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Corporate responsibility, Jeremy Bentham and Eminem

There’s a blog post title you probably never thought you would read.

So what has corporate responsibility got to do with one of the most famous utilitarian philosophers and a fading rap star?

To Bentham first. He came up with the concept of the Panopticon. Here’s an image.

The Panopticon is a design for a prison. In it, the prisoners, due to the design, are not sure when they are being observed and when not, the effects theoretically being beneficial. As Bentham himself put it:

“As the watchmen cannot be seen, they need not be on duty at all times, effectively leaving the watching to the watched”.

The concept has influenced prison design ever since.

Reading Bentham’s quote above, you can see his relevance to corporate responsibility.

As the modern conference cliche goes: “real corporate responsibility is what takes place when you are not under scrutiny”.

In today’s world of 24/7 media. Companies are increasingly being watched all the time.

This makes Bentham’s Panopticon ever more relevant. It’s a useful metaphor.

Now, you may ask, how is Eminem relevant to the world of responsible business?

His link to responsible business is transparency.

In the movie 8 mile, and in his music, like him or otherwise, Eminem tells his audience everything negative about himself in advance.

He then parodies it to comic effect whilst making a point.

It’s what PR people might call “getting out in front of the issue”, in an extreme way.

I wouldn’t suggest companies parody themselves much, if at all. You have to be really quite cool and confident as a brand, to get that right.

But the admittance of flaws up front can be very disarming. If its done well and matched with confidence, it’s a great way of being both authentic and humble.

Demonstrating humility with assurance is the communications holy grail for large companies. You can no longer pretend to know all the answers.

Politicians are adopting this tactic too. It’s what David Cameron’s “Big Society” is all about.

Whatever you think about the notion, it’s clear message is “we don’t have all the answers, but we can do some things to contribute to solutions, and so can you”.

That’s an increasingly compelling message and one that companies would do well to heed.

The smart ones, the leaders, have been doing this for years.

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