"The Times They Are A-Changin," sang Bob Dylan, which is one of his most famous title tracks for it captured the spirit of social and political upheaval that characterized the 1960s. Personally, this was a coming of age period for me (i.e., my transition from adolescence to adulthood); and, importantly, I was able to experience first-hand the deeper meaning behind Dylan’s lyrics. Like today, I’m haunted by feelings of déjà vu as I write these words, the quest for "change we can believe in" was a, if not the most, commonly-shared mantra of the times.
Fast forward three decades, through many life blessings and meaning moments, to when I was serving as President of "Renaissance Business Associates" (RBA), a nonprofit, international network of people committed to advancing business integrity and elevating the human spirit in the workplace. During my tenure as president, RBA was active in Australia, Canada, Europe, Nigeria, South Africa, and the United States. The creation of RBA, in many ways, was a response to a call by the influential American author, Marilyn Ferguson, best known for her 1980 book, The Aquarian Conspiracy, who envisioned the business "community" as being on the vanguard for positive change in society and the world. My involvement in RBA during these years was influenced significantly by Ferguson’s vision and call to action. (Sadly, Marilyn Ferguson died unexpectedly of an apparent heart attack on October 19, 2008, but her legacy lives on. To be sure, among her other qualities, Marilyn was a "true optimist" and firm believer in human potential.)
So I must now ask: are we closer to a "New Age" in business today than when The Aquarian Conspiracy was first released in 1980 or when I was affiliated with RBA in the 1990s? The current economic situation notwithstanding, or maybe in light of the current economic situation, is the business "community" finally on the cusp of becoming the vanguard for positive societal and global change after all? Can and does the "audacity of hope" apply to the business arena and corporate world? More fundamentally, is there such hope for "Capitalism" in the postmodern era?
There are many different points of view related to the notion of "Capitalism." In this regard, I've come across discussions of "Conscious" Capitalism, "Creative" Capitalism, "Disaster" Capitalism, "Good" Capitalism, "Philanthro"Capitalism, and "Responsible" Capitalism, among others. There is also considerable attention being paid to what is commonly-referred to as "Corporate Social Responsibility" and the corollary emphasis on corporate philanthropy. To be sure, I’m intrigued and inspired by all of these perspectives on the topic and am grateful to the many people who have contributed to this important dialogue.
This said, l also consider myself to be a true optimist and firm believer in human potential. And much like Patricia Aburdene, author of Megatrends 2010 and one of the foremost trend trackers in the United States, I would like to propose that the corporate world of business is undergoing a major transition, a kind of "moral transformation," that is beginning to reshape Capitalism. And while this transition may have started years ago (again, I’d like to give credit to the catalytic influence of Marilyn Ferguson), the current climate of creative destruction in the global economy is likely to accelerate the pace of change that is now desperately needed. We may even soon see the presumed bedrock of Capitalism, "greed," slowly fade into the past. Now that’s change we want to believe in!
However, is such a rosy outlook really justified, you ask? You bet! As I have underscored many times before, on this site and elsewhere, there is another "megatrend" of the 21st Century, a proposition that is reinforced by Aburdene’s observations, that must be taken into account: the search for meaning. This human quest is not only pervasive (and transformative) in more and more people’s everyday lives, but also is coming into play with greater frequency and influence in their work lives. In my book, Prisoners of Our Thoughts, I make the argument that the transformation of work in the 21st Century is, in many respects, a call for humanity—a new consciousness that strengthens trust in the unconditional meaningfulness of life and the dignity of the person. Moreover, by applying this meaning-focused philosophy to the workplace, we can more deeply humanize our working lives and bring deeper meaning to work itself.
The same philosophy, I submit, can be applied on a "macro" level to organizations in the corporate, government, and nonprofit sectors. From the perspective of a true optimist, it can even be used to transform Capitalism along the lines advanced by Ferguson, Aburdene, and other members of the vanguard for positive, innovative, and meaningful change! By integrating and applying the truly "best practices" of companies and businesses that have demonstrated how both doing good and making a profit can be accomplished, a "New Age" of Capitalism, whatever it may be called, is possible. Come on folks, as Walt Disney used to say, "If you can dream it, you can do it!" And if there ever was a time not to give up on "dreams," this is it!
To avoid misrepresenting or having to choose among any of the "new" forms or kinds of Capitalism that are seriously being discussed to accomplish the transformation agenda suggested here (and, naturally, because I have been affectionately nicknamed, "Dr. Meaning"), I propose that we call this new direction, Meaningful Capitalism. Under this scenario, the primary focus of the broadly-defined community of stakeholders in the corporate, government, and nonprofit sectors is on the will to meaning rather than the "will to power" and its more primitive form, the "will to money." Moreover, I’m going to propose that, at a time when the call for innovation can be heard loud and clear, organizations in all sectors must commit authentically to meaningful values and goals in order to make a positive difference and create a better world. Innovation for innovation’s sake will not achieve these goals. A new consciousness, "Innovating with Meaning," which is the focus of this blog, will be required not only to meet the pressing human needs of our time but also to build a solid platform, framed by "Meaningful Capitalism," for the future.
Alright, you probably think that I’m nothing but a "dreamer," if not totally out of my mind! Get real, you say? "Capitalism, in any form, is evil at best." "There is no such thing as a soul of a business." "Corporations, by definition, have no conscience." I hear you, but I’m still not convinced. Today, especially in the United States with a new political administration ready to take the helm, we’re at the dawn of a new era. Anything is possible; not only in the way that we manage the "public’s business" but also in the way that the world of business, e.g., Corporate America, operates. Indeed, the time is ripe for such a transformation to take place. The discussions about and proposals for a "new" kind of Capitalism provide evidence that such a transformation is already in the works. Let’s capitalize (no pun intended) on these efforts with all deliberate speed by keeping the dialogue going and by spotlighting the initiatives and innovations that are currently being made. Let’s not be disillusioned by the failings of the past but, instead, let’s take full advantage of this time of "destruction" and "transition" by co-designing a more positive future and a better world for all.
I’d love to hear your thoughts (and feelings) about this pressing issue, so please submit your comments and keep the conversation going. If you don’t mind, I have something else that I would like you to do. I have the good fortune of collaborating with two award-winning documentary filmmakers, Irene Lilienheim Angelico and Abbey Jack Neidik (DLI Productions, Montreal, Quebec, Canada), on an exciting film project that will bring the concept of this "new" kind of Capitalism to life by demonstrating that it can and does work. My colleagues, Irene and Abbey, and I would love to have your input into this project. If you know of companies that you think/feel may be examples of Meaningful, Conscious, Creative, Good, or Responsible Capitalism, please either submit their name(s) as a comment to this post and/or send your suggestions to me directly via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I invite you to join the dream! Don’t forget, "the times they are a-changin."
Dr. Alex Pattakos is the author of Prisoners of Our Thoughts (www.prisonersofourthoughts.com) and Elaine Dundon is author of The Seeds of Innovation (www.seedsofinnovation.com). They are co-authors of Innovating with Meaning (forthcoming).