Oxymoron or Future Reality?


Conscious Capitalism in the Age of Transcendence

by Don Piper


Editor's Note: This article represents the first of a series on Conscious Capitalism as the Observer presents investigative reports with potential "SOUL-utions" for societal transformation as part of its mission to uphold responsible public service journalism for the common good.

Published January 23, 2009


What is this “New Economy?” 


Much of the world is experiencing a war economy (at least from a Western perspective).  For some it might more accurately be described as the industrial, information, cyber, services or Internet economy. 


These days you hear more and more talking heads going on about the “Global Economy,” recession, market adjustments and even depression. Aren’t we all tied together in some way, regardless of how you slice it? If really understanding even one segment of the Global Economy well enough to predict the future for that segment seems beyond our reach, attempting to foretell the future for the planetary whole is a pipedream.


Perhaps we should take a look at the “Old Economy” first, as if anyone really knew what was going on before all this hit the fan. What was the “Old Economy” anyway − a big misunderstanding?  


According to investopedia.com, “Old Economy” refers to old blue-chip industries (such as the automotive industry) that enjoyed fabulous growth during the early parts of the century as industrialization around the globe, and particularly in the United States, expanded.


It’s clear that U.S. automobile manufactures (and most other blue chip segments for that matter) didn’t grasp this “New Economy” quickly enough. That doesn’t stop our major networks from pontificating with ingenious pomp and circumstance about how these companies should adapt. Looking at any of these companies/segments in isolation misses the main point.


While there are corners of the world that have been impacted little by Washington and the West (mostly for the better, one might hope), in a grander sense, we are all connected (at least to Kevin Bacon within 6 degrees).


How can anyone even remotely aware of what’s going on these days deny global changes in the ecosystem, in the economy and in human consciousness as well? What is going on these days?


Most of the world seems to be in some sort of economic stupor in reaction to the recent financial meltdown.


Defining the “New Economy”

The venerable Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation (“The Foundation for Entrepreneurship”) published its latest report on “The State of the New Economy” just last month. The report states:


“The principal driver of the New Economy, according to the Index, is the information technology revolution that, since the mid-1990s, has driven increased productivity and transformed virtually all industries.” 


True, but incomplete; it seems they’ve missed the point too. What they describe seems more like the old “New Economy.” Perhaps we should be talking about the New “New Economy.” 


Wikipedia’s take on this reads:


“The New Economy was an evolution of developed countries from an industrial/manufacturing-based wealth-producing economy into a service sector asset based economy from globalization and currency manipulation by governments and their central banks.” 


OK, we’re still missing something.


In MegaTrends 2010, The Rise of Conscious Capitalism (World Future Society, 2006), author Patricia Aburdene forecasts that three of the top seven megatrends unfolding right now are related to:

1. Spirituality

2. Conscious Capitalism 

3. Spirituality in Business


Aburdene is onto something. Although it seems natural for folks here in Sedona to incorporate spirituality and consciousness into everyday conversations, who would have imagined how many others are “out there” with us?  And there is a large and growing group of concerned leaders who are beginning to see the light. 


Whole Foods, Timberland, Patagonia, Costco and even Starbucks are frequently cited as establishing a higher ground when it comes to conscious management. Sisoda, Wolfe and Sheth talk about these companies and describe this period as “The Age of Transcendence” in their recent tome, Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose (Wharton School Publishing, 2006).  


The Encarta Dictionary defines transcendence, “to go beyond a limit or range, e.g. of thought or belief.”  Now that’s what we’re talking about.


Conscious Capitalism

Aburdene drops this compelling tidbit in her introduction:


“Conscious Capitalism isn’t altruism; it relies instead on the wisdom of enlightened self-interest.”


If the enlightened part is about an understanding that we are all connected – that our actions do impact others sometimes all the way around the world – then we’re on the same page.


How many of us came here with the hope of raising our frequency; perhaps, even with thoughts of raising the frequency of the planet? Aburdene suggests that conscious capitalism is the way to lift the frequency of free enterprise:


“The doctrine of Conscious Capitalism holds that business bears moral and ethical responsibilities beyond short-term profit and maximum shareholder return. Equally important, it lifts the frequency of the free enterprise from self-interest to the higher octave of enlightened self-interest.”  


Could it be that the world really IS waking up? Are we finally connecting to our enlightened whole self-interest? Who would have thought capitalism would be the path to raising consciousness? And just in time for the 2012 pre-game party! What a wonderful world it would be; in fact, it already is!


Some would suggest that just because we are sharing this thought (wonderful world), on some level it is being manifested. Now, how do we all (or at least a critical mass) get to that point and stay there?  


Many of us are attempting to reframe our thought forms from the negative thinking patterns that dominate much of our Western (more, better, different) culture to a more sustainable (people, planet, profit AND Spirit) system.


Many of us are also having more regular conversations with the likes of Joe Plumber about sustainability, growing our own food and clean water sources. Why are so many of us talking about this as if our survival depends on it? Perhaps, it is because it does. Aburdene posits that (p.176):


“The spiritual transformation of capitalism is the shift:

  • from greed to enlightened self interest;
  • from elitism to economic democracy; and
  • from the fundamentalist doctrine of ‘profit at any cost’ to the conscious ideology that espouses both money and morals.” 

Imagine throngs of NYSE floor traders gazing up at overhead screens looking for stock quotes and, instead reading the above quote, scratching their collective head and wondering: “Where did that come from?”



It came from us…


“…the ‘ordinary’ managers, visionary entrepreneurs, socially responsible investors, spiritual CEOs, shareholder activists, corporate meditation teachers, executive coaches, transformation-based consultants, corporate activists, Cultural Creatives, Conscious Consumers, business chaplains, yoga instructors, inspiring team leaders, conscious executives, fire-walking saleswomen, forgiveness-trained brokers, heart-full HR honchos...” 


Seventy million of us …


“are transforming capitalism, one conscious action at a time.”

What to do next?

But what are we doing exactly and how are we doing it? What else can we do to further the cause, should we decide to support this transformation? Aburdene prescribes the following 10 actions, among others (p.177):


  • Melt the fire wall between personal and organizational Spirit
  • Invest in socially responsible companies
  • Lobby your company pension fund
  • Take your values shopping
  • Become a shareholder activist
  • Get informed
  • Lead your colleagues
  • Embody your values
  • Convene Sacred Space (within company walls at a yoga class or brown bag…)
  • Find your soul mates


So who might we know locally that exemplifies these actions? 


I’ve only been living in Sedona for four months, but already I’ve seen dramatic efforts by a number of organizations to walk this talk, including the Sustainable Economic Development Initiative, Sustainable Arizona, Gardens for Humanity and the World Survival Foundation, to mention just a few.


Want to be part of this movement? Start with one transaction at a time. 


The next time you go to the store (first of all consider the store you are going to and if it reflects the above values) and think about the products you are buying. If you have a choice among similar product offerings, choose the one that seems most conscious.


In other words, most conscious by its packaging (is it recycled? has it been minimized? what is the carbon footprint?); by the company’s positioning (does it take a stand on the environment? social justice? consciousness?); by the ingredients (does it use highly processed chemicals and dyes, known carcinogens like aspartame, or other harmful ingredients?); and by how the company treats its suppliers, employees and customers (do they practice fair trade, contribute to their local communities or reward employees for volunteering?). 


Don’t be deceived by the massive “Green" washing campaigns created by Madison Avenue that have little to do with helping people or the planet (none the less consciousness). Instead they are carefully crafted to seduce the unsuspecting consumer into their illusion, without really helping anything but their bottom line (even that may be suspect). 


It is our time. This is our place. We are creating the future now by the level of consciousness we invoke in everyday activities including (especially) commerce.


So, in a real sense, the new economy is in our hands not just as consumers (to once again bail out the government and the old economy blue-chip industries), but as conscious contributors who are committed to aligning what we know to be right with what the world is attempting to feed us. 


This means we must be alert (i.e., conscious) at all times, in all situations and, most importantly, where we work and how we spend our hard earned pesos. 


Connecting disparate parts

In a fully actualized world, one might imagine that we have somehow interwoven our work, family and free time into one perfect continuum or, according to the experts at rightlivelihood.com, where one’s family and free time aren’t segregated from work but incorporated together into our life’s purpose. 


Is this even an option for most of us?


Here’s the paradox.The more conscious and self-actualized we become, the more we can influence others, partly because we are less dependent on (and at the same time more consciously connected to) the outside world. Less dependent in this sense does not necessarily mean more independent but more interdependent. 


Understanding how to connect the dots in a way that makes us all healthier, happier and sustainable seems to be the junction at which we are standing. And, enlightened self-interest is the answer if you believe Aburdene and others who have recognized the spirituality in business trend. 


Conscious Capitalism may be/already is the next “big thing” – so big, in fact, that it is changing the world in front of us right now (whether you believe it or not). However, if you choose to believe, we’ll all be one step closer to enjoying this “wonderful world” we envision.


Don Piper teaches the capstone course in Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Intrapreneurship at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, in Bainbridge Island, Washington – the first institution to offer a Green MBA degree program.  He has been recognized by Fortune Small Business and CNN/Money as one of the top Entrepreneurship Professors in America.  Don is currently working on sustainability projects with 50 Mile Farms and at Terrasante while residing in Sedona, Ariz., and seeking like-minded projects in the surrounding Verde Valley area.

E-mail him at don@myndzeye.com.





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