The CSR Newsletters are a freely-available resource generated as a dynamic complement to the textbook, Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Sustainable Value Creation.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Strategic CSR - Death

In the aftermath of Steve Jobs’ death, I was prompted to watch his 2005 commencement address to the graduating class at Stanford ( The speech is good (not great), but is remarkable for his views on death, which are summarized in the article in the url below:

Jobs reflected at length on the undesirability of death from the individual point of view, and the usefulness of it from nature's point of view. He offered no comfort. … Jobs made it clear that he did not welcome death, but also that life could be more interesting knowing that death would be coming.

In short, Jobs made the argument that the best way to ensure you live life to the full is to appreciate that your time is short and should not be wasted. As Jobs said to Stanford’s 2005 graduating class:

"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it's quite true. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become."

The comments reminded me of Joseph Schumpeter’s work on creative destruction—we benefit when the weakest firms are replaced by new, innovative firms. In a similar way, Jobs was arguing that it is new life that innovates more readily than those who are older and, perhaps, more set in their ways. Jobs makes no mention of the value of wisdom and experience over youth and energy, but his point was clear and powerful, not least because he was willing to articulate it.

I introduce these ideas to the Newsletter because I think they are relevant to the CSR debate. Death is clearly a personal event and matters to each of us individually and to those who are closest to us. Unless you are someone like Steve Jobs, however, your death is unlikely to matter more broadly. The predominant view of death from a personal perspective reflects the emphasis we place on the individual at the expense of the societal—a shift that occurred around the middle of the twentieth century. Today, we care more about ourselves and less about society, more about our rights and less about our responsibilities, more about our wellbeing and less about the impact the pursuit of that wellbeing may have on others. It is not clear we are individually better off as a result of this shift, but society suffers and ideas, such as CSR, face greater resistance.