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Busting the myths that hold us back

In a world facing societal and systemic change, everyone should reorient their thinking towards the pursuit of the common good. SUE BARRETT presents a philosophical approach to business management.

Consider these two questions: How much of your success is solely because of your own efforts and how much is because of the success of your community, where you were born, your family, what school you attended, your private and public networks, the government support you receive, the infrastructure available to you and the era in which you live?

It’s impossible to give definitive answers to these questions; however, you’re probably aware that much of our individual success rests on the shoulders of others and the common good upon which we find ourselves relying each day.

This perspective – the ‘common good’ perspective – has been drowned out in favour of hyper individualism in mainstream society and media over the last 30 to 40 years, yet it is now making a major comeback. This comeback is due to the overwhelming societal and systemic challenges we are now facing in our economies, environment and societies.

Coming together and working for the common good is the only way we can navigate our way forward to a better future.

To do this, we need to address some of the prevailing myths of the last few decades that may impede our progress; it is these myths and deep-rooted beliefs that keep us from moving forward and finding common ground for the common good.

The core principles

A key element in the search for common ground is recognising that no-one is an island – we all depend on each other for our survival, one way or another.

Here are some of prevailing myths versus the reality:

The self-made person – the ‘overnight sensation’, the ‘self-made millionaire’, the ‘sales superstar’ and the ‘start-up wonder kid’ could never have achieved their fame and fortunes without relying on the human networks that enabled them to take advantage of opportunities that eventuated.

That’s not to take anything away from the innovations or insights they developed, however, these people can only ‘make it’ because they can draw upon the support and goodwill of others.

That includes all the infrastructure that has been put in place for the common good to flourish, like roads, hospitals and healthcare, schools, utility services (water, power, sewage), a justice system and so much more. All this infrastructure enables people to pursue their business dreams.

"No-one achieves success entirely on their own... Without customers, members, patrons, fans, or followers – call them what you will – the very existence of these self-made people would not have been able to happen"

No-one achieves success entirely on their own and claiming such is a falsehood. Without customers, members, patrons, fans, or followers – call them what you will – the very existence of these self-made people would not have been able to happen.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with taking a proactive approach to promoting and selling our ideas and services to relevant target markets, but one must recognise the roles of others in one’s own success.

Individual resilience is key – the self-help industry constantly promotes the power of the individual as the centre for all truth, resilience and self-determination.

What’s often forgotten is that it’s the power of the environment in which people find themselves and also, more often than not, the kindness of strangers that creates the conditions in which our own true self, our resilience and self-determination can flourish – or not.

Research has revealed that it is more important to have a resilient environment than to be internally resilient. A resilient environment means having access to resources and help from family, friends, work colleagues, the wider community and government.

This collective approach becomes even more special if we acknowledge our environment and our acceptance of help from a place of gratitude – which leads on to the next myth.

Gratitude is not important – in my book 142 Days Of Gratitude That Changed My Life Forever, I write about how gratitude binds people together in relationships of reciprocity and is one of the building blocks of a civil and humane society.

The world’s leading gratitude researcher Prof Robert Emmons says, “Gratitude is a social emotion. I see it as a relationship strengthening emotion because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.”

Emmons explains gratitude as a two-step process, where we affirm goodness and then recognise the source of the goodness: “We acknowledge that other people – or even higher powers, if you’re spiritual – gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

He is not the first to ascribe such lofty qualities to gratitude. Ideas about its importance as a moral force for good can be discerned at least as far back as the Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero, who called gratitude “not only the greatest, but... also the parent of all the other virtues”.

A profitable business can’t be ethical – the hugely-influential management consultant Peter Drucker once said, “The purpose of business is not to make profit but to satisfy the needs and expectations of customers. The consequence of satisfied customers is incremental profit.”

Many businesses have strayed from this ethos into the ‘greed is good’, ‘whatever it takes’, ‘winner takes all’ and ‘anything goes’ cultures.

This inevitably leads to short-term vision and a race-to-the-bottom mentality, which only serves those who are quick enough to reap the profits and even quicker to abandon the market when it turns to tears.

This approach actually abuses the common good as it leaves those who remain in the industry to pick up the pieces.

Yet there are changes afoot – there are proven models that show how businesses can be extremely successful and ethical at the same time.

Running an ethical business, including ethical procurement and sales practices, is one of the best things to do for the common good. Prosperous ethical businesses create jobs, transform and restore communities, and contribute to social wellbeing in ways that are beyond the bottom line.

The success of companies like Patagonia, Atlassian and Australian Ethical are good examples of how these strategies can be put into practice.

"Human beings have demonstrated time and time again their ingenuity. We have amazing talent to deal with challenges and create new ideas, services and systems to overcome adversity"

Prosperity can only be measured by GDP – traditionally, the flow of goods and money is measured as GDP; however, this is a linear approach.

This economic thinking does not take into account the complex system of humanity – the collaborative commons or the common good – and the essentials of life.

With more than 60 years of traditional economic growth now floundering, economists and others are rethinking how we can progress.

Kate Raworth, of Doughnut Economics fame, asks us to consider: what if economics didn’t start with money but instead with human wellbeing?

Raworth challenges us to rethink our ideas of progress. She asks us to consider what progress truly looks like: where the balance between using our resources and protecting life is an interconnected support system.

What would we do if we focused on the common good in our daily decision-making processes? What if every government focused on the common good when it came to policy and negotiation?

Based on the current degradation of the world’s resources, we need an economic model that serves the common good.

I liken the common good to the core operating system keeping us alive and flourishing, as if we were all living on a spaceship and had to keep ourselves alive for years without access to any outside means.

That’s because that is what our world is – one giant spaceship with limited resources, powered by the Sun.

Rethinking our approach

Moving away from these myths will help us understand how people in sales, business, families and communities can contribute to a better future by finding common ground for the common good.

Human beings have demonstrated time and time again their ingenuity. We have amazing talent to deal with challenges and create new ideas, services and systems to overcome adversity.

There’s a world of opportunity to re-think and re-design the way we see ourselves, the way we live and the way we produce and consume. Instead of constant competition, let’s emphasise harmony and collaboration.

Instead of playing up profit at the expense of everything else and the differences between ourselves, let’s find common ground. We can utilise those qualities and interests that draw us together and unite in a shared goal.

Working together is so much more powerful than going it alone.

Sue Barrett

Contributor • Barrett

Sue Barrett is founder and CEO of innovative and forward-thinking sales advisory and education firm Barrett and online sales education platform Learn more:

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