Can A Business Be Ethically Responsible And Still Foster Creativity?

Navigating Social Contract Theory and Creative Freedom in the Corporate World

Photo by Christina @ / Unsplash


In the complex, dynamic landscape of the business world, a unique challenge is increasingly coming to the fore: how can businesses maintain creative freedom while also upholding their social contract? To address this, we must first understand the intricacies of these concepts and then explore how they can successfully coexist.

Understanding Social Contract Theory in Business

Social contract theory is a philosophical concept that suggests individuals willingly surrender some of their freedoms and accept the authority of a ruler or government, expecting protection of their remaining rights in return. Translating this theory into the business sphere, it takes the shape of a company's responsibility towards its various stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers, and society at large. These responsibilities encompass fair treatment of employees, ethical business practices, sustainability, and a commitment to contribute to the well-being of the broader community.

Several corporations have embraced and are operating under the principles of social contract theory. A shining example of this is Patagonia, the outdoor apparel company. It has pledged to donate 1% of its sales to the preservation and restoration of natural environments. Microsoft, a tech giant, has also demonstrated its commitment to the social contract with its AI for Good program, through which it has committed to invest $115 million to drive positive societal impact using artificial intelligence. These organizations have understood and internalized the idea that businesses have a social contract, and they are fulfilling their part of the agreement.

Delving into the Role of Creative Freedom in Business

Conversely, creative freedom is about enabling an organizational culture where employees have the liberty to think openly, question the status quo, explore new ideas, and take calculated risks. It's an assurance that they won't be penalized for trying something different and failing in the process. The ability to think and act creatively fuels innovation, leading to business growth, enhanced competitiveness, and often, the creation of game-changing products and services.

Apple serves as a great illustration of a company that values creative freedom. Their culture of innovation and creativity, encapsulated by their iconic "Think Different" campaign, has driven them to deliver revolutionary products and services that have drastically altered our lives. Nevertheless, this relentless pursuit of innovation can sometimes come into conflict with the principles of a social contract, particularly when businesses overlook their societal obligations in the quest for the next groundbreaking idea.

Striking the Balance: Case Studies and Strategies

Despite the potential for conflict, numerous successful businesses have found a way to harmonize their commitment to creative freedom with their responsibilities under a social contract. Google, for instance, has implemented a "20% time" policy. This unique strategy allows employees to spend 20% of their time working on side projects they are passionate about, promoting a culture of creativity and innovation. This policy has led to the development of major innovations such as Gmail and Google News. Concurrently, Google has not lost sight of its social responsibilities, launching initiatives like, which focuses on education, economic opportunity, and inclusion.

Achieving this balance requires strategic planning and execution. Businesses must prioritize transparent communication, set realistic expectations, and cultivate a company culture where creativity and social responsibility are viewed as two sides of the same coin, rather than mutually exclusive. By doing so, companies can encourage their employees to think creatively, knowing that their innovations can have positive societal impacts.

Practical Tips for Leaders: Cultivating Creativity within the Social Contract Framework

The responsibility to strike this balance falls heavily on the shoulders of leaders. They must navigate this delicate dance between creativity and responsibility. Here are some practical tips:

  1. Cultivate an open culture: Create an environment where employees are comfortable sharing their creative ideas. Make it clear that every idea is valued and that thinking outside the box is encouraged.

  2. Transparent Communication: Keep your team informed about the company's social responsibilities. Help them understand how their role contributes to these efforts and how the organization is fulfilling its social contract.

  3. Align innovation with social contract: Encourage employees to develop innovative ideas that align with the company's social contract. Provide resources and support for initiatives that can drive both business growth and social impact.


In closing, the task of harmonizing creative freedom with adherence to a company's social contract may be challenging, but it's far from insurmountable. Understanding the significance of both elements and implementing thoughtful strategies to uphold them can result in a vibrant business environment that promotes creativity, upholds ethical standards, and makes a positive contribution to society.

The journey may be arduous, but the potential rewards are well worth the effort. Remember, as leaders in the business world, your actions and decisions shape the future of your organization. Use this opportunity to spearhead a movement that doesn't just turn a profit but also leaves a positive, lasting impact on the world. Don't just create a profitable business, craft a legacy.