In our paper, “The Meaning Gap – What It Means to Your Business“, we contend that business and people are moving in opposite directions.
We are halfway through Dev Patnaik’s brilliant book, “Wired to Care“, and have enjoyed learning more about how our brains work with respect to feeling empathy for others.
He describes how our reptilian brain gets us to do stuff, like turn the page of his book. The neocortex, 80% of the human brain, gives us the power of high-level thinking, so we can figure out what Dev is talking about. In between these two is the limbic system, which governs memory and emotions, and allows us to care about what Dev is telling us.
Most companies are corporate iguanas.
We were particularly struck by this observation in “Wired to Care”:
“Humans are a social, caring species. Our limbic brains are designed to make us curious about the feelings of other people and animals. That ability to empathize is what separates us from lower-order creatures. It allows us to communicate and collaborate with others. And it allows us to read between the lines to glean information that may not be explicitly stated.
“By this standard, most companies are corporate iguanas. It’s as if they’ve skipped over the limbic system to grow a neocortex. Corporations are ethically neutral beasts, focused on self-preservation. They’re not immoral – they’re amoral. They lack any sense for the impact that their actions have on others. And that goes back to how they’re structured. They have a reptilian brain to act. They have a neocortex to think. They just don’t have any way to feel.
“Without a limbic system, companies lack any sense of empathy or courage. They’re either all neocortex, analyzing thoughtfully without the motivation to act, or reptilian, caught in a cycle of fight-or-flight responses. That’s deeply unfortunate, because companies are made up of people, not iguanas. And people, not iguanas, buy products and services.”
Are any of these troubling signs present in your business today?
Can you see how your business has the characteristics of an iguana?
Is your business all tangled up and slowed down by measurements, analysis, and process?
Are you and your colleagues always on the defensive, fighting battles and feeling scared?
Do your employees care about your future success, or are they just serving time on their job?
Have customers started to drift away, ending up in your competitor’s arms?
Is it getting harder and harder to make good deals with partners who could open new markets for your business?
Are the people in your supply chain working as much for your company’s benefit as their own?
Do you find that your investors are becoming restless?
Have citizens not welcomed your business into their communities?
If so, you’re suffering from an ever-widening meaning gap.
It’s time to act.
This is the Age of Meaning, a time when the people vital to your business’s success are seeking to forge meaningful connections in their lives.
This is your chance to connect to those people in ways that will matter to them personally and to your business financially.
Dev Patnaik argues that companies need to embrace empathy.
They need to walk in other’s shoes, to better understand how their employees, customers, partner, suppliers, investors, etc. see the world.
We see this as an essential step toward being a business that matters.
One way to kickstart an organization and its leadership to focus on the outside world, and to encourage an empathic approach to it, is to develop a purpose beyond profit that is clearly about the ultimate outcomes for people, rather than the corporation and its investors.
Another way is to explicitly use feelings as tools of change, to make both your company’s culture and your marketplace presence more meaningful.
When a company has a solid reason for being expressed through a Purpose Beyond Profit, the direction forward becomes clear for everyone.
When a company knows how it wants to make people feel, the intent, attitudes, and behavior of the company becomes more emphatic, more purposeful, and more gratifying.
Businesses that matter rise above lower-order creatures.
They connect, relate to, and embrace people.
And people respond in kind.
Because they can, they want to, and, in many respects, they need to.