“Is the world better off because your business is in it?”

In Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take, Paul Polman and Andrew Winston explain how courageous companies thrive by giving more than they take. Their vision of net positive “is a business that improves well-being for everyone it impacts and at all scales — every product, every operation, every region and country, and for every stakeholder, including employees, suppliers, communities, customers, and even future generations and the planet itself.”


Polman and Winston urge business leaders to embrace five principles that underpin a net positive business:

o Take responsibility for the company’s impacts on the wider world
o Focus more on the long term (while seeking good results in all time frames)
o Serve multiple stakeholders and putting their needs first
o Promote and support collaboration and transformative change beyond the company
o Provide shareholders with solid returns

“For fifty years, every business leader in market-based economies has been trained in one core ideology — the purpose of business is to serve only the shareholder. So sayeth the prophet Milton Friedman…[However] given the scale and urgency of climate change, the moral imperative of tackling inequality, and the changing nature of financial markets, the quarterly-focused, shareholder-first mantra is wildly unfit for today’s world and is ultimately self-defeating. We must kill the old philosophy if we want to survive and thrive. The sooner we understand that, the better.”

It is no coincidence that companies annually ranked among those most highly admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those most profitable, with the greatest cap value in their industry segment. Food for thought….

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Net Positive was published by Harvard Business Review Press (October 2021)

Those who share my high regard for Polman and Winston’s book are urged to check out Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, co-authored by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia (2013).


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