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“Generosity”, in its broadest sense, means focusing on the future rather than on short-term gain, and ultimately benefits the giver, as well as all of us inhabitants of Earth, the ONLY planet we have.

Whether you like him or not, whether you agree with him or not, whether you can stomach his level of risk taking or not, Elon Musk embodies the spirit of the times. Here are two reasons why:

1. In June 2014 Elon Musk’s electric car company Tesla did the unheard of in a competitive capitalistic environment: He opened all its electric car patents to outside use.

Forbes: Tesla Goes Open Source: Elon Musk Releases Patents To 'Good Faith' Use

Basically his reason for this is that sharing technology is the best way to rapidly improve and develop new technologies, which can help solve pressing global problems.

More specifically it is because Tesla, which is doing ground-breaking research, isn’t big enough to build enough cars cheaply enough and quickly enough to help slow climate change, but the big car companies, who are big enough, but who are doing very little research on electric cars (less than 1% of their budgets) can, if they share research and technology openly, solve the challenging problems much more quickly.

Musk also knows that this act of “generosity”, besides possibly helping all humankind, may in turn help Tesla, because if electric cars become common then the support infrastructure, such as recharging stations and repair shops, etc., will make his electric cars more practical and speed adoption.

Having a mission, a higher purpose – for example, helping slow climate change – coupled with generosity is good business. For everyone.

2. If you don’t believe that climate change is something that needs attention, then try this: the double-edged sword of Artificial Intelligence (AI), possibly the greatest threat humankind has yet face, and simultaneously our best bet for solving the problems that threaten our survival.

Wired Magazine: Inside OpenAI, Elon Musk’s Wild Plan to Set Artificial Intelligence Free

In December 2015 Elon Musk and Sam Altman (of Y Combinator) unveiled their new artificial intelligence company OpenAI, again based on the idea that the dangerous field of Artificial Intelligence, will be developed faster, and more safely, if the technology is open sourced. And further more that it is not owned by a single company, who would then be able to control all the massive benefits and be responsible for the massive dangers.

When Musk and Altman announced their team of the ten top AI researchers in the world, the other big companies went absolutely crazy. Google, Facebook, et al, began offering these researchers tens of millions of dollars a year (as much as top NFL quarterbacks) to come work for them.

In fact they offered much more money than OpenAI could match. But what those other companies could not offer was this: “the chance to explore research aimed solely at the future instead of products and quarterly earnings, and to eventually share most—if not all—of this research with anyone who wants it.”

Yes, Musk, Altman, and company plan to give away the 21st century’s most transformative technology for free. And this is what got nine of the ten top people to come work for them, not the money.

In both of these examples we see that MISSION TRUMPS MONEY.

At the heart of both of these examples is the idea whose time has finally come, and that is sustainability:

  • generosity is more sustainable than greed

  • openness is more sustainable than secrecy

  • reason is more sustainable than fear

And all three are proving themselves to be more profitable than the old models, because ultimately sustainability is about the health and prosperity, even the survival, of the human race, each and every one of us, and all of our children.


All of these traits that mark the spirit of the times can be brought to design and branding, and all pay dividends.

  • Designing to reduce cognitive load is a form of generosity.

  • Designing a product or package that does no harm, gives something back, or brings a community together are forms of generosity.

  • Designing for the future rather than for short term profits is a form of generosity.

  • Branding that includes people’s local art, traditions, or stories, is a form of giving back.

What more examples can you think of? Please be generous and share in the comments section below.

IMPORTANT NOTE: You must remember that sustainability is not a marketing strategy. If you make sustainable developments or programs, or giving back programs, they must actually be sustainable and actually give something of value back. There are no secretes any more (Panama Papers, Edward Snowden, Wikileaks, etc., etc., etc.). Anyone adept at using a smartphone may be able to prove that your sustainable claims are false. If that happens kiss all your work goodbye.

Transparency is key, open your data to the public, let journalists rifle through it, offer proof of your steps toward achieving your higher purpose. Welcome challenges, admit and correct mistakes with honesty and speed. The public trust is yours to earn.

* * *

* PostPhd, Stephen; Jill Neimark (2007-05-08). Why Good Things Happen to Good People: The Exciting New Research that Proves the Link Between Doing Good and Living a Longer, Healthier, Happier Lif (p. 1). Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.

Related posts:

The Business Logic of Sustainability: Conscience + Sustainability = $489 Billion

What is Sustainability? A Better Business Model

The New, New World: The Investment Logic for Sustainability






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