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Heart Of Business

23 June 2009 2 Comments

‘Business bashing’ seems to be a common pastime with corporations getting the blame for everything from pollution, climate change, destruction of the natural world through to waging and maintaining war. In short, just about all the ills of the world are apparently on the hands of big business.

Is business really that powerful and that destructive?

It’s driven many of the rapid advances in our standard of living over the last few hundred years. So yes, it is powerful! These advances (mainly enjoyed by the minority of the world’s population) have come with many, unpleasant side effects. So, yes, it is also destructive.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the power of business could be harnessed in a different way? A way that doesn’t extract such a high price from the majority of mankind and from our planet?

Behind every business …

Blaming business doesn’t really get to the core of the problem as it’s a convenient facade to hide behind.

Much of the complexity of the business world is nothing more than smoke and mirrors hiding a way of organising people (sometimes very large numbers) to do together, more than they can do on their own. It’s a way of bringing people together to create value, and, through the market economy, pass that value on – which was made a whole lot easier with the invention of money.

Isn’t that what it ultimately boils down to?

All the time we’re pointing the finger at ‘corporations’, we’re not talking to the people behind the face of the the corporation. Business is people – always was and always will be.

‘Business’ itself doesn’t do anything – people do. Many may have a legal identity of their own, but they have no life of their own – people do. Organisations don’t make decisions, that’s what people do. And businesses don’t wage war, rape the environment and pollute the planet. PEOPLE do!

I’m convinced that these are not bad people and they are not deliberately wreaking havoc and destruction on the world. In the many years I spent in large corporations, I don’t remember ever meeting someone who was hell bent on devastation or intent on causing pain and suffering.

What I did notice were three things that I believe contribute to some people apparently not caring about the world.

1   Leaving your heart at home

A few days ago I was sitting behind two businessmen on a train. I really wasn’t eavesdropping, they were talking loud enough for everyone to hear who chose to. I don’t know exactly what they did or what their responsibility was but they were talking about problems with one of their businesses caused by the economic squeeze.  They could have been venture capitalists, or something like that. Before anyone writes to tell me that they couldn’t have been venture capitalists because of x, y and z … I’ll just say that I have little idea what a venture capitalist does, it just sounded good.

“It’s not a problem. I’ll just tell the 4 of them they don’t have jobs any more,” said one.

What struck me most, was that he laughed as he said this. It could have been nervous laughter, but from the way the two of them were talking it didn’t seem like it. In any case, his tone was light and cheerful. Business as usual.

How can someone talk so lightly, even with amusement, about telling someone they no longer have a job?

There seems to be unwritten rule that when we walk into the workplace, we are expected to leave the majority of our emotional world at home – especially that part connected with compassion. Typically we’re employed for our bodies or minds, but rarely for our hearts.

The man on the train had clearly left his heart somewhere.

2    Fear

Despite all the talk about empowerment and employee ownership, most business remains firmly autocratic,  hierarchical and strangely resistant to democracy. In my experience few bosses deliberately use fear to get things done. There are some around, but they really don’t need to.

Fear is built into the structure of most organisations.

Most people I talk to are not motivated to work solely for money or position (a rare few are) but they do value the sense of security they have from a ’steady job’. It takes a lot of courage to disobey, disagree with or even speak your mind to your boss when you don’t like how things are going. If that applies to the small things, then it’s even harder to speak up against the corporation you work for.

It’s easy to say, “If you don’t like what your company does, then leave” – but for many people, while clearly a choice, that’s a frightening step.

Fear steps in.

On a day to day basis, the boss influences and decides promotions, pay increases and many other things. The boss can punish and can reward and whenever those two appear, fear is not far away. Fear of getting punished, fear of not getting rewarded.

Fear is built into business as a tool to get things done.

Would fear be needed if everything we did in the name of business made the world a better place?

3   Distracted from purpose

I think business has simply got off track.

There are many reasons why it’s happened. The dominance of the financial systems lead to short term focus on what’s easily measurable (profit, share prices etc). Intense competition in many areas of business require hard, aggressive tactics to maintain market position – and hard, aggressive tactics are rarely high in the compassion stakes.

There are surely plenty of reasons why business has generally lost sight of its purpose. It is there, just hidden under surplus layers of commerce and an obsession with short term gain.

We’ve forgotten that behind all business is an intention to create value and serve life.

And we’re all part of it in some way. Whether you work in a business or just buy stuff from business you can make a difference.

Be clear on purpose, carry your heart with you always and act out of love, not fear.


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