Saying that you’re “customer-service oriented” is not a differentiator. Actually being of service, as demonstrated by contribution and delivering significant value, is. The ability to discern what’s wanted and needed, with the willingness and tools to provide it, will set you apart both in how you are perceived and the results you produce.
While many people in business speak of service (customer service, servant-leadership, etc.), few are willing to step out and provide tremendous value without assurance of direct return. Though that approach seems to make sense and may even seem “obvious” from a traditional business view, it is precisely that “obviousness” that I want to explore. When you examine the validity of the underlying assumptions of the “me first” mentality, you may end up with some new opportunities for impact that would have otherwise eluded you.
See, the institutions, traditions and practices that we have inherited—while easily seeming to be “just the way it is” or “how business is done”—are actually the products of worldviews and models that I say have outlived their usefulness (and in many cases, have even been demonstrated to be inaccurate). For example:
- It has, in the later part of the last century, become the case that there is enough food produced to feed the world’s population—and yet every day, thousands of people die from chronic hunger and its effects. The scarcity-based, me-first assumptions from which rose the current food industry have persisted despite the change in resources and capabilities, resulting in the unnecessary suffering and death of countless human beings on an ongoing basis.
- The field of economics, seen as a “science” and a primary marker of a society’s success, has at its core the model of the individual human that makes rational decisions based on weighing out all available information from both a short- and long-term perspective of what will serve his/her own best interest. Have you ever met someone who acts like that all (or even most) of the time? Firstly, neuroscience has shown repeatedly that thoughts (“decisions”) don’t cause our actions, but rather that both are related responses to our perception of our environment. Following from that, we always have an environment, as perceived through an array of filters, memories, concerns, intentions, and so forth. Therefore, not only is the information we use both limited and distorted, but there is no such thing as total individual self-interest. As social creatures, we are designed to operate with others in mind… That brings us to Charles Darwin.
- Darwinism, as spoken of by the “law of the jungle/ survival of the fittest” crowd as justifying a whole range of selfish and destructive human behavior, has little to do with what Darwin wrote. In The Descent of Man (the book he wrote about humans, coming after The Origin Of Species), Darwin speaks of the capacities for love and cooperation as the distinctive features of human evolution—as what distinguishes us as human beings. That is, cooperation—not competition—is what sets us apart and gives us our greatest advantage. The “red-in-tooth-and-claw” rhetoric often heard in our culture is pulled from his earlier work on other animals and then deceptively applied to human social (and commercial) situations. Turns out we’ve already evolved beyond such positions—we’ve just been trained to forget that.
- And the list could go on…
Surely it is the case that any practice or project founded on false assumptions is doomed to failure. Then, it is worth exposing and questioning the assumptions underlying “how business is done”, and this includes our ideas and actions relative to service.
In the world given by the models above, treating “service” the way we do makes total sense. In the cultural narrative of the separated individual, competing fiercely with others in pursuit of scarce necessities, it just makes good business sense to “serve” someone to the extent that he/she is satisfied and becomes and/or remains a customer.
But what would service look like when it’s not a means to an end, but an end in and of itself? If you’re committed to more than just your own survival, if you really got that our odds together beat our odds on our own, and that we truly have the means to create a world that works for everyone—how would you serve then? What impact would you make if we transcended outdated and misinformed survival-based thinking, and you were free to create a business or project that was purely about making a difference?
We have a real opportunity. Will we take the chance to create new rules, a new game? Or will we keep playing by the same rules, from the same mindset, and keep wondering why it doesn’t work?
In a world that can really work, with your unique perspective and skills, how do you choose to make a difference? How will you be of service? Are you willing to put yourself out there and provide incredible value, for its own sake? Try it out.