One of my favorite Holiday traditions is watching numerous movie versions of Charles Dickens’ powerful classic, A Christmas Carol. The story centers on Ebenezer Scrooge a selfish, cold-hearted miser who cares only about maximizing his profits.
Donald Duck’s uncle, Scrooge McDuck is a cartoon character named after Ebenezer Scrooge. In those cartoons he’s the world’s richest person. He’s often shown sitting on or swimming in huge piles of gold coins and bills.
One of the great paradoxes of our time is we’ve living in the most prosperous period in history. Yet rates of depression and suicide are soaring to unprecedented and alarming levels. Positive psychology research shows that pursuing “the good life” and its materialism — along with the mounds of debt it often brings — is a root cause of the problem. That same research shows those who are most fulfilled and flourishing often transcend materialism toward a deeper sense of purpose and connectedness.
While many young people are getting on the hedonistic treadmill as they rack up debt and build stress, a growing number of their business graduate peers are looking to join or build businesses that provide a greater good to society and deeper meaning than just financial returns for themselves. A recent Globe & Mail article entitled “For Today’s Business Students, Profit is a Means Not an End,” reports that “tension between profit and social impact has led business schools to create new offerings to help purpose-driven entrepreneurs develop sustainable businesses … education ought to help entrepreneurs figure out how to generate profit while tackling a social problem.” Some business students are now taking corporate social responsibility pledges as part of their graduation ceremony.
The insightful book, Good Company: Business Success in the Worthiness Era, reports on global studies showing a major shift in consumer expectations toward the social responsibility of companies they do business with. The authors run an investment fund based on their research. They report “When we compared pairs of Fortune 100 companies within the same industry, we found that those with higher scores on the Good Company Index outperformed their peers in the stock market over periods of one, three, and five years.”
Few of us are motivated to swim in cash like Scrooge McDuck or are energized by maximizing shareholder returns and generating big profits. Yet a business that doesn’t generate profit won’t be around long to do much good. The most fulfilled people and sustainable businesses today manage to do both.