By Michael Gunther

Over the past few weeks I’ve had multiple friends and colleagues suggest I go see a movie called “I Am” by Tom Shadyac, playing at our local independent movie theater. The premise of the film is that a hot shot Hollywood director had a mountain biking accident that changed his life and led him on a quest to answer two questions: (1) What is wrong with our world? (2) What can we do to change it?

I had been avoiding this movie thinking it was another movie industry person talking about their transformation on their perspective of life while trying to create another movie hit. Not that I’m a cynical guy, but I’ve seen this pattern before.

So, last week I finally saw the movie “I Am” at our local art house movie theater. Overall I thought it was well done and inspiring – it wasn’t necessarily a movie about Tom, but more of a story he sewed together by speaking with various thought leaders and experts from around the globe. It was one of those movies that left me pondering that our societies’ approach to life could be better and must be different.

Some of the key concepts I gleaned from the documentary were:

  • Consumerism – How gathering more than we need impacts our careers and business decisions, but doesn’t necessarily make us happier. Our focus is all about the economy, in fact, the last 30 years consumer spending has driven the economy – I’m not sure this is the best foundation long term. I think we’ve seen the effects of this focus throughout the past few years.
  • Collaboration – Darwin and the survival of the fittest has been our societal motto for some time, but new research is actually showing the collaborative efforts of communities, tribes and even nature can have a stronger more impactful change on life and society. The competitive – one person or group wins theory – is actually hurting us more in the long run than helping us.
  • Connectedness – Through the genome project, which is mapping DNA of all species, we are beginning to understand that we are connected to all aspects of nature and species. In fact, we all share 99% of the same DNA with most species so we must look at all aspects of our world to make sure we’re not destroying one species for the sake of another.
  • Change without violence – War is not always the answer. Some of the great social movements have been led by individuals standing up with peaceful protest. Think of Gandhi, the Dali Lama and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as the uprisings happening in the Middle East.
  • Community – The importance of taking care of others within our communities – American Indians were about taking care of their elderly, the children and those less fortunate within  the tribe while no one individual took more than they needed. This belief holds true today with tribes in Africa and in the Amazon rain forest. We often have people going hungry each day in our own communities, right at the footsteps of others who have an abundance of food.

These concepts require us to truly reshape our views about our society and how we focus our time and energy in living our lives. In relating these concepts to business, I think the same principles can apply:

  • Focusing on what you need – There has been a rise of social enterprises, businesses focused on providing services to those less fortunate or generating profit for a specific social cause.
  • Collaboration – The technology industry and science have been leading the path here. Individuals and organizations realize instead of trying to have all the solutions, that they can partner with other individuals or organizations which complement or add to their offerings.
  • Connectedness – As business owners we must understand how we are connected to not only our employees and customers, but to our community and environment as well. About four years ago, I went on a trip to Boulder, Colorado with our local chamber to see how they’ve successfully grown and diversified their economy. They had created a business culture that involved looking at business and growth decisions from an economic as well as social and environmental impact, as opposed to strictly from an economic perspective. Shouldn’t we all do this?
  • Change without violence – I hear some folks talk about “crushing” their competitors – what happens when there are no more competitors to “crush”?  You won…but what did you win? I’d rather focus on being the leader in the industry with innovation, results and ideas. If competitors copy your ideas, well then, you just have to push harder as a team to achieve a new level of performance.
  • Community – I’m a big believer in giving back to the community. My parents had this concept as part of their make-up and souls. There is always someone less fortunate than you, and if you can assist one individual in his or her life and that person can help one more person, etc. Similar to the concept of ‘pay it forward’. It’s important for businesses to give back to local and global communities.

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, I believe as business owners we have to operate differently in order to not only thrive as an organization, but within our communities as well. Go see “I Am” – and start making changes in your business and your life.

This is another article in a series on Michael’s entrepreneurial story and how being raised in a large family has influenced his career. To read the previous articles in this series, visit his blog at

Michael Gunther is Founder and President of Collaboration LLC, a team of highly skilled business professionals who are dedicated to assisting proactive business owners to build profitable, sustainable businesses through results-oriented education and consulting services. Learn more at

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