Last week, I had an animated debate with a friend. He posted an article affirming that the Internet was anything but a liberating and innovative tool for creating a better world capable of destabilizing big corporate players. He claimed that those who were powerful before the Internet revolution are even more so today. If you look at the brands on Facebook for instance, Coca-Cola, Walmart, Starbucks and the other usual suspects are all highly visible and active.
This may be true, but if you focus on the facts and let reality limit your aspirations, you will never be available to design the future. Sure, the ones who have been well versed in getting our attention for decades have learned to use the new digital medium to make their voices even louder. That said if you listen carefully you can hear lots of new whispers behind all their noise. It starts softly with difficulty and doubt, just like any long term change. The whisper is about something different than mass consumerism from companies that just don't care.
This new breeze is related to a set of values. Community, transparency and a desire to impact are aspirations that are ever more present in this digital revolution. Permanent access to the world creates an endless connection. It can even become a real bond or sense of belonging. I refer to this perception as the idea of "oneness" similar to the one experienced by astronauts when returning to earth after seeing our planet from space and seeing Earth as a single living organism. The internet is the oneness feeling of my generation.
Oneness, convergence and the beauty of the cloud? What a nice dream... I know, the Internet freedom is not the idealistic painting we all imagined. Be it the NSA, PRISM or corporations tracking our every click things are far from ideal. Change is like success, it's a question of persistence when faced with adversity.
I love the University of Portland's commencement speech of Paul Hawken in 2009:
When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren't pessimistic, you don't understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren't optimistic, you haven't got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world.
We can always focus on the negative and blame the tools. It's easy, but an obvious trap. We need to realize that the responsibility of the new medium is in the hands of those using it, us. Empowered by a digital context many different projects and brands are defining a new vision of consumption based on values and a generation ready to lead the path.
Everyday, I am filled with hope when I come across the many initiatives and new leaders that are offering this alternative. I love imagining that these ventures currently on the margin will soon be the new normal. From mass consumerism to conscious behaviors and products, today I have access to brands that think differently. Be it Good Eggs for my groceries or Everlane for my clothes, if I want to consume differently, I can. Leaders should not see these companies as accidents or exceptions. They are our future.
Not only do they resonate for a whole new group of consumers who care, but they are also the initiatives that attract the talent of our generation. Neil Blumenthal, founder and CEO of Warby Parker affirms:
More than ever, young people entering the job market are making decisions based on how closely their personal values align with a company's values.
Which reinforces the vision he shared at the Wired Business Conference in New York last May :
You're not going attract talented people unless you're a mission- driven company.
Millennials are driving change. Even if some of the big corporate players still hold the pole position, you can already feel a change in the way they communicate with us. The focus on the feeling called Coca-Cola is over, let us talk about their Small World Machine. Strategy more than a genuine change? Time will tell. You cannot fool us. We are totally honest about who we are and we speak our truth. Sooner or later, we will find yours.
The B-team initiative is not led by small businesses full of utopian beliefs. Companies such as Unilever, Virgin and more are joining the "People and Purpose before Profit" revolution.
Sure, you can not transform businesses and mass consumerism in one day. But as said Margaret Mead:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Listen to the whispering, it's getting louder.