The Role of Business is to Make the World a Better Place for Everyone – INSEAD

September 12, 2014

Presentation Summary

Kevin Roberts presented at the INSEAD Essentials Alumni event themed “How to make the world a better place – Through Diversity, Digital and Education” held at the Bernardine College in Paris.

The Role of Business

The Role of Business:

  • WELCH-create shareholder value
  • DRUCKER-create and grow a customer
  • KR-make the world a better place for everyone.

Institutions such as governments, churches and media are limited as agents of change. Geared defensively; a lot of reporting and policy and a little bit of absolution. Humanity will never strategize, rationalize, negotiate, consult or hope its way to glory.

Only business can take direct action to move hearts. Business meets needs, solves problems, innovates, improves lives, create jobs and offers everyday joy. Only business has the freedom to win through imagination and ideas.

You could take the view that we live in a VUCA world.  Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous.

With threats from “Sy-raq” to Ebola to wild weather to global debt equity. You can assemble any number of current events to say the world is going in the wrong direction.

Where will this take us? Paralysis by analysis. These approaches lack the velocity to defeat the legions of darkness. Responses to a VUCA world generally get stuck in the Assess-Decide quadrants rather than Action-Execution.


Getting Things Done is not the same as Making Things Happen.

You reframe VUCA as SuperVUCA, with opportunities that are Vibrant, Unreal, Crazy and Astounding.

Digital is a theme of this conference. We live in a hi-tech time of immense promise that is transforming clean energy, agriculture, healthcare, education, retailing and small business.

I have no fears about technology and believe it offers more opportunity for prosperity and harmony than any other phenomenon in history. As for any problems, we will work them out. It’s a 90/10 equation between opportunities and issues.

But technology alone is not going to get us to a SuperVUCA world.

Thomas Pickety’s barnstorming doorstopper ‘Capital’ has projected significant arguments as to what to do about income inequality in the world.

My subject area is also Capital: emotional capital; creative capital; idea capital; connection capital; story capital; dream capital. All areas ‘beyond reason’.

Martin Luther King did not say “I have a strategy.”

A country can dream of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

Every business must have a dream to improve life. To add some happiness to a drab world. To get people singing.

We need radical optimists and extreme enthusiasts but most of all we need ideas. Ideas have magical power. In a world of major impasses and eroding differences, ideas improve the way we live. Ideas create Lovemarks. What is an idea? (show pictures)A smokeless solar cooker for developing countries

  • Micro-water filters that address water shortages in arid countries
  • An electric bike wheel that makes peddling more pleasurable
  • Fabric that generates electricity from our body heat
  • Chewing gum that fixes the teeth for the nearly 4 billion people around the world who suffer from untreated oral diseases like cavities and gingivitis.

Diversity is another theme of this conference. There are multiple examples of how diversity makes for a better workplace and c-suite, I want to focus on just one of them. Consider this: In Europe’s top 100 companies, men have 89% of executive committee jobs.

Research by Catalyst shows that, on average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperform those with the least by 42% on return on Sales 53% in return on Equity, and 66% on return on Invested Capital.

Fortune just determined that stocks of the 27 “Fortune 1000” companies with female CEOs outperformed the S&P 500 over the course of their leaders’ respective tenures (103% vs. 69%).

No wonder Barclays has launched a Women in Leadership stock index, and new investment funds are starting that invest in companies with women leadershipThat’s what I call an idea.

Education is the third theme of this conference. Differences in education help explain why Korea, with 12 years of schooling, has seen a 23-fold growth in per-capita income since 1950, while Pakistan, with much less publication education, has seen only 3-fold growth.

Most high school education systems however “teach” students a lot of stuff they don’t need to know – irrelevant history, baffling equations, useless experiment – without any regard for the skills they need to operate in the real world. How to negotiate, how to communicate, how to reconcile both conflict and bank statements, how to lead, how to peak perform, how to be creative, how to have ideas, how to have attitude.

Entire education systems need to be redesigned around four principles to build a better world.

Young people need four things to make it through life: Responsibility, Learning, Recognition, Joy.

Responsibility means having personal purpose, understanding the many kinds of leadership, taking ownership, believing that Nothing Is Impossible.

Learning. I am much less interested in the benefits of tech to education as I am about instilling curiosity, teaching how to make things happen, giving methods and frameworks and language sets that provide the skills for an enterprising life. Principles and pragmatics.

Revolution begins with language.

Language drives Purpose, which creates belief, belonging and direction.

Creative Leaders invent their own language, a system of meaning, a unique vocabulary that binds the group or the place together. They inspires everyone to step up and lead, with ideas.

How to organize to make the world a better place? It starts with the language of your organization, your dream, purpose, beliefs, focus.

My benchmark comes from sport, a team that wins unmercifully, relentlessly and linguistically, the All Blacks, for whom the French represent both pleasure and pain.

  • Play to win
  • Go for the gap
  • Keep a blue head
  • Champions do extra
  • Practise under pressure
  • Sweep the sheds
  • Follow the spearhead
  • Bleed for the jersey
  • Aim for greatness
  • No opposition is more intimidating than the Legacy.

Recognition: SuperVUCA recognition lets people live their best life every day – no matter who they are, what they look like, where they live in the world.

And how about Liberty, Equality and Joy: The philosopher Daniel Dennett said it was an occupational hazard to be asked the meaning of life, so his soundbite is that the definition of happiness is to find something bigger than yourself and dedicate the rest of your life to it.

Most organisations flunk joy, and then call another meeting. Success runs on feeling you belong, striving, having purpose, and having fun along the way.

Three E words to finish:

  1. Edge. You can make the world a better place by empowering the crazies in your organization’s orbit – the misfits, pirates, hackers, mavericks, fans.  Change comes from the edge of the species. Out in the margins you’ll find the people who have IQ + EQ +TQ + BQ. Intelligence Quotient + Emotion Quotient + Technology Quotient + Bloody Quick!
  1. Emotion. Reason leads to conclusions, emotion to action. More emotion means more action. Humanity lives, decides and grows emotionally. The most popular emotion on Twitter is a heart. A fact is 22 more times memorable when it is wrapped in a story.
  2. Execution is the most powerful action to make the world a better place. This is a personal challenge.

D.O.T.: Do One Thing. Then, D.A.T.: Do Another Thing.

People Doing One Thing that they care about, that makes them feel good, that has a positive impact on the world. A DOT is a personal sustainability practice, a small change in a daily routine. A small victory over apathy.

Over time, one DOT inevitably leads to another. And ultimately, connecting a billion DOTs around the world reveals a bigger picture, a better world.

– See more at here:

Fail Fast, Learn Fast, Fix Fast.

Meet. Beat. Repeat.

And let’s do it together, for none of us is as strong as all of us.

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