Corporate stewardship—an expanded sense of caring for people, communities, the environment, and future generations—is increasingly recognized around the world as a principle of enlightened business. We can no longer view corporations as isolated and independent entities, free to do whatever their owners and managers decide. They have a dual role: to deliver a superior return to their shareholders, and to uphold a co-equal responsibility to the economy, society, and the environment. Concepts such as the transition to Fourth Wave leadership embodied in more-sophisticated “integrated financial reporting” are accelerating mainstream acceptance of this core premise that corporate values and social benefit together can offer a path to a sustainable future.
The distinguishing claim of the creating shared value (CSV), “hybrid organization,” and sustainability movements is that this dual role is not in conflict—indeed, quite the opposite. Integration of values into the creation of bottom-line profit is essential for effective adaptation in the 21st-century. CSV advocates urge that companies can naturally embed shared value in their missions, product designs, supply chains, and contributions to local communities. Bottom-line profits will increase by effective integration of CSV values and principles. Yet basic questions remain. For example, how can all essential corporate functions—including leadership, strategy, change management, negotiation, innovation, and collaboration—effectively embody stewardship? Is it possible to upgrade the basic DNA of business organizations so that they can adapt agilely to a global economy that demands perpetual growth and quarterly targets? How can new information technologies and new capabilities in big data analysis contribute? How can organizations best incorporate these activities within established accounting procedures and behavioral measurement processes and protocols such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)?
One of the central challenges of CSV is that we haven’t yet systematized it as a behavioral core competency. It relies on ways of thinking and implementation that can be foreign to many senior managers and, in some cases, even at odds with corporate key performance indicators.
Although CSV seeks to reach the core, there is no disciplined process to transform the basic DNA of a corporate culture. As a result, CSV activities are often ad hoc and abstractly philosophical.
Character as Corporate Destiny
There is a more-systematic way to upgrade the source code of an organization’s behavior in a way that renders it more authentic, holistic, and measurable, and that strengthens the bottom line. Most of the world’s great “wisdom” traditions recognize the principle of “character is destiny.” We have yet to adopt effectively this deep insight into the language and practice of 21st-century business. We believe that the closest modern business equivalent is Big Heart Intelligence (BHI), a strategic core corporate competency we are developing that can connect all dimensions of an organization around a single holistic and objective metric. BHI integrates frontier neuroscience through big data analytics with new discoveries relating to the potentialities of the human heart: specifically, its capacity for holistic discernment and integrity, and as a source of courage, resourcefulness, and resilience, as well as kindness, generosity, altruism, and compassion. BHI views the heart, brain (mind), and hand as one integral system. This concept has deep roots in East Asian societies: There are more than 500 characters in the Chinese language that incorporate the ideogram for heart. The Chinese concept of Te, or virtue (德), and the Japanese word kokoro (心) convey this same subtle insight.
In practical business terms, organizations’ brand, authenticity, and profitability are increasingly linked. BHI ensures the authenticity of brand. In the Age of the Internet, an authentic brand can instantly deliver thousands of new customers. At the same time, customers today are far more informed about social issues surrounding brands. They are demanding full disclosure and transparency across the entire supply chain, and can quickly spot and easily unmask inflated or disingenuous claims. A global backlash can be instantaneous, and a company’s reputation impaired or destroyed overnight.
Organizations can measure BHI against seven criteria: holism, integration, connection, coherence, resilience, trust, and health. The benefits of implementing BHI principles include reduced stress and declining healthcare costs, greater employee loyalty, enhanced vision, sharper assessment of risk, greater agility in negotiation, expanded creativity, and more stable and trusting collaborative relationships. Organizations can measure BHI via an online survey and related audit tools. BHI integrates conventional financial analytics, building from existing GRI protocols, peak performance, emotional intelligence, and other new, high-value core competency metrics. BHI can support CSV’s next stage of evolution as a core pillar of future global economic, environmental, and social sustainability (see below).
Technology can accelerate BHI/CSV naturalization within a business network. One of the resources that can help rapid adaptation of these principles is a Visual Matching Engine (VME) (see below).
A VME enables participants to create a personal BHI/CSV profile, based on keywords, and then to discover connections with other users, organizations, and issues based on “degrees of BHI/CSV affinity.” The VME is more than a tool. It is a process of active BHI learning and engagement, reinforced by real-time, BHI-centric data and analytics. This capability supports the rapid integration of BHI/CSV within all the core functions of an organization and can scale through its external networks.
Corporate Character and Economic Prosperity
Business has the skills, financial power, and political access it needs to become a primary agent of beneficial change in the 21st century. The RAND Corporation and other think tanks forecast that five “strategic” industrial technology sectors (biotech, nanotech, info technology, cognitive technology, and quantum technology) will be the primary engines of economic growth over the next 50 years. Will “the big five” usher in a new era of sustainable abundance and prosperity, or perversely, contribute to an increasing loss of personal freedom, societal discord, environmental degradation, and human suffering? The answer is complex, for it may depend more on the character of the decision makers, indeed all of us, than on the virtuosity of our tools. If we can align our hearts with an expanding intelligence—the deep meaning of character—we may yet be able to change course toward our enlightened self-interest.