Conscious Capitalism: Established and Progressive

By February 20, 2013Generations

Conscious CapitalismAfter reading Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business by the Co-CEOs of Whole Foods Market, John Mackey and Raj Sisodia, I am left with a reaffirming confidence in what business really can be and, in many cases, is. In the past decade or so, it seems many businesses have lost their way – getting off purpose, shedding trust, and focusing on immediacy only.

Conscious Capitalism highlights how businesses can be profitable and purpose-filled. It isn’t an either/or option, as there is great value when the two are tightly intertwined.

Conscious Capitalism is not new.

Some may think this is some “new age” look at business. It is not. Here is an interesting fact from the book. Many will know of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, but how many know of his earlier book? My guess would be not many of us. His earlier book was entitled The Theory of Moral Sentiments. “In his earlier book, he outlined an ethics based on our ability to empathize with others and to care about their opinions.” (page 16)

By combining Adam Smith’s two works we gain a complementary relationship between ethics and economics. Simply stated, it isn’t all about self-interest. Mutual interest provides a check-and-balance to our economic approach.

If you need further proof this is not “new age,” review the list of companies below who exhibit the attributes of this model:

Whole Foods Market, The Container Store, Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, Costco, Twitter, REI, UPS, and there are others. (page 32)

These companies are mostly traditional businesses in well-established markets.

Former Medtronic CEO and a Harvard Business School professor, Bill George, states it clearly:

“Some people may interpret the phrase Conscious Capitalism to be soft. But it is not soft at all. It is tough; it is challenging. You’ve got to do both. You have to perform, and you perform for a purpose. It’s like a sports team. You really care about working together as a team, but at the end of the game, you still want to win.” (page 36)

This is the renewed challenge for capitalism and businesses.

What is Conscious Capitalism?

Mackey and Sisodia outline four tenets of Conscious Capitalism:

  1. Higher purpose and core valueswhy the business exists
  2. Stakeholder integrationall those that impact or are impacted by the business
  3. Conscious leadershipmotivated by the firm’s higher purpose and creating value for all stakeholders
  4. Conscious culture and management the source of strength and stability of a business

Together, these four elements represent a business philosophy to embrace. Purpose is at the center and it radiates through each of the other tenets. Purpose is active.

Why is this important?

There are many reasons why Conscious Capitalism is vital.

Respect Renewed. It is a way forward for capitalism to regain respect and purpose in what it can do. Trust in all – customers, team members, partners, and suppliers – is essential and invigorating. Trust empowers greater work to be done as it builds mutual respect and purpose, and it extends into our surrounding communities. Confidence is restored in the good works a business can do and the principles that are exemplified.

Generational Change. Generation Y or Millennials will demand it. They realize how essential purpose is, along with a new way to lead, develop culture, and work with people. This generation may be the next great one when it comes to re-making business in a spirited, soulful way. Conscious Capitalism provides a proven model to embrace.

Meaningful Work. Every generation needs to work; it is a necessary part of life. Work isn’t about 30-40 year careers in a company, plugging away, just to be ignored or run over later on. There is a desire to do more and in a more meaningful way. With Conscious Capitalism, matching purpose with work ignites a new level of engagement.

Economic Spark. Our economic system needs it. Leading the world in how a business can be a catalyst in positive culture development and systematic change is possible. There is an empowering creativity that resides within each team member and within each business; we need to tap into this innovative capability. Conscious Capitalism promotes an alignment across the spectrum of people and has the potential to move us to a new level of meaningful performance.

Conscious Capitalism is a solid book of outlining a better way to build and lead a business while delivering insightful stories from organizations embracing this approach. It is East meets West – a great mix of capitalism, mindfulness, and collaboration.

More than an economic and business renewal, a spiritual one is possible, too. This was a great read going into Wisdom 2.o.

What do you believe needs to happen to center organizations around purpose and ignite a positive change?

Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

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Join the discussion 14 Comments

  • Hiten Vyas says:

    Hi Jon,

    It’s great to be at your blog and this was a very interesting post. Conscious Capitalism sounds like a good read.

    What I believe is important in a business is for the purpose of the business owners to be aligned with the purpose of the people working in that company.

    So many times a vision and purpose is communicated by leaders, which the workers do not totally buy into.

    • Jon M says:

      I agree, Hiten. Aligned purpose creates a model of incredible value for so many. This is what it is all about, and this book does a great job of outlining these business values. Thanks so much for your comment! Jon

  • Susan Silver says:

    Sounds like an interesting read. Econ is not my favorite subject, but I think I could muddle through to hear what they had to say.

    • Jon M says:

      Susan, It is an interesting read, no economics required! It is more centered on a business model that has purpose at the center. It shows how you can be purposeful and profitable. Thanks for reading! Jon

  • Scott Mabry says:

    About half way through this book and love it. Thanks for this great summary. It gets at the spirit of what is possible which is a nice change from all the negativity directed at business today.

  • Jeff Klein says:

    Thank you Jon. Great post. I hope you will join us for Conscious Capitalism 2013, where both John and Raj, among other leaders in the Conscious Capitalism movement (including Kip Tindell, CEO of The Container Store and Casey Sheahan, CEO of Patagonia) will present.

    Enjoy Wisdom 2.0.


    • Jon M says:

      Thanks, Jeff. I have looked at the conference and have it on my schedule. I need to complete the application, but I am ready and excited about this topic and the changes needed to move more in the Conscious Capitalism direction. Thanks for your good work. Jon

  • Great post, Jon! Two related things come to mind. First is the false belief that capitalism and morality must be diametrically opposed to one another. The second related thought is what Richard Branson of Virgin said, that business should be a force for good. When we have systems that generate wealth in a conscious manner with the intention of providing a service to meet needs, EVERYONE benefits, and it’s a total win-win. There’s nothing morally “wrong” about that. It’s time we embrace that being conscious/spiritual and true prosperity go hand in hand. Your post helps to make that point, Jon. Thank you!

    • Jon M says:

      Thanks, Alice. I agree. Business can be a force for good, and this doesn’t preclude profitability. We need to get back to some fundamental principles. I found it fascinating about the earlier Adam Smith book, which shows the softer side required to make business work in a balanced and meaningful way. This book is the right one for the times we are in. Thanks! Jon

  • Kyle Dover says:

    Love the idea of Conscious Capitalism, but to make this work we need to talk about the roadblocks and not just the goal. We need to talk about how to raise issues like the illusion of control, suppressing dissent, testing empty claims from authority figures, etc. Would love to have a conversation with you about how to go after roadblocks.

    • Jon M says:

      Great points, Kyle. The book highlights some challenges and how some companies overcame them. The leadership team at a company needs to be fully on-board with this approach to make it work, as well as team members and stakeholders. It is a holistic approach. Great thoughts. Would welcome your ideas on how to overcome the roadblocks. Thanks! Jon

  • This has been on my list to read ever since I heard him interviewed on NPR. I am glad to see you recommend, I will move it up on the list now.

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