This crisis is raising a simple but essential question: “what is the role of a company in its community”? Maybe the best place to look for an answer to this question is the Small Town Small Business (STSB). These STSBs have written the playbook on what a company’s role and responsibility ought to be to its community. If you walk into your STSB and realize you left your wallet at home, they’ll loan you the milk on credit. If there is a family passing through town whose car has broken down, the STSB mechanic will likely bring their tools and expertise to help out, free of charge. If you’re planning an important community gathering, the STSB coffee shop will stay open late for you.
Perhaps the biggest companies have the most to learn from the smallest ones and the most scalable solutions have the most to learn from those who are least scalable. STSBs hold clues for any company seeking to understand what role it should play in its community, how it can deploy its expertise, its resources, and what it might look like to redefine the relationship between company and customer, such that a company does something as preposterous and edgy as the equivalent of loaning milk on credit!
What would a STSB do? That’s where we need to start and we shouldn’t stop until we’ve redefined the social contract between employer and employee and company and community. It’s time for our institutions and organizations to view their roles more expansively and to look holistically at the opportunities for humanity in their spheres of influence.