What is it about the concept of “business” that changes the way we behave towards each other?
I am a fan of what many call Conscious Capitalism, or Servant Leadership, enlightened entrepreneurship or any of the other names you apply to bringing the best of our human nature into business. Where the purpose of business is recognized as to serve our customers, our employees and our stakeholders. Where we realize that the care of our environment has a return on investment. And that by being fair with our vendors we too can prosper.
I have been wrestling with the results of a study I read of recently. The study was a variation of the ultimatum game. This is where one person is given $10.00. They are to offer a portion of it to another. If the other accepts the portion both parties walk away with more money than they started with. In a purely rational world if you had $10.00 and offered me $1.00 we would both be ahead and I would accept.
In reality it seems a sense of fairness is at play. If the recipient does not feel the offer is fair or “reasonable”. They will turn it down and they both walk away with nothing.
What bothered me about this study is that they primed two groups of subjects with different images. If the subjects saw “neutral” pictures, (Nature, animals, kites etc.) they ended up splitting the $10.000 50/50 ninety-one percent of the time. I find that encouraging. 9 out of 10 of us choose to treat each other fairly.
On the other hand if they saw pictures of briefcases, fountain pens and other items associated with the world of business they only split the pot 33% of the time. That means 67% of the time the each walked away with nothing. They LOST most of the time.
What is the switch that occurs in one’s mind that says I can be a loving, serving leader of my family and community but when I go into business I have to be more self-centered and less cooperative? As I review the study the conclusion I draw, it is that we are primed this way. Somehow we have come to believe that, “doing business,” is different than, “doing life.”
How did that happen? I’ll let the social scientists sort that out. (Although the early 1980’s and the meme “greed is good” may have played a role.)
What I would encourage each of us to consider is that when we are aware and make the conscious decision to be fair over selfish, to be cooperative over competitive we can all win more often.