published on Monday, May 17, 2004 in The Miami Herald
Some companies actually do the right thing.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi looks at companies with solid track records
of pleasing both shareholders and advocates of a more caring form
BY RICHARD PACHTER
Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
Penguin. 244 pages.
The dichotomy is real.
On one hand, business has gotten lean and mean: costs cut, suppliers
squeezed, employees seen as mere commodities.
On the other, people demand increased accountability, greater choices,
less artifice, more humanity
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor, author and business consultant,
examines these conflicts and contradictions in this interesting
and easily digested volume. He explores these issues and the back
story of how we got where we are and what it portends..
He writes: ``For the past century or so, business leaders have made
credible claims to the effect that allowing for the operation of
a free market, unfettered by social and political regulations, would
improve the quality of life for everyone. As a result, our mental
model of how the world works has become one in which production
and consumption, the twin poles of economics, are the benchmarks
of prosperity and well-being.
``Any fraction of a percent drop in consumption becomes a flag of
distress that sends investors scurrying for shelter. After the terrorist
attack of Sept. 11, 2001, one of the most often-heard responses
from political and business leaders was: `Go out, and buy. Don't
let the enemy threaten your way of life.'
``While this worldview offers an easy solution and is convenient
for those who benefit from it at the higher levels of the supply
hierarchy, is a way of life that has consumption as its highest
aim really that rewarding?
``Yet, however dispiriting the historical record may seem to be,
human nature is not, in fact, based on greed alone. In every historical
period, there have been individuals who care for more than their
own profit, who find fulfillment in dedicating themselves to the
advancement of the common good. The struggle between selfishness
and altruism has run throughout history like periods of sunlight
and shade on a summer afternoon.''
HUMANISM AND PROFIT
Csikszentmihalyi looks at several companies that have embraced more
humanistic and less mercenary paths -- without sacrificing profitability.
Patagonia, the maker of rugged apparel, began as an extension of
founder Yvon Chouinard's love of the outdoors and mountain climbing.
He developed equipment for himself that caught on among fellow climbers,
and the company took off.
But then, upon realizing that his innovative gear was responsible
for increasing the scarring and pitting of his beloved mountains,
he developed new techniques and equipment that left the land unharmed.
The company evolved into a manufacturer of outdoor clothing, and
Chouinard's high standards required his clothing to be the best
and toughest available. But when he realized that the cotton used
in its manufacture was grown with the aid of petroleum-based pesticides
that left polluted pools in the cotton fields, he spearheaded the
use of organically raised fibers.
The tale of Patagonia and Chouinard is one of several used by
Csikszentmihalyi to illustrate ''flow,'' defined in this case as
the natural integration of sound business practices with intelligent,
sensitive and sensible behavior.
CAUSE TO LOSE ONESELF
He also uses the term to define the state of being wherein one almost
loses oneself in the act of doing something.
Depending on individual values and experiences, each reader will
come away with something a little different from this book, underscoring
the author's notion of society .
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