Conscious Capitalism

Discussion
Oct 05, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson


Patricia Aburdene, the author of Megatrends 2010, wants everyone in business to know that Gordon Gekko had it wrong. Greed is not good. In fact, if anything can kill capitalism, rampant greed would be it.


Ms. Aburdene is not predicting the demise of capitalism anytime soon. If anything, Megatrends 2010 concludes that an increased emphasis on spirituality and moral values is remaking capitalism.


“People no longer want that spiritual part of themselves to be abandoned when they work and are searching for meaning and morals in the workplace,” the author told USA Today. “Corporate leaders now recognize that we live in a technologically based society where, in order to be consistently innovative, a corporation has to draw on the creativity of its employees.”


As to the sole purpose of business being to make money, the author answered: “We’ve now become conscious of the uncalculated social, economic, and environmental costs of that kind of ‘unconscious’ capitalism – many are beginning to practice a form of ‘conscious capitalism,’ which involves integrity and higher standards, and in which companies are responsible not just to shareholders, but also to employees, consumers, suppliers, and communities. Some call it ‘stakeholder capitalism.’ “


And for the fictional character of Gordon Gekko and the real life proponents of his “greed is good” philosophy: “We need to graduate from the ridiculous notion that greed is some kind of elixir for capitalism – it’s the downfall of capitalism. Self-interest, maybe, but self-interest run amok does not serve anyone. The core value of conscious capitalism is enlightened self-interest. As Jim Cramer on CNBC says, ‘Bulls make money, bears make money, pigs get slaughtered.'”


Moderator’s Comment: Patrician Aburdene says the focus on spirituality is the single most influential megatrend in the U.S. today. Do you agree with
this position? What does it mean for the way retailers and others conduct business? What will it mean for the way consumers make purchasing decisions from the grocery store to
financial investments?


From USA Today, here are the major trends identified by Ms. Aburdene in Megatrends 2010:



  1. The Power of Spirituality

  2. The Dawn of Conscious Capitalism

  3. Leading from the Middle [Management]

  4. Spirituality in Business

  5. The Values-Driven Consumer

  6. The Wave of Conscious Solutions

  7. The Socially Responsible Investment Boom.


George Anderson – Moderator

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19 Comments on "Conscious Capitalism"


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Greg Coghill
Guest
Greg Coghill
15 years 4 months ago

I’m glad there are people out there who are advocating for a better situation than cut-throat capitalism, but I think this is a little off the deep end. Corporations are still bound by law to create the maximum returns for their shareholders. I wouldn’t call a corporation’s attempts to sway public opinion or to boost employee morale “spirituality.”

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 4 months ago

The comments from our two academic contributors are particularly interesting tonight. Richard George contends that profit is not the guiding light of business and takes a fairly idealistic view while Peter Fader points out that altruistic motives are less important than commercial motives nine times out of ten. Go figure. Maybe (probably) individuals are more spiritual now than they used to be but I don’t think many of them hold down jobs at the top of major corporations or retailers.

Sid Raisch
Guest
Sid Raisch
15 years 4 months ago

I have to wonder if this isn’t in some way an agenda as well as a trend. Generation Jones is having a lot of influence, financially speaking, in America. If you’re not familiar with Gen Jones, it’s a younger subset of Baby Boomers that has a lot more numbers, money, and clout. They/we’ve been through a different set of experiences and their/our expectations are different than our economy has seen before. Values are much deeper. All of this makes sense but I think Gen Jones is the root of the matter.

Gwen Kelly
Guest
Gwen Kelly
15 years 4 months ago
While I might not agree that spirituality is the single most important megatrend, I would agree that the influence of spirituality and its importance with a growing number of consumers is a megatrend that cannot be denied today. I personally believe this continues to be another lingering effect of 9/11 as we reexamine our lives and values. That aside, I believe an increasing number of consumers want to do business with companies whom they simply feel good about. Also, consumers want to be engaged with companies who conduct business in ways that are at least compatible to the views the consumer sees as important. And lastly, consumers want to be engaged with companies who do “good works” in the larger community. Now how a company chooses to execute this trend, and it has to be in the broadest sense, is the challenge and is for them to define given their internal culture. For example, look at the rise of Cause Marketing; not necessarily “spirituality” driven but certainly is going to appeal to consumers who are.… Read more »
Mark Burr
Guest
15 years 4 months ago
There’s an overwhelming response as Carol points out to Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life.” It is, however, among individuals and churches, not among businesses. Let’s face it, even what we would consider the best business models with respect to what we identify as ‘values’ exist because it works and the model has fueled success. Don’t think for one moment that if it were otherwise it would be so. Take the example of Costco. Wall Street, analysts and others have been demanding for some time now that they conform. Why? Profit! That is to say, as if their success would remain the same if they did otherwise. As Rick proclaims in his first paragraph or so, “It’s not about you.” Well, tell that to the senior levels of most corporations and retail organizations in the country and see what their response will be. The business purpose is about making a profit. Period. When it comes to all else, we can only hope that other factors are taken into consideration when formulating a model that works.… Read more »
Bobby Martyna
Guest
Bobby Martyna
15 years 4 months ago
Entities, whether corporate, national or religious, always act in their own self-interest. This is by nature and by design. For-profit corporations have exactly that as their ultimate goal and society has proven to benefit from their level of focus (increased productivity, greater GDP and standards of living, etc.). That is certainly true when weighed against socialist orders of the 20th century. It may be in the self interest of these entities to look beyond quarterly profits, in the case of corporations, control of natural resources in the case of nations and numbers of members, in the case of religions. But they will and should always do so with a mind toward serving their mission. Hence, GE will be a green company because ultimately they believe their shareholders will benefit. Individuals are accountable on another level, and this is where spirituality comes into play. And individuals with a sense of morality, acting collectively, will play a role in reining in “greed” at the corporate level. On another note, I challenge anyone to define “greed.” Is it… Read more »
Gary Miner
Guest
Gary Miner
15 years 4 months ago

As a moderate Jewish Democrat from California, I was shocked at a recent dinner when one of my fellow dining guests stated without hesitation that I could never fully understand or appreciate why George W. Bush was such a great president because I do not know Jesus…..he went on to say that because GW talks to God daily, he can not be questioned or criticized. This is the reality of our current “Spiritualization” in America. The use of Christ for gaining political power and capital gain! I find this even more reprehensible Gordon Gekko’s view. Holier than Thou is a means to marginalize our base citizenry must be contained. We need to clearly define our meaning of “Spirituality” and make sure it is open to ALL views collectively. I fear it is the ultimate Tag Line to justify a means for the Christian Conservative Right to discount all others.

Franklin Benson
Guest
Franklin Benson
15 years 4 months ago

Spiritual values are all good and well until you have an unethical competitor who puts profit ahead of prophet. At that point, the choice is that you either stick to your values and go out of business, or you retreat from your values.

Any company out there that has time to concentrate on its spiritual values is going to be a sitting duck for the next ruthless competitor.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
15 years 4 months ago
It would seem to me that the increase of “spirituality” denies the premise. If we are talking about the increase of “Spirituality” there is something to discuss (if you know the difference). If the question is asked, “How many people are in the USA?,” an answer can be provided with no comment. However, if we ask, “How many black people are in the USA?,” we have to start dealing with definitions before we can attempt an answer, and everyone will disagree with “our definition.” Opinions will then divide us and require that we take a stand. Overt Spirituality is to some extend the result of people being forced to take a stand due to someone or group initiating actions that the Spiritual feel threaten their beliefs or position. Many are forced into one camp or the other (red states vs. blue states) and are backed into a defensive position which often requires an overt declaration. Is this overt declaration of an otherwise private belief or position an actual increase in anything? I seriously doubt it,… Read more »
Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
15 years 4 months ago

There’s a bright albeit innocent 18-year-old kid residing inside of me who hopes that Patricia Aburdene is on the money about changes that are occurring. The one she predicts would benefit our society and its multi-purposed commercial and human transactions.

Having said that, I recall that I once read that Capitalism does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God and goodness while it goes about peeling potatoes (or selling goods, services, stocks, annuities). Capitalism’s spirituality has just been to peel the potatoes. May Patricia’s crystal ball be both round and insightful, not square and hope-distorted.

Karen Kingsley
Guest
Karen Kingsley
15 years 4 months ago

Would that this were so.

We haven’t even begun the trials of the biggest of the Enron folks; Martha just got out of jail; and indictments are coming down daily on someone we (Americans) pay to represent our interests.

I believe that, on some levels, spirituality is creeping into people’s work lives, but I do not see this approaching anything like a critical level. I don’t see simple good manners on the street, never mind when money is at stake.

I hate to be a cynic, and perhaps, in time, this will become truer, but I don’t think retailers need to modify business based on the “new spirituality” just yet.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 4 months ago
It’s cyclical, and it seems morality is more appreciated today. I recall years ago, in a silly period of mine when I actually spent five years in sales, it seemed all the books on sales techniques were essentially teaching you how to trick people into buying what they didn’t want or need, as if THAT were the higher calling. I had a very successful boss at one point who wanted you to meet quotas at all costs, and actively encouraged lying in order to make the sale. If some poor sucker bought under such circumstances, there’d be congratulatory backslaps and laughter. It didn’t seem unusual, in the late 70s. No wonder I was fired. While I’m sure that’s still done, I do believe we’re in an era when it is, shall we say, less in vogue. Wish I could say I expected this to be a move toward continued higher spirituality, but I don’t. Just a slight shift in accepted role model behavior, which is, of course, good, even if it lasts only for a… Read more »
Lilliane LeBel
Guest
Lilliane LeBel
15 years 4 months ago

One need only see the continued abuse of the American population by the oil companies, their stifling of alternative energy programs to see that greed is a major factor in top management of those companies. Businesses continue to lobby Congress to lower environmental restrictions because “it would hurt their profits.” Haliburton is another example of flagrant greed.

Greed has been at the foundation of too many American companies, and until the mission of these companies becomes servicing their customers, making good products that last, and treating employees fairly and with respect while making a profit, I don’t see this going away. Leave No Millionaire Behind.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 4 months ago
Socially responsible investment funds are growing nicely, and their investment results are superior to average funds. More and more people are proud to be recycling. Demand for hybrid cars vastly outstrips the supply, even though the cars cost $3500 more than similar models. NJ Public Service Electric and Gas now offers its customers higher rates for choosing electricity supplied by renewable sources (people are paying premium rates voluntarily!). Retailers who use child labor are being chastised. All these trends take place during a time when it seems the majority votes Republican and talks constantly about real estate profits. Our society is certainly not monolithic, and there are contradictory trends all the time, even within the individual. There are careful recyclers who drive giant energy-wasters. Retailers who try to stay on the same side as the angels are more likely to be appreciated by their staff, customers, and shareholders. But retailing is so broad that it’s easily possible to ignore the side of the angels. Starbucks is proud of its enlightened health care policy, and it’s… Read more »
Mark Boyer
Guest
Mark Boyer
15 years 4 months ago

One can only hope that Ms. Auburdene’s forecast is realized, but it appears that you need to look far beyond the shores and borders of the US for factors that will dictate how the game is played. In an increasingly far-reaching competitive environment, what might seem a likely trend here could be rendered moot by offshore competition.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
15 years 4 months ago

It depends on how you look at it and what you call spirituality. I believe that the Purpose Driven Life is having untold influence right now and is encouraging companies and individuals to create, nurture, and empower small groups within larger entities. . .this is being marketed as a spiritual principle but it simply works. . .for churches, retailers, consumer products companies, etc.

Beyond that, mega churches are popping up everywhere complete with their own captive audience retail efforts and developers are building housing and retail nearby. I even saw this in Maui last week!

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
15 years 4 months ago

Profit is not a right, nor even a business objective. The goal of any business is to create a satisfied customer. Profit is the reward for doing a good job. For any individual, society or organization to survive in the long term, there needs to be “constrained behavior.”

Unfortunately, we confuse all of these legal lapses with moral dilemmas. Morality needs to set limits above those determined by law. The highlighted cases, Enron, Tyco, etc., were perpetrated by individuals that broke the law. The question is whether the floor is the law or something above the law, often referred to as ethics.

I am not sanguine that we have found ethics or spirituality. All we can hope for is that individuals in corporations have tools other than simple “cost-benefit” analysis at their disposal when making key decisions.

Peter Fader
Guest
15 years 4 months ago

This is a bunch of futurist drivel, just like all the lofty (but vacuous) pronouncements that have preceded it. (Remember “cocooning”?) The basic building blocks of a good retail experience (service, selection, quality, convenience and value) prove to be more important than things like spirituality, social consciousness, etc., 9 times out of 10. And in the future, it will still be 9 times out of 10. These are time-tested characteristics, not passing fads.

Ranney RAMSEY
Guest
Ranney RAMSEY
15 years 4 months ago

I think there is some room for broad-based optimism about these issues. Improvement must arise from changes in corporate governance and that involves our institutions of business and economic education and professional standards.

The dominant conception of “capitalism” has often tended to be “mechanistic” and uses models – especially in economics – that abstract from the problems of human choice… complaint that Nobel laureate Ronald Coase has repeatedly made and has now become the battle cry of economic heterodoxy.

When your basic presumptions eliminate the elements of choice – uncertainty, agency, moral opportunism, and the limits of human knowledge – then the focus of your research and the types of questions that are asked don’t include questions of “morality” and “integrity” in the conduct of business.

I think the trend is toward re-capturing the problems of human choice that have fallen between the cracks of the regression co-efficients.

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