Today, the default focus for almost every business in operation on the planet is the creation of profits. This focus is so pervasive in the paradigm that defines business that it has become gospel that the purpose of business is to make a profit (a tip of the hat to Milton Friedman). Ever increasing quarterly returns are the metric by which success is assessed; ROI is a sacred litmus test for any activity; company “value” as measured by both market cap and price to earning (P/E) ratios has become for many the default ways by which investment quality and the quality of the business itself is measured. This has created a destructive reinforcing cycle that compromises – even negates – what I believe is the true purpose of business.
The true purpose of business is to uplift the experience of existing. It is not to make owners wealthy, it is not to produce ever cheaper goods and services, it is not to keep an avaricious and toxic economic model afloat, and it is certainly not (with no apology to Milton Friedman) to make a profit.
Business is the most pervasive and influential force on the planet today. Its activities transcend national and international borders. Its activities are not unduly constrained by financial, political, cultural, ethnic or religious concerns. The net of this is that business, as the most pervasive and influential force on the planet, has a moral responsibility to husband, enhance, value, and nourish the existence of all that it encounters. Today the absolute opposite of this occurs. Business today seldom assesses the efficacy of its activities through the lens of anything but profit.
Because it touches literally everything on the planet the activity of business rises to a level approaching that of a spiritual undertaking. I mean this not in any woo-woo sense however. Rather, I mean this in the very pragmatic sense that acknowledges that everything on this planet – organic/inorganic, sentient/non-sentient – is connected in subtle but profound ways that can only be fully appreciated through a lens of spiritual compassion. Harmful acts or ennobling acts undertaken by business affects everything and everyone on the planet in some fashion. Nothing we encounter is separate and isolated from the whole. We live in and on a closed system that is fully and symbiotically integrated. Consequently we and everything else on this planet we call home are dependent on the viability of each constituent part.
Because business is nothing less than a spiritual discipline it requires the same integrity, commitment, intentionality, courage, discipline and compassion as any other spiritual discipline. Spiritual disciplines honor life in all of its forms as having innate and intrinsic value simply because it exists. It's the honoring of this intrinsic value – the ennobling of this value – that is called forth when we approach business as a spiritual undertaking. To do less with such a powerful force dooms all of us.
(Excerpted from my upcoming book Compassionate Capitalism: A Journey to the Soul of Business)