In late 1982, we all learned the hard way about the profound reach of bad products in a world of markets, networks, organizations, friends and families with the discovery that someone had laced Tylenol with cyanide. We also got a classic lesson in social responsibility. From their instantaneous decision to cooperate with law enforcement and media to their famous full recall of Tylenol, Johnson & Johnson established themselves as the standard for how to put the health and well being of customers and society ahead of nearer-term concerns for the bottom line.
In J&J’s case, the inherent danger was obvious: how best to respond to poisoned pills already in stores and homes. Putting the public first was both admirable and effective. And, I think, it offers companies an insight into winning strategies that are more forward and proactive. No need to wait for things to go wrong. Make ‘taking full responsibility” sit at the heart of your product strategy and you’ll win in a world so entirely dependent on products and services for life itself.
As described in On Value and Values, “Products, services and markets overlay all aspects of life. Every human activity can be enhanced or eliminated by good things to have provided through products and services….. This transforms the meaning of products and services beyond our inherited understanding. For example, the air we breathe swirls with winds stirred by markets, networks and organizations trading in pollution rights, or heating and cooling the great indoors. Water? It is bottled and branded, regulated and managed, and bought and sold in all three natural states. The same holds for earth and fire — and other substances nominated over the centuries by philosphers and scientists as the primary materials of reality….. When everything is or might be a product or service, the idea of markets — the meaning of what markets are — encompasses life itself.”
Today, all aspects of our lives are mediated and experienced through products and services. That is our new reality. Now, we must find a way to ensure our lives — and the products and services that make our lives possible and worth living — are fully good. This challenge cannot be met if our understanding of social responsibility begins only with the discovery of bad products. We must build in the good up front — and that means as employees, we must act to ensure that our products, our services and our brands blend our concern for value with our concern for values. We must take this responsibility because our customers depend on us to do so.
Employees and executives that embrace such blended values strategies — that ground their market strategy in taking responsibility for value and values — will win in the 21st century. Why? Because while we are employees and executives in the organizations where we work, we are customers of all other organziations. When we learn to act as employees on blended values strategies, we take the lead in doing unto others — as customers — what we would want them as employees to do unto us when we are customers.