Is What’s in it for me? The Right Question?


Not long ago, I was asked about the work of the SMSBF, and in general, what it meant to advance triple bottom line business practices. After giving the person a sense of what the SMSBF does, she, in a very well-meaning way, told be about the importance of being able to articulate the WIIFM – What’s in it for me – of the SMSBF’s work. Simply put, my friend insisted that before people will get involved in the organization, the WIIFM must be clearly stated; if it’s not, people will not engage and the organization will go nowhere.

I understand the idea behind this way of thinking, but there’s something about it that just doesn’t square with me. I am not against figuring-out what a product or service can do for the person purchasing it. Within the realm of quality systems, one is obliged to understand these things. The product or service’s purpose –the need the thing fulfills and its utility – ought to be well understood, so that its design, manufacture and all the rest seeks the proper ideal and has proper aspiration.

On the other hand, to dwell on the WIIFM is a whole other matter. If the focus moves from the product or service’s purpose – how it satisfies a need and adds to the common good – and takes-on the goal of simply satisfying the person’s ego – the self – then all sorts of dysfunction can ensue. And this is precisely the sort of thing we see in this age. We invent and sell things simply because we can figure-out a WIIFM that is completely detached from any other good, or harm. How else do we explain complete meals delivered to the doorstep, wrapped in excessive amounts of packaging and carrying frequent flyer miles that would leave a top executive envious? I get the convenience, but seriously: We’re so busy we can’t take time to patronize our local grocer? If so, we’d be better served to take a few moments, reflect and reassess our lives and start working on some more meaningful goals.

We need to pay much more attention to things other than WIIFM. Our focus needs to move to things such as utility, ultimate good, and most importantly, eliminating the negative impacts our products and services leave behind. This is the reason the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit is such an important and vital paradigm.

Today’s dominate view is that business exists to maximize shareholder value; the focus – for the most part – is exclusively centered on how to get consumers to part with their hard-earned money and place it in the pockets of business owners. Yet, this is a broken model; it’s one predicated on the most base of human instincts: greed. This is not the purpose of business. The purpose of business is to lift-up the common good of all people, not just the few at the top.

SMSBF is dedicated to the notion that measuring the true value of business lies in the triple bottom line. We believe business doesn’t start by asking WIIFM, but in asking what’s good for all of us and the planet, too. We don’t think of human beings as consumers: We see them as persons, with value that transcends what’s in their pockets. We also believe that these principles are accessible to everyone, and that business is practiced in community and where each of us has our existence – right here in Detroit and SE Michigan.

To learn more about how business is being redefined to seek more than just the WIIFM, please join SMSBF on June 28th for our “Triple Bottom Line Forum: Business for the 21st Century”. Click here to learn more.

Board of Directors, Southeast Michigan Sustainable Business Forum

SMSBF is an organization in Southeast Michigan to whom business leaders, managers, associates and entrepreneurs turn to connect, discover and learn about sustainable business practices. Our forums are places where ideas and views are exchanged and discussed. SMSBF exists as a forum where the most important topic of our time — sustainability — is opened-up and stakeholders discover what it takes to run sustainable businesses.

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