The New York Times has recently stirred the pot on issues of corporate culture and working conditions in America. Some philosophical issues are being talked about anew that I think are crucial for any business.
In 1997, my book If Aristotle Ran General Motors: The New Soul of Business was published. It was all about what it takes to create a great company culture - whether it's a big company like GM or a small mom and pop business or anything in between. I came to realize that the principles and values that make for great workplaces apply just as well to any friendship or marriage. We're people wherever we are. And we have certain deep needs that will govern what we're able to accomplish in any situation. What then does it take for people to feel great together and do great things in their interactions, in their relationships? Aristotle and the other practical philosophers had some amazing insight for this.
When that book of mine was first out and I was flying coast-to-coast to be on radio and television shows promoting it, the one person interviewing me who had read it the most carefully and thoughtfully was Matt Lauer, on the NBC Today Show. We had nearly nine minutes of conversation about it on the show, which is forever in morning TV time. He told me that, in his opinion, the book captured everything he believed about ethics, and he even asked if it was Ok if he quoted from the book in some talks he was going to be giving about ethics in journalism. But he also challenged me that day by asking me whether American corporations were really ready to become great places to work, focusing attention on such things as Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and Unity - the intellectual, aesthetic, moral, and spiritual values that my book was built around. There was even a chapter on "Business and the Meaning of Life." Matt wondered whether any big company could really pay attention to such an issue. Is there time? Is it business-efficient to care about such things? Would a necessary concern on the bottom line allow it?
My answer was simple: Yes. People can't do their best over the long run unless they feel their best about what they're doing. Aristotle understood the deep role that our unconscious quest for happiness, or wellbeing, plays in any of our lives. And he knew that this is the most deeply motivating factor for anything we do. When we aren't happy in our work, when it doesn't contribute to our sense of deep fulfillment in our lives, we can't attain and sustain the highest, most creative excellence. Ultimately, meaning and mastery go together.
In a big front page essay called "Rethinking Work" in the New York Times Sunday Review this week, psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that companies had better pay attention to such issues. And Schwartz has evidently touched a nerve, because 24 hours later, it's the most emailed article in this week's paper. I commend it to your attention. And if it resonates with you, take a look at If Aristotle Ran General Motors and tell me what you think. In light of the recent controversies surrounding Amazon and corporate culture in America these days, I think we need to return to some of these issues. I'll likely write more about them this week.
Meanwhile, may you experience Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and Unity in what you do and where you do it. Aristotle would want it that way.