Here’s a review I wrote for Amazon. I think I could probably write several reviews of this book – there’s such a lot in it. But here is a snapshot:
This is a great book.
I must declare a bias: I am a real fan of the ideas presented here, and I have met one of the authors.
But trying to put that to one side, I still think it is a great book.
It is very thorough, very complete, and like my colleague Will McInnes’ book Culture Shock: A Handbook For 21st Century Business it is full of practical advice and suggestions on building a different type of business.
It is clearly written, full of good stories and quotes. It also seems to include a good measure of honesty – as when John Mackey describes the problems he had with the SEC.
It is ideological, yes, but I think that is what we need right now. There’s a lot of talk in business about disruption, and how business should respond, but this book sets out the beginnings of an intellectual and emotional framework for business in the 21st century.
Umair Haque’s Betterness: Economics for Humans (Kindle Single) also comes to mind.
After an introduction, which aims to reset the narrative of business, the book is broken into several sections on making practical changes to the way a business works:
– Higher Purpose
– Stakeholder Integration
– Conscious Leadership
– Conscious Culture and Management
The book pulls together a lot of thinking from a range of very diverse sources. That is the whole point I suppose: to bring topics such as economics, sustainability, business management, psychology and systems thinking together. Indeed, the authors aren’t afraid to mix words like love and care in with the kind of terminology (innovation, collaboration, decentralisation) you will read in many modern books on business management.
There are lots of practical examples and stories from Whole Foods Market. That company is obviously better known in the US than the UK, and there is a notable lack of any European examples (John Lewis, the Co-op, Cadburys etc). But as founder and CEO, John Mackey has been through most of the major decisions that need to be made in setting up and growing a large, listed company.
Once or twice I had a bit of a sharp intake of breath.
The term “free-enterprise capitalism” personally reminds me of “free market capitalism”, in the style of Reagan and Thatcher. Something to which I have an instinctive and somewhat negative reaction. But, after a moment, I reminded myself to suspend a little, remember that I am not an economic theorist or expert, and read on.
And their real point is that capitalism generally has given itself a very bad name with the people who should be supporting it – those of us who believe in freedom for individuals and also in sharing, giving etc.
The other slight intake of breath came when Margaret Thatcher is listed amongst a list of leaders with high integrity, including Gandhi and other personal heroes. Again personally, I found this hard to take.
But again the truth is this is probably more about my biases and prejudices than anything else. And a good book, I believe, should challenge one’s thinking, not just confirm one’s prejudices. I resolved to dig out a biography and do some deeper research.
The book ends with sections on starting a conscious business, and transforming to become one.
An appendix covers the business case for Conscious Capitalism – including reference to Raj Sisodia’s work on Firms of Endearment and a comparison with the “Good to Great” companies. This, in my view, is a very strong and compelling financial case.
Another appendix gives a very useful list of similar, related approaches (such as sustainable business, B-corporations etc), and explains why conscious capitalism is different.
In a final section, which contains a call to action, I was pleased to see a reference to Tom Paine, author of Common Sense and the Rights of Man. These, at the time, were seditionary works. They stirred people up.
This book is similar – some will hate it, but the mixture of emotion and intellect is powerful. Which is important, because, as the authors say, there’s no time to waste.
Overall, this is a manifesto for a new type of business. Or, if you simply want to find out what Conscious Capitalism and Conscious Business are all about, this is a great starting point.
It is a big book as well as a great book. It will take you a while to read. But in my view it is really worth the effort.