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Happy Business - Profit With Purpose

07 Nov 2019 | Benedict Clark

When did business become so myopic, worshipping at the altar of short-term growth and concerned only with maximising profit?

In many ways this short-termism encapsulates so much of what is unhelpful about the modern world. We have created an expectation of immediate gratification, pleasure-seeking our way through life. It is simply not a sustainable approach. Not to life, nor indeed to business.

Boardrooms worldwide are thrown into a tizzy at the first sign of slowing growth. But can growth really carry on indefinitely? And what, frankly, is the point? The answer to this question often seems nothing more sophisticated than lining the pockets of a small band of already wealthy shareholders.

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When you stop and think about it, there are many different stakeholders involved in any one business, particularly when we consider multi-national corporate behemoths. A vast interconnected web spreads out, touching countless lives, innumerable communities and a multitude of natural environments. A business is much, much more than simply its shareholders. It's much more than even its staff.

With this privileged position comes great responsibility. The needs and wellbeing of all of those affected should not only be safeguarded, but actively nurtured. We're often told it's a dog eat dog world out there, but it doesn't need to be. After all, if a business wishes to survive in the long-run it will need to sustain the people and planet alongside it. To tackle the most pressing problems of our times, surely, we need business to play a core role in driving change.

Considering business as merely a vehicle for creating profit leads to problems. Think about it. Making money is in itself amoral. It has no allegiance or values to uphold, other than the single-minded pursuit of profit. Unfortunately, the easiest way to do this is to cut corners and exploit, so all too often this profit comes at the expense of people and the environment, benefitting only a tiny few. Businesses should not be allowed to shirk their responsibility in this regard. After all, the economy is there to serve the people, not the other way around.

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Only through adding a human touch can money-making be infused with any real meaning. The underlying intention is vital. Profit should come naturally from approaching something you believe in with love. It shouldn't be the focus. In fact, the idea of making money purely for the sake of making money seems utterly ludicrous when properly scrutinised. It's what you do with money that matters, not the money itself.

Many businesses have simply lost sight of their values. How many tycoons have lain on their deathbed, espousing their regret at not having made more money in their time? None. The reality is happiness and connection are what people value. Why not then use business as a way of spreading this through the world? We don't need more businesses making huge profits for their own sake, we already have plenty of those. What we need is profit with a purpose.

To help us on this journey, perhaps we should redefine the very essence of what is considered success, all too often framed purely in monetary terms. It is precisely this kind of thinking that gives rise to the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. Success based on creating a positive impact on the world. Organisations such as B-Lab help enshrine these values, highlighting businesses as shining examples of this approach.

Whatever the coming years hold for humanity, it's clear that businesses are going to play an integral role. Couldn't the aim of business be to help foster our wellbeing and bring us together? Couldn't businesses be a force for good? It's time for businesses to stand up and be counted, helping create the sustainable future we so desperately need.

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Benedict Clark is a writer, occupational psychologist, coach and Action for Happiness supporter with a special interest in wellbeing at work.

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