Oh hell, I do it. Probably all of us do. We choose a scapegoat and decide that they’re the ones to blame for the problems. Some of us try to blame the people who work for “the corporations.”
Now, personally, I *do* believe that corporate structure, where shareholders are rewarded for a corporation’s profits but are legally insulated from the downsides of its malfeasance, is problematic (read more here).
But lately, I’ve been conversing a lot with people who are far more familiar with corporate culture than me. And they have explained it like this:
When you go to business school and then spend ten years in a corporate environment, it becomes normal to look at balance sheets as a kind of a puzzle and to ask yourself what can make the liabilities go down and what can make the receipts go up.
To make the receipts go up, the formulas go, you either need more customers or you need your existing customers to buy more. Hmmm. What could make your existing customers buy more?
Let’s say you’re at a processed food company. But in a way, processed food, widgets, tires–when you’re in the bowels of a corporation–are all kind of the same thing. Wherever you work, you simply need to sell more units. You find ways to manipulate the balance sheet.
So you work at the food company and you need to sell more units. One of your food scientists has told you that adding a little extra salt and fat could cause customers to increase the amount they eat at a single serving by 50 percent.
Oh, great. More units sold. Add the salt and fat, please.
You’re a brand manager and–guess what?–sales have gone through the roof and you get a promotion. By the way, you’re a great dad or mom, a good community member, a kind boss. You have a great heart and you love people very much.
Not only that, but you’re kind of proud because you’ve obviously made a product that your customers like more and feel happier. And, all those people whose retirement depends on your company’s revenue, are now that much more secure.
The only problem is, everybody is suddenly talking about a child obesity epidemic and pointing their fingers at people like you and saying you’re evil.
But the truth is, you’re not evil at all. You’re actually kind. And you did what you were trained to do. Not once in your career has anyone asked you to assess the impact of your product on the body mass of “consumers.” It simply never occurred to you.
And why should it?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being remotely sarcastic here. I’m being totally serious. The actions of good people in not-so-good structures end up in not-so-good results. That doesn’t make the good person bad.
Looking for people to blame misses the point. The point here is that these problems are nuanced. Scapegoating people isn’t going to help. What will? Understanding them. Examining their challenges. Accepting that they are in difficult situations.
And then: finding ways to help them.