What is a Meaningful Business?
Meaningful business is a business with consciousness.
It is a business made with an understanding that humans are not machines made out of parts, nor are they all the same, replaceable like cogs in a machine. It is a business that respects people as human beings – as conscious creators of our own lives based on the values that make our lives better and not worse.
We all are unique in who we are. We are human beings with dreams, beliefs, values and desires. So why are we constantly treating business as a machine, instead of a natural extension of our human creation? Why don't we have business reflect who we are on a human level to celebrate our unique selves and the potential we have to impart in this world via the creation of new value?
No wonder businesses fail to create real value to radically better people's lives because they are not centred on value creation for people. They are centred on profit generation for stakeholders. They are in the business in and of themselves. The logic of the way we do business today is completely lopsided. It extracts value and exploits people, instead of creating value for people. It uses people as fuel instead of fuelling our own lives for the better.
Unfortunately, on the buyer's end, it's still those same people who decide if your product, brand or a company will be relevant in their eyes. If it fails to generate value and meaning for us, in our own lives, it won't be successful. Quite ironically, value creation based on adding real meaning to people's lives is also the fastest way to growth – the real growth.
To create Meaningful Business, we first need to understand what a business means to us today.
Reawakening Our Humanity To Make Business Meaningful
The year 2020 has been The Year of Awakening. Not just for people, but also for businesses.
As people, we are now waking up to what was long missing from the business – our lost humanity. We are now realizing that it was us. We are the missing piece of the puzzle. To make business meaningful again, the first port of call is to understand what we as human beings value, how we make meaning and what is important to us in our own lives. Coming back to value in business inevitably means coming back to meaning because meaning is the core value in business.
People value meaning – the sense of personal relevance that we can identify with in our own lives based on our needs, values, beliefs, ideals and desires. If it doesn’t add meaning to our lives, it doesn’t really add value. Business is about value creation. It is us doing it for us. For our betterment. For our growth. For our satisfaction and fulfilment. To become more of who we already are.
Coming back to humanity and our essential needs
The COVID pandemic has impacted the business sector very powerfully. But, the impact hasn’t only been in terms of declining sales, government restrictions and volatile purchasing power. It’s shown us what was long brewing underneath the surface.
The inability of many businesses to deliver true and meaningful value that resonates with people in a way that feels authentic to them, adds something substantial to their lives, like fulfilling their essential needs for instance. Those same human needs that we neglected for decades. Peace of mind. Mindfulness. Clarity. Space. Time. Comfort. Security. Self-soothing. Joy. Togetherness. Belonging. Sharing. Self-expression. Self-care. Authenticity.
This is where business can come to the forefront because everything we have neglected – and therefore what has become scarce to us – is now becoming valuable to us. Our unfulfilled human needs can serve as an inspiration for businesses to create and deliver new propositions and services that will radically better our lives.
The crisis can serve as a catalyst for businesses to deliver the missing value in our lives – to make us wonder again, make us connect with nature, with others and ourselves, make us experience new things that will transform our viewpoints and challenge our legacy beliefs that we’ve stuck with for far too long and make our lives more meaningful and exciting. To help us become more empowered, conscious, lively and balanced individuals.
And if understood correctly, this crisis can become a unique opportunity in time for businesses to innovate and diversify. It can serve as a great catalyst for businesses to try new things and speed up their transition towards a more humanistic paradigm that they probably wouldn’t enter under normal market circumstances.
Moving towards a new era of Human Business
We are entering a new era of human business. Human business is the true basis for the meaning economy. Meaning is not a mere add-on; it is an absolutely fundamental value of being in business in the first place. As when you’re not adding value to people’s lives, what are you doing? What business are you in? What is the value that you create? And for whom? Who benefits from it?
We are now taking a huge U-turn as a society to come back to our humanity, reawaken our lost senses, understand who we are, what our essential needs are and what we truly want out of life. And since we are going to be doing that for some time now, businesses will need to follow our lead to stay relevant and profitable. This means that we will need to rethink the narrative of business – what it is and what it’s supposed to do to deliver real value that adds meaning to our lives.
The shift in dynamic from exploitation to creation is the key to creating a society we actually want to live in as human beings. The kind of society where we can flourish and create businesses as the extensions of our gifts, talents and unique potential we are here to manifest for the benefit of others, of ourselves and the world. This is the foundation of Human Business – the very direction we are nudged to step into beginning the third decade of the 21st century.
Rethinking the business narrative for a new world
But why did it take us so long to get here? What was stopping us before? Why did we need to awaken to the fact that we are human and that we need to place our humanity at the core of business to create value again?
Blame the old narrative. As Ludwig Wittgenstein said, the limits of our language mean the limits of our world. If we use a wrong, unfitting or outlived metaphor to describe our reality, we will fail to grasp the complexities of the world we live in. We can stare the truth right in the face and not see it because our language, perception and the way we think about the world we live in won’t allow us to make the connection necessary to change things.
This is why meaning stands at the core of the things – it decides what reality we live in based on the metaphors we use to shape our perception.
Business as a machine: Moving past the old narrative
For the past one hundred plus years, we’ve been spinning in circles applying the wrong narrative.
We saw businesses as machines with parts and humans as the cogs that were supposed to fuel this machine to keep the system going and economy flowing. This distorted view of business was adopted legacy of the Industrial Age and then applied to the mass production of goods after
WWII which has led to the subsequent boom of consumer culture and conspicuous consumption.
The problem with this view is that it’s utterly inhumane. It not only assumes that people are not unique, and therefore a replaceable resource, but also uses them as mere fuel for the benefit of the owner, instead of celebrating their individuality and putting their unique gifts at work to create meaningful value for other people.
Another problem is that in this process, we have cut off the person from the value they created.
There was no longer any direct link between the creator and the value created. We have introduced many more steps in the process between the production and the consumption of value. This has led businesses to a) fragment and compartmentalize the value chain and b) lose the vital touch of humanity and the innate essence of things. And therefore, a significant part of the value for both the creator and the customer was lost.
We’ve lost the intangible assets of what we were creating: the energy, joy, love, the story, personal meaning, the reason for the value to be created in the first place. We have lost the raison d'être as the French would say. And with that, we have lost it all.
Now, businesses had to resort to advertising and marketing to put this meaning back through an inflated sense of self-importance, inauthentic stories and repetitiveness ad nauseam. Instead of just using marketing and communication as a vehicle and a powerful ally to elevate and enhance the value and meaning that were already there. This has thrust us into an age of deception and illusion where we could no longer differentiate between what was real and what was imaginary.
This misunderstanding of what a business is and what value it’s supposed to provide has led us to the current meaning crisis in our society. We adopted the distorted lens of fear treating the business world as a zero-sum game where resources were scarce, competition was fierce and other people were ruthless and out to get us.
And this is the perspective that has produced the world we live in today. A world where people don't trust one another. Where we can no longer share the joy with one another because everybody's fearful and no one trusts anymore. To create meaning in business again, we need to shift our perspective from competition to collaboration, from value extraction to value creation and from the form back to inner essence. We need a new narrative that is more human and real.
Business is a living dynamic ecosystem of value
Any business is first and foremost a living ecosystem of value influenced by the cultural context in which the business is embedded. This correlates with the ongoing changes in culture and society which deeply impact any business today. As a living entity, any business needs to be able to constantly adapt to its environment to make sure that the value it creates for people is relevant, desirable and useful.
Business is a living self-evolving organism of value creation. It is a living entity whose primary task is to create and provide value for other people. And to do that, we need to understand what people value and how they make meaning in their own lives. Every business is different, has a different essence and a different type of value it creates which is why when thinking about strategy, it needs to be centred on the value, instead of replicable processes.
And to be able to do that, businesses need to revisit how they create value, what value they create and how skilfully they can deliver this value to their customers to add meaning to people's lives.
Key task: Create and deliver real value to people
The newly emerging world will be marked by our return to Essentialism. We are starved out for real value as a society – for the things that last, those that add value to our lives and not take it away. For the things we can invest in and rely on, those that bring us something substantial that matters to us.
This new situation gives businesses a perfect opportunity to tap into our newly uncovered essential needs and create new types of products, services, propositions and offerings that will make our lives more meaningful, enjoyable and more fulfilled.
The COVID pandemic has shown us what was long been missing from our lives, but we were just too busy to pay attention to – and that something is meaning. Now, we will need to find new ways to re-create this lost sense of meaning in our lives. This means that businesses now have two tasks on their hands: to make sure that they know how to both create and deliver new value to people.
Which is all the more reason to use this global health and economic crisis as an opportune moment in time to come back to what we’ve lost along the way: back to essence, back to meaning and back to human values.
To add real value and meaning in people's lives.
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