As thought leaders had already noticed well before the pandemic hit the ground, a new game is increasingly being played out among the business community. The pitch is still our Planet Earth, but if this was once used as a passive backdrop of competition warfare, now it is the game itself. Yes, the pitch has now turned into the game - a don’t-let-the-ball-fall challenge like the ones we play with racketballs on the water’s edge.
To quote Simon Sinek, competition is going to be swallowed-up by the infinite game, not in the sense that the players are abruptly becoming oblivious of their self-interest but, quite the opposite, they are eventually realizing that even financial inter-est, as etymology reveals, is quite literally “the space in-between” - something like the space connecting and dividing fellow diners at the same table (memories of Hannah Arendt?).
In this scheme of things, the concept of competition can be seen in a quite different light where frustrated business leaders ask themselves “Are we still competing in a fabled sustainable world?” And the answer is “Yes, we are”, but as guests, as stewards gathering on a pitch whose value underpins the single games. Let’s not forget that “compete” comes from Latin, “cum-petere” that can be read as “converge”.
A Copernican revolution in customer-centricity has been changing the face of the market in the last ten-fifteen years and providing a new balance that is necessary for businesses to survive or thrive. If your organization’s energy isn’t aimed at delivering value to the customer, if you’re not committed to a continuous improvement journey to remove all obstacles hindering that value stream (and obstacles keep on popping up like enemies in an arcade game), you are, well, quite simply doomed in this modern business world. True, but not enough now, not any more.
It’s not enough to survive or even thrive, because surviving and thriving aren’t just individual goals anymore. There are obviously still individual goals, accomplishments and gains but these simply cannot be sustained over time except from the transcendent perspective of a common ground. Call it earth-centricity, pitch-centricity, whatever you want, you will have got the concept by now.
Let’s change the metaphor. Donella Meadows said you have to wait a while to see how systems behave before touching them, and even then you have to join a dance whose rhythm you need to learn. A dance is an even better metaphor than a game. One step forward, one step back. You cannot always lead. There is a choreography evolving, a whole scene unfolding and you’re part of it.
I know, I know, you’re thinking of that annual dinner of your Industry Association, should you really take the dancefloor and hold hands with that old ox of a President? Should you join a minuet with that unbearable young CEO brilliantly monopolizing the evening? No no, leave the fairy tales aside please and come back to our harsh pandemic reality!
Ok, I’ve got it, you’re still not quite convinced, but there IS a logic behind the metaphor of the pitch or the dance (choose whichever you prefer) that is starting to resonate in your mind, go on, admit it.
Plenty of episodes during this pandemic crisis have left you with a sign pointing in the direction of a more holistic approach to business, little bitter episodes - some client taking advantage of the situation to freeze payments; bureaucratic conundrums (if you’re Italian) which hinder the help that might, and should, support your company in a potentially fatal situation. But what precisely is lacking in these cases? It is the absence of the sense of a common ground, a focus on what value is shared. There are, however, other episodes which go in the opposite direction. You may have heard, even participated in, some superb initiatives of unconditional giving, like the re-engineering of a common diving mask for healthcare use, without any immediate gain for either the startup which found the solution or the retailer who gave the design and technical features of the mask for free. In these cases we can see a sense of a common ground, a focus on shared value.
This is the inner logic of kindness in business - a kind of dance, a dance of kindness. The Art of Unconditional Giving and Unconditional Receiving following the universal laws of abundance taught by my friend Sujith Ravindran is not a zero-sum game, it is a generative dance.
Are we going too far with this spiritual thing? Spirituality in business has up to now been relegated to the meditation retreats of the leadership elite, not that far from the “spiritual exercises” of the Democrazia Cristiana party which ruled Italy for half of a century (read Sciascia’s masterpiece Todo modo). A week in a villa in central Italy, hilly landscapes, Renaissance flavours, mindfulness exercises by the pool- spirituality on the rocks. And it works! Productivity dramatically increases when leadership goes back to the headquarters (if the headquarters are still there). Spirit is about relations and relationships. The caring attitude of sharing common ground is at the heart of this new earth-centered business, a business which demands spirituality in a much more practical way than its elite avatar, in a way which is closer to the daily experience of our organizations and our people, in a way which is more bound to the value delivered and to the Values that constitute the meaning of our businesses.
This is the pace of a shared dance which allows knowledge to flourish in a continuous individual and organizational renewal (beautifully enshrined in the French word for knowing, con-naitre, to be born together). What if our businesses were measured by the kindness they produce, by the shared knowledge, by the abundance of giving and innocent receiving? What if we had a share index of the value generated in kindness by our businesses, a measure of the overall flow of our business ecosystems? What would the building block of such a holistic representation be? And what would the unit of measure of the whole system be? Its kindness-beat?
Apologies for running out of statements and being left only with questions: should we measure the Art of Giving, even before understanding if we can? Is the concept of measure at odds with that of unconditional giving?
At KINDNESSforBusiness we have decided to walk the talk, to live the paradox of measuring kindness just because we think business deserves this. It deserves kind action, a non-predatory initiative capable of letting the future emerge, an initiative which is presented well and is, yes, measured and therefore “seen” and acknowledged by the competitive-market mindset. This dance is much more widespread even in corporate contexts than is recognized. We need its outcomes to be made visible, tangible, sharable like a token or currency of hope.
Co-Founder of KINDNESSforBusiness, Joshua Volpara is also Co-Founder & CEO of Ayros, an italian publishing house. Find his short & selective biography on our team page.