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On Thursday we were lucky enough to be in the audience at the sold out B Inspired conference taking place here in London. We heard from business leaders, academics, activists and experts on everything from how to foster real diversity, to flipping Milton Freidman’s idea of a business’ purpose on its head.

We heard so many inspiring and thought-provoking discussions that we’ll be penning a couple of blogs over the next few weeks, but as a starting point here are four things we learned on the day:

1. It’s not enough to set your focus on what’s possible

The art of the important was mentioned by Tom Rippin, founder of OnPurpose, as a priority for businesses seeking to make real impact. Whilst it’s of course encouraging to see many organisations taking steps to improve their relationship with society and the environment, it’s no longer enough to set your sights on doing the good that’s possible, but on doing the good that’s important, even if you’re not sure how to get there. For those of us in the communications industry, that means articulating a bold vision that doesn’t just pay lip service to purpose. Whilst there are challenges in bringing stakeholders on a journey that doesn’t have a clear end point, communicating with them at key milestones and when things are going well, and not so well, will be a key tool in doing this successfully.

2. Are you a creator, or a destroyer?

One of the most memorable statements from the day came from Kresse Wesling of Elvis & Kresse, discussing the role designers and the creative community have to play in safeguarding our environment’s future. Kresse’s statement that, if your work isn’t constructive nor circular then you’re destructive, may have been provocative but really struck a chord with many in the audience as is it neatly captures the urgent need for everyone involved in the production of goods to think about circularity at every stage.

3. The purpose-led community is a fast growing one

The gathering of 600 businesses was an even split between businesses already certified as B Corps, and those looking to start the journey, indicating that the purpose-led business community is expanding, and the issues tackled by these organisations are no longer on the fringes. Everyone we spoke to agreed that it was impossible to ignore the role and power of business in addressing some of the biggest challenges we face as a society.

4. And finally….Milton Freidman has a lot to answer for!

Freidman’s famous assertion in a 1970 New York Times article that the sole purpose of business is to generate profits for shareholders was mentioned by a number of speakers, including Patrick Pichette and Colin Mayer, as the source of many of our current problems. Everyone agreed that this is now an untenable position, and we need new structures and systems that take into account the true costs of production with parallel importance paid to people and planet.