Finding Your Place in a Global World

Imagine slipping into a room where four Nobel laureates from Harvard, University of Southern California, University of Chicago, and Stanford are debating what the world should do about energy. They don’t see you, so you sit down to listen.

One professor says the focus of technological advances should be on recycling carbon dioxide. Another lifts his chin and says he loves getting up in the morning as the sun rises and watch the meter run backward as his solar panels charge his house. He says we should focus on making alternative energy more accessible and more affordable. A third responds that it’s a combination of everything — technology development, conservation, and recycling. He says we need find partners in all industries, from government to consumers to manufacturers to business leaders.

It’s inspiring, their conversation. They all are actively researching ways to reduce our dependency on oil from other countries and keep climate change from getting worse, yet they all have different ideas of how to go about it.

You wander down the crowded hall and rub shoulders with John Kerry, Sherry Lansing, Ted Turner, and Sumner Redstone. The media is everywhere. There are lights, cameras and security guards. You slip into another room and hear Arnold Schwareznegger, who is wearing a vibrant green tie, say that sourcing from an overseas company that uses dirty fuel should be just as abhorrent as sourcing from a sweat shop. A thunder of applause.

Where are you? It can only be the 10th annual Milken Institute Global Conference. You’re among 3,000 other business people who have traveled to Los Angeles from 60 countries, 20% of them from somewhere other than the U.S. You spot several of the 80 Vistage Chairs and members who are also soaking it all in, and attend the Vistage-hosted panel on small businesses. This is an economic conference put on by the institute that bills itself as an independent economic think tank whose mission is to improve the lives and economic conditions of diverse populations.

Your mission is to run your business more efficiently, more effectively, and to increase your revenue. And you’re here to get some insight, and maybe some economic predictions, so you can make better decisions for your business.

And you get that, but you also get something else. In every session you go to, whether it’s Doing Business in Russia, Private Equity, Smaller Businesses in a Flat World, E-waste Recycling, Shaping Your Own Future, Successful Internet Businesses, Global Risk in an Interdependent World or one of the many others, you notice a overarching theme.

These esteemed panelists want to not only build better businesses, but also build a better world.

No, it’s not all about holding hands across cultures, giving to charity, and living vegan. It’s more about how you live your life, how you shape your company culture and what your legacy will be. What will your eulogy sound like? Will you be proud?

Eli Broad says he has greater satisfaction now [while running his charitable foundation] than when running his two Fortune 500 companies. Kirk Douglas, now 90 years old, with 90 movies to his credit, says he wishes he had been a better dad. He adds that he has discovered that “the cure for depression is to help others.” What’s going on here?

Steve Wynn tells you he wants to connect with his resort staff on a personal level — so much so that he is learning Mandarin — and strike a better balance between work and friends. Frank Gehry says you have a responsibility to your neighbors; it’s important to be respectful. And that this respect will set you apart. No small words from one of the world’s most renowned architects.

At the end of the three-day conference that started at 6:30 a.m. each morning and pushed you solid till 9:00 p.m., you have pages of notes and you’re brimming with ideas not only to improve your professional life, but also your life as a whole. If you boiled it all down, your top 10 to-do list might look like this:

  1. Seek new opportunities. Discover how you can be more involved with the things you love to do for others. It will be your key differentiator and make daily life more meaningful.
  2. Go green: at home, at work. Then tell as many people as you can about how you’ve turned to more sustainable energy sources, recycled, and conserved. Seek out green vendors and green buildings. Make it your corporate culture.
  3. When you see a problem in the world, something inefficient and clunky and done simply because it’s always been done that way, ask yourself, “How could this be improved? Is there an opportunity here?”
  4. Identify your passions. Really dig. Then channel your resources and stick to your mission.
  5. Be transparent. Toss the corporate hyperbole and be open with your employees, your consumers and your vendors about your vision, the obstacles and plans for the future. They will be more likely to help you reach your goals.
  6. Build an ecosystem that empowers and educates the people around you.
  7. Think globally. No matter how small your business, you are not limited to local talent, resources or consumers.
  8. Turn philanthropic. A philanthropic culture creates a positive environment both at the office and within you.
  9. Consider the whole life cycle of your product or service. What’s missing? How could it be better for the environment or community?
  10. Keep it super simple. Whatever it is.

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