It seems especially important to focus on conscious capitalism lately. So I welcomed the chance to discuss it with corporate veteran and consultant Shawn Vij, author of Moral Fiber: Awakening Corporate Consciousness. I reviewed Vij’s book for this site. And while it may be unusual for a business book to have a foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in this case it makes perfect sense. Read my interview with Vij and you’ll see why.
Moral Fiber is such a relevant book for this day and age. What prompted you to write it?
After meeting the Dalai Lama, I realized that we all suffer, but we can reduce it by returning to our core values like respect, compassion, and integrity, and then acting on them. Since acting on my values, I have watched my life in corporate America improve exponentially — I am healthier, happier, more productive, more efficient and more successful.
I figured that if my life could drastically change just by knowing and acting on my values, then perhaps other men and women could transform their lives too.
You’ve been in the corporate sector for a long time. Do you think corporations have lost their soul?
I am a strong believer that people are the soul of a company. What they value defines what the company values. If employees give into excessive greed, anger and ignorance, if they engage in what I call the four diseases (4Ds), yes, a company has lost its soul.
While we all hear of reports of companies where it’s clear the leaders and board members are driven solely by profit, there are many leaders and board directors who are working hard to balance capitalism with compassion.
What do you mean by “corporate consciousness?” Is it even possible for a multinational mega-company to have a consciousness?
Corporate consciousness is employees and leaders knowing and acting on their values instead of giving into greed, anger, or ignorance.
Yes, it is possible for a multinational company to have consciousness, because more leaders recognize they can succeed while simultaneously being true to their values, and treating their people with respect, loyalty, and compassion. Corporate consciousness is the understanding that capitalism can coexist with compassion.
Why is the pure profit motive not enough to ensure a company’s longterm survival or growth?
It leads to failure. As former Enron VP Sherron Watkins (whistle-blower) said, “In order to flourish, a successful capitalist system – really any system, be it education, medicine, business, or government – must be predicated on fairness, honesty, and integrity.”
Companies will also see—and are already seeing—that demographics are making it impossible to have a laser focus on profits. Millennials are entering the workforce and demanding their companies care about more than just profits—these men and women want the companies they work for and buy from to have a purpose, to place the well-being of people (employees and communities) before profits, and to make positive contributions to society at large.
By 2020, one in three Americans will be a millennial, and it’s estimated by 2025, millennials will make up as much as 75 percent of the workforce. If companies want to attract top talent and create loyal customers, then leaders have to show the company is motivated by more than just profits.
Can you talk about the 4D’s — the four diseases that plague companies today, and what can be done to cure them?
Deception is the act of deceiving; making someone believe something that is not true.
Detraction is the act of disparaging; belittling the reputation or worth of a person.
Discrimination is the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people.
Doubt is a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction.
These are the four behavioral diseases that manifest in the office when people act from the three poisons of anger, greed and ignorance.
Companies can’t change, it’s the people who make up the companies who will have to change individually, including leaders, managers, and other people in positions of power.
The cure demands courage from each of us. It requires having no fear telling colleagues if they have acted wrongly in a respectful and balanced way. Be honest, direct and real time in giving feedback, and always stay calm. Fearlessness does not come from our values preaching to us but rather, from strengthening our moral fiber by knowing and acting on our values.
Can you name some corporations and leaders that are showing true moral fiber today?
The conscious capitalism movement (companies that aspire to true moral fiber) is about more than taking care of shareholders; it’s about taking care of all stakeholders including investors, workers, customers, and others. The movement boasts members like Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, Patagonia, Southwest Airlines, Google, the Container Store, Whole Foods Market and Nordstrom. These companies and leaders have signed on to the notion that business is about more than making a profit. Granted, there will always be pockets of toxicity at every company, but these companies are an example that compassion and capitalism can coexist.
What advice would you give a small start-up trying to compete with giant corporations? Should they be trying to make a difference, or just get ahead and then make a difference?
Even a small startup can make a difference when its founders and leaders make acting on their values a priority. I believe millennial and successful entrepreneur Miki Agarwal said it best: “I think all businesses will have to be conscious businesses. I just joined the Conscious Capitalism board as one of 18 members. The whole idea is that business will elevate humanity – not philanthropy, not charity, not corporate social responsibility, but conscious business.”
To learn more about Shawn Vij and his book, Moral Fiber, visit the author’s website.