The Conscious Capitalism Conference started with a projection that read ‘If you came with a team, sit with them’. It’s certainly a welcome message when walking into a room full of strangers. But by the end of this CC2017 conference it becomes completely unnecessary. By then complete strangers have formed new friendships, and they clumped together excitedly on their final day in the city of brotherly love.
While waiting for the final goodbyes one man tapped his heels together in mid-air, notable only because it is rarely something you see at the end of a jam-packed 48 hour intensive. He heel tapped a few more times, to the delight of what was undoubtedly a new group of friends.
“I’ve seen him do it two or three times in a row!” An older woman exclaimed through fits of laughter. Eventually the heel-tapping group dissolved into the crowd, as organizers Julie Van Amerongen and Alexander McCobin took to the stage for the very last time. They were definitively the hardworking bookends to the whole conference. They gave their thanks. They allowed the audience to give thanks back. The gratitude was so heartfelt and all-encompassing it seemed to reach all the way to the back wall, where assorted luggage waited patiently.
“Tough-minded, Gentle Hearted.”―Raj Sisodia
All interruptions at this conference could have been described as ‘gentle’. Staff rung soft bells to wake guests from their networking, guiding them to the next speech. Loudspeakers hummed Zen tones to suggest it’s time to take a seat. Group meditations were engaged in whole-heartedly, with everyone closing their eyes and envisioning their future with a complete lack of self-consciousness.
It would have been a mistake to assume that because the processes of Conscious Capitalism were gentle, that the messages were equally as soft. Throughout the conference it was emphasized that there is strength in vulnerability, that to make a profit means to care about people. All the people. Employees, local communities, the world, and most certainly customers. That’s essentially what a ‘conscious business’ is, a for-profit company with deep ties to their personnel and their community. As Raj Sisodia expressed, capitalism has alleviated much of the strain of poverty in its short history, but we can always do better.
When Conscious Capitalism first began, the concept of business as a means to “do good” was novel. Now in its ninth iteration, the message has never felt more necessary or important than it does today. Everything from the keynote speeches to the stage decor (tasteful white chairs and plenty of greenery) reinforced the idea that our journey is one of natural inclusivity. It is in our nature to extend a hand, to connect to others, and to do the right thing. The real synthetic behavior has always been the stereotypes of the cold and self-serving world of “Business”.
Conscious Capitalism argued that there’s a way to be humane and still have quarterly profit goals. It’s a refreshing idea, and one that can quickly become intoxicating in a room full of entrepreneurs, CEOs, and leaders who are striving to be better with their bottom line and their bottom dollar.
As one guest put it, “Two years ago I felt like a lone wolf for thinking that business could be a force for good.” But now, he explained, he felt surrounded by people who not only agree, but who are living proof that it can be done.
Another grateful guest added, “I’m looking forward to propelling my own journey and [that of the] clients I work with, helping them discover their purpose. And really do good. And make money. And more importantly have fun doing good and making money.”
Tony Soprano Had It All Wrong.
There was never any shame attached to the desire to create a profit. At Conscious Capitalism morality and money are not mutually exclusive, and they aim to remove the dividing barriers. Timothy Henry, a board member and managing partner at Arete management, made a point of addressing this with a slide involving The Sopranos. A photo appeared of fictional mobster Tony embracing his uncle Junior, with the chilling quote, “It’s nothing personal. It’s just business,”. Henry called this ‘Tony Soprano Capitalism’ and made the point we know all too well: Business is always personal.
A job can change a life, an idea can change an industry, and a leader’s personal growth can change a company. There’s no sense in extracting the emotional component from business; it will always be there, and it will always be irrevocably attached to our sense of self worth.
Put People Over Profit, And Profit Catches Up.
There’s no better example of this than the keynote speech of Mike Brady, the CEO and President of Greyston Bakery. Greyston has revolutionized not only a company’s capacity for good (Greyston heads community gardens along with housing and health services) but also in hiring. Open Hiring™ is a process that hires the next available candidate on the waiting list, no questions asked, and places them in a comprehensive training program that allows them to learn any of the required skills. It has given opportunities to people who may have otherwise been marginalized from joining the workforce, and empowers them contribute to their own well-being and that of their community. It’s a pretty sweet deal, though admittedly not as sweet as Greyston Bakery’s vegan fudge brownies.
The links between self-worth, compassion, and ambition were discussed with ease, and they are not only explored but encouraged. All of these components are a part of a business, and Conscious Capitalism makes an effort to weave them together.
The practicums they offered were all about how to create lasting trust in the workplace, express gratitude, drive revenue and find your purpose. It was a spa day for your mind, body (morning yoga anyone?), and business. The one complaint would be that there are so many high-value practicums that run at the same time, it’s impossible to get a peek of every lesson. That being said, any employees waiting behind in Texas, England, or California will be delighted with the skills their leaders have enthusiastically added to their toolbelts.
As the final words of gratitude rung out on the speakers, the room buzzed pleasantly and the crowd began gathering their luggage. New friends tendered warm goodbyes along with business cards, having experienced the gentle interruption of Conscious Capitalism in an otherwise grueling business world.