Did you ever wonder what would have happened to the monster in Mary Shelly’s classic horror tale, Frankenstein if he hadn’t been mistakenly given the abnormal brain, but instead was given, as the good doctor intended, the brain of a genius?
Other than being an interesting question, you might well ask, what does this have to do with anything? Well, I was thinking about the fact that we have created a kind of monster of our own in the industrial juggernaut that is now on the lose and running around the planet threatening the safety of our whole (and I do mean whole) family. Mindlessly oblivious to the consequences of its actions, the industrial, commercial, economic system is doing what it was designed to do: pursuing profit. Certainly nothing wrong with that. The profit motive has brought us to great heights of civilization and wealth, though not for everyone. And given our relatively recent discovery that contrary to our assumption that the planet and its resources are infinite and unlimited growth was possible, we find we are actually living on a very finite interconnected spaceship with no lifeboats, it seems to me that some rethinking is in order.
We were taught in Econ 101, that the magic of self-interest would guide the Invisible Hand of the market, so that the most good would be produced for the most people. It was accepted as a truism, that an unfettered private commercial system — free enterprise, no fetters whatsoever — would continually and automatically improve society until eventually the world would work for everybody.
Well, the invisible hand of the market is now firmly around the throat of Mother Earth. Harnessing the power of greed to fuel the global economic engine is a little like using nuclear power to generate our electricity. It works fine in the short run, but the waste products are toxic and long lasting. It seems to me that a much more sustainable and natural approach, is to harness not only the traditional fuel of personal self-interest, but also the deep human power of compassion and altruism.
By making strategic plans with the entire ecosystem considered, with nature taken into account, by holding profit not as an end goal, but as the outcome of achieving our true goal, to provide value for stakeholders, business and commerce is starting to become exactly what the world now so desperately needs.
The plain fact is this: business, as the most powerful institution on Earth, has a critically important leadership role to play in moving human society away from decline and toward a sustainable and prosperous future for everyone. People who run businesses know this better than anyone, and are working diligently to transform the raison d’être of the free enterprise system from pursuing profit to producing value.
Given a brain that computes the bigger vision of long term impact and a sense of the common good, and a heart that treats both its cohorts and customers as human beings, instead of inputs on a balance sheet, what might such a compassionate and cooperative “monster” achieve? We are about to find out.