Entrepreneurs, Poetry and the New Role of Business

Last week the co-founder of a Silicon Valley tech company and an entrepreneur from Berlin drove up the winding coastal roads to our home in Northern California, eager to explore with us their ideas for a new company.

Nelson Gonzalez and Jan Bathel’s high energy, creativity and authentic desires to build an enterprise of higher purpose were exciting. What’s also exciting is they’re not alone. They represent a larger emerging trend:

Entrepreneurs who focus on enriching life are redefining the role of business.

What struck me about our discussions with Nelson and Jan was that our guests conveyed the same theme I picked up at Tim O’Reilly’s Next Economy Summit earlier in October. There is a change happening in the role business plays and it is now being baked into the very essence of many new businesses created today.

Businesses get a lot of bad press, some of it well deserved, for being short-sighted money grubbers (Wells Fargo, BP, Volkswagen pop to mind). To be fair, we should also note that many companies operate ethical, successful enterprises that also do a lot good things in the world.

The difference is today we see more and more people creating companies whereby doing good is not a PR ploy and a mere bolt-on to their money machine. Instead, these authentically dedicated-to-a-greater-purpose companies view the role of business in a broader sense…

They see the role of business as creating true value and enriching life.

At the Next Economy Summit, there were speakers like Rana Foroohar, author of Makers and Takers, who set the context for why the role of business must be freed from the downward pull of “Financialization”. Financialization puts everything through a lens that prioritizes short term money maximization, creating an upside down universe whereby 85% of all of the money in the Financial sector today goes to trading assets on Wall Street and only 15% ever makes it to value-creating enterprises. A Financialized “Takers” system creates steep income inequality and is not sustainable for any society. Our financial structures and the fundamental role of business have to be redesigned if we are to have a sustainable system.

Throughout the Summit we heard wonderful stories from companies building their enterprises on the premise that great businesses enrich life and create true value for all stakeholders. Jack Conte saw that Creatives (like artists, musicians, cartoonists, etc.) didn’t have a good way to earn a steady income, so he founded Patreon, a crowdsourcing enterprise that has now helped 25,000+ Creatives live a life they love. A company called Zipline live streamed video of their newly launched drone delivery company sending blood and medical supplies to remote villages in Africa. That was a life enriching inspiration to all of us in the audience! Tom Kartsotis founded Shinola (maker of premium watches, bikes, leather goods) as a company that puts people to work in Detroit by making a profit, not the other way around.

Enriching people’s lives was a consistent theme among most of the Summit presenters, whether they were new businesses, mega businesses, or people shaping the future of policy and government.

About the Poetry I promised in title of this blog:

“What we choose to fight is so tiny!

What fights with us is so great.”

“When we win it’s with small things,

and the triumph itself makes us small.”

Tim O’Reilly, host of the Next Economy Summit, quoted these lines from R.M. Rilke’s poem The Man Watching . He recited the lines to emphasize the importance of business taking on the bigger challenges, not just selling more ads or manipulating stock options, but doing work that matters and building it into our new companies.

So when Nelson and Jan came to visit, dream and create last week, I shared Tim’s excerpt from Rilke and recited another Rilke poem I love. This one is important to me because it represents the challenge of continuous transformation that we as individuals and enterprises must be willing to engage in order to grow into our full potential, a potential for which we can’t know the final end state when we begin our journey.

“I live my life in growing orbits

which move out over the things of the world.

Perhaps I can never achieve the last,

but that will be my attempt.

I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,

and I have been circling for a thousand years,

and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm,

or a great song.”

This beautiful poem opened a rich discussion with our house guests about the transformational necessity required of all of us as we grow our enterprises, elevate the role of business and become more fully human, more fully who we were meant to be. Nelson and Jan are creating their exciting new enterprise to deliver on that promise for their future clients, as well as for themselves.

Today, as I was writing this post, I received an e-mail from Jan thanking us for the opportunity to think and play together. In his note, he shared these poetic excerpts from a play by Peter Handke…

“Show your eyes, pilot others into the deep, take care for space and look at each one in his own image. Decide enthusiastically. Fail quietly. Above all, have time and take detours.”

We could do worse than to invite poetry into our lives and businesses.

In the new era dawning out of this period of rapid change, breakdown-breakthrough world, we have choices to make. We each have to decide how we will contribute to this new era and the role we want our businesses to play.

The question we must ask ourselves is…

Can we be imaginative enough to see a world of prosperity that includes creating value for everyone, a world where there is room for the enrichment of life for all of us riding on this big blue marble orbiting the sun?

Written by Dan & Meredith BEAM

Screwing up the status quo to create value and enrich life

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BEAM, inc. is a San Francisco based international consulting and design firm dedicated to creating value and enriching life. http://www.beaminc.com/

BEAM, inc. is a San Francisco based international consulting and design firm dedicated to creating value and enriching life. http://www.beaminc.com/