I wrote this 3 years ago in November 2006. Reading it again, the text is darker than how I feel today. Nonetheless, much of it is still relevant though the current economic recession and Obama’s political term create a new shadow.
An imbalance exists within much of industry today; and, the proper restoration of this balance is essential to ensure the longevity of all species and cultures on this earth–human, plant, and animal. Without this redistribution, diversity will be lost which is integral to the composition of life. We are in the midst of re-defining industry’s relationship with nature. If we do not, many more species and cultures will die. A recent 700-page report by former World Bank Chief Economist Sir Nicholas Stern, and one of the British government’s top economic advisors, suggests that without any action to stem current trends, global warming could shrink the world’s economy by up to 20%, costing it more than either of the 20th century’s world wars or the Depression.
This article is about redistributing the value chain; it’s about organizing misaligned industry around universal truths–to carry it into balance. A comparison study from the early 1900s of the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Vedanta found: “Truth is not the exclusive property of any one group of people, but is the common property of the whole human race and equally open to all who can claim it. Whoever is open to truth does not care from what source it comes. It is Truth, that is sufficient.”
A spiritual outlook guides these universal truths as they create a framework which underlies global consciousness. This essence of totality is available in non-dualistic thought–where there is no separation between the self and the universe. With loss of the I and greeting of global consciousness; the application and necessity of universal truths becomes apparent. The same comparison study also found: “When great men study the Scriptures of the world, it does not unsettle their understanding or rob them of their own true faith, but it makes them see the universality of Truth and leads them to unite all the varying expressions of Truth into one great whole.”
The reaction of human existence manifested through lawsuits, wars, acts of terrorism and more arise from a desire for consumables, land, money, and power and from fear–all of which are exclusive of the general emphasis of most scriptural teachings and spiritual realizations. Yet, this reaction is a primary human condition which can come to symbolize the ethos of companies and even nations.
The pilgrims on the Mayflower sought what the founding fathers of the nation eventually decreed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To this day people immigrate to the United States seeking a better life and economic opportunity, not found in the homeland. From this material, a distinctly American culture has arisen, a particular freedom and ability for expression which fosters creativity, entrepreneurial leanings, and a quest for innovation. America’s historical events and characterizations of time continue to reinforce this culture–take the Wild West, Gold Rush, and homesteading as examples. America spearheaded innovation in industry from the assembly line in Henry Ford’s days in automobile production, from the Wright Brothers to Howard Hughes in aviation, to the invention of the Internet and the current high-tech opportunities rooted in Silicon Valley. The composition of the industrial landscape may have shifted, but a sense of unbounded possibility and the notion of financial freedom remains.
America’s history has engendered the creation of a particular style of spirituality. Led by the likes of Emerson and the Transcendentalist movement, it continues to guide both New Age intellectuals and those from more traditional religious foundations today. Author and scholar Leigh Eric Schmidt eloquently describes this American spirituality below:
...the yearning for mystical experience (especially through immersion in the outdoors), the longing for solitude and serene meditation, the open-minded eclecticism that invited both questioning and questing, the joining of artistic creativity and religious exploration, and the ethical earnestness that pushed for progressive social reforms.
This spiritual leaning combined with influential activity within the realm of self-actualization as described by Abraham Maslow in his pyramid below indicates America’s promise in leading the world in revolutionary thought, bringing awareness and action to the world’s imbalances.
On a national level, relative to other countries, the physiological and safety needs of US citizens are cared for, enabling them to seek fulfillment of needs higher up within the pyramid. In 2005, The GDP of the US reached $12.5 trillion while the GDP of the entire world combined reached $44 trillion. Twenty three of the world’s fifty richest people hold US citizenship. The ultra-rich have historically donated much of their fortunes to philanthropic efforts including the likes of Heinz, Carnegie and Rockefeller. The world’s richest man today, Bill Gates, now devotes most of his time running his charitable foundation while the world’s second richest man, Warren Buffett, gave much of his fortune to the first’s foundation. Further examples include philanthropreneurs Jeff Skoll, Steve Case, and Pierre Omidyar, all Internet billionaires now dedicated to social equity as a focus for their foundations and as a for-profit investment philosophy.
Act from the vantage point of love: Love as a design ethos is central to the prosperity of all beings on this earth and their organizational bodies. Awareness and clarity arise from this perspective unclouded by ego and human emotion. The vantage point and realm of understanding grow to meet the viewer’s current potential. More specifically, leaders of industry can know the totality of consumer and employee experience when incorporating compassion within their vision.
Promote balance: The quest for balance provides the opportunity for perfect union and harmony, within oneself, within the universe, and also within any type of organizational structure. This is the beautiful layering of ecosystem upon ecosystem within a jungle or forest, the joining of the masculine and feminine, and the proper balance of power within a democratic form of government.
Without balance, negative orientations towards life and industry prosper. Greed and fear thrive. Evidence of this result abounds. Put simply, every action has a reaction, not unlike Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion where to every action (force applied) there is an equal and opposite reaction (equal force applied in the opposite direction). In other words, an action led by greed dismisses possibility; whereas, an action led by potential ensures longevity.
Follow nature’s example: Nature presents an incredibly apt role model for business evolution. It adapts its type and volume of growth based upon the external conditions of a particular clime. Simple is incredibly complex.
Companies and industries follow natural cycles of birth, growth, and death, oftentimes living and breathing through periods of revitalization and re-invention. More likely than not, at critical points in their lifecycle, those that successfully re-invent themselves survive while those that don’t quite often die. They are dynamic life forms which live and breath, sometimes expanding other times contracting.
Successful organizations grow organically–although this growth can happen at different speeds. Any entrepreneur will agree that companies can represent awkward teenagers; they have reached a certain height, but gangly arms and legs struggle for suave movements and sophistication, otherwise known as “growing pains” which eventually smooth out with experience. Other companies grow like a soft moss that creeps gradually along, expanding its reach and command of market size with a lasting duration. Forced actions find limited success and, unsurprisingly, failure. Relationships and partnerships that are nurtured and fed with attention flourish.
The Sweet Spot
Industry lies in the enviable position of being able to affect world change faster than most governments. Three of the most impactful trends within industry today include the following: a drive towards sustainable production, enablement of self-expression, and democratic shifts within the value chain. Business models that successfully combine these forces are the future of business design.
Sustainability: Vandana Shiva, a global activist and physicist, writes,”Imperialism has always had global reach. Today’s movements have a planetary reach and a planetary embrace.” In addition to investors, management, employees, and customers, nature is a key stakeholder within the production of goods and services; it too is part of the value chain. With respectful interaction, it provides abundant raw materials, however, with disrespect for its future and longevity, nature rebels offering up instead harsh and unfertile landscapes. And while a business’ impact on employees and customers can be local, its impact on nature and other cultures can be global.
The world’s conception of nature’s place is now evolving on a massive scale; finally pulling itself out of the throes of the industrial revolution to embrace sustainable design. Thankfully, the effects of pollution, mass deforestation, stripped mines, and increasing diagnoses of human cancer can no longer be ignored. Japanese automakers have already established a beachhead and are seriously out-running Detroit in the expanding market for fuel-efficient, hybrid cars, with number of units sold and company profits un-ignorable signs. Loving the earth and its inhabitants, a respect for all humanity and support for their varying lifestyles will shift the balance to a more sustainable long-run equilibrium.
Self-expression: The most successful companies today are enablers of mass individualism and freedoms of expression with just-in-time delivery: examples include Web 2.0 social networking ala MySpace and the Facebook, personal video expression via YouTube, and 3D virtual living in Second Life. This trend in consumer behavior was first apparent in the physical product space with the explosive popularity of mass customization production first introduced via messenger bags by Timbuk2 and then later picked up by such global giants as Nike and Adidas for personalized footwear and Levi’s for jeans. It’s even visible at neighborhood Starbucks’ lattes made to order while mobile phone sound off with personalized ringtones.
Democracy: With more dollars flowing to creators, technologies distributed via the Internet shift traditional value chains where big business once controlled artists with contracts and the promise of mass network and brick and mortar distribution. Digital media production enables scores of talented and wannabee producers and musicians to create and distribute full-length content to eager users around the world, immediately.
Targeting based on search behavior and demographic analysis ensure the advertising dollars that support much of the Internet medium remain highly relevant to the consumer. With Google Adwords, small business owners and large multi-national corporations share the same arena–each constituency able to afford highly targeted advertising for their products and services.
Leadership: The leadership qualities necessary to fully actualize future opportunity safe for Mother Earth and its inhabitants are listed below.
- Opening to receive gifts from the universe
- Asking for help
- Acknowledging an infinitude of viewpoints
 “Blair: Climate Change Will Cripple World GDP,” Forbes.com, October 30, 2006.
 Swami Paramananda, Emerson and Vedanta, p. 57, Vedanta Centre Publishers, Cohasset, MA, 1918.
 Ibid, p.66.
 Schmidt, Leigh Eric, Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality from Emerson to Oprah, p. 277, HarperSanFrancisco, 2005.
 Abraham Maslow’s theory of human’s hierarchy of needs, Wikipedia.
 World Development Indicators database, World Bank, July 1, 2006.
 Forbes.com, March 2006.
 “What’s Wrong with Profit,” Stephanie Strom, The New York Times, November 13, 2006.
 Shiva, Vandana, Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace, pp. 185-186, South End Press, Cambridge, MA, 2005.
 An Inconvenient Truth, Participant Productions, 2006.