#018 – Business As Usual Problems- “Scarcity”, “Self-Interest” and the Real Problem

Of the various aspects of blue pill business as usual that contribute to workplace and worker brokenness, Profit as Purpose is the most significant, but the Scarcity assumption and the Self Interest assumption exacerbate the problems by ignoring why we were created and whose image we reflect (the Scarcity assumption because it is devoid of trust in God and the Self-Interest assumption because it works against community).  Together, these factors reinforce manipulative and dehumanizing managerial behavior and work cultures that are not conducive to human flourishing or to an environment of Shalom.

In considering the problems created by the Scarcity and Self-Interest assumptions, Why Business Matters to God by Jeff Van Duzer was again foundational to our thinking and we encourage everyone to get a copy.

Scarcity Assumption: Devoid of Trust in God

  • The God of the Bible is a God of abundant provision, and a basic Biblical principle is that God can be trusted.  The Scarcity assumption is devoid of trust in a God of abundant provision.  This encourages manipulative and dehumanizing “survival” practices (many of which align with Profit as Purpose) such as:
    • Reactive elimination of people in a downturn or in the face of uncertainty.
    • Paying people the minimum necessary to prevent attrition.
    • Overworking people.
    • A boundary-pushing “Can We” (rather than a “Should We”) attitude in competing for customers, sales and resources.
    • Competition among employees and competition for internal resources.
    • Withholding of information and knowledge that could help others or the organization.

Self-Interest Assumption: Does Not Prioritize Community

  • Another overarching Biblical principle is to love and care for others–we are to treat others as we would wish to be treated.  In Genesis, humans were created in the image of a relational God.  The Self-Interest assumption does not prioritize or encourage community–it creates an environment based on competitive behavior and mistrust in which:
    • Fear and competition are used to motivate and manipulate people to act in line with the organization’s primary purpose.
    • Money is used to solve morale problems and as the primary tool for incentivizing desired behavior.
  • At Integrous, we believe that, as relational beings created in the image of a relational God, such an environment is dehumanizing and contrary to God’s design for human interaction and for working together.

No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it. (Albert Einstein)

Perhaps the ultimate problem with “business as usual” is an observation made by Van Duzer–because “business as usual” was developed post-Fall, it can’t bring us back to God’s design.  Or in the words of Albert Einstein, “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.”  We will not solve the blue pill problems with more blue pills–leaders can’t solve the problems created by Profit as Purpose and the Scarcity and Self-Interest assumptions as long as profit is still the organization’s primary goal and those assumptions are embedded in its culture.  We need a new way–“business a better way”–the red pill of Integriosity®.

SPOILER ALERT:  “Business as usual” is also a problem because it reinforces “work as usual” and all of its problems, which is the topic of our next few posts.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM):  I spent 23 years working on “Wall Street”, where the problems of the Scarcity and Self-Interest assumptions are legendary (thankfully, the culture at the firm where I spent my career was unique and, particularly for those who grabbed the “gold ring”, probably as good as it gets in a large New York City firm–but certainly not without blue pill problems).  Just think of the famous speech by Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street:

The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.

Young bankers/consultants/accountants/lawyers at large firms on Wall Street are famously overworked, devoting most waking hours to their jobs, often at the expense of their friends, families, mental health and even physical health.  In return, they receive compensation, perks and a chance (albeit slim) at the “gold ring” that are enough to make it seem attractive or, at least, tolerable and defensible (and when morale is low, the management solution is often a bonus–which works until morale is low again).  Those at the top (with the “gold ring”, which may have transformed into a pair of “gold handcuffs”) earn huge amounts thanks to leveraging the large pool of overworked people below.  There are even websites devoted to creating a forum for these young professionals to complain (and compare notes on their misery).  Internally, there is intense competition for assignments, promotions and year-end bonuses.  Externally, there is tremendous pressure to adopt a “Can We” rather than a “Should We” approach because of competition (if others are doing it–or ignoring it–so must we to compete)–just think Waste Management, Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, HealthSouth, Lehman Brothers, Wells Fargo and all the insider trading cases of the last several years.  I recall a very senior banker (not my client) scream in a meeting because I said his client should not use reserves to smooth earnings before an IPO–he told me that I was naive and inexperienced because “everybody does it” (NB, the issuer did not do it).  There is “business a better way“, but you will not find it through “business as usual“.

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