The idea of “living longer than yourself” was introduced to me by the book National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns and has since popped up a few more times this past month or so. Many people try to create things and ideas that will outlive them, but it must be done for the right reasons.
At California Lutheran University’s Corporate Leaders Breakfast on January 21, 2010, Donald E. Petersen, former CEO and Chairman of Ford Motor Company, announced that one of the predominant problems in the American car industry is that CEOs continue to try to make their mark on companies without any regard to the long-term success of the company. In other words, they push their respective companies to make drastic changes without considering if those changes will create a stronger company or even if those new items will last. Sometimes companies don’t need big, sexy new products, they just need basic alterations on their already successful products and practices to succeed. (I’ve known numerous executives who have done this when they want a product named after themselves, even when it is clear that the product will fail.)
2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus also pushes the idea of living longer than yourself, but he does it (and encourages others to do it) through social business. When he spoke on February 26, 2010, at an event for California State University – Channel Islands, he encouraged the students in the university’s new social business program to choose a problem they want to solve, and instead of just improving the state of that issue, actually try to solve that problem, 100%. It is his mission to end poverty by 2030. It is a mission that he holds himself accountable for. He says that if it is possible to cut poverty in half, it must also be possible to eliminate it entirely.
Mike Veny, professional drummer and owner of Funky Music Store, uses his online store to raise funds for The Fender Music Foundation as well as promote general support for music education. He has given about four times more often than any other foundation supporter. And, these funds will go on to get instruments into music education programs, strengthening the leaders and communities of the future. Because he is choosing to support an organization like The Fender Music Foundation, he is making a far larger impact than if he had created his own charity and tried to reinvent the wheel. Sure, it’s less glory, but it’s far more efficient in addressing the difference he is trying to make in the world.
All three of these people have looked outside themselves, in space AND time. Only by acknowledging their infinitesimal presence in this world can they create something that they deserve to be remembered for.