Here Comes Conscious Capitalism (Part II)

Let’s focus on the word “Conscious” to continue our exploration of Conscious Capitalism.

My ego originally found the word vaguely threatening. It made me feel uncomfortable. Because I didn’t understand what it meant, my ignorance created resistance. I feared there was an implied value judgment directed at me. Did this mean that I was not conscious? Did this imply that there were others who were more conscious than me? Determining whether or not there was a “there” there in Conscious Capitalism required me to get comfortable with this word.

Although I felt like I had stumbled into my long-lost tribe at the first C3, the nomenclature and systems of thought that had influenced the leaders of Conscious Capitalism intimidated me. Two things inspired me to do the diligence about this group. The first was an intuitive feeling that these people were on to something big. The second were the stories that one successful founder CEO after another told about how they had built successful companies using the principles of Conscious Capitalism.

I borrowed a method from the venture capital industry to conduct my investigation. When I first started representing clean tech companies in 2002, there were only a couple of venture capital firms doing clean tech deals.  When clean technology emerged as an investment category, many venture capital firms assigned a partner to scout this unfamiliar terrain. It took 18 months to two years from the time a firm began scouting for it to get comfortable enough to make its first clean tech investment. I emulated this approach in investigating the world of Conscious Capitalism.

One of the organizers of C3, Jeff Klein, became my guide and accelerated my learning journey.  My intention with these columns is to guide you by providing with easy entry points into Conscious Capitalism so that you can do your homework and reach your own conclusions about whether or not this is something you want to pay attention to.

It was difficult to get comfortable using the word “conscious” in connection with capitalism. Conscious is related to consciousness, which has all sorts of spiritual overtones that also made me feel uncomfortable. I got comfortable by starting with a basic definition of conscious, which means being awake, aware and mindful. I got more comfortable when I realized that consciousness, which my Webster’s dictionary defines as “the state of being conscious”, is simply our basic tool for success and survival in life.

The term “Conscious Capitalism” correctly implies that such an approach to business requires business leaders who are as conscious as possible. In a business context, doing business consciously means being open to perceiving what is happening both internally within one’s business and externally within the ecosystem of its marketplace, and using the resulting perceptions to respond in ways that are in alignment with its purpose and values.  Since all of us are already conscious, what “Conscious Capitalism” implies is not a value judgment but an invitation to become more conscious. Capitalism is already conscious to some degree. Conscious Capitalism invites capitalism to become more conscious because the early evidence shows that cultivating consciousness increases the probability of success and survival, and, as shown in Firms of Endearment, is a better way of doing business. Simply put, the value proposition is that a more conscious business has a higher probability of success than one that is less conscious. Calling the movement “More Conscious Capitalism” might have felt less threatening to a neophyte like me but wasn’t nearly as catchy.

I suspect that many of you will also snag on the word ‘conscious’. Learning that business schools have begun to recognize that cultivating the development of higher states of consciousness is essential to the success of their graduates helped me get unstuck over nomenclature. For many years Columbia Business School offered a class entitled Creativity and Personal Mastery, which uses a focus on creativity and personal development as a secular and fun way to cultivate an understanding of consciousness. This course became so popular that students from Law, International and Public Affairs and other schools applied to attend. Other business schools like the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley and London Business School asked the professor, Srikumar Rao, to teach his course at their schools.

Professor Rao now offers the course privately in New York, London and San Francisco. His book, Are You Ready to Succeed: Unconventional Strategies for Achieving Personal Mastery in Business and Life, inspires the reader to become aware of his life purpose and provides a gentle and understated introduction to the development of human consciousness. Professor Rao has been a presenter at C3 and the annual Conference of Conscious Capitalism. If you want to expand your knowledge of consciousness, you can download the syllabus for his course as a pdf from his website. The syllabus contains an extensive, annotated reading list arranged topically with titles that will appeal to a wide range of readers.

Fred Kofman’s Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values is an also an excellent resource for business leaders to develop an understanding of consciousness on both an individual level and on a collective level within their businesses. Jeff Klein’s book, Working For Good: Making a Difference While Making a Living, is a guide to becoming a more conscious entrepreneur who addresses the needs of his business’ stakeholders while building a profitable business.

As we continue to explore Conscious Capitalism, try not to get derailed by the nomenclature and terms like “conscious’. You’ll find that organizations like the Integral Institute that are making significant contributions to evolutionary forms of capitalism use slightly different terminology like “self-awareness” for consciousness. The point most relevant to the venture capital industry is businesses that cultivate a higher level of collective consciousness appear more likely to succeed than ones that do not. Leaders and business that are more conscious have a competitive advantage over those that are less conscious.

John Montgomery is a partner with Silicon Valley law firm Montgomery & Hansen. Read his prior posts here.