Many people spend a lot of time thinking, writing and talking about value. But as I look at the crisis of confidence plaguing corporate world, I am forced to consider a deeper question – in our unending quest for value, do we have to compromise our values? What is the relationship between values and value? Indeed, what is the purpose of a business?
Of course, a business exists to create value for its customers and profits for its shareholders. But is profit the ultimate goal of a business? Does a business have a higher purpose? Can this higher purpose be reconciled with the profit motive? And can companies do well by doing good?
I am not a businessman, but I had never paused to ask those questions. Crises focus our attention on what really matters. The waves of accounting scandals have made us all think more deeply about what ails the world of business at large – beyond the obvious hype and greed that brought down the WorldCom and Enron.
I have reached two inescapable conclusions. First, companies must see themselves as living things that have a higher purpose than profit. And second, values are the foundation upon which the structure of value creation must rest. To sail the stormy economic seas, companies must make this higher purpose their compass, and values their anchor. If they do, then profits will inevitably follow through motivated employees, satisfied customers and committed partners.
I base my assertions on the emerging evolutionary view of business. This view sees business as a living entity that evolves toward higher levels of consciousness, and not as a machine engineered to maximize productivity and profits. Companies die because they concentrate on the physical aspect of their being, and ignore their emotional, mental and spiritual needs. There has to be a parallel between the evolution of individual consciousness as the unfolding of human potential, and the evolution of a business as the unfolding of its physical, mental, emotional and spiritual potential. An evolved business balances self-interest with the common good. It is deeply conscious of its connections to its stakeholders, its community and the environment.
The evolutionary view emphasizes that the purpose of a business is more than profit. A business must fulfill the needs of the human spirit. These include survival, safety, play, celebration, love, belongingness, self-esteem and self-actualization. It must also nurture the ecosystem. If it does so, the creation of wealth and profit will be a natural byproduct. Enlightened leaders echo this thought.
What does an evolved business look like?