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Recalibrating the Meaning of Business in the 21st century

Updated: Jan 17, 2022

"Businesses are becoming places in which meaning can be created, in which mutuality begins to happen." - Marc Gafni.

What is Business? Is it a meaningless mechanistic entity developed by humans to facilitate the exchange of transactions or a living and breathing culture with its values and history to serve a purpose?

Recalibrating the Meaning of Business | MQ Learning
Recalibrating the Meaning of Business | MQ Learning

Most of the countries recognize corporates as a person by law. Corporations, like people, can be liable for the contracts they sign; they can own property and borrow money if needed. In some cases, like in the highly debated 2010 Citizen United decision in the US, they can even spend money for political lobbying.

The supporters of corporate personhood call this "legal fiction," where the intent is mainly fictional to ease the legal, contractual processes. However, the critics call that extending corporate personhood provisions can make it easier for wealthy corporations to exploit "normal" people and nature. Either way, in the 21st century, as corporations move towards personhood, we must subject them to values and ethical standards as we would to a normal human being.

A business or a corporation, in simple terms, is a group of individuals coming together to perform a defined purpose. Every business satisfies an unmet demand, and in the process, provides work for people and earns profits.

According to Harvard Business Review, "9 out of 10 people are willing to earn less money to do more meaningful work." Providing meaningful work has become a requirement for companies in the 21st century to attract and retain customers and talented employees.

What demand it should meet and how the demand should be met distinguishes one company from another and provides the meaning of their existence. Just like humans, the way a business acts in society is the reflection of its Self.

What demand should a business meet?

Bertrand Russell said, "All human activity is prompted by a desire."

Businesses traditionally have been set to create and satisfy the desires, generating profits in the process. Someone wants something, and some else provides it, generating profits that can eventually fulfill the provider's desires. The cycle continues, and the money circulates, fueling the engine of desires.

The engine was further fueled from the18th century onwards as the industrial revolution leveraging science and technology progress substantially increased the supplies. Edward Bernays, the nephew of Freud, played a crucial role in 20th century America to increase the demand by kindling our irrational Selfself's desires.

When smoking became all about freedom, we smoked, and there were always enough cigarettes. In the last couple of centuries, we perfected the game of demand and supply and even based our economies on the same model.

The question, "what is the impact of our desires?" was neither asked by us nor cared by business to explain. The consumerism perpetuated from the advertisement and entertainment was enough to keep us busy. By the end of the 20th century, our Self became so intertwined with the businesses that we even find it difficult to distinguish whether what we want is really what we want or have been programmed to want this.