Milton Friedman’s disastrous argument

I read Seth Godin’s blog every day. I think he’s smart and we share most of the same values. Today’s post is a wonderful example of that. Its insight is simple but profound.

The renowned and (in many circles) revered economist Milton Friedman made an argument half a century ago that says this: “there is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits…”

Since then, business school deans, the Harvard Business Review and Fortune (among others) have published rebuttals. But, as Godin points out, the interesting thing is that this corrosive, destructive point of view has been used to justify irresponsible actions by many, many corporations since it was published. Why? It’s simple. It lets people off the hook. It gives them permission to act like brats. To pillage the rest of society, take the spoils and run. With impunity. What’s not to like, if it applies to you?

But if the human beings who run companies can’t find a way to act like human beings, then it’s incumbent upon the rest of us to protect our larger society from them. We do that in other areas where we see societal damage: We can’t put melamine in baby formula. We can’t sell cigarettes to children. We have building codes. Hell, we carefully regulate near-irrelevant areas like sports. So why should corporations be immune from accountability?

I’m not suggesting we prohibit profits. Just that we insist they be tempered with other obligations. The same ones we live with as individuals. Here’s Seth Godin’s suggestion:

A business is a construct, an association of human beings combining capital and labor to make something. That business has precisely the same social responsibilities as the people that it consists of. The responsibility to play fairly, to see the long-term impacts of its actions and to create value for all those it engages with.

This sounds like a great starting place to me. More here.

Customer service the right way

Previously, I wrote a post about our e-fax provider and how painful and silly it is when they have to go through a giant litany of scripted attempts to keep you as a customer.

Here’s a contrasting experience.

After 10 years with DirecTV, we decided to save some money and consolidate our internet, phone and television signal under Time Warner.

I expected the same sort of runaround. But instead, I had a friendly, helpful, almost touching experience canceling my DirecTV service. Their rep, Misty, was understanding, funny, and utterly charming.

Of course she tried to keep me as a customer. But her approach was thoughtful and genuine, and not scripted. In the end, she realized they couldn’t compete with the package our cable company was able to provide. So she created a reasonable, non-defensive transition for me. No crap. No whining. No blaming. Just pleasant and helpful.

That goes a long way toward building DirecTV’s brand and means I’d happily reenlist if they meet my needs in the future. And here I am, unsolicited, telling everyone in earshot that they were wonderful. How much advertising and PR would they have to do to achieve that kind of result?

An abstract approach to brand identity

Green Hasson Janks folder with reflections

Varnished surfaces add surprise to this corporate presentation piece.

We recently finished a presentation kit for the Los Angeles-based accountants and business advisors Green Hasson Janks. Ordinarily a folder isn’t something I’d crow about. But this one’s really special.

Designed as a container for new business presentations, it features an unexpected twist on the firm’s key graphic element — a bold ampersand with an upward arrow known in the firm as the Uppersand. It’s their symbol of collaboration and is featured prominently in all their marketing materials and advertising. (More on that next week.)

We deconstructed the symbol, overlaying copies of it to create beautiful abstract shapes where the solid portions overlap. As you open the folder, these shapes resolve into the actual ampersand which is fully revealed on the three-panel interior.

GHJ Folder animationThe effect is enhanced by the overall velvety matte aqueous coating which plays against the mirror-gloss finish of spot UV varnish. That high shine reveals the full ampersand as the abstract graphic elements merge. This coming together to create a powerful whole is, of course, the whole point. It’s a message that’s subtly alluded to by our visuals, and strongly stated in the text.

Kudos to our senior designer Kevin Consales for this beautiful concept, to ColorNet Press for the meticulous execution, and to Green Hasson Janks for the courage to try something powerfully different as an expression of their brand identity.