All my life I have learned that to make a profit out of business, you must provide a good enough product or service for which people are willing to pay more than its inherent cost. It’s called the mark up. That mark up must be at least equivalent to the added value perceived by the consumer, otherwise the product won’t sell. But most of the ‘value’ is either highly subjective or non existent and companies plough millions into advertising in order to increase the perceived value of a product so that they can sell more at a higher price. I call it ‘untransformed’ business and it goes on around us every day.
Untransformed Business at Work
Let’s take Coca Cola as an example. Their ingredients cost very little (in money terms); but of course coca cola has a secret ingredient where those basic ingredients sugar and water are magically transformed into coca cola. Very few people know what this secret ingredient is and how much it costs; Coca cola is itself, nutritionally bare. It empowers nobody and sustains nothing. But no matter what it costs…the secret ingredient is worth a lot….to coca cola that is. So what is the secret ingredient?
Coca Cola is branded as representative of the American Way of Life. A higher way of life. A beautiful way of life. A beverage which is the best way to uplift and enhance every day moments of happiness. Coca Cola sells the illusion of happiness. It’s ‘The Real Thing’. But the happiness only lasts as long as the can…is in your hand. Like any other ‘disempowering’ product or service, you have to keep buying if you want your happiness to last. It externalizes your happiness experience into canned sugar water.
In poorer regions of the world where clean water isn’t as readily accessible (in many cases because companies like coca cola have bought up the water supply), coca cola is readily supplied as a lifestyle enhancement as well as a means of hydration, which in turn reduces disposable income which could have been spent on food. Coca Cola does not – as the parable goes – teach a man to fish; rather it keeps him addicted to a poor imitation of a specific type of ‘nutrionally bare fish’. Coca-colization of Mexico
Back when I was studying my MBA we learned that the ‘secret ingredient’ that made Coca Cola so special in Europe was ‘added’ to the mix in Ireland. Not coincidentally the EU country at the time with the lowest corporation tax; it meant that the country which created the finished product and realised the highest profits, was taxed the least.
So in the final analysis, Coca Cola is a product which is far worse for your body than water, but is drunk in place of water – and sometimes ‘eaten’ instead of food – costs very little to make and isn’t worth very much, makes a lot of profit working within the system. Which makes it one of the most successful businesses around….if you measure success in money. And most business strives to emulate this model.
There is nothing wrong with making money if there is real worth in the experience, product or service you’re selling. If you create experience which adds to the aliveness of the journey through life. If it empowers permanently and sustainably. If it transforms.
But creating a situation that is disadvantageous to one person in order to profit another is unsustainable because it is disempowering.
When you work all day and every day in a system where psychological manipulation and powerplay are used to create winners and losers, you are not acting with integrity, you are acting in ‘opposition’ and ‘conflict’. When you don’t act in integrity, you are fighting life itself. You are not being true to yourself. And this is why people become burned out, dissatisfied and desperate for the weekend. They are unhappy, because they are not being true to themselves.
Transformed Business at Work
That we depart from our integrity is inevitable; it is how we explore life, by doing wrong. But that we are trapped in disillusionment is not. It is easy to hide from the responsibility of your life when you work within an organization, because by definition you have a hierarchy to ‘blame’ and play the victim game. But we all have a choice. For those of us in the Western world, that choice is a relatively easy one. We are the privileged ones… and yet we insist on claiming that poorer, less educated people living in unimaginably hard conditions have the responsibility to choose within the capitalist market whether to buy coca cola or not. It’s not our fault we say. If there wasn’t demand, we wouldn’t supply. We are merely part of the system.
This is not true. We created the system. We are the system. And to transform the system we must take responsibility for it.
Can you live a transformed life, a free life, if you work in a system where ‘good’ business is defined as disempowering others?
I don’t believe it.
Try to act with integrity where your superiors don’t, then you’ll probably be fired under the condition of ‘disloyalty’. Go ahead, and make your excuses for not doing so. Mortgage? School tuition? I hear you. But you are still responsible for what you are doing. And for the system you are perpetuating. There’s no getting away from it.
But you still need money because it gives freedom. And that’s what we all want.
So how do you do it? Design a business of your own which empowers others. Luckily, we live in transformational times. Enablers like the internet have made our ability to design such businesses, very easy. Freedom is for me an abundance of time and money to the degree that they no longer constrain my ability to live life how I believe it was intended to live.
Here’s my criteria (and how I designed my work).
- Freedom (from time). The flexibility to work when I choose (and at the moment around my children)
- Abundance. The possibility for unlimited income.
- Cocreation. The ability to create with others.
- Integration. The ability to integrate it wholly into my life and to love what I do.
- Geographically Flexible. Few geographical limitations (or at least any place with the internet).
- Community. Ready access to a support system.
- Empowerment. A product or service which enhances others’ sense of aliveness.
When you create a transformational business, it becomes the source of transformation not only in others’ lives but also in your life. I am inspired every day by the people who themselves come to me to be transformed and who in turn utterly transform my life.
I might have the freedom to choose when I work, but because I love what I do and it’s integrated wholly in my life, it means that I live my work and my passion, every day. I create my business organically with the people I empower and who empower me.
Your true life starts when you make your first act of integrity. Get creative. Step outside the system and say ‘I quit’.
“We can judge our progress by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers, our willingness to embrace what is true rather than what feels good.” ― Carl Sagan