The Agile Executive

Making Agile Work

The Hole in the Soul and the Legitimacy of Capitalism

with 2 comments

In a January 13, 2010 post entitled The Hole in the Soul of Business, Gary Hamel offers the following perspective on success, happiness and business:

I believe that long-lasting success, both personal and corporate, stems from an allegiance to the sublime and the majestic… Viktor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist, held a similar view, which he expressed forcefully in “Man’s Search for Meaning:” “For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended consequence of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself . . ..”
 
Which brings me back to my worry. Given all this, why is the language of business so sterile, so uninspiring and so relentlessly banal? Is it because business is the province of engineers and economists rather than artists and theologians? Is it because the emphasis on rationality and pragmatism squashes idealism? I’m not sure. But I know this—customers, investors, taxpayers and policymakers believe there’s a hole in the soul of business. The only way for managers to change this fact, and regain the moral high ground, is to embrace what Socrates called the good, the just and the beautiful.

So, dear reader, a couple of questions for you: Why do you believe the language of beauty, love, justice and service is so notably absent in the corporate realm? And what would you do to remedy that fact?

Hamel’s call for action is echoed in the analysis of the double bubble at the turn of the century by Carlota Perez:

The current generation of political and business leaders has to face the task of reconstituting finance and bringing the world out of recession. It is crucial that they widen their lens and include in their focus a much greater and loftier task: bringing about the structural shift within nations and in the world economy. Civil society through its many new organisations and communications networks is likely to have a much greater role to play in the outcome on this occasion. Creating favourable conditions for a sustainable global knowledge society is a task waiting to be realized. When – or if – it is done we should no longer measure growth and prosperity by stock market indices but by real GDP, employment and well being, and by the rate of global growth and reduction of poverty (and violence) across and within countries.

As if these words were not arousing enough, Perez adds one final piercing observation:

 The legitimacy of capitalism rests upon its capacity to turn individual quest for profit into collective benefit.

IMHO Hamel and Perez identified the very same phenomenon (“hole in the soul”). The only difference is at the level they discuss the phenomenon. Hamel makes his observation at the business/corporate level; Perez at the socio-economic level.

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2 Responses

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  1. I long to once again work for a company whose mission might be:

    “To provide value and delight to our customers, meaningful work to our employees, and contribution to the community in which we operate.”

    Notice that there is nothing in that mission that about return on investment. That should be the side-effect of success execution of our mission.

    Robert L. Tycast

    January 23, 2010 at 8:22 am

    • I believe the inflection point was the decoupling of the real from the virtual once companies shifted their focus with singularity of purpose to their valuation in Wall Street (or any other stock exchange). At the absence of an effective counter-balance to the relentless pursuit of stratospheric valuations, operational needs and social values have been sacrificed. H. Thomas Johnson’s words are most appropriate:

      “…a business organization cannot improve its long-run financial results by working to improve its financial results. But the only way to ensure satisfactory and stable long-term financial results is to work on improving the system from which those results emerge.”

      Israel

      israelgat

      January 23, 2010 at 7:00 pm


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