One of the messages I've been lucky enough to be spreading lately is that of questioning the gap between business and human values. I started thinking about this issue almost two years ago, but wasn't able to quite shape it into the message I needed to get across until earlier this year when I was preparing to give a workshop at Best Buy HQ for the Social Media Club Reality Check Series in January. It occurred to me as I finished up The Whuffie Factor and was traveling around talking about it, there were parts of my message that were valued by business leaders and other parts that were glossed over. Those that seemed to make people squirm were the touchy-feely ones like Embrace the Chaos and Find Your Higher Purpose, which IMO are the most advanced ones. They require a major shift in thinking from being very traditional business thinking to being very human-centric. For me, this is a no-brainer. It's key. Businesses sell to humans, why shouldn't they align with human needs. But what I discovered as I delivered my message is that I seemed to be speaking a foreign language. And not only was it foreign, but it was undervalued. "Where is the 101? Should we have a Facebook page or a Twitter account or both?" "How do we measure ROI?" was thrown back at me like nothing I said had sunk in. I was told by colleagues that my message was too basic. Huh?

That's when I began to realize that there is a deeper misunderstanding here than the economics of social currency - which is what TWF is all about and I started preaching in 2006. But as I heard more and more social media types describe these social economics (whether they used Whuffie or Social Currency or Social Capital or...), something wasn't changing: the business approach to online communities. Social capital wasn't being described as a currency that works differently, but in tandem with market capital, it was being described as a thing to be mined...a justification for a social media strategy. "Look at all of the social capital we can leverage to make more money!" This was so not my intention.

And then the lightbulb went on! I realized that what was wrong with the whole picture was the gap between the underlying values of business:

  • Profit
  • Process
  • Efficiency
  • Return on Investment
  • Risk Management & Planning
  • Maximize Resources, Minimize Waste
  • Reliability
  • Accountability
  • Growth
  • Hierarchy
  • Competitiveness & Winning
  • Dedication & Loyalty
  • Control
  • Etc.

...and the underlying human values that drive community:

  • Compassion
  • Generosity
  • Connectedness
  • Freedom
  • Love
  • Truth & Authenticity
  • Courage & Fidelity
  • Charity
  • Wisdom
  • Stories
  • Openness
  • Personal Growth
  • Beauty
  • Etc.

Certainly, there is reason to some of these value-gaps. As business has grown and the ability to reach wider, global audiences has increased, efficiency and process help drive the planning for expansion. And with profitability at the core of all these values, that is necessary. But as businesses started to move into a very sacred space (and I like to compare our online communities to that of the forests of Pandora on Avatar in my presentation), these values begin to poison the very human interactions we have there. All of a sudden, things shift and the things we hold so dear are being ignored (or de-valued "tweeting about what you are having for lunch is so inane!"), co-opted (community members, themselves, becoming 'personal brands' or what I call roboticized) or exploited (community sourcing is the process of exploiting generosity). And this is not the direction we need to go in IMO. I believe strongly that, rather than business injecting business values onto our communities to business ends, we really need to turn the tides and teach business how to espouse human values again...or as Gary Hamel writes in his excellent column, put soul back into business. It is human beings, after all, that are necessary to the success of any business (whether employees or customers).

Which is why I DO mind the gap between business values and human values and why this has become the focus of my most recent work and presentations:

As the presentation states, we humans are growing less and less trusting of where we are spending our money and our time (working), but we still desire that connection. No, we don't want to be chummy with companies, but we are seeking out those brands that espouse human values to spend our time and money with. And that is the key here. It's not just a nice thing to do, although I believe that without this shift, the world is going to get a whole lot scarier - think the current economic crisis but worse. It's also a smart business move. There is much more business can learn from the values driving the growth of online communities than where to target the next generation of buyers. Call it a revolution or a paradigm shift or what you will, but it is happening and it needs to be said over and over until the shift is made universally. This doesn't just make for a better future for humans, but for business as well. Like it or not, we are living in a consumer society and we may as well make it a harmonious relationship.

So, yes, I DO mind the gap and so should everyone else. We spend a great amount of time on connecting, sharing, being generous and creating beauty. This is incredibly valuable and IS making the world a better place. Let's keep it move in that direction.

[photos by: shutterstock]