Thursday, June 23, 2022

Why Flourishing?

What Should the Purpose of My Business Be?

If you ask me "What should the purpose of my enterprise be?", if we've never talked before, I'd reply that your purpose should be realizing "true sustainability".  By this I mean sustainability:
  • That "does good to do well
  • That integrates social, environmental, and economic factors (and doesn't see them as a set of trade-offs that prioritizes money)
  • Where enterprises excel because people are flourishing and nature is thriving
  • Informed by the latest science, ethical frameworks, and deep indigenous wisdoms

I believe that choosing true sustainability as the purpose of all organizations is the only ethically defensible answer for an entrepreneur or leader of an established enterprise to give in today's increasingly uncertain world.

But that's not the end of the story... if we talked a little more I'd quickly highlight why the term "sustainability" itself is very problematic

Why Not Sustainability?

First, I think that true sustainability is a rather unexciting way to think about things!  I think that sustainability is an insufficient aspiration for the future of humanity.  I think that the very word sustainable / sustainability constrains our thinking about possible opportunities and risks.  Plus, these words have little emotional content, they are unlikely to get you or your Stakeholders fired up and excited. 

Also, there are many definitions of sustainability, e.g. sustainable development based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).  But this approach doesn't meet our definition of true sustainability, as sustainable development still assumes, like our current unsustainable economic approach, infinite growth on a finite planet.  (For a deep dive on this topic see the blog post "Evolving from Sustainable Development")

So it can be very confusing these days to use the word sustainable – it's not very exciting, there are many definitions, and none of the ones in common use means "true sustainability"

If Not Sustainability,
What Could Be a Better Purpose / Vision / Why?

So what could be a better purpose for our enterprises than sustainability, even true sustainability?  A purpose that...
  • Talks about how we should aim to be "the best we can be" – individually and in our organizations
  • Gets stakeholders excited so they are attracted to work with us
  • Aligns with the latest science, ethical frameworks, and deep indigenous wisdoms
  • Is morally and ethically defensible
  • Helps enterprises gain and retain viability
  • Helps enterprises innovate in face of an uncertain future
  • Clearly differentiates from all other definitions of sustainability
Let me share my journey to find a purpose / vision / why for all enterprises that meet the above objectives...

What is the Highest Level of Potential Humans Can Reach?

This is the question that was asked a number of years ago by a group of psychologists who were looking to define what a fully healthy human being looks like, rather than to identify more ways a human may not be healthy, i.e. mental illnesses.   This group called themselves "positive psychologists", i.e. they wanted to look at the positive side of human experience, well-being and wellness, not illth and illness. 

The positive psychologists came up with a simple graphic to illustrate the possible range of individual human experience:

And as you can see, they decided to use the word "flourishing" to describe the highest level of human potential, the highest level of human experience.

Flourishing as *THE* Purpose for Individuals and Enterprises

When we saw this image and learned about the work of the positive psychologists we thought... well if the highest level of human experience is called flourishing, then surely the best possible purpose for all human enterprises would be to create the possibility for all their stakeholders to flourish!

This was our inspiration for moving away from using the word sustainable to describe the best possible purpose / vision / why and choosing instead to use the word "flourishing".

Benefits of the Defining the Purpose / Vision / Why of
Enterprises as Flourishing

We see six major benefits of choosing, as the purpose for your enterprise, "creating the possibility for human and all other life to flourish on our planet for generations to come, enhancing the integrity, beauty, and regenerative capacity of living communities."
(Adapted from Prof. John Ehrenfeld, MIT and Michelle Holliday)
  1. Flourishing is something everyone gets to define for themselves
  2. Aiming-to-flourish is exciting and generates new possibilities for individuals and enterprises
  3. It is practical – its what the science says
  4. It is the right thing to do – it is morally and ethically sound
  5. It is the best way to gain and retain financial viability
  6. It maximizes the possibility for innovation to better face an uncertain future
For a deep dive on these six benefits see the blog post "Six Reasons for Enterprises to Aim-to-Flourish"

(If you really want to use the word sustainability / sustainable then you could say what you're trying to sustain is the possibility for all life to flourish... i.e. sustainable flourishing cf. sustainable development.)

What Do I Advise?  Flourishing

So if you ask me what I believe is the best possible purpose / vision / why for any enterprise to adopt I will say clearly... the best possible purpose is:  "creating the possibility for human and all other life to flourish on our planet for generations to come, enhancing the integrity, beauty, and regenerative capacity of living communities."
(Adapted from Prof. John Ehrenfeld, MIT and Michelle Holliday)

What do you think?  

How could adopting this purpose help your enterprise flourish? 

Please comment below.

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