It’s a turbulent time in the world of business. Prestigious firms are under scrutiny for their practices, and corporate highfliers are going to court and sometimes to jail. Yet it’s a time when people are seeking ways to incorporate spiritual practices and moral values into their workaday lives.
The focus on spirituality has become so pervasive, says Patricia Aburdene, one of the foremost trend trackers in the United States, that it stands as “today’s greatest megatrend.”
Its impact on personal lives is spreading into institutions, and spirituality in business, she contends, is converging with other socioeconomic trends to foster a moral transformation in capitalism.
More businesses, for instance, are taking seriously their responsibility to communities as well as to shareholders. Millions of Americans are making choices in the marketplace as “values-driven consumers.” Many CEOs are repudiating the corporate myth of “lean and mean” and the “profits at all costs” path to prosperity.
In a poll of 25,000 people in 23 countries by the Conference Board, a marketplace research group, two-thirds said they want business to “expand beyond the traditional emphasis on profits and contribute to broader social objectives.”
Aburdene has a track record in deciphering the signs of significant long-term change. In the first Megatrends book more than 20 years ago, she and John Naisbitt described the birth of the “Information Economy,” an idea scoffed at by many. In another bestseller a decade later, they predicted a networked, technology-driven era.
In Megatrends 2010, Aburdene shares stories to show how transcendent values are beginning to reshape capitalism. In a recent interview, she discussed the prospects for a sea change in corporate life. Excerpts:
Question: You speak of social, economic and spiritual trends converging to foster a moral transformation of capitalism. Given recent scandals, why is such a rosy outlook justified?
Answer: Social transformation happens only when there is a combination of economic necessity and new values. We are exactly at that point now in society. The accounting scandals, the tech bubble, the market crash are compelling capitalism to take a look at itself.
There must also be a positive sense of new options, and those exist in the form of rising interest in spirituality in business, the dynamic growth of socially responsible investing, shareholder activism and the power of values-driven consumers in the marketplace.
Q: Many say they’ve felt a clash between their personal values and those of the corporate world. Is that changing?
A: There are two manifestations. People no longer want that spiritual part of themselves to be abandoned when they work and are searching for meaning and morals in the workplace. Corporate leaders now recognize that we live in a technologically based society where, in order to be consistently innovative, a corporation has to draw on the creativity of its employees.
Even the old-fashioned business types have to grudgingly agree that we find creativity, inspiration and innovation within, from that deep spiritual part of ourselves.
Q: What’s the most significant evidence that spirituality is a force in business today?
A: First, the trend is developing in businesses all across the country, not just in certain geographic areas. Second, many employees have long been interested in the moral aspects of business, but when you see large numbers of CEOs getting interested in spirituality, you can be sure its influence is accelerating. You have a diversity in approach: One CEO may start conference calls with prayer, for instance, while another may engage in meditation programs.
Q: What do you say to those who question the practicality of spirituality in the business world?
A: My answer is it’s very practical. Look at the parade of fallen corporate heroes who march across our TV screens. What was the reason for their downfall? A lack of self-mastery in their leadership. The quickest route to self-mastery is through personal, spiritual practice. This is what many leaders are learning.
Q: Some people will say, well, it’s good to help people feel better about their work, but business exists to make a profit and benefit shareholders.
A: That’s the old-fashioned definition of capitalism; economist Milton Friedman wrote that the social responsibility of capitalism is to increase shareholder profit. We’ve since faced the worst economic crisis since the Depression and begun to experience the consequences of a system that honored profits at all costs. The result of such a philosophy was trillions of dollars in shareholder value being lost.
Q: Can such businesses remain competitive and keep shareholders happy?
A: Shareholders might have cause to quibble if companies were losing money; in fact, the opposite is true. Studies show that corporate finances flourish when social responsibility and stakeholder concerns are taken into account.
The major social trends identified by Patricia Aburdene in her book Megatrends 2010 (Hampton Roads):
1. Power of spirituality.
2. Dawn of conscious capitalism.
3. Leading from middle management.
4. Spirituality in business.
5. Values-driven consumer.
6. Wave of conscious solutions.
7. Socially responsible investment boom.