Every man is a product of his time, but the great man does not conform himself to it. He seeks to continually transform himself, and strives to redefine the times in which he lives rather than allow himself to be defined by them. He leaves his mark on the world by the deeds he does, the lives he touches, the good he brings about, and the injustices he endeavors to stamp out. He is a product of his time only in as much as his contributions are relevant to it, addressing the real and pressing needs of the world around him. He does not stand idly by as a spectator but thrusts himself into the arena of life with the clear and deliberate aim of influencing the game’s outcome again and again and again. The word “conformity” is not in his vocabulary.
What, then, shall we say of this present age in which we find ourselves living today? How will history remember this time? Our time? To say that we live in interesting times would be nothing short of an understatement. Simply take a look at the world around us and you will find that we’re steeped in conflict; with all out wars and heinous acts of terror on one extreme, and a subtle yet growing sense of intolerance toward anything or anyone whose beliefs or opinions might differ from our own on the other. And yet, at the same time, we live in an age of unfathomable opportunities; when advances in technology and medicine and so many other disciplines are greater than they have been during any other point in history. Add into the mix the recent sub-prime mortgage crisis which led to the worst recession since the Great Depression followed by our current economic recovery, Obamacare, the HHS Mandate and its infringement upon our rights of conscience, the normalizing of U.S. relations with Cuba, and, oh yes, the recent Ebola outbreak, and you can be sure that there is never a dull moment.
Each and every one of us is faced with a choice: Do we simply conform ourselves to this age, compromise and let things go because it’s the easy way? Or do we make the kind of positive contributions which, when united with other people’s contributions, can transform the world?
In light of this choice, two questions come to mind. First, how do we avoid conformity so as to have a positive impact on the world around us? Second, what does this have to do with business?
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The answer to the first question is to act. All too often we take a comfortable position on the sidelines looking at our world like spectators, shaking our heads in disbelief wishing that things were different. Unwilling to invest the time or effort necessary to bring about change, we conform and simply accept things as they are. Instead, consider the philosophy of one of our country’s most influential presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, who at the tender age of 15 wrote this in his journal, “Get action. Do things. Be sane. Don't fritter away your time. Create. Act. Take a place wherever you are and be somebody. Get action.”
To answer the second question I will refer to the underlying theme behind nearly all of my columns for the last five years. Whether we realize it or not, business can have a far greater purpose than merely profit when it becomes a means to a higher end. As business owners, each of us must define what that “higher end” is for ourselves and for our companies, but the opportunities to make a significant contribution to our world both at an organizational and a personal level are right in front of us.
When pharmaceutical giant, Merck, developed Mectizan, the cure for River Blindness which afflicted remote communities in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, what they found was that those who needed the drug most could not pay for it. So they gave it away. “As much as needed for as long as needed,” as Merck leadership would say. In October 1987, Merck partnered with a variety of global organizations to create The “Mectizan Donation Program,” considered today as the model for other drug donation programs. After more than 1 billion treatments in over 117,000 communities, no new cases of River Blindness have been identified in four of the six affected countries in Latin America and nine regions in five African countries.
If, after reading about Merck, you’re feeling a little … inadequate, don’t. We can’t all cure River Blindness, but we can all use our businesses to make positive contributions to our team and our customers within the boundaries of our own circumstances and constraints. No effort is too small if done with purpose and, since it’s your company, you decide what those efforts and what that purpose is for you and your team.
Conform or transform ourselves and our businesses so as to make a positive difference in the world? The choice is yours.
Manny García-Tuñón is a columnist for El Nuevo Herald and president of Lemartec, an international design-build firm headquartered in Miami. he can be reached at www.mgtunon.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @MGTunon