The title of Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia begs the question, “Really?” With corporate greed and misdeeds undermining American’s faith in capitalism it’s not easy to envision business as the hero of the story. As I picked up the book, I thought to myself, “Sounds too good to be true, convince me”.
Imagine a business that values its customers, whose employees are happy it’s Monday, and treats its suppliers like trusted partners. Imagine a business that makes a profit for its owners and investors while benefiting the neighborhoods in which it operates and protecting the planet.
This is the business world Mackey and Sisodia believe in and demonstrate is possible in Conscious Capitalism.
The beginning of the book recounts how free-enterprise capitalism has benefited society during its 200 or so year history as well as how capitalism has gotten off track, become too narrowly focused, especially on short-term profits, to the detriment of all but a very few.
The stage is set for the balance of the book with a short version of the conscious capitalism credo:
“This is what we know to be true: business is good because it creates value, it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange, it is noble because it can elevate our existence, and it is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity. Free-enterprise capitalism is one of the most powerful ideas we humans have ever had. But we can aspire to even more. Let us not be afraid to climb higher.”
Mackey and Sisodia devised a triangle within a triangle diagram to illustrate the 4 tenets on which conscious capitalism is based.
A company’s higher purpose is the reason it exists. The higher purpose forms the foundation of the company and is in the forefront of all actions and decisions. A few examples of higher purpose are noted below.
- “To organize the world’s information and make it easily accessible and useful.” (Google)
- “To give people the freedom to fly.” (Southwest Airlines)
- “To reconnect people with nature.” (REI)
- “We’re for dogs.” (Pedigree)
- “To use our imaginations to bring happiness to millions.” (Disney)
A company’s higher purpose attracts customers, team members, suppliers, and investors who subscribe to its purpose and want to be part of it.
In a conscious business, the primary stakeholders are customers, team members, investors, suppliers, communities, and the environment. All stakeholders are regarded as important and treated with respect. For instance, customers are viewed as human beings to be served, not objectified as consumers to be sold to.
The old military-style “command and control” leadership model is out of date. Conscious leaders bring their authentic human self to work and expect everyone else to.
Conscious Culture and Management
Culture can be a constraint or a competitive advantage. Shaping company culture is considered as one of a leader’s most important jobs.
Becoming a Conscious Business
Mackey and Sisodia share real-life stories and data illustrating that conscious businesses can and have outperformed profit-driven companies and the S&P 500. Any business can become a conscious business. It might be a bit more challenging for a large well established organization but it’s worth the journey.
The Bottom Line
John Mackey is co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market. Raj Sisodia is a marketing guru, college professor, and author. Mackey and Sisodia co-founded the Conscious Capitalism organization to defend free-enterprise, reimagine capitalism, and promote what they feel is a better business model.
Conscious Capitalism delivers its message in standard business book format sprinkled with examples, inspiration, and how-to advice. There are surprises too. For instance, it’s refreshing to read about the importance of leaders being caring and healthy in addition to understanding systems thinking and market analysis.
The idea of all stakeholders, including the environment, benefiting from conscious capitalism is compelling. It appeals to the human desire to work together towards a common purpose with other people who value humor and compassion just as much as brains or brawn.
The old way of doing business is burning our our people and killing our planet. Conscious capitalism provides a viable alternative.
I recommend Conscious Capitalism to anyone who either owns, works for, buys from, supplies, or invests in a business, in other words all adults.
Where would you rather work? A profit-driven company or a conscious business?
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