Conscious Capitalism: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: February 14th, 2013 by bobmorris

Conscious CapitalismConscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business 
John Mackey and Raj Sisodia
Harvard Business Review Press (2013)

Why John Mackey and Raj Sisodia are convinced that “Conscious Capitalism will become a dominant paradigm for how to do business”

In this book, John Mackey and Raj Sisodia make a number of affirmations with which I wholly agree. For example of what they characterize as “Conscious Capitalism”: for profit business initiatives “galvanized by higher purposes that serve and align the interests of all major stakeholders; businesses with conscious leaders who exist in service to the company’s purpose, the people it touches, and the planet” and which conduct business “with resilient, caring cultures that make working there a source of great joy and fulfillment.”

Presumably they agree with me that it is no coincidence that, each year, most of the companies ranked by Fortune magazine among the most highly admired and best to work for are also ranked among those most profitable and having the greatest cap value in their respective industry segments.

I also agree with Mackey and Sisodia concerning the process (the “HOW”) by which business leadership at all levels and in all areas (including but by no means limited to the C-suite) can “liberate the heroic spirit of business.” As they explain, “the sad reality is that for too long, business [and its leaders] has been stuck in a defensive and reactive posture. Entrepreneurs and businesspeople are the heroes of our modern world, yet they have been caricatured as heartless and soulless mercenaries.” That’s true but what is much more significant, in my opinion, is the fact that business leaders are only now beginning to understand and appreciate the importance of getting the values, hopes, dreams, and goals of workers in proper alignment with those of the given enterprise. To a significant extent, in recent decades, it has been the spirit of the workers that has needed liberation. Only then can the aforementioned “higher purposes” be served.

Mackey and Sisodia make brilliant use of several reader-friendly devices that will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key material later. For example, “Tables” and “Figures” that concisely present key data and several dozen mini-case commentaries that enrich and illuminate their narrative. They include those that focus on Whole Foods Market’ stakeholder independence model, The Container Store’s “heroic selling” philosophy, the Tata Group’s rapid and appropriate response to crises, Pedigree’s positioning as “the dog-loving company,” HCL’s self-reinvention, and four “environmental success stories” (3M, UPS, POSCO, and Walmart). Yes, these are large organizations but the lessons to be learned from them are relevant to almost any organization, whatever its size and nature may be.

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the range of subjects covered during the course of the book’s narrative:

o Why Capitalism Is Under Attack (Pages 15-21)
o A New Chapter in Human History (26-30)
o The Tenets of Conscious Capitalism (32-35)
o Great Companies Have Great Purposes (59-64)
o Leading and Educating Customers, and, Customer-Focused Innovation (77-80)
o Rediscovering the Higher Purpose of Capital (99-100)
o Businesses as Citizens (125-130)
o Whole Foods Market and the Environment (143-146)
o Competitors [Viewed as Stakeholders] (154-155)
o Types of Intelligence, Servant Leadership, and Integrity: The Synthesis of the Virtues (184-188)
o  Qualities of Conscious Cultures: TACTILE (218-225)
o Starting a Conscious Business, Transforming to a Conscious Business, and Reinventing HCL (251-261)
o [Mackey and Sisodia’s] Shared Dream (266-267)
o Liberating Our Heroic Spirit (270-271)
o Natural Capitalism (291-292)

I realize that no brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the scope of material that John Mackey Raj Sisodia provide in this volume but I hope that I have at least suggested why I think so highly of it. Also, I hope that those who read this commentary will be better prepared to determine whether or not they wish to read the book and, in that event, will have at least some idea of how the mastery of specific skills and techniques can prepare them to help liberate “the heroic spirit of business,” principled-driven capitalism, at a time when it is most needed in what has become a global marketplace.

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