Clayton Christensen made his reputation by looking at marketing and disruptive innovation through the lens of the above question. His study of what school children want schools to do for them is obvious and yet profound. Children want to feel successful and to have fun with their friends every day. Most schools (and educational systems) focus on the opposite and then wonder why children aren’t interested in learning. And yet it wouldn’t take much effort beyond changing mindsets to create a vibrant learning community where everyone including teachers have fun, learn a lot and are successful.
So what do we want business to do for us? As customers we obviously want a variety of things – fit for purpose, value for money, quality but also far more than that. We want to feel valued and expect the products we buy to help us feel connected with others (Hence the fashion industry or dare I say, Apple products) For some people stuff is just stuff, but for most of us it’s more than that. Mary Douglas, one of the UK’s greatest social anthropologists, covered this more than fifty years ago in her book The World of Goods. Her definition of poverty was not lack of physical goods but lack of relationship through the goods to others. Hence we are seeing a change in how and what we buy especially amongst the new generation based on core values.
And what do we want business to do for us as employees? We want to feel successful and have fun with our friends. And what do most businesses focus on – certainly not those aspects. The mind set is profit – not in itself wrong at all – but when it drives out all other considerations, a moral evil and illusion in my view. And as with schools, it wouldn’t take much to create workplaces that are successful in terms of delivering to customers what they need, making profit in the form of appreciation through monetary rewards (and much more) and contributing to the community. It simply needs a change in the mindset of leaders to create vibrant workplaces where everyone can grow and develop through success and having fun with their friends.
None of this requires complex analysis – these are things people feel in their hearts – guided by their minds certainly – but coming from core human values common to people wherever they are in the world. I don’t mean to suggest that everyone is perfect or that we don’t have insecurities, greed or fear, but when you work in a heart-based workplace, these aspects of our personalities can be dealt with far more easily. The drive to whole and search for meaning can be encouraged and individual talents developed – gifts differing.
And to do all this – just leaders who are in touch with their own needs and values and who refuse to buy into frameworks of business that have outgrown their purpose. Business is always about people and recognising their humanity; this is summed up best by Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol:
” …………… Business …………….. Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business” .(Marley’s Ghost to Scrooge)
Ralph Lewis is a Leadership Development Consultant and Chair of the Greenleaf Centre for Servant-Leadership UK. His latest book is Developing Inner Leadership. www.ralphlewis.co.uk