In early February we were celebrating Facebook’s 10th anniversary by sharing “Look Back” videos automatically generated by Facebook. On the surface these movies are simply the result of a computer algorithm pulling data from our Facebook timeline and interactions over the past decade. However, when we peer deeper into the roughly 3,650 days that have passed, much larger shifts in human empathy and corporate consciousness are the true creators of this fascinating look back at our lives.
Mark Zuckerberg reflected on Monday about the creation of Facebook and “Why were we the ones to build this?” and came to the simple conclusion that “we just cared more about connecting the world than anyone else.” He continues that currently “only one-third of the world’s population has access to the internet. In the next decade, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to connect the other two-thirds.”
I highlight the year 2004 in Corporate Empathy for a number of events that happened independent of each other, but when connected illustrate the seismic expansion of empathy we are witnessing in society.
My final chapter’s title “Betray the Age” was inspired by singer Bono who in May 2004 gave the University of Pennsylvania Commencement and quotes a line from the Irish poet Brendan Kennelly’s epic, The Book of Judas. I discovered this now favorite video of mine after a dear friend Stephanie Street had recently been accepted to the University of Pennsylvania, triggering me to Google “U Penn Commencement Speeches” to see what caliber speaker she might expect at her own graduation.
There’s a line in that poem that never leaves my mind, it says: “If you want to serve the age, betray it.” What does that mean, to betray the age? Well to me betraying the age means exposing its conceits, it’s foibles, it’s phony moral certitudes. It means telling the secrets of the age and facing harsher truths. Every age has its massive moral blind spots. We might not see them, but our children will. – Bono
Two months prior to Bono giving his inspiring speech to some of the earliest millennial graduates about changing the world, author and academic Joel Bakan published The Corporation. In the book, Bakan declares that companies are “institutional psychopaths who lack any sense of moral conviction” based on fellow academic, Milton Friedman’s theory that the sole purpose of business is to increase profit.
Fortunately, a key to realizing Bono’s optimistic outlook and fatal flaw in Bakan’s dystopic view of reality also occurred in 2004 when two entrepreneurs who had dropped out of academia announced that they would be taking Google public that August. Larry Page and Sergey Brin had created a corporation that promised to “do no evil” and “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” and intended to keep those promises after going public. To do so they had to shield themselves from the pitfalls of Friedman’s economic theory by going public in a unique manner that gave the founders significantly more control over new shareholders.
“As a private company, we have concentrated on the long term, and this has served us well. As a public company, we will do the same. In our opinion, outside pressures too often tempt companies to sacrifice long-term opportunities to meet quarterly market expectations.” – Larry Page
Four years later in 2008 Sheryl Sandberg left Google to join Facebook as Chief Operating Officer and has stated often that because “for-profit companies… were really changing who we were as people and how we interacted” that she choose the for-profit sector over the government or non-profit sectors.
Another four years later in 2012 Zuckerberg and Sandberg took Facebook public using the same public share structure as Google and many other companies in between, so that the corporation could retain the empathetic mission of the founders while still being publicly traded.
The opinion that capitalism and corporate governance must revolve around the exploitative pursuit of profit is a moral blind spot that will be resolved by today’s innovative corporations and the boards, shareholders, employees and consumers that support those companies. – Vinny Tafuro, Corporate Empathy
Connecting these dots over the past 3,650 days must inspire trust that the dots will also connect in the future and that the social network we are building is becoming a central nervous system of sorts that is expanding not only human empathy but also Corporate Empathy allowing scalable collaboration to improve our world.
To read Betray the Age, the final chapter of Corporate Empathy for free, click here for a PDF.