Miss Management: When theories collide

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The topic of corporate social responsibility has formed the basis for a number of my editorials and blogs, in print and online, over the past couple of years. I wish I could say that the ensuing discussions have prompted brisk sales of an entire line of “WWMMD” (What would Miss Management do?”) products and the creation of a nascent financial empire for the editorial staff of Specialty Fabrics Review magazine, but so far, except for some very thoughtful comments from a few IFAI members, my anti-Friedman stance hasn’t resulted in much more than an occasional “How’s your silly liberal commie pinko self today?” from IFAI’s vice president of conference management. And he’s joking, mostly. Probably.

Last May (May 26, “When geeks rule the earth—and the economy”), I suggested revising Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics into a set of rules which might define the parameters for a socially responsible business. Here they are again, since I am determined to pursue this at least once more:

First Law: A business may not injure a society, or, through inaction, allow a society to come to harm.
Second Law: A business must obey all the laws of a society, except where such laws would conflict with the First Law.
Third Law: A business must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Hardcore capitalists argue that the market will regulate itself in these respects, ultimately finding that social and environmental responsibility will eventually happen “because it’s just good business.” Based on those three laws, I would argue the converse: for a business that puts social and environmental benefits first, profits will happen—because it’s just good business. So why wait for the market to regulate itself? Anything that a society asks of an individual can legitimately be asked of a business as well.

I’m hoping that many of you will comment here, pro or con, even though Miss Management’s nascent financial empire hasn’t yet extended itself to cover the production of environmentally sound and fiscally attractive “I (heart) Miss Management” buttons to send out to correspondents. But I may try to persuade IFAI’s vice president of conference management to let me print up some tee-shirts with my three laws to distribute from our publications booth at IFAI Expo Americas 2010 this October.

Our September issue of Specialty Fabrics Review includes our annual show preview; if you’ll be joining us in Orlando, you can now start organizing your time at the show—and put a gold star over booths 1855-1857 on the map, because that’s where we’ll be, waiting for your editorial ideas.

In the meantime, consider this: If somebody else decides to print environmentally sound and fiscally attractive tee-shirts that show my three laws inside a circle with a slash through it—are they obeying the three laws?


Comments are the opinion of individual posters and do not reflect the views of Specialty Fabrics Review or Industrial Fabrics Association International.

  • Leslie the Lefty
    Leslie the Lefty

    A rant against ranters against insiduous disinegenuousness

    As Todd writes, "Attempts to prematurely force the process, declaring to businesses what elitists believe they should be and do, increase costs for all of us in the short term, and yield mainly market inefficiencies." 

    Perhaps. But not "prematurely forcing the process" and instead allowing the "free-market" corporations (and markets) to do whatever the hell they want increases the costs for all of us in the long term. But who are we to care about tomorrow when today we can get something that appears to be cheap or fulfills our insatiable greed?

  • Todd Lindemann
    Todd Lindemann

    A rant against insiduous disinegenuousness

    Dear Miss Management - congratulations, my dear liberal commie pinko friend. : ) Your topic is excellent, and your writing is as clever as always. But more than that, it, and the subsequent replies, has drawn me in.  I have taken your bait. 

    The fact is, businesses in a capitalist society do adjust to society's demands. The system works.  Attempts to prematurely force the process, declaring to businesses what elitists believe they should be and do, increase costs for all of us in the short term, and yield mainly market inefficiencies.  A company marketing recycled products fifty years ago would have gone bankrupt in short order.  That same company today is widely sought. And because businesses adjust to consumer demand -because the system works - they now offer these products.

    I find the position of corporation bashers to be substantively disingenuous. The $5.99 dress that Juliana decries is available precisely because the market demands it.  I wonder how many of those $5.99 dresses are worn to rallies that are held to protest the use of the cheap labor it takes to produce what the consumer demands.  Had that dress been $149, it would have been worn in protest of the greedy corporation that is apparently gouging the consumer. 

    I applaud Bud and his company for their success, and I admire his ability to apply his social conscience to its management in the process.  And I similarly applaud the companies that produce $5.99 dresses, and the ones that produce the $149 dress.  In the end, businesses sell products that the market demands.   And the system works.

  • bud

    Reality and CSR

    First of all, it is important that the engagement of the discussion goes beyond theories, which means the burden of doing so is up to those of us engaged in producing products and services in our industry (as well as other industries).  Theories can set the table for discussion, but the substance must come from us.  We at A&R have always pursued business from the point of view that, with confidence in the free market place, we will be rewarded with not just monetary, but also social and emotional results.  Thus we spend a great time and effort in becoming an incubator for our employees’ growth and development with internship programs, empowering them to make decisions in our business, sharing the rewards of our mutual efforts through profit sharing, and a health and safety program that requires their weekly involvement in discussions on a variety of health and safety issues (which, by the way, are not just orientated to business safety, but also to family health, illness prevention, driving safety, etc.).   These are important values to us, so it is important that we manage our business in a way to ensure success in achieving the rewards that our involvement in these areas provides us.   Furthermore, this set of values has worked for us over these past 34 years.  Now I have no quarrel with a company that looks only to the bottom line as its value, and I see this in venture capitalism, in the banking system, and often in start up companies.  However, if the necessity to produce sustainable value to the customer through products and services is not a part of the profitability equation, I see businesses fail more often than succeed.  I guess the bottom line for all of us must be that we must be true to ourselves and what we value, but first, as Socrates admonished, we must “know thyself”.    


  • Juliana Wallace

    I would like a "I heart Miss Management" button.

    Note: I will be staffing the IFAI Publications booth at Expo, and I demand not only an "I heart Miss Management" button, but also this fantastic Three-Laws t-shirt that you describe.

    Galynn, I have a sneaking feeling that you may be a true idealist at heart, despite all your grumblings around the office. I agree with your assessment against the capitalists argument that the market flow will naturally result in social and environmental responsibility.

    Social and environmental responsibility is not a new phenomenon, despite its faddish appeal these days. The global capitalist system has not forced businesses to honor the essence of your Laws in the last 100 years, so why would it suddenly do so now?

    For every eco-concerned citizen that has a social conscience, there is also a harried mom shopping on her lunch hour at Target, finding a $5.99 dress for her daughter, and not really caring how that apparel managed to get on the rack at such a fabulous price. The thought is, "Ooh! $5.99!" End of. (Not that I would know anything about that.)

    So no, I don't think we should wait for the market to regulate social responsibility. You are right, let's have businesses take the lead so that we can move beyond thinking of this as a fad and into a new way of operating.

    Thank for your always refreshing view! (Although I'm still a little upset to learn that you're an idealist.)

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