Spirituality and business might seem odd bedfellows at ﬁrst
glance, but is that because we view the latter as corrupt and materialistic?
If we believe in the goodness that commerce can do, we should be able to accept
and promote what might be one of its roots as the next big step in strategy.
Jack Yan is founder and CEO of Jack Yan & Associates and
president of JY&A Consulting.
Presented at the Chief Brand Officers' meeting, Amsterdam,
January 17, 2003. Author's note: This is admittedly a
new topic and may not be readily accepted, even if instinctively many of its
recommendations could be realized for the right reasons. For those who wish
to take these concepts to the next level, including using them in bettering
organizations, please contact the author by visiting his personal
sites feedback form or telephone 64 4 387-3213. The author welcomes
questions from outside the branding discipline, discussing how exactly spiritual
concepts may be incorporated, and making the ideas in this paper more acceptable
to the modern business world.
WHAT DO the best businesses have in common? In fact, what do the best governments
have in common? An immediate response would be values. Deepak Chopra believes
in it in his bookswe need to have it, otherwise society disintegrates.2
Businesses would, too: without some form of vision or enterprise-wide understanding,
they would naturally fail. Branding is one tool that guarantees that understanding,
and a good branding programme reinforces that continuously.
Values constitute a theme that we, as a human race, haven't
mastered particularly well over the last few millennia. Confucius dedicated
most of his life to looking at good government. The whole of the Analects
is dedicated to it. But he refused to step into the realms of spirituality,
preferring to base his philosophy on practical matters. Besides, Buddha had
done marvellously in that sphere.
The basis of the philosophy was a "do unto others" approach:
in short, a constant exchange of duties.
The ideas are delightfully simple, but they depend on education.
Without it, people would resort to institutionalizing power, restricting others'
freedoms, and in short, forget about the exchange of duties.
There are plenty of analogies with branding. Some companies
may spend megabucks on rebrands. There's a lot of hoop-la and enthusiasm to
begin with. Without a brand based in reality and on real values, the company
begins to disintegrate. In nations, there is often a lot of hoop-la after a
change of government. There, too, without real values, the government begins
to look less like it has the mandate of the people. It risks getting voted outassuming
it permits elections.
Red China is a good example. Even Cuba. In fact, every communist
state has started off with some fervour before something goes terribly wrong.
Confucius's warnings were right.
Not that one has to look at totalitarian régimes. Many
democracies, even those that claim to be free, have been doing this, covering
up their mistakes by fudging economic data or blaming the problems on ongoing
policy sins committed by the previous administration.
Confucius's work had a lot of merit, otherwise we wouldn't
be talking about it a couple of thousand years later; Lee Kuan Yew wouldn't
have followed his teachings nor would Singapore erect a statue of the philosopher
in Marina City Park.
Values are, in many ways, an understatement. As companies
go global, surely there is something more that ties everyone in humankind together?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, essentially,
that every human being has free will and liberty. That is founded in a deeper
spiritual belief, shared at a basic level by the signatories to the Declaration.
In that we return to Dr Chopra, an Indian-born author who has bridged not only
cultural gaps, but one between "conventional", scientific-based western medicine
and spiritual beliefs of the east. And there are people in business and in the
market-place who believe in one's right to fulfil its highest path.
New-age crock? Not if you consider how the figures of people
claiming religion or spiritual practice shot up the week after 9-11. Sixty-four
per cent of Americans said religion was important in their lives in a September
212, 2001 survey. Eleven major religions plus plenty more are tied together
with something even more fundamental, especially when one considers the root
of the word religion. It comes from the Latin religare, 'to
bind something together in common expression'.3
That "binding together" is at the root of everything from
meeting friends, online communities, collaboration, knowledge management, trust,
networking, branches of environmental science seeking to heal the planet4and
the best corporate alliances that haven't been driven by serendipity and stock
prices. It is at the root of many of the ventures young people have been driving,
including TakingITGlobal, a global network of youth aimed at changing the world.5
What this paper advocates is being open (or if not open, then
active) about what might be the glue that does the binding. Is not everyone's
wish to be, to borrow a phrase from the us Army, all you can be?
Check out The New York Times' bestseller list or
browse bookshops and spiritual texts on self-actualization and realization are
far from absent.
To the buyers of such texts, why not add those who support
the Dalai Lama and his team, who equally have a vision, a strategy (how Tibetan
beliefs are operationalized in prayer and ritual) and a brand exposition (His
Holiness's travels and PR campaigns)? The cohesiveness of this brand means there
are few critics other than Red China, which has its reasons for disliking the
Dalai Lama, calling him a landowner who would gain from having control over
Tibetan peasants. Compare that to the Roman Catholic Church, which has critics
and crises because its vision hasn't been as strongly communicated.
The author means no disrespect to Their Holinesses, who head
their religious movements. The purpose is to show how businessand nationscan
learn from and incorporate spirituality. By understanding it and respecting
it, we can create a better commercial world, because we'll be incorporating
not just values, but values with true belief behind them.
The next step in commerce is to create not religionsit's
plain to see how contentious that suggestion would bebut some recognition
of everyone's desire to fulfil their highest selves by joining with the organization
and its vision.
The competition may then be on how sincerely an organization
espouses its spirituality or allows its team to fulfil each member's highest
being, self or destiny. The money measures are forgotten and the cause for financial
This is hardly an unattainable utopia. We might be heading
that way, anyway. There are probably fewer people who believe in stock prices
than spirituality, especially after 2002. There are more people who are beginning
to find that how much you make has no impact on what you love to do in life.
There are people who are doing their nine-to-five jobs, often very well, but
indulging their passions in a hobby, sometimes with results that pay more.
Products such as Winamp were results of this shift. While
eventually sold for millions, Winamp was an early sign of the real new economy,
one where money was secondary to developer Justin Frankel's sense of purpose
in creating a product for one's fellow man and his own fulfilment. But Frankel's
Winamp is an intermediate step; his Gnutella the next advance.6
Linus Torvalds, the man behind Linux, who hasn't gained financially from his
operating system, is probably the best example of the new economy, because he
probably believed he did not need money to be content with his invention. In
the utopia that Torvalds heralds, people won't be squabbling over dollars, cents
and quarterly reporting, but creating things of service to humanity for a gain
of a different sort.
How different? If we abandon monetary values, wouldn't the
system collapse? Not really. There are some things that haven't changed a great
deal, even since Confucius' day.
Is it not telling that we continue to believe in a person's
honour more than a person's financial worth? Do we not value someone who champions
integrity before someone who champions monetary gain? If asked whether our admiration
should go to Phil Knight, founder of Nike, or Mother Teresa, is our decision
not obvious? We value honour and service to humankind, but underlying this,
we value those who allow others to be themselves and fulfil who they are. It's
neither a bad long-term strategy, nor a bad short-term one.
Move against these basics and there's a breakdown. Harming
others by lying to them is not part of anyone's highest self, yet Enron bred
that culture through fluff and probably overstating its profits. Restricting
people's freedoms by putting obstacles in their way is unnatural, yet communist
nations did just that. Worryingly, the United States appears to be moving in
the wrong direction with the war on terror as its excuse.
People may not be open to espousing spirituality right now,
unless they are part of a spiritual organizationsuch as the Church or
the Dalai Lama. But can we bring it forth into commerce? And if we did, can
we prevent it from being coopted as a trend by money-making authors and ensure
it's reinforced with each interation? And can we ensure that it doesn't go into
fanaticism (defined here as the blind following of another's free will by compromising
one's own vision and higher power)? All that sounds like a solution for good
education, which would have to be part of any spiritual policy in an organization.
Doubters might fear the change. Yet there is certainly nothing
shameful about adopting a policy that openly says people are allowed to serve
their fellow man within the walls of the organization. There are no real negative
spinoffs from saying that people's liberties are supported by the organization.
Given what we say our society's values are, then these suggestions are not really
This policy might be practised already in the most unexpected
places, but not consciously or with any real plan. Lewis, when examining Frankel,
found him inside AOL Time Warner, which has allowed him to create programs that
are antiestablishment. Gnutella was one of them, designed to allow computer
users to share filesand pirated works. 'His corporation tolerates him
because it knows that the alternative is worse. It is far better to keep the
enemy close, by bribing him with stock options, than to have him out in the
wild, foraging.'7 However, Lewis notes that Frankel
is still compromised: 'He must pay lip service to the boss's demands and agree
to take down his software, which makes the boss feel that he is indeed the Boss.
This has no real effect other than to keep up the appearance that the chain
of command holds firm'.8
When practised consciously, as with all branding the first
step would be to look at putting it in to the vision of the organization and
have it "lived" at every level. Simply embracing it and living it yourself is
a great first step. It's what has made Oprah Winfrey one of the most powerful
women in the media. She may be financially rewarded, because she chose to do
her work within the established money and mass-media structure to spread her
message, but it's a cinch Oprah would still be who she is in character even
without the trappings. One could hardly say that the message in The Oprah
Winfrey Show is a fringe cult watched by a select few folks. It has even
spawned a spinoff, hosted by Dr Phil McGraw, a man whose personality and desire
to help others has led most people to forget his surname. He is known to everyone
from guests and callers to The Late Show with David Letterman as simply
It seems like the next logical step and one which will arise
anyway. When freedoms are curtailed and when financial systems fail, the human
race has always naturally found a solution to balance things. As a profession,
it's better to know it's happening than having it catch us by surprise.
The mid-2000s may be the time that being open toward a new
spirituality in business is the next big thing. Incorporating it into a corporate
culture, initially subtly, is the next big task of the branding business.