Are commercial concerns and the desire to make a difference mutually exclusive?

Making a Difference. What does it mean to you?

This is the first article in the Company Connecting ‘Making a Difference’ series. In 2017 we worked with Claire Kinloch and her team at Genoa Black to define our product line and some aspects of the company strategy. Claire, took us through a process which included considering the drivers for the business and also those of the Company Connecting team. She pointed out that in her experience of working with tech companies many of the people were driven and motivated by the desire to ‘Make a Difference’ rather than the commercial aspects of creating and growing a business.

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This comment set me thinking and this series is intended to cover:

  • The many facets of what ‘Making a Difference’ means to different people,
  • What inspires people to try and do things differently
  • The issues people face

To kick things off, I am taking a look at whether commercial concerns and ‘making a difference’ are mutually exclusive. What does this mean for the composition of the board? Is it only tech companies or does this apply to other sectors too? For some it may be challenging the received wisdom and pushing the boundaries of technology. For others it may mean using available technology for the common good.

At Company Connecting we have researched thousands of companies. Technology impacts most aspects of life and business. We have identified three key areas wwhere technology is creating change or ‘disrupting’ the current way of doing things.These are the Financial, Education and Health / Medical sectors. There are big commercial gains to be made and at the same time there are those people and companies that sit outside the ‘norm’ and are challenging or disrupting traditional business. They want to ‘make a difference’ via change and stretching boundaries. These tend to be individuals or micro companies whose main driver is something other than commercial ‘success’.

However, the reality is that a business needs to make money to be sustainable or it needs to be supported by some other means. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why companies that are based on altruism, set up as a Social Enterpriseto access funds available which are not accessible to commercial companies.

One of the issues that commercial companies face with ‘Making a Difference’ is the length of time it can take to prove that something not only makes a difference but also can have a significant commercial benefit. For many years, I  managed application implementations and support in the Oil & Gas sector. The business case for any project was essential, and had to be based on tangible benefits i.e. those that had a commercial benefit which could be clearly defined.   Of course, in technology this is not always easy to do, and some of the greatest benefits are intangible with the potential of far reaching benefits which can be proven over time as part of a project. 

Albert Einstein said ‘We cannot solve problems with the same thinking we used when we created them’. This also applies to thinking and having the freedom to make a difference. Frequently innovators and entrepreneurs are driven by curiosity, the desire to do things differently, and push the boundaries of technology. They want to make their mark - make a difference. On Company Connecting we have hundreds of micro companies that fall into this category. They have great products and services that have the potential to be game changers in society e.g. channelling talents of autistic individuals, developing technology for dyslexics, using IoT to help disabled people etc. However, the companies are so small that their marekts and ability to commercialise what they do can be very limited. Another issue is that areas which benefit society are frequently seen by many as inappropriate for commercial gain – which presents a bit of dichotomy if its not funded by government – and can indeed slow the ability to change things and make a difference.

I have raised a few points in this article, without providing any answers. We are keen to get a wide spread of contributions across all aspects of people working in tech or using technology. In our blog https://companyconnecting.com/blog/making-difference-what-inspires-you we provide some further ideas for this series. If you have something to say and would like to participate in the series please contact us.

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"Are commercial concerns and the desire to make a difference mutually exclusive?" First published on Company Connecting January 2018

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