The purpose of this site is to faciliatate a conversation around some key questions.
We don't claim to have all the answers to these questions. We have some thoughts we've collected as a starting point, drawn from some of the leaders in the field. The following manifesto puts a stake in the ground, as a starting point for the convesation. Then we'd love your input and participation.
“Problems cannot be solved at the level of awareness that created them.” - Albert Einstein
“Every great strength comes with an equal challenge” - Brian Whetten, Love Beyond Belief
“Work is love made visible.” - Khalil Gibran, The Prophet
Capitalism is a remarkably powerful system for meeting our needs for survival and success. It’s why in America we now drive to our protests.
Capitalism’s greatest strength is its unparalleled capacity for economic expansion. Real per person income in first world countries has expanded exponentially and consistently for 200 years.
Capitalism’s greatest challenge is its addiction to economic expansion. Our entire financial system is predicated on the assumption that GDP will always keep increasing.1 2 Stock markets, debt and retirement funds all depend on this. So does our monetary supply. The financial crisis is a symptom of this challenge.
The problem is not our desire for money or our needs for survival and success. It's our addiction to desire – also known as greed. And as any 12 step group knows, addiction creates denial. It literally causes us to go unconscious. Greed makes us stupid.
The financial bubble could not have happened without systemic denial and self-deception. At root, it was not caused by a failure in morality or regulation (though these played a part). It was caused by inadequate consciousness.3
Bubbles are an automatic symptom of unconscious capitalism. While traumatic, they can be worked through using existing tools. However, the addiction at the root of this bubble cannot. Continuous exponential expansion is unsustainable, and we’re rapidly reaching its limits. The upcoming years are going to be increasingly defined by the collision of an “unstoppable force” (unconscious capitalism) meeting an “immovable object” (the environment’s limited resources).
This core problem cannot be solved through incremental change. It requires the creation of entirely new systems and ways of doing business: systems which are created from a higher level of awareness (i.e. consciousness) than the level at which the problems were created.
It requires us to develop systems of conscious business. It requires us to evolve.
So what is conscious business?
Conscious business is not about abandoning the strengths of capitalism. It involves including its strengths in the physical realms, while also transcending them.4 It involves integrating spirituality with business in a non-religious way.
While all authentic religions are based in spirituality, spirituality is not religious per se. Spirituality is synonymous with meaning and mature love. If something creates meaning, it is spiritual, and vice versa. Unconscious capitalism divorces money and meaning. Conscious capitalism integrates them. Meaning is created from growth, giving and connection – three of the primary aspects of mature love, which are also three of the primary aspects of conscious business.5
When science attempts to reduce spiritual reality to physical reality, its theories become defined by scarcity and separation.6 For example, Evolution as the hand of Spirit-in-action becomes reduced only to natural selection and the survival of the fittest (which is part but not all of the story.) One definition of economics is “the social science of choice under scarcity.”7 Yet spiritual reality is defined by abundance.8 When unconscious, we see the world through the eyes of win/lose, scarcity and either/or duality. The more conscious we become, the more we see through the eyes of win/win, abundance and both/and.9
Conscious business includes science, while also transcending it.
Love and business are based on fundamentally different value systems. Business is based on trust and fairness, while love is based on growth and giving. To our most physical aspects, money is like oxygen and business is about taking. To our most spiritual aspects, service creates meaning and business is about giving.10
When we attempt to embrace both value systems at the same time, conflicts inevitably emerge. This is a gift, as external conflicts are a reflection of internal conflicts, and internal conflicts represent a primary opportunity for spiritual growth. To the extent we haven’t fully integrated our physical and spiritual aspects, and healed our unconscious shadow, conscious business will bring these issues to the surface for healing. Most people don’t yet have the tools to work with this, and so most people have tended to compartmentalize business and service (which is reflected in the split between for-profit and non-profit organizations).
Conscious business involves translating the values of the higher system (love) into the lower (business). It means building businesses based on giving, growth and connection.17
To a business, giving means a total commitment to providing exceptional value. This means guaranteeing that each client, partner and employee receive more value than they're contributing – or agree to let go of the aspect of the relationship that isn’t working. This becomes the safety net that allows the two value systems to be brought together safely. We all have aspects of ourselves that yearn to give and aspects that yearn to take. Even when we feel like engaging in unconscious business (i.e. selling by taking) our commitment to providing exceptional value ensures that each transaction is a gift. This creates trust and allows us to strive for excellence instead of perfection.
The less conscious people are, the more scarcity consciousness they have, and the more the world seems like a choice between selfishness and selflessness. To a three year old, sharing often feels like a sacrifice. The more conscious we become, the more selfishness and selflessness become one.18
Providing exceptional value is based on win/win/win or no deal. Either a business relationship creates value for the other, for our self, and for the world, or it’s not a deal. In the short term, this can feel hard to do. In the long term, it’s much easier than the alternative, as the financial industry’s patterns of short term focus are demonstrating.
People don’t practice unconscious business because they’re unworthy or inferior. They do so because they’re scared and because they haven’t yet learned a better way.
Conscious business requires deep change.19 It requires embracing our inner conflicts and buried issues, rather than repressing and denying them. But deep change invariably causes fear. Conscious business requires courage, consciousness, wisdom and love. This is its great strength and its great challenge. One of the ways of working with this is by recognizing that commitment creates value.20 Another is by taking 100% personal responsibility for our emotional reality, and shifting from victim consciousness to ownership consciousness.
Conscious business is not about trying to escape the physical for the spiritual. This is just another way of going unconscious and repressing our fears. Sacrificing our needs or denying the power of economic laws is not love, it’s spiritual bypass. Conscious business embraces both money and meaning, as well as the need for deep change this brings up.
This is what it means to translate the ethic of growth into business.
At an organizational level, this means doing deep change in terms of the organizational mission. Unconscious for-profit companies focus just on money. Unconscious non-profit companies focus just on meaning. Conscious organizations embrace the deep change required to focus simultaneously on both. Efforts like Corporate Social Responsibility,21 Positive Organizational Scholarship22 and Social Entrepreneurship23 are examples of movements to support this change.
At the individual level, this means doing deep change in terms of members’ consciousness. Because unconscious people see the world through the eyes of scarcity, you can’t build a conscious organization without also focusing on the consciousness of its members. 24 This involves supporting authentic leadership development at all levels.
Unconscious capitalism creates separation. Its addiction to expansion creates an insatiable drive to turn what was freely given based on relationships and care into something that is charged for. This involves consuming ever more environmental, cultural, social and spiritual capital. Instead of sharing child care, we charge for it. Instead of providing music for free, we copyright it. Instead of cultivating sustainable forests, we clear cut them.25
This creates a deep and pervasive sense of separation and insecurity. One of the reasons why we get addicted to acquiring ever more wealth is that unconscious capitalism makes relationships ever more disposable, and so money becomes a proxy for more and more of the things we intrinsically care about. But money can’t buy love or happiness, and this creates a negative cycle (insecurity => wanting more money => more separation => more insecurity.)
Conscious business is based on the principle of “Only Connect.”26 Instead of trying to put on a front that will convince people to buy from us, conscious business creates authentic connections based on a commitment to providing exceptional value.27 This translates the ethic of connection into business, and in doing so it turns marketing and sales on its head.28 29
Because of the pervasiveness of unconscious business, we tend to assume that selling means taking and marketing means manipulation. We assume that sales means separation, and then we may hope that we can connect through our services to our customers.
Conscious business creates authentic connection both in sales and in service.
Because of its addiction to expansion, unconscious capitalism is inherently not sustainable. On the individual level, it’s based on competition and self-interest. On the social level, adequate regulation turns selfishness into service, as we compete for who can best serve the customer.30 On the global level, it creates the tragedy of the commons, because it doesn’t recognize that the planet has rights.
Conscious capitalism moves beyond the fundamentalist dogma that an executive’s only goal is to increase the return to financial shareholders. It is based on the triple bottom line, which recognizes both financial, social and environmental accountability.31 It recognizes the rights of all its stakeholders, including employees, society and the planet.
This requires taking a long term view and moving beyond the tyranny of quarterly earnings.
Many scientific studies have attempted to show that companies “should” do good in order to do well – that the fastest way to increased profits is to behave in a more ethical or conscious way. Their results have been inconclusive.32
What studies have consistently shown is that leadership competence is a top predictor of a company’s long term financial performance.33 Conscious leaders (i.e. what Jim Collins called Level 5 Leadership34) create superior returns. Studies have also shown that when we seek to use extrinsic rewards to create more conscious behaviors (i.e. using money to motivate behaviors that create meaning) the extrinsic rewards tend to extinguish the intrinsic rewards, so that people start doing good only for the money and not because it creates meaning.35 Together, these support a final key point.
Conscious business is at least as effective as unconscious business in creating long term profits. Often it is more so.36 At the same time, it’s very hard to use bribes or threats to create consciousness. Love doesn’t inflict itself on others, and people have to want to grow.
Conscious business is practiced by people who want to do so both for the money and the meaning it creates. When practiced for its own sake, rather than just for promised extrinsic rewards, the rewards are remarkable.
Conscious business can’t be forced. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be. More and more people want to create careers that provide both money and meaning. Where 100 years ago, the scarce commodity was money, today the scarce commodity is meaning. Furthermore, the current crises are making it clear to many that we need to find new and better ways of doing business. Business schools are questioning their fundamental assumptions.37 38 Business and political leaders are preparing to make radical shifts. Given these factors, conscious business is fast becoming one of the megatrends of the 21st century.39 The question is not “how can we make individuals and organizations embrace conscious business?” The question is “how can we empower the legions who already want to do so?”
Does this resonate? Do you have any thoughts? If so, we'd love for you to join us in this movement. Here's a few ways you can do so.
1. Please feel free to join the conversation by visiting and participating in the blog at ecoaching.corecoaching.org.
2. Please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any feedback, or if you have someone or something you would like to add to the Conscious Business Resources section.
3. Please add your name in support of this manifesto, by filling out the following simple form.
I believe it's important for our companies, leaders and governments to embrace and support the development of conscious business. I also know that change starts with me. With my signature, I set my intention to be part of the solution, and to support the development and deployment of conscious business practices.
1. Whetten, Brian. Capitalism 2.0…? http://ecoaching.corecoaching.org/?p=48
2. Eisenstein, Charles. Money and the Crisis of Civilization. http://www.realitysandwich.com/money_and_crisis_civilization
3. Whetten, Brian. The Real Root of the Financial Crisis. http://ecoaching.corecoaching.org/?p=15
5. Whetten, Brian. An Introduction to Selling By Giving, p.14. http://www.sellingbygiving.net/ebook.pdf
8. Whetten, Brian. “What Does it Mean to Practice Conscious Capitalism…?” http://ecoaching.corecoaching.org/?p=75
10. Whetten, Brian. An Introduction to Selling By Giving, p.14. http://www.sellingbygiving.net/ebook.pdf
17. Whetten, Brian. An Introduction to Selling By Giving, p.14. http://www.sellingbygiving.net/ebook.pdf
20. Whetten, Brian. Selling By Giving: How to Give Your Way to a Soul-Centered, Six-Figure Practice. http://www.sellingbygiving.net
21. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_social_responsibility accessed on March 25, 2009.
22. http://www.bus.umich.edu/Positive/ accessed on March 25, 2009.
23. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_entrepreneurship accessed on March 25, 2009.
24. Whetten, Brian. “What Does it Mean to Practice Conscious Capitalism…?” http://ecoaching.corecoaching.org/?p=75
25. Eisenstein, Charles. “Money and the Crisis of Civilization” http://www.realitysandwich.com/money_and_crisis_civilization
26. Forester, E.M. Howards End. http://musicandmeaning.com/forster/quotes.html
29. Whetten, Brian. Selling By Giving: How to Give Your Way to a Soul-Centered, Six-Figure Practice. http://www.sellingbygiving.net
32. Margolis, Joshua D., and James P. Walsh. People and Profits? The Search for a Link between a Company's Social and Financial Performance. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001. Also, Olritzky, Schmidt, and Rynes. http://www.global100.org/Corporate%20Social%20&%20Environmental%20Performance.pdf
35. Deci, Edward, Koestner, Richard, and Ryan, Richard M. A Meta-Analytic Review of Experiments Examining the Effects of Extrinsic Rewards on Intrinsic Motivation. Psychological Bulletin 1999, vol. 125, number 6, pp. 627-668.
37. Sorkin, Andrew. “Is it Time to Retrain B-Schools?” New York Times, March 16, 2009. http://dealbook.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/16/is-it-time-to-retrain-b-schools/
Namaste, (a beautiful Sanskrit word that means “I salute the divine within you”)
(Brian Whetten, Ph.D., M.A.)