How should you use your platform?
All that you are + Network = Platform
I’m approaching my 57th trip around the sun. Though I have never been a religious person, I am spiritual in the sense that I do believe that there are universal forces somehow at play in our lives; the breadth, depth, and purpose of which, for our 5000+ years of searching, still seemingly beyond our comprehension. One of the benefits of a liberal arts education (and in my biased view, there are many, many more) is the knowledge that since the dawn of humankind, we have sought to understand who we are and why we are here; this primal search for meaning has both pulled and propelled us forward in literature, philosophy, art and of course sciences and most recently technology. In fact, there are those who would assert that this relentless quest to explain that which cannot be explained is the very reason we developed language and letters in the first place. That also leads to the subject of perhaps another blog; the paradox that the more you discover, the more you realize that answers beget questions and that maybe our ultimate purpose lies in a seemingly Sisyphean task. Additionally, I am an innately curious person; when I was 5 yrs. old, I methodically dismantled a radio I’d been given because my sister told me I’d killed the little man inside (Turns out the batteries were dead!) And, like many thinking (skeptical?) people, I am always a little apprehensive and even suspicious when people try to assert that they have it all figured out. So I shift instead from what I know, to what I believe.
Within the larger and more tenured religions of the world, the vast majority share in common elements of faith, hope and charity which are not only required to believe, but also demanded by devotional duty. Logically, it follows that in order to act in charitably — i.e. pursuing one’s religious duty — the ambition and performance should somehow be in proportion to one’s accumulated resources. Christians summarize this in the well-known verse; Luke 12:48 which can be paraphrased as those to whom much is given, much is expected. Despite my lack of a creed (i.e. a systematic, documented belief set) I do hold this tenet as one of my fundamental values.
Values are defined as those beliefs and behaviors we hold true at the very center of our being. Shared values allow people to live, work and play together. I’ve heard values expressed this way; when you act according to your values, you get a positive, warm feeling inside. Conversely, if acting or watching others act in a distasteful or abhorrent way, causes a sick feeling in your stomach, this is because you have done or witnessed something that is against your values. Like people, societies have values and at some level, a national identity is rooted in its share beliefs or its core values. One example comes to mind; Americans hold a core value around the supremacy of individual freedoms, so much so that the individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is enshrined in our founding document, the Declaration of Independence. Other nations might have core values that subordinate the individual’s rights to those of the collective leading people to the utilitarian view — the greatest good for the greatest number — espoused by Jeremy Bentham in 18th century England. So core values are very important to us as human beings especially as regards our interpersonal relationships.
What is actually meant by to whom much is given? We all know people who could be the subject of the quote popularized by legendary football coach and college athletic director Barry Switzer. Some people are born on third and think they hit a triple, observed Switzer in a 1986 interview. He was referring to is some people’s failure to acknowledge the advantages they have by being born into a life of wealth and its derived privileges. At the other (lesser?) end of the privilege spectrum, is the so-called self-made person. I’ve yet to actually meet one! Of course, I know all sorts of people who have risen from dire conditions of disastrous childhood and succeeded against-all-odds to become hugely successful. But, rarely have they done it alone. In modern times, they are undoubtedly beneficiaries of a publicly-funded education systems, infrastructure — electrical power, internet, roads, airports, railways, bridges, hospitals, modern agricultural investments etc… that were necessary for their enterprise to succeed and in some case make them extremely wealthy. Early human societies very quickly found that if they could organize themselves and divide labor around specific spheres of responsibility and tasks, they could free some up for loftier tasks such as religion pursuits, language, philosophy, mathematics, sciences and arts. Humanity as a whole continues following this model. Summarizing, I believe that what you have — your assets (your net worth in money, skills and capabilities, judgement and discretion) is a function of all the worldly gifts you were given as a birthright plus the ones you earned through your own experiences, grit, ambition and guile. Most would agree that society is better off and life is richer when we free some of us to pursue goals beyond hunting, gathering, crop raising and other domestic pursuits aimed solely at surviving.
The next element in the formula is your network. For me network has many levels of meaning — at its broadest level, it would include all of your friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, social media followers etc…anyone you know or has ever known you; even those who you have a passing knowledge, familiarity or intimacy. For the purposes of the platform equation, I would tighten up definition quite a bit. I would offer that you should whittle the vast list down to those with whom you have a critical components in common or that there is a mutual resonance between you and your networkee. One might even extend this definition by renaming network to those who you have curated And being a curator means you have to decide who’s in and who’s out of this set and though your purpose may change according your specific aims or goals at the time, the core reasons for your resonance with the subject person does not change that much. Shared values tend to rise above particular circumstance. In short, my belief is your platform is you + your network and further, you have a duty, imposed by the universe to do something to move the human condition forward. Said another way, we should be the change or create the world you want to live in.
What right, you may ask, do I have to impose my beliefs and world view on an otherwise unsuspecting population? World history is rife with heroes and villains who sought to accomplish that same goal! I argue that the difference lies in both what they were trying to accomplish and how they go about it. When we think about people imposing their vision on the world, we tend to focus on the numerous, historic, horrific examples of individual megalomaniacs and movements that seize power by exploiting fear, pitting one faction against another by empowering and enriching one side at the expense of the other. There are literally oceans of blood spilled in the pursuit and defense of these conflicts wherein one side must be right and one side must be defeated or even annihilated. History is behind us as by definition, and we cannot do anything to change the outcomes BUT, we can learn and move on and maybe undo some of this poison legacy. If we turn to our current world, we do see contemporary examples of individuals and movements that, if they continue to get traction and remain unchecked, could easily morph something viewed as catastrophic and heinous by our future generations. I imagine my grandchild upon discovering that I was in fact alive during today’s turmoil and asking what, grandpa did you do to stop it? (Much like I am very aware that relatives on both sides of my family fought — and some died — against evil in WWI and WW2). This is precisely what legacy means and to have had a platform, and to have done nothing is simply untenable and unimaginable. When I consider for me, what should I do with my platform? I bring another fundamental belief into my decision process. I am a stalwart believer in Jonas Salk’s view that “Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors”. This tenet underscores my view that the primary responsibility of a leader is the stewardship of their organization; to leave the organization in a stronger, more resilient condition than when we assumed the role. In business, this means long term, sustainable competitive advantage — absolutely impossible to attain with short term thinking. At my last company we talked about this as balancing the interests of people, planet and profits. Over the long term, you simply cannot sacrifice one for the other. Similarly, as individuals, I believe we have a solemn duty to posterity that we each do our part to leave the world a better place. Taken with a long term, sustainable perspective in mind, this should give guidance on how I believe one could use their platform.
Personally, I am at my core a humanist; that is my belief is that all humans are embedded with potential and that an individual’s solemn duty is to seek and pursue their potential with the caveat is that one is in parallel, expected to enable and ensure the same for his fellow humans. Remembering my view on values, I suspect this is what I find it absolutely abhorrent about the current political polarity; the right ignores the fundamental responsibility that we humans have for each other and the left ignores the personal responsibility of the individual for their own self-determination. The right ignores the systemic bias imposed on people that are not like them and the left advances claims against the accrued gains of those who the system has endowed. To be a humanist is to be a political centrist — this world requires people of goodwill to come together and seek to move forward in a spirit of truth and reconciliation; concession to the noble ideal that no side deserves all it asks for, the pursuit of which will only result in an imbalance of power and the righting of which will stain human history yet to be made. One universal truth, evidenced every day is that the indomitable human spirit cannot be crushed for long and that the wrongs in one generation will be righted by the next ad infinitum. The genius of Robert Fulgham’s 1986 book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten can be summed up as sharing, being kind to one another, cleaning up after themselves, and living “a balanced life” of work, play, and learning. In other words bringing into our adult life, the truths learned in childhood and using our platform to raise each other up. While there is urgency, I tend to think evolution, not revolution — small changes, eating the elephant one bite at a time — makes the task manageable and creates real sustainable and lasting change.
My colleagues at the company I recently left, where I was the leader of the North American segment will remember my oft repeated phrase that our best chance to impact the corporation was to lead from behind. Do the right things and get results. Show and not tell. Create the company you want to work for (and the world you want to live in) by manifesting the changes you want to see. During the pandemic, this means we put employees first, focusing on health and safety and keeping the factories open so we could keep a reliable supply of products to our customers and continue to provide a livelihood for our teams. Once the crisis settles, the team will focus on hiring great people, empowering them with strategy as their north star; allowing them to develop and attain a measure of self-realization in the relentless pursuit of a compelling value proposition for our customers. I’m proud of what we accomplished and I look toward what’s next, discovering how I can use my platform to make the world a better place.