Golden Rule and the Rules of Profit


Some of the most prestigious business think-tanks and schools of business are preaching a good word that sounds more like a Southern Baptist pulpit than the rhetoric one might get in the hallowed halls of academe. Scoot over Adam Smith and the rules of profit-making, make room for the golden rule.

For Adam Smith the profit-making equation was pretty simple. His golden rule suggested that where there is self-need there is self-interest, and where there is self-interest there is incentive. This incentive translates into business enterprise. The more self-interest there is in a given community, the more business-enterprise will flourish. Top business-scholars are teaching students that while there is profit-making in selfish enterprise, there is the potential for true, even golden amounts of wealth in genuine interest in and love for others.

The idea that one should, as the biblical golden rule suggests, do unto others as one would be done by is standard fare in religions across the world. In fact, every major religion in the world teaches this concept in one way or another. One can go into any church, synagogue or mosque on any given weekend and hear a sermon on loving, serving and forgiving not only others but strangers and even enemies alike.  But to suggest that one might hear golden rule-oriented teaching in the hallowed halls of academe might seem like a bit of a stretch.

Most everyone has heard of predatory and vulture capitalism, the kind of capitalism that preys on others, exploits their weaknesses and often leaves their victims destitute. This brand of capitalism, argue some, is what is at the heart of our current economic problems. The rich keep getting richer and instead of putting out a hand to serve the underclass, they horde their ill-gotten booty and let the underclass keep getting poorer.

Parents all across the country are surprised to find that their kids are learning new rules of profit and golden rule business ethics suggesting that if one wants to make a profit in business, then treat clients and stake-holders with genuine respect. In some cases the term respect is replaced with love, not just any love but the Greek-nuanced love known as Agape. This type of love is self-sacrificing, seeking the radical-others’ interests and benefit. Agapic service seeks not only to serve in the traditional sense, but to intercede and otherwise build-up others not for selfish reasons but for altruistic ones.

Agapic love, according to these scholars, extrapolates into profit-making business enterprise where profit-margins exponentiate and endure over the long haul. The prototypical example is found in the automobile sales person who, when presented with a potential buyer, serves the customer’s interests rather than his/her own. While the sales-person may take a bit of a financial hit at the front-end of the relationship by getting the customer into a car he/she can afford rather than the one paying the higher commission, case-studies demonstrate that the well served customer will return the next time he/she needs to purchase a car. Multiply that customer over the many years and one discovers the nexus between golden rule ethics and the new rules of profit-making.

Enduring and self-sustaining wealth is about serving the needs of the customer, not the business. This all sounds a bit counter-intuitive to some and there are obvious limits to one’s largess, but the principle of doing unto others is now front and center of any business that relies on repeat customers. Research does not just suggest a positive correlation between agapic character-informed business-enterprise and increasing profit-margins, it demonstrates it. While motivational-speakers and business coaches alike have been arguing this for years, it is only recently that the literature has reflected and supported same. As entrepreneurs are taught the nuances of money-making enterprise they are taught that if they want to make a lot of money, then rather than going into business primarily to make a lot of money, go into business more fully to serve the very real interests of very real people and watch what happens. This, they suggest, is a character issue, not a competence issue.

This profit-paradox establishes the principle, in theory and in practice, that if you are there for others, they will be there for you. The return customer is the long sought after golden ticket to wealth. Those that go into business merely to make money find that there is a limit to what they can make as they go about things in a self-serving manner. People are not stupid, they understand and appreciate that businesses have to make a profit, but they grow weary of being exploited and sold a false-bill of goods. And once taken advantage of, if there are shopping options, consumers will move on to someone else who can and will serve them.

The clarion call out of business schools these days, all things being equal, is that if you want to make a lot of money, the new rules of profit-making demand that you start marketing in golden rule ethics. When you genuinely and authentically serve your customers’ interests, they will respond accordingly and authentically serve yours. This principle of reciprocity may now be in vogue in the hallowed halls of academe, but in the pulpits of America, it is the stuff of old school preaching.

Opinion by Matthew R. Fellows

Harvard Business Review

Houston Chronicle

Global Ethics University

Photo By: Didriks Flickr License

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