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Notes on Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business

Headshot of DeLinda Forsythe

Book by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia 2013 - Notes and commentary by DeLinda Forsythe

his book focuses on why the emerging Conscious Capitalism movement is not only relevant, it offers the brightest hope for the future of business. Businesses that embrace the four tenets of Conscious Capitalism create mutually beneficial value for all stakeholders which includes business owners, investors, the community especially local non-profits, employees, management and suppliers. Stakeholders are all encouraged to cooperate and interact positively to maintain this delicate balance. Mackey defines as ‘Win6’.

Many inaccurately believe that capitalism is based on greed and the exploitation of consumers, workers, society and the environment for the goal of maximizing profits, often at the expense of others; someone must lose to allow someone to win. This perception is based on a false narrative that has kidnapped the true character of capitalism as envisioned by our Founding Fathers. In reality capitalism is based on cooperation and voluntary exchange. To a certain degree competition keeps everyone honest and in check with a mandated focus on the customer to provide the best value. Additionally, since employees have more options than ever to work where they want, it forces management to provide higher wages, benefits, a safe workplace.

Capitalism in its purest form is good and this new narrative, termed Conscious Capitalism, is gaining significant traction as the preferred method leading to greater success and higher profitability. This new movement is a call to action; to make these practices conscious by implementing them in your businesses and educating others, especially your employees, to the benefits derived. When we make our work a call to action to espouse a higher purpose, the reason we’re in business and we bring this approach to the forefront of our daily decisions, all will benefit.

Per Forbes contributor Gretchen Fox on March 26, 2019:

Men, women, companies and our education system have all perpetuated this version of heartless, soulless capitalism since the Industrial Revolution. Not only does it NOT have to be this way, it frankly cannot continue this way. Without a change, we are marching into deep disaster and this is not hyperbole.   A report by a group of scientists convened by the UN to guide world leaders, describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 – a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population.

As far back as 2013, a Harvard Business Review article showed companies that practice “Conscious Capitalism” perform ten times better than their peers.”

This is the true triple bottom line: people, planet and profits. Capitalism’s power to positively change lives has been proven; it’s the misuse of capitalism’s power that has led to misconduct and exclusion.

This false narrative that capitalism is evil seemed destined to be unshakable until now. By practicing conscious capitalism, we will create a better world for everyone: it is a way forward for humankind to liberate the heroic spirit of business and our collective entrepreneurial creativity just as Gretchen Fox attested to above.

Over the years I’ve seen many industry partners fail because they have lost this perspective, they’ve put their personal financial goals first. They hold a false belief that they are the reason for the success of their company; this false sense of pride and greed is ultimately their destruction.

Conscious Capitalism is based on a simple premise that you care more about others, about creating work life balance and community, making ‘raving fans’ of your clients as well as your employees. When you add giving back thru volunteerism and philanthropy you fully encircle the four guiding principles noted below.

The true purpose of business is to elevate humanity by implementing the four ‘tenets’:

  1. Your company has a Higher Purpose which include your Core Values

  2. You view all Stakeholders as critical to your success and they must be fully integrated into the business

  3. All leaders and managers embrace Conscious Leadership

  4. The company has an active Conscious Culture

John Mackey, co-author of this book and founder of Whole Foods, was a self-proclaimed liberal socialist. He held a low view and a narrow perspective of capitalism. John’s goal in starting Whole Foods Markets was forged on his socialist mindset which was to make a positive difference in the world, provide better food options, improve education on the value of healthy eating, provide a great place to work with good benefits.

His perspective changed only after being in business for a few years and educating himself by reading countless books that evaluated years of history. He came to understand how and why capitalism works for the benefit and prosperity of all humanity not just the rich but also the poor. He realized that in the last 200 years, since the birth of capitalism in the United States, no other governmental rule has resulted in more success, more prosperity or more equality for all citizens which has led to increased happiness and well-being. He discovered “that business and capitalism, while not perfect, were both fundamentally good and ethical” which was a radical departure to his mindset in his youth and prior to running a business.

The book details how large businesses - Costco, REI, the Tata Group, Southwest Airlines and Starbucks - have successfully adopted Conscious Capitalism tenets with tremendous success.

Appendixes A, B and C address the misconceptions and concerns around the transition, implementation or false ideas involved in adopting the tenets or that it might not be as fluid for large enterprises to transform. I suspect this is a valid concern however, with small business contributing $8.5 trillion dollars to our total national $17 trillion GDP and the sheer volume of small businesses (30.2 million small businesses, compared to 18,500 large businesses*), the opportunity for the majority of U.S. companies to embrace this viewpoint is substantial.

In the 2010 census, the total population of the US was noted at 324,000,000 with 120,000,000 employed in small businesses. 120,000,000 is a staggering number and is the combined population of France and the UK! It offers a significant opportunity for meaningful change across all sectors of the U.S. even if larger corporations do struggle with implementing the tenets.

Additionally, with the changing U.S. demographic, entrepreneurship will and has always been, a gateway for underrepresented populations including minorities, immigrants, women and the LGBTQ community.  It provides the most opportunity for economic mobility.

Here are just a few quotes that really resonated with me.

Pg. 183

“Conscious leaders…find great joy and beauty in their work, and in the opportunity to serve, lead, and help shape a better future. Since they are living their calling, they are authentic individuals who are eager to share their passion with others. They have an orientation toward servant leadership, high integrity, and a great capacity for love and care.”

Pg. 188

“everyone can and should aspire to integrity in life….”

Pg. 187

“The great humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer said, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.

Such leaders have learned the secret of the “helpers high”; we feel good when we make other people happy. It creates value for the giver and the recipient, as well as for the larger community. Servant leaders cultivate the noble virtue of generosity. They embrace transpersonal values-such as goodness, justice, truth, love…”

Pg. 189

“When leaders combine their intellectual abilities with their ability to care for things beyond themselves, they have real power.

Pg. 191

“Business grows because people grow the business, and people grow IN the business.”

Pg. 194

“When businesses are led by individuals who are driven by service to people and the firm’s higher purpose – who lead through developing and inspiring others – it leads, in author Fred Kofman’s resonant words, to “peace and happiness in the individual, respect and solidarity in the community, and mission accomplishment in the organization.”

Pg. 201

“As we become more aware of our emotions, we begin to realize that many of them, such as envy, resentment, greed, bitterness, malice, anger, and hatred are life stultifying. They do not further our well-being…emotions such as love, generosity, gratitude, compassion, and forgiveness are expansive and life enhancing. They enrich our lives. We need to consciously cultivate life-enhancing emotions and learn to neutralize life-stultifying emotions.”

Pg. 205

“avoid becoming stuck in any kind of rigid ideological orthodoxy. Our personal evolution in consciousness is not only beneficial to ourselves, but also contributes greatly to the evolution of consciousness in other people and our organization.”

Note: Companies are living, breathing organisms and they must be constantly preserved, nurtured and evolve; complacency is highly destructive.

Perhaps my favorite!

Pg. 213

“we have a tendency to largely ignore the wisdom of the past, thinking that it’s no longer relevant in our advanced technological society but much of the philosophical wisdom of ancient traditions is timeless…We should be willing to embrace wisdom of all kinds, and can find great value studying any of the great philosophical and spiritual traditions…

It is well worth our time to engage with the wisest, most enlightened beings that humankind has produced. They will stoke our own aspirations to evolve higher, and we can learn many valuable things from them that will enrich our lives. Just as we should eat only the healthiest food and avoid junk food, we should also be feeding our minds with the healthiest thoughts and ideas from all time and all history.”

READ – this is the greatest gift you will ever give yourself, your family, your community.

Pg. 214

“It’s up to us to decide what it means to be a successful human being.”

Steve McIntosh: “(we) have a sacred duty to use this light to make a difference.”

Conscious Cultures are “so strong they have a tangible, almost physical presence” and they embrace TACTILE (Trust, Accountability, Caring, Transparency, Integrity, Loyalty and Egalitarianism

218-220, 221- 222 – too long to quote…

Pg. 225-226

“We don’t usually associate love and care with organizations…Love and care are not weak virtues; they are the strongest of all human traits. Companies that operate on fear are the ones headed for extinction.”

“Mark Gafni, director of the Center for World Spirituality, is eloquent on the issues of business and caring: “The world of business is becoming one of the great cathedrals of spirit. Businesses are becoming places in which meaning can be created, in which mutuality begins to happen…the force in the world that is fulfilling every major value of the great spiritual traditions: intimacy, trust, a shared vision, cooperation, collaboration, friendship, and ultimately, love. After all what is love at its core? It is the movement of evolution to higher levels of mutuality…”

Note: I often quote “A rising tide lifts all boats”; mutuality means everyone benefits for the greater good, this is incredibly insightful, incorporating the Win6 perspective.

“Most corporate cultures don’t value love and caring enough, because their leaders have not fully integrated these virtues into their own lives. We need role models who are fully integrated human beings, loving as well as strong, and who show that there need not be any contradiction between the two. Leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, MLK, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa are considered strong as well as truly loving and compassionate. Few prominent business leaders can be described in the same way.”

“A very healthy development in business today is that women are increasingly stepping into leadership roles. Women, on average, seem to be more at ease in expressing love, care, compassion… women will continue to make significant gains in years to come...Even the men ascending to leadership positions are increasingly those who are more in harmony with the virtues of love, care, and compassion.”

Pg. 226-227

“When we are completely grounded in love and care, fear is not present…. Fear is especially deadly for creativity. To be really creative, people need to be in a flow state, and fear doesn’t permit that to happen.”

“Organizations that consistently produce high performance…. synthesize excellence with love and care. Instead of judging and condemning, they help people recognize their mistakes and learn and grow from them.”

“Howard Behar former President of Starbucks, speaks of the strength shown through caring: “Caring is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of strength, and it can’t be faked.”

Finally, Pg. 249 offers a solid conclusion and call to action:

“Instead of asking how employees can better serve the organizations they work for, we need to ask, “How do we build organizations that deserve the extraordinary gifts that employees could bring to work?”

Pages 8 – 9

offer insight into the purpose of the book which is essentially to inspire the creation of more conscious businesses: “businesses galvanized by higher purposes that serve and align the interests of all their major stakeholders; businesses with conscious leaders who exist in service to the company’s purpose, the people it touches, and the planet; and businesses with resilient, caring cultures that make working there a source of great joy and fulfillment.

We truly believe that this will lead to a better world for all of us. Together, business leaders can liberate the extraordinary power of business and capitalism to create a world in which all people live lives full of purpose, love, and creativity – a world of compassion, freedom and prosperity. This is our vision for Conscious Capitalism.”

You can learn more about this from their credo noted below as well as from their website,

Welcome to Conscious Capitalism

“We believe that business is good because it creates value, it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange, it is noble because it can elevate our existence and it is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity. Free enterprise capitalism is the most powerful system for social cooperation and human progress ever conceived. It is one of the most compelling ideas we humans have ever had. But we can aspire to even more.”


My personal perspective on this concept is as follows:

As a society we are changing, we are in the early stages of awakening to the incredible potential business holds if practiced holistically. It is our shared responsibility to strive to reach this greater good. I believe this ‘awakening of awareness’ holds the future prosperity of the United States for a number of reasons.

  • First – IT WORKS - and companies that embrace this perspective are more profitable. Businesses are run by humans and changing the nature of humans is quite If profit is the #1 goal of the owners or investors, that goal will be attained.

  • Second it allows businesses to attract and retain the best employees, clients and vendor Everyone wants to be part of something that reflects a higher purpose, it feels good!

  • Third, by creating this powerful attraction for all stakeholders the company will have greater staying power. It produces a hardy, durable company that cannot easily be dissipated by a fluctuating economy, bad luck or a few bad decisions; the resiliency of the brand will

  • Fourth, the people born in the United States in the last 30+ years are demanding this change. They are driving this, not just supporting it but insisting on it. And the more we educate and shine a light on these positive aspects of Conscious Capitalism with our elementary, high school and college students, it will become the norm and this demand will only increase. We are experiencing an unprecedented cultural and generational shift. Businesses that do not support Conscious Capitalism might not be able to exist let alone thrive. With vehicles such as Glassdoor, Facebook, and other social media, poorly run companies cannot hide.

  • Fifth, most businesses are small businesses; 9% of US employer firms are small. Small businesses provide 64% of net new private sector jobs, 49.2% of private sector payroll, 46% of private sector output and 43% of high-tech employment according to**. Small businesses, especially new start-ups, have the most agility in establishing or modifying dinosaur methods of fear and intimidation that no longer work.

  • Finally, there is no down side, no compromise when this approach is utilized and that is why it has lasting

This emerging methodology successfully embraces a philosophy that incorporates the precepts that my company ICE (Innovative Commercial Environments) reflects, which is one of the reasons I find this so exciting.   At times people have questioned my approach which often times made me question myself but it felt appropriate. Reading this book offered tremendous insight to why ICE has exceeded industry standards for growth. I was unclear as to WHY ICE is one of the 3% of U.S. firms to make the Inc. 5000 (the 5000 fastest growing companies in America) 6 times. Only 3% of U.S. firms have made this prestigious list. Understanding and consciously embracing these tenets I suspect we’ll continue being on this list.

Please note this is essentially a book report and many of the concepts are either direct quotes or summaries of the book. It should be clear when I intersperse my beliefs or feelings.

* “Small Business in the US by the Numbers”

**SBA Office of Advocacy 2018 Small Business Report

logo of San Diego Chapter of Conscious Capitalism

DeLinda Forsythe - Notes on Conscious Capitalism BookAugust2019
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