Positive Change and Profit: Either or Both?

Positive Change and Profit: Either or Both?

Last night I went with a co-worker to grab a drink and check out a documentary preview/promo that his mate of a mate was producing. (He’s British…)

The documentary was about surfacing the unbelievable stories of those incarcerated on death row… who were innocent .

The lead producer, also British, briefly spoke about the film and the stories that were captured in the documentary. He also mentioned that they were in desperate need of funding to finish this project, which is why they were hosting the event.

They then proceeded to show us the stories from the film in 4-5 minute clips:

The backstory and troubled conscience of the man whose full-time job is to insert the lethal injection into those condemned…

The experimental injection that was used in one man’s execution that ended up lasting an incomprehensible 29 minutes of suffering, before he was pronounced dead…

One man’s struggle to reintegrate into society after spending 15 years of his life on death row for a crime he didn’t commit…

On top of all this, we then heard from a lead attorney in the Innocence Project, an organization devoted to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing.

Lastly, we heard from a man who had served 18 years on death row for a crime he had no connection to. He was abused, tortured and nearly beaten to death by guards while in prison, then released nearly a life sentence later after signing an Alford Plea.

The stories, especially the former convict’s, hit everyone in the room very hard. We all went from drinking our beers to thinking about the bigger picture in a matter of minutes.

It was powerful, to say the least…

Throughout the presentation, I couldn’t help but think of 1) how great it was that awareness was being spread about these horrific cases of injustice and 2) I wondered why, of all the social injustices in the world, this British producer from another continent would choose this issue, something completely foreign to him. I figured that surely this producer had some sort of deep connection to this issue.

After the presentation I ended up chatting with him. Of course, I told him how impressed I was with everything I had seen and how honorable it was that he was raising awareness about such a terrible injustice.

I then asked what I had been wondering all night… “So, tell me, what made you choose this issue?”

His answer was not at all what I was expecting.

He proceeded to tell me that he had created a similar but much shorter video/film a few years ago. It had generated a fair amount of buzz and publicity, so he decided to invest himself fully into it this time around.

He then told me that he was really anxious to get the funding necessary to complete this project, so he could “move on to the next topic”…

His response, particularly the last part, completely caught me off-guard. It turned out that this producer was not at all tied to the horrendous issue in which he was showcasing. For him, this was “just another documentary” that he hoped would take off and set him up to continue to further his career, in order do the same with many other films.

The next day I shared my thoughts with my boss, who I watched the documentary preview with the night before. This began a discussion about marketing, business, social issues, humanitarianism and altruism.

My boss understood where I was coming from, but suggested that this guy was simply a producer who made documentaries. That’s it. This was the current topic he was focusing on and certainly not the first or the last.

My boss further suggested that this producer’s detachment from the issue he was highlighting likely served him well. If this producer had been deeply and emotionally tied to the topic at hand, he may have let his emotions drive and guide him instead of his prowess as a producer. Say for example he had a close college friend who was wrongfully executed, this producer would have (pardon my French) lost his shit when he was interviewing the very man who inserts the lethal injections into those on death row.

To this point, I certainly agreed.

However, I still was disappointed by my interaction with the producer and it left a bad taste in my mouth. I was in no place to judge the producer or his intentions, but I couldn’t help but feel that he was exploiting this terrible issue for his own benefit as a producer.

I began to think of the book “Start Something That Matters”, written by Blake Mycoskie, the founder of globally-recognized company Tom’s. Tom’s company became famous for their One for One business model in which each customer’s purchase results in the donation of a pair of shoes to an Argentinian child in need. Making money, and giving back, it doesn’t get better than that.

“When you have a memorable story about who you are and what your mission is, your success no longer depends on how experienced you are or how many degrees you have or who you know. A good story transcends boundaries, breaks barriers, and opens doors. It is a key not only to starting a business but also to clarifying your own personal identity and choices.” ― Blake Mycoskie, Start Something That Matters

Unlike the aforementioned producer, Blake had a deep connection to the issue at hand. He had spent time in Argentina, immersed himself in the culture and recognized there was a major need for proper footwear for these children from firsthand experience in their country.

Today, Tom’s has provided over 35 million shoes for children since 2006. Not only that, but Blake has grown the company to be worth many millions of dollars.

To me, Tom’s is the epitome of a truly successful business and Blake is the epitome of a truly memorable, impactful individual. An individual whose impact and legacy has left this world a far better place, and will continue to for many years after.

But this raises the question… does it really matter that the producer had no personal investment in the social injustice he was highlighting? Who really cares? I mean after all, he was a great marketer and was generating traction with his documentary, so it is well on its way to being seen by many, many people. And for a social injustice to be witnessed millions is just as good, correct?

In a perfect world we would all start careers businesses that bring positive change and make money in the process. But we’re often led to believe that we usually have to pick one or the other, and that the Blake Mycoskie’s of this planet are the 1% of the 1%.

Well, are they? Who is right? The realists or the idealists?

I think the most important thing is that we find and do work that matters. Work that matters to us and work that gives our lives meaning. Imagine a world where people woke up, doing what they loved instead of hating their commutes and dreading their work days. How much more productive and fulfilled would we be?

I just know that seeing it has been done, means that it can be done.

If your aspirations are high enough, you can never fail completely — and leaving the world a better place in any way shape or form will never be considered a failure.