As I begin the launch of the Enlightened Enterprise Academy, I think it is necessary to explain what I mean by the words: enlightened, enterprise, and academy.
Let me deal with them in reverse order since academy is the easiest to define. It can be traced back to the name of Plato's school of philosophy, Akademia established c.385 BC at a sanctuary of Athena, goddess of wisdom and skill whom the city of Athens is named after. In modern use the word usually refers to bodies for scientists, artists, thinkers and, or, writers involved in research, lectures, and discussion.
The word enterprise is often used interchangeably with the word business and is linked with the activity of the person we call an entrepreneur. I use the word in a broader sense to describe the purposeful activity of a person or organisation of any type and in any sector, to achieve an objective.
The most challenging of the three words to define is the word enlightened. It has several meanings. The two most common are the spiritual meaning and the meaning associated with the Age of Enlightenment.
The latter, also known as the Age of Reason or just The Enlightenment, refers to a 17th and 18th Century intellectual and philosophical movement characterised by rational and scientific thinking and criticism of religious orthodoxy. And in a spiritual sense if refers to insight, awakening to, or being conscious of, the true nature of reality. It may also mean being in full comprehension of a situation.
In my use of the term enlightenment I wish to suggest enlightened enterprises are conscious of the true nature of the purpose of enterprise – their contribution to sustainable widely shared prosperity defined as human flourishing and wellbeing. And that they focus their thinking on ways to achieve that. And they avoid the pursuit of short-term goals that often prevent achievement of the real goal.
These points can be illustrated by referring to the soon to be published book When More is Not Better: Overcoming an Obsession with Economic Efficiency, by Roger L. Martin which I recently reviewed.
The book offers enlightened thinking because it recognises the true nature of an enterprise is not reflected in the analogy that compares it to a machine. This mechanistic system view of enterprise has dominated management theory and practice since the days of the industrial revolution, and still does. Martin suggests it is in fact a natural system and a social system. This consciousness, that the orthodox way of thinking is incorrect, is enlightened.
In my own writing I have suggested that enlightened enterprises recognise sustainable success is only possible if it is values-led, if values determine what value it creates, for who, and how. And the Value Scheme it establishes must deliver value to all those upon whom it depends to achieve its objectives: customers, employees, shareholders, and others, including society.
The value offered to society is a contribution to sustainable widely shared prosperity – human flourishing and wellbeing. And I suggest in designing its Value Scheme it may be wise to explicitly recognise how this contribution fulfils the social contract obligations of the enterprise.
This whole approach I call Valueism, a form of enlightened enterprise. It recognises the true nature of the relationship between an enterprise, society, and those it depends on to achieve success. Martin Wolf, Chief Economics Correspondent at the Financial Times said he believes what I am describing amounts to “an evolution of capitalism”. This is exactly what I hope it will be.
The Enlightened Enterprise Academy will be a way to share all the ideas that point to a more enlightened view of enterprise and how to achieve it. The ideas will come from all corners of the world and from any discipline – extending far beyond those usually found in traditional business schools. Examples include Leading with Dignity, Leading by Coaching, Civil Economics, Humanistic Management, Value Sensitive Design, Critical Systems Thinking, and the like.
We know the Millennium Development Goals were not achieved. We know the Sustainable Development Goals that replaced them will not be achieved either. It is also abundantly clear governments and intragovernmental institutions are incapable of dealing with the global challenges we face – climate change, terrorism, mass-migration, international conflicts etc. More importantly, their capacity to address these challenges continues to erode, not strengthening.
Bad enterprise makes problems worse and takes us further ways from the goal of sustainable widely shared prosperity as I have defined it. But Enlightened Enterprise can do the opposite, restore public trust and confidence in business and the other institutions we depend on to organise society for our collective benefit, the common good. That is true of all types of enterprise in the private sector, in healthcare, education, law, finance, transport, food production, energy etc.
If you support the view that the purpose of any enterprise, in any sector, should be focused on the creation of contributions to the sustainable widely shared prosperity of society, measured in terms of human flourishing and wellbeing, why not help us develop the Enlightened Enterprise Academy? We will soon announce the many ways you can help us realise the vision. In the meantime, check-out www.enlightenedenterprise.ac and subscribe for the newsletter.