From Achiever to Responder: How a new 21st Century Archetype can help Business take us to the New Better.
The universe is an extremely precise, diligent and efficient actor. Just when our world, in particular big business, desperately needed to embody a new archetype through which to apply its might to challenges like climate, inequality, diversity, etc. (challenges largely a side-effect of the reigning archetype — the Achiever — but more on that later), the universe used a virus just 70–90 nanometers large to spotlight a new archetype seemingly of its choosing. It used this virus to help infiltrate and populate every media channel in the world with imagery, descriptions, and inspiring stories of a new archetype, that if adopted on a corporate and leadership level, could make all the difference to our world:
Among the many positive precipitates that emerge from challenges in life, particularly those we are experiencing now that contain the sniffing salts of mortality, is maturity.
One of the most powerful indicators of maturity is how we define our life’s mission.
This applies just as well to Fortune 500 corporations as it does to the individuals inside them. Much of my work is with high-impact leaders who upon reaching the summit promised them through the 20th Century’s preferred definition of life’s mission— achievement and the seeming power and wealth that comes with that — arrive there to discover that behind the veil was not the joy, fulfillment, or meaning they had been promised. With the clock still ticking, this moment gives birth to a new strata of maturity with an urgent quest for those experiences. This new strata is still equipped with the drive and experience of before, but now with a North Star sparkling with an evolved definition of life’s mission. While achievement remains a big part of moving toward that North Star, it isn’t for its own sake, or for the sake of business growth as a goal in and of itself. It is achievement in service to the true needs and betterment of ourselves and other people — whether they be customers or humanity at large.
If we examine this new archetype, “the Responder”, now so vividly displayed on our televisions and feeds, we will see important differences in their behavior, choices and priorities, than we may have seen in its predecessor, the still reigning 20th Century business archetype, which as previously hinted at, we’ll call “the Achiever”. It’s important in fairness to note that the Achiever has not, for the most part, ever have it as a mission to generate negative outcomes for society of the planet — it operated under the assumption that achievement = progress — possibly drafting off of Milton Friedman’s now clearly premature postulate that in making profit the mission, the most good would be generated.
That said, it’s critical in the crucible of this moment to not default to the increasingly popular description of a potentially grand compromise of our future in the “New Normal” (meaning somewhat new, but with enough of the normal — the old — so that we don’t have to behave too differently). But instead, if we are going to be making big changes anyway, to target and design for a “New Better”. That will mean business and its leaders needing to leave the outdated Achiever archetype behind, and adopt a 21st century human-centric and socially conscious archetype in the Responder. The Achiever cannot create a New Better, only the Responder can, because the Responder is not interested in simply winning for its own sake — to the Responder that is not very ambitious — instead, it is interested in winning as defined by overcoming today’s giant challenges to create scaled human and planetary wellness.
A quick guide to the mindset shift from Achiever to Responder:
(While the following I believe to be true for all sectors of society, the particular intention here is the application to the sector of business and its leadership, as it seems business may have the greatest potential, given both its financial and human capital, to address today’s challenges.)
- The Responder is different than the Achiever in that while it is every bit as driven, dedicated, hard-working, and accomplished, it targets all of that at humanity’s betterment, where the Achiever targets growth and accomplishment for its own sake.
- Where the Achiever looks for business opportunity and the scaling of market share, the Responder looks for human need and the scaling of human wellness (a system in which market share would actually scale organically, and this applies to all that follows).
- Where the Achiever is driven by winning, the Responder is driven by serving.
- Where the Achiever sees profit as a measure of winning, the Responder sees it as fuel to be used for more serving.
- Where shareholders love the Achiever, customers and employees love the Responder.
- Where the Achiever is more apt to use force and coercion to attain goals (because the means justifies the ends — to win), the Responder is more apt to use invitation, cooperation, and collaboration (because that way, the means is itself just another way to lift human wellness).
- Where the Achiever identifies with the summit, the Responder identifies with the sherpa.
- Where the Achiever sees employees as strategy to use for the purpose of winning (profit as measure), the Responder sees employees as included in their mission of scaling human wellness and therefore critical to be fulfilled on all levels.
- Where the Achiever sees people as consumers who were born to buy, the Responder sees people as those they were born to serve.
- Where the Achiever seeks to generate direction and strategy by talking at, the Responder seeks to generate direction and strategy by listening to.
- Where the Achiever believes human success is what will create happiness, the Responder knows that human happiness is what will create success.
- Where the Achiever measures success in quantity of things, the Responder measures it in quality of experience.
- Where the Achiever sees the world as something to subdue, conquer, and own, the Responder sees it as something to lift, nurture, and experience.
- Where the Achiever sees relationships as a means to get to more opportunities for winning, the Responder sees relationships as more opportunities to serve.
- Where in the Achiever, the ego-mind is the master and the heart the sometimes servant, in the Responder the heart is the master and the ego-mind the servant — the heart choosing the mission and the ego-mind figuring out how to get the heart’s vision actualized.
It won’t benefit anyone for me to express just one person’s arbitrary opinion of the big brands and leaders that embody the 20th century Achiever archetype and the ones now modeling the 21st century Responder archetype. Yet, already there is the glaring distinction being made apparent in the new COVID-19-aware marketing on our televisions and in our feeds. They fall into three buckets: the “We’re still there for you” bucket (Achiever), the “Thank you, frontline” bucket (Achiever), and the “Thank you, frontline, and here’s what we’re doing/changing/building right now to help you and make things better” (Responder). And there are some pressing global circumstances even bigger than COVID-19 that make the archetypal nature of brands today very visible. As example, for 13.8 billion years nature has been vigilantly terraforming this planet to be an unimaginably beautiful and lush haven for life (8.7M species and counting), but yet sadly a planet which is now in danger of becoming a big lifeless desert. The Achiever sees the moment as one to spend trillions of dollars trying to send rocket-ships to Mars to eventually terraform what is a big lifeless desert into a lush haven for life (Achievement). The Responder sees the moment as an urgent one to restore the haven we already inhabit back to the pristine form it took nature 13.8 billion years to perfect, that we might someday have the kind of wisdom to venture outward again and make sure we don’t bring our current dysfunction with us (Response).
I will break my promise to mention one smaller emerging company and leader that embody the archetype of the Responder. Not too many years ago, a gentleman I’ve had privilege of knowing named Sam Polk left an extremely financially rewarding career as a hedge-fund manager on Wall Street for a spiritual walkabout that landed him in South Central LA and starting a non-profit called “Feast” (then “Groceryships”) to help the mothers of this underserved (except by big fast food) community connect with healthy food and its preparation for their families (what one could call, as elaborated on in Sam’s book “For The Love of Money”, a journey from Achiever to Responder). Wanting to do more, Sam started a social enterprise called “Everytable” that through an innovative business model enabled these underserved neighborhoods access to healthy and delicious pre-made meals for at, or under, the price of fast food. When COVID-19 hit, it looked like disaster until Sam, acting from the Responder archetype in Everytable and himself, accessed the greater possibilities that come with the Responder mindset, and acted on them. Soon, because of the central commissary kitchen that is the cornerstone to Sam’s business model, Everytable was contracted by the Cities of Los Angeles and Compton to provide meals to multiple populations made vulnerable to food scarcity by the virus. Not the original business model at all, but in three months, Everytable will have served as many meals (1M+) as it had in the last, quite successful, three years. The Fast Company story about it is here. Like stated at the onset, the Responder archetype isn’t any less driven, diligent, or business-minded than the Achiever, it just points its firepower in a direction that also serves.
Here is an important understanding for the companies and business leadership of the world: You haven’t been the only one seeing the Responder archetype and their heroics everywhere we look over the last couple of months. So has everyone on the planet, and that includes the people you may call your audience and customers. A new bar for how one can be in this world is forever imprinted in their consciousness and we are already seeing it in their actions. They stop everything at certain times of the day to go out and applaud the Responders. They’ve been inspired to become Responders themselves and fill their garages with 3D printers to make face masks, organize food drives for their unemployed neighbors, and turned their restaurants into farmer’s markets. Having tasted what it looks and feels like to be a Responder and been inspired by their example-ship, there is no return for them. They will want to stay in that energy both through their own actions and in their choice of what people and brands they surround themselves with. They are smart and savvy and will discern when they are being dealt with by an Achiever brand or a Responder brand. In the post-COVID era, the Achiever — whether that be brand or leader — will not be followed or applauded because there will be no perceived societal mission or value behind their achievements.
The generations that will fully live the post-COVID world, had already showed, pre-COVID, no interest in the “normal” they inherited from the Achievers. So a “New Normal” is already potentially sounding like a clever strategy by the Achievers to maintain the status quo and their reign.
Instead, they will have their eyes on the “New Better”, and be looking for the Responders they can applaud, support, and most importantly, join to get there faster.