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Business as war?


I just read this wonderful statement by Sam Keen about questions – “Your question is the quest you’re on. No questions — no journey. Timid questions — timid trips. Radical questions — an expedition to the root of your being. Bon voyage.”

That touches me deeply. Asking really good questions is very dear to me.

I looked Sam Keen up because I came across another quote from him “Business is just warfare in slow motion.” What an abomination. I was shocked to read this. But an abomination that I guess that many people, including myself, sign up to. Not always, and perhaps not consciously. But sometimes I do think in terms of “the competition”. How can we beat them? How can we outwit them?

Even if I am not the most outwardly agressive person, I admit I do sometimes think of business as war. Or at the very least, as a zero-sum game – where there must be a winner and a loser. I start to believe there isn’t enough to go around. I belittle and blame others for their own suffering – it must be their own fault they’re unable to find their way out of whatever problems they face. And, if I look inwardly, I am shocked to discover a core belief that others are somehow separate from me, disconnected, that we are not all part of a whole.

As Keen says elsewhere “we have to stop pretending that we can make a living at something that is trivial or destructive and still have sense of legitimate self-worth”. Destructive livings are bad for self-worth; they’re also bad for the world.

So what’s the alternative? There is a new world out there. It’s coming soon. A world where a different type of business exists. A world where co-operation and the win-win game are the only game in town. Where we all recognise that we are all connected, that we all share this one world.

How does business operate in that new world? For me, it’s beyond democracy. It’s even beyond caring. It’s about giving. And business is just a framework, a way of working, that gives real results to the people it serves. All of us.

Author: Pete Burden

New ways to organise and lead - for people with 'purpose' #leadership #inquiry #noticing #complexity #communication

4 thoughts on “Business as war?

  1. Yes, this ‘business as war’ is all very exciting for new boys joining a business career and it doesn’t take long for them to think that this is the normal and only way, even to the point of becoming ‘management consultants’ in their 20s, and going over the top to promulgate the fighting code.

    If we are to maintain and improve our quality of living in a world now rapidly depleting in natural resources, then I believe that business must adopt a less combatative stance. This competitive and ruthless mode of behaviour, appealing to an aggressive instinct, we could get away with when there was an abundance of resources and plenty of space to dump the waste, but today, it is just plain suicide for us all.

    I think the behaviour is wrong, not only in business, but also in society, when it is encouraged or allowed. Some people now are realising this and the debate and action on living a sustainable life is underway. But it is taking severe hardships by people for politicans and business managers to consider the time horizon past the next election or annual results.

    So, at the moment, people, business and society are seeing the harmful effects in:
    – Transport – higher fuel costs
    – Energy – higher oil, gas, and electricity prices
    – Food – higher food costs
    – Water – shortages
    – Manufacturing – higher raw material costs
    – Society – violent and disrespectful behaviour

    At first, business and society go for adjusting the current system, like grabbing new oil supplies, securing new energy deals, but it is not enough. A more radical approach is called for, that will change the system of doing business, change the expectations of people who buy products and change the way society lives.

    To do this, it would help to first look at what is wrong with the underlying principles and beliefs of the current business system. For instance, if we look at ‘Time’, according to Jay Griffiths in her excellent book, ‘Pip Pip – A sideways look at time’, she says that “modernity plunders more than nature can renew, pollutes faster than nature can clean, its pace is far outstripping nature’s speed.” According to Griffiths “‘Industrial progress’ has always meant a rejection of place and of land, and its cruellest effects have been on nature.”

    Other principles or bedrock of the industrial world we need to reappraise as well include: ‘consumer-driven society; responsibility in society; respect for people, society and nature. Then if we adjust these to fit today’s situation, then changes can be made in business ethic and method as well as the market which uses their products. And the most appropriate business method will I’m sure be less combatative and competitive and it should be guided by a strong desire to serve a sustainable lifestyle.

    I think the stage we are at now, is demonstrating a sustainable society in pockets by adjusting business methods and market wants.

    There is no room for fighting.

  2. Hi Duncan

    Griffith’s book sounds great – what’s the solution n her view? Is it to slow down a bit? I sometimes think that is the solution to nearly everything.


  3. Pete, it is a superb book, Jay Griffiths is a great young writer, not only for the content, but for her command and love of the English language that comes alive in her writing.

    One of main points she makes and illustrates is that there were and still remains many types of Time, which are embedded in nature and different cultures. There are still some left despite the takeover and destruction of these by modern culture’s insistence of Clock Time. This Western model of time is disembedded from nature and its processes. Griffith shows how through history this action has been a powerful destructive force that has helped to separate us from our natural rhythms as part of a wider context of the nature of the world and our own humanity.

    She is implying that if we took more of a lead from nature’s rhythms again we would be less alienated and less destructive to one another and to nature.

    The historical perspective she gives is a sad and terrifying story of our own short sightedness, now accelerating through an industrial and technological model of the world, where man is seen as conquering all before it – even itself!

    One thing she has stirred in me, which surprised me, was how powerful and crucial language is in our fight to retain our natural humanity.

    She draws a comparison with the trend today to move to the dominant language in the world – a business/computing-English as opposed to the many natural languages and their rich dialogues.

    She says, “Natural languages have an intrinsic lifefulness because they have a time-resonance, but Business/Computer-English is hyperdead because it has never lived – it is an artificial intercourse”

    “Some say that 90% of today’s 6,000 languages will be doomed within a century.”

    “When modernist ‘progress’ destroys landscape, it destroys language as directly as felling trees: to silence the birds is to silence a part of human language and to render a species extinct is to make a simile die.”

    “And within one language, dialects are lost, so the bird known as the yaffle, or rainbird in Cheshire, the heigh-ho in the South of England, the stockeagle in Mid-Wales, and the popinjay in the Middle Ages, is increasingly only known as the green woodpecker now, the varied words become rare.”

    She is exhilarating in the way she gets her teeth into this destruction of our “linguistic biodiversity and loss of untold ways of thinking and varieties of thought.”

    I can also highly recommend her later book, “Wild, an elemental journey”.


  4. Pingback: The language of business |

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