Our leadership summit 'Change, really'

“We’re coming to the end of a 40-year cycle - where a model based on mass consumption is being disrupted by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, societal breakdown and an environmental breakdown. People really are sick and tired of traditional businesses” 

Mike Barry, Former Director of Sustainable Business, Marks and Spencer

If ever there was a rallying cry for change, this was it. Indeed, the six speakers at our annual Leadership Summit - themed around the question of ‘What’s the best way to change, really?’ - delivered several scary-but-inspiring talks capable of jolting any audience out of a corporate stupor. And what united them was a belief that corporations can and should take a lead.

Here are six big things we learned thanks to provocative points of view from BT, WeWork, The Association of the Working Class Academics, M&S, Chapter Zero and BroadReach.

1. We need new language

If we want to bridge divides and create dynamic societies that work for everyone, we simply can’t go on using the same condescending language. We constantly label normal hardworking people ‘deprived’ and ‘impoverished’ and state that they suffer from a ‘poverty of aspiration’. It’s time we develop a new vocabulary that respects the spirit and values of the ambitious, cooperative and curious people who make up the majority.

2. We need symbols of change, not changes of symbols

Classic rebrands - where a company changes its logo - are no good in an age of hyper-transparency. Instead of just changing symbols, companies need to create tangible symbols of change - initiatives and commitments that genuinely benefit colleagues, consumers and even country.

3. We need to imagine ‘What if we founded the company today?’

Given how rapidly some categories are being disrupted, it’s no good continuously optimizing around today’s customer. Instead, we should step back and imagine the death of today’s company - write its obituary even. And then imagine what the business would look like if you started from scratch today.

4. We need to define our uniqueness

This is especially true when it comes to developing a sustainability policy. As every company embraces the need to drive down waste and encourage sustainable consumption, businesses need to ask whether their purpose and their green credentials are unique, not just ‘do we have one?’

5. We need to balance shaming with high quality evidence

Whilst creating lists of irresponsible companies and CEOs creates shame (and with it, motivation to change), it’s also important to balance out the ‘blame game’ by arming CEOs and boards with hard evidence and clear direction on how to deal with shifts in society, technology and the environment.

6. We need to change people’s belief systems

When dealing with a global audience, you can’t assume that everyone shares the same Western attitudes to major topics like health, wealth and community. Instead, you need to understand local cultures and value systems - rather than simply assuming the task is always to ‘optimise’ a company or a system from within.

Thank you to all our guests. Keep up with this, and more new thinking on business and brand, at wolffolins.com.