This is a big idea post w/ off-the-cuff arguments, I would love some feedback as this is something I have just recently started thinking about...
First I explain two important ideas, then I discuss why these ideas matter in tandem-
1) Blended Value
Generally speaking, businesses operate on a single bottom-line (profit generation) which is a paradigm that ignores the environmental and social impact of their actions. The creation of economic wealth and long-term financial value are widely understood as the purposes of business. However, thinking about value in this way is not only incomplete; it is incredibly dangerous to human livelihood. We can see the outcome of this misconception of value in that some corporations have record years and huge performance bonuses despite their widespread use of sweatshops/child labor, exploitation of marginalized communities, degradation of the environment, and abuse of human rights around the world.
Jed Emerson, a prominent figure in the social entrepreneurship space, has developed and advanced the idea of blended value. Emerson argues that all organizations, whether for-profit or nonprofit, create value that consists of economic, social and environmental value components. Thus, value should be conceived as fundamentally indivisible and measured utilizing a triple-bottom line approach that accounts for economic, social, and environmental impact. In this framework, organizations would have record years and huge bonus payouts when they protect the earth, promote social equity, facilitate economic empowerment, and make a profit. Emerson’s blended value is a more whole way of thinking about how organizations should engage our world.
2) Unity of Human Life
I want to briefly explore some thoughts of Alisdair MacIntyre, one of the most influential thinkers of our time, on the “unity of a human life.” MacIntyre asserts that we live in a world where our lives are wrongfully partitioned into easily digestible segments and categories, each with its own norms and modes of behavior. Understanding life in this way, there is a clear separation of work and life (work/life balance), public and private, childhood and old age, school and the real world, etc. In this fragmented system, each discrete realm is torn away from the rest of human life. MacIntyre argues that in order for our lives to be intelligible and for us to answer basic questions about how we ought to live, we must instead think about our lives as unitary and whole. We are not actors in discrete worlds, but co-authors of whole narratives.
MacIntyre goes on to argue that virtue should not be dependant on the ways we segment our lives. Instead, virtues infuse all aspects of our lives. For example, it is the same virtue of courage that is exhibited by a person’s courage as a parent, activist, friend, lover, believer, soldier, etc. However, in order for this unity of virtue to be lived out, we must also believe in the unity of life. MacIntyre writes, “I can only answer the question “What am I to do?” If I have first answered the question of what Story or stories do I find myself a part?” Our lives are whole narratives in which we live out unsegmented virtue.
3) Why might these ideas matter in tandem?
Is it possible that corporations’ widespread failure to incorporate a blended value approach stems from our failure as individuals to see our lives as whole and our virtues as unitary? Think about it, people run corporations. Compassion may be the most universally accepted virtue among human beings, but why then has it not been integrated into the way we structure and run our businesses? Greed is wrong at home, but at work it’s perfectly fine to pursue profit at the price of dignity, equity, and empowerment. We volunteer with young kids every weekend and buy from companies that exploit very similar young people across the world.
I would argue that the failure of businesses to consider themselves producers of blended value stems from our failure as workers and consumers to understand our lives and virtues as unitary. We need to consider ourselves not only as consumers and employees but as whole beings with unitary virtues creating blended value in every facet of our lives, especially the places we spend much of our adult lives. Only when we break down these partitions of modernity in our own lives can the blended value paradigm be integrated into the consciousness of mainstream business.