Can a corporation be good?

Last week I attended a one-day conference called “Leading For Good” at Loyola’s Baumhart Center for Social Enterprise and Responsibility, aimed at bringing together social and civic minded corporate executives from around the Chicago area. The connections and conversations were good, but in all honesty, I left frustrated that the conversation still mostly centered around whether or not a business should be doing good, rather than how it should go about doing it.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. We have no common definition of business “purpose”, and no shared ethical framework for how to evaluate whether or not the decisions made by a business can be considered “good.”

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Meaning junkies

If you haven’t yet read Derek Thompson’s excellent essay in The Atlantic about “The Religion of Workism,” I highly recommend it. Thompson’s thesis—that in American society we’ve replaced religion with “workism” as a way to find meaning—strikes at the very heart of many occupational ambitions. (Including, if I’m honest, my own.)

“For today’s workists,” Thompson says, “anything short of finding one’s vocational soul mate means a wasted life.”

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What's wrong with work?

A few weeks ago I re-read an article by the management thinker Peter Drucker from 2001 called “Will the corporation survive?” In it, he talks about his assumptions about the next phase of business. Since the 1970s, the economy had shifted to depend on “knowledge workers” — workers who make meaning out of information — and Drucker saw this shift putting power back into the hands of workers.

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