In business, the long view—the one where you keep your eyes on the future and on the world beyond your office door—isn’t always an easy gaze to hold. What with profits to make and salaries to pay, keeping your eyes anywhere but on your wallet and the challenge at hand can feel impossibly idealistic.
But there’s a growing business case to be made for the long view, whether you’re opening a new store, writing a strategic plan, or networking at happy hour. It requires that you renounce short-term thinking, fly your generosity flag, and eschew the “whatever it takes” mentality found in boardrooms big and small. It’s a kinder, gentler way of doing business, and it may be the surest route to the top.
Make Way for the Commons
As Terry suggests, success doesn’t have to come at the expense of the greater good. In fact, it’s a karmic philosophy that’s seeping into the psyche of future leaders via a surprising source—business school.
Leo Burke, director of the Global Commons Initiative at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, says all businesspeople should be mindful of the outside world, because “business exists for the good of society, not the other way around.” (Take THAT, Wolf of Wall Street.)
A former Motorola executive, Burke launched the GCI in 2012 with the goal of educating students about the commons “so that they can make better business decisions that contribute to the greater good.” The “commons” in Burke’s initiative are an ancient concept he explains as the “tangible and intangible resources that sustain and enhance life that must be collectively governed by users for the good of current beneficiaries and future generations.”
It sounds like heady stuff, but the commons are just the shared things that make life good for all of us and should be there for us way down the road. There are natural-resource commons like mountains, cultural commons like customs, and even digital commons like the Internet. No one owns them, but we all use and benefit from them, and we are all responsible for them.
It’s a compelling idea, but why should the commons be integrated into a business school curriculum? Burke makes it sound like a no-brainer. “It’s critical for future leaders to understand that, in addition to the private sector and public sector, there are resources we hold in common, and they need to be protected.”
According to Burke, the market is not yet beginning to demand that perspective, at least not in a mainstream way. However, “people are beginning to understand that if we don’t protect the common good, there won’t be healthy markets.”
So, what is a well-intentioned company to do? “A very narrowly defined view of business is you grab the input resources at their cheapest and maximize profits by unloading at any cost,” says Burke. A better way, he insists, is to take a hard look at your business and ask whether anyone or anything is being exploited along the way. Do you ship using eco-friendly materials? Are you paying a fair wage? Do you give back to your community in some meaningful way?
Of course, it’s not always simple to factor in the greater good, particularly after a troubling quarterly meeting. But, Burke says even small positive steps are valuable.