We are in the middle of a business revolution. There is a deep dissatisfaction growing within people that is leading to a need for businesses to transform themselves. People no longer are interested in a business that simply provides products and services for them. They want a deep, committed, and compassionate relationship with them - a meaningful relationship - and they want this meaningful relationship to address the deep, foundational, need for growth & wholeness, the creative drive, within them.
Reflection on growth and wholeness as the ultimate purpose, or goals, of humanity can be traced back to Aristotle (eudaimonia), but it has had many modern day advocates focus extensively on it as well. Maslow and Jung, major psychologists of the 20th century, both recognized in their patients that they were happiest when satiating their drives, their needs, for growth and wholeness. Jung called the attainment of wholeness as self-individuation, and Maslow referred the attainment of the need for growth as self-actualization.
Self-actualization, in a nutshell, is about challenging ourselves every day to become the master of our weaknesses, further our mastery of our strengths, and, ultimately, master our lives. As people begin to experience increased development towards self-actualization, they often experience happiness and fulfillment. They realize that the journey they are experiencing is the purpose of their lives. Self-actualization is a journey and a destination.
Self-individuation is about recognizing the opposite and conflicting inner and outer values, beliefs, and emotions each of us must navigate every day and integrating them in a fashion that limits that conflict and brings them into harmony with each other. Similar to self-actualization, self-individuation is a life-long process that each of us must actively pursue. It, too, is a journey and a destination.
Business today is far too focused on meeting people’s superficial needs without focusing on their foundational need, their creative need, for growth and wholeness. At best, today’s businesses make life a little more tolerable. At its worst, businesses make life far less fulfilling and actually contribute to the unhappiness of millions of people.
For someone to grow and become whole, they need careful, quiet, and studied self-reflection that goes to the core of their being. It can be a painful process that requires focus, humility, perseverance and a steady hand.
How often do our products help this? Help people challenge themselves? Help them find their inner selves by providing them with focus? Encourage their discipline and perseverance?
In my opinion, the answer is rarely, if ever. In fact, most products and services, unfortunately, do the opposite. They pull people into ever larger fantasy worlds, filled with distractions, delusions, and a need for speed. Our world no longer understands what the words slow, focus, steady, or deep are about and that lack of depth is often propelled by businesses in the name of ever greater profits.
The industrial and information revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries have helped humanity discover the dizzying heights of the highest peaks. How can a 21st century creative revolution help it rediscover its roots?
Other businessmen and women have often said to me that business only provides what people ask for. If people ask for distractions from their busy worlds, want poor nutrition, and want to spend money on disposable, environmentally destructive products, what’s one to do? We all have to make a profit to survive, right? To them I say bullshit.
People expect businesses to act humanely, provide leadership to their communities and do the right thing for them. At one time in history, businesses were not so disconnected from the people they served. Think of the small town grocery store, town doctor and tavern. All of these businesses knew each other and their customers intimately; they supported each other, cared about each other and depended on one another for their survival. They did not treat each other like dollars walking about, nor did they treat them like machines. They treated each other like fellow human beings, showing them empathy and compassion.
Our businesses, in my opinion, must transform themselves into a modern day version of this historical model. As Edgar Schein has pointed out, cultural transformations such as these begin with leaders. A creative business will need creative leaders; leaders who embrace and live the values of authenticity, empathy, and growth. Leaders not only focused on helping their customers grow and feel whole themselves, but also the very world around them.
The creative business will also need to transform the way it strategically approaches it’s products and services. Gone will be the days of asking our customers to come to us. The empathetic, authentic, and growth focused business will always go to it’s customer; always offering a hand when needed, yet never taking advantage of it’s access.
We are at tipping point; a tipping point with a critical choice. We can continue, as leaders, to decide to utilize the technologies used to create our new and ever connected world for distracting, controlling, and limiting our humanity or we can use those technologies to connect, enhance, and help our humanity flourish. I deeply hope our choice is for the latter.