Prevaricating on CSR’s Complexities
For over 25 years I have been working in two fields, CSR and international development, whose professionals can make things so extraordinarily more complex than they need to be that it makes my head want to explode sometimes.
I calm myself with the perspective that things aren’t necessarily what they seem. Two points and counterpoints to consider.
Point: Many professionals simply don’t want to believe in the highly profitable synergistic relationship between business and sustainability. “It’s too complex to make money that way and besides it’s not my job” is the common response.
Counterpoint: I dare to say, this attitude is “Belief” mistaken as “Truth” sung to the tune of “Just Too Difficult to Get My Head Around So I Won’t”, because when one actually thinks about it, how much harder can it be to make money being sustainable than it is by building and then convincing people to buy complicated products they don’t really need at a price they can’t afford?
No value judgment here: but honestly, one challenge surely can’t be any more difficult than the other. Putting men on the moon using pretty much only slide rulers, pencils and erasers (lots of erasers was the secret I heard) alone should abrogate the “CSR is too complex argument.”
Conclusion: We choose to do what we choose to do.
Point: Even among those that agree CSR has business value, few think its contribution can be measured. So, even if one believes in CSR, they tend to stick to the “What can’t be measured doesn’t exist” hymnal over my favorite gospel: What you don’t measure can’t be managed and what you can’t manage can’t be maximized. It’s a handy excuse to obfuscate, unintentionally or otherwise, and do less than one could. CSR is rarely cast as a leading strategy as a result.
Counterpoint: Just because it has been repeated over and over that CSR can’t be measured doesn’t mean it’s true; and fortunately history tells several wise tales of Hard-to-Measure-Things, one of which offers a living breathing evolving analogy that fits, for our purposes, likes a glove: brand valuation.
Once viewed as a nutty crypto science concocted by marketing crazies, some 50 brand valuation methodologies are now routinely used in courts of law to help determine the monetary value brands bring to companies (earnings and or value) – some methods are so precise, in fact, they can calculate enough decimal points of accuracy to put any finance lawyer into a perpetual state of bliss! Now that’s saying something about something once thought not at all measurable.
Conclusion: My CSR Brand Value© practice tells me CSR contribution can be monetized pretty much the same way as brand valuation. So now I am the new nutty; however, I can say in my own defense, that by the naysayers’ own reasoning and by finance precedence, CSR brand value can be measured, therefore CSR does exists, and thus, it is incumbent upon all managers to manage it as they would any other value and return creating part of their business.
CSR is as complex as we choose to make it and our choice to believe then act (or not) is based less on CSR’s perceived complexity than our notional desirability for change and the willingness to put our backs into what really amounts to a startlingly simple challenge given all its complexities.
A Post Script of Simple Inspiration
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov an exceptional Russian short-story writer, playwright and physician wrote four prescient quotes on complexity, measuring what is not, sustainability, and the ability/desire to act on a challenge staring you right in the face…..
The problem is that we attempt to solve the simplest questions cleverly, thereby rendering them unusually complex. One should seek the simple solution
One can prove or refute anything at all with words. Soon people will perfect language technology to such an extent that they’ll be proving with mathematical precision that twice two is seven.
Russian forests crash down under the axe, billions of trees are dying, the habitations of animals and birds are layed waste, rivers grow shallow and dry up, marvelous landscapes are disappearing forever…. Man is endowed with creativity in order to multiply that which has been given him; he has not created, but destroyed. There are fewer and fewer forests, rivers are drying up, wildlife has become extinct, the climate is ruined, and the earth is becoming ever poorer and uglier.
Lying is the same as alcoholism. Liars prevaricate even on their deathbeds