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Conscious Capitalism
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Conscious Capitalism

In some quarters of the competitive business world, Raj Sisodia’s ideas are probably viewed as radical or, at best, severely limiting. Yet this award-winning author, professor and economic consultant is, in actuality, viewing the business world in the only way it can be viewed if we are to survive as a culture and as a planet. In his new book Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, co-authored with Whole Foods Market co-CEO John Mackey, Sisodia describes companies conducting themselves with a higher purpose, conscious leadership, and an eye to the impact of the company on customers, employees, the environment and society in general. An ever-growing number of companies and corporations are listening.


The economic market model of today was actually set in place back in 1776, with the publication of a work called An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. The book’s author, Scotsman Adam Smith, is today viewed as the father of modern economics—and Sisodia sees one vital element missing from his philosophy.

“Adam Smith’s core message was really that centralized planning doesn’t work,” Sisodia pointed out. “You can’t have government bureaucrats figuring out who should make what and how much and what to price it at. He said that individuals make those decisions based on their own perceived self-interest; but that is far superior to having somebody sitting somewhere trying to decide all of that, because it essentially cannot be done.

“However, what did not happen was the other side of our human persona, which is the need to care; it is equally as powerful as the drive for self-interest. When it came to establishing the foundations of capitalism, people ignored this dimension, assuming that this is something you do outside of the context of work, that you fulfill your need to care through your family and through your community, and that business can only be about self-interest.

“That’s like going into the world of business with half of your brain or persona shut off, the more human half. I think we should have integrated those two dimensions—the human need to care with the human drive for self-interest—into the same activity of business. It would have created a foundation for capitalism that was much richer than what we ended up with.”


Change Must Come

“Today what we talk about as Conscious Capitalism and conscious business is really the exception,” Sisodia concluded. “The norm is business done with the view to maximize profits for shareholders. That is not even questioned. It is gospel in business school and gospel in many companies, especially publicly traded companies. We’re seen as a sort of alternative approach.

“We want to get to a point where the default becomes the good option, where this becomes the norm, where people say, ‘Well, of course business has to start with purpose.’ I taught business for twenty-five years and never used the word purpose, because the purpose was given to us: it’s to maximize profit; okay, move on. Now we are saying, ‘That’s not enough.’ Profit is the outcome of doing a business well; profit can never be the purpose. If it does become the purpose, that business is headed downhill in a hurry.

“Right now we have a very toxic narrative about business and capitalism that is based upon greed, exploitation and selfishness. It is about enriching the few at the expense of the many.

“The real narrative about business is that business, when it’s done right, is fundamentally good. It’s based in value creation. It’s fundamentally ethical because it’s based on voluntary exchange, and it is noble because it elevates our existence above the level of subsistence where we can explore what it means to be human. It’s heroic because it lifts people out of poverty; it enables life to actually flourish on this planet.

“It should be this way so that the most idealistic of our young people would not automatically shun the world of business, saying, ‘If I am idealistic I can’t have anything to do with business.’ They would recognize that business actually is the way for effecting change in society on a broader scale, in a more sustainable way than working strictly for profits.”

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