In a reputed business school, a session on cause-related marketing and social responsibility of business was in progress. Two volunteers from the class had to simply describe themselves as persons as if to market that idea like a product or service to the class.
The volunteers described themselves typically, starting with their name, family, qualification, likes and dislikes. This was repeated a couple of times but the class promptly rejected’ them saying that the description was really not about who the volunteers were as persons they normally knew them to be. The class felt that the volunteers only gave a superfluous description of qualifications, labels and accolades one gathers to say more of what they are. It was really not in terms of a connected whole that also includes the who they are, just as normal people from their core.Later, the first volunteer stood in front of the class for a silent moment wondering what to say. There were no unwanted words as in the earlier attempts. Finally, she said: “I just love you all, guys. You are such wonderful people. What can I do for you?” The whole atmosphere seemed to get charged with an energy in which the volunteer and the class – or, in a more corporate sense, the seller and the buyers – fused together into a unified domain of who we are rather than what we are.
For that moment there was a deeper connection made and a sense of belonging and there was trust in the air. Then, other descriptions that followed seemed to make more sense.
Extending this to the way a company may like to present itself to its customers, it has two options: Either to merely say what the product or service is all about, emphasizing on product features, the competitive advantage, associate the product with notions of happiness it could bring and make customers feel something special by owning it, and so on. Or, alternatively, the company could present products and services through an internal persona of the company’s values, purpose and principles of showing care and concern for people at large where a deeper trust and belongingness are also generated.Increasingly today, there is a gradual shift in the way present day business leaders think, from the single dimension of what a company delivers as products to also go beyond stating who the company is as a bigger identity enriched by its ethical approaches to work, values enshrined in the processes of production and practices lived by its employees.
Almost half a century ago Sri Ramana Maharshi sat at the foot of Arunachala Hill in south India, mostly in silence, encouraging devotees to find answers to the question, “Who am I?” This, according to him, was crucial to find centredness, towards achieving eventual enlightenment or at least coming close to it. Each time the seekers tried to find answers to other questions, the Maharshi would lead them back to the original question, “Who am I?”
What is the central purpose of our life? Carried away by the allure of our external world, we tend to lose our way, and so are unable to find centeredness of purpose in life. Principle-centeredness has become a buzzword today even in the realm of business management, at an institutional level. But such efforts are at the periphery – they’re not central, for example, to how a holistic brand (in business) helps to relate to society.
Whether we describe ourselves as individuals, or as institutions that present their products, our attempt should be to establish a deeper connection with society through the essence of our persona and corporate purpose. Many, many years ago, Khalil Gibran said: “The only question that rendered me mute was when someone asked me an answer to the question: who am I!”
Anant G Nadkarni
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