Friday, May 22, 2015

This Week in EID - Episode 55

We were thrilled to have a great guest post from Moin Rahman this week, with a very thought provoking piece on ethics in human factors.  If you missed this, here is your chance.  A great read from a great mind.

The three articles from our standard series got a ton of response on the EID site and on Linked In.  We clearly hit a couple of major nerves.  But for surprising reasons I think.

Many of our loyal readers (based on the fact that they read all of the articles in the sitting/standing/leaning series) had some strong opinions on these articles, including the one this week.  One point that Brian Peacock shared was that any strategy that uses absolutes is going to be flawed.  Can’t argue with that.  But the article this week focused on emotion, which is something very different from the usual debate, so I was hoping for comments on that.  Now, I am really looking forward to the response when the last piece of this series comes out (in two weeks) on kids and sitting.  Articles about kids always brings out the best and worst in all of us. Stay tuned.

Which brings me to the free range parenting article.  The idea here is that the free range children movement is gaining some momentum, but it hits the wall when parents get intimidated by their neighbors, community, and even the police about letting their kids range. 

Then the final article (which actually appeared first on Monday) was a behavioral science piece on smarter lunchrooms.  The San Francisco public school system and IDEO teamed up to create a very innovative lunchroom environment (not your everyday cafeteria).  And it seems to work.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on any of these. 

Should brands drive social change?

I wrote about some interesting trends in how brand identities with respect to gender have evolved in recent years. Whether any of these speculations are valid, it brings up an interesting debate that definitely happening all over the corporate world.  Should companies care about the impact of their products, brands, marketing, etc on social change?

It is clear that corporate social responsibility is a big debate, not just in the Twitterverse but also in the boardroom.  Companies are moving towards the triple or even the quadruple bottom line.  They are moving beyond an exclusive focus on shareholder value and defining stakeholder much more broadly. 

  • Do they have responsibilities towards employees beyond “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work” and legally mandated safety and workplace regulations?
  • Do they have responsibilities towards customers to support their well being and best interests? 
  • Do they have responsibilities towards the community where their offices and factories are located or where their employees live?
  • Do they have responsibilities for environmental stewardship?

And now I would like to add a fifth question to this list:  Do they have responsibilities to drive social change?  This is a harder question because I think there is more uncertainty about the direction that social change should be heading.  The headlines these days focus on the most controversial issues like whether a bakery should be required to design and create a cake for a same sex marriage. 

But even when we consider accepted problems such as the glass ceiling in wages, minorities in STEM careers, employee wellness, etc. how far do we expect companies to go?  Is it even their role to influence these challenges on their own initiative?  The article in EID focused on gender stereotypes and how they can be supported or challenged by brands in the way they are designed and marketed.

And then even if we want companies to care about and address these issues, how much will we trust that they are doing it because they believe in it or just as a marketing gimmick?  Can we suspend our cynicism?  And even if companies are doing it out of self-interest, if it works, should we care? 

I don’t have answers to most of these questions.  I have some personal beliefs and speculations on several of these issues.  But I am uncertain enough to worry about forcing these on companies through regulation or mass consumer pressure.

It makes a good long weekend post to give it time to percolate before many of you respond.  But I am very interested in what you think.