I was in Unilever’s Offices in Durban last week. They really are fabulous, big views of the ocean and more meeting rooms of every description than I have ever seen. They have lots of open space with small informal meeting areas, conference rooms and brainstorm rooms aplenty and working kitchens, laundry rooms and bathrooms dotted around. Together with all the pictures of real consumers and areas designed to look like a township you could see they have gone to great lengths to make sure the whole business feels connected to their market and what they make and sell.
Around the Brainstorm rooms they had decorated the walls with inspiring quotes from famous entrepreneurs. One in particular caught my eye:-
“The people who change the world are the people crazy enough to believe they can change the world” Steve Jobs
I like the idea of specifically designed ideation rooms where people feel they have permission to dream big – we made this a feature of Added Value offices and called them Idea Generators. I also like inspiring quotes. But this one from Steve Jobs struck me as all wrong.
I can’t think of many instances in life, and especially in business, where people changed the world because they wanted to, or set out to, change the world. They normally intend only to change their world or solve some particular problem they confronted and, in a very few instances, they succeeded unexpectedly in making a big impact on THE world. Steve Jobs had no intention of changing the world when he started Apple. He had dropped out of university and needed to justify having done so by making some money. In fact if you look at the case studies of many of the game changing internet innovations and the people behind them– Skype, Paypal, Google, the internet itself – they actually set out to do something much more modest and mundane. They get full credit for not only achieving what they set out to do but also spotting and exploiting the discovery that they had stumbled on a much bigger opportunity. But let’s be quite clear – they were absolutely not crazy enough to think they could change the world or arrogant enough to want to.
Nelson Mandela changed the world, and he certainly dreamed big, but he set out purely to overthrow a regime that disadvantaged his people. There is a quote of his I particularly like that goes something like this:-
“Dreams without action are a waste of time. Action without dreams is merely passing time. But with dreams and action you can change the world”
A great reminder that when the ideation sessions end a smaller group of people actually need to make the ideas happen, and a great reminder that we need the stretch of some big ambitions to give our actions lasting purpose. But he said this after he was President and the old regime had been dismantled. He did not set out to change THE world, just his inequitable world.
Unilever has for more than a century (Unilever was created in 1930 but Lord Leverhulme kicked the whole thing off in the 1880’s with Sunlight soap) focused on making the best value cleaning and food products it can. Lord Lever had as much impact on the world as Steve Jobs but he did seek to change the world. He just concentrated on doing what he knew best, to the best of his abilities. Like Steve Jobs he was smart, ambitious and tenacious and sure, he dreamed big, but his dreams were purposeful. They inspired him to overcome any obstacle in his path. Like Steve Jobs they occasionally got him into trouble (his desire to control every aspect of his supply chain from plantations, shipping lines to factories and stores overstretched the company and is what effectively forced the merger with Dutch company Margarine Unie).
No, I don’t like the quote from Steve Jobs and actually think it is very unlike him. Watch this video of his address to Stanford graduates for much more inspiring words from the truly impressive Mr. Jobs
He offers some very inspiring advice and reflections to all of us, not just graduates.
My favourite all time quote which I think is much more relevant to Steve Jobs, Lord Leverhulme, Mandela and all the other great leaders, visionaries and entrepreneurs comes from George Bernard Shaw:-
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man adapts the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”
Don’t accept things the way they are just because that is the way they are. Challenge everything, be unreasonable, ask why not, what if. GBS deliberately said ‘man’ and not person. Men are often more unreasonable which is both a good thing and a bad thing.
Why was I in Unilever Durban? They have just launched a mobile marketing scheme with which I am involved that may well change the world of FMCG marketing in emerging markets, but neither they nor I are crazy enough to think we can change THE World.