Restoring Trust in our Companies

26 November 2023

Part B.  Enough of MORE: We can do BETTER

Adapted from Enough of MORE: Better is Better, posted here on 9 November 2017.

llustration by Sergei Brovkin and DALL-E

Imagine a country full of the corporations described in PART I, let alone a whole planet of them—all grabbing for MORE, no matter the consequences. We’re getting there.

By hogging resources that could be recycled to build vibrant new enterprises, these corporations are distorting our economies and debilitating our societies. Why can’t these corporations just die of quick strokes instead of prolonged cancers?

One-dimensional companies, like one-dimensional people, are pathological: they are an invasive species that has no business in a healthy society. Edward Abbey said it best in 1975: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” Why build engaging enterprises only to jettison their engagement?

Imagine, therefore, a world of getting BETTER, instead of grabbing MORE—a world without excessive production and consumption, with all its destructive waste and warming. We can do BETTER.

So let’s go back to our entrepreneur, at the leadup to that fateful decision about the IPO. You have been a real leader as you built your enterprise. Why become a follower now, with yet another IPO? Must you really be beholden to the narrow demands of the stock market?

There are better ways to finance enterprise. (a) Find some patient, decent capital, that will allow you to grow responsibly and sustainably. (b) How about growing qualitatively instead of quantitively—give better quality, or better service, for which you can charge an honest premium? (c) Or do an IPO that keeps the analysts at bay by issuing two kinds of stock, as did Tata in India and many famous companies in Denmark, with family trusts that control a majority of the voting shares. (d) You can also convert to B or Benefit Corporation status, with a commitment—legal in one case, voluntary in the other—to respect social and environmental needs. My own publisher, Berrett-Koehler, successful in a difficult industry, took the legal, B Corp route. It actually offered its stock directly to its own authors and other stakeholders. (Disclosure: I am an owner of my publisher.) (e) This suggests another option—crowdfunding, where many people each buy a little bit of the ownership.

As for start-ups: (f) Consider relying on funding by loans and retained earnings, at least if you don’t need heavy investment. Cooperatives do it. (g) Indeed, how about creating the business as a cooperative, with one share each owned by the customers (as in a credit union bank), or by the suppliers (as in a farmers’ cooperative), or by the workers (as in the Mondragon Federation, with 81,000 worker and sales over €14 billion). By the way, even in free-market America, there are more cooperative memberships than people.

Here’s an idea that may not be as outrageous as it sounds: (h) Give your company away to its employees—you know, those people who actually care about the place, unlike the day traders who own it. Imagine carrying this kind of legacy to your grave. The John Lewis Partnership in the U.K. did this in 1950. Since then, while so many chains of department stores have come and gone, it continues to be the largest in the country. (i) One step farther is to dispense with ownership altogether and create a social enterprise in the first place— a business set up as a trust that is owned by no-one. Look around—social enterprises are proliferating.

Economists insist that MORE is the way forward. Nonsense. It is the way backward, economically as well as socially. We don’t have to destroy our progeny and our planet for the sake of this senseless dogma. Sure, we need development and employment, but responsible development, with robust employment. A healthy society is sustained by a diverse, responsible economy, not one driven by the mercenary force of one-dimensional growth. Stock markets have done enough damage.

There are many impoverished people all over the world who need more: more food, more employment, more housing, more security. But not MORE disparities of income, locally and globally.

We would do well, then, to shift our economies from MORE toward BETTER. While MORE is about quantities, BETTER is about qualities. They lift us up instead of dragging us down. We can invest our efforts and our resources in more durable products, healthier foods, personalized services, properly-funded education. Rather than reducing employment, a shift to BETTER can enhance it, with higher paying jobs in more beneficial enterprises. When we work better, we feel better, and so we do better, and thus live better.


© Henry Mintzberg 2023. No rights reserved: This has a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.