Conscious Business. Possible?

I’m a systems thinker, and for a long time have been aware of the dysfunctional nature of the economic system we live in. That’s what prompted me to write a book about navigating the consumer culture without being swallowed up by it.

When I wrote Conscious Spending, Conscious Life, my view was that the system needed a drastic overhaul. I talked about the work of alternative thinkers such as David Korten, Ray Anderson, Paul Hawken, and Muhammad Yunus.

If I’d known then about John Mackey and conscious capitalism, I would certainly have written about him too. I’ve recently read his book, Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, co-authored with Dr. Rajendra Sisodia. John Mackey is co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market and Raj Sisodia is an author and professor of marketing at Bentley University.

Their book has broadened my perspective. Perhaps capitalism is not a flawed philosophy. It may have got its bad reputation because it is usually practised poorly. When businesses focus on maximizing profit to the exclusion of other values such as well-being of workers and the environment, we see the system in its worst light.

Yet to say all capitalists are greedy and short-sighted is the same as saying all people are bad because some do unethical or horrible things. By painting a whole group with the same brush, we discount the good that also happens within the system, and limit our view of possibilities.

Conscious business possible? Actually, preferable.

What I like about Conscious Capitalism is the heartfelt way it sets a higher standard and presents a vision of what capitalism can accomplish when practiced with integrity. Using examples of well-known companies, they describe how conscious businesses create more value, are more successful, are more ethical, are better places to work, and can be the source of much good in the world.

John Mackey has devoted his life to selling natural and organic foods, and to building a better business model. He shares the story of the evolution of his thinking and his business in the book. He speaks with the authority of someone who has lived the journey thoughtfully.

You can hear John Mackey and learn more about the book on their website. After you listen to the fifty-second intro, I highly recommend his talk at the University of California, which appears among the video options on the same page. Listening to him speak will do greater justice to the book than I could in trying to summarize it.

Why did I want to tell you about Conscious Capitalism?

Because this book is speaking my language—accountability, systems thinking, self-awareness, purpose, mind-set, possibilities, world-views, ethics, values, intentions, meaning, synergy, empowerment, holistic thinking, integration—these are a few examples of words we both use.

And we address similar issues, based on a conscious approach to society, community and the environment. Our shared concerns include integrity of the future, ecology and the environment, social and personal responsibility, healthy eating, and unintended consequences.

Yet despite these similarities, the content is quite different because their field is business and mine is consumer issues. They write to empower businesses to do better, and I write to help consumers do the same.

If you’re not in business, why should you read this book? 

  • We all need a hopeful vision. We need to know that business based on high standards of integrity is possible and desirable, that it can work for everyone.
  • We need to let businesses know that we care about their conduct. Knowing that better is possible, we can hold them accountable by spending our money consciously—shifting our purchases away from mindless, manipulative companies and rewarding those whose practices align with our values.

It will take time before conscious capitalism is routinely practiced. We, as citizens, are part of that process. It will move along much more quickly if we are engaged and conscious in our marketplace decisions.

We get the society we deserve. If we settle for what’s offered with no sense of discernment, we will continue on the unsustainable path we are on. When we hold business to a higher standard, we will all thrive.

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