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Conscious Capitalism

Posted on 17 June 2014 by Ian Mann (Guest Blogger)

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conscious_capitalismPopular talk about business is so negative. Business is a “rat-race,” where there is only one winner and he is a rat. Business is “dog eat dog,” where people will do anything to be successful, even if they do harm to others.

If this were necessarily true, successful business people should be ashamed for being successful. It is not true.

The term “Conscious Capitalism” refers to an alternative way of thinking about business that incorporates two elements, unsurprisingly, capitalism, and consciousness. (It differs only slightly to the UK term “conscious business.”)

It would be hard to dispute that capitalism has improved the lives of more people, in more places, in more ways, than any other economic system in the history of humankind.

However, it has suffered reputational damage caused by “crony capitalism,” the single-minded pursuit of “shareholder value,” “short-termism,” and other socially offensive practices.

A strong advocate, John Mackay (Founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market), uses the caterpillar and the butterfly as a metaphor to describe the difference between the ugly capitalism and conscious capitalism.

The caterpillar increases in mass 1000 times from birth to the point at which it enters the cocoon. It does this by focusing on only one thing, eating everything it can. When it emerges from the darkness of the cocoon as a beautiful butterfly, it flies around looking after its own comparatively modest needs. In the process, the butterfly pollinates other flowers and creates abundant growth. 


The “consciousness” part of conscious capitalism refers to the awareness of the inextricable interconnectedness of all five spheres of business – ownership, leadership, staff, customers, and the ecosystem that encompasses the business.

When owners demand a disproportionate share of the income generated by the business they reduce what is available to reward and motivate staff.

When leaders focus singularly on output, they see staff as a human resource, too easily forgetting that this “resource” is a sentient resource. Staff talent is a complex and acutely sensitive contributor to profit and customer satisfaction, which leaders must curated. Talent cannot be owned.

Customers are not sold goods or services, they buy them.

A pet food company produced a range of dog food of such quality that it was suitable for human consumption. The only problem was that the dogs would not eat the dog food! Losing intimacy with consumer needs, problems, tastes, or trends inevitably leads to the same problem, the dogs not eating the dog food.

A short-term view in business not only affects profit reporting, it inevitably leads to the neglect of investment in the future. Short-termism also affects the quality of relationships with staff and customers. A breach of trust today leaves, at best, a residue of doubt that lingers.

Conscious capitalism is the unbridled pursuit of benefit for owners, leaders, staff, customers, and the ecosystem that encompasses the business. It is a pursuit only realised when all win.

I write this here because everyone who knows SYSPRO recognizes that is a company operating in accord with the principles of conscious capitalism.

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Topics: Conscious capitalism

Ian Mann (Guest Blogger)

I am the founder and managing director of Gateways Business Consultants, a boutique consultancy specializing in leadership and strategy. The firm consults to large and medium-sized businesses in 14 countries.

I am the author of the bestselling book "Managing with Intent," which focuses on strategic implementation, and of the recently released "Strategy that Works." This book reflects my approach to strategy in providing value across industries ranging from shipbuilding, to pharmaceuticals, and to parastatals.

My skill lies in my ability to rapidly grasp the key issues in complex organizations and to communicate these in an easily understood manner. To keep myself current, I read a business book each week and write a review column on it for a premier national online business paper. I have been doing this for 18 years.

I enjoy contemporary poetry almost as much as the time I spend with my family.


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