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Conscious Capitalism

Listening to Your (Business) Conscience

Raise your hand if you have ever felt guilty about enrolling in business school, even if just one time. Maybe it was when a friend entered pre-med, with the dream of curing cancer, or another chose to teach in the inner city. And you — you went for the job and the paycheck.

At least that’s the general opinion, isn’t it?

Rajendra Sisodia, a leading expert on “conscious" business practices, doesn’t think this kind of disparaging narrative is right. He believes that society views business as inherently selfish and greedy. Business people, as a self-fulfilling prophecy, then take on these traits. “I have a theory that some students who go into business feel as if they’ve sold out, that they’re not pursuing a higher calling,” he says.

Sisodia, however, sees this narrative changing. He believes change will come about through an emerging form of business: conscious capitalism, or capitalism with a conscience.

Everybody’s Business

Sisodia calls capitalism the most powerful force for human progress in history, improving people’s lives from life expectancy to per capita income. “Part of our mission is to celebrate the power and beauty of capitalism,” he says. Lofty phrases like “the power and beauty” are not normally associated with business. But that’s exactly Sisodia’s point.

“We’ve had a lot of negative, unintended consequences — collateral damage, if you will — from creating all this prosperity,” he says.

Traditional capitalism with profit as its primary goal has caused too many repercussions in the world without full consciousness of its impact. Conscious capitalism, on the other hand, holds that businesses can be richer, more powerful, and even more successful when practitioners consciously recognize their total effect on the world, not just on their own prosperity.

It doesn’t just create profits for shareholders, it also creates value for all stakeholders: customers, employees, communities, investors, suppliers, the environment, and society at large. It minimizes — or even eliminates — negative side effects, and rejects the accepted idea of zero-sum economics.

“Just as a doctor is motivated by healing and a lawyer by justice and fairness, business should be about more than making money,” he says. “A higher purpose energizes and engages people, and gives them a sense of purpose.”

Coming to a Business Near You

Sisodia believes that, in time, conscious capitalism will be the dominant business paradigm. He cites a number of megatrends that are on the rise, including the aging of the worldwide population. “We are on a journey of rising consciousness,” he says. “Midlife values dominate, and they revolve around purpose and meaning and legacy,” he says.

He also notes the continuing technological revolution, making us more connected and companies more transparent. “We know what’s going on in companies,” he says, implying that if we don’t like what we see, our opinions will spread through social media, necessitating that corporations be on their best behavior.

Students as Stakeholders

As the chairman and co-founder of the Conscious Capitalism Institute, every year, Sisodia brings to the Bentley campus the International Conference on Conscious Capitalism, where students and faculty can engage with its host of practitioners and speakers.

For Bentley and its students, Sisodia says that conscious capitalism adds another important dimension to the university’s mission to educate smart, nimble, compassionate leaders with an emphasis on business, technology, and liberal arts. “Conscious capitalism asks, why are you going into business and what do you hope to achieve?” he says. “Leaders with that view will act differently than traditional innovators. We’re planting the seeds for that mindset.”