrinsic value of “benevolence”, regardless of what that means to each of us personally.

Later in his career, Fred Rogers, at times feeling he was misunderstood, became more vocal about the change he wished to see in the world (more “King Friday” than “Daniel Tiger” as his aunt notes in the film). In an interview clip about 76 minutes in, he puts forth a challenge to us all that is deeply appropriate considering the current state of the world where discord is rising and the very planet our children will inherit is at risk:

“Let’s take the gauntlet and make goodness attractive in this so-called next millennium.
That’s the real…that's the real job that we have. I’m not talking about Pollyanna-ish kind of stuff, I’m talking about down-to-earth actual good-ness.
People caring for each other, in a myriad of ways.
Rather than people knocking each other off all the time. I mean, I don’t find that funny at all. 
What changes the world? The only thing that ever really changes the world is when somebody gets the idea that love can abound, and can be shared.”

Naive? Corny? Perhaps. Either way, sign me up.

Author's Note: Now that I got through some of the "mushy stuff", stay tuned for nuts and bolts in the weeks ahead, as well as introductions to some of those inspirational people I was talking about. See ya soon!

Interested in a conversation about the Benevolent Business Model, Brand Leadership, or anything else? This is all about making friends and building community. Please reach out to me HERE.