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689: What Gmail And Malnutrition Have In Common

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Work being done to address global malnutrition has seen tremendous progress in recent years. Deaths under 4 have halved from 12 million to 6 million between 1990 and 2017. The next 20 years, as outlined at the 2019 Professor Hawking Fellowship Lecture in Cambridge, is incredibly promising.

This is in no small part because of the contributions of CSR and cause-driven corporations; R&D in these areas take many years to create breakthroughs, the ROI won’t show up on the P&L, and short-term thinking businesses can’t make the math add up.

Which brings me to the Gmail example. Gmail, while a wonderful tool that powers capable email productivity for millions of people at no cost, suffers from a short-term thinking challenge at the moment: stock option valuation for those building the tool.

When a corporation commits to executively assuming the responsibility of change, the buy-in throughout the organization enables everyone to contribute to the degree they are able and comfortable with. But when the activities of the organization hurt the value of everyone’s options and the contribution creates a tangible loss of tens of thousands of dollars per employee, short-term thinking is born.

Hiding promotional emails under a promotions tab so companies need to buy more ads to be heard increases ad spend, profitability, and the value of stock options. Pledging ad spend grants for NGOs helps boost awareness but also keeps ad spend relevant in an increasingly cause-tolerant marketplace.

Google is in a great position to create change and brings many powerful contributions in areas such as open AI development, education and open-source software. But an organizational structure needs to thank those involved for being optimistic about the future if it’s to create change at all levels.

My question for you: are you building systems and culture that celebrates bravery and the production of a better future, or are you making it too risky to try?

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