Warning: This video contains shocking, highly un-English and these days also highly un-American and sadly I am sure also un-Dutch ideas.
The UK has a particularly extreme form of capitalism, I read this morning. Is this news to you? It wasn’t for me.
These are the views of Colin Mayer, the author of a report on the future of “the corporation”. He is a professor at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School.
According to him, various global crises such as the disastrous impact our activities have on our own habitat and the increasing inequality, certainly in the UK, are forcing us to remind ourselves what the purpose of business is.
To make money?
If you go back in history, you will find that business as well as money once began as a way to address our basic needs.
Take the case of Peter, who was great at making boots and Carla, who was very skilled at catching fish, whereas Paul, Jenny and Chris had a wonderful apple orchard.
People particularly needed boots in the winter, but when lakes and rivers are frozen, fish can be harder to catch and you won’t see many apples on trees in mid-winter.
So instead of all these people needing to do all of these things, Peter would give a pair of boots to Carla, Paul, Jenny and Chris who promised to provide Peter with fish and apples.
And instead of all of these people needing to remember who they promised to provide with boots, apples and fish later, they came up with little notes they handed each other and that is part of the story of how money came about.
As a maker of boots I could, for example, exchange a promise of a basket of apples from Jenny for a promise of a catch of fish, if I had my own apple trees, but my neighbour didn’t but my neighbour had a cousin who was an excellent fisherman. So my neighbour could then take the note to Jenny and receive “my” basket of apples.
This is also part of the story of how the concept of business came about.
You began a business because you were good at something and dedicated and you were providing something worthwhile to everyone around you.
At some point in the past, this mechanism became increasingly skewed, particularly in the west, which had this great urge to impose its ways and views on people in other parts of the world as THE way to live, the ONLY way to live.
Many members of indigenous tribes around the world would disagree, I bet.
Capitalism. The accumulation of goods and money for the sake of accumulation, at any cost.
The cost turned out to be that we are slowly but surely making our own habitat unsuitable for human life.
Sure, we have become better at beating old-fashioned infectious diseases, but we have also been boosting an increasing number of new and old afflictions of which the incidence is increasing.
We have a global depression epidemic, which is a major cause of “disability”.
The various kinds of air pollution we unleashed are making an increasing number of people ill in all sorts of ways, and it does not just concern respiratory health.
Bioethics experts who suggest tweaking asthma genes to curb only one aspect of this are hopelessly out of touch with reality, partly as a result of a major flaw in their logic, namely linear thinking. “If I press this button, the ceiling light will go on. If I press this button again, the ceiling light will go off.”
The cost also includes modern slavery. Millions of people and millions of children are slaves. You can find them working at hotels and at universities, among other places. They’re all around you.
We don’t notice them because hey, extreme capitalism is the only right way to live, right? So we have learned to accept these costs as unavoidable collateral damage.
So we are increasingly making more money so that increasingly more money can and has to be spent on dealing with the problems caused by the business of making more money. That is the real circular economy.
But these costs to people, to the planet and to its many other inhabitants are not inevitable.
Is it hard to turn this tsunami of destructive business approaches around? Oh yeah.
But the tiny house and van life movements are proving that extreme capitalist views are crushing people, and are no longer contributing much to our lives.
The tiny house movement and the van life movement are also sparking new businesses that cater to these movements but don’t buy into the dogma of extreme capitalism.
So, if you want to put sanity back into your business, what should you do?
Differentiate yourself. Don’t blindly do what your government tells you to do and consider that enough. Don’t meekly follow everyone else’s example in your industry. Set the standard higher for yourself.
This also goes for local government. City councils and county councils.
A story (video) by Bozoma Saint John:
What business can learn from buddhism
Millennials, we are told, have a different attitude to work than their elders. They want to work for organisations committed to values and ethics, where there is a higher purpose than simply making a profit.
Businesses wanting to attract the best millennial talent might therefore learn a few lessons from ancient spiritual teachings, such as those of Buddhism. The fourth largest religion in the world has been focused on attaining a higher meaning and following the path to moksha – liberation – since the sixth century.
Organisations, especially in the non-profit and charity sector, can re-energise their employees by aligning the way they measure performance with the principles of Buddhism. This could also improve productivity, an important measure of economic activity and living standards.
These were the findings of our research. We interviewed 63 executives from not-for-profit organisations and found that most had simply imported practices and strategic models from the business world to measure their performance. Unfortunately, this is a world driven by maximising profit, which goes against the underlying purposes of these organisations.
Engaged and energised
Many studies have established that most staff are not only motivated by money, while the carrot and stick approach, which mixes reward and punishment, is also outdated. Employee engagement is now the ultimate goal for managers and it involves more than just job satisfaction.
It might be that an individual is perfectly content with a job and yet not engaged in it. Instead, engagement is found where work is absorbing, and to which employees feel naturally dedicated; work that one gets wrapped up in and is energised by. Engaged employees are prepared to go beyond the call of duty and actually drive the business; they show up because they want to, not because they have to.
Some might think spirituality and business should not be mixed in together, but both play an important role in society and people’s lives. They should be seen as interdependent. Spiritual disciplines may very well offer insights into techniques for achieving lasting employee engagement that everyone is searching for. At the very least, ancient wisdom could offer some lessons for understanding what it means to seek and achieve higher meaning in your life.
A different focus
This is perhaps even more applicable in not-for-profit organisations. Many non-profits use standard performance measures, that have been tailored to help traditional organisations maximise revenues while reducing costs. The rationale provided for the use of performance measurement is also usually a commercial one, suggesting that measurement only supports efficiency and effectiveness.
This can obscure their ethical and benevolent dimensions. Focus instead is placed on understanding data like the number of products delivered, or what rating a service has in numerical terms. Employees are rewarded for their capacities to score highly on given criteria. Although none of this is inherently wrong, it means that discussions and attention are pushed towards money.
Meanwhile, rich social interactions, trust, and positive, but unquantifiable, stories go unnoticed and unrewarded. Employees would be better able to believe in their organisation if it’s clear that their performance measures drive social connectedness and create social value.
Our research found that spiritual philosophies can provide this. Buddhism, for example, teaches its followers to take greater personal responsibility for their actions, to have a healthy detachment where necessary, and embrace a wholesome view of their actions.
This can include how socially connected and conscious employees are, but also their entrepreneurial awareness. Risk-taking and innovation are core to many of these organisations so employees must have the mindfulness to evaluate and exploit opportunities when they arise.
It also applies to financial meaning – how money is spent, but also where it comes from. Spiritual rationales for goals and activities can complement commercial ones. Most employees in the non-profit sector want to help people and this is what motivates them to work in this industry, often for less money.
Evidence also suggests that embracing spirituality within organisations may lead to better decision-making, enhanced creativity, reduced absenteeism, and greater emotional control.
Buddhist principles are not just for not-for-profits, however. Spiritual principles such as higher meaning, awareness (of self and the environment) and connectedness (belonging to a community), are likely to be relevant in other sectors, particularly if corporations want to re-engage and re-energise their workforce.
Many are already dabbling in this with corporate social responsibility programmes, corporate volunteering, and sustainability targets. Several large companies, such as Google and the retailer Target, are even already adopting spiritually-informed practices to reap some of these benefits. But management practices such as measuring performance have not caught up with the deeper desire that many employees might have. We are just scratching the surface of how we can find more meaning and more productivity from our work.
These are business books that contain a few life lessons as well. The story about RJR Nabisco is a fast-paced account – it’s been called a thriller – about business and banking practices (junk bonds and whatnots) and of course a portrayal of Ross Johnson and others. (It’s not for everyone, and not for every moment because it requires enough time.)
The book about Greggs gives you the inside view of how Greggs came about and grew into what it is today. It’s a good read and may change how you think of Greggs, the big chain it is today that started as a mom & pop undertaking not unlike my own parents’.
Hilary Devey’s Bold as Brass is suitable for everyone – unless you happen to be a misogynist. It’s a touching book, showing you how Hilary grew up in Britain, the many personal and professional challenges she had to overcome and how she developed Pall-Ex. Throughout her life, Hilary climbed many steep cliffs and was pushed off a few too.
They make very good reading. The first book helps you develop an understanding of the principles behind laws (and partly also why judges sometimes decide the way they do). The second book is handy for when you are doing business with companies in other countries, and the third one can make you see where people from other cultures and countries are coming from. Concepts like “truth”, “time” and “pain” are not as fixed as we tend to think but have strong cultural components.
- Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?
- Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity
- When Cultures Collide, 3rd Edition: Leading Across Cultures 3rd by Lewis, Richard D. (2005)