Editorial: Built to Last

May 1 st 2001

This issue of Comment is a first step in a new direction.

WRF Comment was first published in January 1983 as a 6-page newsletter on labour relations and economics. Since then, much has changed. Our publisher, the Work Research Foundation, has grown and acquired a degree of public credibility because of the quality of its research and the freshness of its perspective.

Recently, the Work Research Foundation hired a new president, Michael Van Pelt (you can read an article by him in this issue of Comment). The horizons of the Work Research Foundation—and along with that, of Comment—are broadening.

As of this issue, Comment will be published six times per year. Our focus remains the exploration of work and economic life in Canada. We will continue striving to deepen and broaden public debate on the ordering of the North American economy and its relationships—both to other economies and to the other spheres of North American society.

But this will no longer be our exclusive focus. We will also publish on social and political life, literature, and the arts—generally with a view to the work involved in cultivating these areas of life.

"Freelance professor" Jim Collins explains the astounding success of his 1994 bestselling business book, Built to Last, in terms of a few basic perspectives it gave people—perspectives that provided something that they had desperately craved:

First, it said, 'Yes, there are some timeless fundamentals. They apply today, and we need them now more than ever.' Second, the book affirmed that the essence of greatness does not lie in cost cutting, restructuring, or the pure profit motive. It lies in people's dedication to building companies around a sense of purpose—around core values that infuse work with the kind of meaning that goes beyond just making money. Third, the book tapped into powerful, albeit latent, human emotions: Readers were inspired by the notion of building something bigger and more lasting than themselves. In quiet moments, we all wonder what our lives will amount to, what we're going to leave behind when we die. Built to Last pointed people toward a path that they could follow if they wanted to leave behind a legacy.

Collins also mentions that,

finally, there is one other reason why Built to Last struck a chord, and it is the most important reason of all: The book spoke not only of success but also of greatness. Despite its title, Built to Last was not about building something that would simply last. It was about building something worthy of lasting—about building a company of such intrinsic excellence that the world would lose something important if that organization ceased to exist.

Enduring basic realities. Purpose beyond profit. Cultivating a legacy. Intrinsic worth. These ideas go a fair distance toward what we explore in Comment.

We believe that human work matters a great deal. Yes, it serves to put bread on the table, and that is not to be scorned. My country of origin, South Africa, suffers from great poverty, with something like 40 per cent formal unemployment. I know better than to scoff at the sheer earning power of work.

But work is more than that. It is a basic way in which we are human. It shapes the foundation of every sphere of human life, other than marriage, family, and friendship, and even in those it makes a significant difference. There is an ordinary splendour to a job well done, to the exercise of careful stewardship over available resources, to a simple but elegant solution to a technical problem.

Comment does not pretend to a neutral point of view. We look at issues within the framework of a specific worldview. We have an agenda. We pay attention to the big questions.

Topics: Vocation
 

Gideon Strauss was the editor of Comment from 2000 to 2010. He is currently Associate Professor of Worldview Studies at the Institute for Christian Studies, a graduate school of philosophy in Toronto, and a senior fellow with the Center for Public Justice in Washington DC. Gideon also facilitates vocational discipleship in churches in his native South Africa.

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