July 24, 2013Doug Hadden
Doug Hadden, VP Products
Umair Haque is one of the most interesting and provocative thinkers about the current state of economics and capitalism. I’ve previously reviewed his book, “New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Better Business.” The New Capitalist Manifesto identified a new framework for value and sustainability. Haque built on some of these ideas in a blog post “the Betterness Manifesto” that extended to a short volume, “Betterness: Economics for Humans.”
Haque’s view is that business can transcend current thinking. He calls this “Betterness” which “isn’t just a slightly better way to “do business”; it’s the art of bettering prosperity so it arcs through the stratosphere of an authentically good life, bettering human potential so it unfurls into accomplishment and, at its limits, transforms human possibility radically for the better.”
New Propserity Measurements Needed
Need for new performance measurements because “an economy optimized for GDP doesn’t reliability, consistently set incentives for, provide information about, or spark groundbreaking accomplishments that lead to the betterment of real human welfare.”
Haque recognizes the subtle power shift from institutions to people, governments to citizens and businesses to buyers. “The real question is: can your company do anything more than just ‘business’?” This is a significant contrast from the Milton Friedman view that the “business of business is business.” Surely there is more to a business than maximizing shareholder value, according to Haque who slices through corporate double-speak.
“From an organizational perspective, an ambition specifies a superordinate goal: one not subordinate to the organization (like a vision is), but larger than it. It’s a superordinate goal that transcends the organization itself in three ways. First, it’s more significant that what the organization does for its shareholders. Second, it’s more ensuring than the organization. And third, it’s meaningful to constituents outside the organization. Visions cause eye-rolling because they’re exactly the opposite: small, transient, and trivially meaningless to anyone outside a boardroom (hence, filled with jargon only a bean counter could love.)”
Inevitable Changes in Capitalism
Haque provides a framework that identifies returns by constituencies where “future generations” in “whose wealth you wish to enhance” is the most important constituency. Haque asks: “what kinds of higher-order returns do you want the world to have tomorrow that it doesn’t have today.”
Haque does not suggest “that “social responsibility” leads to greater profitability. Rather, my argument is more subtle – and perhaps more threatening to the status quo. I’m suggesting that profit itself is an industrial era conception of performance.” I think Haque has come close to articulating a new accounting that is beyond “triple bottom line” or accrual. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is but a stepping stone to what’s next, as I’ve written before. Haque is giving us a view of what that might look like.
Nevertheless, Betterness is frustratingly close to giving a definitive answer – an accounting of impact beyond current tools.
My sense is that some of the latest technology advances in “big data” analytics and social media will empower this change because to help calculate the network effects of supply chains and long-term net outcomes. In many ways, Haque is showing how, in the words of Marshall McLuhan: “none of the existing goals of twentieth-century business enterprise can survive the impact of the computer for even ten years.”