Arrogance + Hypocrisy

When I was growing up, I spent many afternoons drinking Turkish tea with one of my mentors – a great doctor and Muslim leader from our community – who gave me lasting gifts with every conversation. We always discussed politics and religion and leadership … the very stuff we are told never to talk about … until the pot of tea was emptied … and then we would brew another pot and talk some more.

Mostly, I just listened.

“What is the worst combination of sins?” I remember asking.

After great contemplation, a long sip of tea … and then another … the wise elder leaned forward and whispered two words: “Arrogance and Hypocrisy.”

Long sip …

Five years ago, filmmaker and environmentalist James Cameron came to Ft. McMurray to observe the oil sands and made some public comments that came from a place of ignorance and ambition … another ruthless combination. Knowing little about the history, the geology or the science, the Hollywood director flew in on his private jet and aggrandized the unearthly degradation that was fueling the very things that heated his expansive home, built his movie studios and powered his luxurious choices of transportation … arrogance plus hypocrisy at its finest.

Some five years later, the oil sands now attracts withering celebrity icons on their personal “quests for relevance.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Neil Young, Robert Redford, Daryl Hanna (how she is deserving to be on any list?) have all graced us with their presence, their pontifications, and their self-importance … serving out the dangerous cocktail … a double shot of arrogance with a twist of hypocrisy.

But sometimes the world surprises you.

Last week I was in Montreal and had the opportunity to hear James Cameron being interviewed by George Stroumboulopoulos. I braced myself when the question from the audience inquired about his latest environmental crusade. However, after five years of fact-based research and a boat-load of humility, this is how James Cameron answered the question:

“What I have learned is that 19.5% of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and greenhouse effect is caused by animal agriculture, which is more than the entire transportation sectors put together … all cars, trucks, planes, ships … everywhere. So with a simple food choice, we can basically switch off global warming. Now, what are the chances of people suddenly deciding not to eat meat and dairy? Probably pretty slim. But it is possible … as opposed to it is not possible to switch the entire energy and transportation grid to alternatives in one day.” James Cameron then went on with great humility to acknowledge some of his own past hypocrisies in his use of energy products and how his crusade has shifted from one of finger-pointing and condemnation to one of leadership through personal action.

James Cameron sipped some Turkish tea.

Now, I’m sure James Cameron would still like us to reduce our energy footprint. But what I was impressed with is ability to sit quietly and reflect, and to recognize that the supply of energy is not the problem in a world with insatiable human demand. Human demand is the root cause, and that knows no geography.

“What if the billions of dollars spent on environmental activism was spent on education and marketing – the changing of human behavior?” I ask.

Hmmm …. that’s a question that requires another pot of Turkish tea.

Cleaner, Greener, Safer, Friendlier.

There wasn’t a smile in the room. No one dared make eye contact. We were sitting in a P&G sales meeting listening to why our market share had fallen to #2 versus Colgate. This had never happened before, and according to the wildly frustrated VP at the front of the room, there would be hell to pay if it were to ever happen again.

The brand team rolled out their new in-store displays, the account teams announced new discounting and the ad agency showed the new line of commercials … all proving that Crest did in fact make teeth brighter and whiter versus the competition. Then, out of no where, an irreverent kid in the back of the room raised his hand, stood up and cleared his throat.

“Excuse me, but instead of discounting, why don’t we give away a small tube of toothpaste to a family in need for every tube our customers buy? Why don’t we connect our customers emotionally with our brand and forever differentiate ourselves from the competition?”

Silence. Complete silence followed … until the VP shook his head, continued on his rant and moved to the next slide in his “we must be better, faster, cheaper” powerpoint presentation.

Better, faster, cheaper has had its day. That day is over. Today’s companies need to stand for something larger than just the products they sell … something that defines purpose, communicates conviction and inspires a new generation of employees with a sense of meaning. Companies devoted to profit as well as larger missions are winning … winning RFPs, winning the battle for talent and winning the hearts and minds of consumers.

What is your differentiation? What is your mission? What is your conviction?

Ghandi called out for each of us to “be the change you want to see in the world” yet most of us live in a short-term, extraction-based mentality during the day (better, faster, cheaper) and only turn our attention to the quality of our communities and planet at night. What if each of our companies embraced a mission of being cleaner, greener, safer, friendlier? What if we woke up every morning inspired to go to work because we knew what we were doing made our homes, our communities, our cities, our surroundings a whole lot cleaner, greener, safer, friendlier?

People are in search for meaning. People want to be a part of something that makes a difference. People want to work for something that matters. I’m sorry but better, faster, cheaper just doesn’t turn people on, it doesn’t make better communities … and it just isn’t going to change our world.

What if every company in Edmonton had the mission and the conviction to make every day a little bit cleaner, greener, safer, friendlier? What would happen to our brand if the world knew every company in Edmonton was working to make things a bit cleaner, greener, safer, friendlier? What if we embedded a larger purpose into our business models and established a bit of humanity alongside the products and services we sell?

Sorry for raising my hand. I’ll sit back down now. You can continue with the same powerpoint presentation as last year.