The price of finding answers

Part of my day job is writing about management development for UK business schools. One trend is the complicated relationship between big business and social good. There’s been talk of Corporate Social Responsibility for decades, the alignment of corporate goals with projects to benefit communities, but these too often looked like a weaselly form of PR.

Now it’s different. First of all there’s the realisation that customers and employees have started to take more precise notice of what businesses are doing, what effort they’re making around sustainability, ethical sourcing, diversity etc. The other side is that generations of older business leaders are starting to look around at their empires, and wondering what the hell it was all for, and what’s left for them to do.

A new thing is business school offerings that whisk leaders away from corporate life and give them chance to reflect on what their purpose is, what they should be doing next – can they contribute something more than just profit? Having said that, it’s always clear that profit is still paramount, it’s a case of saving souls while still making a shedload of cash. A renewed sense of purpose and motivation, more connection to social issues, will now mean an even more lucrative proposition. One of the latest programmes involves five days getting closer to nature, spending time in the country at a luxury resort: walking, talking, taking boat trips, sitting out by campfires with like-minded searchers after truth and beauty (and ways to complete an already remarkably successful career). The cost? Around £30,000.

Why does it take 30 or more years of sweating, brow-beating, bullying and hammering the competition to reach the conclusion that most ordinary human beings knew all along – that fulfilment and happiness doesn’t belong to the materially ’successful’. I’d be happy to send any CEO some John Cowper Powys novels for free. And look outside, there’s a whole world to explore – and plenty of time to think about it all – so long as you’re not stuck in the boardroom too long.

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