The other day I talked about the missed career opportunity of Ray Kroc, pointing out that instead of building a global food empire, he could have easily just become a consultant instead. Which we can now see may have been a blessing of sorts. In spite of the fact that a lot of motivational figures and successful business people preach a familiar gospel about the virtues of “selling to the masses”, there IS a likely downside to this pursuit. We can see it in the world all around us right now, and McDonald’s – although it embodied a lot of brilliantly innovative ideas and methods – can be held up more credibly as a culprit than as a shining beacon. If you decide to make your billions by producing something mass-produced, you might want to think about doing your grandchildren a favor, and try to take a few lessons from the last several decades. Part of true success is arguably creating a collective benefit from the product or service that you create to bring YOURSELF benefit. And the fact is, a great many of today’s success stories in business center on products that enhanced life in some way, and in the process provided jobs and (try not to wince) tax revenue that returned benefit to the collective good of society. So what’s so this big downside of mass production, as if you don’t already know?
Ethics 101 – The Forgotten Business Course
The problems of mass production often stem from the same process as the benefits. In the beginning, this may be a superficial complaint, as poignantly highlighted in the familiar Henry Ford quote “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black”. The obvious benefits of mass-production – reduced human error, a reduction in labor costs, and increased production – intrinsically create a few problems. One is the superficial kind just mentioned, the inability to tailor the product to a customer’s whims. But the greater problems are the result of either legitimate unintended consequences, like the detrimental health effects of eating McDonald’s highly-processed foods, the destruction of family farms by agribusiness, or the toxic wasteland that we’ve created through our hunger for more and more at a lower price, or another kind of more INTENTIONAL consequence. If the elements of the game are as simple as “create a product at the lowest possible price and sell it for the highest possible price”, someone, somewhere, is going to pay. And when the entity making those decisions is an amoral collection of guidelines designed solely to maximize profit to please stakeholders – the long term price is hardly worth the cash savings at the time of purchase. For companies like McDonald’s and their competitors to have food outlets all around the globe, and for two thirds of the world to have a cell phone, a lot of “someones” had to make the decisions to utilize nearly slave-like labor, to destructively mine rare minerals to create throw-away devices that return to the environment in massive toxic dumps, or to engineer food that is shippable and attractive but has no flavor and questionable nutritional value.
This Soapbox Makes Me Feel Pretty Tall!
So all I’m really saying here is that I think morality in business skipped a generation, and if you’re planning a global empire to deliver your widget, why not throw some basic forward thinking into the mix? While the iPad, for instance, is an amazing device, its artificially low price was made possible largely by sending jobs overseas, massively underpaying THOSE workers, and marketing it with a “sin of omission” lie, which was failing to tell the marketplace that it was a walled garden media platform. And if you’re a big Apple fan (I personally love their products) you may be shocked to learn that the company engages in virtually zero charitable donations. Is that really success? I don’t think so. Not if our grandkids can’t afford to pay their electric bill and recharge the thing because they spent all their money on potable water and health care.
*steps down from soapbox*