Over the next 24 hours something will happen which I thought until recently was going to excite me enormously: the RSA Animate of my 2010 annual lecture will pass half a million views. Sadly, my anticipation of this moment was pretty much dissipated by the comments of one of this blog’s readers. He suggested that people watched the Animate for the pictures not my words, pointed out that my lecture has been watched fewer times than nearly all the other Animates (and a lot less than the most successful), and said the lesson I should take from the 3290 likes versus 67 dislikes on YouTube is not that I am being favoured 50 to 1 but that only 1 in 150 can be bothered to express an opinion.
As regular readers know, it doesn’t take much criticism for me to descend into self-doubt, so I will let the 500,000 landmark pass without further comment. (By the way, Professor, I am fully aware that self deprecation is nothing but artfully veiled narcissism.)
But if one positive aspect of 21stcentury enlightenment has been wrenched from my grasp, fortunately there is another to hand. In our recent Fellowship survey (based on a large and representative sample) the proportion of RSA Fellows who said they liked the new strap-line outnumbered those who opposed by 5 to 1. Given that new brands tend initially to annoy people (think of the 2012 Olympic logo, for example) this is a very good result.
This has helped reinforce my intention to make the focus of my 2011 lecture the 21st century enlightenment business (rather than an earlier idea of the 21st century enlightenment organisation, which I found just too hard to pin down).
I have read two things in the last few days which I will no doubt quote in the final lecture. The first is a fantastic book - ‘the strange non death of neo-liberalism’ - by Colin Crouch, Professor of Governance and Public Management at Warwick University. The book isn’t due to be published until June ( I am determined it should be launched here at the RSA) so I can’t reveal much, except to say that Professor Crouch makes a powerful argument for the importance of civil society organisations in balancing and challenging the power of Transnational Organisations both as economic and political actors.
The second was a report of a speech by the visionary CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi. I hope readers don’t mind, but I am going to quote her at some length:
"Especially over the last four or five years we have been shaping and evolving PepsiCo for the realities of a new environment that we believe is going to be quite a lot different over the next decade. I think the next decade will be defined by a number of trends that will have a big impact on our business and the broader industry. Let me just talk about five of these trends.
"First, the continued growth of emerging and developing markets. More than ever, any company's growth is going to be defined to the extent to which they have a presence in developing and emerging markets. And I believe this trend will continue into the future as developed markets' growth rates slow down and developing and emerging markets pickup.
"Second big trend, health and wellness -- this is no longer a trend or a fad. This is here to stay. Profound changes are underway, both due to the aging population and significant pressure from external sources for consumers to change their lifestyles and to get healthier.
"Environment sustainability -- I don't want to spend any time talking about it. That's a major trend that is here to stay.
"The other trend is the digital revolution. It has fully revolutionized the way we need to engage with consumers and the way we innovate.
"And lastly, the role of brands and their connection to a purpose. This is a relatively new trend, and recently we are beginning to notice that people the world over are relating to global brands if they connect to them through a higher purpose. Additionally, we're also noticing, especially in the food and beverage space, that there appears to be a hark back to local brands which bring back good memories."
Given my earlier musings about enlightened companies looking for a ‘sweet spot (an unintended pun in this context) where the goals of competitive success and making a benign social impact become mutually reinforcing, I find points two, three and five particularly interesting. Indeed, someone told me the other day (completely off the record so I am only sharing it with you, mum) that at a recent meeting of senior executives Indra Nooyi’s message was in essence: there’s no future in making money by persuading people to pour junk down their throats. I also note that the other day PepsiCo launched their first entirely plant-based bottle.
If a global brand like PepsiCo is thinking and acting like this, the idea that firms could become a major driver of progress in the next century seems less and less far-fetched.
Al Mathers, former RSA Director of Research and Learning, explores the importance of introducing reciprocity into the work of social change organisations like the RSA.
Tamsin Hanke Sash Scott
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