This is the second installment of World Spirituality Unplugged, a regular new column on this website which will feature highlights from the Center for World Spirituality’s substantial audio and video archives. The audio clip posted here (less than 10 minutes) is an excerpt from a 2010 dialogue between John Mackey and Marc Gafni, originally recorded for the Future of Love Teleseries, an online event co-sponsored by CWS.
Marc Gafni, as you are well aware, is the Director and Scholar-in-Residence for the Center. John Mackey is the Chairman and CEO of a $4 billion Fortune 500 company. Mackey was named the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur Of The Year in 2003. John is a strong believer in FLOW principles, including free market principles and empowerment management. He is also one of the most influential advocates in the movement for organic food. Whole Foods was the first grocery chain to set standards for humane animal treatment.
Marc: Let’s jump into conscious capitalism. My job here on this call is not to be in the Oxford philosopher or spiritual teacher mode which I’m in at other times, but to make sure that the beautiful things we’re saying don’t get lost. You’re involved in the conscious capitalism movement. These two words don’t often appear together. By putting these two words in a phrase together, you’re overcoming a polarity. Conscious capitalism: what’s that?
John: It’s exactly what I’ve been talking about. First of all, let me make a distinction between conscious capitalism and conscious business. Conscious capitalism is about becoming more aware of the elements that make up capitalism in a way that is performed in an ethical way: free trade, freedom of exchange, property rights, those types of underlying economic truths that undergird capitalism. Conscious business is what we mostly talk about: that is, business that (a) is in touch with its higher or deeper purpose beyond making money and profits (not that there’s anything wrong with those; that’s just a very narrow definition of business).
The second principle is the stakeholder philosophy, understanding that you have stakeholders, investors, communities, and the larger environment that are all dependent on one another. In a conscious business, you become aware of those relationships, and manage value for all of them, not just one in particular. Thirdly, you have leadership that is not just in it for themselves, but is conscious. Fourth, you create a culture in the business or organization that reflects the purpose. You set up strategies, structures, and processes that reinforce the purpose, and reinforce the stakeholder philosopher and helps produce conscious leaders. That’s it in its most abstract and succinct expression.
Marc: John just laid out four very clear directions. Let’s start with number one. John starts with “conscious business is to be in touch with its higher purpose.” We’re used to hearing about purpose in the general religious community. There’s Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life book from a fundamentalist Christian perspective. From an integral perspective, we’ve been talking about living your Unique Self. You’re suggesting that business has a higher purpose beyond just being solvent, creating economic value… and to say clearly to everyone that economic value is a big deal. Human dignity is linked up with having your survival needs met. As Maslow pointed out, if your survival needs aren’t met, there’s nothing to do in higher consciousness. Let’s establish as a given that that’s a great good: for a business to remain solvent, pay its employees, and create value. But you’re talking about being in touch with its higher purpose beyond its bottom line. What does it mean for a business to create that?
John: Think about the not-for-profit sector of our society. We come to understand that those organizations are created primarily to make money, but also for some deeper higher purpose. And we understand that in some professions, doctors’ higher purpose would be to heal sick people, teachers’ purpose is to educate people. It’s funny we think of business as somehow less than fully human. as being simply a money machine. It’s ultimately disrespectful.
Marc: It’s not loving. It’s not even accurate.
John: I wouldn’t pretend to say what any other business’s deeper or higher purpose is. That has to be discovered or created by the creators or leaders or stakeholders of that business. I can say Whole Foods is continuing to discover its deeper or highest purpose. In our case, it’s selling the highest quality natural and organic foods in the world, helping people to reach their highest potentiality through healthy eating education. I can talk about our team members being self-actualized, reaching their highest potential as human beings. I can talk about our commitment to our communities. It’s getting in touch with all of that. If we try to get to the deepest levels, we get into almost Platonic ideals of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. The Heroic. Just as an individual has to discover what it’s highest purpose is, a business is a collection of individuals working together, usually in pursuit of some higher and deeper purpose. They’re on a journey together. It can be great fun.
And so I do think that purpose energizes people. You get the highest human potential flourishes best in organizations that are activated by purpose. it has to be authentic, it has to be genuine purpose. But when it’s there, better human flourishing occurs. To create 21st century organizations that humans flourish in in business, it’s essential that businesses become more conscious of what their purpose is, what they’re trying to do in the world, and they should look to the not-for-profit sector in this regard. The not-for-profit sector is more in touch with purpose than business is, as a general rule. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Marc: That’s just a nuanced and such a helpful and great response. Thank you for that. I just want to make a Whole Foods comment as a man from the street. We’ve been working on this Unique Self idea, which is our revisioning of the next step of human development. I don’t like to write from home. I’ve always historically written in cafes. I used to write in cafes in Jerusalem. In Utah, I couldn’t find a place to write where the writing was flowing. So I went to Whole Foods. Whatever reason, sitting in the place I was in, something felt right in the store. I’m a mystic scholar activist, so I actually get to talk about subtle energy. It’s a real thing. Something felt right in the store. I actually wrote most of the Unique Self book in Whole Foods. I felt good not just because people smiled. There’s something in the root of Whole Foods which is about this higher purpose in all the ways you expressed it. You can feel it in the store. That’s a gorgeous thing. Thank you for creating that kind of context.
Listen to this dialogue:
This excerpt follows Part 1.