enlightened     /ɪnˈlʌɪt(ə)nd/
1. Having or showing a rational, modern, and well-informed outlook.
1.1 Spiritually aware.
1.2 Possessing knowledge that brings change or transformation, usually through faculties such as wisdom.

A few months ago I was having coffee with the former CEO of a large and well-known socially responsible company. Our conversation was lively as we shared our mutual enthusiasm for the innovative new frontier of businesses leveraging their power to create a just and sustainable world.

“It’s the end of politics,” he said. I asked him to tell me more. He described a trend where such companies wield more power than lobbyists, leverage more funds than PACs, and work in alignment with the public’s true voice. “Commerce is beginning to challenge democracy as our highest means of expressing public values,” he said.

Take an example with Lyft and Uber. In 2016, Lyft’s competitor, Uber, was set to own the emerging ride-sharing market. But fast forward a few months and Uber found their CEO fired, their market share drop dramatically, while Lyft grew more than 100%.

Though many factors contributed to that scenario, Uber’s fate pivoted around a bad day in January 2017, when the Trump administration issued a ban on Muslim travelers.

Uber made a series of corporate messaging mistakes. Lyft was perceived as protesting against the ban, while Uber seemed to be on the wrong side. More than 200,000 people deleted the Uber app in just a few days and the company has been reeling ever since.

Consumers are assumed to be self interested—willing to buy cheap T-shirts from China, while perpetuating human rights abuses at sweat shops. The word consumer is nearly a four-letter word. Public narrative asserts that humans are selfish, greedy and short sighted. But this logic is myopic, and unhelpful. Instead, given the right conditions, consumers are assisting in changing the political landscape.

“We have long had niche markets for ‘socially responsible’ products, but they were expensive novelties, the snooty preserve of wealthy consumers looking to wear their politics on their recycled handbags,” writes Chris Ladd, former GOP Precinct Committeeman and author of The Politics of Crazy. “Yet capitalism is evolving in ways that could transform corporate behavior and change the meaning of government,” he continues. “We are living through the emergence of social capitalism, a new landscape for economic activity.”

Socially responsible companies, and companies who exert ethical and moral action are proving that—given a chance—humanity chooses consciously. Such corporate influence is abandoning corrupt policy, and creating their own truly democratic responses to the challenges we are facing. Where the ballot is failing, the buck is winning, writes Ladd.

In the wake of the 14th school shooting this year, Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Kroger decided to break from the mire of political inertia and create their own policy. Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods took steps to limit their sales of firearms, thrusting themselves into the middle of the polarizing national debate over gun control.

Walmart, the biggest gun seller, no longer sells guns to anyone under 21 years of age, and no longer sells items resembling assault-style rifles, including toys and air guns. Dick’s immediately ended sales of all assault-style rifles, stopped selling high-capacity magazines, and required any gun buyer to be at least 21. In their words, ‘regardless of local laws’.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the victims and their loved ones,” Dick’s wrote in a letter to customers. “But thoughts and prayers are not enough,” they continued. “We have to help solve the problem that’s in front of us. Gun violence is an epidemic that’s taking the lives of too many people, including the brightest hope for the future of America — our kids.”

L.L. Bean and Kroger, too, banned all sales of guns to anyone under 21. And Delta Airlines sucker punched the NRA by ending group discounts to its members. Delta held their ground, even as the state of Georgia punished them by stripping the airline of a $40 million dollar tax break.

Over the past year corporate influence dampened state efforts to discriminate against LGBT citizens in North Carolina, Georgia and Texas. And it doesn’t stop there. Every day more companies reveal their good corporate citizenship.

It’s important here to differentiate social capitalism from the traditional ‘social responsibility’. Social responsibility relies upon activists to persuade companies to ‘do the right thing’ at the expense of profits. While, social capitalism, by contrast, is an emerging phenomenon in which social consciousness is a core element of profitability.

Now for the first time in human history, consciousness, ethics and morality are not at odds with corporate financial wellbeing. Which is, to me, overwhelmingly exciting.

The reasons behind this new trend are too complex to explore here. However, suffice to say a veritable ‘perfect storm’ of influences including social media, the de-evolution of traditional institutions, and a deepening rift between the public and a vastly mis-attuned government, are major contributors.

There is a curious shift also happening internally within companies. In working with many C-suite executives over the years, I have noticed a sea change in the desires and goals of these professionals. Having stretched themselves and their companies to the very edge of their limits, they are finding themselves on the horns of a dilemma: continue the conventional course and end up another casualty of 21st century life, or transform.

In effect, corporate leaders are seeking—I’m going to use the word deliberately—enlightenment.They are seeking the greater sensibilities that enlightenment affords: a sense of connection to the whole, wisdom, meaning, deep presence and service.

Once the rarified domain of spiritual practitioners, social drop-outs and Buddhists, enlightenment was reserved for those who donned robes, sat cross-legged, and abandoned worldly matters to attain ‘oneness with the Absolute’. But now, those in the trenches of humanity’s progress—on the bridge of the Titanic— are calling for a deeper way of being.

These leaders are seeking a higher consciousness, and an active engagement with the wellspring of wisdom, intuition and attunement. And further, they are not just seeking it for themselves, but endeavoring to actively spread those attributes throughout the culture of their organizations.

Arie de Geus’s seminal book, The Living Company changed my perception of corporations many years ago. According to de Geus, companies are not inanimate objects. Just as a body is made up of living organisms – cells, so too are companies made up of living organisms – people. He reasoned that organizations, like all living things, not only grow, but given the right conditions, have the capacity to evolve, even transform—in a similar trajectory as a human life.

He asserted, then, that if the people within a company are supported to evolve, so too, will the company itself. And the higher its evolution, the more socially aware, and socially conscious it would become.

The ability to evolve and transform is essential to the lifespan of any living thing, including a company. According to Standard & Poors, in 1955, the average lifespan of a company on the Fortune 500 list was 61 years. Today it is 18, and declining. Those rare companies who survive and thrive well beyond the average life expectancy are doing so because they are becoming, yes, enlightened.

“Companies die because their managers focus on the economic activity of producing goods and services, and they forget that their organizations’ true nature is that of a community of humans,” writes de Geus.

Given the economic might of today’s corporations (of the world’s top 100 economies, well over half of them are corporations, not countries), we are sitting at the brink of a truly awesome possibility. The sector that once threatened our very planet’s survival, is now poised to be its salvation.

In a moving discourse that reads more like a sacred text than a business book, author of Conscious Business, and LinkedIn’s Vice President of Executive Development, Fred Kofman writes, “The larger purpose of business is to serve as a theatre for self-knowledge, self-actualization and transcendence.

Self-actualizing work transcends the ego, freeing people from an exclusive preoccupation with themselves, he continues. “Those who work for the sake of a transcendent vision, honoring their values through virtuous conduct, achieve a personal transcendence similar to what is called “enlightenment.'”

The real invitation now for both companies, and their leaders is to create conditions within their organization for enlightenment. Not only does this benefit both parties, and ensure their sustainability and wellbeing, but it will create a natural consequence of good corporate citizenship that will in turn benefit the world.

We just may be witnessing the extinction of politics as we know it, and the dawning of a pure democracy. And in that synergistic space between the young people courageously taking to the streets, and the highly evolved companies creating wisdom-informed policies, we may be part of the birth of a true Age of Enlightenment.

Namaste.

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