One line which struck me from the film ‘The Iron Lady’ came from Thatcher’s own mouth (well, Streep doing a very good job of impersonating Thatcher anyhow) and it went something along the lines of: “(sigh) it seems as though nowadays everyone is trying to BE SOMEONE. Whatever happened to trying to DO SOMETHING?”
I would argue that both are necessary and not mutually exclusive components of progress. ‘Being someone’ implies being known, recognised and praised for doing more or doing better when compared to others. At an individual level, whilst a little competition and ambition is certainly healthy, there is a line which, when crossed, immerses the culprit into a sea of arrogance. Professing and boasting that one is better, without adequate evidence or reason, would also amount to crossing that line.
Why do we do this? Everyone has heard the phrase ‘fake it until you make it’. Indeed, this can work professionally in certain circumstances where an air of authoritarian confidence can give the impression of expertise, helping one to get ahead; when in actual fact, there is a need to develop that expertise. If this person is up to the job and works hard to prove that they can successfully achieve what they claim they can, then the initial ‘faking’ could be seen as means justified by the end outcome. That person is now recognised as ‘someone’ who has achieved ‘something’ positive. Overall, a positive thing, I would say, providing that that ‘someone’ has not trod on others’ heads to get to the top.
At a corporate level, this cannot happen. In sustainable business, it has long been known that those who profess to environmental credentials which turn out to be untrue, or exaggerate their positive social impact, will get caught out. This, known as ‘green wash’, can ultimately result in high costs in reputation damages. If a business wants to be recognised among and outside of its competitors as a shining green beacon with ethical credentials far superior to others, then faking it will not cut it. Whatever the reasons for trying to be the most sustainable it can be, a business which does new things first and sticks its neck out to stand out from the crowd can set an example for others to follow. What’s so bad about that?
One such business, which claims its actions are in line with the ‘screw business as usual’ concept, is the Virgin Group. They have recently launched ‘The Big Red Box’; a concept whereby anyone can contribute their ideas to what they believe sustainability is, by hypothetically placing that item or phenomenon into an illustrative big red box. In the accompanying video, Virgin’s CEOs describe how business plays a powerful role in driving change and the global brand of Virgin is in a unique position to challenge the status quo. However, words are not enough. To demonstrate the difference they are making, the CEOs, which include at least two women by the way, aim to demystify sustainability and make it real by physically showing on the video how the heat from the chillers in their gyms drives the water for the showers, which in turn drives the water for the urinals. Virgin trains sell back energy to the National Grid and are training their drivers in ‘eco driving’. They recognise that they are at the beginning of a difficult journey, but take pride in setting an example, as from now on every new business and start-up is going to have to incorporate sustainability into their business plan from the beginning. In the business world, it is a good idea to get on and do something towards sustainability, and shout about it along the way.
Telling positive stories and celebrating achievements are not always akin to unduly boasting, but rather are things to be proud of and may well inspire others. So there you go, you can both be someone and do something, but perhaps the doing something should come first...