Business Versus "Bigness" in Our Culture (10/5/10)

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Business Versus "Bigness" in Our Culture (10/5/10)

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"The Problem of Bigness" - the latest opinion piece by @chamberbclc and @scjordan http://bclc.chamberpost.com/2010/10/the-problem-of-bigness

Summary

The polls show that American attitudes toward big companies and small business are very different.  In the American Enterprise Institute’s “Attitudes Toward Business,” the last time a majority of Americans had a positive or very positive attitude toward big business was in 1966.  In fact, 32% of Americans see “Big Business” as a threat to the country. 

And yet simultaneously, 86% of Americans support free enterprise and over 80% of Americans support entrepreneurs.  We love underdogs and competitors.  We like our neighborhood businesses.  But we also like our brands a lot.   We even like our big companies when we make consumer choices. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010 - 3:00pm

CONTENT: Blog

A couple of weeks ago, BCLC hosted a discussion on the “Image of Business in the Movies” and then a premiere of Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps. The conversation pushed the idea that it’s not business, per se, that bothers our culture so much — it's “bigness.”   

Commentators trotted out the dichotomy in It’s a Wonderful Life between the big business of Potter and the Savings & Loan. In movies like Erin Brockovich, the Constant Gardener, Avatar, and the first Wall Street, there often is juxtaposition between large, remorseless, de-humanizing, impersonal forces and small, “human,” emotional underdogs.

Dramatists will tell you that this is script-writing 101 – to heighten the drama you need to make the antagonist look as strong and as unsympathetic as possible, and you need to make the hero of the story as personable as possible.  Our sympathies are engaged by the contrast and by our ability to relate to the people we are supposed to identify with on screen. In a way, it is a sort of back-handed compliment that corporate leaders are cast as villains because it means that they are associated with power, competence, and wealth.

However, as David Chavern, the Chamber’s Chief Operating Officer, pointed out, this stereotypical typecasting also reflects a failure of imagination.  So much of what business is about is innovation, creativity, and overcoming incredible obstacles. It is a shame more movies aren’t made like the Pursuit of Happyness or Working Girl

The Chamber’s Campaign for Free Enterprise just held a video contest for real-life companies, and one of the positive themes that came through is how much private enterprise has been able to empower and uplift immigrants, minorities, and women.  Too bad we don’t see more of those kinds of movies at the multiplex.  

But movie producers aren’t dumb.  They know there is money to be made by mining certain public sentiments.  The polls show that American attitudes toward big companies and small business are very different.  In the American Enterprise Institute’s “Attitudes Toward Business,” the last time a majority of Americans had a positive or very positive attitude toward big business was in 1966.  In fact, 32% of Americans see “Big Business” as a threat to the country. 

And yet simultaneously, 86% of Americans support free enterprise and over 80% of Americans support entrepreneurs.  We love underdogs and competitors.  We like our neighborhood businesses.  But we also like our brands a lot.   We even like our big companies when we make consumer choices.  (There’s a reason Walmart, Target, and Best Buy are big.)

We even pro-actively want bigness when we talk about social programs.  At the Global Corporate Citizenship conference last week, David Wilcox, among others, kept all of the speakers on their toes by asking them how they could take their projects to scale.  The social sector is rife with small, plucky underdogs who are able to build the equivalent of small businesses.  But people just aren’t satisfied.  If Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone is working well in Harlem, then what do we need to do to take it to scale so that other communities can benefit from the model?  How can we help it get big?

Big is another word for growth, growth is another word for value, therefore big = valuable in our society, but something gets lost in translation. 

Read more here...

Contact

Business Civic Leadership Center - US Chamber of Commerce
http://www.uschamber.com/bclc/default
Keywords: CSR | Corporate Citizenship | Stephen Jordan | US Chamber BCLC

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