Today I started a 12 month course on becoming certified as a Conscious Capitalism Consultant.
As all good first days of a course should be, it provoked some new thinking for me. A question was raised. How do we as consultants expect to transform business into something more Conscious?
For me that requires answering the question: how did we get here in the first place? Why is business done the way it generally is? I can think of three possibilities; you may think of more.
Door #1 Was it originally a garden of Eden where businesses (like my grandfathers) cared deeply about their employees, generously shared profits, and went out of their way to help their people and the community? My father is another example, in the 1960’s he was known to pay people more because they had families and needed to care for them. (A crazy idea nowadays – and probably illegal – but there it is.) He acted generously based on his compassion for a parent struggling to raise a family. The New England Shaker communities would have agreed with him “to each according to need”)
Did the garden of Eden come to an end because of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Milton Friedman and Neo-liberal economics? Was that a more compelling story?
Door #2 Or is it a stage of development thing, like Piaget’s stages of cognitive development and Kohlberg’s stages of moral development? Do businesses move from selfish to selfless on some sort of continuum? From ruthless and profit driven, to higher-purposeful? Is it dependent on the leaders’ stage of development as Keagan and Lahey suggest in their book, An Everyone Culture: Deliberately Developmental Organizations.
Door#3 Or are selfish organizations, neo-liberal economics, extractive capitalism on the one extreme and Conscious Capitalism near the other end of the spectrum reflections of personality type? On the one extreme narcissistic and psychopathic leaders and their companies and on the other extreme companies run by a near Mother Teresa type personality and acting accordingly?
If it is Door #1, that Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand destroyed the garden of Eden then we just need to work on a more compelling story than the one Ayn Rand tells in Atlas Shrugged. David Sloan Wilson, an Evolutionary Biologist, has done just that in his new book Atlas Hugged. Kate Raworth rewrote economics and destroyed Milton Friedman’s neo-Liberal economics in her book Doughnut Economics.
If it is Door #2 a stage of development problem and a company can’t go beyond the level of development of it’s leader then we would employ a strategy of leadership coaching and development. These programs are a dime a dozen. I think a lot of these programs fail. The ones I witnessed certainly did.
My bet is on Door #3. It is personality based. It is the personality of the leader that is relevant. So the temptation is to ask the question: how do we change someone’s personality? The problem is that we can’t. Every personality trait is highly heritable. It’s mostly genetic. We are who we are and we get more entrenched in our personality the older we get (see the work of Robert Ploman and his book Blueprint.) Compassion is an element of personality therefore it is highly heritable. Both the extent to which someone is compassionate, and who that compassion is directed towards – only our family, only our close group members, or absolutely anyone who is suffering – gets passed down.
Everyone I have met so far in our Conscious Capitalism tribe felt strongly that something was deeply wrong with corporate life. Some of us had developed our own versions of something similar to Conscious Capitalism and were fighting to make it real. Then we discovered Conscious Capitalism and realized this was what they were looking for. It was not the other way around. We did not think corporate life was great (as clearly some people do) until we read about Conscious Capitalism and only then realized it could be better. People find us and express the genuine feeling that they have found their tribe. Reading and attending lectures did not convince them. They already felt out of place in the corporate world and upon discovering a Conscious Capitalism group feel right at home.
John Mackey is himself a great example. He was not a born capitalist. He was on a mission to serve a community by providing good wholesome food. Later on he discovered capitalism enacted in a conscious way could help him, and was indeed necessary to serve this mission.
I am arguing that people will either have a combination of personality aspects to be genetically disposed to get it and feel excited about Conscious Capitalism, or not. No amount of pounding on the door of a person who is not tuned to that frequency is going to persuade them. You might at best get them to agree that it is an option on the table, but they just don’t want to taste it right now… maybe later.
So if this is the case what do we do? Certainly not give up! There is a rich audience of people out there who are going to get it when they hear it and immediately and joyously join the tribe. We need to be speaking much more clearly and passionately so they hear us.
One of the things that struck me recently was the Gallup engagement survey data. It just hit me that the 15% who are “actively disengaged” who are drilling holes in the boat are actually engaged and just pissed off. They would not have that negative emotion if they did not care. They feel strongly that something is just wrong. Drilling holes in the proverbial company boat is not constructive behavior, but I would bet that if they were in a Conscious Culture with a high degree of autonomy and they felt free to bring their whole selves to work and that they were appreciated for their uniqueness, we would not see that behavior. Instead most in this group would become highly engaged. The problem is not the people, it is the system and culture. But I digress.
Turn up the volume! I think we Conscious Capitalists are soft selling our idea because we are generally more thoughtful and understanding than most.
We have experienced the pressure from the traditional business leaders to conform to the traditional practices and we don’t want to behave like that. There is also a desire to win over a larger audience so we don’t want to offend any potential business owners. If it is door #1 or door #2 that is the right strategy. But if it is door #3 that is a mistake. If it is door #3 then we need to be loud and unapologetic about what we believe, while at the same time acknowledging it is not going to be for everyone and that’s ok.
If we are unabashed and unapologetic, loud and clear, those who are predisposed to connect with the principles of Conscious Capitalism will hear us and show up. They are members of our tribe that have not found each other yet. We can then help them along the journey they already yearn to be on. We can provide a language and a framework with which they can explore their feelings and ideas and share them with others in their organization. This is the most effective path to converting the highest number of companies to this framework. This is the way we will have the highest positive impact on people working at companies who deserve to be fulfilled by work, when they are investing 90,000 hours of their lives there. This is the way we will change our societies and save our planet.
These conscious companies will of course continue to dramatically outperform the regular companies, but don’t expect that to sway any non-believers. They will continue to take a wait and see, maybe I will have a taste of it later, approach until the cows come home. It’s just not their thing and it is never going to be.
Of course, there is an upside and a downside. On the downside we won’t get everyone to become a Conscious Capitalist. I never expected we would. On the up side we can take a bolder stand, attract the leaders who are looking for this tribe, and assist in converting more companies to these principles faster. People deserve to have fulfilling work lives, and our planet desperately needs more conscious businesses. For me the mission is clear. The urgency is great.
Cheers for Friday!
Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter