In his commencement address to graduates of Syracuse University, George Saunders advised graduates to be a little kinder. He opined that each of us is born with a series of ‘built-in confusions’ that cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others.
Further, although there are ways to become kinder, less selfish, more present, and less delusional, as noted by Saunders, ‘kindness it turns out is hard.’
Businesses are also born with the same set of confusions noted by Saunders. They are central to their universe (heard about ‘culture’ in your organization lately?); they are separate from their universe (ever hear someone talk about winning in your organization?); and they think of themselves as permanent (in the case of the banks, probably right).
Considering public consensus about corporations and the captains of industry who run them it would seem that in business today, kindness it turns out is also hard.
Much in the way that Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that ‘every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness’ so too do I believe business leaders must decide if they will allow the market and everything that comes along with it to overshadow what is truly important.
Since 2001, making many mistakes along the way, I have had the opportunity to steward Evaero through some really bad times and some marginally good times.
Reflected in the struggles we have had as an organization are the struggles I’ve had trying to manufacture peace of mind for our customers, our employees, my community, my family, my peers, and my friends – all while trying to not lose myself in the process. Although my perspective continues to evolve with age, it will forever be informed and shaped by a past that has had me working as an engineer, a scientist and a worker; playing music, backpacking, motorcycling, hunting and fishing; advocating for bicycles on the roads and poetry in schools; cooking, studying, and drinking wine; being a son to immigrant parents, a father to a spirited child and husband to a spirited wife with a career of her own; and being a manager, leader, and a coach.
In sharing Evaero’s story and my own I hope we can convince each other that in making a place for kindness and creative altruism in business we can be successful and not lose ourselves in the process.