I have been maintaining an outdated view about what “businesspeople” are like. (Although as astrologer Caroline Casey says “Until Now!” is the appropriate exclamation to make when saying such things). Granted, over the past two decades, I have met a few exceptional business leaders (I could count them on one hand), people who are genuinely led by their hearts (not their egos) and by a sense of serving a greater purpose. However, even in the face of these meetings, I have held tight to the perspective that such people are very rare. I have held on to this view because that has been my experience. Until now!
Recently, I attended a four-day conference on “Catalyzing Conscious Capitalism” convened by the CEO and co-founder of Whole Foods, John Mackey. In attendance at the conference were CEOs from Patagonia, Men’s Warehouse, Joi De Vivre Hotels, The Container Store, Jamba Juice, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Life is Good, and The Motley Fool, among others. I learned many things at the C3 event, but the most important thing I learned is that “I am not alone” (far from it, actually) when it comes to seeing business as a vehicle for fulfilling our heart’s highest ideals. In fact, in an interview that I recorded with John Mackey that is published by Sounds True along with a lecture by John on his theory of Conscious Capitalism, I asked John if he felt it was fair to call “Whole Foods” his “ministry” in a certain sense. To my great delight, he agreed that the word “ministry” does, in some important ways, describe the animating force underlying his business.
I spent much of the four days of the C3 Conference crying. In the midst of discussions about the theory of conscious capitalism (more on that in a moment) what moved me the most was the sense of having “arrived.” I had arrived by coming into contact with a philosophical framework and a group of highly successful people who mirrored my own deepest convictions about the power of entrepreneurship to simultaneously create benefit for individuals and for society as a whole, in what John Mackey calls “a virtuous circle.” I felt like I had been a young girl crawling in a dark forest for two plus decades, really on my own, and I had somehow emerged into relatedness with a group of strong older brothers (and a sister or two…I am still looking to meet more such women business leaders), and that I could now walk in allegiance with this strong larger group.
One of the presenters at the conference was Roy Spence, co-author of the book It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business Is Driven by Purpose. As part of his presentation on how purpose is the nuclear force at the center of everything we do (my words, not Roy’s), he offered the following slogan “The road may be long, but we are ready for the walk.” This sentence touched me at my core. Of course, no matter what our purpose is, we need to be ready for a long walk, especially if our purpose is “disruptive” (and according to Roy, when our purpose moves society forward in a significant way it will of necessity be disruptive). This slogan, “The road may be long but we are ready for the walk” hit me in the chest because I realized that catalyzing conscious capitalism had become a “walk” that many people were now walking together, a walk in which I had lots of strong allies at my side.
So what is “conscious capitalism”? It is a term coined by John Mackey to describe how businesses can bring consciousness to what they do and how they do it so that they become a force for collective good (to learn more in John’s own words, I suggest visiting his blog at www.wholefoodsmarket.com/blogs/jmackey or check out the Sounds True audio with John on “Passion and Purpose.”). At the conference, I learned that a business that is catalyzing conscious capitalism (what we could call a C3 business) has three pillars or anchoring principles:
• A C3 business has a clear purpose, which is its reason for being. This purpose forms the core identity of the business and is its offering to others.
• A C3 business honors all of the stakeholders of the company, which includes its customers, its employees, its investors, its suppliers, the community, and the greater environment. This is what John calls “the interdependent stakeholder model,” and it requires a view to making decisions that harmonize and balance the needs and interests of all parties that contribute to a company’s success.
• A C3 business is managed by conscious leadership, by leaders that focus on stewardship and facilitation not “command and control.”
John further makes the point that C3 businesses over the long-term are more profitable than comparison companies who do not employ these principles (and he offers statistics to back up this claim). The reason for this is quite simple – if you don’t honor all of the stakeholders in your business, at some point this will catch up to you and backfire in some way (your reputation with customers will suffer, it will be harder to attract star employees, the community will boycott your business, etc). In a nutshell, the case was clearly made at the conference that C3 businesses are the businesses of the future because they will be the companies that customers love to love, and as a result these businesses will thrive.
It was also exciting to see the investment community represented at the conference. Investors are also recognizing that this is not just a “feel good” approach to business. It is an approach that will generate the most long-term financial success.
I returned from the C3 conference about three weeks ago, and I have been letting the lessons of the conference sink in. Perhaps the most important lesson for me is that I am not alone in the business part of my life, not as “freaky” as I thought. And more importantly, I am probably not alone in any part of my life. That I need to “update my file”—as a friend who is a therapist once said—regarding beliefs I held as a child about other people and the world.
Over the past six weeks, I have been hosting the Mother Night online event with Clarissa Pinkola Estés (or CPE, as I call her). One of the most interesting things I have noted is how many Sounds True listeners have written in questions for CPE that say in essence, “I feel so alone. Where is my tribe?” We have literally received dozens of such questions. CPE’s response to listeners has been that the tribe you are seeking is right here in our shared experience, that the potential exists for us to find belonging when people connect with each other who hold dear similar ideas.
And over these past few weeks what I have been reflecting on is how each one of us is probably nowhere near as alone as we imagine ourselves to be. We may be pioneers. We may be being disruptive in our way and in our own spheres. But there is probably a huge yet-to-be-discovered network of people who are nursing similar ideas and ideals, working in their own way, waiting to be found. We may feel like we are crawling head down alone, but I am beginning to warm up to the notion that if we open our eyes and look up and out, we may very well find more brilliant and capable allies than we ever could have imagined.