Imagine

Many of America’s business-minded, especially corporate CEOs, are unabashedly advocates for the market being the solution to everything.  Privatize it, is the answer to it all!  Yet at the very same time they also spend vast sums of money on lobbyist to rig things in their favor, which often minimizes (and even eliminates) the dynamics of the market.  Seemingly for maximizing their profit relying on the market alone is not their preference, yet it is thought best for everyone else. Some even sing the praises of a free market and yet oppose full disclosure in labeling of products.  It appears they think free means free to maximize profit in any way one can. Go figure! Continue reading

Apathy of The Masses

Have you ever wondered why so little improvement can be found even though the vast majority of people—almost all—are in favor of improvement?  Have you ever wondered why almost everyone would like the future to be better but yet very few actually do anything—like learning anew—to affect it?  Why do these contradictions emerge? Continue reading

The Rat Race—It’s Not Metaphor

When those in authority over an enterprise employ/hire someone they give him/her work to which he/she is to apply his/her labor in support of aim of the business enterprise.  This employer-employee arrangement is consistent with a basic principle of capitalism where capital employs labor.

 

We speak of being employed and being an employee without much further thinking about just what this could mean.  Continue reading

A Caveman Can Do It

Revenue, cost and profit are seen as foundational components in business and those viewing cost as a cause likely focus on a simple linear equation—(Profit = Revenue – Cost)—as the basis of their view.  After all it is quite straightforward since for a given amount of revenue cost determines greater or lesser profit.  Accordingly if one can get cost to zero (or to approach zero) then profit will be at its maximum—the very business of business is assured.  But is not so simple.  There is a missing piece to this.  Continue reading

Oil And Water Don’t Mix

Reflecting on  “America’s Descent Into Madness” by Henry Giroux, we most certainly don’t but need to provide learning experiences in and through public education that will facilitate every person’s development.  What should we all seek to develop?  Our personhood, our humanness!  That is, we should all strive to become fully human in support of us—each other and all others—realizing progress toward becoming a more humane society.  How could we have a more humane society without its constituent members expressing the human qualities of kindness, care and concern for others?  Obviously we can’t, and clearly we haven’t!

Preparing people to become instruments for wealth accumulation was never right but it surely is effective for preparing people to be objects for exploitation.  James Boyce in Pursuing Profits – or Power?, asserts, “although corporations could benefit from the bigger pie produced by a better-educated labor force, there’s a tension between what’s good for business and what’s good for the business elite.” As currently framed the conduct of business is designed for wealth accumulation not to further human progress.  In other words, maintaining power over others is central to the practice of American capitalism, which has also captured society and colonized democracy.

The Incompatible No Alternative

Thus efforts toward educating people alone will in all likelihood fail.  Why?

As Giroux said quite succinctly, “rather than work for a more dignified life, most Americans now work simply to survive in a survival-of-the-fittest society in which getting ahead and accumulating capital, especially for the furling elite, is the only game in town.”  So it is the way we’ve tacitly learned to roll.  Seemingly most have accepted the there–is-no-alternative argument (TINA), remaining unaware that we will all lose as each seeks his/her own gain.

David Kristjanson-Gural, professor of economics, said it best “Capital will continue to corrode democracy, as certainly as oxygen corrodes iron, as long as a few hold sway over investment and jobs and are committed to using the wealth that we generate to undermine the will of the people.”  It is designed into the system!

The incongruence between our system of economics and a (humane) democratic society is far too significant—it is oil and water, both figuratively and literally.  Specifically, it is the central precept of our egoistic capitalistic system of economics—that people are primarily if not solely driven by material self-interest—that is the primary cause of the circumstances we are experiencing.  The vast majority have tacitly learned to believe they are at base the most intelligent animal whose aim is to have it all for one’s self—the one with the most toys wins!

People unconsciously assume that to be human is to structure life as the pursuit of one’s material self-interest, so they unceasingly strive to have more, thus forsaking them being and becoming more human. Unfortunately the getting of the toys in all likelihood will only be realized by a privileged fortunate few—as Adam Smith himself had essentially acknowledged in The Wealth of Nations that while the many won’t gain (in this system) it does keep them industrious to the benefit of the few.

There Are Alternatives

People must acknowledge that for a viable and sustainable (humane) society there are alternatives to oil but not for water!  So clearly we need people to awaken to their human potential in order for the critical mass necessary to affect a fundamental transmutation of society—piecemeal reform will not do.  Again Giroux astutely asserted, “It will not be enough only to expose the falseness of the stories we are told. We also need to create alternative narratives about what the promise of democracy might be for our children and ourselves.”  Educating people in an effort to develop their capability to think critically is paramount, but more is needed!

We must also understand that unless the system of economics is re-cast to serve all humankind then the system will continue descending us into madness.  We can’t continue with making it fit!  Because the conduct of business is deeply interwoven throughout the lives of so many a self-serving and narrow focus of attention creates a broad swath of destruction.  In a recent report on a decade of historic rising profits and stagnant wages, Lawrence Mishel and Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute state that “an economy that does not provide shared prosperity is, by definition, a poorly performing one.”   It is poor performing for the many because it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t serve!

Again we can’t continue with trying to make it fit, as if there is no alternative. Simply, we can’t continue to be so myopically focused on profit and shareholder value—which serves but a few—if we wish to be a sustainable society.  Exploitation and extraction as a means of wealth accumulation must end!

It should be clear that the intent of business must change to where concern for people’s development and wellbeing are paramount.  What should be placed ahead of the development and wellbeing of people?  The answer should be obvious, nothing!

Moreover, because we are so deeply interdependent, individually and collectively we need everyone to actualize his/her potential as a human being—developing toward becoming more fully human—and correspondingly to be stewards of our natural environment.  Given that the future is where (our) life and those who come after us (yes the children) will be lived, we mustn’t waste a single moment.   That is, the future begins now in this moment hence it is imperative that what we enact in this moment be a life-enabling and life-furthering act.  Decisions and actions that diminish our viability are wrong decisions and actions, so we must cease making and taking them.

A Place To Begin

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.  They would clearly see that there are alternatives.

We can realize a changed-for-the-better society by changing our practices—we can realize change by enacting it now, one decision at a time one business at a time.  If those in authority of a business enterprise are in deed leaders then they ought to exercise (their) authority over the resources they oversee for the betterment of all those they affect.  If they can’t or won’t do so then they must cease trying to selfishly influence the future of society.  They must either exhibit the courage to lead or get out of the way of human progress.  Let’s ask again, what should rightfully be placed above the development and wellbeing of people; what’s more important than a human life fulfilled?

Unsustainable Contradictions

In spite of the persuasiveness of the business minded about both the management prowess in business and superiority of markets to serve the needs of citizens—privatize society—there are a few contradictions hidden in plain sight that we must heed.

The business minded contend competition is required for a business enterprise to innovate and/or to provide quality to its’ customers. That is to say, business leaders need to be forced to foster creativity and provide quality. The underlying assumption is that the business minded do not care enough or are responsible enough to provide the organizational environment for creativity and quality to emerge—they need to be acted upon to do the right thing.

Business leaders, at times vehemently, resist regulation claiming they don’t need someone (especially government) overseeing to ensure they conduct business in a socially responsible way. That is, they claim they are quite competent and should be trusted to conduct business responsibly—only they know what’s best—hence they don’t need others to act on them to do the right thing.

The contradiction is striking! Out of one side of their mouth business leaders say they need outside forces to do what’s right and yet out of the other side they say they don’t need outside forces to do what’s right.

What underlies this contradiction is an addiction, where profit is the substance of choice and the measure of (their) life.  And as with all addictions greater and greater quantities are needed to bring satisfaction. It is this self-serving compulsion for increasing level of profit that is the basis of both arguments.  Hence to them there is no contradiction—it is all the same and quite rational.

Yet another contradiction advanced by the business minded is that (free) markets are efficient and most effective, except of course when it comes to what business leaders desire.  The captains of business/industry know full well their wants mustn’t be left up to the market to satisfy—markets aren’t as efficient and effective as they tout—hence their quid pro quo lobbying to fix the market in service to their particular desires.

Can the captains of business/industry be trusted to act responsibly or to provide sound guidance in the governance of society and the providing social services to citizens when the business of their business is their very own profit? Should capitalistic principles dictate the practice of democracy–a grand contradiction?

It should not be surprising that this manner of governing society is as irrational in regards to the common good as it is, given the influence profiteers have upon policy.  A system—be it a society or a business enterprise—led or governed in this way is an addictive system and thus not sustainable.  All addictions have the same future, thus continuing with such contradictions is self-destructive.

Leadership or Dictatorship

Today, America’s captains of business and industry command increasingly vast sums as compensation for their services. Accordingly, there is an enormous disparity—on the order of 325-to-1—between what the average paid-worker in an organization gets and what the CEO gets. We refer to these captains of industry as business leaders: But are they really?  Continue reading

Of Austerity and Addiction

Richard Wolff, Professor of Economics Emeritus at University of Massachusetts, in Austerity: Another “Policy Mistake” Again states “punishing debtors, cutting payrolls and imposing austerity keep happening. The capitalist system drives its people and enterprises to return to those policies even though their huge social costs and ultimate dangers for capitalists are rediscovered repeatedly.”  Why do fans of capitalism, or is it fanatical capitalists, repeatedly undermine viability—theirs and society’s—for short-lived selfish gains in the immediate future? Continue reading

Effectiveness Is Not Enough

Stephen Covey’s The 7-habits of highly effective people presented a discussion on Habit #1 about the relationship between one’s circle of concern and one’s circle of influence as a way of explaining the difference between being proactive versus reactive—the subtext being that effective people (such as leaders) are proactive.  In the presentation, which is based on the premise that “we each have a wide range of concerns—our health, our children, problems at work, national debt and nuclear war”, the circle of influence portrayed is within and smaller than the circle of concern.

 

Because the circle of concern was larger than the circle of influence it seems Covey, in referring to the circle of concern, was actually offering a way of discerning what is in one’s control.  However, if one’s circle of concern is larger than one’s circle of influence then there is an increased likelihood of experiencing a sense of helplessness and angst.  Reinhold Niebuhr’s serenity prayer “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” offers great guidance in this situation.

 

Effective Relative to What

The implication for those aspiring to be a leader is to become proactive by expanding your circle of influence in order to ensure you are working on things you control and can do something about, thus improving your effectiveness.

 

But effectiveness is not an absolute term: Its’ meaning is always connected to the desired end of one’s efforts—often reflected in what one uses to measure effectiveness.  The measures most often used guide us to place focused attention on one thing rendering us blind to the unintended consequences of our actions.  Thus depending upon what one is seeking to do being effective can be either constructive or destructive.

 

Al (Chainsaw) Dunlop was effective in realizing the single-minded end he desired—maximizing shareholder value thus reaping gains for himself and major shareholders—but in his wake he left considerable destruction.  Though he severely diminished the viability of companies such as Scott Paper and Sunbeam, destroying the livelihood of many people, he made for himself a fortune and was proud of it!

 

If we look through the lens of systems thinking we see because of inherent interdependencies we influence far more than we realize.  Thinking systemically reveals to us that everything is connected to everything else; that we can’t do just one thing.  In other words our actions reverberate throughout the system.

 

The implication here is, if ones’ circle of concern is less than one’s circle of influence then there is a increased probability that acting solely in consideration of one’s concern will lead to the degradation of one’s environments—which includes social, industrial, economic and natural.  In light of the many social and environmental problems created through past decisions and policies set by those in authority, the circle of concern has been considerably less than the circle of influence for far too many in these positions.

 

Broad Concern

In regards to corporate executives primarily concerned, if not solely, with increasing shareholder value—coupled to the fact that they have a considerable influence upon the lives of others—pose a considerable threat to the wellbeing of people and society as a whole.  It appears most of these executives believe the corporation stands a part from and independent of everything else and its survival alone is paramount.  What seems to be not understood is the unit of survival cannot be the legally defined corporate entity but rather it must be the corporation plus its environments.  Polluting the environmental systems—nature, humankind, society—as a way of satisfying self-interest and getting what you want will not make for a livable world. The concern must be more than shareholder value if there is to be a viable future.

 

Therefore, those aspiring to be a good leader mustn’t limit their concerns to that which is in his/her (direct) control.  They need to expand their circle of care thus bringing the wellbeing of those they effect into their circle of concern.  Leadership requires increasing one’s circle of care, especially as one’s circle of influence expands with the attainment of higher positions of legitimate authority.  To do otherwise would no doubt increase the likelihood of harm and destruction.

 

Congruence Counts

When people are given the legitimate authority associated with a position in an organization or society’s government, he/she is necessarily required to demonstrate care and concern for those over whom he/she has been given formal authority.  Sadly far too many become intoxicated with their newfound circle of control—and correspondingly the prospect of getting it all for themselves—that they ignore their responsibility for the care and concern of those whose lives they touch. Upholding this latter responsibility—bringing into congruence the circle of influence and the circle of care—is in large measure what separates the heroic leaders from the toxic leaders.

 

Toxic leaders are effective in turning organizations and societies over which they exercise control into black holes wherein potential is trapped and people are unable to develop and flourish.  Until a sense of caring grows beyond concern for what’s in it for me those to whom we give positional authority will effectively do what’s good for them alone.  Such effectiveness can’t help but to be detrimental to all concerned.

 

What we need is an increasing number of people striving to expand their circle of care and to bring it into congruence with their circle of influence.  When people do this invariably they come to acknowledge their I-We nature.  With this acknowledgement comes a deep and wide sense of caring and so those upon whom we bestow legitimate authority within our organizations and government will most likely exhibit the leadership we so desperately we need.

 

Until more begin to care about more of us our best efforts will continue to fall horribly short.  To paraphrase Deming, best efforts absent of knowing what to do—without the guidance of principles—will result in a lot of damage. As Deming said, “think of the chaos that would come if everyone did his best, not knowing what to do.”  Well look around, chaos is quite evident, is it not!  We should remember that a narrow focus of attention is nothing if not a limited sense of caring.  Need we continue holding onto our self-interest maximizing ways?

 

 

When Being Cooperative is Destructive

Many elected public officials formulate legislation favoring those who provide large sums of money to them (in support of their election/re-election) irrespective of the legislation’s impact on the citizens—the collective ‘we’—they are elected to represent. What is the consequence of such action?  Essentially there is no consequence!  Why? Because those who could take action are reticent to do so since they too benefit from this quid pro quo system.   So they cooperate—if not collaborate—with special interest.  If lobbying weren’t effective, why else would the number of lobbyist have grown?

 

There are corporate executives who create and manage an organization that behaves in environmental and/or socially damaging (if not fraudulent) ways.  More often than not this way of managing provides the executives and their minions significant material gain and the citizens of the country significant devastation. What is the consequence of such practice?  None to very little! Why? Because those who could take action are reluctant to do so since they too benefit from the way things are.  So they cooperate keeping things as they are.  This is likely why regulating agencies and corporate boards overlook rather than provide oversight.

 

Selfish Cooperation

What’s operative in each?  Self-interest maximization; a what’s in it for me orientation. In a socio-economic system that concerns itself primarily if not solely with self-interest—not the collective ‘we’, the interdependence of living systems and society at-large—the resultant quid pro quo arrangements determine the future we all will likely experience.  It is no surprise that follow the money often leads investigators toward identifying the puppeteers.

 

We cooperate with the system—no matter how dysfunctional.  In a democracy voting is the primary means for individuals to participate and thus cooperate with the system of government thus ensuring its continuance. In organizations striving to meet the measureable goals cascaded down from the top of the hierarchy is the primary means for individuals to cooperate with the system.  A profit making and maximizing system, exclusively for those directing the game, is the order of the day—so fall in line, play the game.

 

We Can All Hope

So we cooperate while hoping that changing the players directing the game will change the game—hence our obsessive focus on leadership.  Or is it we keep the game going thinking that once we get to the top of the hierarchy we will some how change the game.  Unfortunately it hasn’t and it likely never will happen!

 

Hope involves seeing/envisioning a way for things to get better so many have hope for change.  Some hope to return to the imagined better times of the past and others imagine a new reality.  In either case, people hope that the future will be better than the present.   Both are holding steadfast to an imaginary reality and thus not seeking to understand the why of what is.  It is the present that is most correlated with the future, yet many seem to run from it.

 

Game Change Requires Mind Change

Nothing will change unless the system itself is fundamentally changed!  You don’t change the game by continuing rolling the dice on your turn; this just keeps the game going.  Cooperating with a system ensures its continuance.

 

We aren’t independent individuals whose sole purpose in life is to amass as much material wealth as we can—bumping into each other as we each strive to have it all for ‘me’.  It is not that self-interest is not within our nature it is that self-interest is not the essence of our nature.  However those directing things would have us believe that we are at base self-interest seeking because it best serves their self-interest—they benefit most when we all are concerned about what’s in it for me.  This keeps people from coming together as we—divide and conquer works most times, but only in the short-term.

 

I remember (many years ago) being in a meeting where the president of a division of a company I was working for said, “look to your left and look to your right because 1 in 3 people won’t be here next year. “  What’s the message?  It is not I want you all to work together, but rather I want each of you to worry about yourself.  This president wasn’t seeking to foster an inspired collective we but rather bunch of me’s that could be easily controlled by fear.

 

I left the company within several months of that meeting.  Eventually the division floundered, not because I had left but because the division was never able to actualize the potential among those it employed.

 

Unfortunately when individuals act out of their self-interest, when there is little to no concern beyond what’s in it for ‘me’—when a sense of caring stops at one’s own skin—then the destruction of either the organization or society (which includes all individuals) is inevitable.

 

So why is there hope?  Could it be that because the absence of hope ushers in despair and so everyone is simply deluding him/her self to avoid feelings of despair?  Rather than being hopeful, I suspect we’d all be better off if we got heretical.