Our economic system is keeping us in troubled waters and is informing misguided and inhumane practices in the organizing and managing of business. Accordingly a fundamental change in the corporate structure is indeed required as Richard Wolff explained in a recent essay (Enterprise structure is key to the shape of a post-capitalist future), and success with this requires a change in one’s worldview.
Change Your View
To fully understand the very nature of the required structure change one must put on a different pair of glasses to see a way to a markedly different and better future. Why? Because the questions we ask conform to the system of thought—the worldview—we hold in mind and thus pre-figure the answers we receive. In other words, to paraphrase Einstein, problems can’t be solved with the same level of thinking that created them. Another way of saying this is doubling down is not a successful problem solving strategy.
That is, doing so leaves the root of our difficulties—the framework that guides our thinking—in place to sprout new initiatives that will bring us to a very similar situation in the future. In other words, doing so leads us to ignore the underlying changes in assumptions that are absolutely necessary for a different world affording human development and sustainability.
Thus, at best what we get is short-lived symptomatic relief and at worst, by adhering to this system of thought, we are presented with the dichotomous either-or choice individualism versus collectivism (capitalism versus socialism). And with this very limiting either-or thinking we get what we have, an intractable Hatfield-&-McCoy-like undercurrent running throughout society. What is evident is a distain for those who are not members of one’s side along with the outright dismissal of whatever those others say coupled with the unquestionable commitment to and defense of whatever comes out of one’s own side. It is the prefect prescription for sustaining ignorance; as well as an effective strategy for keeping those in power with the leverage to maintain control over the masses—until of course people wake up.
Let Go to Transcend
Our current materialist mechanistic orientation has us embracing a hedonist theory of humankind that is not appropriate as the basis for informing management theory and practice that could further human development and sustainability. Placing self-interest and its associated amassing of material wealth above the development of humankind—which the current system has us doing—does not serve our nature and thus is neither responsible nor sustainable. Furthermore it doesn’t make it any more sustainable whether a collection of employee-owners are making decisions or whether the few owning the capital are making decisions if this orientation informs the organizing and managing of a business enterprise. This system will lead one or many down the same destructive path.
We need to change the ‘why’—the intent of business—and correspondingly the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of business. Since strategy (the ‘what’) and tactics (the ‘how’) must align and support the ‘why’, re-thinking the ‘why’ is the necessary first step. But a fundamental change in the ‘why’—the difference that makes a difference—can only come from a different philosophy, a different system of orientation.
That is to say, before we can envision a change in corporate structure we must let go of the system of thought that created our current situation. We need to adopt a different a different philosophy! In so doing we will be able to transcend the materialist mechanistic worldview that brought us to this point and to adopt a system of orientation that is aligned with our very nature, such as a living system energic worldview. The difference between the materialist mechanistic orientation and a living systems energic orientation is like going from a flat-earth worldview to a round-earth view, it not only changes understanding of what is it also changes what is possible.
What is possible is that the work we do can provide us with more than a paycheck. This possibility becomes probable when we see and experience our work as a means to us becoming more of what we potentially are. That is, what is possible is the furthering of our very human development through the work within which we engage. Hence work must be recast so that it provides both means and meaning; and this requires a different system of orientation by those who organize and manage the organization.
The living system energic view enables us to understand our world as a deeply interconnected living world. Peering through this lens we can understand that the elements of Nature are in us and so what we do to each other and the environment we do to ourselves. Furthermore through this lens we can see that we are not on this earth to merely extract and exploit what we can for material gain. With this system of orientation informing our understanding of the world, we know that if we adversely affect the ecology of living systems, unavoidably, we adversely affect all that is alive—irrespective of whether we are owners of capital or employee-owners of an enterprise. We know the intent we enact matters to the viability of humankind.
Our very unique capacities as human beings afford us capabilities and responsibilities that make us stewards of our world. Therefore, we must truly care about each other—as well as all living things—if there is to be any reasonable prospect of having a future at all. This is why our intent is so critical: Our viability as a species depends on it!
Trying to do the same destructive thing differently—essentially doubling down—is not the way to avoid self-destruction and ensure sustainability.
We cannot behave as independent individuals acting upon others as if objects and reasonably expect that no ill effects will result. If there is to be a future for us, we must not treat the living world (which includes each other) as instruments for our selfish gain as the current system of orientation guides us to do.
But a different system of orientation will help us understand that we mustn’t place our selfish interest, the economy or the organizations we create, above each other, the air we breathe, the water we drink or the larger environment we live within, if we have any hope of sustaining our viability as a species on this earth. Following the proposition that we must balance our efforts in maximizing profit (or accumulating material wealth) and our efforts to sustain the viability of the environment is a fool’s errand.
As stated in a previous argument, “If only the leaders of business organizations took the long view and critically thought about businesses’ place in society and thus businesses’ responsibility they could change the why and how of business.” Until we adopt a new philosophy and change our system of orientation along with a change to the why of business nothing will really change for the better.