19 May 2024, 02:30
By Richard Naylor Feb 06, 2024

Why the furniture industry needs crazy thinking

It’s not easy being green – but furniture businesses must face up to the challenge. In the sixth of an exclusive series of articles exploring the whys and hows of becoming a more eco-conscious furniture business, Richard Naylor, group sustainable development director at Hypnos, explains why businesses need to think differently if they want to bring about meaningful change …

George Bernard Shaw once wrote: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Using this definition, many of the world’s leading entrepreneurs are decidedly unreasonable, and a few have even been called ‘crazy’. One of Steve Jobs’ inspirational quotes that stops you in your tracks and makes you wake up and smell the coffee is: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. 

“About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

This quote is from a 1997 ad campaign by Apple called ‘think different’. Whilst I suspect the words were written by an advertising agency, Steve Jobs did narrate it, and I personally feel it is inspirational (if you get a chance, take a look at it at www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtftHaK9tYY).

The question I humbly ask is: “Do we need more ‘crazy’ thinking in the furniture industry?” My view is yes, we do, and here’s why.

Planet before profit

The world is facing irreversible social, economic and environmental changes, and conducting business as usual is not sustainable. In essence, we need more crazy! It is unlikely that we, the human race, will be able to surmount these challenges without the engagement and (more-than-likely radical) restructuring of business and markets.

The current way of conducting business is based on a profit-before-anything-else philosophy. This concept was originally proposed by Milton Friedman in his 1970 New York Times article, which proposed the doctrine that ‘The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Profits’. Essentially, this approach promises social welfare by making a profit which leads to wealth creation, more employment and more taxation. 

Regrettably adopted by virtually every commercial enterprise over the last 50 years, this naive business model has created inexhaustible consumerism and corporate greed, and has given birth to the most shameful period of human history from a pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss perspective. There should be a special place in hell for Mr Friedman!

The good news is that, if tackled in the right way, today’s crises will lead to tomorrow’s solutions – but we do need more unreasonable and crazy people. Our current models of reasoning need to be jettisoned in favour of new ones that can seem unreasonable when compared to contemporary thinking. Like it or not, the world is changing at a rapid rate, and we need to think differently.

Social entrepreneurs (and intrapreneurs)

Allow me, fellow furniture professionals, to introduce (or re-introduce) you to the social entrepreneur and intrapreneur phenomenon. According to the as-was Department for Trade and Industry, “A social enterprise is a business with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners.” 

This type of business is founded, managed and driven by a social entrepreneur, and this type of individual has very specific characteristics: they don’t like discipline and ideology; they innovate products that are solutions to social or environmental issues; they jump in, often before being fully resourced; they believe in the power and opportunity of unconventional workforces; and they are healthily impatient and doggedly determined to take risks. 

Is this you? Could it be you? Do you run or lead a furniture business and want to create more impact? Well, please read on, and hopefully be inspired to make a change or difference!

By contrast, a social intrapreneur is an employee within an institution, be it corporate, public or non-profit, that starts initiatives that focuses on social or environmental impact, while maintaining and moving the institution’s goals and mission forward.

A great example of a social entrepreneurial business is Harry Specter’s award-winning chocolates (www.harryschocs.co.uk). Pioneered by Mona and Shaz Shah to support their autistic son, this business’ purpose is to provide continual employment and training to an autistic workforce. This is a business that wins multiple awards, makes money and provides a positive impact to society. 

What can the furniture industry learn from this? Does your business employ from the non-traditional employment bank, where specific talent is abundantly available? Reading this, could you consider adding this positive impact to your business? Could you go one step further, and conceive a new business model that has purpose at its core, that serves positively people and planet (and please remember, this is a robust business model, not a charity)?

Alternatively, why not encourage the intrapreneurs within your own business to put forward their ideas that push a positive social or environmental agenda which also supports your overall businesses goals? Perhaps invite a Dragons’ Den-style pitching process from your employees to help incubate and grow a proposal. This has many business culture positives attached to it, as well as making crazy, disruptive ideas become real.

Why not cultivate the art of being unreasonable, and let your brand reap the rewards of becoming that innovative trailblazer? I think our industry would benefit from less status quo, and more #bemorecrazy.

I would be interested to hear from anyone who has ideas in this regard. Perhaps we can join forces and seed change for tomorrow’s marketplace?

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