Business, Politics, and Heroes

  • Jeff Gibbard
  • 9 min read

I’d like to return May 2022 for a full refund. I have the receipts.

This past month was one of the worst in recent memory. The barrage of bad news kept on coming and I have no doubt that it will continue.

Consequently, this blog/podcast/newsletter was less active in May (see afterword). So, now that I’m back and committed to resuming my regular writing cadence, what should we talk about today?

I think the only appropriate topic after the last month is to talk about fighting good fights, and why we need more heroes in business.

👉 Click here to jump to Tl;Dr

Part 1: Business or Politics?

One of the first things we discover in these groups is that personal problems are political problems. There are no personal solutions at this time. There is only collective action for a collective solution.” -Carol Hanisch, The Personal is Political

Many of my readers, listeners, and subscribers, signed up to get insights and explorations about business topics like marketing, sales, or branding, or comprehensive and extensive how-to posts and step-by-step guides.

  • I’ve got people who know me for my (more than) decade of experience in social media, marketing, and sales.
  • Some of you may know me because of my work in Brand strategy, insights on entrepreneurship, or unique distillations of productivity methodologies.
  • Lots of you may be more familiar with my work as a speaker, my podcast Shareable, or my book and other writings about leadership and culture.

In short, most of you came for business, not politics. Yet, increasingly this blog is about reproductive rights, the ongoing threat —and dark reality— of white supremacist violence, and the fight for social justice across every dimension including but not limited to race, gender, sexual identity, and neuro-diversity. So, what’s up with that?

Today, I’m asking you to entertain the idea that not only is all business related to politics, but every aspect of our lives is political, continuing all the way down to our very right to exist (see: trans-people, black folks buying groceries or sleeping in their beds, or children at school). Our actions and inaction at the personal, company, or systemic levels are all political statements.

Furthermore, I want you to consider that business may actually be our single greatest weapon in this country (USA) to make any meaningful, large-scale change. Business is not separate from people in society, but rather a layer for organizing people within a system of markets. Everything in business is about people in some form, or fashion.

  • All companies are managed and (primarily) run on the labor of people. Business actions and inactions impact the people who work for them.
  • All businesses serve buyers in a market which include people, or companies made up of people. Business actions and inactions impact the people who buy from them.
  • All companies exist within a system that defines the laws, incentives, and punishments that are ultimately designed, advocated for, and argued against by people. Business actions and inactions impact the people who make decisions of consequence (for people) about the society we live in.

The action or inaction of our businesses is political. Therefore, whatever angle anyone takes in business in life, or on a blog is, to an extent, a political position. At the same time, all political positions are business issues since, as we’ve covered, all business is a function of people.

So, once we understand this idea, we can choose to be more conscious about our contributions and interrogate our responsibility for action and inaction as individuals, businesses, and participants in the system.

Part 2: Superpowers, Superhumans, and Superheroes

Our world is in trouble. It’s sick, and only we have the power to heal it.

However, given the massive scope of the problems, we need powerful solutions. It’s for this reason that I am, once again, suggesting that we need a world with more superheroes. So, what does that mean? Let’s start with a few informal definitions to get on the same page in this conversation.

Superpower: a unique or special ability that has the power to affect change.

Superhuman: an individual possessing a multitude of superpowers, often with a keen awareness about the process required to acquire new superpowers and abilities.

Superhero: a superhuman individual that has committed to using their unique gifts in service of the world, who willingly engages in conflict, as necessary, in their mission toward justice and safety, for all.

Everyone has at least one superpower, even if they haven’t recognized it yet. Superhumans are characterized by their abilities to learn, think, communicate, lead, and take action. These attributes are what enable an individual to fully appreciate and explain how their abilities work, learn new skills, and use their skills to affect the world around them.

In either of these cases, the presence of skills, abilities, and power are potential without direction…and then there are superheroes.

Superheroes

Superheroes are defined by what they do with their abilities. Simply put, they are applied superhumans. This is the underpinning of my philosophy that superheroes — as I’ve defined the term — are what we need to change the world, either at work or at home. As the concentration of individuals who commit to their own personal growth increases, and their abilities directed, so too does our collective ability to facilitate positive change.

But to be clear, not one of us has the power to fix this on our own. The biggest lie superhero comics and movies have told us, is that a single individual has the power to save the day. Our problems are not individual, they are systemic. As a result, it is only through our collective action that we can fix things in our companies, and in our society. Our best chance of doing that is with an ever-increasing population of people who are well-rounded, informed, and able to communicate effectively. This is amplified when those efforts influence our companies to accept the responsibility that comes with their position in a society that grants corporate primacy above all else.

Part 3: Starring and Supporting Roles

Most stories about heroes involve action.

  • It’s the picture of people running headfirst into danger.
  • It’s the leaders putting the team on their back.
  • It’s the lone individual staring down Thanos and his army.

Yet, sometimes the most heroic thing you can do is just shut up, listen, and commit to playing a supporting role. This runs counter to the aggressive posture that a patriarchal society explicitly supports and endorses. But if you think about it, not every superhero has a starring role in every movie.

Recently, Walmart released a Juneteenth special edition ice cream.

This is a political decision — an ill-advised one.

This is what happens when businesses try to do one or both of the following two things:

  • Take the lead on an issue they are poorly equipped to properly steward
  • Adopt the aesthetics of revolution for the purpose of supporting the status quo

To that, I offer the following:

To Walmart or any other business that thinks the best move in the midst of these tragic opportunities is to take “bold”, “courageous”, and grotesquely self-serving action, I say:

  1. Stand down. Step out of the spotlight, move to the side, and play a supporting role.
  2. Find those who have already been engaged in the fight, and offer your support. Ask them what they need and use the resources at your disposal to provide coverage.

To the individuals at these companies, I say:

  1. Stand up, say something. Play a leading role. Use whatever power and privilege you have.
  2. If you are not adequately informed about a subject matter, ask questions. Take it upon yourself to become educated on the issue. Equip yourself with the knowledge you need to be an ally.

Part 4: Tl;Dr

The world is a mess and it’s our shared responsibility to fix it.

  1. Your work, and our companies are agents of change in politics, and therefore play an important role in shaping society. Keep this awareness at the forefront of your mind.
  2. Identify your superpowers, become superhuman, and direct your abilities with others toward positive change. Become a superhero. We need you.
  3. As an individual or as a company, know your role: are you a leading role or supporting cast?

Afterword

Over the last 30 days, I had largely retreated from writing, publishing only 4 posts instead of the 9 blog entries I had planned to write. There were two reasons for this.

  1. I could not find the focus, nor inspiration, in the midst of all the bad news to commit ideas to words. I was sad, anxious, and my mind was clouded.
  2. It felt profoundly inappropriate to talk about business, personal growth, or any of my typical topics under the circumstances. No one wants or needs to hear about that while their rights are under assault, or their perception of safety is once again shaken to the core.

So, what changed that I’m once again writing and committing to resuming my regular publishing schedule?

Nothing.

Are any of these problems resolved?

Obviously not.

Waiting Forever for the Good Times

None of this bad news began in May 2022. It’s been the consistent backdrop of everything throughout the entire history of this country. If I were to wait to resume my work until the bad times were over, I’d be waiting forever.

  • The mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde were not isolated incidents…prior to both acts of terrorism, there had already been around 200 mass shootings, an average of nearly 10 per week.
  • The assault on reproductive rights started immediately following the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
  • Racist, white supremacist, hate crimes didn’t start in May 2022…it’s basically the foundation of this entire country.

So, it’s time to start writing again. I’m doubling down on how each of us can be part of a movement to radically transform our workplaces, our communities, and our world to be places that prioritize kindness, safety, and justice.

Let’s go!

Becoming Superhuman
Becoming Superhuman
Business, Politics, and Heroes
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