Blog 15. The B Team Has Plan B for Profits, People, and the Earth

Frustrated by change?

As Blog 1 discussed, society is changing faster every year, with the rate of change driven by the accumulation of prior changes.  My frustrated colleagues issue complaints like this:

  • The print and broadcast news media are becoming slanted because they are controlled by a few companies with political agendas.
  • Commercial TV now fills 30% of its time with advertising.
  • The news is no longer investigative journalism, but panders to spectacular events and personality displays.
  • Politicians focus on making the other side look bad rather than solving problems.
  • Blame and fear instead of facts and analysis recently dominate government.
  • CEOs make tens of millions while outsourcing jobs.
  • As soon as they are elected, congressmen invest half their time in fund-raising and politicking for the next election.
  • Big businesses like oil and corporate farming get subsidies.

The frustration comes from seeing what’s happening while my colleagues find themselves powerless to influence it.

The question:

Can you change a free enterprise system without destroying freedom?  Does freedom mean the rich are free to get richer, the PACs are free to buy candidates, and business are free to dump pollution on the common air, land, and water?  The powerful can dismantle or avoid governmental regulations, but would anything else be un-free?

Plan B

A team of  business people have a different view.  Sir Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, and an international team of business leaders initiated a new movement aimed at turning business into a force for good, calling it The B Team.  (Twitter #Bteam)  They propose to develop business models based on social responsibility as well as profit.  The announcement on June 13, 2013 reached hundreds of assembled groups around the world via a webcast from London.  (At the webcast sign-in, click the box for viewing as an individual.)  The B Team welcomes input from anyone.  Even old scientists.

The B Team says “The private sector can and must redefine both its responsibilities and its own terms of success … (become) a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit …” The Team firmly states that global society faces severe resource scarcity and social inequality. They denounce current business practice: “While there are myriad reasons we’ve arrived at this juncture, much of the blame rests with the principles and practices of ‘business as usual’.”

The group isn’t anti-capital, it simply sees a bright future only if private business becomes “a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit …” They want to develop a “Plan B” that “puts people and planet alongside profit …”

It’s obvious the Plan B folks see a developing tragedy of the commons while pollution, mineral extraction, and landscape destruction proceed, practices  allowing enterprise to shift environmental and social costs of its production onto the public.  They see that unchecked positive feedback in economic competition creates monopolies with the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer, a system that will self-destruct.  They see that profit alone is a wrong goal because it doesn’t including well-being of the people.  Without saying so, they seem to understand that the current faults are a systemic behavior, not the misconduct of an individual.  Systemic behavior can be altered by fixes of the operating rules, the culture, and the beliefs—as previous blogs in this series have outlined.  Indirectly, the team suggests we must get away from the presumptions that growth is good and nature is an unlimited resource.  They see these changes as necessary for business to survive.  That’s wise.  Business doesn’t survive well during social collapse.

Team B identifies three challenges for 2013.

  1.  The future bottom line:  Corporate accountability beyond financial gains.
  2. The future of incentives:  There are too few positive, too many perverse incentives to support the transition of markets & business models toward the future bottom line.
  3. The future of leadership:  The current mindset of competing and consuming solely for financial gains is unsustainable. Business leaders need to work together.

Hey, that’s revising the rules within a complex system.  The right approach!  Blog 3 and Blog 14 describe how redirection of a complex system, like an economy or a society, requires adjustment of the sometimes-invisible rules by which individuals and organizations interact.  Furthermore, those adjustments must be done so as to generate a cycle of feedback to support the desired change, allowing the time required for that signal to propagate throughout the system. In other words, instant fixes rarely work.

It’ not clear that the Plan B Team is thinking of the deep cultural rules—as well as the obvious governmental rules—that require adjustment, but the team talks about eliminating bribery and corruption.  I wonder if they mean K Street?

The team wants the input and participation of the world’s public.  I suggest we join them and support them because every bureaucracy in the world is likely to respond to Plan B as a threat. After all, self-preservation is a dominant emergent property of almost every complex system, including economies, societies, governments, and cultures.  And beehives too, come to think of it.