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‘Apply A Higher Consciousness To Business’

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Conscious Capitalism, doesn’t the term sound like an oxymoron? You have explained this in the chapter ‘Capitalism Marvellous and Misunderstood’. Could you please elaborate for our readers?
The narrative and even the purpose of capitalism got hijacked by outsiders and critics, specifically economists and Marxists. Economists looked at successful companies, saw that they were profitable and decided that that had to be their purpose. They created elegant mathematical models based on the premise that businesses exist purely to maximise profit. Critics such as Karl Marx jumped on this and condemned businesses for exploiting workers and accumulating wealth for their owners. But this is a false narrative. Great businesses are built on great purposes, and these purposes transcend the pursuit of profit. Profits are necessary and good; if a business is consistently not profitable, it cannot survive and could even be considered socially irresponsible. But profit alone can never be the purpose. In fact, those businesses that place profit above all else soon find that they are not able to operate profitably. Businesses that place a higher purpose above all else and then endeavour to operate efficiently and effectively become far more successful and profitable than their peers.

Our Conscious Capitalism credo states that “business is good because it creates value, it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange, it is noble because it can elevate our existence and it is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity. Free enterprise capitalism is the most powerful system for social cooperation and human progress ever conceived. It is one of the most compelling ideas we humans have ever had. But we can aspire to even more.” When we apply a higher consciousness to business, it can be even more extraordinary. Conscious businesses can help evolve our world in such a way that billions of people can flourish, leading lives infused with passion, purpose, love and creativity; a world of freedom, harmony, prosperity and compassion.
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When did the concept start catching public imagination? Can you take us through the history of conscious capitalism as a concept and practise?
The Conscious Capitalism movement is about five years old. It was born out of a confluence of two things: my research, published in the book Firms of Endearment, and Whole Foods Market co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey's passion to share his experience about a better way to do business with business leaders and entrepreneurs around the world. My research showed that this way of thinking about business is uniquely attuned to the needs of people and of the planet today, and that companies that exemplify this way of being are dramatically more successful in creating value of multiple kinds, including financial, intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, cultural, physical and ecological. We created a non-profit called Conscious Capitalism Inc., and have organised over a dozen significant events in the US and in India and Australia, including six CEO summits.
Who is a conscious leader? Can you define him/her, especially in an Indian context?
A conscious leader is one who is motivated, above all, by a sense of higher purpose, a deep-seated calling to serve. Such leaders are not motivated by power or by personal enrichment, which are the drivers for most business leaders today. In addition to high analytical intelligence, they have very high levels of emotional and spiritual intelligence. They also possess what we call a “systems mind,” in that they are able to intuitively understand the interconnectedness and interdependence of all of the entities in their ecosystem. Conscious leaders combine exceptional moral strength and courage with a great capacity for love and care. Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. are examples of such leaders from the world of politics. In the West, there aren't many examples of well-known business leaders who exemplify all of these attributes. In India, we have been blessed to have had a number of such leaders. A few names that come immediately to mind are JRD Tata, Ratan Tata, N.R. Narayana Murthy and Yusuf Hamied of Cipla.

The Indian context is unique; if the US is the home of global capitalism, India is the fountainhead of consciousness. As such, we see India as playing a key role in the evolution of Conscious Capitalism. Those of our leaders who are connected to our ancient heritage, who are able to bring that unique wisdom to bear in their business dealings, are the ones who will truly show the way for leaders worldwide in the future.
Human creativity, you have said, is at the root of all economic progress. But do you think this is losing relevance in today’s enterprises where employees and researchers are not offered enough avenues to explore their creative spirits. I am sure companies like Google are exceptions, but isn’t the general trend regressive?
Companies that fail to produce conditions in which human creativity can flourish will eventually fall by the wayside. The old industrial era model of motivating people using extrinsic factors, or the so-called “carrots and sticks” approach, is just not effective anymore in a world where an increasing proportion of work quires creativity and thinking outside the box. Research shows that in such contexts, extrinsic motivators not only do not work, they can actually backfire. So if you have a company today that does not encourage creativity and innovation, I strongly urge you to change your corporate culture and overall approach to business. Otherwise, you are doomed to obsolescence.
Conscious Capitalism By John Mackey, Raj Sisodia Harvard Business Press Pages 148 Rs 1,250
You have talked about intellectual hijacking of capitalism, etc. What or who according to you are hijacking the spirit of free enterprise or capitalism in today’s world, and how?
As I discussed above, capitalism got intellectually hijacked in the 19th century by economists and Marxists. Today, capitalism is under attack from multiple directions. For the most part, these attacks are driven by fear, ignorance or a desire to shield oneself from market forces. The greatest danger we face today comes not from capitalists or even governments, but rather from crony capitalists, or those who would use the coercive power of government on their own behalf in order to gain an edge over their competitors. Crony capitalism is a cancer that is eating away at the vitality of many developed and developing societies around the world. It is a scourge that must be defeated.
Tell us a bit about your writing schedules. When and where do you write?
I do most of my writing on retreats, either solitary or with my co-author. For this book, John Mackey and I went on seven or eight retreats together for several days at a time. I find that such immersive experiences create a state of flow within us and result in an extraordinary outpouring of ideas and words!
Tell us about your favourite authors...
Growing up, my favourite author by far was PG Woodhouse. He instilled in me a deep love and appreciation for the English-language. In recent years, my favourite authors have included John Updike, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, Rohinton Mistry and countless others. In the realm of nonfiction, I have greatly enjoyed the work of Walter Isaacson, including his biographies of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin. I have also become deeply interested in US history, partly as a result of reading Isaacson’s biography of Franklin. I enjoyed Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals, about Abraham Lincoln, and am currently reading a book on Theodore Roosevelt.
What’s your energy drink?
I don't believe in energy drinks! But I do enjoy a glass of smooth bourbon once in a while.
What's the hardest thing about being a writer?
There are days when you just don't have it, when you are simply unable to string together a coherent sentence. Fortunately, as I gain more experience with writing, those days are fewer. Honestly, when I have a worthy subject and feel like I have something meaningful to say, writing can be a great joy. Editing, on the other hand, is pure tedium!
What makes a book a really good read or a bestseller?
If I knew, every single book of mine would have been a bestseller! I know what I like. I love humour, clear and concise writing, penetrating insights into the human condition, and books that deliver numerous “aha” moments, opening my eyes to things I did not know before or saw in an entirely different way. I no longer read books just to pass the time or purely for entertainment. I look for books that have deep meaning and higher purpose. The greatest such book that I have ever read was Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. It is a book that will change the way you think about life. If you have not read it, I urge you to get it today, even before you buy Conscious Capitalism!
What are you reading now?
I am reading David McCullough's book on Theodore Roosevelt. I'm also reading Abundance, by Peter Diamandis.
So, what’s next?
A very exciting project -- a book tentatively called ‘Building a Conscious Society’, which I will co-author with John Mackey and Prof. Ed Freeman of the University of Virginia, who is regarded as the father of stakeholder management theory. In this book, we extend the idea of Conscious Capitalism to include other major sectors in society, especially government and the non-profit sector. I am also working on the second edition of Firms of Endearment, in which we will examine a much larger and more diverse set of conscious companies.

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