In the mid twentieth century, business proclaimed greed to be a good thing. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged advocated for rational selfishness and that any governmental interference in business is bad. Rational selfishness, it was claimed, is what makes business and the economy grow. Undergirding the trust in rational selfishness was the belief that people will always act in their own long-term self-interests. The flaws in that belief manifested themselves in the recession of 2008 when it became clear that long-term self-interests had been abandoned for short-term self-interests. The exorbitant income of a few came at the expense of the many. Greed is the pathological form of profit when it is the sole definition of winning.
In an ideal world, perhaps rational selfishness would be a good thing. But in an ideal world, there would be no teenage rebellion, and no need for the police or government. The reality is that someone must mind the store and be on the lookout for the Bernie Madoffs and housing market hijackers lurking among us. In both situations, there was clear evidence that something was amiss. The proper authorities were even warned and asked to investigate the situation – but to no avail. People were making money and it “helped the economy.”
A Shift in Belief
I am not advocating for more, or less governmental regulation. What I am advocating for is the major shift in belief and attitude that is taking place in the business community: “No one wins until we all win. It’s not about us, but about all of us.” As I have said elsewhere, business will be the venue through which the transformation of the world will come. In that world that is already coming into being, business will be concerned about the well-being of not only the company but of suppliers, employees, customers, shareholders, and the community. Unless all do well, none will do well in the long run. There is no “us” and “them”, there’s only “us” – “all of us.”
I offer this as a challenge to executives, boards, coaches and consultants to move in this direction. If we want to live in a better world, we must be the change we want to see (to paraphrase Gandhi). It is my firm belief that the number one spiritual practice in America is business. It is our mission and responsibility to change the world and make winning what it could be.